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I am a newbie to DG and to "mass" seed starting. I never put in a great amount of annuals in past, couldn't justify the cost- but am now "retired" so have more time ha ha. DH built me a light stand for my birthday- I like practical things. I bought jiffy greenhouse trays the 50 count ones, not pellets (hate those). Anyway,see lots of posts where plastic 6 packs or cups are used. Is this for the economical aspect or are these better? With the peat trays I bottom water, peat is wet but soil seems perfect. No damping off yet & I have 400 little cubes planted. Compared with pre-grown annuals I don't find the peat expensive-- I do always tear of the peat before planting-I've seen them become root coffins. Tell me your opinions please
I use plastic four- or six-packs to start some seeds, or for transplants when they are getting too big for their styrofoam cells (à la the Gardener's Supply setup). I have low plastic trays that I bought for this purpose, and I set the four- or six-packs into them and keep water in the bottom. The packs have slits in them so the soil wicks up the water and keeps them moist. Once the season gets going I usually have several of those trays full of seedlings in packs, waiting for the weather and their own maturity to allow me to plant them in the garden.
I do not like peat. In the past I have found little cement-like slabs around root balls at the end of the season- they do not disintegrate in the ground. This year I had to use peat when I started my petunias in the city (couldn't get at my supplies, house closed for the winter) and when it was time to plant them up lots of little roots were stuck in the peat and the only way to get them out was to tear them. I find them a pain to deal with in the house too. I like to be able to move things around depending on need for light, heat, etc and the peat pots fall apart (unlike in the ground!) and get so messy...
I use plastic cell packs and small nursery pots-- 2 1/2" and 4" mostly, along with capillary matting on platforms for continuous watering. I clean them and re- use them for years. For persnickety roots that don't like interference this year I'm trying 7 oz Dixie cups. They're holding up well in the house, and I think theyll be easy to tear off when planting time comes. One good pinch and the bottom comes right off, then just tear or cut up the sides.
Here's another option for starting seeds - I tried soil blocking this year for the first time and really like it. I've been using plastic pots for years and got tired of washing them over and over, plus storing them year to year. (Never had good results with peat pots or pellets). So far my soil blocking results have been good - great germination, and the soil blocks hold up well. In fact, I had a couple of trays out to harden off and we had a big thunderstorm last night. I expected to find that the blocks had dissolved in all that extra water and that I would have trays of mud, but they were fine (I did drain out the extra water). The plants that have gone into planters and the ground are all doing fine and taking off growing, but I haven't yet dug any up to see how their roots are doing. For blocking medium I started out using MG seed starting mix, but switched to a soil recipe from the soil block vendor's website. Haven't seen any difference in the success rate between the two. You can do several sizes of the blocks, and as you move up in size the smaller blocks can be fitted into the larger ones, but I took the inexpensive route and just bought the medium size blocker (1 1/2 inch) for germination to plantout.
From what I've read, the advantage of soil blocking is that the roots are air pruned, rather than wrapping themselves around the inside of an artificial barrier, when they reach the side of the block, exposure to the air encourages the root to grow another direction.
How easy is it to make the blocks? They sound great, but I've had to start things in a city apartment and have no place to make a mess- no potting shed or shelf! We're finally opening the house this weekend...only a few more days now til I get to see what made it...
It's not too hard at all, but it is a bit messy. I prefer to do them in the kitchen so that I can watch TV while I make the blocks, then wipe up all the dirt etc. when I'm done. I learned to do a bunch of blocks at the same time, and then plant the seeds later. One tip - whatever you're using to mark the blocks (I used plastic plant markers), be sure to clip the ends to a point to insert into the block so that you don't crumble it trying to insert something blunt. I found it easiest to label the blocks by rows - most of my trays are 8 rows of 4 blocks.
I'm very intrigued! I use capillary matting at the house to water since we're weekenders. I move things around a lot depending on what's just germinated, what's growing on, for water and light reasons as well as space, etc. Also, I use various season extenders-- row covers, shelf-type mini greenhouse, hoping for a real cold frame this year-- as things become more crowded and the season progresses. How do you think the blocks would hold up to that?
I've been kind of surprised at how well the blocks hold up, especially once the seeds have started spreading roots. Mostly I just move the trays around though, so they don't get handled much. I don't know anything about capillary matting, haven't ever tried it. The early batches were started under grow lights in the garage and I bottom watered those (sometimes with diluted chamomile tea against damping off just in case, since I don't have a fan in the garage), you just have to be careful to spread the water out so that it's evenly distributed and so that you don't wash out corners of some blocks. Sounds like capillary matting would work well, and would keep the blocks from drying out, which I've had to really watch out for. Now that some trays are outside and some are in my little popup greenhouse with other plants, I just water everything with the shower setting on my sprayer, and they seem to be doing just fine.
Wow, I just googled-- soil block makers are an investment! I've already blown the budget for this year, but will definitely keep it in mind for next year. I think they would be especially good for things that are tricky to transplant, so I would probably get a larger size. I have sooooo much stuff at this point for typical needs...
Absolutely no peat pellets for me. I have used them once or twice in the past and learned my lesson. Problems - hold excessive moisture leading to damping off as well adventitious fungi growth, don't break down in the soil, can cause problems in soil where moisture is actually wicked away from the pellets (depending on soil type/conditions) ... Only plastic for me (filled with my own potting mix made from peat and perlite). I reuse cell packs for 3-5 years or until they fall apart or get smashed. I don't wash them, but I do soak them in bleach water and then rinse - no hand scrubbing. I fill a large trash can with bleach water and let them soak until I have time to rinse and dry them. They are also very flexible in rotating packs in trays and rotating off and on heat when needed for germination. I grow between 1000-1500 transplants each year and would never consider pellets. One of the best sources for plastic pots/trays/cell packs and plug trays is: http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/ They sell "Hobby Packs" of smaller quantities and are very affordable even if you bought new ones each year (you won't need to). I also like their 2.5 inch plastic pots that are 3.5 inches high for growing perennials and some larger annuals. Many companies don't have the taller 3.5 inch pots in that size.
Hi trc- it's thanks to you that I have my new supply of 2 1/2" pots... I had some from a flat of plants a pro friend got for me that I've been reusing for a few years, always wanted more. They are so perfect for that in between... So thanks!
I like the convenience of trays with tearable 6-packs or 4-packs. It lets me move a 6-pak that HAS sprouted out of the trays that still ned humidity covers. And I can keep tall plants together. If one 6-pack had too-good germination, I can tear out just one 6-pak, carry it to the kitchen, and transplant form it there.
I used to want to make "propagation and plug trays" work for me, but they seem more suited to large-scale production of just one variety in a tray of 128 cells. (But I have cut those down with some difficulty into blocks of 3-4 rows.
I scrub and soak dirty inserts and sometimes run them through a dishwasher - like fill it up, run it for 1/2 of a soapy cycle, remove those & rinse them, and load it with the rest of my dirty trays. But I get all the dirt out first, so I don't plug up filters and pipes. Probably overkill!
A trick: you can 're-asemble' cut-up six-packs using very thin strips of Gorilla Tape. Probably any brand of waterproof duct tape would also work.
I'm still trying to learn how to "bottom water" without carrying trays hither and yon, getting things muddy or standing there with a turkey baster for hours, trying to remove excess water. Someone revealed that you CAN leave some standing water in trays without killing roots.
I just discovered "rayon batting" for a cheap capillary mat to make sure every cell gets SOME water. In fact, just last night, for the first time, I poured half of a ketsup bottle of water into one tray with batting, trying to stop just shy of having visible standing water. (I hope it didn't have any pinhole leaks! Seemingly not.)
Key move for bottom watering plug trays: cut the edges off the tray so that it sits flat on the bottoms of the cells, not supported up in the air by its edges!
Because I tend to overwater from the top, this year I added screened pine bark and LOTS of Perlite to my mix. It came out gritty and incompressible ... hopefully that will let air get to the roots.
Great feedback from everyone. Thanks! When I first posted this thread I was thinking peat trays, like plastic 6 packs but with 5 trays of 10. I bought these first because I wanted the covers. I'm sure you have seen them in the box stores. I used the pellets last year trying to grow in the windows of my sunroom- they all were trashed - jiffy should stop making them. This year we invested in my lights. I will check out the lincs everyone posted. Is this greenhouse mega store an actual store or just web based? I envy you if it is. Charleston is a great city for history but other than Lowes & HD and a few high priced nurseries has nothing to offer us. Thanks again for helping this newbie. Susan
P.S. can anyone tell me their favorite reference book for seed starting and propagations. I've gotten many from library but all just skim the subject.
The way I use capillary matting is to fill the bottom tray with water, set a platform in the tray that is above water level, and lay the pre-dampened matting down on top of it with the ends hanging down into the water. The ends should touch the bottom of the tray so that it stays wet even when the water level is low. Water is wicked up the matting, and the cells wick it up from there. I have sometimes been away for two weeks and I haven't lost any plants. I started with APS trays years ago from Gardener's Supply. More recently I've used standard 1020 trays and Burpees system (Home Depot had them, impulse buy). I now have tray/ mat sets from Gardener's Supply, seem much more sturdy. They come without cells or covers, but I have plenty.
I like peat pots because they are easy to use for starting seeds. Yes, they have cons, ie: start to fall apart near the last frost date, but they are the easiest to water from the bottom because they soak up water so quickly. I now wish I had started all my seeds in peat pots, but, oh well. Besides, they are good for the earth,(and your garden bed), because when they break down, the peat helps to hold water in the soil. I've also heard complaints about the peat NOT breaking down. Make sure to soak the pots before planting, and as you set it in the hole, gingerly rip off the bottom of the pot and the peat sticking out above the ground. I hope I've not made this confusing! I am for peat all the way. Have a great day everyone!
Oh whoops, I forgot. My FAVORITE book for germinating flower seeds is by Eileen Powell and is titled: The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers from seed to Bloom. I got mine at Amazon.com for under $20. It is a thick book with 600 genera of plants and their germination data. This is the book I would want on an island (as long as I could still garden:) It also has full color pictures of 500 different plants. I LOVE THIS BOOK!
After 35+ years of gardening and sowing seeds different ways I now only do it one way, called the Deno methods.
Here is how.
Seeds with hard seed cover (4 o'clocks) should be nicked to allow water to penetrate. Then soak in hand hot water over night.
Cut a kitchen paper towel in 1/4th then wet it. Squeeze out the excess water. Fold it in half. Place the seeds in a corner and fold one end over the seeds. Place this package into a ziplock bag and zip it, leaving a small opening to blow air into the bag to fill like a balloon. Once filled, zip it closed. Place in room temperature to germinate.
Sprouting time depends on variety. Check the seeds daily, starting after the 3rd day. Use a tweezer (grasp the seed casing) of those that have a radical (tiny root forming). Transfer to seed flat or pot. Make a hole with a pencil and guide the root into the hole. Plant at recommended depth, spacing 1" or more, apart. If the roots have grown into the paper towel, just tear around the roots and plant it. Do not try to remove the roots from the paper.
Until the sprouted seeds have broken through the soil, they do not need light. However, once they do, grow them in a sunny window, under light, or place the flat outside in a protected area if weather is warm.
The beauty of this method is that there are no wasted seeds. I have done this mainly with perennials, then stratified (moist cold) them in the fridge for 3 weeks. Annuals don't need the stratification.
The photo is of Datura inoxia (Moonflower) seeds sprouting in a paper towel, prior to potting.
I forgot to add that the Deno method works for all seeds, except tiny/dust like seeds. Those I sow in fine peatmoss, in a container. Just moistedn the peatmoss, mix the seeds in it, then cover. Once sprouting, spread the mix over seedling mix and gently pat down. They will continue to grow. I did this with Delosperma cooperi (Iceplant) seeds that are like dust.
Ella, found Eileen Powell's book at library copyright 1995. This book has no color pics and title is "from seen to bloom" how to grow 500 annuals,perennials & herbs. This may be an early printing but still a great book. Have ordered book from Amazon- hopefully its like yours with color but will not complain if it isn't. I'll still be happy. Keep you posted. Susan
P.S. I am being urged to become a master gardener. I haven't really looked into this program, but does anyone have pros cons or opinions about this. I'm sure I would learn a lot yet at my age I'm worried about remembering it all. I'd love to hear thoughts on the this.
I thought about taking a master gardener course, but one of the requirements, I think, is that you commit to teaching others, and I wasn't sure how well I could fit that in with an already busy schedule. Maybe I'm wrong about that requirement, though.
No, I don't think so. I have heard the same thing. If I only had to do it in the winter-ok but the rest of the year? I already do a lot of volunteer work and I have gotten to the point where I hate to leave my gardens. I seemed to have had more time when I worked full time. Still haven't looked into what the actual requirements are. When I do, I'll post it. Susan
I think the same- we had 11 acres,a large garden,a lot of livestock, canned our food and baked our bread-and still worked 45 hours a week. Now I can do the things I want to do not what I have to do. Yea for retirement!
In a previous life I both taught Master Gardener Courses and worked with the local group. Requirements can vary from state to state and from county to county as to the specifics of Master Gardening training, but here are some basics. Yes, volunteerism is very important within the MG program as it is organized through each State's University Extension Service. It was formed as a way to help spread the information generated by each State's Land Grant University to the general public.
Usually, the volunteer hours required are equal to the number of hours of training received. The volunteer hours do not have to be in teaching others, but can be many different things that fall under the umbrella of "community outreach". This may include helping maintain community gardens/planters, teaching adults or youth, helping the Local Extension office with horticulture related programs, manning information booths at various events to answer Hort related questions, writing articles for local newsletters working with 4-H clubs and many other things. In my experience, MG members had no problems finding ways to complete their volunteer hours.
After completing the requirements from the initial training, MG have a requirement each year to complete a much smaller number of volunteer hours as well as a continuing education requirement. The continuing education requirement may include such things as viewing Horticulture programs on TV, attending community seminars on horticulture and many many other things. Once again, MGs I worked with had no problems completing these requirements and most found that they were already receiving many hours of "continuing education" without calling it that.
As I said, requirements vary depending on your locale, and some of the things I have listed for continuing education or volunteerism may not apply to all situations. In my experience, there was a lot of leeway for local control and decision making in regards to the specifics of what qualified for continuing education and volunteering.
If you are at all interested in the MG program, I highly urge you to contact your local Extension Office and ask them about their local program. I can assure you they will be happy to discuss the program with you. In addition, most States have a website for their Master Gardener Program and that should have links to local county associations as well.
No longer have the acres,moved to Charleston 12 years ago to be near the beach but hardly ever go. To crowded,no place to park etc. I find I'd rather just stay in my own yard. Do miss those fray eggs though - youngest son took grand champion 4 years in 4-H. Don't miss the ducks - one year they got loose and ate my fall garden to the ground- and geese- well they're just BIG poopers. Do miss my sheep, especially the lambs but again,all good things must end sometime. Life just goes in a different direction.
I miss the lambs, too, but not the hassles of feeding them, or the rigors of having to be at home at the same time twice a day to milk the goats! We're down to two geese and they're not that messy, but they do stay in the chicken yard. What a horror, to have your ducks decimate your fall garden like that!
Guess I'm different, I use peat pellets with great success. I start them in cheap foil pans from the dollar store, watering is super easy. Since using peroxide in the original soaking water and for misting, I've had no damping off, and I start about 500 plants from seed.