Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seedlings getting in shape

I was, to be honest, a little hesitant that starting seeds indoors would work out for me at all. I was kind of convinced the cats would eat them, or I would under- or over-water them, or that they would somehow fail to sprout at all. But right now, many of them are starting to look like the grown-up plants they will become, and I'm very proud. The most startlingly delightful surprise was checking in this morning and seeing that the one of the parsley seedlings had developed a leaf that's actually, well, parsley-shaped. It kind of looked like it might've been thinking about becoming parsley-shaped yesterday, but overnight it just magically transformed itself into something recognizable.

parsley at 18 days

The other plants I started back at the tail end of February are looking good, too. The basil has developed its second set of leaves, and they're like little tiny pesto components already. The metamorphosis wasn't nearly as dramatic, but it's there. I transplanted one of the seedlings into a larger pot, the one it will hopefully stay in; it's under the lights, still, but as the days get longer and warmer I plan to transfer it to the kitchen windowsill. The peppermint seedlings are so tiny they're barely visible (in fact, I can't really see them in the photo below) but they're there, with their cotyledon leaves and a pair of real leaves. The onion stalks are growing thicker, to the point where I start to worry they may be too crowded until I can get them outdoors, but then I remember they don't put energy into building their bulbs until light and temperature tell them to do so.

state of the seedlings, 16th march

You can see there, too, a recycled mushroom box; I punched some holes in the bottom with a chopstick (egads, what an awful sound that made) and filled it with seed starting mix, then planted jalapenos on one side and sweet red peppers on the other. Unfortunately I forgot to label which side is which, but as long as I get one plant from each side into the garden I know I'll have both. They were just started on the 13th of March, and I hear pepper seeds can be a long time in germinating.

There's also a Ziploc bag, which I do not find at all aesthetically pleasing, but I wanted to grow some lettuce indoors and it seems this is a good method. Essentially, I filled the bag 4" deep with potting soil, cut the corners off at the bottom, then watered the bejeebus out of the soil. I let it drain so it wasn't just straight mud, then tossed in three lettuce seeds and sealed the bag except for 1" along the zipper. The seeds sprouted within 2 days, but I saw signs of mold at the base so I opened the bag up. They seem to be doing quite well and with luck we should be eating some lettuce within three weeks. One of the little guys seems to have established himself sideways in the bag, and I doubt he'll make it, but I haven't plucked him out yet. I figured I'd see what happens.

lettuce in a bag, 8 days

Audrey, the cat pictured basking in the fluorescent lighting, seems to have developed some kind of affection for the plants. Whenever I water them or otherwise tend to them or just sit and look at them, she has to join me, and often meows at me (she's a talker for sure). She has also taken to curling up under the seed trays; really, who needs a heating mat when you've got a heating cat?

I also read on a forum that blowing on and brushing (i.e. petting) your seedlings is a good idea to help make them strong. So I've set up a small desk fan about three feet away from them, and I turn it on low every couple of hours for about 20 minutes to simulate a breeze. Audrey does a good job of sniffing at and "petting" them, but I touch them sometimes too, not least because it's just fun. I don't know why I never read about or thought of this before, but it certainly seems like it will help the plants to prepare for the Big Move Outdoors later in the season.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Growing lettuce and herbs indoors

It seems that ever since daylight savings time hit this past Sunday, I've been even more impatient to get my square foot garden started. Considering the snow's only just today melted away, I've got a little while before I'll be harvesting much of anything; our last frost date here is around mid-May, from what I can ascertain. Even though I know one morning I'll wake up and it will be August and I'll wonder where the time went, I still get antsy now, so I decided to try growing a few things indoors.

I cook so much I've always thought I should grow some herbs in the kitchen windowsill, but somehow I've never gotten around to it. Until recently I'd never had any luck with indoor plants, so I let that discourage me, plus sheer laziness, you know. But this year already I've got cute little basil, parsley, and chives going, and I'm going to think about starting some shiso today as well. It's not commonly used in the US, I don't think, but I love the way it tastes and it's especially good during the hot summer. Anyway, the basil in the picture in an earlier entry has already been repotted into something a bit larger, and it's looking quite nice; the parsley has come up, and the chives are getting quite tall.

I've also got some lettuce going: I planted the black-seeded Simpson in a Ziploc bag full of potting soil as suggested in several places online. The seeds sprouted within two days - now that's instant gratification. I have to admit I'm still a little wary of growing anything in a Ziploc bag, but we'll see how it goes - and so far, so good.

All in all, I'm really pleased with my indoor light setup since it allows me to grow these things indoors rather than waiting for the actual warm weather to commence. Hopefully the experiments turn out well....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fluorescent Lights and Your Cat

So. I took the advice of a few gardening books and websites and just used one cool and one warm fluorescent tube in each of two light fixtures as "grow lights" for my seedlings. Even though they all assured me that this was Fine and A Good Approximation of Sunlight, I have to admit I wasn't entirely convinced. That is, until one of my cats discovered the lights.


She now spends a majority of her day basking in the glow of the fluorescent lights, even rolling around just like she does in the sunlight. I guess if it's good enough for a cat, it's good enough for the plants, hm?

Monday, March 3, 2008

They're up!

I checked the seedling flats tonight and o! exciting day! Some of them have poked their heads above the surface! The basil has actually unfurled its wee little cotyledon leaves.

Itty bitty basil!

See him? The onions and chives are as yet just bent stems, heads down in the soil, but they'll probably join the party soon. The parsley and mint don't seem to have joined the party as yet.

I also got my copy of The New Seed Starter's Handbook in the mail today. It's got rather more content than I'd expected, and I've been happily reading along. Based on my reading, I think I'm going to start some pepper seeds tomorrow, since they can take a while to germinate.

Meanwhile, I'm going to continue admiring my little sprouts, and try to make a schedule for planting their summer neighbors. Oh, and for getting them all out into the yard; there's no bed awaiting them just yet.