Thursday, May 2, 2013

Starting From Seed: Tomatoes and Other Vegetables

February seems so long ago.  Back then, I developed a routine of getting up in the morning in total darkness, wrapping myself in a warm cozy robe, making coffee, and then going out to my sunroom to turn on the fluorescent light over my seedling trays.  At night, again in total darkness, I turned off the light just before going to bed.  It's not as if I was getting up ridiculously early or staying up super late. In Seattle, the winter days get very short, so everyone goes to work/school in the dark and comes home in the dark.

My intent was to leave the light on the seedlings for about 16 hours per day. That way, they would get artificial light plus whatever diffuse sunlight came through the overcast pacific-northwest-winter skies during the day into my sunroom.  

Today, only about 2 1/2 months later, my seedlings have overgrown their original trays.  Some already migrated out into the garden, while others graduated to larger individual pots.  My tomato seedlings are pushing 11 inches tall!    They grow up so fast. 

I don't use much equipment for seed starting.  In fact, there's just one "tool" I find invaluable - a seedling heat mat.  I got mine at Fred Meyer (a west coast version of Wal-Mart) for about $20.  It has lasted several years.


For light, I use an old fluorescent office lamp that used to be my father's, and which I used as a kid to do homework at my desk.  I suppose I could buy a special light bulb for it, but honestly, this seems to work just fine.  It's an ugly old thing, which you can see in this picture:

Other than that, all you need is potting soil and some containers to plant in.  One year, I used yogurt cups that I had saved and washed.  I just poked holes in the bottoms.  Now I have a couple of trays and some oblong seed pots that I saved from plant sales over the years, and I reuse them every year.  I like them because they all fit like puzzle pieces into the watering trays.

Oh yeah - and you also need SEEDS.

Half the fun of starting from seed is ordering the seed catalogs in the winter and planning out your garden while it's still snowy/snoggy outside.  I prefer Territorial Seed, primarily because they grow everything in the northwest, so I know that if they were able to grow it and collect the seeds from it, it'll have a good chance of growing in my garden too.  For the same reason, I have also had good luck with Ed Hume SeedsSeeds of Change is a great catalog for finding heirloom seeds, and it's also a gorgeous publication with an uber-organic, anti-Monsanto vibe.  I don't think there's a print catalog for Renee's Garden Seeds, but I like her herb seeds especially.  Renee's is based in California, near Santa Cruz.  The climate there is also not unlike the cool-ish, foresty climate in Seattle, which might be why I like her seeds.  Finally, even though it's not from my region, one of my fav-o-favorite seed catalogs to receive is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  It's gorgeous.  I also have a soft spot for Baker Creek, because it originated in Mansfield, MO, not to far from where I grew up. 

My advice on where to buy your seeds - try to find a seed producer in your region.  The seeds you buy from them will be varieties that fit your climate and/or have acclimatized to your area.  Even better, if your friends save seeds, you can get them for free.  This winter, my friend Barb gave me several small envelopes with seeds from her garden, including artichokes, kale, and chervil.  So far, they have all germinated just as well as store-bought seeds. 
Here's a quick inventory of what I started indoors this spring:
  • Tomatoes- regular and cherry
  • Various lettuces
  • Broccoli 
  • Broccoli raab
  • Sweet peppers
  • Beets
  • Squash
  • Melon
  • Artichokes (from the seeds that my friend gave me)
  • Basil 
  • Chervil (from the seeds that my friend gave me)
  • Tuscan kale
  • Marigolds/Candytuft/Larkspur - about 4-5 inches tall each
I also started several sets of seeds directly in the garden, for those that germinate at cooler temps:
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Butter lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Radishes (see previous post)

Here are some photos of my seed starting endeavors.

Here is the bed where I planted peas (growing under the netting), buttercrunch lettuces (far left), arugula and spinach (middle): 

Close up of the arugula (foreground) and pea shoots: 

Potting up tomatoes:

These are all tomato seedlings, with the exception of the three in the center, which are sweet peppers.

Tomatoes getting bigger:

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