Remember last year when I invited local site readers to come out and grow seedlings together in a local greenhouse? Well, it’s seed starting season and the greenhouse has kindly offered us some space again this year so I’m putting out the call.
There is shelf space for about 2 or 3 people to grow seedlings depending on how many plants each person would like to grow. It works out to enough space to grow transplants for a good-sized garden. Members can grow for themselves or donate to community groups if they’d like. There are also 2 excellent, newly built coldframes outside that will be available for use.
However, there are some considerations and caveats attached to using the space; I’ve listed them below.
- The greenhouse is located in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto’s West End.
- Last year was the greenhouse’s first year in production and as predicted there were problems. Everyone is learning how to keep such a large, heated greenhouse functioning well in addition to making it all happen within a community. Thankfully a lot of the major problems have been addressed, and the greenhouse has been completely overhauled. Exciting! I think we’ll have a better go of it this year.
- A $20 donation is requested to help offset the cost of soil and other greenhouse supplies. The soil last year was cheap, and lousy as a result. This year the soil is far better, but exponentially more expensive.
- Members are asked to commit an hour per week to watering seedlings, monitoring plant health, and keeping the greenhouse clean and organized.
- An additional 5 hours per year of volunteer labour to the greenhouse and/or park is required. That can come in the form of the Adopt-a-tree program, Helping with Spring Park Day (planting & clean up) and/or Spring Clean-Up Day (picking up trash in the park, etc).
Here’s the inside. I took this last week when members were still just getting started for the year but will be filled with greenery in no time.
If you feel you can meet those commitments and would like to join, please get in touch with me via the contact form. Greenhouse members are currently conducting weekend grow-alongs to help beginners get their seeds started. Once we’ve got some members for our shelves, I’ll conduct some additional workshops to get us going.
Mint has got to be one of the easiest plants to grow. Just plop it into some reasonably rich soil in a reasonably sunny spot and watch it take over. Evidence of its opportunistic habit probably lives in your garden right now. It certainly does in mine. The ‘Chocolate Mint’ I attempted to reign in by planting in a pot last year has busted loose spreading into the soil outside my community garden plot and into the plot next to it. Thankfully my neighbor doesn’t mind the invading plant and I am not short on friends willing to take fresh ‘Chocolate Mint’ off my hands. Everybody wins.
So while making even more mint may seem a bit ridiculous, I’ve got a project on the go that requires mint and lots of it. I could go out to the store and buy a couple of ready-to-go seedlings but since the timing isn’t critical I figured I’d save some money and make my own using the five or so varieties living at my community garden plot.
The process is easy. Simply cut a few stems about 4 or 5 inches long just below a node (the juncture on the stem where leaves are attached). Pluck off one or two sets of leaves, stick the stems in a small cup or jar of water and wait.
Most mint varieties will produce roots by this method in no time. Yes, you can go the soil route, rooting cuttings directly into potting soil or a vermiculite/perlite mix instead of water. Some say this is the best method for the health of the plants and while I would agree when it comes to most other plants, I couldn’t be bothered with the added hassle when reproducing easy-rooting plants like mint or basil.
Once roots have formed, pot up or plant the new plants in-ground and you’re done. You can add a little vermicompost to the hole if you want and of course water them in well to get things going.
Through the magic of online photo-sharing I have been catching a peak at little seedlings coming up all over the Northern Hemisphere. I’ve also been enjoying the smell of tomato plants sprouting fresh leaves right in my own home grow-op. The promise of spring smells good! And yet one thing disturbs me — ya’ll are too in love with those horrible peat pellets! Because I am so eager to get you off that dope I’ve come up with another seed-starting option that is mega-cheap and easy.
It’s so simple I almost feel like I’m talking down to you by providing directions. Simply get yourself a bag of seed-starting mix or mix up a batch yourself. I purchased a 10L bag for $3.99 CDN at my friendly local hardware store. I have seen seed-starting soil for a lower price however this mix is organic, chemical-free, and features compost and “sustainably harvested peat”. [Note: I am not listing the product because while I like it I am still looking into what "sustainably harvested peat" really means.] Regardless, 10L is more than enough to tackle Phase One of my frighteningly large and ever-growing list of seeds and should take me straight through to upsizing my wee seedlings from the starter and into transplant containers. If you’ve got too much save it for next year or use it to root cuttings. The fact of the matter is that you will need to replant into larger containers at some point in the seed-starting process regardless of whether or not you start in those horrible peat pellets or not so you might as well just save the dough, buy a bag, and forego the pellets altogether.
Next, save yourself some toilet rolls. Start a week or two ahead and you’ll have plenty in time. Ask your neighbours and friends! They will not assume that this gardening thing has driven you mad.
With a pair of scissors, cut 1/4″ wide strips all around one end of the toilet roll tube. This is the same method used to wrap a bottle of wine or a poster.
Fold each strip down. The strips should start to overlap each other creating a bottom that will hold soil.
Fill the tube with pre-moistened soil, tap lightly or push the soil down, and add more until there is about a 1/2″ or so left at the top of the roll.
Sow one seed per roll. Watch the sides of the tube for dryness and keep that soil moist!
You’ll need to transplant your tubes into larger containers about 2-4 weeks after your seeds have germinated. The best part is that you don’t have to remove the toilet roll or touch any delicate seedling roots. Just plop the entire thing into a larger container of soil (think 4″ transplant pot). The toilet roll with breakdown into the soil and be overcome by little plant roots in no time.
And since we’re on the topic of toilet rolls, start saving yours now so you’ll be stocked up when it comes time to plant your tomato seedlings out. I am yet to find anything better than a lowly loo roll to protect seedlings from cut worms.
Seed-starting season is in full swing in these parts. I’ve been getting loads of questions about it via email and figured it was time to put together a seed-starting recap here on the site.
I started my own tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seeds this weekend and put in orders with two seed companies to complete my 2007 Scary Mega Plant List. This last order totalled about 25 packs of seeds coming in at roughly $75 US. When you take into account that this does not include the transplants I will get in early June… well now you know why it’s the “Scary Mega Plant List.” I don’t want to scare anyone off and give the impression that gardening has to be this expensive. I do not fall into the norm since I consider my garden to be an experiment and a BIG, BIG part of my job. I grow as many new varieties as possible every year in search of beautiful, drought tolerant, delicious, and container-suitable plants to share with you. Most people do not grow 5 different pea varieties on their urban rooftop!
First I’ll show you my plan for this year. In my last post I gave a review of the Windowsill Seed Starter. What I did not mention is that I managed to snag the larger version at a garage sale for $3! The larger version is much more reliable with larger pockets that will keep your seedlings healthy for a more reasonable length of time — the downside being that it will not fit on a windowsill.
Because I am short on space I have a crazy plan based on last year’s experiment in which I moved my final repotted transplants to a window in the hallway of our apartment building to live out their final days before heading outside. By the time they were large enough to repot, the hallway was warm enough to accomodate them. It also made a nice transition from cushy to slightly-less-cushy. I’m pretending that was one stage in the hardening-off process. When faced with obstacles it helps to wrap them in a thin veneer of positivity.
Here you can see the little tags I made using toothpicks, sticker paper, and indelible ink. The other major downside to this kit is that it is too tall to work with my beloved heating mat. It’s been unseasonably warm so I think I’ll be fine without it.
These are the ratios I prefer. If you don’t need a huge batch you can use this as a basis for choosing a store-bought seed-starting mix. Always read the label and look for an ingredients list. Most popular brands have chemical fertilizers added that are both unneccesary, but will defeat the purpose of growing organically. Instead, buy a basic mix and add in your own organic materials. I suggest adding a touch of vermicompost and watering your plants with a diluted sea-kelp mix. To be clear, seeds do not require any fertilizers until they produce their first set of “true leaves”. In basic terms this means the second set of leaves you will see. The first leaves that appear are called “seed leaves” and feed the seedling until the first “true leaves” appear.
- 1 part peat or coir (Coir is a sustainable peat substitute made from coconut husks. Peat is mined from marshland, destroying natural habitats. When you can, use coir.)
- 1 part perlite (popped volcanic ash that creates good drainage.)
- 1 part vermiculite (water absorbing material made from the mineral mica)
Last spring the world aligned in such a way leading to what I can only describe as a collapse in judgement wherein I purchased an actual device to start my seeds in. Firstly, I am a gluttonous gardener and had compiled a frightening collection of seeds to grow, and then Lee Valley had the gall to open a store in downtown Toronto, luring me into their crack den of nearly useless gadgetry and fancy door locks.
I broke down and purchased Lee Valley’s Styrofoam Windowsill Seed Starter last season knowing it would be problematic but having been sold on a few key features: it’s just the right size to fit my narrow old-school window ledge, and it’s self-watering. While you can get your seeds started in just about any old yoghurt container or milk carton, gardeners who are short on space will empathize with my dilemma, How do I grow the maximum number of seedlings in the tiniest amount of space? The answer, like most quandaries in life comes down to finding a system that presents the least number of problems… or growing less seeds. Not going to happen. In fact my list for this year has increased!
Here’s what I wrote last year:
I pay $20 for Styrofoam so you don’t have to. [ed. Here's where I convince myself I am doing this all for you.] The first problem I noticed was no tagging system. I fixed that by fashioning tiny tags that don’t interfere with the dome using toothpicks, sticker paper, and an indelible marker. So far I don’t mind it as it fits perfectly on my narrow windowsill and I haven’t had to even think about watering for days. However, seedlings are only just starting to emerge and my suspicion is that the real challenge will come as they near transplant size.
The challenge I am referring to is the starter’s tiny cell size. Sure you can start a lot of seeds in a small space but what happens when those tiny seedlings start to grow? Lee Valley’s write-up on their website suggests using the starter for slow-growing plants such as broccoli and lettuce. Now, lettuce is a cold crop that does not require a start indoors, and I don’t know about you but I would hedge a bet that people with small indoor spaces often have small outdoor spaces. What percentage of those people intend to grow more broccoli in that small space than tomatoes? Just saying.
So here’s what my plants looked like about three-quarters of the way to planting time:
You can see that the plants are a bit leggy (tall and thin). This is the reality of windowsill growing. My window is south-facing and gets good light but it’s just not as ideal as an artificial lighting set-up.
A massive tangle of roots was created causing some stress on transplant. You know, what with all of the ripping and the tearing. Hint: Seedlings hate that.
Purple colour on the underside of tomato leaves is a sign of potassium deficiency. I transplanted these seedlings to recycled transplant containers shortly after taking this photo. The seedlings came around and lost that purple tinge once they had some room to spread their roots and take up nutrients. I watered regularly with sea kelp and added a bit of vermicompost to each pot at transplant time.
In the end is all of the fuss worth it? The advice I always give and stick by is to save your pennies and employ transplant-sized, reusable containers to get the job done. Starting with appropriately-sized containers that will take you from seed to transplant means less work in the long-run and prevents any desperate late-spring juggling acts to find enough light for all of your much-larger-than-anticipated seedlings. But of course if you’re like me and you’ve got bigger dreams than seed-starting space I would suggest saving your tomatoes for regular-sized containers and trying hot peppers, annual flowers, and just about anything else in the windowsill starter. Or if you’ve got to have those extra tomatoes you can do what I will probably do, give it a go now, panic later.