seed starting


Just got a song in my head and cannot get rid of it…which in most cases can be annoying, but in this case, I really don’t mind. It’s one of my favorite songs; fully of alliteration.

It came to me while I sat noshing on my dinner at my desk, gazing out the window. Rhythmic beats of the gutter dripping rain water on the metal roof below. Out the window, a hawk suddenly landed. If it were a little brighter out, I’d be posting a picture of him. Majestic! He stool fearless in the middle of the front yard, unfazed by rain. Glad I got to see him! Which led me to thinking of these lyrics…with a little poetic license…

Wordlessly watching she waits by the window and wonders, at the empty place outside (I’m thinking of my garden blank slate)

Heartlessly helping herself to her bad dreams, she worries, did she hear a goodbye (see ya winter)? Or even hello (hiya spring)?

Anyway. Those aren’t the real lyrics to Helplessly Hoping, but they are my twisted version to apply to gardening.

What exactly is going on right now? Well, a little of nothing, a bit of waiting, a lot of anticipation…and in between…some tillage, some list making, some plans of attack, and some seed starting.

Here is what is in the works: over 5 thousand onion starts, over 4 hundred leeks, over 4 hundred cabbages (with 400 more to go), bed prep for more asparagus, and fingers crossed for a dry weekend so some serious garden work can happen.

Tilling in spring weeds

Tilling in spring weeds

I love spring.




Winter Weather Warning

Winter Weather Warning…again and again…

has caused us to really adjust our seed starting plans in this new year.

No, not the snow per se, but the general winter weather we’ve seen so far.

Wildly strong winds have prohibited us from installing plastic around our outdoor growing area. Subzero arctic temperatures…umm…no way could use an outdoor growing area in these conditions (no heat source installed yet so all would’ve frozen solid). The risk of losing power at any time during these weird winter storms (freezing rain, sleet, snow and strong winds). No power = the loss of water, heat and any means of supporting new seedlings.

With all of that uncontrollable nature stuff going on, we have had to improvise. First, seed starting has been delayed two weeks while plan B was initiated. A little cash was invested to slightly winterize a gutted space within the farmhouse. This step was important for living conditions and future seed starting processes…the gutted space houses our water source! So, with a couple of frantic days insulating we managed to get the gutted space from an average of 20 degrees F to 50 just before the really cold days hit! Yay! No frozen water pipes!

Lastly, we’ve set up a space in our main living area for germination of seeds. We have heat piped into this room and a little space to work. Once seeds germinate, they’ll move into the plan B room and then on outside.



So….here is what is in the works:

  • install lighting in plan B area and prep for transfer of germinated flats
  • install plastic on outdoor growing area
  • install heat source in outdoor growing area (meant only for really cold nights)
  • install tables in outdoor growing area
  • continue cranking out the seeding!


Our set-up

So…while it may be like this outside:

18 degrees F (that's -7.7 degrees C)

18 degrees F (that’s – 7.7 degrees C)

We have this action going on in the basement:

Basement set-up

Basement set-up

I have mentioned our seed starting methods and shown some close-ups of flats, but I have yet to show you the actual setup. Not ideal, but it works. And it is working better than last year because we have spent our life savings in shop lights. This view is only of half the basement. There is more growing area behind where I stood for taking this photo.

At any rate, we have two tiers of planting areas on detachable plastic shelves. The lights hang from the ceiling on chains so that they are adjustable in height. Most of the light fixtures are 8 feet long. Some of our original lights from last year are 4 feet long doubled up. All lights are plugged into either a power strip with an imbedded timer or to individual timers. Are there some light voids over the flat, yes, but the plants aren’t too leggy as of yet. I did have an emergency blanket up earlier on (before the second planting tier) for added insulation and light reflection. Probably, it was helpful. Are we pulling a lot of power with this setup? I don’t think so. Our most recent power bill was actually down from the previous month.

The soil mixing and block making happens right there on the floor. It is just easier for me to sit there and do it. I do the seeding of the blocks on the counter to the right. I have a little light that is positional that helps me see what it is I am doing. I haul in water for the soil block making in buckets and use the sprayers to water the seedlings. The sprayer seems to work well. I like that I can adjust the flow of water. I have heard that some folks setup fans on seedlings to help toughen them up in preparation for winds and such. I think the sprayer kind of acts the same way. I have been misting daily to every other day.

I have mentioned that Jordan is working on an actual seed starting / growing area structure onsite, at the farm. But building projects take time…and money. But right now a lot of time.

So. The basement works. The investment in lights is worth it. The seedlings look great.

Onion seedlings already forming bulbs!

Onion seedlings already forming bulbs!

As an aside to any other nerds out there: we inadvertently setup a sort of experiment. Most of our shop lights take 75W bulbs. We accidentally bought a light that took 110W bulbs. Then bought a few more. All of the bulbs are cool-white. True, the lumens  are different for the bulbs (75W = 5000 lumens while 110W bulb is 8700 lumens), but visually, it seems the seedlings do not respond any differently to this difference in lumens. The seedlings under the 110W HO (high output) lights are not bigger, greener, or any tougher looking than those under the 75W lights. Why does this even matter? Well. Money. The 110W lights are more expensive…fixtures and bulbs. And I just don’t think more lumens = more or better growth. Curious. Soon it will matter less which lights are needed because I will have the power of the sun! The best light source for seed starting! 🙂