germination propagation reutilization

So, I started a buttload of seeds last winter, and a number of them failed to germinate. I think that I need to add a heat mat to my setup and that I’ll have better luck next year.

It took me awhile to remember to bring the non-germinated seed pots upstairs, and when I did I set them on the patio coffee table, meaning to take them to the compost pile eventually.

Then I was out with Coraline a few days later and realized that the Purple Wintercreeper was getting wild again and thought – hey! I can use these pots to propagate some cuttings. That stuff takes super easily – I’ve often just put cuttings right into the ground with good results.

Then while I was putting the cuttings in, I noticed that some of the pots actually have seedlings starting to grow! The rain and heat they’ve been exposed to outside was enough to start them growing, I guess. I’ll take it!




more sprouts

The seeds are still starting!

The lettuces are really doing nicely. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to resist these sweet little greens – I may have to sneak a few leaves into a salad pretty soon.


This cracked me up – apparently I dropped a seed or two into the bottom of the tray and they’re growing right from there, just in the water and the few grains of soil that spilled in there as well.

a seed escaped and is growing in the bottom of the tray

This Emerald Giant Pepper is the coolest shape! Gorgeous.

Emerald Giant Pepper

The Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach that sprouted first is getting to look like a real plant. How cool is the contrast between the different types of leaves?

Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach

I had a bunch of seeds for Bellflower Tussock that I meant to spread around outside directly in the garden last fall, but forgot. So I thought, why not try starting some? It’s sprouting like crazy! Note: these seeds are tiny, so I was pretty liberal in how many I put in each container.

Bellflower Tussock

The Sugar Baby Watermelon is sprouting, too! I wasn’t sure how these would do, but they seem to be doing just fine.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

I sowed more seeds last week, so I’m now using five out of the six trays and all three tiers of the shelving unit. This leaves me one tray left to fill as we get closer to the last frost date, and then I’ll have more room in the tray that currently contains lettuce, when I move that out. Overall I have to say that I’m very pleased with this whole set-up. It is working even better than I had hoped!

seed starting setup aglow -now using all three tiers


germination nation

More things are sprouting, and the existing sprouts are growing like gangbusters. Woot!

seeds starting

More of the Iceberg Lettuce is coming up:

Iceberg Lettuce

Likewise the Red Velvet Lettuce:

Red Velvet Lettuce

And a Marigold:

Marigold germinating

I’m especially pleased with the Marigold (I fervently hope that’s actually what this tiny thing is) because they were the first ever seeds that I saved, last fall. The marigolds were purchased on clearance at a big box store (six pack for 20 cents!), and I was not sure that the seeds would germinate.

This is some Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach:

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach

But wait! This also purports to be spinach:

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach

Looking around online, I’m thinking the former one is the impostor.

Despite that, I’m feeling pretty good about this whole project so far.

seeds germinating


We have germination!

Huzzah, motherfuckers! Some of my very first seeds are germinating RIGHT ON SCHEDULE. I am elated that this whole seed starting thing is actually working. YAY!

Here we have Rocky Top Lettuce mix:

Rocky Top Lettuce

I have a few of these going, but will spare you the other photos as they look pretty much exactly the same.  You can check ’em out on Flickr if you wish.

And here is some Red Velvet Lettuce:

Red Velvet Lettuce

I’m choosing to not worry that it’s green right now instead of red. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

This proud little soldier is Iceberg Lettuce:

Iceberg Lettuce

And this fella (who apparently migrated from his nicely centered planting location) is Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach:

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach

I sowed some more veg seeds tonight: Buttercup Squash, Oxheart Tomato, Zucchini ‘Cocozelle’, Calabrese Broccoli, Mule Team Tomato, Chadwick Cherry Tomato, Brandywine Tomato, and Anaheim Pepper (see Folia for more on all those). Fingers crossed that my beginner’s luck continues.


seed starting started

Today was the start of seed starting at our house. We woke up at our usual time and after a delicious breks whipped up by K, we got right to business. We had cleared most of this area the other day, but we finished the last few things, including un-hooking that shelf thingie from the ceiling (it used to hold our router, but now that we have Uverse the router is included in an all-in-one unit that lives behind the TV) and re-homing the inflatable Ultraman who was living up there.

cleared basement space for seed starting

You can see here that we have a lot of stuff in the basement, including the patio furniture (draped in plastic), a ton of DVDs, CDs, and paperbacks, and some store shelving K brought home when his former place of work went out of business.

cleared basement space for seed starting

I was happy to have K’s help putting this shelf together – it was definitely much easier with two people than if I’d tried it by myself, and it was easy for him to lift the shelves up to the 72″ height of the poles as we assembled it (the shelves slide down the poles).

shelving unit and shop lights for seed starting

We ran into one snafu as we got started – the chains included with the shop lights were of course really short, which wouldn’t work for the very beginning stages when the lights need to be close to the pots. Not sure why it didn’t occur to me to check that before. So we ran to the Home Despot and got $10 worth of chain, and we were back in business. We used a level to make sure we had both lights on each shelf even with each other.

making sure the lights are level

seed starting setup - lights on!

Voila! The trays are still empty here, but you can see what the setup will look like when it’s in business. It was really pretty easy!

seed starting setup - lights on!

This is the power strip with timer that I bought. It wasn’t clear from the packaging that the timer only controls four of the eight outlets, though. Boo, hiss. So it will probably go back and I’ll replace it with something else, or perhaps get something in addition to this for the other two lights. As it is, I’m only using two of the shelves right now so it’s actually okay for the moment.

timer power strip

Now that it’s all set up, we turned it all off and went upstairs to watch DVR’d Fringe and make a bunch of newspaper pots. I looked at a bunch of YouTube videos and then did my own combination of the possible ways to do it.  First, I divided the newspaper into half-sheets.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Then, fold the half-sheet in half length-wise.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Then roll the newspaper up around a soup can. I found that it worked best when the top of the can was facing inside the newspaper.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Then turn the can up so that it’s right-side up inside the newspaper, and pinch the paper together where it flaps over.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Then fold down the paper, starting with the flappy bit.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Fold down all the paper at this end. For me, three folds worked well.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Then turn the can over, and squish down the end with the folds onto the table so it compresses.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Slide the pot off the can. Note: if you wrap it really, really tightly around the can, it will not want to come off. Don’t do that.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Hey, look! It’s a pot! Ignore the fact that it’s listing a bit – that will stop being an issue when you put the seed-starting mix in. The bonus here is that when you go to plant outside, you can just plant the entire newspaper pot – open up the bottom flaps and it’ll compost nicely in the ground as the roots grow.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

Important note: your hands may be ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING when you’re done folding over 100 newspaper pots.

how to make newspaper pots for seed-starting

After some lunch, I made a plan for what I want to plant where in the veg beds this year (more on that later), looked up what needed to be started by now, and headed downstairs to actually start some seeds. You’ll notice that I had to compromise – I could not find the necessary ingredients for making my own seed starting mix in my local stores, so I had to cave and buy pre-made commercial mix. Bah. Also, this gross pillow is an old dog pillow that happened to be nearby. Concrete floors are hard, yo!

getting started filling newspaper pots with soil and planting actual seeds

One episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour later, I had two and three-quarters seed trays filled! Hooray!

a few trays started!

I wrote on each pot the date and the name of the seed that is planted in it. Hopefully this, along with Folia, will help me keep track of what’s what and whether it’s germinating when it’s supposed to.

a few trays started!

seed starting setup aglow in the otherwise dark basement


seed starting

So I’ve been working on my seed-starting setup, and I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to get for equipment.

I can’t ever just buy anything – I am compelled to research each product and get the best price possible (not necessarily the cheapest item, but the best price for the best product) so it always takes me a little time before I’ve decided what I want.

I’ve been using information provided by some of my favorite garden bloggers to see what goes into a good setup. The most informative post I’ve seen so far is at You Grow Girl. I’ve also found a ton of information in the SeedChat archives and on Twitter.

First item: 18″x48″x72″ shelving unit. The best deal I’ve found is this one, which I can even pick up at my local store and not have to wait for.

Perfect Home Commercial Grade Decorative Wire 6-Shelf Chrome finish Shelving Storage Unit

Shelf: $100

Next we need lights. I’m planning for three shelves of plants and it looks like it’s best to use two lights per shelf, so that’s six lights. I could get some ubercheap ones for about half the price, but those only take T12 bulbs and T8 bulbs are better in a lot of ways (more efficient, better output), so I think it’s worth it to shell out extra bucks for these. I’ll end up saving money in energy and bulbs in the long run.

Lights: $20 x 6 = $120

Lithonia Lighting All Weather 4 Ft. 2 Light T8 Fluorescent Unit Shop light

The reviews say that the included hardware includes chains and hooks, so that should be set.

Then I’ll need the bulbs for those fixtures. The fixtures I picked use T8 bulbs which are pretty common and, for regular fluorescent, aren’t pricey. According to the bloggers, you can get away with regular bulbs for tiny seedlings, but then you need better bulbs when the seedlings get a little bigger. These sunshine bulbs are about the same price as regular bulbs, though, so I’m going to go with those to start with. I’ve seen a number of garden discussions online in which people say they’ve had good luck with those bulbs.

Bulbs: $7 x 6 = $42

To keep those lights going for the appropriate amount of time each day, a timer is handy. There are a ton of them available in-store at Lowe’s and Home Depot but the online information is incomplete (will it accept a 3-prong plug? is it rated for heavy duty use? etc.) so I’ll look at the store and see what I find. Should be able to do that for $20 or less. I already have a spare power strip to use for the lights.

Timer: $20

Next up: heat mats. I may or may not end up buying heat mats. I’m not convinced that I absolutely need them, and they’re not cheap (unless anyone out there has any you want to sell me at a discount!). For the moment I’m not planning to buy any, but we’ll see.

For vessels, I’m going to make my own from newspaper. I like the idea that the newspaper pots can just be transplanted right into the garden and then decompose on their own. I still have a bunch of old library newspapers left from when we smothered the front lawn, woot. I’ll buy some ingredients to make some starting medium – the compost pile is too frozen to use right now (next year I’ll plan ahead). I’ll also need some trays to hold those newspaper pots to make watering easy.

So we have:
Shelf:                       $100
Lights: $20 x 6 =  $120
Bulbs:  $7 x 6 =      $42
Timer:                      $20

TOTAL:                  $282 plus trays, medium, and incidentals

$300 seems like a pretty decent price to make this kind of seed-starting setup. I know that I’ll use it for years, so the equipment will pay for itself eventually. I can’t get seedlings of the sort that I want (organic, non-GMO, heirloom varieties) locally and this way I’ll have a head start from where I’ve been in years past with direct-sowing in the garden. The kits that include this type of equipment that I’ve seen online are at least as expensive, aren’t necessarily as energy-efficient, and have various other factors I don’t like that you can’t change because it comes as a bundle. So, here’s to DIY!

Of course, if any of you gardeners have done this before and have advice, please chime in! I’m off to hunt for in-person coupons for Home Depot and Lowe’s before I make any purchases.