Wednesday, May 7, 2008

State of the Garden

I’ve already started to think about my mistakes from this last season and how to correct them for the future. Plant varieties have individual space needs and can’t all be started and transferred to the same types of containers. Here’s what I’m going to do next year:

- Peppers, tomatoes, okra, broccoli, and eggplants can be started in 72-cell trays and then transferred to 4½” x 4½” x 4” tall plastic greenhouse pots until planting out.

- Herbs can also be started in 72-cell trays and can be transferred to 3½” x 3½” x 3½” plastic pots.

- Lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, and leeks should be started in flats and then transferred directly to the garden. The flats for the leafy greens can be relatively shallow, like a seedling tray. The alliums should have a container that is a few inches deeper than a seedling tray. The container should facilitate easy bottom-watering and soil removal.

Space is another issue. We’ve spent a lot of time this year running around the house with flats looking for the best and most light. Until recently, the seedlings were kept well illuminated by eight 4’ fluorescent shop bulbs in the basement. The space quickly got crowded once the plants are moved from the 72-cell trays into larger containers. Although some room was gained as plants like broccoli, chard, and spinach were moved outside, the sheer number of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants have exceeded the available artificial light capacity. The problem of space was further compounded by the aphid problem with the pepper and basil seedlings. These susceptible plants had to be relocated from the basement and brought outside during daylight to deal with the infestation.

The obvious solution to the space problem is to either increase capacity or decrease the number of seedlings we start. Of course, the second option is out of the question. Even though we expanded our seed starting enterprise substantially this last year, we will need to find even more space next year. To see why, here is a summary of our current situation:

(2) 4’ fluorescent shop lights contain (4) bulbs and accommodate (2) trays/flats end-to-end. The tray/flat dimensions are approximately 24” x 12” x 2” tall and are perfectly sized to fit under the shop light. Right now, we have four shop lights and two 2’ fluorescent lights, each designed to fit one seedling tray. Our maximum tray capacity at one time is six, and right now we have a total of ten. You don’t need to be a math wizard to figure out the dilemma we’ve run into.

Fortunately for us, the weather has turned warm enough for the surplus seedling trays to go out during the day. Moving the trays inside and outside every day is a pain in the ass and is obviously not a good solution. [Kate: And makes it so we can’t eat at our dining room table.] Mark is pushing for a hobby greenhouse for next year, although we’re not really in a financial position to justify one. Donations, anyone?


Anthony said...

I love starting seeds too and I quickly ran out of space until I starting going vertical.

I start my seeds on an adjustable wire rack shelving unit. You can usually find them at stores like Walmart or Target for about $30-50 in 4 or 5 shelf varieties. I connect a shop light to each shelf and can start two 24 cell seed trays on each level (I use self watering tray with 2"x2" cells).

You could start lots of seeds in a small space this way, although, the hobby greenhouse idea does sound pretty cool too.

Kate said...

It's so funny you mentioned that! Having recently installed some of those shelves in our pantry, we've been talking about putting some more of them in the basement to "go vertical" with our seeds next year, exactly the way you said.

I have a feeling Mark will still be gunning for the greenhouse, vertical shelves or no.

Mark said...

The greenhouse will be important to hide the tree stumps after I go hog-wild with the chainsaw. Bye-bye, shade.