Cool Weather & Containers

I have a bunch of seedlings getting bigger and bigger under grow lights in the basement, and we have had some beautiful 70 degree days, but of course it’s still freezing at night here in Northern Michigan. I haven’t finished prepping the raised beds, but I decided to put some cool-season crops in containers today. This way I can start hardening them off and move them to and from the patio, the breezeway, or indoors depending on the weather.

In a wheel barrow, I made big batch of potting mix consisting of:

  • 1 cubic foot Dairy-Doo (compost)
  • approx. 1/2 cubic foot Michigan peat
  • 8 qt. vermiculite
  • 8 qt. perlite

I pre-moistened each pot and added some Trifecta fertilizer to the top few inches of soil in each container. I then potted a couple of varieties of kale and four varieties of Swiss chard, and started some spinach and lettuce from seed, as well as nasturtiums. I can’t wait for summer salads – especially those sweet, peppery flowers that I never see in the grocery store.

I had a leftover pack of nasturtium seeds – and I remember they took a long time to germinate when I started them in a container last year. I found info online about scarification – which is filing down the surface of the seed (with a nail file or a grater) to increase the rate of germination. I tried it with the Swiss chard seeds already and it definitely worked. So I used up the rest of last year’s packet and am hoping for more nasturtiums than I know what to do with. I put them in a low, wide plastic pot which can eventually go in a hanging basket if all goes well. Instead of adding fertilizer, I mixed some sandier soil into the potting mix – since rich soil promotes leaves and not flowers. That will stay indoors for now.

The kale and chard seedlings are not hardened off yet and it will definitely be below 40 tonight, so I will bring them in for the night too. The lettuce, kale, chard, and mustard greens that I had started in peat pellets did not seem happy under the grow lights after I put them in pots. Not sure if it was the soil mix that I was using or transplant shock or what, but hopefully they will be happier in a cooler environment, with natural light, and more space to grow.

 

Next on my to-do list is procuring a trailer full of Dairy-Doo for the raised beds and up-potting my peppers, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts to 4″ pots.

Seed Starting

Last year I failed to sustain seedlings by indoor natural light and bought most of my plants at the local nursery, so this year I was anxious to start my own seeds indoors with grow lights. I ordered a bunch of varieties from MIgardener, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., and Park Seed. I also bought some more packets at my local grocery store, and even snagged a few at Walgreens.

I happily assembled the components of Park’s Complete Grow Light and Seed Starter Kit. I selected my seeds with the greatest ranges of time recommended for sowing indoors. After watching several youtube videos about starting seeds, I got down to business on March 17. Perhaps a bit too early for Zone 4, but this was somewhat of an experiment – and I knew I had more grow lights to accommodate the seedlings if they needed more space.

Germination was surprisingly rapid with the humidity dome and the heat mat. Once lots of things were sprouting, I wanted to start more. Apparently starting seeds is addictive. I ordered some extra heating mats and a timer for my set up. I moved the seedlings to trays that I owned, and bought refill pellets for the jiffy trays. I really love the convenience of using the peat pellets. I also decided to harvest some seeds from last year’s dried super chilies and last year’s dill plant. The chilies have sprouted!

I up-potted into some containers that I saved from last year’s greenhouse purchases. For those I mixed and sifted small batches of: Michigan peat, MIgardener’s Trifecta, vermiculite, perlite, and worm castings. On the third or so batch I also added blood meal. I was wary about the blood meal because last year when I tried using it to top dress part of my garden, my dogs got into it. Again, while I left the seedlings out to get some sun, another one of my carnivorous canines stole two little pots of arugula and kale just to eat the dirt. Luckily it’s not too late to start more!

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Indoor Growing

My wonderful fiance and his extremely thoughtful family made me very happy this Christmas with gifts of indoor growing equipment. I got an Aerogarden, a seed starter kit with a fluorescent grow light, and 3 LED grow lights. I’m a lucky girl!

In the dark, depressing days of January, I got started with the Aerogarden. No, it has nothing to do with air plants. Yes, it’s a hydroponic system for growing all sorts of plants. No, it’s not exactly organic because the plant food is derived from mineral salts. And yes, it’s fun, easy, and I have been more than pleased with my constant supply of fresh herbs! Mine came with a gourmet herb seed pod kit which included dill, parsley, mint, thyme, and two types of basil. This snapshot is from about a month after starting.

The dill grew and continues to grow extremely fast. The mint and basil were also pretty quick to get big and full. The parsley and thyme are a little slower but still provide enough to use in my cooking from time to time. I can be pretty aggressive with harvesting and they all flourish. Pruning is the fun part, and I can always just dry the trimmings if I’m not going to use them immediately. It’s been over three months now and they’re still going strong.

The whole thing takes up less than a square foot. It’s got adjustable LED lights with a built-in timer, an automatic water pump, and it even lets me know when to add the liquid nutrients. Pretty fool proof – just have to feed every couple of weeks and remember to top it off with fresh water every day. I have been using distilled water because I know that our well water will calcify in the reservoir and clog up the filter (like it does on our humidifier). I’m tempted to try a different liquid nutrient that came with some cow pots I found at Costco, but I haven’t run out of the Aerogarden liquid plant food yet. I just have to find out if it’s good for hydroponics. Edit: Messina customer service informed me that Seedlingers Plant Fertelixir can be used with hdyroponics.

Our last Spring frost date is June 6 here, so the excitement of the Aerogarden definitely helped hold me over until it was time to start seeds. Meanwhile, I decided to do a complete overhaul of our basement so I would have a nice place to set up my grow lights. A few coats of paint made a huge difference. I ordered shelves from Ikea to house the lighting fixtures. Now it is my new happy place! More to come on my seed starting operation. With a growing season of only 95 days, starting indoors is crucial.