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Seed Starting Confessions: My Little Secret

A photo of Shawn from The Funny FarmI am so excited. This year’s garden is off to the best start ever for us. The weather has been reasonably dry and the temperatures are way above normal. What a sharp contrast to last year. We were knee deep in rain and the temperatures were below normal for all of last spring and summer.

The weather was so bad the last growing season that our tomatoes suffered the dreaded blight. Every plant was gone overnight. Literally. The tops of the plants had the look of a line of rhododendrons suffering from the extensive damage of deer browse. You know the look. You stand back and look across a yard and see what looks like a perfectly painted line about three quarters up on the bushes. The top third of the bush is dark green and lush, with the bottom two thirds looking brownish gray and barren.

However, the reason for most of my excitement is that this is only the third year we have been growing almost exclusively from seed. For eighteen years I went to the local garden center and bought our transplants. It made things easier, and with everything else going on this time of year, it made scheduling sense, too. We have been determined to do everything from seed the last few years though. Between my niece Siri needing things to do in the winter (not to mention her green thumb) and me getting the survival bug a few years back, we can only proceed to grow veggies from seed from now on.

And now for my little secret ...

This is not officially the third year of planting from seed. No, no, no. This is the first year of planting from seed with any success. That’s right. I was failing at seedlings and transplanting. My Siri was planting with me in the basement every year in February. We would water every day and keep shop lights over all of the plants. Most everything would come up well. Some things would give us a hard time, but we would fertilize, adjust the PH, or just start over if it was early enough.

Once it was safe to do so, we would put the plants in the greenhouse. I would tend to the plants in the greenhouse every day. I was using clear covers for some flats. I would start more seeds out there like lettuce, cabbage, spinach, etc. The cold weather things we all can’t wait to get at in the early season. Some plants would go outside during the day and back in the green house at night, avoiding the frost. Others would go in the house on real cold nights. I was real diligent.

Every April I would start working the soil with the tiller. Then, once the frost warnings were gone, the beds would be raised and the transplanting would begin. Everything would be planted according to climate conditions and harvest dates. Siri would be so excited.

Then after a week or two she would get bored with doing the garden every day. She’s only nine so it was expected. Sometimes it would bother me. You know, you want your kids to follow through on projects, and see things to the end. She also enters the ribbon competitions at all the fairs, so we want her to actually earn her awards.

Thank goodness for her attention span!

Siri and I At the Cabbage

The first two years things were not going good with the transplanting, so, I would pull the plants out as they were dying off and go back to the garden center and buy plants! Tami would be at work. Siri would be at school, and I would wait for Mom and Kim to go shopping or run errands. Then I would plant the store plants.

It didn’t bother me that I was struggling with starting from seed. I had been doing it this way for eighteen years. But to see Siri fail at starting from seed would really torment me. She was so young, and she was so proud of those seedlings. She has been in the garden with me since she was three. I didn’t want her to think she was bad at gardening. So I would cheat.

Well, there it is. My little secret has been exposed! But that’s OK. Everything has really taken off this year. I may not get into garden heaven because of my little secret, but Siri is a three-year seed veteran, and we are all going to be eating our harvest from what we started in the basement all those months ago when it was still snowing.

Siri and I With Some Potatoes

brett_5
6/19/2010 3:30:48 AM

Hey Shawn - let me tell ya somethin - we all get better at everything each year, and yet somehow it always feels like I'm holding onto my garden by a thread. Slugs, blight, deer, rabbits, weather - same as everyone - it's a war out there. And I won't use any chemicals of any sort to prevent problems - I prune out fungi and bacteria when they show up, I stalk slugs, I mulch where it helps, and I use a homemade concoction to keep deer and rabbits away. But you obviously have the most important traits when it comes to gardening - persistence, pride, and determination. I plant tons of extra seedlings each year because tons of em get decimated by pests and such - and when one does, I fill in with one of the extras. Eventually they get big enough and I get a grip on the year's problems and I wind up with a full garden. But what you're admitting to doing isn't a dirty secret - it's something to be proud of - persistence, pride, and determination. Now plant extra seedlings each year so you can replace your dead ones with your own extra plants and it becomes a numbers game that you'll eventually win. That's as good as it gets if you're not using chemicals. Never, ever give up - that's what counts :-)


nebraska dave
6/15/2010 10:39:36 PM

Shawn, I had to laugh about your little secret. I’ve struggled with starting seeds over the years and still do. I tried my best to get seeds to sprout and when some did they would immediately dry up and die even while being coddled under a shop light and bottom watered in their little seed pods. I couldn’t even get pole beans to sprout. I finally just said, “I’m just going to plant the seeds in the dirt and see what happens.” Sheesh, they exploded out of the ground and have never stopped growing. Those beans are headed for the sky with space in mind. Unbelievable!! I’ve never had much luck with starting tomato seeds. I still keep trying and hope that one day I’ll be able to master the technique to get them from seed to plants for the garden. Thanks for sharing your struggles and successes with gardening.


mandi_2
6/15/2010 8:59:59 AM

Congratz on the seeds. If you're lucky, Siri won't go online and read this. As for telling your family isn't my produce good?.....Now I don't feel so bad for not liking veggies. Awesome blog, can't wait for more


s.m.r. saia
6/15/2010 8:46:31 AM

I share your difficulties in starting plants from seed. Some things do really well, and there are others I just can't get to do well for the life of me. Brassicas are my biggest problem. Out of a dozen red acre cabbage seedlings that came up this year I have ended up with one actual cabbage, and my broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower all came from the store. Those seedlings didn't even make it far enough to be put into the ground. Congratulations on mastering getting your plants started from seed. You've given me inspiration to keep trying!