Greenhouse Action

Tomato Seedlings

Heirloom tomatoe seedlings in the greenhouse

With so many other things on my To-Do Lists, I had a very late start in the greenhouse this year. I didn’t get to sowing seeds in flats until mid April and some even later and I think the plants are better for it. We have fewer pests than ever before, (white fly, green fly, aphids) and, so far, no damping off of tender seedlings.

Another thing I did differently was to rely on the normal fluctuating daytime and nighttime temperatures instead of artificially controlling the germination environment by supplying bottom heat to the flats. The results have been surprising. We’ve had some seriously hot days, when the temps in the greenhouse rose to 95 F and above, and some frigid days and nights where the mercury barely rose above freezing and we haven’t noticed any negative effect on the germination rates or times.

One of the rules I’ve been wanting to break for a very long time is that of starting seeds in soilless mix, instead of potting soil. I had the opportunity to do it. We ran out of vermiculite and peat and so I used potting soil. I’m tempted to say that I’ll never worry about using a soiless mix again. (Of course, this may come back to haunt me). I have experienced no problems with this alteration. Au contraire, because potting soil contains nutrients the seedlings seem to be healthier than ever before, and, perhaps I’m speaking too soon, but, those that are subject to damping off have not done so at all. The obvious advantage to this new discovery is that ‘potting on’ is not as urgent as it had been previously when using a soiless mix; there are enough nutrients in the growing medium to encourage healthy growth without having to force-feed with emergency dilutions of fish emulsion.

Seedlings in the greenhouse

Vegetable seedlings in the greenhouse

Purists may want to give this a try.

Don’t throw away last year’s seeds!

The seed catalogs are rolling in and piling up fast and as I surveyed my index card files crammed with seed packets I began to wonder about seed viability from year to year. I went to the library and got a few books and while I was checking them out, I mentioned to the volunteer what I was after; namely seed viability information. She said, “oh, I think they’re like over the counter medication…they say that they’ll expire but really, I think they last forever.” Hmmm, rather dubious, if you ask me but she’s got a point. Seed packets usually state the year in which they were packed or, misleadingly phrased as “Packed for 2009”, which leads one to think that they might have a shelf-life of a year or so. I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

I realize that this may not be important to non-organic gardeners who purchase their seeds at their local garden center. If the seed doesn’t germinate, they can always go and get a new packet. For gardeners who are concerned about GMO’s (genetically modified seed) and want to use organic seed, or those who want to grow unusual or heirloom varieties, this isn’t a reliable option. If the seed doesn’t germinate, you’ll need to place another mail order and that will involve valuable time (as well as the possibility that your choice has been Sold Out).

I may not store my seeds under optimal conditions (dark and cold) but I come pretty close and I wanted to get to the bottom of this.  I prepared an inventory of the seeds I have, including variety name and date packed (this is 8 pages long). I then did my research and prepared a list of the plants I grow and the length of time, in years, in which the seed will be viable if stored under perfect conditions. Wow! I was shocked to learn how much money I had potentially wasted over the years ordering fresh seed when I had plenty of year old seed in stock. I share the fruits of my labors below: Continue reading