Fuzzy little rosemary

Rosemary: first true leaves

Hmmm, so that’s what tiny rosemary seedlings REALLY look like with their first true leaves. I’m experimenting with the new camera. On macro, it’s practically a microscope. I can focus as close as 1 cm (less than half an inch) away. That’s a little tough to manage, but with 12 megapixels of resolution, I can focus from a more reasonable 6 inches away and then ZOOM IN in the image editing program. Rosemary gets a whole new look compared to the old camera. What a cool tiny farming tool, if you need pictures…

Parsley update

Curly parsley: true leaves emerge

Around two weeks after showing up, the first set of curly parsley is putting out its first true leaves. This is Krausa Market, a “triple curled” leaf variety. Aka moss-curled. There’s also double-curled leaves, like the Forest Green and Green Pearl, also in the trays. Single-curled? Don’t think so… I still have a little time to leisurely examine seedlings and wonder about such things. I started thinking about the farmers’ market and all the SPEAKING that involves (on a busy Saturday, it can be practically 6 hours of non-stop veggie talk), and the gazillion kinda BASIC details there are to know about every single crop. What are the main types of leaf lettuce? Are muskmelons the same as cantaloupes? What’s the difference between slicing and pickling cukes, or American, European and Middle Eastern cukes? How do you pronounce Chioggia beets? Stupice tomatoes? How do you cook ____? The possibilities are endless! Of course, I don’t need to know any of these things. I don’t even have to know the names of the varieties. Veggies grow regardless. When questions come up, I could shrug and say, “Dunno” or “Good question!” Still, I’d rather have some answers, pass on whatever I’ve picked up along the way. Right now, I’m still wondering about triple- and double-curled parsley, but that’ll pass… :)

Tea and fungi

Making chamomile tea

Chamomile tea prevents damping off—I’m a believer! It’s one of those natural but-do-they-really-work remedies, used where more product-minded folks would fork over a few bucks for a bottle of No-Damp fungicide… I brew up a batch of tea, dilute it by eye to a pale gold,  and apply every couple of days with a fine-misting spray bottle. I’m pretty casual about the recipe, and keep spraying until the seedlings are established (that’s my method, there are more precise instructions around as well, search online).

Damping off is the name for a bunch of different fungal infections that can hit seedlings in trays with similar effect. In my encounters, the damage appears right below the soil line, strangling the stem just out of sight. Dig up a stricken seedling and there’s a small section of the stem, all pale and shriveling to nothing, while above and below, all looks well (the symptom’s called “wire stem”). It’s pretty shocking to see in action. One minute, your seedlings are looking all perky, and then you touch one…and it topples over! Whooaa!

Up to a couple of years back, I’d lose a few seedlings, usually PEPPERS for some reason, never anything major, parts of a tray or two, but enough to be scary. I seed-start in soilless mix (so it should be disease free), trays and tools are given a good disinfection at the beginning of the season, there’s always plenty of air circulation, and I make sure the soil surface doesn’t stay wet—all the things these soil-borne fungi don’t like. Still, damping off was sneaking in, until chamomile tea spray came along… Coincidence?

Seed starting tools II

Seed starting tools

Here are ALL the indoor seed starting tools I have, most of them always-used, a couple not. Nothing special, and FINGERS I’ve found are handiest for most of the work at this scale. In any case, a few details (and there’s more on #1-5 in Seed starting tools, part 1): 1. The Seedmaster, a gadget for trickling out small seed as you rotate the wheel (the yellowSeed starting tools map pieces are click-in filters for different seed sizes); 2. assorted white plastic plant labels; 3. a dibbler or dibber or whatever, for poking little holes in soil; 4. a fine-point black waterproof marker (I like Sharpies) for labeling; 5. the mini-transplanter is essentially a tiny, stainless steel shoehorn for easy liberation of plugs from their cells; 6. a moisture meter, simply stick it in the soil; 7. plant snips for thinning seedlings; 8. Mini-Sim seeder: fill and shake out; 9. suction seeder with three tip sizes: squeeze the bulb, put the tip on a seed, release to hold, squeeze again to drop… ($25…what was I thinking?!); 10. digital timer for keeping track of repetitive tasks like bottom-watering trays one by one; 11. plant light meter, reads in footcandles, with settings for indoor and out; 12. digital indoor/outdoor min/max thermometer/hygrometer, mainly for keeping track of temperature; 13. magnifying glass with light, for examining seedlings (and GREEN MOSS) up close; 14. soil scoop for filling plug sheets and pots with seedling mix; 15. spray bottle with good quality spray head (more water per pull; I’ve used a wand mister like I have in the greenhouse, but the hose kept getting in the way, I may try one again for the seedling room this year); 16. small fibrepak flats, convenient for holding tools and seed packets on the potting table (left lying, the packets can so easily get wet…); 17. small bulldog clips, useful for all kinds of things, like organizing groups of seed packets. And the winners are…all of them, EXCEPT for: #9, which I found to be useless for my purposes; #8 which is great, but mostly for heavier hand seeding in the field, like for flowers; and #6, 11 & 13, which are more educational toys than essential tools, but still cool! (Wow, that was a lot of blogwork for pretty obvious stuff, but there you go! :)

Simpson Elite

Simpson Elite lettuce seedlings

More early lettuce. This is Simpson Elite, an improved variety of Black Seeded Simpson, which is a really fast, reliable heirloom from the 1800’s. I grow both. They have thin, delicate, pale green leaves, but they’ve proven tough in heat, drought and cold. And they’re 40-45 days! These seedlings are now about 3-1/2 weeks old. I still haven’t thinned them from two per cell—all the lettuce looks so…pretty, densely bunch in their trays, and they’re stretching a bit, but just this side of really crowding each other. Anyhow, it’s the super-early lettuce…mostly for fun! (This is also my first tryout of the latest new farm tool, a Canon G9…a sturdy, field-ready bit of gear… :)

Lightbox suspended

Four-fluorescent lightbox

Another seedling room set-up task checked off today: hanging the lightbox. Not exactly a big job—the chains were already there from last year—but having it in place is a big visual reminder in the Milkhouse that we’re heading into spring. The box, given to me two-three years back, has four 48″ fluorescent tubes on 5″ (12.5cm) spacing. Raised up a bit more, it gives pretty good light to the whole tray, which is about 3.5’x4′ (1×1.2m). It’s been a welcome bit of much-needed space for larger seedlings, though this year, with the barely-heated greenhouse plan, maybe it won’t be so critical. I still have to line the tray with plastic, and possibly get round to giving the box a coat of white paint…