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Fresh lettuce

Simpson Elite lettuce

The early lettuce is starting to expand, stretching and sprawling around the trays (it’s off to the greenhouse for transplanting in about a week). Even in the pic, Simpson Elite looks good enough to eat! I started the season’s tasting with a couple of tiny leaves. They literally melt in your mouth!

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Plug sheet action

Grow racks

Plastic cling wrap is everywhere. I tried it out last year as a replacement for clear tray covers and it seems to work fine. The method so far: fill the plug sheets with seedling mix, place tray in water so mix is soaked from the bottom up, drop in 2-3 seeds per cell, cover lightly with more mix, soak surface with spray, apply plastic wrap (it sticks nicely to the wet edges of the plug sheet), fill out label marker with variety/date and plunge through plastic (those labels are all that stand between you and variety chaos!), then it’s off to the racks. Now, the trays don’t have to be watered for a week, the mix retains more heat, and you can check moisture by looking at the condensation on the plastic. At first, I wondered about adequate air circulation and whether the fairly closed conditions would encourage algae, but the seedlings emerge on time with no unusual algae problems. As soon as the first couple of seedlings appear, it’s off with the plastic. I re-use the plastic as well, over the 4-5 weeks of seed starting, and the bit of waste in the end, well, I think it’s moderation in everything that counts. (In the top right of the pic, the Vittoria eggplant is tenting its cover, having pushed up vigorously in just six or seven hours overnight. It’s a feisty one!)

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Seed starting tools

Seed starting tools

It doesn’t take much to get seed started indoors. Fingers, mainly. The Seedmaster is a bit of a gadget from last year, not liked much at first, but rising on the tiny tool chart. You roll the yellow wheel, which clicks and causes the tool to vibrate, shaking seed down and over those little ridges (speed bumps) near the tip. At first, the wheel was stiff and the whole process seemed slow, but this year, it’s loosened up and once you get used to holding it at the right tilt for each type of seed, it definitely works faster for me than finger-pinching tiny seed. It came with four yellow inserts, with different sizes of cutout at the base to further slow down different sizes of seed, but I keep it fitted with the largest. The stainless steel transplanter tool acts like a shoehorn, and works great for popping out plugs when potting up (it’s all in that little bit of a curve!). The permanent marker and plastic plant labels are of course indispensable (DON’T GET MIXED UP!). The green dibber (dibbler, pointy tool, whatever) is nice in principle: it comes in handy for poking little dents and holes, but fingers often work faster.

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Grow racks at night

Grow racks at night

Plant racks, light stands…I usually call ‘em grow racks. They’re filling up now.

Pushed to capacity, the three racks can hold a total of 36 trays, 12 each, or four trays per shelf. So, depending on the size of the plug sheet—I use 38s, 72s, 128s, 200s—I can start between 1,368 and 7,200 seedlings.

Sounds super-efficient. HOWEVER, it comes down to the light. With four trays per double fluorescent fixture, the light is pretty stretched, and a lot of rotating is in order.

Also, most of the fixtures are the old standard T-12 type, where the light is stronger towards the middle of the tube. You can clearly see the difference in growth if you leave trays in the same position for a few days. The newer T-8 type lights more evenly from end to end and uses less power, but I don’t feel like replacing all the fixtures (a couple in there are already T-8).

It’s an ongoing experiment to see which size plug sheet to best start in for each crop, given the light situation. That in turn determines if or how often I need to pot up to larger quarters before it’s time to transplant into the field.

All in all, I’ll get around 2,500 seedlings off the racks this year.

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Progress…

Partially clear

Here it is on a gloomy evening after a few days of meltdown. A cold snap with a couple of inches of snow is forecast, and then, it’s back to the warming by the middle of next week. So the weatherpeople say.

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Eggplant emerges

Tiny eggplant

A tray of Fairy Tale eggplant suddenly begins to break out after six days under plastic wrap. In just a week or two, I won’t have time for this sort of…intense observation, watching for the very first signs of emerging seedlings. In a month, there will be a couple of thousand to keep track of. The micro-view is fun for now!

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