Category Archives: Seedlings

seedling heat mats

Seedling heat mats for seedling production

A great way of ensuring success in growing seedlings is through the use of seedling heat mats.  This is particularly true when starting hardy crops indoors before the average last frost of the year.  Seedling heat mats will maintain a constant temperature of the growing medium.  This will help get and keep your growing medium at a constant optimum temperature for germination.

To work with a pair of the Mittleider seedling flats, we went with a seedling heat mat that was 20 inches wide and 48 inches long.  Two seedling flats fit on this mat with room on each end.  We use that space later once we bump plants up to individual containers.  Ours is like the one pictured below and includes a thermostat.  It has a digital readout and maintains the temperature you set. You can see the seedling heat mat we use here.

seedling heat mats with digital thermostat
seedling heat mats with digital thermostat

The thermostat includes a probe that is placed in the soil.  The current temperature of the growing medium will be indicated on the digital readout.  The operator can adjust the desired temperature as needed.  Our units are both set at 80 degrees for germination.

Combine heat mats with grow lights

When starting seedlings indoors it may be necessary to combine a seedling heat mat with grow lights.  Currently our seedlings are germinated in the basement where there is no natural light.  We start all our seedlings under grow lights and on the heat mats.  Light and temperature are the first two of the six laws of plant growth and are necessary to grow healthy seedlings.

The grow lights heat the growing medium and helps cut down on the frequency for which the heat mats need to kick on to regulate temperatures.

Starting spring crops

Starting spring crops

It is February, which means it is time to be starting spring crops.  We start all our seedlings under grow lights and on seedling heat mats.  Everything is in our basement currently, but in the future we will be moving seedling production to the greenhouse.

Our seedling flats were moved to the basement today and have begun to come up to germination temperature.  Once the growing medium reaches the correct temperature we will add seeds.

Starting spring crops

Start with hardy and moderately hardy varieties

Everything we are starting now are varieties that are hardy and moderately hardy.  They will go into the garden well before our average last day of frost and will be protected with mini hoop houses.   Some of this will hopefully be going into a greenhouse we will build soon.

Our seedling choices for spring

We have amended our list of crops for this year.  Those we will be planting first are broccoli, cauliflower, onions, kale, spinach, red and white beets, and cabbage.

Determining when to start seedlings

While planning or starting spring crops we take advantage of the garden planning detail sheet in spreadsheet form.  We enter or ADLF and the spreadsheet will calculate when we need to start and transplant the different seedlings.  You can get the XLS file from the Mittleider Gardening group on Facebook.  It is in the files section there in the group.

Every couple weeks we will be starting more seedlings.

Changes we are making to our garden plan

We are dropping a few plant varieties that we really don’t eat and have added a few.   Radishes, eggplant, bush beans and Brussels sprouts have been removed from our garden plan for this year.  The bush beans were difficult to get everything picked without having some sort of trellis to hold up  the plants.  We are instead going a pole bean.  The others we found we just don’t eat much.  That space they used to occupy will be better used for the things we do eat.

Starting seedlings indoors

Starting seedlings indoors

Here at our home we have begun the process of starting seedlings indoors. We use seedling heat mats and grow lights in our basement. Starting seedlings indoors has been the one not successful step we have learned through the Mittleider Gardening Method to increase our gardening success. Growing our own seedlings gives us better control over ur garden. We only use the strongest and healthiest seedlings.

By controlling variables such as soil temperature, daily available light, moisture and nutrition we have more success as compared to direct sewing seeds into the garden. We won’t have seeds delayed in germination, or failing to do so entirely, because an unexpected cold snap moved through and dropped soil temps.

Starting seedlings indoors
Starting seedlings indoors

What do I need to get started

You’ll need a space where you have ample room and the ability to control temperatures. That space will need room for the plants as they grow and you bump them up to larger containers. Enclosed porches, an extra bedroom, the basement or a small seedling house with any required supplemental heat will work. Electricity to power the grow lights and seedling heat mat will be needed. A nearby access to water would be a bonus, but isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you’re utilizing a room with adequate light a grow light won’t be necessary. If you’re growing in a basement or a room with inadequate lighting you’ll need an artificial source to keep your plants alive and healthy.

What grow lights do I need

Grow lights can be purchased or made to suite your purposes with items commonly available at your local Walmart. Sams Club and Costco both sell “shop lights” that are complete and just need to be hung and plugged into a power source that will work.

Commercially made grow lights are more expensive, but the grow light bulbs will use less power. I’ve not idea how many years we will need to run ours to reach s break even point but am happy with our lights.

If you want to go the budget route you can find florescent light housings at Walmart. If you’re a handy person, or have one in your life that will help, the fixtures are easy enough to assemble, hang and then install bulbs. Standard florescent bulbs will work to start your own seedlings indoors. Or through places such as Amazon you can buy bulbs specially for grow lights that you can install in your fixture.

For those who are concerned about your energy consumption, consider going with the LED bulb. If you’re using existing florescent fixtures they can be easily converted to power the LED bulbs. Be sure to bypass the ballast to further reduce your energy usage. There are tons of great videos on YouTube that show the conversion process.

Why grow your own seedlings

Starting your own seedlings indoors is a great way to control the quality of your garden. Using certified seeds and sterile soil helps ensure there is no disease. By growing extra seedlings you can insure only the strongest and healthiest plants make it into the garden. Having healthy seedlings to transplant into the garden helps ensure all the available space is utilized. No failure to germinate from directly sewed seeds results in more on your table or in the pantry.

planning your Mittleider garden

Planning your Mittleider garden

Knowing how many seedlings you need  when planning your Mittleider garden can be difficult to figure out. Tools like the Mittleider garden planning detail sheet is invaluable in helping the gardener calculate how many seedlings will be needed.  Certainly a simple calculator would make the process easier as well.

You can find a copy of the garden planning detail sheet inside the Mittleider Gardening Course book.  A digital copy of it is available for free in the files section of the Mittleider Facebook group.  We choose to use the garden planning detail sheet as a spreadsheet to make the process a little easier.

planning your Mittleider garden with the garden planning detail sheet
planning your Mittleider garden

How we use the garden planning detail sheet

First we determine how many feet of soil beds and grow boxes we need to fill.  Once that is done we decide how many feet of each crop we need to plant.  Because we like to use the spreadsheet version of the garden planning details sheet, we started a spreadsheet like the one below.

planning your Mittleider garden
Planning your Mittleider garden

The hardiness, spacing and number of columns comes from the garden planning detail sheet.  The total feet is how much of the bed we want for a specific crop.  It was determined by how much of each particular plant we want to grow based upon our need and the available room in our garden.

The seedling number is determined by multiplying the number of feet times 12 to get the number of inches.  Take that number and divide by the number in the spacing column.  As a reminder, that comes from the garden planning detail sheet.  Take that number and multiply it by the number of rows.  This will tell you the total number of seedlings you will need for the allotted space in your soil bed or grow box.

For the example given above, I will need 32 red beet seedlings to fill 3 feet of our soil bed.  The “+ 10” portion I will discuss next.

Always plant extra seeds

Regardless of where your seeds come from there isn’t going to be a consistent 100 percent germination rate.  Each time seeds are planted for seedlings you will need to plant extra to make up for those which fail to germinate.

Seeds bought from a reputable company will average as much as 85 percent germination rate. What that in mind we can plant an extra 15-20 percent and should have enough seedlings to fill our allotted garden space.

Another tip I might like to point out here, in those seeds that do germinate there will be seedlings that fail to thrive or just look weak.  Those seedlings should never make it into your garden.

To help ensure only our strongest seedlings make it into the garden we plant an extra 10 percent of seeds.  That makes a total of 30 percent extra seeds being planted.  In most cases this will produce adequate enough seedlings to cover failure to germinate and the weak seedlings.

Because of the extra seeds planted we have plenty of healthy seedlings to fill the soil beds in our garden.

Planning your Mittleider garden video

For the gardeners who are visual learners, I’ve made this video and uploaded it to our YouTube channel.

Pruning tomato seedlings before transplanting

Pruning tomato seedlings before transplanting

Our average last day of frost has passed for the spring and we are full on in garden mode.  Today we pruned up a mess of the tomatoes we started from seeds under grow lights and have begun transplanting them into the garden.  The next week is going to be busy for us

They get pruned fairly heavily before transplanting, here are some pictures before and after pruning.  When transplanting they go as deep as possible, each of those root hairs on the stem will become a new root to feed the plant and fruit.

Why should you prune a tomato before transplanting?

Pruning of tomato seedlings is done for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, by pruning off all the lower leaves the gardener can transplant the tomato deeper into the soil.  All the root hairs on the stem that are below the soil can then become a root to provide water and nutrients to your plant.

As a result of that tomato seedling having fewer leaves to support it will come out of the shock of transplant sooner.  A plant that is in shock is not growing.

A look at tomato seedlings before and after pruning

Here are two series of photos that show a before and after picture of our tomato seedlings.

tomato seedling that needs pruning
tomato seedling before pruning
prunning of this tomato is complete
Tomato seedling after pruning

Here is another plant before and after pruning.

 

prepparing to prune this tomato seedling
This tomato seedling is in need of pruning
This tomato seedling has been through pruning
Pruning of this tomato seedling is complete

All these were started in sand and sawdust and will be grown in the same custom soil mix.  We will be putting more tomatoes in our native soil later.

Our favorite tool for pruning tomato seedlings

We have used our fingers, scissors and even a kitchen knife to prune seedlings.  After many different tools being used the tool I found most noteworthy is the .  The blades are short and help to keep you from accidentally removing more of the plant than intended.  (Normal scissors worked great, but I always ended up cutting off something I didn’t want removed.)  The Fiskars have a handy spring in it that opens the blades after you make a cut and loosen your grip on the handle.  We liked this set so well we bought an extra just in case.

A great option for pruning tomatoes
These are terrific in your garden for pruning tomatoes

 

Starting seedlings with grow lights and seedling heating mat

The seedling heating mat is plugged in and and the seedling trays are being brought up to growing temperature.  Today a bunch of our frost hard and moderately hardy plant will go into the seedling flats and get covered with sand.  A few items like our tomatoes will get started as well but will be protected from frost when they get moved into the garden. 

The pre-plant has been added to the seedling flats.  After the seeds are in and covered it will get watered with straight water through burlap until the seeds have begun to sprout.  Once they do the grow lights will get turned on and we will begin to water with constant feed.  

Kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, collard greens, spinach, eggplants and lettuce will all get started today.  

Starting green bean seeds

We are late in getting these seeds started, but today we got enough seeds in grow boxes that we can do one full 30 foot grow bed in bush beans.  There are 9 rows in this seedling flat with 15 seeds in each row.

Notice the old vegetable can with sand and a white handled spoon sticking out of it?  IRS my preferred method to cover those seeds with wet sand.  It cover the seeds and the use the back of the spoon to even out the sand with the growing medium.  The sand, when wet, just doesn’t shake out of the can easily.  

After the picture was taken the rest of the seeds were covered and the seedling flat was covered with burlap.  We water the seeds daily through the burlap seeds sprout.  The burlap diffuses the water and helps prevent the seeds from being washout out of the sand.

Want to build your own seedling flats?  See this blog entry.

starting bean seeds in a Mittleider seedling flat

Starting seedlings under grow lights

Starting seedlings under grow lights

Let us talk about grow lights . If you’re going to grow a Mittleider garden, or any garden for that matter, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not using them.  But why use them you ask? Because starting your own seedlings gives you several distinct advantages.    As a result of growing your seedlings indoors you get a jump  on your growing season.  Due to having 4-6 week old seedlings ready to plant as soon as the outdoor temperature is right your growing season will be longer.  Starting seeds in the ground outdoors once it is warm enough versus transplanting healthy seedlings as soon as its time to begin gardening.

Another big advantage of starting seedlings is that the gardener can discard any weak seedlings.  You can also start enough seeds to cover any seeds that fail to germinate.  As a result you will have no empty spaces in your gardens row.  And a full row looks fantastic.  Not to mention, a full row of plants puts more food on your table and in your pantry.

Our grow light and heating mat setup

We setup our second grow light in the basement to start seedlings under.  If you look under the seedling flats you will see the black seedling heat mats.  The grow lights are each the Agrobrite T5, 4 foot long, 6 tube light fixtures.

The grow lights are each suspended with their own pair of Apollo Horticulture GLRP18 grow light hangers.  After using these hangers I can honestly say I’ll never have another grow light setup that doesn’t include them.  They make lifting and lowering the lights for watering or general access the seedlings an absolute breeze.

Grow lights help you to maxamize your growing season
Seedlings started under grow lights in our basement

The seedling heat mats

These heat mats are important because they keep the soil and seed temperatures warm enough for germination to occur. It is especially relevant that if the correct temperature isn’t maintained the seedlings will die or seeds fail to germinate.

Our seedling heat mats are both Hydrofarm MT1009 48 X 20 inch mats that are controlled with a the MTPRTC, digital ETL certified thermostat designed for seedling germination.  This thermostat is digital and very easy to use and setup.  The digital timer to control the lights was more difficult to setup as compared to the thermostat.

Everything is connected to the surge protector and the lights controlled by an inexpensive digital timer/controller.  The lights are on for 18 hours daily and the the heat mats are set to keep the seedling trays at 80 degrees.

Agrobrite grow light and seedling heat mat
agrobrite grow light with seedling heat mat

For a  better look at our system check out this YouTube video: