Tag Archives: seedlings

Seedling success through sterilized soil

Seedling success through sterilized soil

If you grow seedlings, and you should, you too can have seedling success through sterilized soil.  That sounds pretty serious but it is actually pretty simple.  This process is only for starting seedlings.  To do an entire garden simply would not be practical.

By sterilizing the soil where you start your seedlings you accomplish three things.  Any diseases dormant in the soil from previous crops will be destroyed.  If there are insects or their eggs in the soil this process will kill them.  Finally, any weed or unwanted seeds will be prevented from ever germinating.

Growing seedlings in sterile soil helps ensure the plants are healthy and improves your chances of success in the garden.

grow seedlings successfully in sterilized soil
Starting seedlings in sterile growing medium

How to sterilize your soil

The process of sterilizing your soil for the purpose involves a few cookie sheets and your oven.  Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Place your soil on the cookie sheet.  The soil should be 1/2 to 1 inch deep on the cookie sheet and the soil level.

Once the oven is preheated place soil filled cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the cookie sheets and thoroughly mix the soil on the cookie sheet.  re-level the soil and place it back in the oven and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Once the soil has baked at 250 for a total of an one and a half hours it will need to cool before being used.  You can put it into the containers where you will place your seeds or into a container with a lid to be used later.

An alternative to sterilizing soil

Another alternative to sterilizing soil for starting seedlings is to use a custom growing medium,  Here in our garden we chose to start all our seedlings in sawdust and sand.  It is nearly pH neutral and won’t contain any disease.

Watch the video on how to sterilize soil for starting seedlings

For those of you who are visual learners like me  consider this video that covers the subject.

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 Fiskars Micro-tip pruning snip.  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:

Mixing constant feed for seedlings

Mixing constant feed for seedlings

If you are starting seedlings you will need constant feed. After your seeds have germinated the seedlings require a smaller dose of fertilizer than what would be applied in the garden.   To give them a full dose of the weekly feed in a small container would burn them.

The MGC Book, on page 183 calls for the mixing of 1 ounce of the weekly feed fertilizer to 3 gallons of water.  The nutrients do not dissolve immediately. Typically we will mix up a new batch and allow it to sit overnight to ensure everything dissolves.

If the constant feed is needed immediately one could add the weekly feed to a small amount of hot water and stir until dissolved.  Add that solution to your bucket with 3 gallons of water and stir before using.

What containers can I use for the constant feed

My favorite container for solution is an old rectangular laundry detergent bucket.  The shape makes it ideal for getting up close to the edge of the seedling table and our seedling flats.  We can get the constant to the seedlings without slopping the liquid every where.

You can see the side of my bucket below.  A measured 3 gallons of water was poured into the bucket. Then the water line marked on the outside of the bucket with a marker.

when mixing constant feed for seedlings you will need 3 gallons of water
when mixing constant feed for seedlings you will need 3 gallons of water

 

If you will  have a LOT of seedlings then a plastic barrel or trash can with a lid would work to hold your constant feed.  Avoid using metal containers, the solution will cause rust.  To use the constant feed from a large container one would simply stir the solution and dip the watering bucket into the barrel.

The special device for watering seedlings with constant feed

A sprinkling can is simply a can with holes made with a small nail and hammer.  For our own use here at home we took an empty 16 ounce can of green beans and made the holes.  A small nail like the one shown below is ideal.

The "high tech" watering device we use to give seedlings constant feed
The “high tech” watering device we use to give seedlings constant feed

You can watch us build the watering can

Germination in the seedling flat

This morning I watered the seeds in the seedling flat that I planted less than 48 hours ago.  Once watering was complete I peeled back the burlap to check on them and was surprised to see germination already!   Now that I have germination the burlap will be removed.   I will still water through the burlap to help protect the seeds.

From left to right in the picture that has currently germinated you will see arugula, kale, peas and the beginning of my beans.  I will need to build some additional seedling flats so I can bump up the seedlings as they grow and become confined.  These will be planted in our grow boxes and will have an in garden green house built over them to extend our gardening season.