Sow into Spring…

…get it?

Even the local Herbal Magic Center knows what’s up… kind of. Although I haven’t lost 40lbs or 64 inches, I did sow over 40 seeds in less than 60 minutes and in my book that’s close enough. About a week and a half ago I took advice from the Farmers’ Almanac and decided to start my garden. We’re currently renting an apartment, so my dreams of designing and building my own garden patch will have to be put off for a few more years. Luckily, we have a decent sized patio that gets hours of sunshine so container gardening it is!

Before I began there were a few things I already knew:

  1. I want and know I can have tomatoes. We’ve all seen those upside-down hanging tomato plants, making growing tomatoes possible in even the smallest spaces. And let’s be honest- the smell of a fresh tomato plant is amazing, who would want to miss out on that?
  2. I want and know I can have beans, they can be grown in containers as well. My parents have successfully been growing beans in window boxes along the deck for a few years now.
  3. I want cucumbers. Tyler and I make pickles here like it’s our job. This means that we are always buying cucumbers, growing our own means that we’ll be saving some money this summer. Less money spent on cucumbers is more money spent at patio bars!
  4. When it comes to container gardening, the plant can only grow as big as the container you put it in, seems pretty logical.
  5. It’s better to under-water a plant than over-water a plant and drainage holes are a must. This is something I’ve learned when caring for houseplants, I’m assuming it applies to vegetable gardening as well.

That’s it, that’s all I knew. Not enough to go off of when starting a garden. I’ve never done this by myself before either by the way, as if it wasn’t already apparent I’m a novice gardener. I’ve helped tend gardens here and there and I grew herbs from seeds once, but vegetables are new territory for me. Obviously I needed to do some research.

While researching I found out several things:

  1. Cucumbers can be grown in containers, awesome.
  2. When starting from seed it is important to use potting mix, not soil. Using mix is beneficial because soil can harvest weeds, bugs and disease. Mix is said to eliminate these things and keep your young seedling safe and healthy.
  3. There’s a whole bunch of vegetables that can be grown in containers! This article is very helpful, listing vegetables that grow well in containers as well as how big the containers should be, and how many plants you can fit in each.
  4. How to harden plants off. This is something I’ve done with houseplants and herbs when I moved them outdoors for the summer (hardening plants means to gradually adapt them to the outside weather, rather than the quick and potentially harsh transition of bringing them outside and leaving them there). I’m glad to have learned the term for it, and that I was doing the right thing.
  5. It’s not important to expose the seeds to direct sunlight until the seedlings sprout, but after that they need as much light as they can get.
  6. I was right about the over-watering, plants shouldn’t sit in water or the roots will drown and rot. This article had good information on container gardening.
  7. Vegetable plants need fertilizer, something I don’t use much for houseplants.
  8. They need at least six hours of sunshine a day too.
  9. Large clay or plastic pots 18-24″ in diameter or larger will be best.
  10. Tomatoes should be picked when they are almost completely red, and set to ripen on a kitchen counter.

Okay, so this doesn’t seem too bad. I had potting mix left over from last year, two empty egg cartons just dying to be used and some daisy seeds dying to be sown.  I set off to buy some vegetable seeds; tomato (two varieties, big and small), cucumber and beans (green and yellow).

While looking at seeds I stumbled upon this little greenhouse for $6, inside the greenhouse were small discs of peat. I decided that an extra $6 was worth it to set up an experiment and have a little fun.  Battle of the Seeds: Greenhouse vs. Egg Carton had begun.

The egg cartons were pretty easy; cut off the tops, filled them up with potting mix, poked a hole in the middle of each, popped a few seeds in and soaked those little suckers with water.

I’ve never seen anything like this greenhouse before so I was pretty intrigued. I needed to add about 3.5 cups of warm water to the container and allow the peat packets to grow, it didn’t take long. This would be a fun project to do with kids too by the way! When the packets were done expanding I could see that it was wrapped in netting, the instructions say to pull away the netting at the top and fluff up the peat inside before sowing the seed. Then just pop on the top and wait for the first seeds to sprout… total time that took you ask? Two days.

Two. Days. I was dumbfounded, awestruck, flabbergasted! All of the seeds I bought said to allow at least 6 days to germinate and here on the second day I’m getting some serious sprouting action. Greenhouse: 1 , Egg Cartons: 0.

Day Three; Greenhouse: 6 (4 in foreground, 2 in background), Egg Cartons: 0.

Day Four: All but two daisy peats have sprouted; Greenhouse: 22, Egg Cartons: 0.

Transplanted the cucumber, green beans and yellow beans on the fifth day. By the time the first week was up I had transplanted the greenhouse beans and cucumbers twice, and put the tomato and daisy seedlings in their own pots. It was pretty overwhelming (although still exciting) how quickly the seeds sprouted and needed to be moved, I must admit I wasn’t totally prepared for it. I expected to have an entire week before they even germinated and I would have to start thinking about what pots to buy and move them into… not only that but I expected (and still expect) that not all of the plants would survive, if they even germinated to begin with.

Here we are on the twelfth day, everything from the egg cartons have sprouted, and the beans seriously need to be moved, I’ve been slacking.

Everything from the greenhouse has been moved and seems to be doing alright, though I’m afraid they might be getting a bit leggy due to lack of sunshine. I bring them outside for a few hours everyday if I can, but it’s been pretty rainy and crummy out lately so I’m worried they aren’t getting enough of it.

Final results for Battle of the Seeds: Greenhouse vs. Egg Carton

Egg Cartons-
Seeds planted: 52
Successfully germinated seeds: 46
Duration of germination process: 8 days

Greenhouse- 
Seeds planted: 52
Successfully germinated seeds: 49
Duration of germination process: 4 days

Overall the greenhouse surprisingly (I was rooting for the egg cartons) produced more seeds (barely) in a shorter period of time. The egg cartons were still very successful though, all in all I got a lot more healthy seedlings than I had anticipated. I noticed I never had to water the peat in the greenhouse, it remained a dark brown color for the entire germination process. It said on the box to water it if they appeared dried out, or a lighter brown color. The egg cartons needed to be watered every few days, but they weren’t covered like the greenhouse, so they didn’t keep the moisture in as well. I know I could’ve (and probably should’ve) covered the egg cartons in plastic. If I had I’m guessing they would’ve kept their moisture in and germinated much faster.

A few mistakes that I still managed to make:

  1. I didn’t pay enough attention to the type of seed I was getting. I’m sure this is a common error for beginners and I’m not entirely sure I’ve screwed this up completely yet. I did buy bush beans instead of pole beans though, we’ll see how that turns out.
  2. I don’t really have great light indoors. Of course seedlings need a lot of light and although it’s not my fault that my windows only get about an hour or two of direct sunlight, it is my fault that I didn’t think ahead and am too cheap to buy grow lights.
  3. I planted too many freaking seeds! It was a fun experiment though and I’m glad I did it. Now if these plants don’t survive I just have to buy more peat pellets and I know I’ll have new seedlings in less than a week.

I plan to update on the garden all summer, assuming of course that I don’t kill everything before then or that something else doesn’t get to it…

Cute though, right?

My next steps in the container garden process:

  1. Decide whether or not to hang my tomatoes.
  2. Somehow rig up a fence to keep those cute little jerks out.
  3. Figure out what I’m going to do with all these seedlings…

Anyone else want to grow vegetables this year?

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