Seeds sprouting in ‘bedroom greenhouse’
On the windowsill, the seedlings are getting bigger, and some are ready to be transplanted.
I start my seeds in flats, mini-broadcasting 20 to 50 to a container, depending on its size. I use just about anything for a flat, but Clementine boxes are my favorite.
This is the time of year that I become fond of the things I usually rant about. Mushrooms packaged in foam containers? Fine — I use them for the heat-loving plants like eggplants and peppers. The foam keeps the soil warmer. Plastic clamshell food packages? Normally I avoid them like the plague, but I’ve got two in the windows right now, with the lids down, like tiny greenhouses.
Normally I bug family members about leaving lights on. This time of year I yell at anyone who turns the light off in my daughter’s room, the sunniest room in the house. Since she’s away at school, I started all the plants in her windows, moving down a shelf from the attic to hold all the flats. I’ll have to move them out this week, before she comes home for Easter.
One shelf holds a big flat of lettuces, another has broccoli, cabbages, Brussels sprouts and fennel. The eggplant, peppers and basil are on a board on the radiator, and the tomatoes are just about everywhere.
Some of my seeds are new this year, but some are old. Every year I am left with extra seeds, and I save them in jars, sometimes adding one of those desiccant packages that come with my son’s running shoes.
If the seeds are very old — more than six years — I will think twice about using them. Otherwise it just depends on what kind of seed it is and how well it was kept. Forgotten paper bags of seeds that have been mouse-nibbled over the winter are best for the compost. But you never know, and I often start aged seeds just in case.
There are seed-vitality charts you can use to guide you. Larger seeds, like cucumbers, pumpkins and melons, should be good for four or five years. Beets and carrots should last three years; broccoli, kale and beans for four. Lettuce seeds supposedly last only two years, but I’ve never had lettuce too old to sprout. Corn also should only last a couple of years, but you never know.
We have a few big jars of Indian corn — used for decoration, for grinding into corn meal and for animal feed — that we’ve been saving from one very fine harvest six or seven years ago.
We checked on their vitality by soaking and sprouting 10 at a time. That’s the time-honored way to gauge germination percentage: If seven sprout, you’ve got 70 percent germination — not bad for older seed.
That old corn gave us almost 100 percent germination, and the rabbit loved eating the corn sprouts so we started some more for her. Once May rolls around, we’ll have no qualms about planting those seeds. But we’ll be buying new seed for our sweet corn.
This year I found some 3-year-old tomato seeds, some 3-year-old lettuce seeds and last year’s kale. I started them all, figuring if they come up, fine, and if not I’ll get new seed. In my experience, old seeds often just take longer to come up.
That’s how it was with the old Roma tomato seeds. They should have taken seven to 10 days to germinate and instead took close to three weeks.
That’s OK. I planted too many in a container, not knowing how many would sprout. As soon as they get their second sets of leaves I’ll transplant them into my favorite tomato pot: the paper coffee cup.
That’s another of my reversed rants for spring. Usually I try to get my husband to use one of our many reusable travel mugs in the car, and I get more irritated the more disposable cups I retrieve from the car floor after his travels.
This time of year, I celebrate if there’s an unusually large haul. I can fit 15 coffee cups in a flat, very handy when seedlings get big enough to be moved into individual pots.
By then there will be far too many plants to fit on the shelf or the windowsills. But by then our hot frames should be in place in the garden, and maybe this year we’ll get that little hoop house set up too.
We’d better get moving, because my daughter will be home in a few days and I don’t want her to know we turned her bedroom into a greenhouse.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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