Archive for the ‘Seed starting’ Category

Potting up Seedlings

I did a bunch of transplanting of my seedlings today.   Basil and chives were pricked out from a tray and the pepper were potted up from Jiffy peat pods.

The artichoke seedlings are coming along nicely too.

I potted up a few more tomatoes as well.  I started some more Sub-Arctic as my first batch had really low germination rates (only around 25%)  This batch did as well but between them I’ve gotten what I want.  I also started a few Yellow pear tomatoes.  I started all of them in peat pods and then potted them up after the 1st set of true leaves appeared.  A few didn’t have their true leaves but I went ahead and put all of them in larger pots.  The plants on the left are newly potted up at 12 days from seeding. The ones on the right were potted up about 2 weeks ago and are 25 days from seeding.

They’re doing pretty well.  I noticed a few of the older plants have a bit of yellowing on the leaves.  I may be watering too much.  I’ll have to make sure they dry out well before I water them again.  They’re not getting too leggy, unlike the 3 below.  I was out of room below the brighter lights so I moved some of my surplus out and under just a small grow light (that is mounted higher than is ideal).  I have plenty of this variety so I figured if they don’t do well it’s not much of a loss.  I’m not sure I’ll have room to plant them anyway. The difference in how leggy the seedlings are is pretty dramatic.

I also started some garlic chives, dill, and beets.  I’m not sure I can start much more inside.  I’m pretty much out of room under the lights.


Seed Potatoes

I picked up some seed potatoes earlier this week.  Tonight I set them out to start chitting.

Chitting breaks the dormancy of the potato and allows it to get a head start on the season.  In areas where the soil temperatures are slow to raise, potatoes planted out directly may be slow to sprout and thus maturing later.  A potential problem if frost comes early, like it does here.   So while chitting isn’t strictly necessary it seems to be a good idea in areas with short growing seasons.  Plus it’s really pretty easy.  Just prop the potatoes up with the end containing the most eyes upright.  Make sure air can circulate freely around them.  Place them in a sunny (indirect light is best) but cool (around 50F) location for about 4 weeks.  That’s it.

I decided to go with German Butterball and Nordonna.

German Butterball is a late maturing (130 days), yellow fleshed, oval and smooth to slightly flaky with a yellow skin color; fresh market potato. This cultivar is fast emerging with a medium vine and white flower. German Butterball has a indeterminate growth habit and large extensive root system, tubers set throughout the hill and bulk up late in the season.  Fertility needs are minimal and excess nitrogen may delay tuber production in favor of excess vine growth.

NorDonna is a medium to late maturing (101 – 110 days), dark red-skinned cultivar grown for the fresh market.  NorDonna has a large, full vine with distrinct reddish-purple flowers.  Tubers are oval shape with bright red skin and white flesh.  It holds its color well in storage.  Tubers have medium-long dormancy.

I’ve heard good things about the German Butterball and it’s suppose to be a variety that does well in potato towers.  I’m planning two pyramid towers for my potatoes and possibly some in containers if they don’t all fit in the towers.  I didn’t know anything about the Nordonna variety but wanted a red skin potato and this was one of the two varieties my local feed store had.  I could have ordered other seed potatoes from online but decided not too for a couple of reasons.

1) Local varieties are more likely to be adapted to local conditions and thus do better in those conditions.  Our growing conditions here in Alaska are unique from most other areas of the country so I think this is even more important.  Plus as a new gardener to Alaska I figure this also reduced my room for errors.

2) I’d like to support local companies and this way I’ve supported a local feed store and the local farm that grew the seed potatoes.

3) It reduces the gas miles of my food.  This is a big reason for me to grow my own food.  Might as well follow this through starting with the seed when I can.


Here’s what they look like almost  two weeks after having been set out.  They’ve been sitting in a room around 60-65F.  It’s a sunny room but they’re in a spot that doesn’t get direct light.

Artichokes in Alaska

I read Jeff Lowenfels column on gardening in the Anchorage Daily News and a last month  I noticed his garden calender said it was time to start artichoke seeds.  Artichokes, I thought, I love artichokes.  It never occurred to me that I could grow artichokes this far north.  So I did a bit of research and found some articles and forum topics indicating that yes it really is possible to grow artichokes up here and no they don’t have to be in a greenhouse.

The trick is to get a really early start indoors and grow them as an annual (they can’t survive winter up here).  I found out that depending on the variety you may have to trick them into thinking they’re two years old.  How do you trick an artichoke?  Apparently you set it out in cool weather (around 50F) for a couple of weeks so the plant thinks it’s winter.  Then when it warms up the plant thinks it’s entering its second summer.  This process of tricking the plants is known as vernalization (for the geeks like me out there who like scientific terms). This is important as most varieties don’t produce until the second year.  Some new varieties, like the Imperial Star, have been developed specifically for annual production.  I ended up with seeds for the Emerald Artichoke (just because that’s the variety I bought on an impulse).

I decided that all this didn’t seem to hard and I was anxious to plant something.  Soon after I noticed that one local big box store had their seed display up.  And they had a pack of artichokes seeds.  I couldn’t resist and brought home a mini seed starting kit and some seeds.  I planted 6 artichoke seeds in the little peat pots, watered, but the lid on, and set them in a sunny spot.  This was back on March 4.  Then I waited and waited.  The packet said they would germinate in 14 days.  14 days came and went with no sign of anything green.  I did a big more research and discovered artichokes need warm soil temps to germinate.  I guessed that my seeds were too cold.  About the same time I bought seed heating mat so I set my little seeds on that to give them some warm.  Two sprouted but the other 4 rotted away.

Here those two plants are 29 days after planting.

I started a few more seeds, just 4 more as my seed packet only had 10 seeds to start with.  This time I soaked them in warm water for a few hours then folded them up in a damp paper towel sealed inside a plastic baggie.  I set the baggie on the heated seed mat so it would stay nice and warm.  4 days later the seeds had sprouted.  I then planted them into peat pots.  Sorry I forgot to take any pics of this step.  Just planted them with the sprouted bit (which will become the root) downwards and just enough soil to cover the seed.

Here those plants are 8 days from the soaking, 4 days in the soil.

I hope in the end to have 3 plants to set out.  I don’t think I’ll have room for more.  Artichokes take up a lot of space.  They can get 5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide, so not exactly the best choice in a small garden.  These, however, are going to go into some large containers.  I’m thinking of adding some wheels to the base so I can roll them in and out.  I’m going to set them alongside of my house, near my drive.  So, it’ll be easy to roll them into the garage if frost threatens.  There is plenty of space and sunlight over there and the space isn’t being used for anything right now.  The downside of this plan is that they’ll be outside the fence and thus easy picking for moose.  Will moose eat artichoke plants?  I have no idea…they’re suppose to be fairly resistant to browsers but moose take browsing to a whole different level.  Guess I’ll find out.

Seed starting setup

In the past I’ve usually bought seedling for plants that I want to have a head start and planted the remainder directly in the garden when the weather allows.

However, I’m finding here in the north I’m wanting to get a head start of lots of plants and buying larger plants from the nursery gets expensive. So I thought I’d try my hand at starting my own seeds indoors this year.  Plus I’ve been anxious to get my hands dirty and see some green things growing.  Since there is still snow on the ground outside, growing something inside is my only option.  This is my 1st time starting seeds indoors so I’m sure I’ll have some failures. Hopefully though I can keep my little seeding going strong for the next month or two until they can be planted outdoors.

I built a stand to hang my light from out of scrap 1×2’s that I had laying around.  Not the prettiest but it works.  I wrapped two of the sides and top in a Mylar emergency blanket.  The other two sides were left open so that it could get some natural light that comes in from those directions.  My light is a T-5 aquarium light with one plant grow bulb and one full spectrum bulb.  I already had the light from when I kept a coral reef aquarium.  I just needed to replace the blue bulb with the plant grow bulb and it was all set to go.  I drilled a few holes in the top of the light and screwed in some eyes.  Some s-hooks and chain finished the adjustable hanging system.

I bought a seed starting kit that had a heat mat, grow tray, and peat disks.  We tend to keep our house on the cool side so the heat mat really is needed.  I’ve been starting seeds in a hodgepodge of peat disks, cell packs, small pots, and plastic trays.  Pretty much just using what I have around.

So far I’ve started some tomatoes, peppers, leeks, chives, basil, and artichokes.

Winter Sowing

I’ve been reading a lot about winter sowing.  What is winter sowing?  It is essentially starting seeds outdoors in the winter.  The idea is that the freezing and thawing that happens to the soil outside helps the seeds germinate by cracking the seed pods as would occur in nature.  The seeds are sown in mini-greenhouses and left outside for the winter. The seeds  germinate when the  weather warms and conditions are right for that plant.

Sounds simply and easy so I though I’d try a few plants.   Most of the folks I’ve read about doing these seem to be starting flowers especially perennials, but veggies can also be started this way.  I decided to try a really easy veggie, leaf lettuce, and some Nasturtium flowers.  For much of the country it’s too late for winter sowing as you need below freezing temps for this to work as intended.  For us in the far north, there are still plenty of below freezing nights and snow on the ground.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Gather together supplies: seeds, soil (a mix of potting soil and seed starting medium is what I used), and mini-greenhouse containers.  Any clear container can be made into a mini-greenhouse.  Milk jugs and two litter bottles seem to be a popular choice.  I decided to use a couple of plastic containers that salad greens came in.

2. Make sure your containers are washed out well. I just used dish soap and hot water but some recommend a mild bleach solution (1 parts bleach to 10 parts water).  If using a milk jug or bottle cut it in half leaving a small section attached to act as a hinge.  Punch a few holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.  I just cut a few slits using a sharp knife.

3. Fill the containers with a few inches of soil.  Water and mix well so that the soil is well moistened but not waterlogged.

4. Sow the seeds according to the package instructions for planting depth and spacing.  You might want to write the plant names on the container with a Sharpie or on a piece of tape or add a plant marker to your container.

4. Cover tightly.  I just placed the lid back on the container and used a few pieces of tape to hold the sides down.  If you’re using a bottle, tape the two halves back together using packing tape or clear duct tape.


5. Place your containers outside in a sunny location where they’re exposed to snow and rain.  Here mine are nestled in the snow in my lettuce box on my deck.

6.  When the weather warms watch for sprouting.  As the days get warmer cut holes in the lid to prevent the seedling from overheating.  Water if needed.  You can remove the lid on warm days but make sure to cover them back up at night if there is any danger of frost.

That’s it.  I’ll keep you posted on how these seeds do.