Ask the Gardener-June 21

I have some leftover seed from planting my garden.  Can I keep it and use it next year or do I need to just throw it away?

First of all, don’t throw that seed away, especially if you purchased it this year.  Seed can still be viable for a period of time as long as it is kept in the proper conditions.  You will want to store it airtight, in a cold and dark location for best results.  Here are some rough guidelines on vegetable seed viability:

  • One Year–onions, parsnips, and parsley
  • Two Years–leeks, sweet corn, peppers, and okra
  • Three Years–Chinese cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, celery, celeriac, spinach, beans, and peas
  • Four Years–cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beets, Swiss chard, cauliflower, eggplant, turnips, chicory, fennel, mustard, kale, rutabaga, pumpkin, tomatoes, sorrel, watermelon, and squash
  • Five Years–garden cress, cardoon, endive, muskmelon, collard greens, cucumber, and radishes
  • Six Years–lettuces

Hopefully that will get you started.  Be sure to come back and check out our Weekend Project this week.  We will be showing you how to make a simple seed saver that you can use to keep your leftover seeds organized and transportable.

Ask the Gardener-May 3rd

AmericangothicToday we have a question about seed germination chambers.

What is the best way to build a seed germinating chamber?

Many gardeners have tried a lot of different methods in trying to get their seeds to germinate, but had little or no success.  The general failure might be attributed not to just one step, but maybe a combination of problems. But let’s start with the chamber first.

The size of the chamber needs to be large enough to hold as many trays that you are going to start your seeds in. Also you must consider the size of heat mat you are going to use…yes I said a heat mat.

You can build your chamber frame out of 2×2 lumber boards, creating a 2 level or shelf box:  Simply having 4 legs, two shelves with cross rungs or planks to hold your seed trays.  Sorry I don’t have building plans available, because rather than building it out of lumber, I purchased a stacking shelf unit from the hardware store.

You can cover the chamber frame or shelves with clear vinyl sheeting, purchased from a fabric store, draping the sheeting like a tent.  Place the heat mat on the second shelf, then the trays on the mat. Or you can purchase your seed trays with clear germinating domes from your local garden center. The dome sits on top of the seed tray creating your germination chamber without having to actually build one.

As you can see there are different ways to build your seed chambers.  However, keeping it simple is easier than you might think.

Frugal Seed Starting Tips

Photo by jean froidevaux

Photo by jean froidevaux

One of the biggest expenses in seed starting are the supplies you need to get started.  If you try to cut expenses in the wrong area, you could have disastrous results.  So here are some frugal seed starting tips to get your green growing in the right direction.

  • Don’t skimp on the quality of soil you use to start your seeds.  Choose a sterile seed starter mix from your local garden center.  These mixes are usually a combination of vermiculite and peat moss, and provide good drainage as well as proper moisture retention.  If you choose to try to go cheap on this supply, you may just be wasting your time and efforts as your results may not be fruitful.
  • Do choose a place that provides lots of light for your seedlings to grow.  If you have a south-facing window, this works well.  However, using artificial lighting will be even better.  Hang your grow lights over the shelf or table that you will use to grow your seedlings.  This doesn’t need to be expensive.  You can use a shop light from the hardware store.  Special growing bulbs are available, but are not necessary.
  • Containers are where you can save the most money.  Although the special seed trays and peat containers are nice, they can be expensive.  So feel free to use something else, such as styrofoam or paper cups for individual plants. We like to use the paper bathroom cups.  If you choose to use the 3 oz cups, understand that these are great for starting your seeds, but you might need to transplant up to a larger container as they grow.  The 5 oz kitchen cups are perhaps a little nicer, allowing for adequate root development and you probably won’t have to transplant before putting them outside.  You will want to be sure to place a drainhole in the bottom of the cup so that the roots don’t drown and rot.

If you don’t want to start your seeds in separate containers at the beginning, you can use a plastic ice cream bucket.  You will need to cut drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket.  Fill the bucket about 1/3 full of seed starting mix and plant the seeds.  Water and then snap the lid of the bucket in place.  Place the bucket in a warm spot that is out of direct sunlight.  If condensation forms, then vent the bucket.  You will have seedlings ready to transplant in about 10 days.

One of our favorite ways to start seeds is to plant them in eggshells.  To do this, you will want to carefully crack the eggs in half next time you use them.  Rinse out the egg residue, and poke a drainage hole in the bottom of each half of the shell.  Fill the shells with seed starting mix and then plant your seeds.  When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted, gently crush the eggshell with your fingers and plant them, eggshell and all.  The shell will actually improve your soil as is decomposes.

What are some frugal seed starting tips that you have found for your garden?