Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeds and seedlings, a semi-success story

Again they have tested my strength and resolve. My city upbringing is fighting me every step of the way. Winter before last I started a bunch of seeds of plants about whom I was clueless since I was venturing into the unknown world of companion plants - on the dining room table and a shelf in my laundry room, I might add. But then winter took so long to go away. I'd put them out on the porch and then bring them into the garage when it was going to freeze - and then forget them. Drat! The sweet part is that out of all the seeds I started I had three plants that survived and flourished in the garden - a baby pink and a rose 'Summer Carnival' hollyhock and 'Early Sunrise' coreopsis put out in March.

The baby pink hollyhock died at the end of summer, but the rose one stayed green all winter and is looking good. I divided the coreopsis into several plants and decided to use it a lot more. The yellow really pops among the pinks of the roses.

I think I already described my September, 2010 sowing escapade, three weekends hunched over peat pots and bags of starter mix, counting out the seeds more precisely than the first time in the sweltering heat on the porch with the big table fan blowing on my back so the seeds wouldn't blow away.

From that batch I got a lot of old fashioned mustard, violas & pansies, several each of double white stock, 'Foxy' foxglove, 'Rocket' larkspur, 'Tutti Fruitti' lupin, echinacea and nigella. A lot of losses. I think two poppies survived. Dianthus and hollyhocks were a total loss. The acquisition of my pop-up greenhouse was a great help, and in late January and early February I started putting them out in the garden which proved that assembly-line work is not for me. Exasperatingly tedious it was to deal with those teensy little plants, fighting the urge to simply stick them in an unamended hole scratched in the dirt with my fingers. The grown-up in me said, "Sherry, you didn't put all this work in so they can fail at the finish line." Only a couple have failed in the ground. The foxglove seeds, however, were almost microscopic and came streaming out of the envelope (chalk that up to exhaustion), and I had seedlings by the dozen in each compartment. At planting time they were so tiny and I was so uncertain about dividing and possibly damaging them that I split the mass in half and planted them as is. Now they are starting to grow (maybe an inch and a half tall), and I think I can divide them. Not sure what losses I will sustain in the process.

I didn't even mention the cost of peat pots and seed starter mix. I was doing the math for what these $3 packets of  25 and 50 seeds were costing me per survivor. It wasn't an encouraging answer, but I was determined to persevere, remembering I wouldn't have to buy any flats of plants in the spring while this little voice whispered in my brain, "Yeah, right."

Then at the end of January I sowed my warm-season seeds. The dilemma was where to put them. The nights were way too chilly on the screened porch where the others had been started under lights. Then a purchase of my darling DH proved to be indispensable - a mini-greenhouse for $16.97 at Harbor Freight which I had thought was unnecessary in light of having the pop-up. So it came into the dining room. I had seen a dear blogger (unknown to me now, so sorry) sowing her seeds in the kitchen in disposable aluminum baking pans. I thought it was a stroke of genius on her part, and I sowed 3 pans in one evening of about 18 varieties, eight or so of each. A beautiful set-up with lights and the zip-on greenhouse cover which made it unnecessary to cover each pan for moisture retention, and I had no losses due to damping-off disease. Everything was going swimmingly (except that 'The Hulk' zinnia never germinated). Then about a week ago the tall seedlings started flopping over. Uh-oh, I thought, this isn't good; maybe they need more light, so I moved the greenhouse outside, but we were having quite a bit of wind at that time, so I took off the cover which served as an announcement to the squirrels that the sandbox was now open. Yesterday emergency measures had to be taken to avert disaster.

But back at the pop-up greenhouse my convolvulus meant for patio pots and a store-bought 6-pack of pink & red dianthus were crispy critters, a testament to our higher temps and the gardener's failure to stay on top of their water needs. Double drat!

OK, back to yesterday's rescue mission. I set up on the patio deck: 3 pans of seedlings, huge bag of potting soil, bags of milorganite & Holly-Tone (it'll work, I said to myself), several of last years patio pots needing renovation & replanting, two giant-sized scoops, watering can, and later as many scrounged 4" pots as I could find - and me in the middle on my little rolling seat. The pain in my back started almost immediately since the seat, even as low as it is, placed me in a hunching position over the plants and accessories. (Is everyone paying attention? Find a better way.) I planted the patio pots first and in the process found two pots with last year's plants ready to burst forth from the soil (can't remember the name. Here it is, the mini-petunia that I loved. I'm so thrilled that it's coming back. It was wonderful. Apparently, the one in the upper right of the photo is the other one that's coming back.
I put five 'Apricot Daisy' calendula seedlings in each of two tallish pots (a good sale purchase months ago), but the little buggers still wouldn't stand up straight no matter what I did. Two pots got a 4" grass plant in the middle with 'Daddy Mix' petunias around the edge. One pot got several Red Plains Dwarf Coreopsis. Then the light dawned. These tiny seedlings must need to be potted up rather than planted, so the hunt for 4" pots ensued. With the knot in my back torturing me each seedling I potted was to be the last I needed of that variety, but it wasn't. My heart wanted to save all of them, precious as they were. Salvia farinacea (tiny, thinned to 3 or 4 in a pot, hating to discard the culled ones), 'White Bride' snapdragon (they had been planned to go along the sidewalk, perfect with the 'Aaron' caladiums (don't you think?) until I saw the pink ones at Lowe's, so big!), 'The Bride' gaura (love the pink version of this plant!), 'Summer Carnival' hollyhock (only three were barely savable, a tragedy; hopefully they're alive today), Rosemary (disappeared, vanished somewhere, maybe I'll sow some in a pot), 'Fairy Wand' Dierama pulcherrimum (good survival rate, absolutely couldn't let any of these be thrown away; can't wait to see them grow), Aladdin yellow petunia (why are these so tiny??), Zinnia 'Purity' (thought these would be lovely standing tall next to the roses), purple coneflower (even though I have 42 seedlings of 'Double Decker' coming from Thompson Morgan, I can not bare to lose any of these. I think I saved 5 or 6). Throughout this activity, the question keeps invading my mind, "Where am I going to plant all these plants?" 'Double Cascade' Orchid Petunia, Coreopsis lanceolata (I hope I like these as much as the 'Early Sunrise'), and 'Dahlberg Daisy' (never saw anything so tiny in my life - they were not saved). I ended up with 45 4" pots that I put in trays of water in the greenhouse after realizing that I could zip the screens shut which would keep it from getting so overheated, hopefully.

Bottom line: I feel so ill equipped for farming, and I have a huge admiration for farmers now, knowing the risks of crop failure and plague that they face everyday yet they courageously carry on. I hope I have a fraction of their courage come August. Maybe time will dull the pain and exhaustion, ya think?


  1. You have been working so hard, Sherry! You little seedlings will reward you in summer, and I think you will find room for all of them (I always do somehow).

  2. I took the day off from gardening yesterday and gave my body a rest. It worked and I feel better. Apologies to everyone for such a downer post.