Seed Starting in 2021

Giant of Italy Parsley is sprouting and ready to go under the light.

The Singing Squash Farm nursery is in full seed starting mode. I actually started the first seeds in early February. The first seeds to germinate were Black King Pansies. As I understand it the genus Viola has 4 subgroups of which the pansy is listed as B1. I thought this background on the name pansy was interesting so I wanted to include it here, from Wikipedia: The name “pansy” is derived from the French word pensée, “thought”, and was imported into Late Middle English as a name of Viola in the mid-15th century, as the flower was regarded as a symbol of remembrance. The name “love in idleness” was meant to imply the image of a lover who has little or no other employment than to think of his beloved. The name “heart’s-ease” came from St. Euphrasia, whose name in Greek signifies cheerfulness of mind. The woman, who refused marriage and took the veil, was considered a pattern of humility, hence the name “humble violet”. In Italy the pansy is known as flammola (little flame).

Black King Pansies. Seeds and image courtesy of from Baker Creek.
These are my pansy starts as of a few weeks ago.

Pansies were started early since they will tolerate cool temps. I decided this would be a good test for our new grow light and to test my seed starting skills. I have been researching seed starting since last year so I’m just happy to see healthy plants. For the most part we’ve purchased starts because we never had enough light for growing indoors. Early this year I bought a Spider Farmer SF-2000 LED grow light and I love it so far. I’ll share my review much later in the season once I have more experience with it. Here are a few pictures of my basement seed starting setup and PVC grow tent.

You can see through the Mylar from the outside but not from the inside. This pictures doesn’t do the brightness justice. The kids helped me put the PVC frame together. Now get down off the table 😉
Start small

One good thing I can say about this light is it comes with a ratcheting mechanism that allows for easy height adjustment. This is very important to growing success. Right now mine is at about 25″ from the top of the cells. I’ll be experimenting as the season progresses. Too far away and you’ll have leggy seedlings and too close they might burn. I’m tracking everything in a journal so I can see what works and refer back to it in future seasons. I highly suggest starting a journal.

I’m very excited to grow this celery!

Nearly 2 weeks ago I started celery next to my pansies. I love the look of this pink celery but I’m not sure if I’ll like the taste so I started mostly Utah tall celery along with some of this to add some color to the garden and try a new taste. I’m mostly using 50 cell trays with a bottom watering tray underneath because I think it’s a good compromise of cell count with a decent amount of time to up-pot. Is that even a word? One curious thing about celery is it needs light to germinate. I typically cover my soil and seeds with saran wrap and let it sit on a heat mat until the seeds sprout. In this case I just set half of the tray with celery under the heat mat to let my pansies stay cool. Celery is sprouting already!

My research tells me that celery typically takes 2-3 weeks to germinate so it feels good knowing things are going right. I check my plants every day to see if they need more moisture. Letting seeds dry out is a death sentence at this point. If I had the space and the lighting I wouldn’t start different plants in the same tray or even the same plant at different times because it can be difficult to make the conditions perfect for both. I may use 6 cell trays next year so I can isolate for specific needs better. The pansies have already been fertilized with half strength Alaska fish emulsion once before I added celery but next time I can’t bottom water the entire tray with fertilizer because sprouting celery doesn’t need it. This means I will have top top water the pansies and celery. I’m also keeping an eye on how many plants I start because some of these plants will need larger pots before they go outside. I don’t want to run out of room in the tent. I think I have enough room for 6 trays in the tent but I’ll probably limit it to 4 starter trays. Plan ahead. Plan ahead! I’ll share one more crop I started with you before I wrap this up. Look how awesome our little Mary Washington asparagus are doing.

Asparagus is a 3 year commitment before harvest but they can produce for decades which is pretty awesome. I stratified my seeds for a few weeks in the refrigerator before starting them to simulate a cool cycle. Asparagus seem to take a long time to germinate and to get 50 plants I probably planted 100 seeds so I may need to try something else next time. Hopefully there won’t be a next time and these stay alive through the next few winters. Perhaps I buried them too deep or didn’t stratify them long enough or maybe I just need to wait longer. Each day I’m still seeing new spears still.

Quinoa Sprouting

I also started Spanish onions a few weeks back and they’re growing well. Codi and I started Rainbow quinoa and tomatoes over the weekend. Quinoa took less than 48 hours to germinate! I’m excited to see how this goes but not very excited about removing the seeds from the quinoa. We’ll have to figure out the best way before the time comes. I know a few methods already but what is the easiest way? Let me know how your seed starting is going and feel free to ask about the plants I’ve shown in this post. Spring starts this week and March 20th is our 19 year anniversary so I’ll take a break from the garden for her;)

Luffa Gourds

Homemade Pots. I explain why below.

It is the end of February and I realized I didn’t even post last month. I’ve been busy sprouting seeds! It’s still cold here in Utah but spring is only 3 weeks away. I’ve started more than luffa gourds but I’ll limit it to one topics in this post. I promise you’ll thank me for keeping it short;) I’ve driven my family a little crazy with my preparations this year but they’re good about helping me prepare for our big season. Luffa or dishcloth gourd looks like a zucchini that can be eaten as an immature fruit but has another use when it becomes old and bitter. I suppose they’re a little like me. This Washington State Extension article explains the stages of the luffa gourd very well. “The xylem tissue within the fruit forms a dense fibrous network that creates a support system for maturing seeds. If the hard outer skin and the seeds are removed from the dried luffa, the dense network of fibers functions as a natural scrubbing tool.” It doesn’t come from the ocean after all. Here are a few pictures:

Order them here

As I write this on 2/27/2021 Baker Creek is sold out but keep checking. You’ll have to get the seeds soon if you want to make it work in 2021 especially if you have a short growing season like we do here in northern Utah. This is our first year growing these but my research indicates that starting in February I might expect dried luffa by September or October depending on when our frost comes! If a frost hits I’ll need to clip them off and hang them to finish drying. That’s why I started this month. But wait, there’s more… I’ve heard luffa doesn’t do well if you disturb the roots too much. I don’t know if that means transplanting them from a starter pot to the ground will kill them but I’m trying to be careful with them. I made thin brown paper pots so I can just place them in the ground and back fill the hole. So far these pots seem to dry out pretty well so hopefully mold won’t be an issue. I filled them with Promix and set them on wood mixing sticks in a plastic container left over from a rotisserie chicken. Then I water them carefully and let the soil on top and paper dry out before I water again. I have 10 weeks before they go outside so wish me luck! These things are growing very strong in the first week. I’m shocked! I buried them an inch deep and it took 4 days to see this.

I might be in trouble 😉

Look at that opaque sheath hanging off the cotyledon. I suppose that’s some sort of divider or seal inside the seed coat. Comment below if you know exactly what that is. The hypocotyl is really sturdy on these young plants. The other pot has 2 seeds as well. I only want 2 plants total based on a story from another gardener 2 plants filled up 16 feet of hog panel. These plants definitely have my attention. My wife and I are both thrilled with the idea of growing these this year. But wait, there’s more! I’m growing these seeds on paper towels in condiment cups. Would you like to see day 5 and 6 of growth? Have a look at nature in all of it’s wonder.

Day 5
Day 6!

Look at the transformation in just 24 hours! I’m so glad I’m able to see what is going on below the soil. Look at the fine details in the root development. It’s just doing what a seed does but there are moments in the garden that cause me to sit and wonder about my place in the universe. Gardening can be filled with spiritual moments if we will slow down enough to appreciate them. This seed knows it needs time create seeds so it absolutely races out of the starting gate when it’s placed in moist warm soil. I placed the pots under the grow light this afternoon. I bought a Spider Farmer LED light for seed starting this year. I’ll tell you more about it after our garden is planted in May. My impressions are good so far but I’m trying to learn how to use a relatively powerful grow light still. I know one thing, pot growers know a lot a lot about the subject so I’m trying to learn a little from them as it applies to my vegetables. I’m also keeping a gardening journal this year. I have asparagus, onions, and pansies started along with the luffa. More on that later. I’ll be posting more frequently over the next 10 weeks. As far as I’m concerned gardening season began a month ago. I expect a shipment of 19 chickens next week so I’ll have a few things to say about that. Let’s just say I don’t actually need 19 more chickens;) Comment below if you’ve grown luffa gourd or if you think I’m crazy for starting them indoors so soon. I wish you all the best in your gardening efforts. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and treasure the spiritual moments of the garden.

UPDATE 3/15/21 – True leaves are growing strong. I’ve noticed some curling on the first leaves so perhaps I’m giving it too much light. I move it up to the main level to keep it warm at night and then back down to the cool grow tent during the day. Soil temps are in the low 60’s down there without a heat mat. I’m trying to only water when the soil dries to keep their paper pots mold free. I fertilized them with half strength Alaska fish emulsion last night so we’ll see how that goes. I want these to be in good shape when they go out in the yard. I have a small fan moving air through the grow tent to reduce the chance of mold and acclimate the luffa to outdoor conditions.

UPDATE 1/5/2022 – Sadly the luffas didn’t make it. The luffa grew up the fence and flowered but only just before the end of the season. It is a beautiful flower but I really wanted a luffa. I certainly started it early enough so what happened? I think I started it too early actually. By the time the luffa was ready to take off it was still too cold to put it in the ground so I believe I stunted it’s growth by starting it so early. The size of the pots might have played a role as well. Although it didn’t die it grew very slowly once we planted it in the ground. Growing luffa in a short season area is a challenge but I’ll try again this year;) On the other hand our apple gourds really took off which was fun to watch. I’ll include a picture in the 2021 Year in review post.

We had a visitor;)