Thursday, January 29, 2009

Failure #2 - Steamed seeds, anyone?

So I think I killed all of my second attempt at a planting the first night by covering the bed with plastic wrap and putting the lights on it. When I woke up the next day the earth was very hot to the touch and steaming from the greenhouse effect. I think I cooked the seeds I planted, for all intensive purposes. So now I'm just nursing a cabbage seedling and a lettuce seedling of unmarked pedigree.

It also seems like the organic potting soil I bought doesn't have enough drainage and aeration as it needs. So I will be shopping for some alternatives...

This gardening thing is more difficult than I thought.

Or maybe I just suck at starting seeds indoors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The little cabbage that could.

I came home for lunch to find that the sad leggy remainders of my first seedling batch had pretty much self-destructed and were flopped all over the damp tray soil accusingly. The only seedling left that looked like it might do anything at all was the last surviving Oriental Express, the most stocky of my doomed brood.

So I scooped it out of the Tray O' Death and into my palm, transplanted it in an empty grape tomato container, and deposited it outside my apartment to fend for itself (at least during the daytime today, when it is so sunny and nice and finally starting to feel like spring). Supposedly cabbage seedlings like their temperatures a bit cooler, so hopefully this unseasonably warm February day will sustain it where abnormally warm grow lights wouldn't.

I will bring the seedling back in tonight to bask in the glow of my newly planted tray for a few hours before retiring, if it survives the day.

Go little cabbage go!

Improvements on my seed-starting endeavors.

Here are the things I'm going to try and do differently to get some healthy seedlings going in my dim cave of an apartment:

1. Carefully log how much time the tray gets under the grow lights via spreadsheet, so the seeds don't get a sporadic source of light. I think this may have contributed to my "spindly" seedling problem in my first attempt.

2. Log watering times.

3. Figure out a way to keep my shop lights cool, so I can have intense light (good) without intense heat (bad).

Garden quote of the day:
"If you aren't killing plants, you aren't stretching yourself as a gardener."

Yeah, that's true. But my hope is that something will survive. I still have a few fighters left over from the Plastic Cover Tray Massacre, so we'll see if they can make it...

Destruction of seedlings #1 (and a Burpee's Seed Starter review)

I killed my plants yesterday. They were already looking leggy and stretched, sad little transclucent white stalks stretching up for the grow lights I have above my dining room table. So I thought maybe they were getting cold and not getting enough light.

My solution? I put the plastic covers that the seed starter trays came with over the trays and put the grow lights closer to the seedlings, effectively steaming them all to a grisly, wilted death. My baby cilantro and basil? Dead. My little cabbages and lettuces and mesclun? Mostly dead.

I transplanted the survivors into a new window box to give them some breathing room, which will probably kill off whatever I have left.

I am not discouraged though. Instead of giving up, I planted a new tray of veggies. A BETTER tray, with Romanesco veronica and rainbow Swiss chard and cauliflower the color of an orange Post-It and golden beets and more lettuce/mesclun/everything I just killed. (But better, because now it's in a REAL planter, and not that shitty Burpee's seed starter.)

About the seed starter - Not impressed. The little magic dirt clods that came with it had to be particularly placed in order to expand correctly when water was added, and even then the hardest ones didn't expand like they were supposed to. Will not buy one of these again, but I'm going to go ahead and replant the two that I have, because hey - they're twenty bucks apiece.

I WILL learn to garden.

Friday, January 23, 2009


When I received quizzical looks of disbelief upon telling people that I was going to start a garden (and not just a garden, but the biggest, most varied, most colorful vegetable and herb gardens this side of the Mississippi, and in a dwarf apartment complex lot no less) I was not insulted.

Admittedly, in the past, I have shown neither inclination nor talent for the fine art of growing things.

Growing up under the watchful eye of two avid landscapers and gardeners was difficult for the indoorsy kind of kid that I was. It always seemed like in the hottest part of summer, when I was most prepared to lounge around in the air conditioning and read a Stephen King book, my parents had other ideas. Like their parents and their parents' parents, they saw us kids for what we were - cheap manual laborers in desperate need of some sunshine and exercise and character. So to the flowerbeds we went.

I hated it. I hated weeding beds, I hated repotting flowers, I hated rotating the sprinklers, I hated grubs, I hated getting dirt under my nails, I hated squatting in the scorching Alabama sun all afternoon.

This disdain for the gardening world followed me into young adulthood. While I successfully raised dogs, cats, fish, and even nine orphaned baby opossums, I slaughtered a succession of houseplants with the efficiency of a serial killer. Any attempt at nurturing behavior from me sparked deep-seated and irreversible neuroses in my plants. If I watered them, they languished. If I didn't water them, I was the proud owner of beautifully potted sticks within a 48 hour period.

I always blamed this on the houseplants, which just glared (do houseplants glare?) at me from the corner, looking like little green lepers. Really, the problem was mine. I was not attentive enough. I did not see the plants for what they were - living, sentient creatures just like I am.

So this garden is partially a penance, partially a lifestyle change. I am really interested in sustainable living and the "back to the land" movement. I hope eventually to move out onto my own land outside of city limits and run my own ecologically responsible small-scale farm (mostly for self-consumption, but in my most heady dreams I supply gourmet chefs and speciality markets with the best chocolate bell peppers and pink tomatoes and neon green Romanesco Veronica in town).

This conversion from Black Thumb philosophy is not just about the perfect bell pepper or my own wide selection of cooking herbs. It's about learning a new way of life through trial and error.

Mostly error.