2011 Seed-starting tally

From top to bottom: "Italian dandelion," flat-leaf parsley, and yellow Swiss chard.

After several years of buying veggie plants from garden centers, I was inspired to go back to starting my own from seed for 2011. A few factors motivated me:

  1. My husband announced he was willing – and eager – to eat more homegrown greens, like lettuce and kale, that are easy to grow from seed.
  2. I realized my summer would be incomplete without two specific tomato varieties, ‘Juliet’ and ‘Lemon Boy,’ so by starting my own I’d be sure to get them.
  3. I rediscovered my heating mat and the 48-inch long, adjustable-height fluorescent light fixture I’d used to start seeds in our spare room a few springs ago. (Yes, in an attic like ours, it’s possible to overlook a 48-inch light fixture for a couple years.)

It’s very important to use BRIGHT artificial light to grow seedlings indoors in Pennsylvania and similar climates. A sunny window may look inviting, but we always get a week of dark, cloudy weather as soon as my tomatoes germinate, leading to wimpy seedlings stretching desperately toward the dim outdoors.

Here’s the tally of herb and vegetable seeds I started indoors, along with the seeding dates based on an expected May 1 transplating to the outdoors:

  • Stevia (March 6)
  • Tomato ‘Sweet Pea’ (March 6)
  • Tomatoes ‘Juliet,’ ‘Lemon Boy,’ and ‘Gilbertie’ (March 11)
  • Kale, a Tocano type (March 20)
  • Swiss chard (April 1)
  • Italian dandelion, Cichorium intybus ‘Clio’ – yes, a weed, but tasty! (April 1)
  • Basil, Italian Genovese (April 1) *
  • Parsley, Italian flat-leaf (April 1) *

My strategy was to start the seeds in trays (not cells), then transplant the seedlings into plastic cell trays or peat-pot cells after they’d developed at least one pair of true leaves. Once the transplanting began, I quickly ran out of space under the light, so I began setting the cell trays outside during the day and bringing them in at night so they wouldn’t get chilled. (Even clouds outdoors are better than artificial light indoors!) This generally worked after April 1st. I got poor germination from the stevia seeds, but everything else worked great.

Seedlings enjoy the April rain. One of the trays includes rosemary I grew from cuttings.

I also planted a few things directly into the garden, as they tolerate cool weather and don’t transplant well:

  • Snap peas ‘Sugar Sprint’ (March 30)
  • Arugula (April 25)
  • Lettuce mix (April 25)

Arugula, about 3 weeks after seeding

Alas, I’ve still got a handful of seed packets yet to be planted: cucumbers, trailing nasturtiums, pole beans, and cilantro. I’ve run out of space in the garden, so I need to delete some more ornamentals to make room for these. I do plan to train the cukes and beans on trellises, but I’m still working out the details!

* Yes, basil and parsley are common plants and easy to come by in garden centers. Unfortunately, they’re almost always sold as five or ten small seedlings growing intertwined in a 3-inch pot, the plants just a bit too large to separate but too crowded to grow well individually. Clearly, the growers sow directly into the retail pots to avoid the hassle of transplanting, but while these squished-together seedlings “fill the pot” visually, they’re difficult if not impossible to grow on. No thanks!