Serious About Seeds-Still Fun

december-31-2008-002-2When the wind is howling and the temperatures are diving, the darkness is daunting and the thought of yet more time in the lazyboy with computer on lap makes one want to shriek aloud, solace is found in the sunroom/greenhouse. Seeds. Beautiful encased bits of magic waiting to be unlocked by moisture, warmth and light.january-7-2008-028-2Last year we wrote about having fun with seeds. You can read that post by clicking here. We have been having this sort of fun every January since the sunroom/greenhouse was first constructed in the big renovation of 2000. There was a post written about that room that you can read about by clicking here. The fun is still there, oh yes, but this year we are trying for better odds at success rather than just the joy of the journey. First we ordered a heat mat to boost the temperature of the soil more to the liking of little seeds waiting to spring into action than offered by the cool greenhouse temps that the orchids adore.january-8-2009-026-2The speed of germination is nothing short of miraculous using this mat. Lettuce arose in two days, as did malva and two types of amaranthus. Sweet little Nicotiana sylvestris, thanks, Tina, took only a few more days to become little spots of green on the vermiculite covered seed starting mix.january-8-2009-023-2Even difficult to start seeds like Cobaea scandens and Cobaea scandens ‘Alba’, shown above have come alive under the plastic dome that holds in the heat from the bottom and the moisture droplets atop. Hope these turn out to be as pretty as Chuck’s.fat-spike-2After the seedlings are well up, they are repotted into a new tray to grow on. Amaranthus ‘Fat Spike’ is looking a little too leggy even though the tray is on a shelf close to the south facing windows.january-8-2009-015-2This has been the downfall of many a seedling in the past. The big if of germination is followed by the doom of stretched stems searching for higher candlepower. Enter the grow light. We went whole hog this year, heat mat and grow light set up. Four 24 inch gro-terrific bulbs on a moveable stand 19 inches wide resting on a table made by the carpenter extraordinaire, offspring Gardoctor. He even used the extra piece of corian kitchen countertop that we have saved for eight years under the guest bed that was cut out for the range as the table top. The seedlings sigh with relief as they are placed under the warming grow lights.january-8-2009-027-2Lettuce is nearly ready to eat with nice elliptical leaves of green instead of bleached out grass like blades. Yum, a leaf leapt into my mouth and it was good. These seeds were started in mid November and looked like the aforementioned pale grass before the light was set up.january-8-2009-019-2These are the lettuces sown December 30, Dazzler and Revolution, both red leaf varieties. Leaf of green is giving way to maroon with the help of the lights.january-7-2008-019-2Saved seeds from the ornamental pepper Black Pearl to the left and Swiss Chard ‘Bright Yellow’ are happy to be soaking up these artificial rays. Do you see the more purple baby in the pepper pot? Chicken grit is used as a topping to anchor the seedlings, keep the foliage cleaner and hold moisture in.january-7-2008-020-2Young ‘uns grown from collected seed of our Primula veris have been a pleasant surprise too. They look ready to be repotted. At some point the space under the lights will have to be rationed to only those most needy of that high dose of simulated sunshine. The sunroom/greenhouse cool nights and warmer sunny days will give the shelved seedlings protection indoors until the weather allows for hardening off and planting out. In the past, the seedlings have been too small when this step was taken. The sunroom/greenhouse heats up quickly in early spring and the plants need to be moved outdoors to avoid being steamed. We are hoping to have larger stouter plants with the help of the mat and light to prepare them for joining the inhabitants in our soil.january-1-2009-078-2Like the Euphorbia ‘Chameleon’.

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46 Responses to Serious About Seeds-Still Fun

  1. LindaLunda says:

    This year I have no room for seeds… The geraniums take all the space…

    Hi Linda, it does take a little space for the seed startin set up. The beauty of the light is that it can be used anywhere, no windows or other light needed!

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Oh Frances, this looks like so much fun. It really gets me in the mood for some planting. I have always wanted a greenhouse. SIGH~~ I am afraid it won’t happen but I could start some seeds. Your set-up looks so successful. I would still have to wait a little while to start some seeds. It is a little early for my zone. I don’t usually have much success starting seeds. Maybe a heat mat would be the ticket. I have read about them. Seeing your success makes me wish for one.

    Hi Lisa, thanks, it is fun to be able to do some gardening even when it is cold and raining or worse outside. Seed starting feeds the soul like nothing else and the heat mat is like a magic wand or the blinking of the eyes and twitching of the nose a la Samantha in Bewitched.
    I recommend lettuce, it starts so quickly and you can even eat it very soon. The light set up can be used in any room, you don’t need a greenhouse, either.

  3. Too early for seeds here, but I love seeing your nice little seedlings. I’ve got a whole set up I’ve used for that past 15 plus years that includes lights, shelves, etc. It’s fun and I wouldn’t feel like my gardening was complete with the seeds.

    Hi Carol, thanks. No wonder you have such a high success rate with that good set up. I have wrongly believed that the greenhouse conditions were fine for seed starting with no extra help. Why it took so long to see the error of that is unknown other than sheer stubborness on my part. Here’s to the best year ever for us all!

  4. VP says:

    Oh that does look fun! Sadly I won’t be able to join in until next month, although I’m itching to get started!

    Hi VP, thanks, it is a mood lifter on poor weather days to see things growing nicely. This is a little early for me, we shall see how it play out when the plants are larger and the room starts shrinking! πŸ™‚

  5. Wonderful!

    I’m finding that seeds are my new addiction and I’m just ready to get going with them.

    My son tells me he can build a cloning box for me (he worked at a garden store for awhile between archaeo digs last year).


    Hi Cameron, thanks. A cloning box sounds terrrific, and sons who build stuff for us make it even better!

  6. Dave says:

    A seed mat is definitely on my purchase list this year. Last year I started my seeds in the garage but had little control over the temperatures. A heat mat might help. I have a spot inside for this year’s seeds ready to go with a light. I would love to have a little room like yours to grow the seeds!

    Hi Dave, thanks. Even without a special room the set up can work anywhere there is an electrical outlet. I have to keep the kitties away from the plants, they want to have a salad too. The heat mat is wonderful!

  7. tina says:

    They look super terrific! And I must say they are lucky seeds to have such a good caregiver as you! I have only winter sowed so far, but next month I’ll plant a few seeds. They are fun! Thanks for the link love. You will adore the nicotiana.

    Hi Tina, thanks. I can’t wait to see the nicotiana in the garden, the babies are so very tiny right now, the smallest of all the seeds that have germinated by far. I am trying harder to actually have plants grow from the seed starting madness in the garden to full fledged adults this time! πŸ™‚

  8. Hilde says:

    Ah, every small glimpse of a seed or a seedling is welcome.
    Oh, I’m sooo ready, but have to wait… At least till the sun returns in february. Then there will be seed trays everywhere. I love it!

    Hi Hilde, thanks. The sight of emerging seedlings of any type lifts our spirits so much. Seed trays everywhere sounds like heaven!

  9. Daphne Gould says:

    Those heating mats are wonderful. I keep reading how slow and sporadic eggplant is to germinate, but with the heating mat mine all came up within 6 days last year.

    Hi Daphne, good deal. I will be checking to see how your LED light set up works for you. Already it is apparent that I need to set up another light table to grow the babies on until they can go outside.

  10. gittan says:

    I’m a bit late of with my seeds. But I have to get started one of these days. I dont use any heatmat, instead I put the seedlings on top of the flourescent tube fittings that my husband use on the aquariums and on the radiators in the house. I tried that last spring and it worket out perfect. Later on I have an extra light in the laundry-room. That’s were I put all the seedligns to grow and not get to leggy / gittan

    Hi Gittan, that sounds just like a heatmat with the aquarium light, hooray! I remember seeing the photos of the trays in the laundry room on your posts, a perfect set up with water at hand too. The seeds are calling us! πŸ™‚

  11. Frances~
    What a great seed starting set up! This must keep you happy and satisfied during the winter months. Out of curiosity, what do you do when the seedlings become too leggy? I have this issue often here in Florida when I plant annuals. They grow so fast that they become top heavy then fall over and die. I’ve tried pinching the tops and sometimes it works. Any tips/ideas are much appreciated.
    Thanks for visiting the artists interview!

    Hi Karrita, thanks. It does make me smile to go in the room and see the seedlings doing well. Not to mention the orchids in there too. The lights are planned to keep the seedlings from getting too leggy, we shall see how that works. I did order another light set up since I have already run out of room! I do think pinching works with some annuals, like coleus. I then stick the cut stems in the ground to root too. I really enjoyed the interview with Linda Lunda, she is quite a talented artist, as you are also! πŸ™‚

  12. Racquel says:

    It’s wonderful to have space to start seedings. Looks like with your gro-light & heat mat the sunroom is the perfect environment. I was considering a heatmat this year too, because like Dave all I have available is the garage which is unheated. πŸ™‚

    Hi Racquel, thanks. The heatmat has been a pleasant surprise. It makes the seeds come up so much faster, instant gratification! HA

  13. marmee says:

    how lovely to see your precious seedlings sprouting up so nicely. i love the sight of that first blush of green. good for you, that you went all out with the help of your gardening doctor. having fresh lettuce leap into your mouth must have been a taste of summer in these bleak winter months.

    Hi Marmee, thanks. The lettuce was sweet. And you are so right about the seedlings being precious, a good term for them!

  14. Gail says:

    Frances, They look beautiful and happy under the warm glow of grow lights. (I could use some candle power myself! When shall the sunshine return to TN?) Propagation is certainly a smart way to get more plants and certainly after the initial costs is inexpensive. Sigh! I am experiencing a little sunroom, garage and even basement envy this month~oh the things one can grow. gail

    Hi Gail, Thanks. I could use some sunshine too, where is the sun!!!! As much as the cost savings with the seeds, it is the growing of things in the winter dreariness that is beyond price! You do need a place to fool with plants during the winter months where they are safe from felines with an agenda. πŸ™‚

  15. Hi Frances, how lovely, finally we can start all over again!/ Tyra

    Hi Tyra, thank, yes, time to begin again, hooray!

  16. Hostabuff says:

    Frances, you are so right, seeds are a great diversion in the winter. I love how you noted that a lettuce leaf just leapt into your mouth. Fresh greens are so delicious, especially in winter.

    I have only experimented with growing hosta seeds. I do have a dream…that I will grow a hosta so unique it will be worthy of naming and registration. So, I will start my seeds shortly and observe them daily, looking for anything besides the “all green ones”.

    Hi Hostabuff, thanks for the agreement! We are hungry for spring and the lettuce has sort of that taste. Your hosta dream sounds like a worthwhile one. Good luck with it and remember to keep that dream alive! πŸ™‚

  17. patsi says:

    Isn’t it fun ? !
    I envy the room you have.
    Wait till you see my set up…oh so small space.

    Hi Patsi, it is the most fun we can have in the winter, anyway. I look forward to seeing your set up, whatever works, right? πŸ™‚

  18. jodi says:

    Ah, the perfect solution to a cold chilly snowy day…your seeds’ progress. I can ‘remember’ what spring feels and looks like, watching those little seedlings stretch and green.

    Hi Jodi, my friend, I am so glad to see you here and posting on your own blog again, you were missed! Seeing the germinating seeds does make spring seem that much closer.

  19. Rose says:

    Frances, Thanks for a breath of spring! With the snow falling here and Arctic temperatures forecast later in the week, I don’t think we’ll be starting seeds any time soon.

    Hi Rose, thanks for that breath of cactus too! πŸ™‚ They are forecasting well below normal temps for us too all week, yikes. All the more reason to start seeds just to see something grow!

  20. Lythrum says:

    Hmmm…looking at all of those seedlings germinating I felt something stirring inside…must get out seed catalogs!

    Hi Lythrum, yes! Seed catalogs lead to seed buying leads to seed starting leads to planting outside in spring. A lifeline for gardeners! πŸ™‚

  21. Brenda Kula says:

    I so love the sight of new babies growing from the earth! Makes my heart got pitter-pat for spring to hurry up and get here!

    Hi Brenda, my too. It does make spring seem closer to see the little bits of green unfurl from the mix. I love the Emily Dickenson quote.

  22. gisele schoene says:

    It was so nice to see all your healthy and beautiful seedlings! Seeds are so much fun! I already received the seeds I ordered and you inspired me to sow them. I need to find room in my sunroom.

    Hi Gisele, thanks, so nice to see you here! I like to sow seeds as soon as I get them too, why wait? πŸ™‚ Finding room is the hard part, I have ordered a second heat mat and light kit and don’t know where they can go, but will find room somehow, it is imperative!

  23. Scott says:

    I love the pictures of your setup. It reminds me that I need to rebuild my sprouting/indoor growing rig again. We put up so much food in the fall we had to use the shelves to store it all. My tomato seeds will be arriving from Pinetree in under week and they need a place to start there their little veggie lives.

    Hi Scott, thanks and welcome. We used to live in PA too, Berwick, so know well the living there, including the big farm shows. It sounds like you are doing a great job feeding yourselves from the land, well done!

  24. cheryl says:

    Hi Frances, so very nice to see life in your seedlings. I tried the ole pots on top of the fridge one year, planted with Elephants Ears bulbs they did quite well. After seeing this I may try something again. πŸ™‚

    Hi Cheryl, thanks, it is a thrill to see those little signs of spring in the sunroom/greenhouse. Someone else mentioned the top of the aquarium set up, or a radiator, any warm place. I don’t have any warm places and the top of the fridge is prime kitty hang out space so that is not an option. I am loving the heat mat and grow light combo, but haven’t seen the electric bill since it was set up! πŸ™‚

  25. Raffi says:

    I can’t actually find your contact info, so I’m writing this as a comment – not meant for publishing, just for you to read.

    I was wondering if you’d heard of, since I was hoping you might share the site with your readers. It’s a gardening wiki with a plant encyclopedia, and has grown to a decent size, but the amount of work still necessary is almost limitless of course… so the more people that know about it, the better the chances of a few new volunteers to add to it. The focus is simply how to garden, and how to grow things, and articles focus on that – rather than the history, economic value, production, etc. I’d like to see every single plant in the world on there one day πŸ™‚ As a wiki, comprehensive articles with lots of photos can be created for every plant and garden topic over time.

    Anyway, the URL is simply – let me know if you have any questions.


  26. Cinj says:

    Wow, I am envious! I want to grow some seeds too. I am GOING to get that craft room done, I really am! It’s not quite time for seeds here yet, so I have the time still. I just have to get organized and get going. So those heat mats work well?

    Hi Cinj, thanks. Seed starting is quite rewarding. This being the first time I have used the heat mat, I can say that the difference is like night and day! The heat really gets those seeds percolating under the soil and causes them to jump right up! πŸ™‚

  27. Jean says:

    Aren’t heat mats a wonder? My luck with seedlings changed as soon as I got one. Unfortunately right now I don’t have much room for starting seeds. Do you plan to plant out all those seedlings or will you be sending some to the compost or sharing with others? Just wondering because I always felt guilty having so many of the little plants, more than we could ever use!

    Hi Jean, they really do make all the difference in the success rate of the seed starting endeavor! As for the extra seedlings, I am only starting a few of each so as not to have to dispose of any, the hardest part of the seed starting process for me. I wrongly usually try to save them all, putting more than one in a section of the tray. I am really going to try and do better this time. πŸ™‚

  28. Jan says:

    I usually start my seeds in a window, but this year I am using the grow lights for the first time. Your seedlings look great. I can’t wait to plant mine outside.

    Always Growing

    Hi Jan, thanks. The light is wonderful, the plants are growing straight up instead of bending towards the windows, and the color is better too. I did have to order another light. I have heard that a regular light fixture can be used too, and if I feel like more are needed will go that cheaper route. It is already looking like spring at your place!

  29. Wow, Frances, what a set up you’ve created. So nice you get to have a gardening outlet during the bleak winter months. You are going to be so ready to get out and plant when that last frost date passes. I applaud your diligence and dedication. I’m not sure I could go to all the trouble but you are surely doing it up right for all your little green seedlings. great post. Meems

    Hi Meems, thanks. It is a good way to still feel like I am gardening when the weather outside just won’t permit work there. If you lived in areas of cold winters, I do bet you would do whatever it takes to grow things! You are genetically programmed to garden. πŸ™‚

  30. Marnie says:

    You really did create a great setup. I have terrible luck with starting seeds. Inside I just can’t seem to get them enough light, that is the ones the cats don’t get. Then there is the too little too much water problem.

    Hi Marnie, it is hard to do without the light set up. And the cats here have to be kept out of the room, not just for the seeds but they eat the orchids too! Watering is tricky, I am trying to err on the side of less is better than too much!

  31. Monica says:

    Even though I exclusively winter sow, it’s fun to see photos from indoor seed starters. Awwww, your flat looks so toasty warm on its mat! (Mine are covered in inches of snow.) And aren’t amaranthus the cutest seedlings, being red and all? Noog noogie!

    Hi Monica, I can’t wait to meet you in person and see if you are as much of a cut up as you are online! Noogie noog indeed! HA

  32. Darla says:

    My husband just bought me three packs of organic seed starting trays… I’m looking around for a light. I think our piano light just might work. This was timed perfectly for me to read. Am I correct that all seeds do not need bottom heat? I know peppers do for sure. Great informative post and thanks for taking the time to put these posts together for us. Oh, we may be int the teens by the end of the week, I knew Jack Frost would show up sooner or later.

    Hi Darla, how sweet of your husband to get you such a useful gift. I would say that it is true that all seeds do not need bottom heat. My greenhouse is quite cool, much cooler than the house even though it has lots of natural light. I go to the Thompson and Morgan website and click on the type of plant to see what the germination range of temps is to decide whether the mat will be used for what seeds. Oh no to the cold snap, you have all those lovely flowers blooming!

  33. commonweeder says:

    One of my resolutions was to grow a few things from seed this year, and I think at heat mat might be just what I need to be successful in my cold house. But I won’t be able to start fora while yet. No planting outdoors in Massachusetts until April.

    Hi Pat, that is a good resolution. The heat mat really does speed things up, so time your sowing accordingly. I saw a sign on a local nursery today that said ‘fourteen weeks until the last frost’. I am not sure if that’s correct, but it helps to figure out when to plant seeds inside.

  34. You have some lucky little seedling…I need to go order another heating mat and consider lights this year. Thanks for sharing! Kim

    Hi Kim, thanks. Your photos with the new lens are beyond description, BTW!

  35. I’ve been sowing seeds for years but each time they germinate I still look upon it as nothing short of a miracle. Lovely post Frances, I enjoyed reading it.

    Hi YE, thanks. It is a miracle, I agree, and the awe of it never grows tiring. I loved your wintry scenes and yummy food in your last post too!

  36. Monica says:

    FYI to Marnie, when I was doing indoor sowing, my flats/shelves/lighting were all set up in my closet, out of reach of cats, and frankly a bit warmer than the rest of my house. A friend of mine waaaay back had a similar setup, but let’s just say he was only growing one type of plant! πŸ˜‰

    Hi Monica, I was wondering if anyone was going to go back in time to those kind of closet, or attic, or basement growing days of one crop only! HA
    I do think the seedlings appreciate air movement though, you could have a fan lightly blowing in the closet too. I run one 24/7 for the orchids when they are inside, it is necessary for their happiness so the seedlings get the benefit also.

  37. Monica says:

    Frances, unfortunately, you’ll find me pretty much the same in person as online–only a lot heavier!! πŸ˜‰

    HA, me too only make that much shorter! πŸ™‚

  38. Tessa says:

    I just love looking at babies!!! Your little ones seem to be doing great. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi Tessa, thanks. I look forward to seeing your babies too! πŸ™‚

  39. easygardener says:

    I have a heated propagator but unfortunately not enough bright light even in my conservatory. I’ll have to wait until February when the Chilli peppers have to go in – grey days or not!

    Hi EG, sounds like you need to set up a light station! I found that the light in my greenhouse was not enough for the seedlings to not get leggy so early with the shorter day length. Now they are much happier.

  40. mothernaturesgarden says:

    Oh, Frances,
    You are up and growing, I see. You have the perfect set up now. There is nothing like watching the sprouting magic take place. I usually am overzealous and plant way more than I can ever plant. πŸ™‚

    Hi Donna, yes, we are up and running, running out of space already! LOL

  41. Robin says:

    Your seedlings look beautiful and healthy! I’m itching to get started too. Last year I was eager and started them too early, I’m trying to patiently wait, but it’s difficult especially after seeing yours.

    Hi Robin, thanks. We usually start too late, with seedlings that are too small to survive in the great big outdoors when the temps warm up. The mat and light will help keep things healthy and hopefully larger when the big switch to outdoors comes. I am keeping you in my thoughts too.

  42. Monica says:

    Oddly, my seedlings (primarily tomatoes) did fine without a fan in the closet. I keep my home pretty cool and did not use heating pads, so I think the cooler temps kept the seedling from getting leggy so air to strengthen them up wasn’t needed as much.

    Hi Monica, I do think the coolness helps too. My greenhouse is cool with so many windows and since I quite using a space heater in there in winter, about two years now, the orchids are so much happier. Cool nights with warmer days is best for all the plants, orchids and seedlings alike it seems, more natural.

  43. Monica says:

    Hi again Frances–I swear this is my last comment on this post (is there an award for most comments?! ;-)). I just posted a photos of my seed trays, outside covered in snow!

    Hi again to you, Monica. HA, this will look like my most popular post with all these comments, feel free to comment as much as you want, though. It doesn’t matter to me. πŸ™‚ I am amazed to see your seed trays covered in snow like that and want to know what you have planted in them.

  44. Kathleen says:

    omg, I haven’t even ordered my seeds yet. I better get on the ball. You have put us all to shame. and I CANNOT BELIEVE you got primula veris to germinate. I try and try and try with that one and no luck. Can I come over and snitch a few???? pretty please (with a cherry on top)!

    Hi Kathleen, while I like to think of myself as a generous gardener, and know it is bad luck, and form, to not give someone something they ask for, cherry or no, well no. πŸ™‚ I can tell you that I did manage to start the original P. veris from seed ordered from Thompson and Morgan many years ago without the heat mat or grow light set up, so you should be able to get some going too. These particular seeds were gathered from a plant that had a huge flower head this year, the only one out of several to do so. I thought maybe it would produce seed and kept an eye on it until the seed heads opened and revealed the tiny treasure inside. I gathered them mid summer and kept them in the shed until November when I sprinkled them in a pot and sat it on the shelf in the greenhouse, still no heat mat or light was used. When they germinated, they must need it a little cool to do so, I had the light set up and put them under it to get healthier seedlings. It is much easier to just divide the existing plants and I have done so many times. These primulas are much tougher than the jewel tone ones I get at the grocer’s and the leaves are slightly different, less crinkly so I can tell them apart. Order some seeds and give them a try! I have not had success with the other types of primulas from seed but might try again with the light and heat set up now in place. Or should I say yes because you are just kidding? HA

  45. Kathleen says:

    No I wasn’t kidding! but I respect your decision. I actually got three primula veris seeds to germinate years ago and my mother was the recipient of those plants when I left my garden (because of a move). I keep asking her to divide them and give me some starts but so far she hasn’t done so. I may have to go do it myself but I’ve never been there at the right time. I did order more seed from T&M last spring but I think you germinated them the right way (over the winter) because I think I read somewhere also that they do need cool temps??? Thank you anyway. I am taking no offense that you won’t share! πŸ˜‰

    Hi Kathleen, I’m glad you weren’t offended, for I am usually not that rude! Well most of the time anyway. Division is really the easiest method to propagate the primulas, and they seem to benefit from it too. I do think they need cooler temps to germinate, it should say in your T and M catalog I saw on your blog. πŸ™‚

  46. Kathleen says:

    PS I don’t care for those jewel tone primulas that you can buy in the grocery store. Primula veris has it all over them….

    Oh I do, especially the blue ones. They bloom well before the P. veris here, so are a good beginning to the season. I have purchased many other types and they perish in the hot dry summers, so those are the two that survive, veris and the grocer’s kind.

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