Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Category Archives: Seeds and Seedlings

Seed Starting: New and Improved!

seedling trays under grow lightsWe’ve upgraded our seed-starting operation for this year. From our homemade grow light fixtures, we’ve graduated to four fluorescent shop lights hung on a 6′ x 3′ metal shelving unit. Right now we have about 1,000 seedlings under these lights in our basement; last year our set-up only allowed us to start about 300 at a time. 

2013_02_05_123It all started when we acquired this metal shelving unit and all the light fixtures from Eric’s grandfather, who passed away last year. He was a talented craftsman, and his resourcefulness inspired us to create this set up.

We hung each fluorescent light fixture to the underside of the shelves using chain and wire to suspend them. This will allow us to raise and lower the lights as needed. We also lined the back with foil to reflect light.

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We started our seeds on February 9. We use the Jiffy seedling trays, which contain 72 cells for individual seedlings and come with greenhouse lids to help with germination. We’ve reused ours year after year. We speed up germination by putting some of the trays on heating pads made specifically for growing seedlings. We only have two of these pads, so we got creative. In the left photo, we put a milk crate upside down over a register and placed a seedling tray on top. The right photo shows a small side table with a wicker bottom shelf we placed over a register, which housed two full trays.

seedlingsThe majority of the tomatoes germinated within 1 week. We removed the lids and put the trays under lights once germinated. This photo was taken February 16.

2013_03_02_233For our onions this year, we planted our seeds in a tray without cells. Half of the tray is planted with red onion, the other half is green onion. We’ll buy slips for white or yellow onions, depending on what we can find locally.

2013_03_02_235These are some of our pepper seedlings. This year we’re growing jalapeno, banana peppers, an heirloom variety from Baker Creek called lipstick, Marconi, and chocolate bell. The peppers take a little longer to germinate than tomatoes.

2013_03_02_236We planted an entire tray with one of our favorite varieties of tomatoes from last year- Costoluto Genovese. If you look toward the right side of the photo, you can see a seedling that shot up faster and taller than its fellow seedlings; we’ll be documenting this plant’s progress throughout the year, and if it lives up to its explosive beginnings, we’ll make sure to save seeds for next year!

2013_03_02_241A sea of tomatoes… we planted a tray of Arkansas Travelers and a bush variety we’ve been saving seeds from for years. We also have two full trays of cherry tomato varieties, including our favorite yellow, as well as some sungold, purple, and red. In smaller quantities, we started heirloom varieties Millionaire and Pierce’s Pride from Baker Creek (given to us free last year), Black Giant, Black Pineapple, and White Wonder.

We plan to plant about 100 tomato and 50 pepper plants this season. We’ll be selling the rest in the St. Louis area. We’ll be up-potting these soon and will continue to document the progress!


The Onion Experiment: Seedlings

As you can see, there’s a distinct difference between the two experimental groups of onions we planted. On the left, the Ailsa Craig and Italian Red Onion seedlings were kept under a grow light, with a fan blowing to simulate a breeze. On the right, in the round pot, Italian Red Onion seedlings were kept in a south-facing window with no fan.

We should mention that the seedlings in the window did stand up straight on sunny days.  We’ve had a lot of gloomy, rainy days in a row!

Today we moved both groups into the hoop house.

onion seedlings

We can’t wait until the seedlings are strong enough to transplant into the garden!

The Onion Experiment: Germination

The day after we planted our tray of onion seeds, we sowed more onion seeds in a shallow pot. To maintain moisture and promote a greenhouse effect, we covered it with a plastic bag that wouldn’t touch the surface of the soil and placed it over a vent to keep it warm. Just in case our tray experiment failed, we wanted to have a back-up. Plus every good experiment needs a control group!

The seeds in both the tray and the pot germinated about a week later, but the seeds in the pot germinated at a higher rate than those in the tray.

The tray has been uncovered, taken off the warming mat, and put under a grow light in the bathroom. We’re planning to strengthen the seedlings by simulating wind using a small fan.

We put the pot in a south-facing window. The seedlings grow toward the sun so we’ve been rotating the pot, or we might put a reflective surface behind it. We expect the tray to fare better, but we’ll see!

The Onion Experiment 2012

We planted 200 onion seeds today. We’ve direct seeded our onions before, but the seedlings had difficulty competing with springtime weeds. We’ve also planted onion sets, which are individual bulbs you can buy, and slips, which are younger pre-grown onions ready to transplant.  This year we decided to start the seeds indoors, and hopefully they’ll be ready to transplant soon. Onions are fairly cold hardy and some can be planted well before the last frost- some can even overwinter. We probably should’ve started the seeds a little earlier…

First things first: we mixed our own potting soil using an organic soil mix, worm castings, and sand. We could use our own compost and worm castings, but we’d have to sterilize everything in the oven before using it for potting.

Traditionally, onion seeds are sown together in bunches, then separated when transplanted. We found this tray stashed away in our gardening supplies and thought we’d try sowing individual onion seeds in each hole. Just to be safe, we’ll be planting seeds in bunches in larger pots in case we have any issues with the tray.

We filled all the holes about 3/4 full of our pre-moistened potting mix and dropped in one onion seed per hole.

We then spread more potting soil on top and gently watered it in. The tray will sit, covered, in our basement on a heated mat until the seeds sprout, then we’ll keep them under a grow light or in a sunny window until ready to transplant. We heard it helps to cut the sprouts back when they flop over to keep them strong, and the young clippings can be eaten like chives.

We’re hoping this experiment works out and we’ll have 200 onion seedlings ready to transplant into the garden soon. We’ll document the progress of the onion experiment through the year.