March Update: Babies Move to a New Home
Monday, March 16, 2009
Moving day had come.
I could tell because the plants that we started in this Jiffy starter tray were developing "root legs," and my fear was that if they didn't get a new home and soon, they just might walk away. Plus -- they were hitting the top of the grow lights, which is never a good sign. And those long stems that you see in abundance? That's not a good sign either.
There's a term for this -- and it's called "leggy." And this happens to a lot of indoor growers who do not have standard greenhouses. Starter plants tend to develop very weak stems when reaching for heat or a light source or both, and that's not good when you're growing tomato starter plants. Strong stems are needed for leaf growth and development. If the plant gets top heavy -- SNAP! You've just a lost a starter that you've spent a good month growing.
So, the "project" so to speak this weekend was to move the babies to a new home. This required a couple of different steps: A nice place to stretch out and work -- some new cups for the tomato and pepper starters and some good compost that the tomato and pepper plants will appreciate over the next month and a half.
Venus and I found the planter mix after a trip to the Big Box store that is Lowe's in West Sacramento, and the cups came courtesy of Farmer Fred Hoffman (Fred can just about find anything). After setting everything up in ye olde GarageMahal, including a tarp to cover the garage floor, Venus and I were ready to get to work.
In past years, we have used each Jiffy Peat Moss Pod to start three to four seeds -- or plants -- each. But separating the plants from the pod, without damaging the intertwined root systems, wasn't easy. And it was extremely messy. We usually wound up losing one or two starter plants from each pod anyway, so this year we tried something a little different:
One plant per pod.
And this made the process of transplanting pods into cups much easier. All you needed to do was scoop -- pack the dirt down -- drop in a pod with a plant -- cover with more composted soil -- label the plant and move on to the next pod.
The tomato starters, however, required a little more care than the peppers. Since the plants were so "leggy," we actually had to bury most of the stem in the compost, leaving only the top leaves exposed. This is actually a reccommended practice if you're going to start tomato plants from seed. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will actually develop a second set of root systems resulting from a buried stem. And that, in time, will hopefully result in a stronger, thicker stem above.
As for the pepper plant starters, well, they didn't require this sort of "deep burial" treatment. All of the bell pepper plants had nicely developed stems, with good leaf structure. These were the easiest of plants to transplant into new cups.
This also happens to be the absolute worst year I've experience when it comes to actual germination rates. In previous years, tomato plants have always germinated faster -- and at better rates -- than the bell pepper counterparts. But, not this year. The bell pepper seeds gave us germination rates of nearly 100%
But the tomato seed? While some rows did better than others -- the total germination rate was probably 60%. In some cases, we had zero germination. We will not be enjoying Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Red this year, because none of the pods planted with seed germinated. The same holds true with another heirloom variety called Red Reif Heart.
But, don't feel sorry for us. We're not crying. We have more than enough started to plant five or six tomato and pepper gardens rather than just one. This includes a large variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers. All of these plants are now sitting under a special contraption that I put together last week in the GarageMahal.
I can't take credit for inventing this PVC contraption. It sprang from the mind of an A-Type personality engineer who works for Intel and lives in the Rocklin area. But, while I could never invent something like this -- I am very good at looking at pictures or instructions and making a duplicate copy.
Which is exactly what I did!
All of these plants will remain indoors for about the next month (four weeks). By mid-April, if the weather has warmed sufficiently, I will take the next step in the "growing from seed" process and place the babies outside for what is called the "hardening off" process.
Details on that -- and more -- to come. But for now -- everthing is just dandy in North Natomas.