Sunday, January 4, 2009

Seed Starting

Today, I started my seeds for my Winter Melons, Pumpkins and Cherry Tomatoes. I hope to have the plants in the ground by March 1.  My goal is to have Cherry Tomatoes ready to eat by Memorial Day, the Winter Melons ready by 4th of July and the Pumpkins ready in August.

I use the APS seedstarting kit from  Gardener's Supply Company . I also use the Germinating Mix from Gardener's Supply Company. I have tried other seed starting mixes but I always go back to this Germinating Mix. I find that finely crushed vermiculite mixed with sphagnum peat in this mix gives me the  best medium for starting seeds.

I have one APS-24 and four APS-6 units. I used the APS-24 for starting seeds and I transfer to the APS-6 units when the seedlings emerge. I then transfer to either 4-inch square or 6-inch diameter round containers before finally putting the plants into the ground. I could start the seeds in the APS-6 units but I find that I use too much of the Germinating Mix when I do this. Instead I used the cheaper soil-less potting mix that I can get at my local gardening store for the APS-6 units.

I planted 2 Chinese Pumpkin seeds, 2 Kabocha seeds, 10 Winter Melon Seeds, and 10 Cherry Tomato seeds. The APS-24 is arranged into 24 cells with 6 cells in each of 4 rows. This is my seed arrangement in the APS-24:

This is where each seed came from:

Sun Sugar Cherry Tomato
Sun Cherry ES Cherry Tomato
Sun Gold Cherry Tomato
Sugar Snack Cherry Tomato
SuperSweet 100 Cherry Tomato
Mother Kabocha My Mother (Asian Supermarket)
Chinese Pumpkin Pumpkin My Own Seed (Grew Last Year)
Long Melon Winter Melon My Own Seed (Grew Last Two Years)
Mother-In-Law Winter Melon My Mother-In-Law (Asian Supermarket)
Oblong #114 Winter Melon
Long Giant #386 Winter Melon
Round #287 Winter Melon

I have no pictures for the Winter Melon seeds from my Mother-in-Law.  She got the seeds from a melon she bought from a local Asian Supermarket.  Similarly, I do not have pictures for the Kabocha seeds that my Mother gave me (also from an Asian Supermarket).  I guess I will find out how they look this summer when the plants start producing fruit.

I took seeds from one of the Chinese Pumpkins I grew this past year.  I also am using seeds from a Winter Melon that I grew for the past two years.  Both the Chinese Pumpkin and the Winter Melon plants are prolific producers.

I added 6 parts water to 9 parts of the Germinating mix into a large container.  I used an 8 oz plastic yogurt cup as my scoop.  I used 15  scoops of Germinating mix and 10 scoops of distilled water.  I use distilled water because I want to make as sterile an environment for the seeds to germinate as possible.  

Even with this, I have problems with Algae growing in the APS units.  The problem with the APS units is that all of the cells in the unit share a common water supply.  Consequently, if Algae forms in one cell, it quickly moves to adjacent cells.  This is one reason why I transfer the seedlings into another container as quickly as possible.  I also wash the APS units with bleach between uses.

I fill each cell in the APS-24 with the germinating mix upto 3/4ths full.  I then drop the seed in the middle of the cell and fill the rest of the cell with germinating mix.  As you can tell from the picture below, the Chinese Pumpkin and Kabocha seeds are quite large in comparison to the cell.  This is the first time I have tried to grow seeds this large in the APS-24.  Hopefully, it will turn out well.
I use a grow light that I bought from  Better Grow Hydro .  It is a Tek-Light System with four T5 bulbs each four feet long.  I chose a T5 system because it gives the best light spectrum for the amount of energy that it uses.  Each T5 bulb uses 54 watts.  

The seeds need to be in a warm environment otherwise they will not germinate.   I keep the grow light in a storage room that is detached from the main house.  The room has no insulation, so at night it can get very cold.  I keep the grow light on 12 hours a day, from 7:30pm to 7:30am.  This way the heat from the bulbs helps keep the APS-24  unit warm at night.  Otherwise, I would need to use a heating mat to keep the unit at a nice temperature.

As you can see from the picture below, I elevate the APS-24 unit so that it is within an inch of the light.  This maximizes the both the energy in the light spectrum and also the heat given off by the bulbs.

I get about a 50% germination rate with the APS-24.  It typically takes a 7 to 10 days for seedlings to emerge.  Hopefully, by this time next week, I will have some seedlings.

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