Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seed Starting 2010 Complete

I had much better success this time around with starting seedlings in my APS units.

Unlike my first attempt a few weeks ago (see this blog entry), I was able to germinate seeds in my APS-24 unit.

The trick was elevating the APS-24 by a couple of inches so that it was closer to the grow light. Since I am using the grow light also as a heating source, raising the height effectively increased the soil temperature around the seeds.

The picture above shows the seedlings in my APS units.

I repotted all of the seedlings into separate containers. The picture below shows some of the seedlings from my two rounds of seed starting. I have 38 seedlings in total!

There are 4 Charentais, 2 Thai Red Chili Peppers, 1 Thai Yellow Chili Peppers, 2 Sweet Baby Girl Cherry Tomatoes, 13 Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes and 16 Winter Melons (combination of Long and Round).

I have way more Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes than I plan to grow, so I am going to have to give most of them away.

Some of the seedlings are only a few days old, so I am keeping them under the grow lights for another week (see picture above).

The remainder, I am putting on the windowsills of south facing windows (see picture below). I want to wait another week or two before I start hardening them off.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rooting Plumeria Cuttings

A co-worker of my spouse gave us a cutting from her Plumeria tree last year. It was a huge tree and the cutting was quite large, with many branches.

We potted the cutting in a container. The cutting took root and flourished.

Unfortunately, the branch points of our new Plumeria are low and as the tree grows it takes a lot of area (see the picture in the upper right).

I decided to divide the tree into three parts, by cutting the two side branches and transplanting the cuttings into new containers.

I cut the branches at an angle so to provide as much surface area as possible for roots to form.

I then dipped the cuttings into rooting hormone (see picture to the right).

The most important thing about rooting a Plumeria cutting is to not overwater. I use a soil-less potting mix of three parts Fir Bark, 1 part Perlite, and 1 part Peat Moss (see this blog entry). This potting mix drains well.

The picture below shows the the Plumeria plants. The one in the center is the original plant.

For an update six months later, see this blog entry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cherry Tomato Plans

A reader asked me this question:

Also, do you grow successive batches of tomatos seedlings or do you grow all you'll need at one time? Last year I had to build all my raised beds and didn't get tomato seedlings planted until May. They did great and were quite prolific. Once Fall approached they pretty much stopped producing. So, had I started them earlier (as you are suggesting) would I have had tomatos producing longer? Or do tomatos produce only for so long based on when they're started?
I find that my Cherry Tomato plants are very productive for about a month and then stop producing either because of disease or because they grow so tall that I have to cut off the tops to prevent the plant from toppling over.

Last year, I started a second crop of Cherry Tomatoes in July (see this blog entry). However, this created a gap of about a 6 weeks where I did not have any Cherry Tomatoes.

This year, I plan to space out planting my Cherry Tomato plants. I plan to plant one group of Cherry Tomato seedlings and then plant a second group about 6 weeks later. This way when the first group starts tapering off fruit production, the second group will start producing fruit. I can then replace the first group with another crop.

Last year, I did an experiment to see what is the best way to grow a second crop of Cherry Tomato plants (see this blog entry). The answer was to clone a new plant from an existing healthy plant.

So, my second group of seedlings when be clones of the first group and my second crop will also be clones.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When to start seeds

I was asked by a reader, when is a good time to start seeds and whether I was too early by starting seeds in January?

I live in the Los Angeles area, and I have noticed over the last several years that the weather warms up in the March time frame. Also, in March, I start seeing Tomato plants (both Cherry and regular) for sale in nurseries in my area, along with other vegetable plants. You can even buy Winter Melon plants for sale at San Gabriel Nursery in March.

So my strategy is to have seedlings ready to transplant outdoors in March. Last Year, I had Cherry Tomato seedlings in the ground by February 21 (see this blog entry), which is a few weeks early. But, I had Cherry Tomatoes ready to eat 3 months later (see this blog entry).

It typically takes about 6 weeks under Grow Lights for my seedlings to be big enough to transplant. So, if I start seeds on January 1, I would have seedlings in mid February. A bit early, but this gives me margin for error. As you see in this blog entry, the Cherry Tomato seeds that I started on January 1, did not germinate and I had to restart new seeds.

If you don't have Grow Lights, you can start seeds on a windowsill that faces the Sun most of the day. The most important thing is that the seeds stay warm. Most seeds need to be in soil that is around 75 degrees F in order to germinate. You can buy a heating mat, if you have trouble keeping your potting mix at the right temperature.

I find that if I keep my seeds starting kits right under my Grow Lights, the heat from the Grow Lights is sufficient to warm up the soil.

Seed Starting 2010 Round 1 Scorecard

It has been 2 weeks since I started my seeds for the 2010 growing season (see this blog entry).The picture above shows my APS units under the Grow Light. I started the Grow Lights turned on at 10 hours per day for the first 10 days. In the last 4 days, I turned on the grow lights 24 hours a day so that I could force the last seeds to germinate. Sure enough, half of my seedlings germinated in the last couple of days.

The picture above shows a close up of my seedlings under the Grow Light. The two "tall" seedlings at the left are Charentais plants. The Charentais plants were the first seeds to germinate and they are very close to the bottom of the Grow Light. I need to transplant these two seedlings into another container otherwise the Grow Light will burn the leaves.

The picture below shows the two Charentais seedlings in a 6 inch round container. To the left of the Charentais plants is a Sun Gold Cherry Tomato seedling in a 4 inch square container.

So how did well did the seeds germinate?

Well, the Winter Melons (57% germination) and Charentais (50%) did well. The Cherry Tomatoes (8%) and Thai Chili Pepper (0%) did poorly.

The Winter Melons and Charentais were in APS-6 units (6 cells per unit), while the Cherry Tomato and the Thai Chili Pepper were in the APS-24 unit (24 cells per unit).

Last year (see this blog entry), I got a 42% germination rate from my APS-24 unit, so I must have done something wrong this year with the APS-24 unit.

The APS-24 unit is shorter than the APS-6 unit. Last year, I elevated the APS-24 unit by a few inches to bring it closer to the Grow Light. This year, I did not do this, so it is possible that the soil temperature was not warm enough to enable the seed to germinate.

I am going to try again with the APS-24 unit and elevate it like I did last year.

The table above shows what I am putting in my APS units for my 2nd attempt at seed starting. New means I put new seed in the cell and old means that there is a seedling from the 1st round already growing in the cell.

For the APS-24, all of the cells have new seeds, and all 4 cells in a row have the same seed type.

The picture above shows the APS units after I had put in the new seed and potting mix.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Trying to Grow Okinawan Sweet Potato in Winter

I am declaring my attempts to grow Okinawan Sweet Potatoes during the Winter a failure.

I have had great success growing Okinawan Sweet Potatoes in the Summer and early Fall (see this blog entry). I thought that with the Winters in Southern California relatively mild, I could grow Okinawan Sweet Potatoes year round.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. There is not enough sunshine during the day and the evenings are too cool (low 40 degrees F) for the Sweet Potato plants to survive.

The picture to the right shows a circular Raised Bed that I have tried to grow Okinawan Sweet Potatoes. I started the Okinawan Sweet Potato plants from cuttings 3 months ago ((see this blog entry). The cuttings did not take root and have died.

The picture above shows another part of my garden where I planted Okinawan Sweet Potato cuttings 6 weeks ago (see this blog entry). I tried covering the ground with mulch to keep the plants warm. But it did not help.

The picture to the right shows Okinawan Sweet Potato cuttings in a barrel container. This container gets the most sun and is in the warmest part of my garden. I started cuttings in the container 3 months ago and I have replaced the cuttings several times since then. Still, no luck in getting any cuttings to take root.

I guess it is not surprising that I am having trouble growing Okinawan Sweet Potatoes during the Winter. The Sweet Potato is native to tropical South America. Southern California has great weather, but the weather is definitely not tropical, especially during the Winter.

At this point, I am waiting until March before I try planting any more Okinawan Sweet Potato cuttings. I am trying to preserve what Okinawan Sweet Potato plants I have left in my garden so that I can avoid having to buy cuttings again (see this blog entry) this year.

I still have Okinawan Sweet Potatoes growing in 1 part of my Garden (see picture below).

I started these Okinawan Sweet Potato plants in August, and they had enough time to take root before the cold weather settled in. Still, you can see that some of the leaves have turned dark. I had cut away some of the dead leaves. But at least, the plants are alive. I just need them to survive for another 8 weeks.

I have also taken some cuttings and put them in small containers (see picture below). I started these cuttings about 8 weeks ago. I take the containers inside at night, so they do not sit outside in the cold. Although the plants are not growing much, they have taken root and will hopefully survive until March.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Seed Starting 2010

The beginning of January is when I start seeds for the upcoming season.

I have used the APS Seed starting system from Gardener's Supply Company for the last several years. I have five APS-6 units and one APS-24 unit.

Last year (see this blog entry), I made the mistake of using only the APS-24 to start all of my seeds. Unfortunately, the larger seeds (Winter Melon seeds) did not germinate because the seeds had inadequate soil depth. I had to restart my Winter Melon seeds a month later using APS-6 units (see this blog entry).

This year (see picture below), I am going to use three APS-6 units to go along with the APS-24 unit.

In the APS-24 unit, I am planting 8 Chili Pepper and12 Cherry Tomato seeds. There are 24 slots in the APS-24, but I have nothing else that I want to plant so the last 4 slots are vacant.

This is the first time that I have planted Chili Peppers. I wanted something that was spicy hot, but not so hot that it would burn my skin if I mishandled it. I decided to plant Thai Chili Peppers which have a Scoville rating of 50,000 to 100,000.

I bought 2 varieties for Thai Chili Peppers from Trade Winds Fruit: Thai Red and Thai Yellow. I planted 4 seeds of each type in the APS-24.

Last year, I planted six varieties of Cherry Tomato plants. This year, I am only growing the two types that tasted the best: Sun Gold and Sweet Baby Girl.

My Sun Gold Cherry Tomato seeds (purchased from Natural Gardening Company) are 4 years old and I am worried that the seeds will not germinate well. Since I was already buying Thai Chili Pepper seeds from Trade Winds Fruit, I also purchased Sun Gold Seeds. I planted 4 seeds of each type in the APS-24. It will be interesting to see if the 4 year old seeds will germinate as well as the new seeds.

I am using the same Sweet Baby Girl Cherry Tomato seeds that I planted last year from Park Seed. I planted 4 Sweet Baby Girl seeds in the APS-24.

In the three APS-6 units, I am planting Winter Melon and Charentais seeds (see picture below). I planted 14 Winter Melon seeds and 4 Charentais seeds. The Winter Melon seeds are in the APS units labeled "B" and "C" and in the top two cells of the APS unit labeled "D". The Charentais seeds are in the bottom 4 cells of the APS unit labeled "D".

Last year, I planted 5 different varieties of Winter Melon plants. However, only 2 types grew well: Long Melon and Round Melon. I planted 7 seeds of each type. Long Melon is in APS unit "B" and the top left cell of APS unit "D". Round Melon is in APS unit "C" and the top right cell of APS unit "D".

I have grown the Long Melon for the last 3 years and it always produces a lot of fruit (see this blog entry from 2008). I am using seed that I harvested in 2008 from the exact Winter Melon fruit that is displayed in the Long Melon picture above. The Long Melon is a "jit gua" type of Winter Melon. This is not the type that is traditionally used for Chinese Winter Melon soup. The fruit has a fuzzy coating on the skin.

The Round Melon is from a Winter Melon that my mother bought from an Asian Supermarket. This Winter Melon is the "dong gua" type of melon that is used for Chinese Winter Melon soup. The fruit has a waxy coating when ripe.

My family likes eating cantaloupes. However, cantaloupes are cheap at the local supermarket. If I am going to go through the trouble of growing my own produce, I want to grow something that is either expensive (Cherry Tomatoes, Strawberries) or not available (Winter Melons, Okinawan Sweet Potatoes). I did some research on the Internet and it turns out that what we call in the United States a cantaloupe is really a muskmelon. A true cantaloupe does not store nor transport well and is mainly grown in Europe.

Charentais is a type of cantaloupe that is grown in France. The fruit from a Charentais plant is bright orange and is suppose to be super sweet. Charentais seeds are hard to find. I ended up buying a packet from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

The picture above shows the APS-24 and APS-6 units after I was done. I have a cover that came with the APS-24. It raises the humidity in the APS-24 and creates a "greenhouse effect". Last year, I did not use it. This year, I will use it.

The weather has been nice that past several days, so I plan to keep the APS units outside during the day and bring them indoors at night for the next few days.

I'll put them under the grow lights afterwards. Hopefully, I'll have seedlings in a week or so. If all goes well, I can transplant into the ground at the beginning of March.

To see the results, go to this blog entry.