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Of course it would be Sungolds and Tomatillos! Today, I have my first sprouts. Now the trick is to keep them alive, healthy and growing until it is time to harden them off and put these babies in the garden.

If you look in the center of the image, you can see two stringy-loop things sticking out of that dirt. Those are two Sungold tomato sprouts, from a seed packet, that has already been opened that is at least 2 yrs old. The Tomatillo seeds are even older. I have kept these seeds in card board photographic boxes, indoors, out of direct sunlight, AKA a cool dark--but not damp place. I have known more than a few people who kept their seeds in the freezer too, and that seemed to work well.

01-10-2013Image 008

Because the shelves are so far apart on this shelving unit, I will be digging out thick telephone books to elevate the seed starting structure, so that the seed tray is as close to the lights as it can be, without the seedlings touching the light. This will help the seedlings to not be so leggy with thin stalks.

Remember to keep the seeds beds evenly moist, but not wet. If the trays stay wet, you will get dampening off, or even mold growing on your seed starting mix, it will look white and fuzzy like belly button lint. At which point I suggest making a strong cup of chamomile tea, and then diluting that with cool water, so it's not too warm and treating for fungus, using this anti-fungal home remedy.

Damping off has a distinct appearance too. It looks like the seedling just tapered off at the top with no leaves, with a bruised darkening appearance at the top, before it dies back completely. Or an otherwise healthy seedling simply gets thinner and thinner in the center of the main stalk til it falls over, for no apparent reason--like you touched it and broke it off. You can read more about Damping Off at Dave's Garden, and Wikipedia. Wikipedia shows a picture of a seedling suffering from damping off. Another great page on this topic from You Grow Girl.

So evenly moist seed starting mix could be described as the same consistence as a  moist sponge--note moist, not wet! If you were to press on that soil lightly, no water should rise to the top, but it should appear moist, but there should be no standing water, and it should not be sopping wet, or fully saturated. As in if you were to turn your seed tray on it's side, water should not pour out before you get it almost perpendicular, and the water that would come out would be small.

Because I am using store bought seed trays with the 72 plug holes, I leave one hole on the corner of each tray empty. It's an easy spot to put water into the tray, and I can see the water level there, as in, if there is standing water, then I know I have too much water in the tray and need to carefully drain some out.

Over watering can also lead to fungus gnats.

I recommend watering from the bottom, so you don't wash your seedlings out of their area, and also do not batter them with a torrent of water potentially bruising them or causing them to tear their roots.

But back to leggy:

When plants get leggy, they often suffer dampening off, they are weaker, and can break easily due to an errant breeze, careless bump or simply falling over because the stalk is not strong enough to support the true leaves once they emerge. The appearance is a very tall, thin, main stalk with faded green color, threadlike, underneath true leaves that cause it to lean or list to the side due to the weight. If your plants get leggy, that doesn't mean they won't survive, it just means you may loose a few of them if you do not take care.

This tray, since it is tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplant, happens to be on a seed-heat-propagation-mat. Once the majority of the seeds have sprouted, I will remove the heat mat, and use it on a different tray, to speed germination up.

Most physical stores do not yet have seeds available, or their stocks may be low, because the packets are from last year. Don't despair. You can order what you want online. I prefer to collect the seeds I want, and store them so I can start them whenever I want. Some nurseries will start stocking some seeds, seed potatoes and onion sets in my zone next week hopefully. But many chain stores will not have their seeds ready nor their sets ready until February or even gasp-March or April! I give those managers a good talking too, and let them know that people who buy seeds are going elsewhere for this season's goods, because they start their seeds earlier than the stores stock the shelves and those stores are missing out!

Someone never told them, that putting seeds up for sale the week of the last frost date in that zone, especially plants like tomatoes and peppers, things that need a head start, does no good for a serious gardener. The frost date is when you can put your seedlings outside if they are ready, and is not when you start your seeds indoors.

And now for the Monarch Butterfly- part of the post: Follow me through the orange portal if my brand of crazy intrigues you.

My kids and I are watching documentaries on butterflies, and the latest one has to do with the Monarch. Previous diaries I have posted, noted that the Monarch is in danger due to a variety of reasons. This year was a very bad year for the monarchs. I saw very few, when normally we could travel to certain places and see tens of hundreds of monarchs, feeding on asters and goldenrod in some places before they made their way back to Mexico. This last year, we saw less than 40 over a span of months, driving through several counties in areas, where we know they frequent in better years.

Well I have an idea, and at the risk of sounding like a total crackpot, I am going to share it, before that thought dies of loneliness.

One of the Scientists who travels to a nesting site in Mexico indicated that certain trees acted as heaters in the winter, radiating solar radiation, so that the Monarchs, festooning these trees in the winter were able to stay warm. Only now illegal logging is destroying this important habitat feature and is leading to lower monarch populations.

In Mexico, monarchs roost in Oyamel fir forests, which occur in a very small area of mountain tops in central Mexico. Monarchlab
This is significant, because of the unique placement and quality of the trees--mostly on the Southwestern exposure on the hillsides and mountainsides. South-West exposure means lots of warming, direct sun in winter. If you are a serious gardener, then you know to plant cold sensitive plants in Southwest quadrants, so that they can utilize that solar radiation throughout the day to compensate for colder evenings or even a colder climate in general.
LINCOLN BROWER: We're talking constantly about this micro-climactic envelope: about 3,100 meters, usually on southwest-facing slopes. If you imagine the forest as a blanket that protects the butterflies by keeping the heat in, and also think of it as an umbrella that keeps the rain out. And the tree is like a hot water bottle; it's radiating heat out through the bodies of the butterflies. So when the temperature drops down really low, you'll see millions of Monarchs just festooning these beautiful trunk clusters. If you think about it, the bigger the tree, the more heat it holds. So this is an argument for maintaining the forest in its native state, to let the trees get as big as they can, and the butterflies will be protected during those cold periods. NOVA
Well we are building caves for bats to lower incidence and spread of White Nose Syndrome, so it seems to me that we have the technology to build tree like structures that put off the right amount of heat for these butterflies. If these places are denuded of trees, it won't help anyway, but what if we could build something as a stopgap measure for now, while we find a way to stop the illegal logging?

Am I nuts? Well maybe, but I am mostly harmless.

Any thoughts on this? Can we make pole or tree like structures that could sufficiently and safely warm festooning Monarch Butterflies throughout Mexican winters in the absence of their preferred trees?

You can view the entire show free at NOVA, the Incredible Journey of the Butterflies.

To me this mostly takes advantage of passive solar heating ideas. The trick is to build a structure that mimics the trees, because remember nutrients and water are circulating within the tree, evening out the distribution of heat. I imagine that it would have to also help to have a certain scent on it. Surprisingly many insects communicate with scent, the little black dots on male monarchs are scent patches unique to their gender.

So am I nuts? Is this idea possible? Or should I invest in tin foil hat material now, to avoid the rush?

Originally posted to GreenMother on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 06:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Backyard Science.

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Comment Preferences

  •  what zone are you in? (7+ / 0-)

    I usually start my heat lovers the first week of February, so I can put them out as eight week old seedlings into a cold frame/greenhouse to grow and harden (after moving them to bigger pots).  They then go in the garden first weekend in May as sizeable plants.  I'm in a warm little microclimate between zones 6B and 7A.

  •  I'm planting potatoes and peas this week (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother, txcatlin, burnt out

    I used to be in zone 8A, now I'm in zone 8B.....unless we've had all of our coldest weather already, in which case make that 9A.  

    Isn't climate change wonderful?  The week ahead is forecast to be springlike, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s.  Why did I put up the greenhouse again?  Oh yes, the map still says 8A.  The more recent, updated ones have moved us into the 'B' part of the zone.  

    The biggest effect of climate change I am noticing is the variability in rainfall.  Used to be you could count on an inch of rain a week -- not any more!!  Time to figure out how to catch and store more water in the soil.  I'm trying out some hugelkultur beds this year, maybe that will keep things from burning up come June.

  •  Vicarious pleasure in seeing your tomatoes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burnt out, GreenMother

    sprouting. It'll be a while before I get that started. Technically I'm in zone 8b but I can't imagine getting seeds started for another month. Even then I keep my tomatoes in the greenhouse all year, or I won't see many ripen. I'm near the shore where it's cool most of the time, even summer.

    However, I appreciate the tips on damping off and the link about the gnats. I get infested with those things, so I'll give the sand and sticky yellow paper a try. The starter soil I use does probably have more peat than it should.

    Do you use heating pads for germinating beans, or any other seeds than the solanaceae?

    •  There are also organic cedar products you can put (0+ / 0-)

      on soil to inhibit gnats in soil.

      They can hide in house plants even after your seed season is done too, waiting for the next year! So the cedar comes in handy to treat all the plants in the house, so they don't come back at all.

      When I find the package I will post the name, but here is another link with more advice.

  •  Great gardening info GM. We went to town (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    yesterday and the local farm and tractor store has their seeds out already.

    It was an odd year for butterflies here in mid Mo. this year. Overall we had a more butterflies around than normal, in spite of the worst drought I've ever experienced. Puzzling that a drought and a butterfly boom would come together at the same time. Adding to that mystery was the fact that although most species were here in average or above average numbers, two species, monarchs being one, and mourning cloaks the other, were noticeably fewer in number.  I made positive IDs on only two Mourning cloaks and maybe a couple of dozen Monarchs, but that small number may not even be correct as some of those may have been, probably were, Viceroys. I wasn't close enought to tell on all of them.  Both species are wanderers and both migrate, though the MCs overwinter sometimes, but don't know if that enters into it or not. It's possible that they are encountering something in their travels that has  caused their decline.

    Your thoughts on artificial monarch habitat are commendable but I don't believe it would prove to be very practicable. The expense alone would probably prohibit it but even if it could be built, getting the monarchs to use it might prove to be difficult if not impossible. But I like that fact that you care enough to even think up such a thing, and I also like the fact that you are capable of thinking completely outside the box. Four stars for that alone!.

    Just give me some truth. John Lennon--- OWS------Too Big To Fail

    by burnt out on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 05:14:58 AM PST

    •  Well, the cost? I don't know. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burnt out

      Preserving the entire Monarch population--what is that worth?

      I mean it could be worse, I feel sorry for the people on the Sea Shepherd, trying to protect whales from whaling boats--that seems a helluva a lot more expensive than passive solar heating platforms/artificial tree trunks for butterflies.

      Hell we could even use real hollowed out tree trunks of a similar species or texture for the outside of these structures.

      But who knows, you may be right about that, countries and individuals may be unwilling to make the expense for monarchs. The other thing I would love to see, but forgot to mention--Species Corridor Plantings following major routes North and South for Butterflies--esp Monarchs.

      I think that would just rock, not just for them, but for a variety of birds and pollinators, and who knows what else.

      Imagine if we had a series of Monarch festivals nation wide? How cool would that be?

      •  I hope you're not asking me if I think monarchs, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        or any other species for that matter, is worth saving. You should know me better than that by now........ I do everything I can to create/keep my little piece of the rock as environmentally friendly to the wildlife as I can, as I know you do as well.

        Just give me some truth. John Lennon--- OWS------Too Big To Fail

        by burnt out on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 03:14:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heck No, Burnt Out. Not like that. (0+ / 0-)

          I am thinking in terms of what is spent on other species, like Elephants, Rhinos, Whales, and Tigers.

          The main threat to Monarchs besides drought and pesticides is loss of habitat.

          All three of these things can be controlled on a very small scale, some of which is mitigated by people like you and I who create habitats, and feeding stations for them all over the country, and that includes people who bring larvae and eggs in to raise them without the hazards of predation.

          No one is trying to eat the monarchs or skin them or grind their horns up or use their ivory for jewelry. It's really just a loss of what are basically passive solar heating units that they over winter on, that is one of the top two problems leading to a precipitous drop in their populations.

          I think that is fixable.

  •  I don't think the artificial habitat idea is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    weird, GM.   There is an artificial diet available for monarchs so why not habitat?  But I do agree with burnt out that the cost would be prohibitive.

    Perhaps a better idea would be to copy the turtle egg protection system in place on some Mexican beaches.  People are paid [very little :( ] to camp out on the beaches from egg laying to hatching.  They patrol at night, they are not armed, but they do make a difference.  I don't see why people couldn't protect the trees.  I have no idea how to go about starting something like that; probably the area would have to be declared a reserve by the Mexican government.

    BTW, I have many different styles of tinfoil hat available.  In different gauges for different levels of attack.  Let me know what you would like.  ;)

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:54:36 AM PST

    •  The problem is logging there is happening year (0+ / 0-)

      round. And this area is frequented by cartels. If you read the transcript or watch the NOVA movie, they mention that conservationists who are local, were concerned about death threats if they reported illegal logging. I seem to recall not too long ago, when the cartel wars broke out in Mexico, that this area was one of the places specifically mentioned as being heavily afflicted by the drug wars.

      So to me, If we cannot stop the logging, due to poverty and crime, then passive artificial heating structures may prove to be the solution, because who would want to steal those? We may even be able to make them from material that is not interesting to thieves.

      •  There would be no material not interesting to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        thieves.  Because the 'trees' would be made out of some very hi-tech gadgetry.   What you need is a system that makes the butterfly more valuable than the tree.  Very complicated situation.

        "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

        by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 02:16:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't know. We make passive solar heat boxes (0+ / 0-)

          with flat black paint, insulation and wood. I have seen green houses heated by columns of water in special standing hollow plastic columns.

          Heck I can make a solar oven out of a cardboard pizza box and plastic wrap that will melt chocolate on a day that is in the low forties that is also windy.

  •  Anyone interested in helping the Monarchs (0+ / 0-)

    Check out Monarch Watch.

    You can get a tagging kit, instructions for a weigh station, and applications for certification.

    It's pretty neat site with a forum and blog and all.

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