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.
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.
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. MonarchlabThis 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. NOVAWell 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?