Saturday, April 9, 2011

Seedling Lessons Part II

In this continuing saga of seed starting, I left off celebrating and bemoaning my success this year, and sharing the lessons of 2011. Here are a few more things I learned:

5. You'll have to be a bit heartless
When you plant several seeds in one pellet (to compensate for the inevitable duds) you set yourself up for hard choices. After using all the technology and tenderness at your disposal to help your seeds sprout, you will have to let some go. Let’s not mince words. You will have to kill some seedlings. A peat pellet is like a studio apartment, or, more accurately, an efficiency apartment. It won't support more than one plant for six weeks with just three tablespoons of soil. So you’ll have to get out your scissors and cut. Cutting (and this awesome tip comes from my mom) is preferable to pulling out by the roots. When plants share such tight quarters the roots intermingle with one another, sort of like they’re holding hands under the soil. Pulling one will likely disturb the other. So we cut. Here I am cutting a sunflower seedling for the sake of his taller brother.

Which brings me to my next lesson:

6. You’ll also have to be judgmental and petty.
In other words, you’ll need to come up with some criteria for choosing one seedling over another. It’s best to have no tolerance for stunted growth or deformed leaves. Anyone with an equal-opportunity sort of heart will suffer a bit. I did. Or, you could go ahead and create your own patch of misfit plants. Then write a blog post about it and send me the link.

7. You may have to perform minor surgery.
In some cases, there may be no good reason to sacrifice one seedling over another. Like with these two cardinal climber vines.

They were nearly matched in every way. A set of perfect twins (and we know I have a soft spot for twins). They were also spaced widely enough that their chances for survival after separation were good. So I set up my surgical table…. 

Pressed the soil with my finger to firm it up…..

And sliced the pellet like a birthday cupcake.   

I nestled each one into its own four inch peat pot, and packed them with extra soil from spare peat pellets.

 Then I sprinkled on a sincere apology in the form of fertilizer...from a free sample I got at the nursery.

 Finally, I ran the outside of the pot under cool water to prevent it from wicking moisture from the soil (you’re supposed to moisten the pots first, but I forgot).

 Though this surgery procedure is risky and injurious to the roots of both parties, 5 days later, the plants were still alive, and the procedure was declared a success.

8. Good seeds will find a way.
After my seed planting fiasco that resulted in six tomato seeds being haphazardly planted at different depths in a single pellet, I was surprised to find all six germinated and thrived.

That is, until I was forced to cut out all but one. (See lesson number 5)

9. It’s fun to take risks
I love poppies. But my poppy seed packets warned against starting the seeds indoors. The problem, you see, is the seedlings resent the disturbance of transplanting, and often die when moved to the garden. So after reading the warning, like any prudent gardener, I proceeded to plant 14 pellets with poppies. It’s like they triple-dog-dared me not to. And my success will be that much sweeter if I pull it off, see? And, after all, ignoring instructions without the threat of a time-out is one of the few perks of adulthood. Here is a photo of the forbidden poppies sprouting:

Take that, Burpee!

Next Post: The Ghost Chile Project, otherwise known as Man Vs. Misery


  1. You are braver than I am. Because I harvest my own seeds in a paper towel they stick to the paper and are impossible to separate. so I cut little squares and plant them paper towel and all. Well some of the squares contain up to 10 seeds, and lucky me they all sprouted. I don't have the hart to cut all but one. I know I have to if I want tomatoes this year but ... I know . I will ask my husband to do the surgery for me.
    Keep writing. we look forward to reading it.

  2. Hello Bel, I've just popped over from Jean's review of your blog.
    What a wonderful read your blog is! I must admit my cheeks are burning a bit as I am just the sort of gardener to have a patch of misfit plants. Oh the horror of having to choose who lives!

  3. I hate thinning little seedlings as well. I usually end up sowing only one or two seeds per for this reason. To compensate, I will grow one or two more extras just in case. Then when it comes time for planting my garden plan goes out the window because I HAVE to find a place to plant the extras.

  4. Against my better judgment I replanted almost all the misfits this year. I know I shouldn't but once repotting I get carried away.

  5. Thanks for the comments, guys! I'm glad I'm not the only one who agonizes over thinning seedlings. My guilt this year lead me to an interesting solution for the sunflower seedlings I cut....I ate them! Well, I ate the seed leaves, anyway, not the fuzzy true leaves. They tasted like peas.

  6. I don't thin either -- I can't bear it. I usually put two seeds in each starter pot (TP rolls are a bit larger than peat pots, but just a bit) and then move them to a larger container together. If I were selling them, I'd probably separate and or snip (the horror!), but I just can't do it. I've also been known to (occasionally, not regularly) replant "weeds" into other areas where they are acceptable. :)

  7. Wow, Becky!
    You are a true plant lover to transplant weeds, but I do believe weeds serve a purpose. Before we started landscaping our backyard, when it was still full of weeds, it attracted far more birds than it does now! The birds have their own idea of a fantastic garden....

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Thanks for reading!