Garden Goodies: Online Garden Planner

At last, I found a way to help me avoid planting my vegetables too close together! This online garden planner┬áis featured on the Seed Savers Exchange website (free trial for 30 days, $25 subscription for a year) and is an absolutely amazing tool that all gardeners should add to their collections. It determines how many plants of each variety can fit in a given space, the required spacing for each plant, the timeframes for sowing/transplanting/harvesting, and several other neat things. Not only is it much easier than hand-drawing my own garden blueprints, it’s just plain fun to use.

Here’s my spring garden plan for my 15′ x 15′ plot in the community garden:

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The succession planting feature in this garden planner was also useful for overlaying my summer garden plan in this plot (to be featured in a future post). Gives the seedlings something to aspire to.

 

Grow Light Special

Props to indoor seed starting for giving me a head start on the growing season (can I get a what what). It has been three days since the seeds were sown, and the seed flat is already bursting with new life. It won’t be long before they are out of the house and on their own, making Mama Nature proud…ah, they grow up so fast!

Until then, I’ll be raising the seedlings indoors under grow lights. The weather here currently consists of cloudy and windy days, making it unfavorable for these tender plant starts to be exposed outside. Not enough consistent sunlight will make them grow weak and leggy, and the wind will just snap them in half (made me cry last year). My grow light setup is relatively inexpensive and consists of the following:

  • Hydrofarm grow light fixture ($30, purchased from Amazon)
  • Two T12 fluorescent light bulbs, 40 W, 48″, 3100 lumens
    (these were on sale at Ace hardware for $5 total when I got them…lights marketed as “grow lights” are just marked up in price and aren’t necessary, my seedlings last year grew just fine with these regular fluorescent bulbs)
  • Aluminum foil (nothing special, just from the kitchen)
  • Appliance timer ($10 from Ace hardware)

The grow light fixture has hooks and chains which make it easy to hang from the utility shelf in the garage. The general rules are to provide seedlings with 12-16 hours of light and to suspend the lights 2-3 inches above seedlings, raising the lights as the seedlings grow taller. The height of these lights is easily adjusted using the chains and hooks on the fixture. With 48″ lights, I can fit two seed trays underneath at a time.

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To maximize the light the seedlings receive, I’m using aluminum foil to reflect light onto the seedlings that aren’t directly underneath the grow lights. I cut four pieces of aluminum foil about 2 ft long and taped them onto the light fixture so they can drape around the front and back sides. Here’s the view with two foil sheets covering the back side:

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The remaining two sheets will cover the front side:

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I’m using two separate 2 ft long sheets instead of one 4ft long sheet to make it easier to lift open when I need to take seed trays in and out:

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The lights are plugged into an appliance timer so that they can be automatically turned on and off when I leave town for a few days. I’ll be gone this weekend so I tested it out today and set it to keep the lights on between 6am to 10pm.

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Seed starting for the spring garden

First, some useful videos on seed starting:

Top Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors
Growing Seedlings

Last year, one of my mistakes was starting summer seeds too early…in February, that is. Coming from SoCal, I thought the days would be consistently warm beginning in March and thus safe for summer starts, but that was totally not the case here in southeastern Washington. It’s hard to win against this desert climate. My year of living here in the Tri-Cities so far has taught me that spring and fall are actually just steep transitions that each span approximately 7 days between the three-digit summers and single-digit winters.

I digress, but the lesson I learned is to utilize the pre-summer months to grow cool season vegetables such as Asian greens, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, and spinach. Fortunately, I received all my seed orders from my favorite heirloom seed companies:
Seed Savers Exchange
Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

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$54 total. Heck yeah. Grow big and grow home, yo.

My germination kit includes the following:
72 cell seed starter tray with lid (pack of 4 for ~ $10 from Park Seed, these are wonderful to reuse)
Soil-less seed starter mix ($5 for a large bag at Woods Nursery, lasts around 3 years)
Heating mat (~ $20, but I inherited this from a friend)

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Got my spring seeds in and the waiting begins!!!