If you have read my square foot gardening posts entitled Starting the Seeds Indoors and The Miracle of Life you will already be familiar with my unsuccessful attempts at indoor germination. I outlined in the latter post, a change in strategy by attempting germination on top of my refrigerator using the wet towel method. I am excited to report that this protocol has proved to be far superior to anything else I have tried. After several days I was presented with numerous sprouts of tomato, ground cherry and wonderberry. I had got to this stage on all prior occasions so this time round I took a moment to analyze the environmental requirements for the sprouts to support strong, healthy and vigorous development. Clearly, I need to provide :
I had watered from below, and misted from above, even used paper towel underneath the peat pellets to provide more controlled and extended water supply. I placed the seedling on a sunny window-sill, I made a supplemental 2-bulb cfl fixture and suspended it over the seedlings in the window, I even put them outside once daytime temperatures increased. The seedlings were in a room that never dropped below 65oF, or they were outside in temperatures between 60-70oF.
All of these different approaches ultimately resulted in the demise of the seedlings.
So this time, after much deliberation, I purchased a Burpee Self-Watering, Seed Starter Kit Greenhouse from Home Depot. It had a small, compressed peat pellet in each of the 72 cells awaiting addition of water before supposedly expanding to full size. I duly added the warm water and waited…and waited…and waited some more, before giving up after 20 minutes. Not one pellet had expanded in any way, shape or form, 100% duds. As you can imagine I was not amused. With a little quick-thinking, as I had the spouts ready to plant, I filled the cells with potting mix and carefully placed the sprouts in the soil. Where the roots were entangled into the paper towel, I just ripped the towel around the sprout and planted it sprout, towel and all. Several of these contained multiple sprouts as they were too close to separate.
For lighting I rigged together a 4-bulb CFL fixture (2 warm, 2 daylight) a few inches above the 72 cells and used aluminum foil as reflectors. I also set up an old computer fan with a 12v dc wall-wart to remove excess heat, but that has not been necessary so far. The temperature has remained constant at 65oF under the tent. As can be seen from the photos, everything is growing well and appears to be accepting of the environment I have provided. I believe that the self-watering system is fundamental to my success, because as a novice I am prone to under- or over- watering and this system removes that variable (as long as I remember to top-up the water bath !)
As an aside, one of my sweet potatoes has exploded with baby slips, the other is still in the root-growing phase. Both are still half standing in water.
And last but not least, I am very excited by the growth of the lemongrass stalks that I purchased from Whole Foods and placed in a container of water. There is significant new growth shooting out of the middle of the stalk and I am hopeful that roots will start to appear very soon. These will not be planted in my square foot gardening beds, but as companion plants near-by to repel pests.