Monday, March 29, 2010

A Question for Dorothy

I have absolutely no idea how to grow plants.  I am terrible at it.  I was once given a cactus...killed it.  The only plants I've managed to keep alive in my entire life includes Bryan's aloe vera plant that Lisa gave him for his birthday a year or two ago and a handful of "spider plants." (This is the name I've heard them referred to as, but I have no idea what they're actually called.)  Both the aloe vera and the spider plants go quietly along growing, look like they're about to bite the dust, we give them some water, and then they live some more.  So I'm not kidding when I say that plants cry out for their lives when they come under my rule.

Still, here I am giving it another try.
Bryan and I found these little beauties at the thrift store on Saturday with the intent to grow some stylin' wheat grass.  It seems easy enough.  So I'm not too worried about that.  But when I went to the store to buy some soil today the little display of seeds caught my eye and began taunting me.  "Bring us home!  Grow us!  We promise to live this time!"  So, like any other entranced fool I slipped a packet of tomato seeds into my cart and headed to the checkout, knowing all along that Bryan is going to shake his head at me when he comes home and sees my pitiful attempt.

I almost caved and bought a nifty little "seed starter" kit for $6.99, but in a moment of sanity I reminded myself that it's highly likely that none of my seeds will grow anyway and so I'd better not spend the extra seven bucks on taking a chance.  Instead, on my way home I tried to think of something else that might work instead.  And I came up with such an obvious and perfect solution.  I'd start my seeds in an egg carton!  Of course!  It's free, it's going to get thrown away anyway, and it has all those perfect little places to plant the seeds. 

Did I mention I'm terrible at planting things?  The egg carton got soggy and saggy and really quite sad looking before I even had time to grab the camera to take a picture of my genius solution.  So perhaps it's not so genius after all.  Hmm.  But I'm still somewhat hopeful, so I haven't thrown it out yet.  Still, "somewhat hopeful" does not mean I'm about to put all my eggs in one basket, or all my seeds in one egg carton, as it were.  So I looked around the apartment and thought about something else we had that might work well.

 That's when I saw these.  I've been saving the big O's Gerber containers without any project in mind (thus invoking ridicule from Bryan) and thought they might be just the thing.  Especially since they won't soak up all the water that's supposed to be growing my precious little tomato seeds.

So I gathered up the five little baby food containers I could find...

...and opened up my bag of potting soil.

(Because it's definitely going to take a miracle for me to grow anything.)

I carefully read the instructions on my little bag of seeds.
They make it sound so easy.  But I'm not entirely convinced.

So I filled my little containers up most of the way...

...made a little hole with the tip of my pinky finger...

...dropped in one of my little itty bitty baby tomato seeds...

...and gently tucked them into bed.  (i.e. covered them up with the soil.)

Then, the package said to "Keep moist," so I gave them just a little sip of water so as not to ruin them with a flood.

Then I placed them next to the window in Olivia's room with the hope that they'll actually get some good sunlight there.

We actually keep the blinds closed in her room most of the time since she takes naps throughout the day (ideally, anyway), but I'm hoping my little tomato seeds will be okay on the ledge there in between the window and the blinds.  So...

Dorothy, knower-and-grower-of-all-things-green-and-living, 

How likely do you think my little seeds are to actually sprout and grow?  Did I do anything right?  I still have a bunch of left over seeds and dirt... should I start from scratch a different way?  How much should I water my little seeds?  Will they still be getting enough light on the window sill without being under a lamp or something?  Please educate me in the ways of your green thumb.

My plants and I thank you,

P.S. If anyone else has some good advice for me, please feel free to chime in.  I'd really appreciate it.  Thanks!

Check in the comments for Dorothy's advice!
For more on the subject, check out THIS POST and THIS POST.


Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Here are a couple tips...those containers are genious...I wished I'd saved mine. I think you need to punch holes in the bottom though because you need drainage. The best way to water seedlings is by holes in the bottom sitting in a pan of water, so the soil is always moist, but not wet. Once they sprout, I would suggest taking them outside everyday for a while. Direct sunlight is harder on them than indoor and/or indirect light and if you don't get them used to the real sun, they'll get sunburned when you transplant them to their permanent home. We learned that from sad experience. We need to get our own seeds started.

Kathy Haynie said...

" plenty of light" is key. They need a LOT of light. When I've tried starting tomato seeds indoors, they are a sad skinny lot, vainly looking looking looking for light...they are all stem and no leaf, and they die every time. I've seen Dorothy's setup with grow lights. Let's see what kind of advice she gives.

Dorothy said...

Yep, Polly and your Mom are both right on. First of all, get holes punched in those containers! That way you can add enough water to keep everything moist, but the excess will drain away without drowning your potential plants.

When planting tomatoes I always put three seeds in the pots because some of them just don't germinate. If all three come up, then keep the best one and snip off the other two at the soil level. If you pull it you might disturb the roots of the one remaining.

Next, since you are in germinating mode, put your little pots on a plate or something (for stability and to catch drained water). With the new holes poked, add enough water to soak the soil thoroughly, let it drain, then slip the plate into a baggie or something to conserve that moisture until you see sprouts.

Your tomato seeds are going to need warmth to sprout. Light comes next, after they pop out of the ground. So put your little package of plastic wrapped pots someplace where it's warm. Then check them often...morning and night...

As soon as you see sprouts, get the baggie off and provide light, and I'm sorry to say, a window sill really isn't going to be enough to give you strong healthy plants. Since you only have a few pots, and they are now on a plate or something, Polly is right about getting them outside. As long as it isn't freezing, put them out where they will get as much full sun as possible each day. Bring them in when it gets dark.

It's sounding like a lot of work, right? But don't give up, it's possible!

Flourescent lights are great for seedlings, but I know you don't have space for that in your apartment. (The ceiling one won't work, sorry, because the lights need to be INCHES away from the plant!)

Okay, so now they're growing, and getting daily light, and you're bringing them in when it's cold, what's next? Yep. Water. Don't overdo it, however. When the surface of the containers are dry, then add water.

Okay, that's enough for today. I suspect you're overwhelmed. Who knew that growing a seed or two takes so much thought?

Good luck!! Home grown tomatoes are the BEST!

Katie Lewis said...

Thanks Dorothy!

Okay, so I'm going to poke holes in the bottom of my little plastic baby food containers. I'm also going to add a couple more seeds to each of the containers. Then I'll put them all on a plate or a pan or something. Then I'll put the whole thing inside a Ziplock bag and seal it? Or am I supposed to seal the bag off?

Then once the seeds start growing. (Perhaps that should say IF they start growing...) I will put them out on my balcony every day (except when it's super cold) so they can get as much light as possible. It sounded like there was no great solution for trying to keep light on them inside. Should I set them under my regular little lamp at night? Or are they okay to just sleep in the dark at night?

Beyond that, I you can expect a lot more questions if these seeds actually continue to grow. Thanks so much Dorothy! And thanks Mom and Polly for your advice too. :)

-Katie :)

Dorothy said...

Your baggie doesn't need to be sealed.

A regular light bulb isn't going to help much...wrong kind of light for a plant, sorry.

When I grew with flourescent lights I kept them on from the moment I got up till the time I went to bed. (Sometimes all night when I forgot to turn them off!)
Plant LOVE light. That's probably going to be your biggest challenge.

It's okay to ask questions. :)