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Seed Starting, v 4.0

while some folks take selfies to post on social media to show off their clothes or hair or makeup, mine are show off what I've grown. this was my first pepper i grew in my first house 15 or so years ago!

Over the years, I've started seeds in several ways as well as en masse and just for a few things. Doing this, you learn a lot about yourself, and your gardening self, including but not limited to:

  • Do I have the patience to go through these many iterations over the years of finding out what setups work and don't work?

  • Do I enjoy the detail orientation that sure helps in preventing heartbreak once these babies germinate?

  • What seeds are responding best to my efforts (or lack thereof)?

  • What are the other alternatives beyond buying starts at the nursery that I may not have considered?

I gotta say, seed starting can be humbling. You go in with the optimism of a five-year-old, and by the end you either leave feeling utterly triumphant or like you have the blackest thumb on the planet. But you learn to celebrate the little victories, that's for sure. And you also realize what is worth and not worth your time through the process.

Here's what I did in my first three homes:

In my first setup, similiar to the internet screenshot above, I bought a tabletop grow light kit with heat mats underneath, which went on a table in the spare room in my basement. A great use of the room, but the inherent issue in the design of this type of kit I found was that the singular grow light a) doesn't adjust to be closer to the seedlings in the beginning, b)the light being in the middle means every seedling on the outside ends up slanting inwards, reaching for the light that's not covering all of them equally; and c) the design of these are rickety AF (not to mention a rip-off $$).

At the farm, I was blessed to have an existing unheated hothouse/greenhouse just off the back patio (well, the prior owner had used it for her freezer and before that I heard it used to have some kind of hot tub, but I looked at it and squealed "greenhouse!" when I first saw it...and thankfully the woman who bought it from us has been doing the same). So with the space I put up a secondhand shelving system I'd gotten for free and screwed in grow lights (similar to the screenshot above), along with heat mats, timer and humidity domes, and went whole hog into the process. While it was more successful, I learned after several years fo this that I didn't enjoy the constant attentiveness that was needed with a mass scale seed starting project like this - adjusting the lights, making sure they weren't under- or over-watered, and the fact that nearly all of my tomato seedlings failed year over year. My peppers? Fantastic. But I always ended up buying emergency organic starts at the nursery, and that led me to our next home's far-simpler process...

Ever have a room in your house that, without the shades down, gets hot AF in the summer because it's so darn sunny? That would be our spare room in the cottage we bought when we downsized from farm life (selling my seed-starting setup among many other things) and returned to the city. And I realized quickly that this room was one to take advantage of that light for starting seeds. Except this year, I was going to throw caution to the wind and just take a 'Survival of the Fittest' approach as our garden was a fraction of the 75'x75' one back at the farm. I literally just repurposed some old pots and tossed some Hungarian pepper seeds into each of them, plopped them on a bin in front of the window, turned the bin occasionally after germination to ensure equal access to the bright light coming in through the window, and...they grew. Literally just fine. The room was warm, the light was great, and I did it all without grow lights or heat mats. Proof positive sometimes simpler is better if you've got the sunshiny spot like we did.

So when we left the city for the Skagit Valley, I was super excited to repeat this...then realized that the only west-facing window was our living room, which has an (awesome) covered patio in front, keeping all but late-afternoon sun from streaming in, and the only south-facing window was in...our bedroom. We actually keep our potted gardenia in there during winter in front of that window out of desperation (yes, the thoughts of building a mini-greenhouse in the backyard is on my Pinterest, but not in our budget this year). Both of our two spare rooms are north-facing, so I finally gave up and sprung for a couple of linkable LED full spectrum grow lights and heat mats. To avoid buying a shelving unit, I repurposed a stainless steel Ikea shelf from the bathroom that the seller left behind, and looped the hanging straps over the bars. My husband was able to get a free used tray from the folks in the plant section at his store (never underestimate just asking places if they have anything that would ordinarily be tossed!), and rather than buy seed starting mix, I just used some of the peat-free organic potting soil I'm now officially in love with into little peat-free pots.

So what am I doing this year, if you're curious? Bell peppers from saved seeds in our last garden, Hungarian Leutschauer peppers (great for drying and paprika), and two types of Peruvians I've been curious about, the little aji charapita and the colorful aji cachuca peppers. I'll get starts of our longtime favorites like Lipstick, Jimmy Nardello, Serrano, Scotch Bonnet and others this spring, but in the meantime, let the fourth incarnation of seed starting begin!


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