I’ve not been much in the garden since late fall, so by the time January or February rolls around I’m starting to go through withdrawals. My houseplants get more attention than ever, seed catalogs are perused again and again and I begin to sow seeds for this years vegetable crops. Today I sowed Stupice tomato, Bambino eggplant and cleome flower seeds in Jiffy peat pellets and Fiber Grow coir pellets indoors.
The differing climates throughout the USA and the world, determine success or failure of a particular variety of seed. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Stupice is a very successful tomato. It is of medium size so it ripens within a shorter growing season, and doesn’t seem to mind a certain amount of our cloudy, cooler days. The big Beefsteak tomatoes are better in the sunny, hot southern states with their longer growing season. Talk to the old timers around you who have vegetable gardens. They’ve been trialing for decades and will be glad to tell you which varieties have given them consistent reward. Also read your seed catalog information very carefully when ordering seeds. Each seed has specific needs for success. The seed information will specify “number of days to maturity”. It is especially important to us in the northern climates. We have shorter growing seasons so we want seeds with the shortest number of days to maturity. This countdown begins with the transplant of the seedling into your garden soil, not from when you sow the seed in your trays.
To start many of my seeds I like to use expandable pellets. They are compressed but expand when you soak them in water first. They are easy and rarely do I have germination failure, provided I keep them moist. Be sure to pot them up into a four inch pot of soil when roots begin to show at the sides. I have better success in pellets than with seedling mix in pots or seed trays, but at 10-15 cents each for the pellets, when I have a large number of seeds I’ll use seed trays with little cells which I fill with a seed starter mix. Here I’ve pictured the compressed pellets and a cell tray.
Peat pellets and seedling mix both are full of peat moss. Peat moss products have been used extensively in gardening and gardening products for eons. I for one have never been fond of peat because it dries out easily and you’ve got to keep an eye on it no matter what you are using it for. Once it dries out it forms a hard pancake that is difficult to get re-hydrated, so your seeds are wasted. It is always recommended for use in reseeding lawns, or to mix into a planting hole for acid loving plants, but I prefer just using compost. And if you need to acidify your soil, used coffee grounds or fir and pine needles mixed in will do just that.
That said, I think it’s important to talk about the great peat debate. We hear very little about it here in the USA. I don’t know why that is, as we strive to be responsible gardeners as much as the next, but peat usage is quite controversial in other parts of the world. I learned about it a few years ago by reading gardening magazines from England. In a nut shell, environmental groups in recent years have called attention to the damage done to peat bogs and the wildlife they support because peat extraction is done by draining the bogs to remove the peat. An English gardener friend tells me its usage is banned in the UK.
"Today, lowland peat bogs and their wildlife are threatened through peat extraction for garden composts and other uses. Peatland wildlife such as dragonflies, butterflies and birds depend on peat for its survival and gardeners can choose alternatives.”
“Peat develops very slowly, no more than 1mm in depth per year. A 10 metre deep peat reserve will have taken 10,000 years to develop. So when peat is mined for garden compost it will take 1,000 years to replace every metre that is taken away."
I think more attention should be raised on this matter here in the USA and I think worldwide we all should strive to reduce peat usage by looking for peat free bagged soils, compost and potting products. And to Jiffy company… I applaud your efforts to replace peat with coco fiber (coir) for some of your products but I ask you to please step up your efforts to replace peat in all your products including the expandable pellets. There’s a new kid on the block who’s done just that, and I’m switching! I found some expandable pellets and seed sowing products from Canada’s Planter’s Pride. Their Fiber Grow products are made out of highly renewable coir fibers. Coir is from the coconut’s brown fibrous shell. I’ll be looking for more of their products in future. I bought some of their coir pellets this year and am trialing them along side Jiffy’s peat pellets. Already I like the fact that the ‘fabric shell’ on Fiber Grow coir pellets is advertised to be biodegradable, whereas Jiffy’s is a fine netting that I find still buried long after the plant has been harvested.
I for one, plan to read more closely the ingredients listed on those potting soil, seedling mixes and compost bags…no matter how fine the print is. It is reported that European manufacturers try to hide the peat content, making it hard for consumers to know what they are buying. Be aware, be informed, be choosey. Follow this link for more facts on the peat debate.
Back to seed starting…once you sow your seeds, they need to be kept moist and the humidity needs to be kept up till they sprout. You can use seed starting trays which have small cells that you fill with a special seed starting mix, a very light, airy soil that is yes…mostly peat. The cell trays come with a clear raised plastic cover that will keep in the humidity. If I am using expanding pellets, I put them in a plastic, lidded grocery store container as a way to reuse/recycle. The container shown below was butter lettuce packaging at one time.
Heat mats are electric, super thin and provide gentle warmth from below that help germination of some seeds. I use the heat mat for tomatoes and many summer blooming, heat loving plants that I am sowing seed for. Not all seeds want heat. Lettuce, kale, cabbage and any cool weather crop will not germinate if it’s too warm so keep them off the heat.
Now that my seeds are planted, the most difficult task is at hand. To keep my cat from pushing them off the heat mat now that she’s discovered it. Heat is such a cat magnet! More than once I’ve come home to find her stretched out, toasty and snoozing on it after the seeds have landed on the floor below (sigh).