Thursday, February 21, 2013

Quite the Leap from Campfire Girls to a Seedling Tray

Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.
~Marion Zimmer Bradley, author 1930-1999

It’s that time of year again in the USA. Campfire Girl mints are for sale, if you can find them. I used to be a Campfire Girl (Wo He Lo to all you alumni) way back when, way before they allowed boys into the groups and when that box of mints cost 50 cents US. As I rose through the ranks from Bluebird to Campfire Girl I’m sure I must have earned a bead or two for gardening. After all, I grew the best pumpkins in my neighborhood in sunny California…at least that’s what mom always said. And I sold my fair share of those mints too. Going door to door mind you…none of this sitting in front of the grocery store and letting customers come to you. No, I had to wheel my cart of minty boxes and go knocking on doors, hoping somebody would be home and buy my mints so I could get that blasted bead and be done with it…well at least until next year. Bless you, each and every one that bought mints from me. Oh, the agony February brought. You have NO idea!
Well times were different then, it’s true. I wouldn’t let my little one go door to door alone these days so I guess grocery store staging is for the best. I do still buy the mints and as I was ready to toss out, er, I mean recycle the plastic tray sans devoured mints I noticed it looked to be perfect to hold the peat pellets that I use to germinate some of my seedlings.

 It will hold 16 and the whole lot can then be easily slid into a clear plastic bag to maintain a level of moisture. Don’t allow the plastic to rest atop the pellets though. It will deform and rot emerging seedlings.
To prepare your peat pellets, soak them in warm water for 20-30 minutes or until wetted completely through. Do not peel off the netting. There is an open top and closed bottom. Let them drain, give a little squeeze which releases extra water and gently roll it between your fingers to slightly break up the peat allowing a little air into the mass and you can create height to the pellet if you are planting larger seeds like beans. Place your seed in the top indentation and scrape some of the peat over the top to cover it. For bigger seeds, press the seed down into the center of the pellet and again, cover with some of the peat.
Peat dries quickly, so you want to keep them moist but not wet. Do check now and then to make sure there’s no mold forming. If so, they are too wet and the seed could rot so you’ll need to open the bag or poke a few holes in the bag to let in more air, it’s a delicate balance. Once seedlings emerge remove the plastic, they don’t need it and a drier environment help deter rotted stems at the soil level.

Place your seedlings in a southern sunny window. Monitor the moisture of the pellet, not too wet but moist. As you see roots escaping from the sides of the pellet, pot them up, pellet, netting and all, into a 4 inch pot (which you kept from those annuals and veggie starts you bought last year) in organic potting soil with no fertilizing or wetting agents added, and keep them moist but not wet. Keep them on that sunny sill till you can plant them outdoors. If you are the cold north like me you may need to pot them up into the next size pot again and again till temps moderate.

Timing is important for sowing your seed. The further north you are the longer into spring you must wait to transplant them into the garden. If you must keep potting them up, you risk leggy seedlings since window sill sun isn’t the same strength as true outdoor, overhead sun. Read your seed packet for germination times and know your local last frost date. If you are blessed with a greenhouse, you can move potted up seedlings into that after of period of ‘hardening off’. That simply means getting the little plantletts accustomed to the new cooler temperatures in which they will be growing. For about a week, move them into the new location during the day hours and back ‘home’ at night. Then a few more days of leaving them out 24 hours. Keep an eye on them, if they wilt, it's too cold or the sun is too strong. They may need more of an adjustment period.

Why on earth would I use peat you ask? Yes, I am familiar with the controversy over peat products for our gardens but I use it quite sparingly. I never buy large bags of compressed peat to use in the garden or on the lawn, it is too environmentally costly and I believe compost to be quite superior in everyway, not to mention far more renewable. I use peat in pellet form, a few per year, and only for certain seeds that seem to germinate most reliably in them. Coir pellets have not provided consistent germination in my experience, though I have found coir pots to be comparable to peat pots so I use coir pots for starting seeds that do not want their roots to be disturbed by transplanting like those of the squash family. I have also found regular potting soil, providing it’s not too chunky, to be quite satisfactory for starting many seeds. You can find potting soils that do not contain peat. In the USA, potting soil bags usually list ingredients. If no such listing is provided, shop for another brand, preferably organic. I believe it’s important to consider what we put into our gardens and as the soil is what feeds the vegetables and fruits that we eat and the seeds, nectar and pollens that bugs, bees and birds consume.

On a final rant note. Camp Fire Girls became Camp Fire Girls and Boys and ultimately ended up Camp Fire USA in this country. While I think a certain amount of gender separate activities at certain ages is a good thing, thats a tad off subject. What I really want to know is what happened to the dark chocolate mints? When I was selling them the box contained BOTH milk chocolate and dark chocolate mints in equal amounts! What happened to the dark chocolate? Clearly today’s science has proven dark chocolate to be the healthier alternative, so…any chance the duo will make a comeback? Just asking.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Rhododendron, Sarcococca confusa, viola

Author’s photos


Kathy Jones said...

Oh, the memories of helping my sister go door to door selling those cookies and mints ; ( and, yes, now that you mention it,I DO remember the milk and dark chocolate being combined!!) I adore seeing this picture of your youth, all smiles and pigtailed; adorable, Joan! Another well written blog. Kudos.

Joan said...

Hi Kathy
Thanks, thanks and ever thanks!