Wednesday, February 24, 2010


It's time. I'm starting my tomatoes this week. I haven't sown the seeds yet, but I did prepare the mix, containers, and bottom heat contraption this morning.

First, I screened some perlite to remove the smaller pieces. The dust is too fine and causes more problems with water retention. I want coarse perlite. Since it's unavailable locally, I just toss the tiny particles into the compost bin.

Next, I used two blocks of dried coir. This is coconut fiber instead of peat moss. I like it better since it doesn't hold as much water as the peat blocks or mixes. I really only needed one. I should have done a simple calculation. Two blocks makes 8 quarts of material. I needed four.

Adding water makes the coir expand. I mixed in the coarse perlite for drainage and tossed it together.

In the other chamber, I have a strand of Christmas lights that will provide heat. A piece of screen keeps them in place.

On top of the screen, I added 20bs of cheap, clay cat litter. This is not the clumping kind. The cheaper, the better. The lights will heat the cat litter creating an even bottom heat. I used sand last year, but found it wasn't sterile. This should be much cleaner. It smells better too.

The 24 cups are filled. I only have 23 types of seeds, so one will be a duplicate. I'll probably do a couple beefsteaks since these are big tomatoes and great for slicing. I only have a few seeds of each, so for now, I'll sow 2 from each packet. I need to have some in case something goes wrong while I'm away this weekend.

The entire contraption is covered with another clear container to hold in humidity. Once I've sown the seeds, it'll be placed on the bottom rack of the light shelf. The seeds should germinate in 7-10 days.

Last year, I grew 8-12 varieties, depending on who you ask. This year, I've deliberately chosen only indeterminate types. These can be staked so that they take up less soil space. Some recommendations I've seen claim that they can be grown in a single square foot of space. I'll do a little better than that giving them about 2 square feet each. This year's varieties:

Ozark Pink
Granny Cantrell
White Currant
Mortgage Lifter
German Johnson
Yellow Jubilee
Roma Paste
Striped German
Hawaiian Pineapple
Black Krim
Green Zebra
Green Zebra
White Queen
Yellow Pear
Brandywine Yellow
Cherokee Purple

Yesterday, I napped a good portion of the afternoon. I woke up early this morning. I sowed 36 2-liter containers of less hardy varieties of seed.

Alyssum "Maritimum"
Achillea "Colorado Mix"
Coreopsis "Mahogany Midget"
Datura inoxia
Blue Fescue
Red Texas Star Hibiscus
Texas Bluebonnets
Inula Magnifica
Painted Daisies
Pink Muhly Grass
Rudbeckia "Prairie Sun"
Creeping Thyme
Tuber Vervain
Apache Sunset
Apricot Sprite
Golden Jubilee
Honey Bee White
Pink Pop
A mix from white/purple plants I grew last year

It's 41 degrees and raining. I'm going to spend the rest of the day working on projects inside the house. It should be my first day of vacation, but I've got to work tomorrow because of three large shrub orders that are scheduled to arrive. On Friday, I'll be leaving for Florida. When I return, the tomato seedlings should be popping up. Carla will be looking after things while I'm gone, including feeding the cat.


elee55 said...

Where do you get your coir blocks?

Jean Campbell said...

Great tutorial! Have a safe, fun trip.

L. D. said...

When my father in law was living in our spare room, we had an electric heater next to the window to keep him warmer, so the tomatoes I started above it did so well. I will have to try the lights. It really does help to have the warmer under them. I bought a cheap light flower strip yesterday, I think I will go back and get another. You keep me inspired, thanks. Our wind chill today is -20 degrees. I can only dream for now.

Laura said...

that was a cool contraption :) i liked the coir. that's neat

nothing toxic being released by heating the kitty litter?

Jeff Vandiver said...

Tom - I've never used coir, but know several gardeners that swear by it. I really like the germination setup - especially the cat litter part. hehe. Thanks for posting what you're currently wintersowing - as i'm keeping a close eye on it for reference.

Tom - 7th Street Cottage said...

Ellen, Lowe's has them this year. Normally, they only have the bags of seed starting mix which is peat based. These are from Burpee. Less than $3 for 8 quarts.

Thanks Nell.

LD, Under lights is a little harder. You just have to make sure everything stays sterile. Damp off can ruin a whole tray of seedlings overnight. Camomille tea is supposed to help.

Laura, it's just clay cat litter with some powder fresh scent. I've never heard of anything toxic being released. I found this setup last year and thought I would try it.

EG, now's the time to start sowing more tender perennials. I'm done with wintersowing until mid-late March. When I see no freezing temps in the 10 day forecast after March 15, I'll start sowing annuals, but be prepared to haul them inside at night if the temperature drops too low.

Slim said...

I like the idea for the christmas lights, heating the soil.

Wouldn't you get more heat to the soil. If you used some cheap/disposible plastic cups, instead of the styrofoam cups?

Looks like the styrofoam would be an insulation between the christmas lights, & the seed soil?

Tom - 7th Street Cottage said...

Slim, you're right. However, I'm really trying to heat the container at that point, not just the soil. I worry that with thin cups, the medium would heat up too much. Either way, it worked. I've unplugged the lights now, as I have sprouts.