Accepting that I am not the most proficient at growing seedlings has been a tough pill to swallow. I consider myself to have a green thumb and most plants flourish under my care. BUT I struggle with growing thriving annuals from seed. Admitting defeat in this area makes me feel "less than" as a gardener, but I am owning my shortcomings.
In 2019 we committed to gardening our neighbor's house and we decided that we needed to invest in growing our plants from seed. We have zero experience in constructing a greenhouse and after hours of googling I decided that a kit purchase may be the smartest/easiest route for us to take. Ben and Cody managed to erect this small dwelling fairly easily and we set to work to create a habitat for our seeds. They placed it in the flattest, sunniest spot on our property, but it was soon apparent that it was not getting enough heat.
I would check the thermostat when I came home from the bar and it would be down in the 40's and maybe even the 30's in there. We decided to hook up propane heaters to run at night, but some nights I would come home and the heaters had ran out of fuel and the greenhouse would be freezing. I found myself using a headlamp and changing tanks at 3am. This was not ideal, so we shifted gears a decided to use electric heaters, a little costly but it kept our plants warm enough at night.
It was a struggle, but we managed to produce plants from our stash of seeds.
As you can see in the picture, our babies were leggy and spindly. This usually happens when there isn't enough light and the plants stretch to reach it, resulting in weak stems. Our property is surrounded by woods and I guess it just does not allow enough hours of strong sunlight to filter through.
We spent the time to harden off the plants in the early spring, exposing them to the elements daily in a shady spot. The light wind can help strengthen the plant's stem and acclimate them to cooler temperatures. Once planted in the garden, the fruits of our labor grew, but they took a while to really get big and strong. Pepper plants need months to bear fruit and by late September we barely had much a harvest. We spent lots of time and energy, months of weeding and watering and really didn't have much to show for our effort.
In 2021 we shifted gears and decided to make our living room our grow room. The temperatures were already regulated so we were a step ahead of the year before. We built shelves, invested in grow lights and heat mats (for under the peppers and tomato plants....they like it extra warm and cozy;) and set to work growing our bounty. We positioned the lights very close to the seed trays and raised them as the plants grew, trying to combat the spindly stem syndrome. Again, we were able to produce viable plants to put in the garden, BUT they just were not as strong and healthy as the plants from the greenhouse down the street. We did get a better pepper harvest, but that is probably because our fall temperatures stayed pretty warm right through to October, allowing the peppers more time to mature.
I made the call for this year to just purchase plants from a nursery. We still bought seeds for our direct sow crops like corn, calendula, oats, squash, green beans, edamame, and we are going to try to seed some wild leeks this year too. Buying plants over seeds appears to be the more costly option, but starting the season with stronger, healthier plants allows for a bigger harvest and the cost of my time and sanity is not monetarily quantifiable.
Please do not let our setbacks deter you from exploring growing from seed. It definitely is very rewarding and I become very invested in my "babies" every time. One day maybe we will have a better, sunnier location and can figure out a temperature regulation system to make seedling growing an option.
Looking to try your hand at growing food from seed? These are our favorite places to buy from. Even with our constant struggles to produce viable plants their seeds still germinate, every single time.
Baker Creek heirloom seeds great selection of open pollination heirloom varieties.
Strictly Medicinal Seeds we actually purchased some live roots from them this year.
Johnny's Seeds we get our organic oats in bulk from here...we needs lots since we not only grow it during the spring/summer for their milky oat tops, but we also overwinter the garden with an oat cover crop.
It was very humbling to come to terms with my lack of success with growing seedlings. The past few months I have been getting really honest with myself about my deficiencies and working on how to get past them. This mostly just seems to be me admitting them out loud as I realize them; I guess knowing is half the battle;) I hope to continue to recognize places where my ego seems to take over and will work on putting his ass in the back seat.