Harvest Monday, February 13, 2012 – Two (2) Must Have Seed Starting Tools

What did you think when you read the title?????
Did those 2 items in the photo below enter your mind?????
Yes, they are 2 indispensible seed starting tools every gardener should and must have.
You probably already have those 2 items lying around the house and most likely got them for free. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The long narrow end of the ball point pen cap has just the right curve to pick up tiny seeds (celery, lettuce, …..) and gently place them on top of the seed starting mix.
The long handle teaspoon (the short handle one works also) does a great job scooping up the milled sphagnum moss or vermiculite to cover the seeds.
I find covering the seeds with sphagnum moss or vermiculite helps to prevent damping off.

Finally got around to starting my Chinese celery. Planted 6 each of 2 varieties – White Queen and Dark Green, both from Kitazawa seeds.
While I was in the groove went ahead and planted one cell pack of Monet’s Garden Mesclum from Renee’s Garden. I know it is too early but I have the seeds and figured why not. Weather has been unusual, who knows, may be we will have a very eary spring.
Had some spinach seeds left over from 2011 (was going to do a fall planting but never got around to doing so). These seeds may not be viable as I understand one should purchase fresh spinach seeds every year. The variety is Taste of Asia (Round Leaf Spinach) from Ferry-Morse. Placed 4 or more seeds in each cell, hoping at least one seed in each cell will germinate.
Each cell pack was dated, labeled and watered (from the bottom up). After allowing excess water to drain off, the cell packs were loosely covered with plastic film and placed in a warm spot. Will monitor regularly to ensure cell packs stay moist and keep an eye on germination.

Also started rooting 4 kinds of sweet potatoes for Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden.
Left to right: Purple, Laceleaf, Georgia Jet and Frazier White.
All four are short season (90 days) heirloom varieties that I got from my garden friend Mary N. The sweet potatoes had started to sprout when I got them so should be rooting pretty soon and the sweet potato slips will not be too far behind.
Mary N. and I are volunteers at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden.

Copyright © by Norma Chang

Visit Daphne’s Dandelions http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/ for more Harvest Mondays

About Norma Chang

I am the author/publisher of 2 user-friendly Chinese cookbooks: "My Students' Favorite Chinese Recipes (updated edition)" and "Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking" A gardener who enjoys cooking and eating and loves to think outside the box A garden volunteer at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden Conduct hands-on cooking workshops for teenagers Conduct cultural programs for children and family Conduct healthy cooking classes for adults
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62 Responses to Harvest Monday, February 13, 2012 – Two (2) Must Have Seed Starting Tools

  1. Judy Killmer says:

    Hi Norma, Great hint on using the ball point pen cap!!!
    Judy K.

  2. leduesorelle says:

    We haven’t started seeds yet, but love seeing what others have gotten going, especially your cheerful row of sweet potatoes!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Leduesorelle,
      Celery is very slow to germinate and grow so I need to start really early, the others that I started are way too early but given the unusual weather pattern who knows may be spring will come very early.

  3. Hello Norma,
    Let us know in a couple weeks the germination percentage for the spinach seeds. I often direct sow 2 year old seed outside. I think the germination is about 50%, but it depends on the variety, one was close to zero the second year.


  4. I hope that it all sprouts wonderfully for you! 🙂

  5. All the very best Norma with your seed planting.

    Just fascinating hearing about a garden the other side of the world…

    Back here in South Wales, UK, it has been a ‘milder’ day i.e. temperatures just above freezing, but still I am trying to hold off from seed planting-just a little…

  6. EcoCatLady says:

    I am duly impressed with your organized approach! For me the challenge of starting seeds indoors is keeping the cats out of them. I finally made a greenhouse from an upside down clear plastic storage bin, and it seems to be working well so far.

    I am dubious about these claims that one must buy new seeds every year. I regularly plant seeds that are 2-3 years old, and still have some that have been hanging around for upwards of 10 years, and have never had a problem. Of course, I also gather seeds each year from my garden to plant the next year… I know that’s not supposed to work unless you use heirloom varieties, but I was doing it for many years before I ever heard that, and the only things I haven’t been able to make it work with are peppers and cucumbers. I sort of think a lot of this stuff is just designed to keep seed companies in business!

    Anyhow, I also wanted to share my spinach technique. I generally plant it in the fall, then winter it over under a piece of frost cloth. This is the only way I’ve ever managed to get a decent crop because it generally bolts in May, so if you try to plant in the spring there’s just not enough time to get any mature plants before it all goes to seed. It even produces enough to harvest a bit throughout the winter, which is a nice treat.

    I actually stumbled upon this method by accident one year when I tried to plant a fall crop. I got it planted late and then we had a big blizzard in September, so I covered it with black plastic. But as fate would have it, winter just kept coming that year, so I didn’t get a chance to remove the plastic until mid-January when we had a warm spell. I pulled back the plastic fully expecting to find nothing but the frozen dead remnants of a few plants, but much to my surprise there was happy spinach growing under there… seriously, no light for 4 months, and temperatures WAY below zero for days at a time. Go figure!

    Don’t know if my crazy method would work in all gardening zones… I’m in Denver.

    Happy Sprouting!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Cat,
      Making a greenhouse out of clear plastic bin, now that’s a cool idea, but how do you prevent it from getting blown away by the wind?
      I do plant seeds that are more than a year old, however I discovered that spinach is better with current year’s seed and buy only what I need for the year.
      Am going to try your “crazy” method this fall.
      Some things I am able to save seeds others I cannot due to our short growing season.

      • EcoCatLady says:

        Well, the “greenhouse” is actually inside, in a sunny south facing window. The thing is, the cats consider any place with sun to be their territory. The bin is strong enough that they can sleep on top of it though, plus I kept the clip on lid as a drip tray. I may move it outside once it warms up a bit (still in the single digits at night). I’ll probably put it up against a south facing garden wall with a bottle of water inside to absorb the heat from the sun, and that should keep it from blowing away.

      • Norma Chang says:

        Hello Cat,
        Your clear plastic bin “greenhouse” gave me some ideas. I have a small south facing wall and a bit of heavy duty plastic leftover from some project, going to see if I can rig up something. Thanks.

      • EcoCatLady says:

        Can’t wait to hear how it turns out! I spend a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about greenhouses…

      • Norma Chang says:

        Hello Cat,
        Me too.

  7. Liz says:

    Oooo sweet potatoes. I planted some this year for the first time and they seem to going well – above ground anyway. I anxiously await the below ground action but I suspect I need to leave them in a bit longer.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Liz,
      How long have your sweet potatoes been growing? Can you locate the base of the original plant? If yes, observe to see if there is any heaving of the soil, if there is, then carefully dig with a trowel or feel with your hands to see if there is any tubers. Check out my January 23 blog on growing sweet potato.

  8. I have never had success with seedlings, Norma. The first year, the mice ate them, then the second year they got mouldy. I now just buy the small plants, usually just tomatoes but this year I’ve planted garlic too…looking forward to the warmer weather.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Eva,
      I too am looking forward to warmer weather but also hoping February will bring us some frigid temp to get rid of some of the garden bugs. I can deal with the cold but not the snow and ice.

  9. maryhysong says:

    I would love to get some of those purple sweet potatoes! They look awesome. I usually use a wet pencil point to place small seeds in soil blocks. I don’t cover some things, mostly brassicas that get long necks otherwise.

  10. Norma you are my gardening inspiration – you are amazing!

  11. kitsapfg says:

    You have lots of things growing on at your place! I like to use a pencil and dip the sharpened point in water (a little dull is good), then touch the small seed and it clings to it, and then touch the seed to the moist soil and it stays put – voila – single seed placed without any fuss. Dip pencil lead point in water and repeat. Another common household item that is quite useful in seed starting. I will have to try the pen cap too and see how that works.

  12. Thanks for the tip about the sphagnum moss or vermiculite to cover seeds. I will have to try that next time. I love you use of things around the house. I am always trying to jimmy-rig stuff to work, instead of buying something special

  13. Hi Norma! It’s a great tip. Most people don’t realize very helpful tools can be around us. I’m sure a lot of people will think your tip very beneficial! By the way, I love sweet potatoes! Can’t wait to see how they grow!

  14. Daphne says:

    I often get away with sowing last year’s spinach seed, but I store mine in the fridge in a airtight container. I ought to do a germination test soon.

    How many slips do you expect to get from one sweet potato? Since I’ve never grown sweet potatoes and I’m trying to grow a lot this year, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how many sweet potatoes I should start with. Do you plant up early slips to make plants (and hence more cuttings)? I figure that I’ll start them all in March before I leave on vacation. Then my townhouse mates will only have to keep the water levels a the right place and they might be starting to bud as I get back. Then I pot the slips up and see if I can grow more cuttings. I’ve got about three months to try to get enough slips for planting. I’m figuring to plant in June once the soil is really, really warm.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Daphne,
      Never thought of storing my spinach seeds in the fridge, thanks for the tip.
      I ususally get 10 or more slips from each sweet potato. When the slip reaches 4 -6 inches I remove it at the base and either root in water or place in potting mix. Additional slips will sprout from the original and the longer you keep it the more slips you will get.
      I am currently experimenting and instead of removing the slips from the base, I leave about 1 inch stub. There are now 4 – 5 sprouts on each stub.
      Last year I allow the slips to grow very long and cut each into multiple sections, rooted them and was successful.
      I have also pinched the slips and able to get multiple side shoots to become slips.
      Early June is when I put my slips in the ground.
      Hope I helped.

  15. Joanne says:

    I can’t wait to see how those sweet potatoes turn out! I’m so excited.

  16. Autumn Belle says:

    I like how you improvise and reuse the common household tools. Your seed trays look so organised, need and tidy.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Autumn Belle,
      I do enjoy improvising, reusing and finding multi uses for common household items. Thanks, those organised trays were for photo op, I am not an organized person. Thamks for visiting, do come again.

  17. AikoVenus says:

    You know, I never even thought of using pen caps or even spoons to help with tiny seeds in the garden. Would definitely help me be more organized – you’re so creative! ^^

  18. Katie says:

    I love your minimalist seed starting tools! Funny! Glad your garden is under way. I planted some spinach and other greens last week too. Good luck on those early plants!

  19. lol!!! Great tools! 🙂 Good luck on your starts.


  20. Juliana says:

    Wow, I love your little garden and the sweet potatoes are so much fun to watch them grow…
    Like the idea of pen cap, will save one for when I do my seeding.
    Again, I enjoy very much reading your posts Norma, always very informative and lots of tips….thank you!
    Hope you are having a wonderful week 🙂

  21. Wilderness says:

    Norma love your must have seed starting tools. I too use some rather unusual things. I did a whole thread on a gardening board that I am Host on about Gardeners are the best improvisors. It is amazing what we use to get the job done.

  22. Looks like a great start. Can’t wait to see the progress and results!

  23. Charles says:

    Hi Norma – I loved reading your post (plus I found out about Chinese Celery… I’d never heard of this before!). Every year my wife and I grow some things on our balcony. We like to be ambitious, just to see if we can succeed… As we only have pots we’re not ofte successful – we tried some cabbages before, and they failed miserably, but we’ve had good luck with beets, tomatoes and radishes before. We’ve never managed to grow from seed though – in the end we go to the garden centre and buy the baby plants and grow from those. Makes me happy that soon spring will come and I can start planting again! Thanks for this uplifting post!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Charles,
      Thanks. Chinese celery leaves look like regular celery leaves but the stalk is pencil like. It is much more aromatic.
      If you like eggplant and peppers they make very good container plants. Put ONLY one plant in a container, you could plant radishes, baby lettuce or scallion near the edge of the container. Container plants needs more frequent watering especially during the hot dry season and also requires more frequent feeding.
      When you go to the garden center to get your seedlings look for the Chinesse eggplant “Ping Tung”, it is a very fine eating eggplant (please, ONLY one eggplant plant in a large container).

      • Charles says:

        Hi Norma – actually I’d completely forgotten about the “harvest” we had last year too – We tried growing cucumbers (complete fail), and also eggplants and peppers. The problem is, the seedlings come in trays of minimum 6. We try to spread the plants out evening, but with limited space, and limited pots it can be difficult. In the end, I planted the eggplant plants in trays which were about 6″ deep, about 3 plants per pot, and the same for the peppers. In the end we actually got a couple of eggplants – and a couple of lovely peppers too. They were smaller than they should have been of course, but I really don’t like the idea of throwing plants away, just because I don’t have space – and besides, even if I don’t succeed in growing them successfully, it’s given me much joy for some months!

        You’re right of course – I should spread them out a lot more – it would give me much better results. I will look for this Ping Tung – it sounds really nice – thanks for the advice!

      • Norma Chang says:

        Hello Charles,
        I too dislike throwiwng plants away. Here is a suggestion, if you cannot find someone to take the extra plants, then plant 1 plant in a container, plant the remainder together in another container. One of my garden friend followed my suggestion and from 1 plant harvested over a dozen eggplants, he did the same with his tomatoes and peppers and is now a very happy container gardener.

      • Charles says:

        Sounds like a great idea – thanks for the tip! Now I’m *really* looking forward to spring time 🙂

      • Norma Chang says:

        Hello Charles,
        You are welcome. Happy gardening!

  24. Norma, You’ve inspired me to start thinking about my little garden and what I’ll plant in the spring!

  25. This is so cool! Keep posting!

  26. Susan says:

    Wow! You are way ahead of us up here in New Hampshire! We’re still dreaming over the seed catalogues! I’ll probably make the seed order in the next couple weeks and start cleaning out our little greenhouse at the end of March … planting for us starts in the first weeks of April and things go into the ground around the 20th of May. Mesclun, spinach, and peas go directly into the soil in the garden beds … late April, early May. And I always try to get greens to grow in shallow beds in the greenhouse just so we can have early salads … just talking about it gets me excited!

    Let’s hope for an early and wet Spring!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Susan,
      Well with the strange and unusually warm winter we had, I cannot help but wonder if, how and when are we going to pay back and at what price????? We were badly affected by the freak October snow storm. Wish I had a green house.

  27. Pingback: Harvest Monday, March 9, 2015 – Indoor Seed Starting | Garden to Wok

  28. Pingback: Harvest Monday, March 7, 2016 – Container Garlic Experiment + More Seed Starting + Garden Tips | Garden to Wok

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