Archives for posts with tag: terra cotta pots

I’m discovering some of the downsides to using last year’s seeds for this year’s crops. Sure, the practice is (theoretically) economical and minimizes waste but it is very unreliable.

For instance, after a month we have a grand total of one bell pepper seedling (a Quadrato d’Asti Rosso) out of 12 seeds planted. Not a great germination rate. I’m happy to have the one but this afternoon, I reseeded the other five red bell peppers and all six of the Orange Sun. These seeds have an expected life of two years and I am disappointed that they will be bringing down the average.

I also filled another half-tray with seed starting mix to get the tomatoes started. From last year’s varieties we have selected Country Taste Beefsteak, Yellow Brandywine, Black Cherry and Sungold. I concluded during my season recap (see January 15, 2014) that we did not really like Aunt Ruby’s German Green (except for the name) and, thinking about it further (see February 6, 2014), realized that the red Brandywine variety did not grow particularly well. We’re skipping the two of them.

That leaves us with four varieties and room for two more. It’s getting late in the seed-sowing season and we will have to choose them soon if we want to grow from seed.

I started with the Country Taste Beefsteaks and was surprised to find only three seeds remaining in the packet. Oops; another problem with using last season’s seed supply (although I guess that strictly speaking, this is more a problem of me not checking my supplies ahead of time). I planted the three and will hope for the best (and resolve to be more organized next year).

The Yellow Brandywine and Black Cherry seed packets were still mostly full—with many more than the six seeds I planted—but there were only two Sungold seeds left. I happily (and optimistically) planted them and wonder why some seed packets are sent out with only a handful of seeds in them while others contain scores. I do not believe there was any difference in price.

With the newly-sown seeds watered and safely tucked away on the seed starting apparatus, I next turned to the lettuces. The seedlings started in early February (see February 9, 2014) are now small heads and in need of potting up.

Following last year’s example, I composed a potting-up soil mix of equal parts compost and seed-starting mix. More specifically, the mix components are: 4 parts compost; 2 parts peat moss; one part vermiculite; one part perlite; and a tablespoon of lime. I stirred the soil together in a bucket, sprinkled in some water until it reached a satisfyingly moist consistency, and then went looking for pots.

I have several dozen plastic pots for seedlings but they are too small, even for a single head of lettuce. We also have an eclectic mix of terra cotta pots scattered about the basement and I sorted through them. Most are the basic eight-inch circular variety, big enough for a head of lettuce—but only one. Others are larger, with varying degrees of ornamentation, but none of them seemed practical for my purpose.

I then recalled a stack of rectangular plastic planters that we had purchased several years ago. We had intended to plant them with flowers and place them in our window boxes, which were painted wood at the time. We’ve since replaced those window boxes with open, wrought iron versions that are sufficiently decorative on their own.

The plastic boxes are terra-cotta colored and long enough to fit three heads of lettuce. I pulled two of them from the stack (which we had tucked away onto a shelf) and filled them with potting mix. I formed three depressions in the soil with my hands and then, using my specialized seedling transfer tool (which multi-tasks as a dinner fork), moved three Jericho Romaine and three Red Salad Bowl lettuce seedlings into their new homes.

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Anybody keeping track of what’s going on in our garden (and everybody’s keeping track, right?) may have noticed:  No herbs!  (Not counting the basil, of course.)

Why?  Well, for one thing we got a late start with our indoor growing.  Herbs like thyme, oregano and sage, which take a long time to germinate and slowly develop to transplantable size, are best started in early January.  We didn’t plant our first seeds until the end of March (see March 24, 2013).  At that time, we were more concerned about tomatoes, cucumbers and squash than additional herbs.

Since then, with everything else we have been doing—planting, watering, nurturing, potting up, setting out; oh, and removing sod and placing cedar mulch—there just hasn’t been time.  Whenever we stopped to consider planting the herbs, we always concluded that there was something else more pressing that needed to be attended to first.

And there is also the question of where to plant them.  The adjunct herb garden of last year (on the concrete stoop outside one of our house’s doors) is no longer easily accessible.  My office is located just inside the door and my desk blocks it from opening.

The corner of the back porch, where we grew herbs two years ago, is now occupied by a bright yellow hibiscus plant in an intensely deep-blue ceramic pot (a gift from a friend; thank you!).  We tried placing a pot or two of basil beside the hibiscus but decided that it looked too busy and detracted from the flowers’—and the pot’s—simple beauty.

Meanwhile, at the other side of the house, several existing herbs from years gone by are staging a modest comeback.  Two of them—chives and oregano—we planted several years ago and left for dead after their first season; they’ve returned every year since.  Another three—thyme, tarragon and sage—we transplanted from the pots they grew in last year.  This spot, in partial shade all day, is not ideal for herbs but apparently it is good enough.

So, that’s where we’ll grow our herbs this year.  To fill out the space, we added spearmint and rosemary, the only plants we’ve purchased so far this season.  We would have transplanted our spearmint and peppermint from last year, but neither of them survived (which is odd because I consider mint an aggressive and invasive herb).  Finally, we nestled two pots of basil (ones we couldn’t give away) in among the other herbs.

This herb garden makes a pretty picture and, if it is successful, will be much more convenient to the kitchen.

Almost overnight, the eggplant and bell pepper seedlings went from looking too small to transplant to seeming too big to remain in the seed trays.  It has been over a month since we started them from seed (see March 24, 2013) so it is no longer too soon to pot them up.

With these deadly nightshades, we did not overplant, at least not by as much as the tomatoes.  We sowed 16 eggplants and eight each of the two types of bell peppers (okay, maybe we did plant too much).  But we also had the lowest success rate with only three of four seeds germinating.  Of the seedlings that have survived, perhaps a third have not grown to significant size.

So it was much easier to decide which seedlings to pot up and much less traumatic to throw the rejects onto the refuse pile.  We followed what has now become standard procedure by filling pots with soil/compost mix, forking the seedlings from tray to pot, lightly watering them and, finally, topping off the pots with more soil.

Halfway through the operation, we ran out of plastic pots and switched to some small terra cotta pots that we had on hand.  We purchased them several years ago to use as votive candle holders and they have never held plants.  After washing them, we had to drill drainage holes in their bottoms with a masonry bit.

We decided that while we were mobilized, we would also pot up the basil plants.  The seedlings are not really that big but their broad, almost circular, leaves are spreading and that makes it difficult to water them (the leaves cover the small soil surface of each tray compartment).

After transplanting five of the diminutive (but unmistakable) basil plants, we ran out of the small terra cotta pots.  Luckily, we had several larger terra cotta pots available (I don’t remember what we originally had planted in them or why they are now empty but I’m happy we kept them).  We filled six and were able to fit three seedlings in each.

At this point, we had transplanted more than 20 basil plants.  Only 40 to go!

We next looked to last year’s herb garden for containers.  With everything else going on in the garden, we have not planted any herbs other than the basil (more on this later, probably).  Consequently, all of the containers in the adjunct garden (on a concrete stoop outside a door we no longer use) are lying fallow.  We chose two of the more decorative pots—one octagonal, the other rectangular—and planted them with three and four (respectively) seedlings.

That still left us with half a tray of basil seedlings.  Rather than try to find more pots for them, we’ll just leave them in the tray and bring them upstairs to the dining room.  For the next few weeks, when we need some basil for a salad, sauce, or sauté, we can simply snip off an entire plant and throw it in.

And if we need an uplifting dose of aromatherapy, we can lean in close to the tray and inhale.  The scent is intoxicating.