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Avoiding hardening off seedlings?  RSS feed

 
George Collins
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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I've got a question about starting a fall garden in South Mississippi:

This past summer, I ordered some mana lucie tomato seeds to plant as part of a fall garden. Seeing as how my tomato growing knowledge rivaled my knowledge of the female mind, I failed. 

Here's how it went down: I sowed that first packet of seeds in a little corner of the garden and waited with held breath in excited anticipation of eating that first mana lucie tomato. 

After I passed out from oxygen deprivation, I staggered back inside where I subsequently learned that tomato seeds will only germinate at temperatures lower than the 114 degree heat we happened to be experiencing at the time. 

Who knew tomato seeds required, like bankers, air conditioning to work?

So, I order another pack of seeds.  I started feeling all dirty when I see the UPS guy driving up in a van that uses gas and then he gave me the packet of seeds and I felt all better. This next packet of seeds were planted into cups and placed in my fireplace until they germinated.  Once they had grown to sufficient size, I spent a week hardening them off (and cussin chaweenies for knocking over and/or destroying one half of all my cute little baby maters each day they were in the hardening off process. Which is how I went from ~65 tomato plants down to 7 (and an infernal cut worm is how I went from 7 baby mater plants down to 2.))

So thinking about all the cussin I did got me to thinking about killing chaweenies.  Then I calmed myself with visions of Paul Wheaton killing me for killing chaweenies and not thinking in line with Permaculture principles.  My head started hurting and I thought, "ude! I need one of them thar left-handed cigarettes." This in turn led to ruminating on that YouTube video about how to grow your own Marie G. YaWanna (which is what made me want to start back gardening).  In that most instructional little instructional video, some dude put some seeds in a folded paper towel, wetted the paper towel with a spray bottle and then put the paper towel into a zip loc bag. Several days later later, he retrieved the now-germinated seeds from the zip loc and placed them in peat pellets. 

So I copied this technique and danged if it didn't work with tomato seeds just as well as with White Widow. 

So here are (I think) the facts:
Tomato seeds won't germinate when it's too hot,
Hardening off tomato seedlings in the presence of chaweenies vastly reduces the number of tomato seedlings available as fodder for cut worms and is a profound pain in the proximal pubic protuberance. 

So, might one be able to avoid such pubic pain as well as transplant shock, the hardening off process, tomato death via chaweenie, poor germination rates secondary to excessivly hot Mississippi summers and excessive cussin fits if one were to germinate seeds in plastic baggies and transplant the germinated seeds directly into the garden?  

Or should I just say, "Screw Paul!" and kill the chaweenies?
 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
Posts: 489
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Dunno much about gardening in Mississippi, but defending against cutworms is typically done by

1) using a collar around baby seedlings - this can be made with a small paper cup - google around for cutworm collar - or just keep the seedlings indoors until they have two sets of true leaves

2) cutworms zero in on very small seedlings. By the time seedlings have two sets of true leaves, cutworms typically lose interest - although this may not be the case for Mississippi cutworms, so maybe someone can chime in

3) presprouting seeds before planting is a very good idea!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I've successfully fooled some vegetable seeds into thinking it wasn't too hot by potting them in yogurt tubs which I placed in the fridge for a couple days to chill them, then placed in the shade to sprout.  Seeds planted in the garden when temps were 95-100F never grew.  I'm guessing they all died.
 
George Collins
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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So there I was, . . . bored . . . driving around today traveling between one patient and another and I thought, "Aha! This is the perfect opportunity to see if Brother Wheaton has posted any new podcasts!"

And bless him he did. Podcast #87: replacing irrigation with permaculture.  

I listened and to my surprise, he began talking about the relative merits of beginning tomatoes from seed versus transplants. He and the others discussed many nuances of these two options. However, the ONE option not discussed was germinating a tomato seed indoors when local weather conditions might not be conducive to direct seeding and then planting the just-germinated seeds. 

This option SEEMS like it would best accrue the benefits of each school of thought: 
- an increased germination rate especially during times when the weather would otherwise prevent germination and
- potential avoidance of transplant shock. 

So, if I may be so bold (my forte in all matters other than asking forum owners questions):

Bother Wheaton, what say you sir?  Does planting just-germinated seeds avoid transplant shock?  Would they tolerate being planted during weather conditions that would otherwise prevent germination?

And thank y'all that have responded so far. 
 
ronie dee
Posts: 619
Location: NW MO
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Well this won't help much for this fall, but you could think of starting them outdoors in the spring.

After you have a ton of seeds some day, you can plant a bunch outside in late fall and get some plants that volunteer to be a part of yer garden.

 
Jeff Mathias
Posts: 125
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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Hi All,

I have done quite a bit of experimenting in this direction the last few years. The best general answer I can give is it can work out.

So many factors go into making this work though that it should only be done in a playful manner. Don't use your last seeds or the only seeds you have to do this, use older excess seeds of plants you know very well to begin with.

I have found if you understand the how of germination in general and the specifics of the plant you are dealing with, especially the weather tolerance of the plant this can be a very successful tool to extend seasons.

I originally started playing in this direction on two fronts. I live in what is considered to be a true Mediterranean climate so during my summers at the peak hottest time basically nothing germinates even with much water use. However come winter we are often just cold enough to keep a lot of the cold tolerant plants from germinating also.

I started first in winter since most spinach, cabbages and greens in general can actually tolerate and grow in our winter even to the point of surviving what little frost we do get. Frost around here comes late December to about mid January. However most of these also need slightly warmer soil than I have to actually germinate so the experiments began.

Of course even with my winters things like tomatoes and other heat lovers are out; you still have to work with the plants natural tendencies.

I have experimented with planting everything from just cracked open seeds to seedlings that have been allowed to get their first set of true leaves and basically everything in between. In general the best results have come from seeds that are in between the growth stages of having about a 1/2 to 1 inch root up to the first set of leaves (not the true leaves).

In winter when there is less light available planting when the first leaves come out and planting right up to the leaves so they are just about touching the soil has had the best results.
In summer when the ground really heats up planting the 1/2 - 1 inch long roots without any leaves having emerged yet and giving the spot some extra love with dappled shade and a bit of extra water shows the best results.

I originally started with the bag method. Basically fold a paper towel in half, open it, place your seeds in, wet the whole mess and put it in a clear sealable bag, open daily or so until ready to exchange air. If the roots grow in to the paper towel gently tear the paper apart to free from the others and plant the seed, paper and all. I have since moved up to a clear container that seals well enough for the moisture to not get out. Since I don't currently have a lot of room to grow my container is just larger than a normal size paper towel. I put one in, place the seeds on it then put the second one on top and water the whole mess.

Depending on the water you use you may need to thoroughly clean the container between each use. I now pretty much only use colloidal silver (10ppm) for the first watering for any hands on germinating I do and I do not seem to have any problems with molds, mosses or even damping off anymore. Also it seems to increase both the rate and speed of germination. I own a silver generator though so I would not recommend this to anyone who has to purchase colloidal silver it is quite expensive. Chamomile tea would be my next go to first watering if I did not use the silver.

Another alternative if the weather is right and you are working on a larger scale you can even plant directly in the ground and use carpet, wood, plastic tarps etc. to keep extra water in or excess heat off the seeds to get them to germinate.  You will need to check regularly though and remove the coverings at the first sign of the seedling pushing through the soil.
 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
Posts: 489
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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"Another alternative if the weather is right and you are working on a larger scale you can even plant directly in the ground and use carpet, wood, plastic tarps etc. to keep extra water in or excess heat off the seeds to get them to germinate.  You will need to check regularly though and remove the coverings at the first sign of the seedling pushing through the soil."

This reminds me of something I saw once. Lay down"flakes" of a bale of straw on either side of the planting furrow, and cover with plastic. The flakes keep the plastic off the ground and the germinating seedlings, and the plastic of course warms the soil. As soon as the seedlings appear remove the plastic. The flakes still provide some protection and block weeds.
 
Fred Morgan
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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First of all George, I like your writing.

Okay, for fall planting, you don't have to raise from seeds. Just find the variety you want, grab a sucker off the plant, and stick it in the ground (well watered, of course, etc.). They will sprout and grow. I suggest putting some shade over them (I use a crate) for the first week or so.

I even do this with ones with flowers to get a good head start. This of course will only work with indeterminate varieties.

But I am curious, why is it necessary to start tomato plants for the fall? If healthy, tomatoes just keep growing, like peppers. I have pepper plants that are more than five years old, they look like bushes and are taller than me. Granted, the puny bell peppers never do this, but the chilies do.
 
George Collins
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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Fred,

Thank you sir for the compliment. 

Now, for how tomatoes became part of a fall garden. 

My pappy and I were talking across the fence one day and he told me about the mana lucie tomato. After we had chewed sufficient fat and tobakker, we decided they sounded like something we wanted to try out since they are supposedly selected for our specific climate. 

This fence, fat, tobakker session took place back about late June or early July if memory serves. 

Saying we were planting them as part of a fall garden just seemed like an easier way to create an entirely true and sufficient, if incomplete, mental image in the minds of those that read my post. And since economy of verbage is my other forte, I ALWAYS go with less verbose explanations. 

So, if I may, allow me to once more pare down even further, what I've already said that I fear would have been woefully insufficient had it been a stand-alone post:

It was an experiment. 

And the lessons learned from this experiment (and others) led to questions of a rather academic nature that I had hoped I could have answered through an appeal to those with greater knowledge than my own or, failing that, further experimentation. 
 
Fred Morgan
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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I would think chewing fat and tabaccy at the same time, might not taste good, unless the tabbacy or you was wacky, of course... 

 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Have had good luck using TP roll tubes as starting cubes. The depth is good for pushing down long tap roots in the desert, and the side walls degrade out fairly quick  for side roots later in the summer.

Tall collar keeps out snails (rub a chunk of salt or boxax around the throat) and cutworms down a couple inches.
 
Pat Black
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
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I like to germinate tomato seeds at about 78 - 80 degrees F. They germinate well all the way up to 90, but after that they become recalcitrant. Below 70 and they germinate very very slowly. I verify the soil temps with a meat thermometer that is calibrated.

Direct sowing just seems like asking for trouble, but if you like, just do what it takes to get the proper soil temp and protect from cutworms and all assorted miscreants such as birds, squirrels, rabbits, voles, etc.

I germinate tomatoes indoors 4 week prior to transplant. Leggy, rootbound plants are less productive than a plant that is just filling out the pot. They need a lot of light just as soon as they are up. The collars to avoid cutworms is good. Then, some kind of shade cloth to keep the heat and light levels down for a hot fall planting and you're good to go. If you plant under a sheet or row cover or shade cloth then hardening off becomes less necessary. You can plant out a few and see how they fare while hardening off the rest if you so desire.

Highest tomato yields come from doing everything perfectly right.There are few years where that comes together here, but when it does, wow the harvests go way up.
 
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