Mess-ups this Month

With success comes failure, right? I feel fortunate that some things have gone well for us so far, but there is a growing list of things we’ll do differently the next time around.

Map the greenhouse space: I spent plenty of time thinking about how all my seedlings will fit into the beds eventually, but I didn't take into consideration what might happen if I ran out of room in the greenhouse. I partly underestimated the success that I'd have with some plant varieties, and I also have a hard time saying goodbye to little seedlings that simply may not be able to find a space on a shelf, or, the floor, or a windowsill. I guess it is better to have growing pains in this way than the other way. I'm starting a number of perennials this year. Hopefully I can save room by not feeling like I need to propagate more of them next year. If I stick to annuals in the greenhouse, I could probably save some room. Things will be tight by the time May comes around. I'm going to have to get creative or find more room elsewhere. 

Pay better attention to seed size: Next year, I’ll be sure to start any seeds that might seem to be on the larger side in the 2” soil blocks from the beginning. I thought I’d save time and space by trying all my seeds in the mini blocks, but the larger seeds were not happy with the cramped space to start and they seemed to suffer from the transplant just after germination. I lost some of them- I’m certain it was due to damaged roots or dampening off. I’m thinking particularly about lupine and globe thistle seeds here.

What not to do: These globe thistle seeds had better than listed germination, but they should have been started in larger seed blocks. While nearly all of them showed promise in the beginning (you can see their "wormy" sprouts here), 16 total made it through the 2" seed block phase to be potted up. 

Try a different approach to delphinium: Next year, I’ll try scarification of my delphinium seeds. I need to take a different approach with them. They did not seem to respond any differently to my chill treatments (freezing or refrigerating). I’ll cover them more, too, with newspaper like I should have. And, because of the difficulty I’ve had with germinating them, I probably won’t bother with soil blocking. I’ll just sow the seeds on one small flat and then transplant those that make it. I have dreams of rows of Pacific Giant Delphinium after having watched this video. I should have a few that make it this season and I'll be glad to have them, despite losing the vast majority of the seeds.

Fix the foxglove frenzy: I’m also going to take better care of my foxglove seeds. I’ll package and refrigerate them just after collecting and drying them. While they were kept cool (50 degrees F) most of the time, whenever we visited the farmhouse in the fall or winter we fired up the wood stove and that would have caused a spike in temperatures for a few days at a time. Despite the torture, my seeds did survive this season. But the next mistake I made was doubting they would germinate. Instead of sowing them in small numbers in mini blocks, I sprinkled them heavily across a flat. They came up 13 day later like a brilliant green carpet. I’ll try to transplant some of them and care for those lucky few until I can plant them out in the summer.

An plethora of foxglove seedlings. Aside from sprinkling them too heavily, it appears I actually dumped them in a few places! But at least I know I can get them to grow!

Start dahlia tubers even earlier: Next winter, I‘ll also start some of my dahlia tubers even earlier. I’m experimenting with getting them going for cuttings this winter, but I wish I’d started before the end of January. Those first weeks of germination of the tubers are slow—especially when I feel drawn to check on them every single day. I’m worried now that I won’t be able to take advantage of as many cuttings as I would if I’d started them on January 1. Some of them took off in the first month, but many more need extra time. Read more about our progress with dahlia tuber cutting project here.

Organize the back up plan: This month, I decided to go away for just a few days. I set up everything to work as it had been working. Thermostats were set to turn the fans on if things got hot, the heat would come on if it got cold. ---Just as the systems had been doing. I watered everything well and set off with relative confidence to visit the farmhouse for a long weekend. And then...when I was gone...the sun came out in full force and the heat overwhelmed the fan system. You'd have thought it was July in Lake Placid. Thanks to our Lacrosse Alerts remote reporting thermometer, I could tell something was going very wrong. But I was helpless for a couple hours until I found a friend who could pop in and regulate the temperature in the greenhouse. The plant babies were cooking at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was lucky. The only plants I seem to have lost were the globe thistle. Luckily, it is early and I should be able to get new seeds and start them over (with due respect to the other lesson I learned about large seeds above!). Next time, I'll have my on-call person prepped to step in even if we'll only be gone for a few days. 

Have questions about our winter seed sowing projects? Please share your thoughts in our comment window. Of course- we'd love to learn about your mess-ups, too!-- Those are always welcome and appreciated. I am grateful to all those before me who have shared their experiences and made these screw-ups possible. I know that might sound strange, but my goal is not to repeat problems that have already been solved. The more we share our experiences, the more we all grow from them. Until next time. Happy growing!