New growing conditions left my veggies out in the cold

Nathan Baker • May 20, 2018 at 4:45 AM

Last time, I wrote about the trials and triumphs of learning as you go, then promised a comprehensive progress update on the seeds I planned to start for the backyard garden.

Why do I never learn?

I expected by last week to be showing off some strong, tall tomatoes and peppers I’d started from seed and put in the ground, but I’m not quite there yet.

Apparently, my basement/plant nursery was too cold to properly germinate and grow seeds in the early spring (sad trombone sound).

Here’s my setup, maybe someone out there can tell me where I went wrong:

I’ve got a five-tier metal wire shelf with a suspended T5 fluorescent light fixture (outdoor bulb) and a self-made reflector. A standard seed tray and cells were filled with the same potting soil I had success with last year, peppers and tomatoes planted and moistened.

This is our first year in the new house, and my first year starting seeds in the unfinished basement. I thought I’d need some supplemental heat, so I bought a heat mat and put the light on a 14-hour timer.

I put a piece of cardboard underneath the heat mat, but with outside spring temps in the 30s, the thermometer that came with the mat wouldn’t get into the 75-77 degree range I’d set the thermostat on, and after more than a week, I saw no growth. I wrapped an old comforter under the tray and the mat, the temperatures got into the right range on all but the coldest days, and finally some of the tomatoes and peppers sprouted, but others did not germinate at all.

I replanted those that didn’t, and I’m happy to say now, with more reliable weather, everything is growing, and I’ll have to repot the tomatoes soon. I’ve also got two watermelons started and growing well.

I’m planning for four tomato plants — Zebra, Mr. Stripey, German Johnson and plain ol’ red beefsteak. It’s my first year growing the Zebras, but the farmers market tomatoes I saved the seeds from were delicious last year. The Mr. Stripey is a favorite sandwich slicer because of its good taste and interesting yellow-red coloring. The more standard red varieties will also contribute to plenty of sandwiches, but I may stick them in salsas and sauces, too.

The two watermelon varieties I’ve planted are new to me, but I’ve heard good things. Orangeglo are said to be supremely sweet with a hint of pineapple flavor. My seed supplier’s description says Moon and Stars is an heirloom variety rediscovered in Macon, Missouri. They’ve got large round yellow spots on the outer rind surrounded by smaller yellow flecks, a galaxy with sweet red flesh at its core.

Outside, it’s been more promising. My pole beans are about to start climbing, and I’ve already thinned them to one-per-pole. This year, I’m planing Rattlesnake beans, a green bean with purple striping, simulating snake skin. When you cook them, the purple fades away to a uniform, bright green.

I’ve also got a zucchini shooting out of a mound in the raised bed. So far, I’ve only planted one, which is risky in squash vine borer season, but I’ll probably plant another in July, once the bug threat is mostly past.

Just for fun and decoration, I tossed some cilantro and basil seeds into a neat, three-pot planter I found at a discount store last year. They’re sprouting now, but I’m worried the coming heat may send the cilantro to seed before I get any meaningful use out of it.

As an experiment, I stuck some cuttings from an organic ginger root I bought at the grocery store into one of the shady flower beds around the house. I haven’t seen any growth from them yet, but I have high hopes. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Since I’m a relative newbie at growing most of these things, I’d love to hear some of your tips, tricks and hints. If you have any, or if you have any garden progress photos you’d like to share, send them to me at nbaker@johnsoncitypress.com. I’m always looking for interesting fruits and veggies to grow, so if you have seeds to share, or want to try some of mine, let me know. We’ll set up an exchange!

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