A week ago, I was covering a second shift for a peer, and availed myself of a rare afternoon at home to visit the Hoop House. Air temps were a balmy 9 degrees (F), and I used snow shoes to get to the greenhouse. However, it was a beautiful and sunny winter day, and the interior temps were an impressive 52 degrees! Due to the seemingly weekly blizzards and bitter cold I had not been out to visit my Spinach in almost 2 weeks, but I was very surprised (and pleased!) to find that they had been busy in my absence. There is enough top growth on the spinach that I felt comfortable sneaking a few leaves –divine! Though more stunted, the mache is also doing well and is even sweeter. The pac choy took a beating in the -14 nights and lost some top growth. But even here, there is new growth coming up. Very encouraging!
With that in mind, and our Last Frost Date (only!) 12 weeks out I figured it was time to get moving on my seed starting to fill the holes in the Hoop House where the radishes and claytonia succumbed to the bitter cold. We have had very mixed results starting seeds here in Suburbia. The South Window method worked good in year 1, but year 2 all I got was spindly tomatoes and I ended up losing them at transplant time. That cost almost $175 in transplants from Seeds Savers as I needed heirloom plants for my restaurant commitments. Given that I am most likely to need literally thousands of transplants this year something most be done. Enter the Grow lights.
I looked at Gardener’s Supply for what real lights cost -about $90-150 + shipping for a 48″ T-5, 4 bulb set. I’ll need at least two, and that seemed steep. Some online research led me to believe that there is not enough qualitative difference between the Green House Lights and decent shop lights, as long as you put a high Color Rendering Index (CRI) bulb (at least 84, 90+ preferred) in them. So I went off to Menard’s and found a slick concave shop light (claim 50% more reflection) for $24 that holds 2 T-8 or T-12 bulbs. None of the more energy efficient T-8 (32 watts) tubes had enough CRI for me, so I reluctantly went with some old school T-12 (40 watt) Grow Lux from Sylvannia with a CRI of 92. Bulbs were $4.50 each. So for about 66% less money I was in business. While I was there I picked up some new seed flats to replace to replace the ones that broke last year, as well as 32 quarts of chemical free seed starting mix and was still way ahead on money.
This morning the kids and I made a royal mess in the kitchen filling the 4 flats with mix and they did a great job sowing the seeds -apparently 4 year old fingers are more adept at pinching teeny pac choi seeds than I am! An hour or so of “work” and we had 144 spinach, 72 mache and another 32 pac choi started- almost 250 plants!. When we plant them in a month or so I will also direct seed more mache.
The spinach was up in 4 days, the mache in 5, and the pac choi is just starting to pop after about 8. The mache is on a heating mat, next time I will put it under the pac choi as ambeint temp in the basement is only about 55 degrees.
This week I will be starting another 144 spinach, 144 mache, and 64 more pac choi. Luckily I found a cheap source of seed stating mix: $15 for 80 liters!