Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Week of March 29 2010 : Lights

(Here is a picture of our Mandarin bell peppers, 6 days old. These peppers are orange bells but not the standard sweet bells. These are elongated European-style bells that are 6" long and are a deep pumpkin orange. Of course the texture is crunchy and taste is very distinct! Only one flat wanted to pose for the photo. Dont worry, we have a lot more.)

I wish I had a photo of a green house to show you. The problem is not so much getting a photo, the problem is there is no greenhouse to pose for that photo. Obviously greenhouses are ideal for getting transplants started during cold weather. Greenhouses are also great for starting transplants during warm weather too. HUngry bugs prefer the tender leaves of a seedling to the leaves of a more mature plant. And each bite inflicts more injury to a seedling than a mature plant. So there is a benefit to transplants even when soil temperatures would support direct seeding.

We dont have a greenhouse, so do we buy transplants?

No. We start everything from seed.

So how do we get our seeds started, keep the transplants safe, and get to market early?

Lights and mini hoop houses.

Over the years I have accumulated grow lights of all sorts. The standard fluorescent shop lights are amazingly versatile. They are used to germinate the seeds. Covering the moist seed trays with black plastic serves two purposes. First, the plastic retains moisture. Second, the plastic warms the soil temperature. Start with the lights about 2" about the plastic then use a soil thermometer to measure the temperature. Gradually lower the lights until the the soil reaches the target temperature. The shop lights also supply enough light for sprouts without the over drying effects of high intensity lights.

Once the seedlings start showing their first true leaves, they are switched to the high intensity lights. I have two 400W metal halide systems. One is a no frills Sun System V. The other is a P. L. Light Systems, the Netherland's finest. Both systems produce ample light and heat. Fans are used to cool the lights. The circulating air helps keep the grow room warm as well as strengthen the seedling's stems. The soil dries quickly so it is necessary to water the plants often, perhaps every day. Although its important not to over water either.

That is the basic process to start the heat-loving seedlings. Getting the transplants out into the field and keeping them safe is a very different matter. Next week I will write about our mini hoop houses.

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