Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From Seeds to Seedlings

tomato and pepper seedlings Everyone from our Renee's Garden office staff went back to the trial garden last week to learn the next stage in growing the tomato and pepper seeds that we sowed last month.

pricking out seedlingsIn just over a month’s time, the seeds germinated and grew to several inches, kept sheltered, warm and well watered in the greenhouse by trial garden managers Lindsay and Mila.

Now it was time for us to learn the next step in the growing process –"pricking out" the seedlings, which we learned simply means moving the rapidly developing seedlings into larger size pots so they have room to grow and thrive.

pricking out tomato and pepper seedlingsAlthough the daytime temperatures have warmed up here in Northern California into the 60°F range, night temperatures are still not consistently high enough (in the 50°F range) to move our baby seedlings outside right away and they need to grow bigger in order ensure survival in the garden when it warms up enough.

The seed flats that we started the plants in have now become tight quarters for the vigorous seedlings and they need more room so they can grow into big healthy plants that will transplant easily into the garden when the weather permits.

transplanting seedling pots with a chopstickSo the next step is to transplant them into bigger individual 4” pots to continue growing strong roots, and then to gradually adjust them to the variable garden temperatures outside of the greenhouse.
Armed with our sophisticated tools (chopsticks from the take-out Chinese restaurant near our office), Lindsay showed us how to gently loosen the seedling from the flat by lifting the soil with the chopstick – never tugging or pulling on the plant itself.

transplanting tomato and pepper seedlingsWe used the chopstick to lift and move the soil in the 4” inch pot, creating a hole with enough space for the roots and no more than about 1/4 inch of the seedling to be under the soil. Taking care to ensure the roots all point down, we gently transferred all the seedlings into their larger homes, tapping the pots on the table to settle the soil back around the seedling rather then pressing it down. We learned how important it is to keep the potting soil fluffy so the containers drain properly.
watering pepper seedlings
After finely misting water over the newly transplanted seedlings, they went back into the greenhouse to continue growing. Over the next several weeks, Lindsay and Mila will feed and water the growing plants and move the pots outside during the warm days to “harden off” or acclimate the seedlings to outside conditions. After the night temperatures are consistently above 50°F., we’ll be back to move our babies into their final homes in the ground.

All this planting got me in the mood to get my vegetable garden started at home over the weekend. Although it is still too early to plant the corn, cucumbers and melons, I did get crops of lettuce, radishes, spinach and arugula sown in my new raised beds. Keeping in mind everything I’ve learned so far from our trial gardening experience, I was careful to keep the soil fluffy and to properly space the seeds so they have room to grow.

pepper and tomato seedlingsI’ll be keeping a close watch on the beds over the next 2 weeks to see how everything germinates. Just about the time I’m enjoying my first salad of baby greens, it will be time to plant all those pepper and tomatoes and sow the warm weather crops I’ll be enjoying this fall!

-Sarah Renfro, Renee's Garden Business Manager

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Pack Trials" - a showcase of new varieties

Last week was the "Pack Trials" week throughout California. This is an annual event where all the American seed producing companies and many from abroad as well, grow out and showcase all their new flower varieties in greenhouse settings to introduce them to their customers and the media.There are several dozen locations to visit up and down the coast that have these official greenhouse open days and many folks spend a whole week traveling from one to another.

pack trials showcaseAt our office, I take a group to visit some of our favorite vendors that are drivable in one day from Felton where we are located. It's always a fascinating tour with lots of plant material presented in their most alluring fashion given the constraints of greenhouse growing. We see both varieties that we are interested in trialing as well as lots of the varieties that will end up being massmarketed in the next two years by large growers.
Our job is to pick and choose what works best for our customers. Then we make a list, get sample seeds of all our choices and grow them out to see what we think of the varieties grown in our own trial garden from seed. For me, the best part of Pack Trials is not just seeing the flower varieties, but having time to spend with the breeders and developers of these new cultivars which I always find fascinating. Here are a few pictures:
takii seeds linariaTrial garden manager Lindsay admires the new " Fantasy" series of linaria from Japanese flower breeders Takii seeds . We decided to make a mix of all the pastel colors. Next up will be to grow them out from seed in both California and Vermont to see how they do.

sahin seeds stevia plantKnowledgeable and delightful Elizabeth Sahin of the extraordinarily talented breeding company, Sahin Seeds , shows off her new fragrant dwarf stock to us. We thought it was very sweet smelling, but prefer the taller one we already sell from another company. She had many other great new selections though, including seed for Stevia, the sweet tasting herb which we will trial this spring and also a Korean mint whose edible flowers attract butterflies and taste like root beer.

takii seeds dreamland series Takii seeds product manager Jessica and I consider whether this dwarf red colored Zinnia in their "Dreamland" series is more crimson or scarlet in hue. In the end, I decided to try the whole lovely mix of colors!

greenhouse at the pack trialsOur East Coast trials manager, Jay Leshinsky, was visiting from still cold and snowy Vermont for this event and you can see him how pleased he is to be enjoying this comfortable warm greenhouse surrounded by gorgeous flowers.
kieft's armeria My favorite seedsmen Sjaak Ros, from major Dutch supplier Kieft, seeds shows off their new Armeria to Lindsay. We love the color combination of brick and white and plan to try it from seed this spring. This perennial blooms the first year from seed and is extremely weather tolerant.

five foot tall snapdragons Beth Benjamin, major Renee's Garden inspiration and our horticultural advisor, and I enjoy the 5 foot tall snapdragon bred for single cuts -- these are very special and wouldn't grow this way at home gardens, but they are spectacular in this greenhouse setting.

viola cultivars The Renee's Garden crew each picked out their favorite new Viola cultivar for this picture and grabbed a sixpack from the display so we could memorialize the choices here for fun. There were about 30 different colors and forms to choose from!

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