Growing Seedlings Under Lights

In January, I wrote about replacing my old T-12 fluorescent lights with a new set of T-8 troffers.  So, just to update the light story from my basement and the impact this seemingly endless winter is having on my spring gardening plans, I thought I would bring everybody up to date.  I started a number of flats of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, leeks and some snapdragons about the end of January.

The snapdragons and leeks start slowly and most seed catalogs recommend sowing them 10 weeks before the plant out date.  I planned to transplant them in the garden around April 15, so that meant starting them the end of January, first week of February. Leeks and snaps are doing so well that I may have to transplant them to larger pots soon.  Nevertheless, they will be ready to go into my cold frame to harden off  around April 1.

 The brassicas and lettuce started in early (late January-early February), hoping that winter weather would abate are ready to go into the cold frame. This would allow me to get some transplants in the ground 2 weeks earlier than my normal April 1 date.  I was planning on extending the spring season forward to mid-March for the broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce by using low tunnels covered with 6 mil plastic.  Given the snow we had Monday that plan may be out the window, but I will set up my cold frame this weekend to harden these plants off and prepare for a March 15 planting.  One thing to remember about broccoli and cauliflower is that cold weather will cause them to produce “buttonheads”.  This happens because the cold weather stunts their growth producing small plants and thus, small flower heads.

The nice thing about having a large light setup (capability to have 20 flats under lights) is that I can plan for most weather.  Around mid February, I started more broccoli and cauliflower which would go into the garden on April 1, my normal plant out date.  I’ll place these plants under low tunnels in order to protect them from the weather, imported cabbageworm and speed up their growth.  My spring broccoli is Packman and my cauliflower is Snow Crown because both of these varieties produce within a 55 to 60 day window after transplanting.  This means that they are out of the garden by the first week of June when the hot weather would cause the flower buds to open

I also plan to plant another flat of Packman and Snow Crown today, just in case this cold weather hangs on longer than anyone expects.  These transplant will be ready to plant about April 15 and if we do have a cooler than normal spring will be my main spring crop of broccoli and cauliflower.  Should the weather turn more reasonable, I’ll have 3 succession plantings of broccoli and cauliflower for my extended family and the Community Action Council’s Howard County food bank.  As part of the Univ. of Maryland’s GIEI initiative, we also sponsor a Grow It Give It initiative where extra produce can be donated to local food banks and shelters.

Other seeds I will start this week are fennel, kohlrabi  (6 weeks to plant out around April 15), some choi, tatsoi (4 weeks to plant out around April 1) and my husk cherry seed (Goldie) which take 10 weeks to reach transplantable size.

In case you are wondering how I keep all of these dates straight, I have an excel spreadsheet which I update every year with my current seed list, days to germinate and weeks to grow to transplantable size.  The seed planting date is driven by the projected spring or fall plant out date.  Yes, my lights are working from February through the end of July providing transplants for succession planting and filling vacant space in my garden.

If you are interested in using my seed starting spreadsheet, you can find it on the Howard County MG GIEI website under “Useful Links”.  But don’t look for it immediately, I have to plant some seeds first.

3 Comments on “Growing Seedlings Under Lights

  1. Are your husk cherry seeds the same thing as ground cherries? I have been experimenting with winter sowing and have started my tomatoes and Cossack Pineapple ground cherry seeds this week. I was planning for a May transplant for both.


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