Sunday, March 02, 2014

Simple Lighting System for Seedlings

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With the "polar vortex" settling in multiple times this winter, who knows when the last frost date will be this year?! The winter's shenanigans may not actually affect home gardens unless it means spring will be cold (I had an opportunity to observe that last night's didn't stop the Wrigleyville drunkards waiting in lines outside to get into bars, jaywalking by purposefully sliding across the street in snow, and otherwise acting foolish), but I thought I'd start some of my garden inside this year just in case. I also had success last year starting some plants from seed, so I also thought it'd be nice to start my own seedlings and cut the umbilical cord from Gethsemane and other garden centers and grocery stores that provide starter plants.

Apparently grow lights can be kind of fancy and really expensive, or it can be cheaper but slightly complicated, but I just wanted powerful lights over the seedlings and a way to adjust its height. So Mordecai built something simple and cheap--the lights, fixture, chain, and light switch all came to...$30? The pine was leftover from some other project and he assembled that in two sittings. The starter kit and starting mix soil were also inexpensive. The most expensive thing was probably the seeds, which I get from Kitazawa Seed Company out in Cali.  
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Last year, I had great success with Japanese pumpkin, kabocha, which I started from Kitazawa seed. I still have a couple left over--I use this recipe to simmer it in the holy trinity seasoning of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. (I never take any of the skin off; I don't always cut the corners; and I have no idea what that paper dome thing is about.) My cukes also made it from their seed but they were not that skinny long classic Japanese shape even though they were supposed to look that way. It may have been because I neglected to harvest them at the right time... I've had other successes with them (chinese cabbage, pak choi, carrots, snow peas). This year, I'm starting indoors Japanese eggplants, "Money Maker"!!!; Japanese green peppers (not spicy but a little bitter), shishito (my friend Naomi points out you start to see this as a "fancy" ingredient at restaurants); another variety of Japanese cucumbers; a pink-fleshed tomato called "Momotaro," which I bought for the name and its referent. I'll be planting straight to the raised beds the following: turnip, green onion, komatsuna (like spinach, good for smoothies/juices), mizuna (salad green), "cosmic purple" carrot (orange on inside, purple on outside!), and daikon. 
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Requisite helper shot.
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From this picture, I will be able to remember what is where. But the bottom far left section only has seed in only one cell, the top far right corner--I found an old watermelon seed that never made it and wondered if it was dead or not. We'll find out. The top far left section has four edamame seeds from last year, and some old spinach seeds. There's no need to start spinach indoors but again..why not? Especially when you are sent hundreds or even thousands of some varieties of seeds. 
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Last night, I also got to observe a friend's ecosystem setup: turtles, whose poop gets filtered to starter plants, which can be fed to snails, who get fed to the turtles. They had grow light bulbs attached to a light stand made to light up bedrooms, not for plants, so it was all quite simple and they worked with what they had. That was cool to see. MiMi needs to step her helper game up! Although I will say, Yoshi the timid German Shepherd didn't seem to be contributing much to the turtle ecosystem. Just some sad, concerned looks in the general direction. Maybe we don't want any of that in our bedrooms anyway, poop and sad looks alike.

Our setup is in the bedroom, the warmest room in the house. We may still be frozen over in Chicago, and Mitsu's winter coat is still locked in securely. But garden work has begun. Spring is near!