Mouse Attack, the Marijuana Industry, and Baseball Cards

This post ain’t too pretty, I’ll tell you right off the bat. Hope you like pictures of thermostats!

Well guys, some days you just can’t win. I went into my propagation room this morning to find 3 flats razed by mouse destruction. They chopped my Scabiosa stellata and made holes in the seeds they dug up (they must be geniuses), beheaded my stock seedlings, and somehow ate my tiny tiny feverfew seedlings as well. Grrr! Well, what do you do - just get over it, wipe your tears, and start over. As Mimo Davis, of Urban Buds, said to me at the Floret workshop, “When in doubt, plant more seeds.” So I did, and it made me feel better.  At least they didn’t have a taste for my snapdragons. Anyway I put an awesome electronic trap down there so those furry lil cuties will be dead soon, Jah willing. (Yes, Jah. I’m not a Rastafarian but I appreciate the philosophy).

Just a good old fashioned dirt party.

Just a good old fashioned dirt party.

Can you even believe this?

Can you even believe this?

Now on to the good stuff. I wanted to share with you a bit more about our seed-starting setup and how I organize my seeds, because I think it’s pretty nifty. We have a basement grow space with five T5 broad spectrum lights, of the 8-tube, 4-foot variety. We hang the lights over our benches, as close to the seedlings as they can be without diminishing the footprint of the lights too much. Our older room is lined with white plastic to reflect the light back to the seedlings instead of letting it escape into the gloomy basement - these are the tricks you learn from the marijuana industry ;). Our newer space is just slap-dash - I bought new lights this spring and set up the space really quickly, without reflective plastic, and I do notice a difference in brightness. And ideally, we’d have a natural-light propagation house with heat out on the farm, because I do notice that my basements seedlings are quite leggy. The lights are all controlled by a simple timer that I have set to a 16-hour day.

Space #1, with the white plastic walls and a billion succulents.

Space #1, with the white plastic walls and a billion succulents.

Space #2, with creepy sandstone foundation walls and very uneven floor. 

Space #2, with creepy sandstone foundation walls and very uneven floor. 

 
One of the simple timers that controls the lights. 

One of the simple timers that controls the lights. 

 

Speaking of the marijuana industry, another big development is that we bought a whole pallet of potting soil from our local grow supplier. I’m so happy about this - last year we spent $700 on good potting soil and bought it bag by bag as we needed it - but of course, we often didn’t have it when we did need it, and planting was delayed. I think these 60 2-cubic-foot bags will last us at least a couple of seasons, and cost only a little more than what we spent last year.  The brand we bought is Tupur Gold, which is formulated for hydroponic indoor growing, but I like it because it’s super-fine, has lots of drainage (it’s easy to over-water seedlings indoors), and it’s cheap. I fortify the soil with granular fertilizers like Down-to-Earth’s All-Purpose Mix, and then feed the seedlings regularly with liquid nutrients like Age Old Organics Grow. I’d love to hear how the rest of you get enough soil for your regular planting schedule, and if I’m missing out on a great deal elsewhere. I’ve tried to get bulk orders from Johnny’s, but they never got back to me with a shipping quote, waaaahh!

The best part about going to my indoor growing supplier (Way To Grow, in Boulder), is that all the clerks are potheads, and they all think that I’m growing pot. When I say, “I grow flowers,” they’re like, “Yeah man, flowers, heh heh.” (Because, of course, the part of the plant you smoke, and that has the THC, is the flower!) I let them think what they think. Also I’ve never seen another woman in that store - is the pot industry really that male-dominated? Seems like it.

Yep, that's what part of a pallet of soil looks like.

Yep, that's what part of a pallet of soil looks like.

Some of the nutrients we mix into our soil.

Some of the nutrients we mix into our soil.

Last year, we built a small nursery inside our big hoop house - my design partner Kim calls it the babushka - which I think means “Grandmother” in Russian, but I think she’s referring to those nesting dolls. The nursery has two giant benches in it, and the top is made of PVC hoops. We covered it with old hoop-house plastic. (We replaced our plastic in the spring of '15 and promptly got a hundred holes in it from a 3-hour hailstorm with golfball-sized stones). The idea with the benches was that we’d use a sump pump to flood them with water from our old aquaponics tank, which is inside the hoop house, thereby bottom-watering all our seedlings at regular intervals. We tried this, but it didn’t work too well, because we hadn’t made the tables perfectly level so the water would spread out evenly under all the seedlings. This year, my plan is to use capillary matting on top of the benches but under the seed trays, to hold the water until the plants can soak it up. I think this will work especially well with soil block trays.

A hoop within a hoop. And some junk. And our wee tiller. 

A hoop within a hoop. And some junk. And our wee tiller. 

That little white PVC pipe in the foreground is where the water can flood out. There is a bench on the other side too - it's just covered by frost cloth. Storage solutions...

That little white PVC pipe in the foreground is where the water can flood out. There is a bench on the other side too - it's just covered by frost cloth. Storage solutions...

The nursery is pretty heavily DIY-engineered. The climate controls are a big exhaust fan on one end, controlled by a thermostat, plus an intake fan that pulls cool air from the north side of the hoophouse through both the hoophouse and nursery wall. This works, but because of the placement of the fan, most of the cool air stays near ground level. Trying to figure out a fix for that has been a headache. In the early season, we also place two space heaters, the beefiest ones we could find on sale at our local big box store,  under the benches and control them with timers during the evening. This year I’d like to upgrade to controlling them with thermostats. My favorite thermostats are not programmable, but rather these super basic (and super-cheap) Thermo Cubes, which come in a variety of temperature ranges. For my big box fans that exhaust the hoop house, I have the TC-21, which switches on when the temperature gets above 78°, and off when it gets below 70°. This saves me and my interns from having to plug in and unplug the fans every day. I also have one for the space heater I put in my cooler (does that ever sound oxymoronic), where I’m storing my dahlia tubers, as an “oh shit” measure in case it gets really too cold in there. That one goes on at 35° and off at 45°.

Exhaust fan. It's actually an attic exhaust fan I think. 

Exhaust fan. It's actually an attic exhaust fan I think. 

Intake fan. The silver tubing connects to the outside world on the north side of the hoop house.

Intake fan. The silver tubing connects to the outside world on the north side of the hoop house.

Cold Thermo Cube connected to a space heater.

Cold Thermo Cube connected to a space heater.

Hot Thermo Cube for our hoop house exhaust fans.

Hot Thermo Cube for our hoop house exhaust fans.

So that’s the seeding setup, in addition to the heat mats, domes, and so forth. What I really want to show you is our super cool seed storage system (well, I think it’s super cool. I don’t know about my employees, or you). I use baseball card pocket pages - you know, those 9-pocket plastic sleeves you would use to hold your most precious collectors’ items. Well, that’s what my seeds are to me, so what could be more appropriate? Not only do the sleeves protect and organize my seeds, they also mean that my seeds take up a LOT less space. I have 3 binders of seeds - 2 for my annuals and 1 for perennials. I’m definitely going to need another annual binder soon, the way I’ve been ordering - eek!

In the beginning, I cut the seed packets open, dumped the seeds into a plastic bag, and then labeled the bag and stuck it in the pocket, but as you can imagine, that took up a lot of time and was tedious and unnecessary. Now I just fold the seed packet in half and stuff it in. Geoseed packets are slightly too big, so I have to cut the edges off, but Johnny’s & Renee’s Garden packets fit perfectly. When I order a lot of seeds or bulky ones like wheat, they get dumped into a bin and are not very organized at all. But I know they’re there. I think (I hope) the binders help my interns and field manager learn the names of the seeds, and their characteristics, since they’re all out there in the open and easily accessible.

So easy! So organized! Saves so much space! Thanks the Internet for showing me the way.

So easy! So organized! Saves so much space! Thanks the Internet for showing me the way.

Almost all my seeds in less than 1 cubic foot of space.

Almost all my seeds in less than 1 cubic foot of space.

Well jeez that turned into a long post really quickly! Tell me about your seeding set up, and your seed organization strategies, and how you get enough soil for your business. Are these kinds of nuts-and-bolts posts interesting to you? Am I showing too much of how the sausage is made? Thanks so much for listening to my crazy thoughts and ideas.