When you try something new, whether it’s woodworking, welding, or trying to grow vegetable plants from seed, there’s a learning curve.
As discussed previously, I’m trying to grow some vegetables this year, from seed. It’s been an interesting process thus far.
I did plenty of background research. I watched YouTube videos. I came up with a plan.
I thought I knew what I was doing, then things went south a bit, at least for some of my seedlings. I took corrective actions, and things looked to be getting better. Now, some of those seedlings’ leaves are turning black again.
I’m not ready to throw my hands up in defeat just yet. These seedlings will likely be extras, sacrificed to animal pests, or used for learning opportunities, but I’d still like to get to the bottom of why.
With some jalapeno seedlings, the younger leaves went black and the plants exhibited stunted growth. This didn’t affect all of my hot pepper seedlings, just some of them. Adding nutrients in the form of water-soluble plant food seemed to fix things. Their color improved – new growth was greener in contrast to younger leaves that were yellow or blackened – and I believed that adding nutrients was the fix.
But now some of the leaves are turning black again…
Internet research says that maybe they’re “sunburnt,” and that this can happen in response to LED grow lights indoors. Or, it could be a nutrient deficiency. Maybe they’re being over-watered?
Some of my seedlings are affected. Other batches are not. The only difference I can tell is that different seed starting mixed was used, with seedlings in Espoma or Burpee starting mix seemingly worse for wear.
It’s weird. There are no answers. Internet searches don’t offer any helpful advice.
I’m going to conclude that it’s still a nutrient deficiency. When I pot-up (the process of upgrading a seedling’s container size), I use a light potting mix and add in earthworm castings, which is mild organic matter that provides a slow but steady source of nutrients.
I have a lot of experimentation to do, and this will hopefully serve as optimizations for seed-starting adventures next year. It’ll be a lot easier now that I know what to focus on, and with a small focus in mind, rather than the race I’ve been on to grow seedlings large enough for transplant outside.
Sure, I could have bought mature plants at the nursery, and avoided the expense and hassle of trying to do this all myself. But, while there are 34 types of tomato plants at the local greenhouse, the selection of hot peppers is slimmer. There are far fewer cucumber varieties – maybe 3. While hot pepper seedlings have monopolized my attention, due to the very lengthy indoors grow time they require, my focus is more on cucumbers, specifically smaller sized that are ideal for pickling.
There were some complaints that I – please forgive the language – half-assed my seed-starting experiment, and I did. But, upon seeing some of the results, and seeing what’s happening here, that’s how a hypothesis is formed, and a more effective one than if I had practiced “proper” experimentation at the start. Now we know what to test for, we know what the controls should be, and what variables to change.
This is how different projects, skills, or hobbies go. You might set out to build dovetails as part of a woodworking project, you might try your hand at precision inlays, or maybe you’re trying to perfect drywall prep or painting skills.
No matter how much you read, no matter how much you think you know, it’s not until you put chisel to wood, spackle to wall, paint to metal, seed to soil, and so forth that you can truly learn a process.
Every plant is different, every indoors seed-starting environment is different. Still, I thought that I armed myself with all the background research and information needed to do a great job at growing seedlings strong enough to be planted outdoors. I could be happy where I am and move on, but sorting all this out will hopefully pay off in my future vegetable-growing efforts.
It might sound odd to compare seed-starting to woodworking joinery, drywall work, or other such things. Well, some woods respond differently to how you cut or shape them. There are optimized geometries, whether you’re working with softwoods or hardwoods. What’s a good consistency for drywall mud?
For a lot of things, you try, receive feedback from the work or outside opinion even, and try again.
With respect to my seedlings, until someone steers me in a different direction, I’m assuming that the starting mix lacks sufficient nutrients, and that once-a-week water-soluble plant food just isn’t cutting it.
For my woodworking dovetails, that’s not a quite the same – cutting accuracy and sowing seeds is not exactly congruent. Well, how moist is too moist when it comes to watering plants or prepping starter mix?
I’ve been very much a “learn, learn some more, keep learning, then try” kind of person, but seem to have been learning a lot more from “do, observe, do again” types of practices.
I feel a bit embarrassed at getting “the basics” wrong, and for not understanding what’s going on with some of my plants. But, I also do find comfort in watching some of the earlier videos of some of the hot pepper and gardening YouTubers. There’s one whose advice I find particularly helpful, and it’s clear that their current practices evolved from their older recommendations. It’s good to know that everyone stands to learn new things from time to time – nobody gets things perfect right at the get-go.
Background research is no substitute for first-hand experience. Still, you also cannot substitute hands-on experience for background research. Discussing my veggie garden plans again, it was perhaps crucial for me to have read that cucumber plants do not like their roots disturbed, which is why I started them indoors in 4″ pots. Here, background researched saved me time and effort, and prevented me from making beginner blunders.
I didn’t intend to spend so much time on gardening and the like, but with everyone home, there’s a need for something away from my computer, away from my workspace, and that doesn’t involve power tools or other such instruments that I requires distraction-free attention during daylight hours. Plus, I’m looking forward to the process – I never expected myself to be this excited about growing my own vegetables, but I am.
I’m doing some things right and making some mistakes, and it’s okay. (This is more self-convincing than anything else.)
For a more tool-related mention of the day: Today’s day was made more enjoyable by the use of Makita’s cordless track saw. Buy Now: via Amazon, via Acme Tools, via Tool Nut (promo ends 5/15/20). I received a test sample a while ago (thank you Makita USA!), and I love using it. I still prefer my corded Festool (purchased at retail) for a lot of things, but the Makita’s cordless functionality is very convenience if I’m working outside. The Festool tops the Makita when it comes to dust collection convenience though.
I also used a Milwaukee multi-bit screwdriver, Knipex Pliers Wrench, Channellock adjustable wrench, Dewalt utility knife, Milwaukee scissors, Milwaukee cordless vacuum, and a generic hex key that came with my new hose reel.
Because of the analogy that popped into my head earlier in the post, I’m going to aim to practice my hand dovetails this week.