Monday, April 23, 2007

Seedlings to the Roof!

Today, I traveled to the roof to survey the situation and to bring my first tray of seedlings out into the wilds of Manhattan. As I have described in the description of this blog, the roof is no pretty place. But on the bright side, there is a decent view, and there was even a bird chirping up there.
Here is the view looking towards the back of the building. The skylight is in the middle, and behind that you can see the hatch which I crawl out of to access the roof. That hatch is heavy, and most difficult to close. I will have to figure out a way to make it easier.
Here is the view looking towards the street/front of the building. I plan on making my garden over there, as the roofing material seems more solid there, and if I bring a hose up from my apartment window, it will be from this side.
THIS is what I'm trying to hide.
Here are my seedlings, out in the open for the very first time. These are the Cosmos, New Zealand Spinach, and some Marigolds. They look so smalllll!

Seedlings Grow!

I didn't take too many shots of the overall trays over the past couple weeks, but from these you can see that there was quite a flurry of growth! The poppies look especially active, though really that's because I seeded them too thickly together. This may be a problem, as I am not sure I can transplant them without killing them. Live and learn!
Here are some time progress shots of specific plants:

Cosmos were the first plants to germinate. They seem super hardy, taking a beating and surviving several transplants in odd containers. After doing a rough count, I think the germination rate was about 50%, since I planted all 60ish seeds and got about 30 plants. Not all have survived though, as I killed off a couple slow starters. You can see that a lot of the cosmos have grown kind of tall and spindly, likely due to inadequate lighting non my window sill. Still, they have developed their feathery true leaves, and the last pic is of the most successful seedling, surprisingly, the one transplanted to the egg carton.:

Next were the New Zealand Spinach, which defied expectation and germinated in a mere 4 days compared with the expected 2-3 weeks the seed packet described. Also, 14 of the 17 seeds I planted germinated, which was definitely more than expected. The last 3 might have germinated if I had left them in the dirt, but I was curious and dug them out (they hadn't opened up at all). Overall, the spinach have grown really well and were the first to start developing true leaves. Here you can see how they have grown incredibly in the first days after germination, since they only first pushed through the soil on April 8th:
Here, you may be able to make out the tiniest beginnings of true leaves in the plant in the foreground. You can also see me in this pic!

Here, you can see how much the spinach true leaves have grown over the past week:

The marigolds have also been really hardy and easy to grow, with approximately a 50% germination rate. They germinated a little slower than the cosmos, but not by much. In contrast, they have maintained what seems to me like a good height instead of growing leggy.
Again, the most successful seedlings were the ones transplanted to the egg carton.:
Next to germinate were the basil, coming up on the 8th. Basil plants are possibly the cutest of the seedlings. There was a fairly high germination rate, about 80%.
However, some did not survive as I poured some worm water (i'll discuss this in a later post) on them which burned some of the smaller seedlings.
The poppies came up and were very delicate. They remain delicate and spindly since I seeded them way too thickly. I guess I got too excited about having poppies.... Their seeds are SO small! And I wasn't sure if they would all germinate, but I guess I was wrong to doubt them.
Too many poppies!
Oregano's progress is slow and steady. The seedlings are tiny and germination rate seems ok, but not fantastic. That's ok though, since I don't need that much oregano!
Watermelons were a little slow to start, seeing as they were supposed to germinate in 5-8 days, but all 5 of the seeds I planted grew, and they have grown VERY tall.
Lavender was slow to germinate and not many of the seeds came up. I am hoping more will with time, but my hopes are not high. Right now only 2 seedlings have emerged.
Lastly, Rosemary is true to its nature, being notoriously difficult to start from seed. So far, I only have 1 tiny seedling, almost too small to see.....

Saturday, April 7, 2007

More New Life, True Germination in 48 hours

Today, the seeds I saw sprouting yesterday have grown even more and there are other seeds germinating left and right. According to this picture, the small arcs I saw pushing up out of the soil yesterday were the hypocotyl. Today, those 2 cosmos have broken free from their shells completely and I can see their cotyledons.

Here is a shot of the 2 cosmo seedlings we saw yesterday. The green things are the cotyledon and will become the first basic leaves of the plant.Here, you can see more cosmos have sprouted, completing the row:Here are some more seedlings. This cosmo seems to have been planted the right way up, so it's cotyledon is pointing straight into the air, and the shell is still on top. The marigolds are very thin, just like their seeds.When I saw 2 sprouts coming from an area with just 1 spinach seed, I had to investigate. Gently uncovering the seed, I found that at least 3 sprouts had grown from the single seed. I don't know if they are all 1 plant, or if multiple plants can grow from a spinach seed. I just hope they're yummy:

Friday, April 6, 2007

New Life!

Today as I was watering my seeds, I very unexpectedly came across brand new life! I am the proud new mother of some cosmos, less than 48 hours in the ground, and at least 1 spinach, less than 4 days. I really didn't expect to see anything, since the seed packets said cosmos take 8-15 days to germinate and New Zealand Spinach "is very slow to germinate, taking 2-3 weeks". And perhaps I am being a little premature, as these are probably just the root tips coming out and I'm sure leaves are far away. Additionally, it seems I might just have planted every single one of my seeds upside down. Still, here is a pic of 2 cosmos coming up in one of the quart buckets:
Very tiny and pale green-white, just breaking out of the seed shell.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Water-Keep Amazement! Planting Flowers

Today, my Water-Keep( super-absorbent polyacrylamide water crystals arrived! These things are pretty cool, each crystal capable of absorbing over 400 times its weight in water. I don't really know how they work! What I do know, however, is that there is a slight chance they could break down into their monomer-acrylamide building blocks. Nobody knows for sure whether or not polyacrylamide breaks down into monomer-acrylamide when it's in the soil, hit by the sun, or cooked at high temperatures. Regardless, monomer-acrylamide is a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen. There is lots of literature that says no harmful breakdown occurs, which is why this stuff is sold commercially and applied to millions of acres of farmland across the world. However, there is a small amount of literature that suggests it COULD break down and be harmful, so I'm going to be safe and only use it in my flower pots.
This evening, I placed a half a teaspoon of this stuff in a jar and added some water. I expected that like magic, my jar would be full of jelly just like this:
Unfortunately, it didn't occur quite as quickly as I had hoped. Still, at the end of the hour (as the info sheet does say) the crystals had absorbed water to their full capacity and filled a whole pint! That's big for half a teaspoon! And each jelly crystal is quite remarkable, looking just like they do in this picture (but without the dazzle lighting).

I mixed them up in some potting soil and planted my flowers: Marigolds, Lavendar, Cosmos, and Poppies. I didn't have enough jiffy pots, so I planted some in quart buckets. Also, I wanted to plant all the poppies, which are notoriously bad at transfer so the majority of the jiffy pots were devoted to them. Jiffy pots are biodegradable pots made from peat moss. They are great for starting seeds, which can then be planted pot and all into the garden. The pot will decompose on its own over time.
Here are the results of my labor over the past couple days:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Obtaining Seedling Materials, Planting Eatables

What could be more fitting than starting my garden at the beginning of April? So, this afternoon I journeyed out to Plantworks ( to see what I could gather for the project. A green little hole in the heart of the East Village, Plantworks offers as close to "everything" a gardener could want as you can get in Manhattan, though perhaps that's not saying much. Still, plants, dirt, containers, fertilizer you'll find along with somewhat helpful workers.

Walking into Plantworks, I came right to the seeds. Perfect! I picked out veggies and herbs first, then flowers. Not too many because I should start conservatively. I got some potting soil and jiffy pots. The worker there was also kind enough to shuffle into the back room and find me a tray for my starter pots, between puffs of his cigarette. So here's the list:

Sweet Basil - Germinates in 7-14 days; Matures in 40 days
Oregano - Germinates in 10-20 days; Matures in 90 days
Rosemary - Germinates in 14-28 days; Matures in 85 days

Veggies & Fruits:
Sugar Baby Watermelon - Germinates in 7-10 days; Matures in 75 days
New Zealand Spinach - Germinates in 14-21 days; Matures in 65 days

Marigolds - Germinates in 5-8 days
Poppies - Germinates in 7-10 days
Cosmos - Germinates in 8-15 days
Lavendar - Germinates in 10-20 days

Tonight, I planted all of the eatables, because I am waiting for my Water-Keep ( super-absorbent polyacrylamide water crystals to come in the mail for the flowers. I won't use them on veggies because I'm a litttttle scared of neurotoxin.

Here's a look at some of the seeds. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures until after I'd already seeded all of the cosmos, poppies and lavendar. Poppy seeds look just like they do on bagels. Lavendar seeds look like Rosemary seeds but smaller, though not as tiny as Oregano seeds. Cosmo seeds look like little curved spikes.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


[photo by CJ Hoppel]A couple of months ago, I found out I'd be moving out of my dorm and into an apartment with access to the roof! Of course, my first thought was to create a roof garden.... I do love making things grow =) So, I hatched a vague plan and here it is:

1) plant some seeds to be ready for transplant in May
2) get some 5 gallon paint/anything buckets and paint them so they're pretty =)
3) go to NYC Compost Giveback and get me some buckets of free compost
4) cut some old carpets to size and lay them underneath my buckets of compost so the buckets don't damage the roofing material
5) set the buckets out in an appropriate design
6) mix some Super-Absorbent Polyacrylamide Water Crystals into the compost for flowers
7) mix some manure into the compost for veggies.... Mmmm yummy, good thing my nose doesn't work
8) transplant my seedlings!
9) devise and implement some type of watering system
10) Water, Fertilize, and Watch Grow!!!!
11) Eat the eatibles, Smell the flowers