Getting ready to plant the seeds for the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Garden.
Getting ready to plant the seeds for the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Garden.

Saturday morning found us at the beautiful and wonderfully maintained greenhouses of the Plant Science Department greenhouses of SUNY Cobleskill.

This past winter, Bob Sutherland, SUNY Cobleskill’s Floriculture Instructor and Greenhouse Manager, graciously agreed to help us out with the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Garden. You see, because we commute between the city and the Beekman, it’s difficult for us to watch over the hundreds of tiny seedlings that need to be started indoors due to our short growing season. Bob is as invested as we are in celebrating healthy gardening and eating, so he came to our rescue by offering to keep watch over our tiny treasures while we’re away. We’re so fortunate to have such remarkably generous neighbors. Of course, that’s what makes Sharon Springs one of the coolest places on the planet.

We started the day by filling our trays with seed starting mix. As Bob fills the trays, he gently presses his fingers into the holes to lightly tamp them down and make sure there are no large bubbles of air at the bottom of the cells.

Preparing the trays for seeds.
Preparing the trays for seeds.

[Ed note: “Plastic trays?!” you say? “Beekman 1802 doesn’t use plastic anything!!” Well, you’re right. Unless we’re actually trying to help the environment. You see, this year SUNY Cobleskill is converting all of their different pots to organic, biodegradable options, like these ingenious straw pots:

Biodegradable Straw Pots.
Biodegradable Straw Pots.

But, like most of us, SUNY Cobleskill has all kinds of leftover plastic pots and trays from throughout the years stashed away in different storage rooms and closets. The staff and students are committed to using up all of the plastic in their inventory.  Sure, they could’ve chucked them all away and started using only biodegradable pots this year. But, like us, Bob believes that adding new and gently used plastic pots to a landfill before they’ve outlived their usefulness sort of contradicts the whole ecological point. So until these plastic remnants crack or break, they’ll be used in conjunction with their more ecologically sound counterparts. ]

Next we began planting the seeds according to the groups in which they would need to be either planted directly outdoors (some lettuces and chard), or planted into larger pots in a few weeks’ time (tomatoes and peppers.) Keeping the families of seeds grouped like this will save space down the road. We won’t have half empty trays as some seedlings move on to new homes before other’s are ready.

This next bit is a great tip for home gardeners. After we’ve lightly covered the seeds, Bob scatters a thin layer of horticultural Sphagnum Moss over the top of the tray.

Used to prevent damping off in seedlings.
Used to prevent damping off in seedlings.

This will help absorb excess moisture and help prevent “damping off” – a fatal condition that especially afflicts tomatoes and peppers.

Seed trays lightly dusted with Sphagnum Moss.
Seed trays lightly dusted with Sphagnum Moss.

The trays are then fogged with a gentle mist, and placed in a special misting section of one of the greenhouses.

These misting heads help keep the seeds at an even moisture.
These misting heads help keep the seeds at an even moisture.

The humidity is controlled by this simple, yet miraculous machine:

Controls moisture for seedling plantings.
Controls moisture for seedling plantings.

When the outstretched arm is wet, its weight cuts off the mist. As it dries, a counter balance raises the lighter arm until the mister is triggered again.

Before heading back to the Beekman, we toured some of the other thirteen greenhouses at SUNY Cobleskill. They’re all meticulously cared for and beautiful. We’ll show you more of them in future posts as we check in on our seedlings.

But we’ll start by showing you an ugly greenhouse. Yep. An ugly one. Every single plant was dying. It was a bloodbath. But this particular greenhouse was also the one we found most intriguing:

Plant pathology greenhouse.
Plant pathology greenhouse.

It’s the plant pathology greenhouse, in which plants aren’t grown – they’re killed. In order to learn more about how plants thrive, SUNY Cobleskill students need to know what adversely affect them. So they try all sorts of different additives, overindulgences, and depravation techniques to learn “how plants die.”

Sickly beans, watered with Red Bull
Sickly beans, watered with Red Bull

We found this funny experiment in a corner, in which a student was adding human energy drinks to his or her plant subjects.

It seems that Red Bull doesn’t give these green beans wings.

We’ll show you some other, more beautiful areas of the SUNY Cobleskill greenhouses in future posts as we return to check on the progress of our youngest Beekman residents.

UPDATE:

After three days, the first seedlings emerge.

Our first seedlings emerge at SUNY Cobleskill
Our first seedlings emerge at SUNY Cobleskill
More seedlings emerge at SUNY Cobleskill
More seedlings emerge at SUNY Cobleskill
by Josh and Brent

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Linda

A few more tips for preventing damping off…

After seeds germinate, remove cover and bottom heat source. Move to cool area (60 degrees) and adjust lights very close to seedlings, moving up as they grow. Make sure there's good air circulation or use a small fan, and allow the surface soil to dry out. Watering only from the bottom (seed starting systems with capillary matting works great)will help maintain proper soil moisture-soil should feel like a wrung-out sponge,evenly moist, never wet.

Hope this helps!

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Anne Pratt Slatin

GREAT tip on the use of sphagnum moss to prevent damp-off. I've been using coir to raise Japanese Maples from seed, and watering them with chamomile tea, which kills plant diseases, too.

I like the moss idea better.

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Linda

Thanks, Josh.

I wonder if you are a little colder than we are here in Bozrah, being further north. The peas just started to poke through-some were planted St. Patricks day, but it's been too wet and cold. I have lettuce in a tiny greenhouse ready to go in the garden, but I will definitely have to cover at night–we've been around 30degrees or less at night this week. When people would ask us at the garden center when the last frost would be (and after we told them we'd have to check in with "the man" upstairs to get that kind of information) our advice was after the last full moon in May. Works for me.

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Linda

The straw pots look great! Are they commercially available for consumers? I just started using Cowpots, made from composted cow manure right here in Connecticut. Talk about recycling………

They look like peat pots, but decompose completely, adding a little nutrient value and improving the soil as well.

Looks like it will be a big garden at Beekman this year!

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John

Hi guys!

Have you created a "worm farm" for use in conjunction with your compost? My friend Gabriel created one in an old plastic file storage box (he obtained the how-to on the internet). His hundreds of worms create the most incredible liquid fertilizer while digesting his kitchen scraps. He dilutes the "worm juice" on a 10 parts water/1 part "juice" basis and sprays it on his plants. It is amazing how potent that stuff is. You can practically see the plants growing right in front of you.

Can't wait to see what you and your friends at SUNY grow this year. Enjoy!

John

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