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Mary Lowther column: New seed table to help with starting plants early

I continue repotting seedlings until the soil and weather become dry enough to discourage slugs
Soon I’ll be able to grow flats of seedlings like these onions on the seed table. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

I like to get a jump on our short growing season by starting several crops inside. I’ve also found that new sprouts get eaten when sown outside during our cold, wet springs so I continue repotting seedlings into larger containers until the soil and weather become dry enough to discourage slugs, by which time the plants should be large enough to withstand predation.

Authors Binda Colebrook and Eliot Coleman give excellent suggestions for extending our growing seasons through the use of seed tables. Mine has served me well but has outlived its usefulness, so David is making a new one that won’t have posts on the front, because these posts prevented easy access to the flats for watering and checking for slugs that hide underneath. The shelves will be a bit longer to accommodate the fluorescent lights with screw hooks on the underside of each shelf to hold chains attached to each light, making it easy to raise and lower the lights so they’re always two inches above the seedlings, a spacing that provides them with enough light. Studies have shown that seedlings grow best when exposed to 16 hours of light a day, so I plug all the lights into a timer set to go on for that amount. People in our household learned quickly not to unplug this timer.

I was gifted a heating mat so I put this under one of the flats and plug it in separately although it’s probably unnecessary because the lights emit plenty of heat. I use it anyway since it was a gift and it doesn’t use much electricity; the heat is so low it doesn’t even melt the flats. Besides, when the lights are off at night time the mat provides helpful warmth to all the seed trays that are enclosed in a seed table wrapped in insulation to retain heat. I use two light sleeping bags shut with clothespins to do this, and under the bags, a layer of mesh will keep out cabbage moths that flit around laying eggs on everything almost before the plants germinate.

One year I bought a butterfly net to try and nab the tiny cabbage moths but they always saw me coming and I never caught a one. Of course, there are the four legged varmints just itching to get at my seedlings, so I set up mouse traps and plug in an ultrasonic device that supposedly only affects small rodents. Still, when I’m working on the table I unplug the device just in case.

David assures me that many of my precautions will no longer be required as the new table will be in the potting shed attached to the new greenhouse, itself built to defeat the malicious efforts of such ubiquitous predators, but I suspect he underestimates their ingenuity. He should look “ubiquitous” up in the dictionary before making such confident predictions.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.