Keeping new seedlings moist

I have had a perpetual problem in that my vacations always seem to fall out when I'm in the middle of seed starting from trays. I don't want to impose on relatives or neighbors to keep them watered. I have seen these special trays with reservoirs at the bottom and some kind of wicking system to keep seedlings from drying out. Does anyone have any experience with these trays? Also, how long can one expect one of these trays to continue moistening the seedlings, as sometimes I go away for several weeks. I have tried wicking systems and feeding tubes with a siphoning effect to water my potted plants, with limited success. I can't use my bathtub, since there is no way to bring light to the seedlings. Does anyone have a better idea?
Sherwin D.
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On Tue, 20 Jan 2004 05:28:43 +0000, Sherwin Dubren wrote:

Can you put a plastic tent around and over them? This would create a kind of terrarium effect. You could regulate it a bit with a few vent holes. The problem might be too much moisture but it depends on the type of seedlings you nave.
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On Tue, 20 Jan 2004 05:28:43 GMT, Sherwin Dubren

I have used the trays
http://tinyurl.com/3avj9
which work very well (and last for several seasons). However, not for "several weeks" without replentishing. If you don't want to impose, *hire* someone to perform minimal care for your plants.
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what is your setup? southern window or grow lights? Plus you are in Chicago, right? so you have time as nothing needs to be started for another month at least.
Here is what I found: if you fill the tray with one inch of water (I have a southern glass door plus some fluorescent), no cover, the seedlings will stay moist for two weeks. I have cut off a square of four from a corner, which I take out when I need to water them again. The operation (with a bucket of water, and a half gallon pitcher, which corresponds approximately to one inch) takes less than a minute. With this kind of time commitment, perhaps the neighbors can come in every two weeks in exchange for some of your summer fruits (every year I think I am coming to see the Nafex. Some year I will). 6 weeks seedlings need to be watered only twice before transplanting.
You will lose some to damping off, because they get soaked, but tomatoes, lettuce and radicchio damp off very little. I had no losses with carrots or spinach either in one try. Chard damps off a bit. Most of the damping off losses are with brassicas (or related species, such as tatsoi), at least in my case. But these you can start early or later, if you want them for the fall, so you can start them when you are around. Or plant a whole tray (I suppose you need less than 72 cabbages) and transplant the survivors. You can also limit damping off by sterilizing the tray with bleach, pre-baking the potting soil (I use sterile mix for the brassicas and chard. Otherwise I use sifted compost) and by having air movement. I may have a good situation because the daily warming of the area near the door creates some air movement. and by cooking the planting soil.
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Hi simyl, Thanks for your's and other's replies. Actually, I start my seeds in my crawl space under lights. I don't have a good southern window on the main floor of my ranch home. When I go on vacation, I really button up the house, plus I don't want people getting injured going in and out of my crawl space. One solution would be a tray that is connected to the water system of the house with an automatic shutoff regulated by the level of water in the tray.
Sherwin D.
simy1 wrote:

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Wow. My crawlspace is typically at 35-40F these days, and if I were to wrap the shelf so that the lights heat would keep the temperature up, I would almost certainly create a carbon dioxide starvation situation (my crawlspace is also where I ferment my hard cider, so I suppose one carboy inside the wrap would easily take care of carbon dioxide. Lacking that, a jug of apple cider left open will provide plenty CO2 for hundreds of seedlings). Keep in mind that in a typical grenhouse plants use up all CO2 in a matter of hours.
I guess that given your setup you could go away for two weeks, while using extreme caution with damping off (hardy seedlings, sterile soil and sterile trays, etc.), without problems. I myself have to organize my garden schedule around my travel schedule. Two years ago I even bought tomato plants - something I had never done before or since. The same year my cider became vinegar (granted, good vinegar) because I was not around when the bubblers ran dry.
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Many seed catalogs sell seed starting kits, which include a plastic tray, cells for planting seeds, and a clear plastic cover that keep seedlings moist as they sprout, but they can also be found at many of the gardening sections of stores such as Lowes or WalMart where they are much more reasonably priced. I use ProMix as a starting medium and have little trouble with damp off, but I don't put these starting trays in sunlit windows where the seedlings can fry. Instead I place them under grow lights. I don't like to leave the trays covered too long after the seeds start growing, but I have gone as long as three weeks after planting the seeds. Beyond that point the seedlings need drier air than that under the plastic.
John
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On Tue, 20 Jan 2004 22:50:19 -0600, "B & J"

How many seedlings are we talking about here? How far along in the sprouting process? Not sure where you are, and if you've already got seeds planted and coming up now or if this is something coming up for you, so it's a hit and miss answering.
If you've just got a tray or two: take them to someone else's house if you don't want to impose on them to come to yours.
Are you starting varieties that you can only get via starting them yourself, or are you just starting seed for "fun"? If they're not special, not otherwise available in your area varieties, consider just buying plants later.
If they're a special variety, and you have any kind of a relationship with a greenhouse, approach them to see what they would charge you to start the seed and tend it for you while you're out of town. Most of them are *not* going to be amenable to you bringing in already started plants into their greenhouse due to any diseases or pests you may bring in with them. But you *can* ask. One year I just wasn't able to start my own seed, and I provided seed to the owner of a greenhouse, and I had her start them, and I purchased the resulting plants from her as if they started them from their own seed, since they had done the work of growing them. I had planted the seed at the greenhouse myself and labeled them, thereby using their equipment to sidestep the disease issues, but did not use her workers and take them from their job doing what she needed done, and then I left them there after watering them and I was done until they needed transplanting, and I could have skipped that by just planting in the pots directly.
Anyway, that's something to explore.
If you are in an area that's warm enough that they'd do well in a cold frame with some sort of watering system on a timer to keep them moist. I wouldn't trust much in the way of a watering system hooked to a water source that, if things went wrong, could flood your house if left unattended. You could use an old towel that's soaked and then allowed to run the majority of the water off then laid down on a plastic, and the plants which have just been soaked up to their rims and then let them drain the majority of the water out, should be set on the wet towel. Then set a bucket on something to elevate it a bit a cinder block maybe and use a small piece of tubing to siphon over water from the bucket..play with the height and size of the tubing and towels.
Personally, I would not want to go away and leave plants of any kind other than cacti maybe, unattended, but most definitely not seedlings, even if you have seedling set up with florescent light systems, the height of the lights has to be changed every few days to keep the light 2" off the top of the seedlings to keep them growing stocky and not burned from growing up into the lights, nor spindly from being too far from the lights so growing rapidly trying to reach it and falling over. If you're relying on window light, then they need to be turned daily to keep them from laying down trying to reach the light, or plastering themselves against a window that gets cold at night.
well I've said too much now, but .. we need more info to make concise suggestions..or at least *I* do. LOL
Good luck!
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Hi Janice, To clear things up, I grow my own plants because I can't find the varieties that I want in the stores and nurseries. They are not exotic plants, but many are heritage types, which are not readily available. Last year, I planted four trays of vegetable and flower seeds in my crawl in late March. My crawl is kept reasonably warm by the heating ducts running through it. I also put the trays on heating pads. I put out the resulting small plants in a cold frame before leaving on vacation. Despite instructions to friends and neighbors to water them, they dried out and I lost most of them. If I had a better automatic watering system, I could have left them in the crawl space, under lights, picking an optimal height of the lights to allow for plant growth. The problem remains watering. Your idea about using towels might work.
Sherwin D.
Janice wrote:

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Here is another idea. If you can envelope the whole system in a plastic bag (does not have to be clear), and make sure that the bag is tucked into the tray, any moisture will be returned to the tray. With this system, you only need to give them less than an inch of water at the beginning because the water will be recycled over and over. the bag will retain also some heat from the lights, which is a good thing. You are probably better off germinating things while you are around (say, at 80F) and then turn off the mats and leave them at 65-70. Problems with damping off (worse if they are at 80F throughout) and carbon dioxide starvation can be expected. I posted earlier how to beat CO2, and how to minimize damping off.
Some people say that leaving seedlings constantly under lights is very bad, but your experience seems different. I would not know because I switch off the lights at night.
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