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
special trays with reservoirs at the bottom and some kind of wicking
system to keep seedlings from drying out. Does anyone have any
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
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?
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.
I have used the trays
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.
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
and by cooking the planting soil.
Thanks for your's and other's replies. Actually, I start my seeds in
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
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
of water in the tray.
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.
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.
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
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
To clear things up, I grow my own plants because I can't find the
that I want in the stores and nurseries. They are not exotic plants,
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
Despite instructions to friends and neighbors to water them, they dried
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
height of the lights to allow for plant growth. The problem remains
Your idea about using towels might work.
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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