BUILDING A PROPAGATION CHAMBER
This is the beginning of the New Year. A fantastic year it is to be. After all the date is 2010. Doesn't it even have an exciting sound. It is the beginning of a new decade. Our New year's eve practice is to sit and peruse the seed catalogues. We need bibs because of the drooling we do. Especially the plants that we know we can't possibly grow due to climatic conditions. We have started our own seeds for years.
Starting seeds is not Rocket Science. There is tons of info available on the Internet or in books or on the back of the seed packets. Beware of taking for gospel the info from any one source, read everything, and talk to everyone, then make a decision on what might work for you.
The reason I say, don't trust the seed packets, is because I have never had the info on the back of them turn out to be right for me. For instance, on the lettuce packet it says 7-10 days germination. We always have fresh seed germinate in less than three days in a controlled propagation chamber. Maybe if it was outdoors it might take that long. We always start ours indoors because our weather is so inconsistent we would not have a good germination rate (usually it is too wet to cultivate at the time we need to plant lettuce).
We have been told 80% percent germination is good. Planting indoors we have had what seems to be 100% germination. The other thing to not trust is the guidelines for the growth habits of your plants. Good organic soil seems to add inches to the projected size. Also don't be afraid to transplant a seedling which seems to be falling behind to a different location. It is said, "location, location, location." We have found that so true.
This week we will spend the snowy Thursday deciding what we need to buy and what seeds will still be worth saving if they will germinate for us. My Hunny will test all our peas and beans. He will put them in wet paper towels and into our propagation chamber.
Our propagation chamber is nothing fancy and it serves a variety of purposes (I have used it to make yogurt).
To build your own you will need the following. Styrofoam ice chest Heating Pad or an old working yogurt maker, Easy to read Thermometer, Piece of card board, serrated knife something like the bottoms of egg cartons or something of that height.
CONSTRUCTION: We have found the same heat source works in a large cooler (ours is 28"x 16" x 17") but we also have those that are 12x12x18. In the bottom corner of the cooler make a hole just large enough for the plug of your heat source to slide through. If you have chosen your old yogurt maker you will only need the bottom half not the lid. Place it in the center of your cooler on the bottom. Now cut the card board (the serrated knife is good for this) to fit on top of the yogurt maker.(it should just barely slip into the cooler and rest on top of the maker.) Now remove the card board and make a series of one inch holes in the cardboard. make them far enough apart that they will support the weight of the trays you will be sitting on top of it. If you have chosen a heating pad you will need something to support the cardboard about 2 inches above the pad. (I have used egg cartons without their tops for this. I have also used cardboard strips).
Your chamber is finished. Now put your thermometer in side and turn on your heating source and find out what temp your propagation chamber keeps. We found sometimes we have to crack the lid. Now you need to scrounge for take-out plastic containers with clear raised tops. The 2 inch deep ones are great, allows for starting medium and a little sprouting room (sometimes they sprout in the middle of the night.) Rectangle ones are preferable to round ones...you can put more in your cooler. BTW...you can stack them inside the cooler...but remember everyday twice a day to reverse who is on top and who's on the bottom, so they get the same amount of heat. Keep your thermometer inside and check it first thing in the morning to make sure your cooler isn't accumulating too much heat. I didn't say this was a low maintenance project. (If you are adept I imagine you could fix this with a thermostat to turn off and on the heat and keep it at the perfect temp.
We have had 20 years of success with our homemade box, hope this works as well for you.