Our 2021 garden: starting tomatoes, and onion follow up

Yes! We managed to resist temptation, and not start the tomatoes too early. 😀

After a fair bit of research, plus an evaluation of our cat-safe spaces, I chose to start our tomatoes using the “double cup” method.

I’d already picked up a large package of the red beer cups, and those were the types recommended. The first thing to do was to make drainage holes in half the cups we’d be using.

These will later be used to start our squash and gourds, so I didn’t mind putting drainage holes in extra cups. I’ve got a bag of 250, so we’ll be putting holes in at least 125! 😀

These are the seeds from one packet of Spoon tomatoes from Baker Creek. They are so tiny!!! And we didn’t even end up using them all!

Now, we’ve considered quite a few options for starting our seeds, including peat or similar pots, Jiffy pellets, starting trays of various types, and even looking at the pots of various sizes we found while cleaning out the basements. I settled on these cups for a few reasons. They are the size I want, you can get a LOT of them for a very low price, and I expect to be able to reuse them for many years. In some of the gardening videos I’ve watched, there are people who have been reusing these cups for as long as 10 years.

If I had the budget, I would prefer to use coir pots. I like the idea of those, or peat pots, as they can be put right into the soil with the transplants to break down, resulting in far less root disruption. The problem is, for the sheer volume of these that we would need, they’re just completely out of budget. Peat pots are fairly easy to find, but coir or any other biodegradable pots are things we’d have to seek out, and are far more expensive. :-/

The double cup method has added benefits. I can water them from below, using the outer cup, and not have to have them sitting in trays. That makes them more flexible for our spaces. Particularly since we’re using fish tanks as makeshift greenhouses. Using double cups means we can fit them inside the big tank, along with the trays of bulb unions and shallots.

Another benefit to using these cups for starting tomatoes is that we won’t need to “pot up” the tomatoes.

We filled the cups only half way with peat. The loose peat we’re using takes a long time to moisten, so I made sure to set some up in a container with water to saturate overnight, first.

As a bonus, the double cups hold the labels in place very well!

Once the seedlings reach a size large enough that we would be potting them up, we can just add more of the peat around the stems. No disruption of the main root, and the “hairs” on the stems will become new roots, making them hardier for when they finally get transplanted outside.

We planted 4 seeds in each cup. We shall see how many germinate, and how many make it to the transplant stage! The goal is for a total of 8 plants, but if we have extra… well, we’ll figure it out when the time comes. With the Mosaic Medley, it is a mix of cherry and grape tomatoes, so we will hopefully have several different varieties from the seeds that were planted, but I really don’t know how we’ll be able to tell until they start fruiting, really. There are plenty of seeds left in that packet, too.

Here they are, all in a row along the front of the big tank. Once they start sprouting, if it seems they aren’t getting enough light, we can place the extra aquarium light over the tank above them.

At which point, I call your attention to the onions, behind them.

The bulb onions (Norstar) in the self-watering tray are doing all right. The K-cups are actually doing better than the ones in the Jiffy pellets, which was a surprise for me. In fact, so many seeded pellets didn’t germinate, I reseeded many of them (plus a few K-cups), and they seem to be doing better now. The K-cups dry out much faster, and don’t water from below as well as the pellets. Unfortunately, watering the taller K-cups without also over watering the pellets has been a challenge. In the future, I would not want to mix the two again.

As for the shallots in the egg trays… Hmm.

I had thought that the wet cardboard of the egg trays might help the plugs stay moister, longer, but they seem to have done the opposite. They seem to be drying them out faster, and with this set up, I don’t have the space to put trays under them, to be able to water them from below. I’ve been using a spray bottle to water them from above, but … well, they really seem to be struggling. And I can’t even plant more, because all of the shallot seeds were used up in these trays.

Then there are the bunching onions, in the small tank.


The cat damage didn’t just wreck a lot of plugs, but it looks like the peat was contaminated, too. On one tray, a white mold has started to grow, while on the other tray, there is what looks like a more yellowish mold. Lack of air circulation in the tank certainly wasn’t helping matters.

That will not be as much of a problem now, at least. The window screen I found in the shed to replace the lid seems to be working, even though it is bigger than the tank. The frame along one side juuuuussssttt fits in the narrow gap between the tank and the wall, which means the tank itself helps hold the screen in place. A couple of 5 pound hand weights on the back, and it seems to actually be working. Yes, we did have a cat knock it off by going on the overhang, but since the weights have been added, that seems to have solved it.

On removing the light fixture from the lid, I had a slightly different issue. There is no “back” to the light bars, and while the waterproof tubes the lights are in have a dark strip along where it would have been against the lid, there was still a lot of light in every other direction. For now, I’ve simply placed the fixture on top of the metal mesh of the screen, then placed a somewhat-cut-to-size piece of rigid insulation, wrapped in aluminum foil, on top. All that “wasted” light is now being reflected downwards. It seemed darker in the tank, possibly because of the mesh itself, so I put aluminum foil around the sides of the tank, too. The foil wrapped “backing” for the light seems to be working well, so I plan to attach the light fixture to it, rather than just have it sitting loosely on top. I had intended to mount the light to the underside of the screen, but it actually seems to be working okay, sitting on top. As long as the cats leave it alone. They don’t seem to like the overhang of the screen, though, and only a couple of the kittens have been willing to make the effort to get past it.

We have a very small, light fan that can sit right on the screen and provide air circulation in the tank. For now, we’ve been switching the little fan back and forth between the tanks, until we feel it’s time to start using the oscillating room fan that’s on a stand.

I’m pretty sure those bunching onions are a lost cause, though.

So we had two things to deal with; the too dry shallots, and the dying bunching onions.

The girls took care of the shallots for me, while I made a run to the post office. They had to get creative, because… cats.

They put the seedlings into baking pans with water in them, to water the seedlings from below. That needed time, but they found that the under-bed storage container that we’ve been using to contain our potting mess was large enough to cover and protect both trays.

They successfully foiled the cats!

There was room for three more cups in the big tank, though, and we still had seeds for the bunching onions. So when I got back from my errands, I decided to plant more of them.

The shallots were well dampened by then, so I slid them back onto the pieces of insulation we’re using tho carry them, and put them back in the tank. Then I filled three double cups with peat and put about a dozen seeds, at least, in each cup. The seeds are all about half an inch apart, so I’ll be able to easily thin them, if necessary, or separate them for transplanting, later on.

And I still have seeds for the bunching onions left over!

So that is done. Tomato seeds have been planted, shallots have been, hopefully, rescued, and new bunching onion seeds have been planted.

The next batch of seeds that we will need to start are the gourds.

But not for another month or so.

Hopefully, by then, it will be warm enough even overnight, that the onions and tomatoes can be safely transferred to the sun room, so we can use the fish tank aquariums for the next batch of seed starts.

A little more garden progress, done! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

5 thoughts on “Our 2021 garden: starting tomatoes, and onion follow up

    • Thanks for sharing!

      It took me until now, with repeated reloads and finally having to do a workaround, just to see it.

      WordPress has NOT been working for me lately! Blogs I follow won’t load, and then when they finally do, the comments and “like” buttons still don’t work. I can’t even load my own blog, half the time. I’m currently responding to this from the editor, because I can’t even comment on my own blog!

      Are you having the same issues?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My tomatoes never stopped blooming from last year. Most of the fruit was taken by critters but that’s fine.

    Yes… cardboard egg cartons will pull moisture from plants.

    I’m trying to convince my neighbor to add gourds or pumpkins to his front yard veggie garden. Maybe I’ll drop some seeds when he’s not home!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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