Sowing 2007-2008

Sowing 2007 - 2008

June - November 2007

Hybridizing

The problem with hybridizing for me is I am hardly ever at home at the time of day when the crosses should be made.  When I am at home, there is so much to do I don't get around to making any crosses.

I only managed to make 2 crosses:

  • H. 'Eos' x H. 'Sky Dancer'
  • H. 'Sky Dancer' selfed (which is, technically speaking, not a cross).

I promised myself that I would start with the 2008-2009 hybridizing scheme early in 2008, harvesting pollen of the early flowering cultivars.

Sowing preparations

Last seasons results were pretty satisfactory, apart from a few problems and setbacks:

  • a power surge caused the loss of a considerable part of the indoors seedlings; among them were, sadly enough, all the seedlings from seeds my kids, Romy and Arno received fro the USA;
  • after this surge, I had to struggle with pathogen fungi and moulds;
  • sowing outdoors wasn't much of a success, for which the bad sowing medium I used outdoors was to blame.

As for the first problem, the power surge, there isn't very much I can do about it, except for checking on the sowing installation twice a day.  Seeds that for some reason have some added value to us, will be sown in two batches, each in a different part of the sowing installation, at different times.

Fungi and moulds I will try to prevent to the best of my abilities, since it is better to prevent than to cure.  Circumstances force me to sow under tense air (in an almost air-tight environment). 
In an unheated room, the only available option is a heated indoors greenhouse, just to keep the temperature of the soil and air at an adequate level.  Without the plastic dome to cover it, the air temperature for the seedlings is to low, and the water evaporates extremely fast; watering the plants very frequently will, even with the soft water in out neighborhood, lead to a fast build up of an overdose of lime and other minerals in the growing medium, disastrous conditions for seedlings.
A hot, humid atmosphere on the other hand is ideal for moulds and other pathogen organisms.  That's why I will work as close to sterile as possible.

This requires special characteristics in the sowing medium.  I had to find a soil-less soil with a perfect air-water balance, that doesn't decompose to fast and is easy to sterilize.
One major back draw : sterilizing doesn't only kill the bad organisms, but also the beneficial one's.  Sterile soil is dead soil, which will do for the germinating stage, but not ideal for growth.  I had to find a solution for this problem.

That came as a new hydroponics shop that opened near my work.

Piece by piece I bought my new breeding installation.

I already have one heated indoors sowing tray, and I bought this unheated one.
21x16,5x10"

A heating mat, 10 x 14", 15 watt.

Two lighting elements with reflector,
height adjustable.

2 lamps per element (2 x 55 watt), fluorescent lights with high light output and low heat production.

 

Two sowing inserts in hard plastic,  54 cells, that fit the sowing trays.

As a sowing medium, I chose pressed coco.  Add a gallon of water (boiled and cooled down to lukewarm) water , ant the result is a perfectly good sowing medium:
  • very good air/water balance;

  • doesn't compact, stays airy;
  • slightly acidic, ideal pH for hosta's;
  • stable, doesn't degrade, even reusable;
  • free of pathogens and moulds (I don't take this for granted, but it is a very clean product).

I'm always in for some experimenting.
To bring back life in the sterilized medium, I'll add this mixture of 24 fungi .  These fungi are 8 species of trichodermia and 16 species endo and ecto mycorrhizal. Trichodermia are very aggressive colonizers that enhance root mass, and provide excellent control from root rot, pythium and pytophethoria. 
The mycorrhizal fungi excrete powerful chemicals that dissolve mineral nutrients, absorb water, retard soil pathogens, and glue soil particles together into porous structure.
Mycorrhizal can expand the surface area of the root mass by 700%. Both plant and fungus benefit from the symbiotic relationship. Research has documented improved plant nutrient and water uptake and resistance to a wide range of soil diseases and environmental extremes.

Last, but not least, the fertilizer.  Jim Spence, AKA, is an expert on seedlings.  He goes for liquid tomato fertilizer (of course a weak solution for small seedlings) for optimal growth rates.  Starting one week after germination of the bulk of the seeds, I'll start applying 1/4 of a normal dose.

The labels are made of aluminum  strips, written on with a weather proof marker.

December 9 2007 - Kick Off

All seeds have been harvested, cleaned and packed in little paper bags.  For each bag a label is made.

All materials that will be used are thoroughly washed and afterwards soaked in a bleach solution..

Arno, our 5 year old son helps me to prepare the sowing medium.  First we wash up our hands, put the coco brick in a clean bucket, add the clean, boiled water.  Than we wait for about two hours and our mixture is ready.  A couple of minutes in the microwave, and we're almost done.

After the soil has cooled down, add 3 grams of Piranha powder, mix everything again and we can fill up the sowing tray for the heated greenhouse (the other one will be used in a couple of weeks).

Label in a cell, sprinkling the seeds on the surface and repeat until all the cells are filled.

A capillary mat is placed on the bottom of the greenhouse .  This will provide an even spreading of the water and a good distribution of the bottom heat.  Plug it in and ... let the germinating begin.

It's uncommon, but I turn on the light from day 1.  This gives some extra heating of the air, which will result in the seeds sprouting much faster and more prolific.

26 December 2007

The first experiment didn't turn out as it should.

The germinating percentage is way to low.  What's the cause ?  Probably it's just to hot in the incubator.
Many of the seedlings die just after germination, burned by the heat of the lights combined with the bottom heating.
The solution is simple: turn of the bottom heat and cover the seeds with a thin layer of sowing medium.
I wonder if the amount of soil in an individual cell isn't to small.  Less soil means more important fluctuations in temperature: faster heating up, faster cooling down.  Also administering the correct dose of liquid feed and mycorrhizae isn't  easy this way.  For my next attempt I will use 1 liter boxes (Chinese takeaway). 

When I turn of the bottom heating, another problem arises: the seed tray is in an unheated space.  Therefore I build a casing of thick rock wool sheets around it: sides, bottom and back.  The front can be covered with a blanket on really cold days.

One precaution I took now pays off: I saved a least half the seeds for almost all of the batches in the first attempt, so there is plenty left for a second round.

22 January 2008

The new approach is working.  The results up till have shown some spectacular improvement.

This is the setup in "normal condition".  The plastic dome will be left on for as long as possible.

The seeds were covered with a rather thick layer of sowing mixture.

The germinating percentage now is extremely high.  None of the seedlings has burned or damped off.  Some white ones died, but that's due to the absence of chlorophyll; they just weren't viable.

The container left front, middle and right back were only set up a week ago, still waiting for the most of the seeds to germinate.