It is impossible to recall the origins of all of the various techniques I use when gardening. A few things were certainly absorbed watching my grandfather and dad grow their gardens, but I was very young. I devoured the various Crockett Victory Garden books in preparation for our first gardens (the ones on flowers and vegetables - just so inspiring).
Our first garden, in 1981, was a mix of great soil (well manured each year by a local farmer, planted in a community college plot for graduate students), a few six packs of things from the local garden center, and direct seeding following directions on the packets or in seed catalogs.
When it became primarily about tomatoes, and starting everything from seed, I probably thought things through and used what seemed to be a logical approach to get from seed to seedling to transplant. The dense planting technique I've used since the early 1990s arose from need; how to produce thousands of healthy seedlings without a greenhouse? Plant them thick! I didn't research it (there was no YouTube then, and no Google).
This was all well and good and safe, because all of the risk was mine; failure meant no plants, but it didn't mean trouble for those following closely any particular technique that I was using. The big change occurred once Epic Tomatoes came out in late 2014 and many of my gardening techniques were described in as much detail as was deemed appropriate for a book on tomatoes. Adding to the "exposure" (that word describes perfectly what it feels like) was social media - YouTube, the ease of recording an update on a Flip Video camera, or posting pictures on a blog.
As I type this, I am keenly aware that some of the techniques I use resonate with many other gardeners. I've described it during podcasts, it has been shown on the Growing a Greener World TV episode, and I discuss it in my talks. We finally, then, come to the nub of this blog entry, one which I've wanted to get down in words for awhile.
Many gardening techniques have more variables, and have more complexity, than it first seems. The act of starting seeds, for example, has infinite variations, and each variation has many steps, some easy to see and some subtle and tiny, and eventual success can ride on any one, or several, steps. It is extremely challenging to use text, or words, or even video, to show every single aspect. Not only that, but the aspects can be adjusted on the fly (if changes seem to be warranted), which brings additional changes and variations. None of this is bad of course - it enriches the experience of gardening, it broadens things beyond a straight line of simple steps into a process that requires thought and reason and adjustments all along the pathway.
Let's discuss and break down the dense planting technique just a bit, starting by listing all of the variables: when to start, type of seed, age of seed, presence of seed borne disease, planting depth, seed density, type of soil less mix used, sterility of the mix, amount of water used to wet the mix, moisture at the top near the seed, type of tray used, usage of heat mat - yes or no, and if so, the particular temperature of the mat and its impact on the soil, temperature of the room and its impact on temperature of the soil, use of covering - plastic wrap or dome or none, frequency of removing and flipping the plastic or opening the dome, temperature near the seeds at the surface, presence or absence of light, and if present, what type of light, presence of damping off or other fungus in the environment that can impact the health of the seedlings, presence or absence of insects that can impact the health of the seedlings.