Saturday, February 23, 2008

Greening up - Inside and out

This is what I've been longing for - new sprouts! Some of the peppers I planted inside last Sunday sprouted today, and a couple days ago I discovered some more of my wintersown seeds had sprung up. What a genuine delight to see the beautiful, fragile babies lift their heads up from the soil in search of the sun.

I planted 10 varieties of pepper seeds last weekend - all sweet but one. Today the lone hot pepper seedlings, named Tam Jalapeno, a mildly hot pepper, peeked out of the soil. They were soon joined by a sweet pepper named simply Orange Bell. I wasn't expecting to see any sprouts for a couple mored days at least, based on last year, but then, I've changed some of my
technique this year and added new varieties. So I was running around installing fluorescent lights on the wood shelving and making up a batch of tonic to prevent damping-off disease.

Outdoors the cauliflower and broccoli are still doing well - and it STILL amazes me that they are surviving and actually have even grown a little, albeit slowly. I don't know that it helps, but I cover their containers nightly with old flannel sheets since the temps still go down as low as 15 degrees sometimes. I first became aware my wintersown Poppies had sprouted on Thursday, and today there are twice as many and those that were already up have doubled in size. This wintersowing is amazing! This method is going to allow me to raise dozens more seedlings than I could have done indoors, and save me a big chunk of change at the nursery.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pepper seeds are in the dirt

Finally – Pepper seed planting time! I have been looking forward to this day since New Year’s, planning it for the last month, and preparing for it all week.

I tried homemade newspaper pots last year, but wasn't too thrilled with them. So this year I found some vintage cups to plant in – mostly old wax coated paper cups, with holes punched in the bottom and sides for drainage and air flow. I filled them with pre-dampened Miracle-Gro potting soil, then placed them in water-tight flats. I plan to water by pouring into the flats, so it soaks up into the cups from the bottom. Until the seeds germinate I've got them covered in plastic wrap. Then as they germinate I'll move the cups to other flats with overhead lighting.

For markers I cut off several of the plastic blades from a broken vinyl mini-blind and trimmed them into 3-5 inch lengths with a pointed end to slide into the potting mix. I marked the variety and date planted on them with a black felt tip pen.

To prepare the pepper seeds, I made up some of Jerry Baker’s seed starting tonic (weak tea, Epsom salts and baby shampoo). I used little plastic bottles from baby fruit juices that my daughter saved for me – cleaned thoroughly, poured in a couple tablespoons of the tonic, added the seeds and marked the bottle with a sticky note to identify the variety. These soaked overnight outdoors since the temps were between 35-50, but could be put in fridge for up to 24 hours.

To give the pepper seeds the warmth needed to germinate, I put one flat on an old waterbed heating pad that has a thermostat controller. The other flat sits one shelf above a food dehydrator I put on the bottom shelf to provide some heat. All of this is located on a free-standing wooden shelving unit I bought for $5 at a yard sale last summer. I placed it in front of a west-facing window, and placed heavy-duty foil on the shelves to help reflect light - all in preparation for when the new seedlings will need lots of light. I will also attach fluorescent under-cabinet style lights to the bottom-sides of the wooden shelves with chains so they can be lowered/raised to the correct distance from the baby plants. I have a timer, so I'll use that too for turning on and off the lights instead of relying on my memory!

While the blustery winds blew and drizzling rain spat, I stayed dry, warm and ever-so happy, planting and dreaming of sunny garden days ahead. :)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

First wintersown seedlings

I have seedlings! My first-time wintersowing has proven successful so far as the broccoli and cauliflower are least they germinated. I have some concerns about how I'm going to keep them from freezing, as it will be in the low-20's tonight and probably similar temps for a few more weeks. I covered the containers that have germinated with an old flannel sheet, doubled over, for tonight. And I saved some of the seed, so I'll get a 2nd shot if this first-attempt fails. But I'm hopeful, and I've developed a plan. If the seedlings make it to the point of having their first true leaves, I'll transplant them first to a couple of large black tubs I have. I'll add some composted soil to the dirt that is already in them, transplant the babies, then cover with a piece of clear plastic that has some small slits in it for air transpiration. This should work like a cold-frame and give them some growing room while I finish getting the garden beds ready. Hopefully by March I can move them into their permanent beds and, with luck and good weather, be eating garden-fresh broccoli and cauliflower by mid-April!

I would transplant directly into the
garden, but we've been deciding how to deal with the flooding problem that has taken out part of my beds for the 4th time in the last 9 months. Today Larry helped me "plant" a long board at the east end of the garden to help prevent runoff water from getting into the beds. That had to be done so I don't lose anymore compost or other materials that I want to add to the beds. We also need to create a diversion - a berm of sorts - that will help divert water before it ever reaches the garden. It is just unbelievable how much rainwater rushes through my garden when we get a heavy rain, stripping away the beautiful black dirt I've created and the wood chips that cover the walkways. Anyway, now that we've got at least part of our water-diversion plan in place, I think I will go ahead with adding compost and peat moss to rebuild the existing beds a bit, plus start laying out the foundation for the new beds.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Edamame to spare!

So last fall, after having come to fully appreciate Edamame (garden-type soybeans), I surfed the web trying to learn more and figure out what varieties are available. And I stumbled upon a very helpful site - more helpful than I would have guessed at first. They actually offered free beans for planting! I emailed them to see if the offer was still valid - and sure enough - all I had to do was email back my mailing info. That was last October, and today I got my beans, and in plenty of time, because like most beans, they need to be planted after last frost and the soil is plenty warm. There are 9 different packages, each with 30-40 beans. I had already bought a packet from Baker Creek Seed, to be sure I had plenty.

I am thrilled.
After my mini-crop last year of about 8 plants, I swore I'd have a full row next year! (Now maybe three?!?) They are so delicious, so easy to grow and cook, and freeze, and so nutritious, I'm compelled to spread the word. I checked the website again tonight and it seems the offer is still good.... see for yourself! National Soybean Research Laboratory

PHOTO: Soybeans from my garden last summer are the taller leafy plants in upper right

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Another Faux-Spring Day

Photo: summer 2007 at northeast corner of garden - looking toward the cellar dressed in Morning Glories, Sunflowers and Scarlet Runner Beans.

This afternoon was sumptiously warm, with that moist-earth smell that is so prevalent in spring. Good for my winter-depression, not so good for the wicked weather that is predicted to appear tomorrow in the form of thick, early-morning fog, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.

I wandered around the garden, dragging husband, Larry, with me telling him of my plans and ideas for my new beds this year. He often scratches his head over my recent obsession with gardening, since in the first 16 years of our marriage, I rarely did anything more than a tomato plant or two. But, he is good to help - at least some! Yesterday he climbed into the tiny attic in the wellhouse and dug out some of the old wax-coated cups his father had brought home from when he worked a the local paper-cup factory, back in the 60's. They
will make perfect seedling-starter cups when I start in on those in a couple of weeks. But for this weekend, I just planted a few more milk jugs with 2 kinds of onions, leeks, chard, and larkspur and "planted" them out with the rest of my wintersown experiments.

While we were surveying the plot I've chosen for my new veggie bed additions this year, our "extra" kid - Christen - we've know her since birth and she and our daughter, Fallan have practically been like sisters - drove in with another box of goodies for me! She works at a nearby grocery and has recently been assigned to the produce section. So, naturally, I asked her if they had much in the way of discarded fruits/veggies and so now I'm getting boxes full to dump in my compost pile - yeah! She was very interested in my gardening methods and ended up borrowing my Lasagna Gardening book to take home to share with her mom. Maybe I'll have another garden-buddy to trade ideas, plants and seeds with soon!
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