Here we go again with more pictures of…dirt

One of the strange and potentially funny side effects of having a gardening blog is that we’ve ended up with an inordinate amount of pictures of dirt. Granted, it is usually dirt that’s brimming with newly-planted seeds, but really, it’s still dirt. There’s nothing wrong with that – it does show the process and all — but it’s still a little bit odd.

So how’s about that dirt?!

Well first, how about the reason for taking pictures of said dirt? It’s because we got around to planting seeds, that’s why! This past weekend, we enjoyed a really lovely and warm Saturday. It was followed by a much cooler Sunday, and by the looks of the forecast, things are going to remain on the cooler side for a bit. With that in mind, we knew we could plant seeds that could handle a slight dip in temps, such as lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, and radishes.

Planting prep tip #1: identify what you want to plant. Easy peasy!

On something of a whim, we decided to include flowers and herbs, along with a few other surprises, because we now have a slightly different planting situation with two of the raised beds. Namely, we replaced the old, rotting boards with concrete blocks.

This is the “new and improved” raised bed #4.
And this is the “new and improved” raised bed #2. We can barely tell them apart, too.

The reason for including other seeds in the mix — flowers and herbs and such — is because of all the surrounding planting “spaces” that we now have thanks to the concrete blocks. In those spaces we wanted to place a variety of items that might repel rabbits, or if the rabbits happen to get curious, at least distract them from what’s actually in each bed. As we’ve said before, the keyword with the garden this year is experiment.

So, in raised bed #2 we placed two lettuce varieties, along with kale and spinach. In the outer planting “blocks,” we planted various flowers and herbs — basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro — in an alternating pattern. In raised bed #4 are two types of arugula, along with two other types of lettuce. Around the edges of this raised bed, we got a little crazy and planted not only flowers and herbs, but also radishes, carrots, and even onions! While we seem to have the best of luck with radishes, the same can’t be said of either carrots or onions, but with the deeper plots, we decided, what the heck! We had the seeds already — the onions we hadn’t bothered with for a couple years — so why not see if they happen to take?

Meanwhile, we also placed radish seeds in our two half-barrels.

Barrel #1 with Saxa II and Round Black Spanish radishes.
Barrel #2 with Malaga and White Hailstone radishes. …and an unknown volunteer plant that we were too curious about the get rid of.

So there you have it. Pictures of lots of dirt. But hopefully it’s dirt that will soon be full of little seedlings!

We’ll sign off here with two more pictures that we couldn’t resist taking. Remember the little volunteer broccoli bush from a couple weeks ago? Well, it’s gone perfectly gigantic!

It is literally growing up and out of the net cage!

We’re going to have to remove it when we redo this particular bed, which we use for peas and broccoli (haha), in concrete blocks, but for now, it’s pretty wild-looking. And it does have those nice, yellow flowers on it.

A similar thing happened to our asparagus stalks. Seemingly overnight, the stalks grew into small trees!

Our previous attempts at asparagus have also gone to seed, but not quite like this!

The garden is nothing if not a constant source of wonder. 🙂

 

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What’s going in the garden this year? Good question!

Around this time each season, we’ve worked on preparing our planting maps. Using, umm…highly sophisticated drawing software (read: MS Paint), we outline our planting beds and decide where to put everything from beans to kale to tomatoes.
Just one example from last year. See, highly sophisticated graphics and all.

Well, this year, we’re doing things differently.

 

For one, we’re skipping the planting maps. Well…we’re skipping preparing them in advance, anyway. Driving this is the seedlings.

Lookin’ good!

We have so many potential tomatoes and peppers that we want to plant them all! So, outside of the beds where we’ve been planting beans, cucumbers, peas, squash, and greens — those will remain — we’re going to transplant all the peppers and tomatoes first, in all available spaces, and then we’re going to fill in any extra spaces with other crops. At that point, we’ll fill in our planting maps just to keep track of what’s been planted where.

Because of this, secondarily, the garden may be a little less diverse than it has been in past years. We’ll likely skip planting a number of things that have been hit-or-miss, such as okra, soybeans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and possibly ground cherries and radishes. But we’ll see how things go. A lot will depend on how well the pepper and tomato seedlings take.

Now, because we’re replacing the wood raised beds with concrete blocks, we’re hoping to take advantage of the spaces within the blocks themselves to try planting a few underground items in them, such as carrots and radishes, that need the extra length.
While the aesthetics might leave something to be desired, the practicality is where it’s at.

 So what’s going in the garden this year will be mostly tomatoes and peppers, along with our usual complement of bush beans, pole beans, cucumbers, various squash, greens and lettuces. Additionally, we’ll be planting a variety of flowers as rabbit-proofing, as well as a few surprises. It should all be very interesting, at least.

We sign off with our lovely strawberries, which just started blooming. June can’t come soon enough!

Time to Start the Seeds!

You know how they say “time to make the donuts?” Well, this is just like that except that it’s time for us to make new plants, instead! Yep, our efforts to get on a good schedule with our seedlings began this past weekend. We got all four trays planted and incubated without issue.

As we said a few posts ago, this year we’re going to endeavor to not “cook” our poor seedlings; rather, we’re only keeping them shielding by a sheet of mylar on the front of the shelving unit until the seeds start to germinate. (The mylar on the back of the unit will stay as it helps aid in reflecting the light.) Once the seedlings start to grow, we’ll remove the front sheet and simply keep them warm, when needed, using one of our portable heaters.

In terms of what’s actually in the trays, here are our seed maps for the year:

In the first two trays are only tomatoes. Larger varieties are in Tray 1…

…while we placed smaller varieties, such as cherry and grape tomatoes, in Tray 2. Any dated notations in each tray refer to saved seeds and the years in which we saved them.

Tray 3 is all about peppers. We’ve got four rows of hot peppers (A, B, C, and D), followed by all sweet peppers. The exception is the Jalapenos in Row L. We haven’t had very good luck with them in the past; figured that perhaps placing them on an end row might make a difference? (Eh, we don’t have a scientific basis for this, but it can’t hurt, anyway.)

And then in Tray 4, we planted a couple more rows of pepper seeds, and then filled up the rest of the rows with this year’s experiment: starting flowers indoors!

While we’ll be planting flower seeds directly come May, we wanted to see if we could give any a head start with indoor planting. You might not believe it (we sure didn’t!), but here, just a few days after planting the seeds, some of the Ornamental greens and Nema-Gone marigold seedlings are already coming up! It’s rather amazing!

Super seedlings!

We’ll be keeping a close eye on things here in the first couple weeks. Then, once more seedlings starts to emerge in earnest, we’ll be doing even more babysitting to ensure that they grow strong and hardy. Seed starting is always a lot of work and worry, but hopefully it’ll all pay off in 6-8 weeks time.

New Year, New Seeds

Over the past couple years, we’ve done pretty good with seed saving. And at the end of each season, we tell ourselves that “we’re not going to buy as many seed next year.” And then, January arrives and so do the seed catalogs. Despite whatever we think of our willpower in November, those catalogs with their pretty pictures and feelings of new hope completely sap it. That said, we didn’t buy as many new seeds this year as we have in the past. So, maybe our willpower is getting a little stronger. Or maybe we’re just running out of space to store so many seeds. Whatever that case may be, here’s a run down of just a few new things we hope to grow this year.


1. Flowers
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We mentioned last week that part of our critters-fighting initiate this year involves planting more flowers, and more varieties of flowers. Particularly flowers that rabbits don’t care for. We knew that marigolds fell into this category, and discovered that many others did as well, such as alyssum because of how they smell, strawflowers because of their papery texture, and snapdragons because…um, well…can’t quite remember why, but it seemed like fun to try to grow them.

2. Beurre de Rocqencourt wax beans
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Fancy name aside, we’ve had pretty good luck with string beans in the past. Our past efforts focused primarily on purple varieties, though up until last year we had been planting yellow wax beans as well. We ran out of seeds last year, and opted to plant other things. This year, we return to tasty and tender wax beans with this particular French variety.


3. Fort Portal Jade pole beans
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Sometime, you just gotta try something that looks pretty. 🙂 That’s not entirely the reason why we decided to purchase these lovely teal-colored pole beans — they looks rather sickly in the picture, but they are a nice shade of green-blue in real life — but it’s certainly part of the reason. Plus, they add to our bean stash, so that’s okay, too.

4. 42-day tomatoes
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In having trouble with our tomatoes last year, one of the possible “remedies” we read about was to try planting tomatoes with shorter ripening periods. So when we came across this “42-Day” cherry tomato variety, we decided to give it a go. According to the description, this little red tomato is supposed to ripen only about 42 days after transplanting. It seems a little farfetched, but it’s worth a shot!

 5. Baby carrots
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Ever since starting our garden, carrots have eluded us. In fact, our soil is just so clay-ey and dense that we’ve pretty much avoided most underground plants — potatoes, onions, and carrots. We did manage to grow a decent crop of stubby carrots a couple years ago, and they were actually very tasty. And since we can grow radishes without issue, maybe our solution lies in radish-shaped carrots? When we found this packet of round, baby carrots seeds, they seems to fit the bill. Also, they look too cute to eat. (Though if we actually get any, we’re sure that won;t be the case!)

Honorable mention: Romanesco
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It’s worth saying that, although we can seem to grow broccoli or head lettuces to save our lives, we’re going to give romanesco another shot. It’s such a unique, and, as we understand it, tasty vegetable that we simply have to try again with it. We first tried planting it two years ago, but nothing came of that attempt. Maybe we’ll have better luck this year?

This year’s garden is surely going to be a mix of old favorites and new experiments, so the results should be interesting. Next weekend it’ll  be time for seed starting, and we’ll be back then with an update!

P. S. With the crazy up -and-down weather we’ve been having lately (70s one day, 40s the next), our daffodils don’t know if they’re coming or going. They look a little wilty at present, but with warmer temps showing up later this week, maybe they’ll be a little happier then.

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What we’re doing differently this year with seed starting

Learning has been a big part of this whole gardening thing that we’ve been doing. During our hibernation months, we take time to figure out what went wrong (and right) that past season and then figure out how to improve things in the next season. Starting at the beginning of the process with seed starting, here are some changes we’ll be instituting this year:

  1. Start seeds later
    For the past few years, we’ve been starting seeds the last weekend in February. This year, we decided to see what happens if we push things up a week and start seeds the first weekend in March. A mere seven days might not seem like it’d make much difference, but we want to see if we might be able to time out spring transplanting a little better. Before last year, our seedlings were ready to transplant way before the garden (and weather) was ready. Last year, we had such problems getting the seeds to take at all that it seemed like were were starting new seeds every few weeks. This year we want to see if we can structure things a little better, so we’re planning for a six- to eight-week block for the seeds from the start of March to mid- or late-April.
  2. Change up the seed lighting
    For lighting the seeds, we’ve been using florescent plant lights. And they’ve been great and easy to use. But last year, late in the seed-starting cycle, we added a full-spectrum bulb to one of the shelves, and it actually worked better than we expected for the few tomatoes seedlings that we finally got to take. So this year we’re going to add more full-spectrum bulbs and see if they help even further.
  3. Start fewer types of seeds
    Truth be told, we know that we’ve gone a  little overboard with the number of seeds we’ve prepared each year (4 trays of 72 cups each — that’s a lot of plants!). Not all of those seeds did well when transplanted, and many died before they got even that far. So this year we’re going to focus on starting only tomato and pepper seeds indoors, along with a few flowers. We’re going to plant greens, lettuces, kale, romanesco, and a few other things directly outside after the first frost, rather than start them indoors as we have been doing. We’ve learned that we have much better luck with direct-sowing these plants. Whether or not we do 4 full trays of just tomatoes and peppers (and flowers) remain to be seen.
  4. Add more heat (in short spurts)
    With the way the weather has been going (i.e. unseasonable and unpredictable), we’ve been faced with the challenge of how to keep the seeds warm enough inside. We have heat mats, and they do okay for the tomatoes, but they’re just not warm enough for warm-loving seeds like peppers. Last year we tried keeping the seeds warm by covering the shelving unit in mylar. It actually worked great for awhile, but only ended up cooking most of the poor seedlings in the end. So this year we’re going to try using a few of our portable heaters to keep warm the general vicinity around the seeds. We only plan to do this for a an hour or two a day or every other day, and only if the temperature outside take a dip. The room that the seeds are in also contains a large sliding glass door, and it’s really good at sapping the room of its heat. So we may also temporarily insulate it until the outdoor temps become steadily warm.

As with all plans, they may change. Thankfully, gardening is a flexible hobby, and we have plenty of room for improvement and experimentation. So next week we’ll be taking a look at the things we’ll be doing differently outside. Again, we have some ideas, but it’s been so miserable outside lately that it’s been hard to imagine how they might work. We suppose that step one will be to simply clean up the yard, which has taken a beating this winter…and the winter’s not over yet!

But boy, do we wish it was!

On the Up and Up, and Weather Ups and Downs

So after a rather disastrous start to seed starting this year, it looks like we’re getting back on track, and happily so! Things are by no means perfect, but they are better, as the new round of seeds that we planted last week are doing mostly well.

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For example, above is the tray of newly-seeded tomatoes that were all but dead a week ago. Yes, the seedlings are spindly, and yes we still have light and temperature issues to contend with, but at least almost all of them came in and are growing.  In the pots next door, there are a variety of things growing. While we had to dispose of a couple guys that didn’t survive transplanting, everything left is stable enough.

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Though the trays in the two images above may not look like much at first glance, they are leaps and bounds better than the nearly empty trays of dead seedlings that were there. These trays contains mostly lettuces, mixed greens, and a few other oddballs. Whether or not everything comes up remains to be seen, but we did transplant a few of the larger seedlings into our little pots and replaced those cells with new seed starter and seeds, so we’ll see how things go.

The only thing not pictured here is the tray of pepper seeds, and that’s mostly because there’s nothing there to show. We transplanted a few more of the seedlings that had come up, but pepper seeds take much longer to germinate than most. Rather than add in new seeds now — it’s late enough into the season as is — we’re hopeful that a few more seeds that we planted last week will come along before the end of the month.

We had such good pepper crops these past couple years, it’s a shame to think of not having one this year, but part of gardening is learning to roll with the punches and being thankful for what does make it. This is been a very strange Winter/Spring transition with temperature peaks and valleys that mimic sine graphs. One day the house is super warm and the next it is super cold. Hard to keep the little seedlings completely happy when we don’t even know if we’ll need blankets or fans! And now they’re calling for snow showers over the weekend. Sheesh! Maybe we’ll get back out in the yard…someday…

Starting Over, Sort Of

So last time we revealed the problems we encountered with this year’s crop of seedlings — that’s to say, they just weren’t making it. While things initially looked like they got off to a rip-roaring start, all was not well, and the bulk the seedlings that had come up were dying. So this past weekend, we decided to start over, in a sense, despite it being late in the seedling, um…season. This involved saving the seedlings that were doing okay and replanting the trays.

After reviewing the trays, we counted a few dozen seedlings — mostly tomato seedlings — that looked okay to move out of the trays. They still had leaves and weren’t too wilted. Then we made a trip to our favorite dollar store to pick up about a million…or maybe just 50 little terra cotta pots. (In the past we used dixie cups to hold seedlings that were too young to put outside but too big for the seed trays. This year we decided to go with something more reusable, hence, the terra cotta pots.) And we also got a few plastic trays to hold the pots. We already had plenty of coir/seed starting mix, as well as a stash of soil, so we we’re ready to go with our dollar store haul.

Small, yes, but the perfect size for holding small seedlings.
Small, yes, but the perfect size for holding small seedlings.

Back at the abode, we divvied out the pots onto the plastic trays and set about labeling them, filling them each with a bit of fresh soil, and moving the “good” seedlings to their new homes. Once that was done, we fully replanted most of trays according to our trays maps. We had to make a few adjustments, as in some cases, such as with the tomatillos and the special Planet Hybrid peppers, we didn’t have any more seeds. In their places we planted more tomatoes and arugula.

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Go, little seedlings! Go!

So here we are, keeping close watch on the transplanted seedlings and waiting to see what comes of the newly-planted seeds. We’re back on track with watering and aren’t using the mylar “blankets” to keep things overly warm. Instead, we ‘re just going to hope for the best. Frankly, in a couple of weeks we’ll be able to start planting seeds of lettuces, other greens, and peas outdoors. And shortly after that, it’ll be time to plants beans, cucumbers, squash, and transplanting any tomatoes and peppers. So whatever makes it indoors, makes it, and we’ll be grateful enough for that. 🙂

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Part of gardening is accepting the challenge of gardening. Nobody said it was going to be easy!