Thursday, March 6, 2014

Spring & Winter Break

My Spring Break begins tomorrow at noon. Looks like it will coincide with a break from WINTER too! Monday we are suppose to see 62F- OHMYGAWD. While it may have been ( I shouldn't speak too soon) the coldest winter in 40 years I honestly felt that it wasn't so bad. Maybe because it seemed like a sunny winter? Just a feeling. March is slated to also be colder than  normal.

I finally feel like I can permanently move some of my spring things outdoors for hardening off. While we will still get T's below freezing (esp. at night) I think covering them with a thick blanket in this cold frame will suffice (please don't screw up). There is nothing that brings me greater pleasure by winter's end than all of these shades of green.
Lettuces, Bok Choy, Shallots, Leeks, Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Walking Stick Kale, Celery
in the temporary cold frame:
bricks, concrete blocks, old window = temp cold frame

Getting these out of the basement also means I finally have room to start other things, like a tray of Flowering Nicotianas & Blanket flower. So, starting tomorrow I will have room to start 4 more flats of things, likely all flowers. 

Plantling Progress:
Four kinds of Heirloom Petunias
The soil blocks are performing well. This is something I will definitely continue. 

Various Peppers
I'm almost surprised they have grown. I've taken them off heat and the basement has been
cooler than normal with the hard winter.

Nero Kale, Lovage, Valerian, Fennel, Snapdragons 
(from left to right) You can have mixed rows of seeds in a flat of soil blocks so long as they
have similar growing patterns (pace of growth, planting time).

This flat is way ahead of the other. This one was under the light timer that broke
and wouldn't shut off. The other flat is just starting to germinate.

Zaatar (left) and a flat of Tropical Milkweed (right)


Albeit not from the Garden. I've been tinkering. Left is Coffee, Pecan & Coco Nib bitters
and right is Tangerine, Coriander and Cardamon. Recipes from this book.

Sparkling Sour Cherry Wine
And no, the kitty isn't having it. I don't share.


The bees are taking advantage of the Sapsucker holes and sipping 
Maple sap on the warmer & sunnier days. 

Is Maple Sap the Bee's Knees?

The Witch Hazel blooms on a cloudy day. I wish I could
just sit and watch it for pollinators.

Tuesday March 4, 2014. For real. 

I think winter is closing her doors. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spontaneous Succulent Wire Baskets

It happened so fast. I had to make a drop off at the thrift store. Of course I had to go in. No, I actually had to. I promised I would pick up baskets for auction items and there they were- tiny wire baskets.

If it hadn't been such a very long winter...
If they hadn't been only 69 cents...
If I hadn't already had on hand succulents that needed dividing and...
potting soil and....
the this wouldn't have just happened today:


Tender succulents

The largest tea kettle has hens-n-chicks in it and I plan on filling the top with more hardy sedums once I have access to those growing outdoors already. The plan is to hang them...somewhere...from wire...once frost has cleared.

Just add water.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Long Winter

I like winter. This one has been particularly cold. It makes me want to start lots of seeds....earlier than they should be started. Maybe I will just have to transition some plants out sooner than expected. I do have the hoophouse for that purpose now. I'm also excited about starting seeds because I got a new toy! It's a soil block maker from Johnny's. I bought the 2 inch one because I thought I wouldn't need a 2nd transplanting with that size and they could go straight into the soil from here.
2 inch soil block maker 

Makes 40-44 blocks per flat depending on spacing
Knowing that these would probably dry out quicker I bought some trays without holes.
Notice the little impression this maker creates in the center of the block for placing the seeds.

Benefits: No more plastic containers, air pruned roots, no root binding, less transplant shock, no 2nd transplant (these will go straight into the ground from here, using less seed

Using less seed was a benefit I hadn't thought about until I went to plant. Normally I would dump an entire packet (really too much) into a pot and let the seedlings duke it out for resources. I think I will get more plants with this method and now I have seed lasting more than 1 season too. 

Here are my first successful seedlings: lettuces

Tomato picks for 2014
This is the fewest varieties of tomatoes I plan on starting in years. I've decided to keep growing the ones I like while trying new varieties and weeding out the least favs each season. I plan on having about 40 plants total. They are: 
Whites: Ivory Egg (2013) & Ivory Pear (new)
Blacks/Purples: Purple Russian (2013) & Black Plum (2013)
Stripes: Violet Jasper (new)
Pinks/red: German Lunchbox (grown for years), Illinois Beauty (new), Gezahnte (new)

I will also let the tiny red cherries and white currant tomatoes reseed around the garden/yard as usual. 

Just started
Valerian, Fennel, Lovage, Nero kale, Snapdragons, 3 kinds of petunias, Browalia

Kiddo got this teeny tiny egg greenhouse with herb seeds (50 seeds at least) for Xmas. I was skeptical of anything germinating, but of course I had to give it my best go. 

I think we counted about 32 seedlings and transplanted a bunch into a larger pot while several more seeds have since come up in the original egg.
Looks like dill, thyme, sage and basil.

What's Up?
 Spinach- finally! Had to do a second sowing and then bam.

 Pepper seeds up.

Tronchuda Cabbage on left. Russian kale on right.

Bok Choy
Today in Weather
Another snow day for the kid. Make that 5 in 2014. While we only received about 1in. I think there is ice underneath.

Seeds for birds 

What you don't see in this photo is the number of birds hiding in the "living fence" landscape. Having varying layers of woody plants (short shrubs, medium height shrubs, shrubs with berries, small trees) allows for lots of hiding places and food. Recently a Mocking Bird has taken up residence. I'm pretty sure it is because of the remaining Possum Haw, Viburnum and Chokeberry fruits to choose from. This is one of my favorite areas to look at. I just like all of the layers here. It also is hiding the frog pond- a secret play station for the kiddo. 

I'm trying to resist starting the tomato seeds, but honestly I'm not sure how much longer I can wait....

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Growing Anew

Happy New Year Friends.

Between reading Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet, hearing about an old debate and bet about population growth and resources between an economist and biologists this morning and viewing some of these fabulously made videos on permaculture and sustainable gardening/food harvesting I'm reminded of my ever-standing goal of growing as much of my own food in my own space as possible. And this is my resolution every year. And with that the New Year has begun with this:

 Spicy Coconut Squash Soup with Kale

The highlighted veg here is the squash. This dish can be made with either sweet potatoes (which I also have) or squash. This squash is Seminole. It is a wild squash that is very resistant to pests and disease and thus productive. I grew it for the first time and will continue to do so. We have problems with squash borers and stink bugs around here and this one seemed to not attract either. It is a small, variably-shaped, heather-orange skinned squash that grows rampant. 

Curry sauce base: 2 tsp salt, 3 cloves garlic, 1 small chili, 1 Tbs fresh ginger (attempting to grow my own now), 1 tsp coriander (ground), 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 can coconut milk (not exactly local), 2 c. water, 1 chopped onion sauteed 

After tasting the sweet squash (that I'm storing in my unheated garage) I decided to save the seeds. I just cleaned the pulp off under water and dried on a paper towel and then stored in a paper envelope.

Wild Seminole Squash Seeds

Seeds started:
12/25/13: started pepper seeds in baggies on water heater
12/26/13: started, but not yet up: spinach mix, celery, walking stick kale, forager kale
12/26/13: started and germinated: tronchuda cabbage (leafing cabbage), Russian kale, pak choi

Pak Choi

Sustainable gardening should take into consideration plants aside from those directly usable by humans. Diversity of plants and wildlife should be maintained as much as possible. With this in mind I have established a living fence on  my property. A living fence is in essence a hedgerow. This isn't a new idea to the old time farmers. It's just something we shouldn't have gotten away from. My living fence includes lots of native shrubs, wildflowers and vines. In a small attempt to help the struggling Monarch butterfly population I've begun adding more Milkweeds to my property, along with other native wildflowers I don't currently grow. Here is how I am stratifying & starting some of those seeds: 

Seed stratification
Stratification is the necessary exposure to a cold and moist period in order for many native perennial seeds to break dormancy. I've planted the seeds in pots, held in trays to hold some moisture and labeled. Nature is doing the rest of the work. 

Sustainable gardening for me includes feeding the birds. Since I moved into this property and greatly increased the diversity of plants and habitat options I have seen a significant increase in the number of species of birds I have and the number of birds in general, even while (and I hate to admit it) having outdoor cats. The only real reason I have outdoor cats is because they were abandoned pets that showed up and refuse to live in my home (tore through the screens to get out). 

House Sparrows

While House Sparrows are not native and there are a load of them in my yard and not the best example of diversity and sustainability they are here. They were introduced to this country the same year my house was built, 1851. Unless a disease wipes them out they aren't leaving. So, looking on the bright side these birds do eat seeds and insects, which are two reasons why having birds in sustainable farms and gardens is useful. 

Overwintering progress report
Most of the overwintered plants in my basement are looking as pathetic as they usually do this time of year, except for the chili peppers which are still very green and full of leaves. Maybe I've done a better job of keeping them watered this year? 

usual sad looking overwintered annuals

Habanero looking good

Mustard or Peach Habanero 

Today I will probably start another round of greens in the basement garden as I hope to have cycles of plants ready for early spring/late winter gardening. Very soon I will place my spring/summer seed order. I've already marked my catalogs. 

Gardening forces optimism on me. 
I need that. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Freezing Rain Reflection

Has it really been 2 months since I last blogged? Eek gads. Where to even begin?

Frost & weather reports:
First frost: October 25th
First killing frost: November 11th

We had several evenings in the teens, followed by a week in the 50s-60's and now we are facing another week below freezing with a "wintery mix" that has begun (yesterday was 65F) with a thin sheet of pellets.

NOAA seasonal forecast says that the midwest will have an equal chance of both above or below normal conditions so...whatever that means.

Raised bed reports
The lettuces under cover in the brick bed are thriving. I cover them with an old heating blanket when it dipped in the teens and mulched around them with leaves. The seedlings (rutabaga, turnips) that were in the other brick bed have disappeared. Initially I had poor germination and then the rollies ate what was there and then they disappeared all together. I'm having more and more troubles with the rollies this year. I can't seem to keep seedlings or young starts. I guess I have too much mulch/protection for them.

Hoophouse report
The hoop house is doing great. It withstood some crazy winds that resulted in complete destruction of it last year. I only had to do a little tucking back into place this time. The ground has still not frozen inside. It can get incredibly warm in there on sunny days and at least one time ( a night around 14) I saw the first frost on the parsley (but near the doorway). Otherwise, seeds are germinating, stuff is growing (albeit slowly) and I'm harvesting kale, chard, parsley and cilantro. I am having problems with either or both rollies and slugs. I don't know what happened to my 3 toads, but they aren't doing their job!

I think the key is, and this is difficult to do, but to start seedlings earlier (during the heat and drought of the summer). The most successful plants are the kale and these were the ones the plants self-sowed themselves. Many of my transplants have been eaten or aren't growing quick enough to harvest. The peas are still growing and I hope to have an early crop from them. I should probably start more on the south side wall.

I've been amazed at the success of starting seeds in there. I think everything I started has germinated. The benefit of the seedlings in the containers raised off of the ground is that the rollies haven't discovered them either.
Stuff I'm eating in November.
Suggestions for next year:
Start winter seedlings earlier- probably will have to do this in the basement since it is so hot & dry outside late summer. Grow more peas in hoop. Have a pot of green onions in the hoop. The ones growing in the garden have been good, but the days in the teens frostbit the growing tips back. Keep more herbs in the hoop- parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, etc. Add another shelf in the hoop for vertical gardening- gives more growing space w/o changing the footprint of the hoophouse.
Harvest more green maters. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've actually been good at keeping up with eating them and not letting them rot in the basement this year AND they have been delish. How special is it to have fresh salsa in November?
100% fresh and homegrown salsa in November

 Hoophouse Dreams
    Lots of seedlings coming up in litter buckets.   

          Cilantro, spinach, lettuces, broc, pansies

           Happy Pansies                                                            

                                            Kale havested

Ginger slowly growing

 I need to have these every winter

Experimental yogurt cheese from 2lb container Greek yogurt.
Mix 3/4 tsp salt. Drain in cheesecloth, twisting tighter several times over 2-3 days.
Very nice on toast. 

Meager potato harvest. Kennebecs. I'll keep trying. The sweet potato harvest yield- 2, 5gallon buckets. Most had split, but were large. I started with 1 bundle of Georgia Jet starts.

                                              Made some Rhus Juice from sumac berries we collected on
         our Thanksgiving hike, mashed in warm water, 
strained and added honey. Good!

Try to appreciate the fine and rare things of winter. 
Until next post-Peace.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Fall in the Garden

Just a few quick updates.

I have waited to harvest the mother load of peppers until many were red. It also means I can process the greatest number at once. I use these mainly for these 3 purposes: beans & rice, soups, breakfast taters.
I think I should plant an entire garden bed of assorted peppers next year and stake them! Most of these were weighing the plants down.

Pepper harvest:
Includes Red Marconi, Jimmy Nardello frying peppers, Friariello di Napoli, bananas, bells.

Prepping for freezing: 
Wash cycle

Chop and spread on cookie sheet for freezing.
Once frozen through store in freezer bags.

While I'm at it- saving seed.
I've decided I need to do more of this. The best reason
to start keeping seed is that I should be able to establish my own
ecotype strain of plants that do best in my garden over time.

This Pandora Striped Rose eggplant got huge, but didn't produce a lot of fruit. I grew 3 varieties of eggplant this year and the Japanese types did the best. I think I should just stick with those. I'd also like to grow more eggplant next year. 

Seedling progress. At least some of all of the seed I started in pots is up now- leeks, spinach, kale, pak choi, broccoli, parsley, cilantro and lettuce. In the raised beds the turnips and rutabaga have germinated and in the hoop house some seedlings of either or both kale and sprouting broccoli have germinated. I'm still waiting to see if any of my Cascadia Peas come up. 

Hoop house slow progress:
Still collecting brick. Planted 1 parsley, 6 bright lights chard and 3 tree collards.
Seedlings popping up on right side. 

Harvested Oaxacan Green corn. 
Traditionally used by the Zapotec Indians of S Mexico 
for green tamales.

Harvest 11 unknown volunteer squash that came up in the compost
I had spread in the garden. Maybe I should save some seed. 
It's obviously more productive than anything I've ever tried to intentionally grow!

Chickens say- Happy Fall Ya'll!