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.