Archive for January, 2012

Will hold 192 seedlings!

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s certainly true with this recent find on Freecycle.

In early fall, I saw a posting for a grow-light system that almost seemed too good to be true. The post had a link to a photo of a similar grow-light system. It looked really nice and after a little digging online, I found it was quite an expensive system. I replied to the post, explained that I was a community gardener and that I would really put it to good use. I’m sure the woman got a lot of replies, so I kept my fingers crossed. I was thrilled when I received a reply that the grow-light system was mine.

I got the address, pulled in the driveway, and my jaw dropped when I saw it by their garage. The grow-light was considerably larger than the “similar” photo posted… and I had arrived in a 2-door Honda Civic! No problem, said the woman. And her teenage son appeared with a screwdriver to take it apart and in minutes I was off, with the grow-light system rattling around in the back, over my folded down back seats.

When I got home, I quickly re-assembled it, thinking again, too good to be true, it’s got to be broken. But no, it not only works fine but came with all the trays, fluorescent lights and practically a lifetime supply of peat pots.

I’m excited to put it to use! I took a class last week at the Civic Garden Center called “Seed Starting Basics” and learned so much which I’ll share in a later post. But the one important thing I learned with regard to grow-light systems, is that there should be one “cool” and one “warm” fluorescent light above the plants (or a full-spectrum bulb). I checked my lights, and since all were marked “cool,” I bought 2 warm lights and replaced one in each tier. In the photo below, I took the light down and flipped it on its side so you can see the difference between the two lights while they are on.

One warm and one cool fluorescent light

I am SO ready for spring, and can’t wait to start those little seeds. Since the grow-light system has way more plant spaces than I’ll need for my 4’x 10′ little veggie garden, I’m going to take this gift and “pay it forward” and share it with my garden friends.

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East Row community gardeners getting ready for spring!

On January 10th, the East Row community gardeners met to discuss plans for the 2012 gardening season. The 2011 season was such a success, that we have a long waiting list of neighbors who want to join us. Therefore, expansion was the big agenda item for the evening.

We need funds to expand, of course. And permission from the city to take over more space. We have 2 volunteers working on grant writing, and the goal is to expand by maybe 6 to 9 plots.

There are also plans to move the big compost pile to place behind the community garden, where it will be a little less noticeable. And we’ll expand the landscaping to frame our garden and nearby areas with lovely flowers.

It was great to re-connect with all the garden friends I made this summer. I can’t wait until spring!

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A small kale harvest

On January 1st, it was a somewhat warmish 42 degrees, so I decided to head to the garden to see if there was anything happening. The lettuce was pretty much finished, but I had a little kale…and I do mean little. This kale, called Russian Red or Ragged Jack, grew huge during the summer and I could barely keep up with it all. But in the cooler temps, it didn’t seem to want to grow much bigger than the leaves shown in the photo above, so I picked most of it. The small young leaves are quite tender and I’ve even eaten them raw in a salad. However today I decided to make a vegetable juice/green smoothie combo.

Juicing red cabbage and apples

I got out my trusty Juiceman II and juiced up some red cabbage and gala apples. Instead of juicing the kale, I chopped it up finely and added it to the juice. The red cabbage and apples make a delicious sweet drink. I could barely taste the kale.

Cheers! Happy New Year everyone!

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Mung bean microgreens

Just as the summer gardening season ended, I stumbled upon a fabulous book at the library, Microgreens: How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood. I had never tried growing microgreens, although I had successfully grown sprouts using a hemp bag. Growing sprouts made me nervous though, because they require moist, dark conditions where there is a potential for mold to develop. To prevent mold, most instructions will suggest soaking the sprout seeds in a bleach solution. (Yuck, no way!)

Microgreens are not the same as sprouts, and the key difference is that microgreens are grown in soil, or a soil substitute such as pumice. After a brief germination period (under a damp paper towel), microgreens are grown in the light. Because they have been grown in the light, they have a much higher concentration of health-promoting phytochemicals than sprouts.

I planted some mung beans, purchased very inexpensively in the bulk food section at Whole Foods Market, and got the gorgeous microgreens pictured above. You can literally go from harvest to plate in seconds with just a snip, snip of a pair of scissors. These were yummy on a salad.

Other microgreens that might be good to try: beet, broccoli, flax, kale, peas, radish.

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Mid-December Lettuce

January 1st, the garlic is beginning to sprout.

Also January 1, parsley in the herb garden is still going strong.

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An everbearing strawberry plant in early fall

Last spring I planted 4 everbearing strawberry plants in my little veggie garden. I didn’t get a lot of fruit during the growing season, but the few berries I got, though small, were a gorgeous red — right through to the center. And wow, what a powerhouse of flavor! Most of the berries I picked went from the garden straight into my mouth! (These aren’t like grocery-store strawberries that are white and tasteless inside.)

About the low yield, though…I think the main reason was a thief of the small furry kind, spied one evening squirreling away with one of my berries. Hmmm, what to do about that next year?

The everbearing variety is designed to produce fruit in late spring and early fall. My sister grows June-bearing strawberries and they’re every bit as flavorful, but they come all at once, hence the name. A third variety is the newer day-neutral strawberry which can produce fruit all season.

Strawberry plants like to multiply. The original plant, “the mother” send out shoots called “daughters” and if allowed to take root, will become a new plant. I kept cutting these daughters off to keep things contained in my raised bed.

In late fall, strawberry plants need to be mulched over with straw for the winter to protect them from frost. I tend to be very frugal (Why spend money if you don’t have to?) and looked for other mulching solutions. I read that corn stalks can be used, and in an old gardening publication from 1894, I read that one gardener used dried tomato vines as covering one season when straw was in short supply (and it doubled his strawberry yield the following season). Bingo! There were plenty of tomato vines in the community garden compost pile.

Shown below is the first layer of vines. I added more for a few inches for a good covering. Now they’re all snuggled up for winter.

The first layer of mulch

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Winter rye seed

Huh, green manure? I was curious about it after it was offered free to all of the East Row community gardeners through the Civic Garden Center, a place that has been a wonderful resource to us.

Here’s what I learned. Winter rye is just one type of green manure. There are several, which fall into one of two categories, legume and non-legume. It’s a cover crop and a great way to add nutrients to the soil. It’s roots will reach deeply, aerate the soil and add organic matter. Another great benefit is that the roots produce a substance which suppress weed growth. (I learned a new word here: al·le·lop·a·thy.) In early spring, it should be turned in the garden prior to spring planting.

The photo below was taken on Dec. 8 of my neighbor’s plot, where winter rye was growing beautifully.

Winter rye in the garden

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