Archive for the ‘Spring Garden Planning’ Category

garden_plots_in_snow

It’s hard to believe, but in one month, it will be time to start planting early Spring vegetables. In the frozen stillness of the morning, warm weather seems so far away. But even in this 23 degree weather, there are a few things still growing…

rosemary_in_snow

The rosemary is still going strong. I stroked its leaves with my gloves and it left it’s lovely scent.

garlic_in_snow

I have soft-neck garlic growing in my plot. I had lots of success with garlic last year, and planted more this year. I’m looking forward to a good Spring harvest and all the garlicy goodness.

So, what’s on the planting list for this Spring? Here’s what I’m thinking so far, with their planting dates:

  • Peas: March 1
  • Spinach: March 1
  • Radishes: March 10
  • Brussels sprouts: March 10
  • Onions: March 10
  • Carrots: March 20
  • Broccoli: March 20
  • Kale: March 20
  • Lettuce: March 25

Some of these will be new for me to try. I’ve been excited, in particular, about growing the Brussels sprouts, because I think the plant is so beautiful and unusual. Below is a photo of my garden neighbor’s Brussels sprouts from last year:

Brussels_sprouts

So, hurry Spring! I can’t wait for you to get here!

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Last Saturday, the East Row community gardeners got together for our first work day of 2012 and expanded the garden from 18 beds to 27. In just a few hours, we assembled nine 4′ x 10′ plots out of cedar, then filled them with leaf compost and soil. It was a gorgeous day and so nice to meet and welcome new members of the community garden!

The beds were constructed out of cedar.

Leaf compost is added first to the newly constructed garden bed.

I chose compost duty. You can't trust me with power tools!

Everyone pitches in!

Many hands make light work.

Mary, one of the new plot owners.

A few of the compost brigade.

We all got quite a workout!

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Goodbye, Squirmy!

On February 20, I enthusiastically started an indoor worm bin and posted about vermicomposting. Before starting, I had consulted books and attended a workshop given at the Civic Garden Center. I was thrilled to begin the process that would use my fruit and vegetable scraps to make nutrient-dense compost tea for the garden. And I was happy about keeping those scraps out of the landfill.

Sadly, I had to evict my little wormy friends today. They brought with them some uninvited guests that were having a party in my kitchen. Yes, I’m talking about drosophila melanogastere (even their name sounds horrid) … otherwise known as the dreaded fruit fly. I had followed all of the recommended preventative measures — I buried the food scraps and put dry bedding on top. Once I noticed them, I set fruit fly traps and even stopped feeding the worms for a while. Absolutely nothing worked, but rather, got worse.

Fruit flies aren’t very smart, so were easy to smash. I sucked up plenty with the vacuum, stepped on a few, clapped my hands and got some in mid-flight. But mostly I smashed them with my finger and deposited them onto a paper towel. But I was out-numbered and they all just had to go. The Civic Garden Center volunteer who taught the workshop is taking them from me, bin and all. They are in the trunk of my car, ready for tomorrow’s trip. I couldn’t keep them inside one more night.

Sorry, Squirmy. It’s been real, but I’m going to look for another composting method that will work OUTDOORS.

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Popsicle sticks make good (and cheap!) plant markers.

In zone 6 where I live, it’s time to start those tomatoes and pepper plants indoors. To get ready for gardening season, I attended a class at the Civic Garden Center back in January called “Seed Starting Basics.” Some of the info presented was WAY more than I cared to know about the science of seed starting. (Like, don’t even ask me about scarification and stratification! I think I fell asleep in class.) But, I did learn a few practical things.

  1. The seed starting mix should be sanitary. Don’t re-use seed starting mix.
  2. A good seed-starting mix is part peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. It will be light and have good air circulation.
  3. Plant the seed as deep as it is wide.
  4. No fertilizer until after you see the first set of leaves, and then use fertilizer only 1/4 strength.
  5. Watering should result in soil that is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. To lightly water, mist your seedlings with a spray bottle.
  6. Warming pads (or heating vents) help with germination. Generally, 70-75 degrees is ideal, but look at germination tables for your type of plant.
  7. You don’t need grow-lights until your seeds germinate. Then, put the grow-lights as close to the plant as you can without touching it.
  8. To harden off your young plants, blow a gentle fan breeze, or gently run your hand over the seedlings from time to time. When getting close to planting time, put outside for brief periods of time, and gradually increase. Ex: Set outside for 1-1/2 hours each day for a few days, increase to 2-1/2, to 3-1/2, etc. Or use a cold-frame.

So, now I’m ready to get started! I’ve bought some tomato seeds: Brandywine, Mortage Lifter, Sweetie cherry tomato. Plus, I’m experimenting with tomato seeds I saved from last year: Cherokee Purple, Luann’s cherry tomato and Roma varieties. I also saved seeds from an organic red pepper that was store-bought. Last year I successfully grew a red pepper seedling this way, but the plant didn’t make it in the garden due to a crazy pumpkin vine that ran amuck!

On Sunday, I dug up the winter rye to get ready for planting. I have 2 garlic plants growing, and on the far end of the garden are my mulched-over strawberry plants. You can see my neighbor's beautiful winter rye in the plot to the left.

Down at the garden, it was a sunny day this past Sunday, so I dug up the winter rye in preparation for the early spring plants. It was actually snowing a little on Sunday, so maybe I was a bit over-eager. But the earthworms were fat, happy, and very active. Can spring be far away?

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Yikes! There are worms in my kitchen! Sounds gross, right? Well, no, not really. You would never know I keep composting worms unless you look under my kitchen sink. There in a closed bin (with no odor, mind you), are squiggly red wigglers, quietly and happily dining on my garbage, making lovely “black gold”, nutrient-dense compost for the garden.

Vermicomposting can work well indoors

Compost is great for the garden because it contains nutrients like boron, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc that plants need to grow. And since I throw away so many vegetable scraps, it seemed like a waste for them to end up just rotting in a landfill. I had been thinking about composting for a while, and was trying to figure out a way to do it that would work for my small space. My postage-stamp size courtyard was way too small for outdoor composting, so I looked into other methods.

I found a good book, Composting Inside & Out, which talks about the benefits and rewards of composting, then walks you through all the different methods. I settled on vermicomposting because it seemed manageable, economical, and held great reward. That reward, worm castings, also known as worm poop, are the finished product, extremely high in nutrients needed by soil and plant life. Castings can go directly into the garden or made into a liquid “worm tea”.

This author of this book calls herself "The Urban Worm Girl"

All you need to start a worm bin is a 14-gallon plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid (approx. $7), a drill, a few inches of soil, 1 pound of red wigglers, fruit and vegetable scraps, bedding material such as leaves, newspaper, paper or cardboard.

First, I drilled about twenty 1/4″ holes around the top sides of the bin, bottom, and lid. Then I added about 4 inches of organic soil.

A 14-gallon plastic storage bin with holes drilled into the sides, bottom, and lid

I got the worms from a local kid, a very enterprising 12-year-old boy who earns money selling red wigglers. These are not your common earthworm. They are Eisenia Fetida, and should never be released into the wild.

My cat, Oliver, says hello to the worms

I added the worms to the bin. They don’t like light, so they quickly disappeared into the soil.

The red wigglers are introduced into their new home

A red wiggler up close. I named this one Squirmy.

After adding the worms, moist bedding goes on top. Suitable bedding includes shredded newspaper or copy paper, torn cardboard or egg cartons, leaves, paper towels, dryer lint (no dryer sheet). It’s important that the bedding is moist. It should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, not dripping wet. I added dried leaves to my bin and sprayed them down with a water bottle.

Suitable bedding material

Finally, food. What do worms eat? They like a vegetarian diet, mostly fruit and vegetable scraps like apple cores, carrot peels, bananas, lettuce, broccoli. But in limited amounts, they also like coffee grounds, breads, crushed egg shells, tea bags (remove the staple). Do not feed worms meat, butter, dairy, garlic, glossy paper, leeks, hot peppers, onions, oils, spicy foods, green grass or too much citrus. If you have a large rind, like cantaloupe or pineapple, you will want to chop it into small pieces first.

Fine dining for my new wormy friends

It’s important to bury the food scraps! This keeps away fruit flies. If you notice fruit flies, you’re not burying the food scraps deeply enough. But you can also freeze the fruit peels first before adding them to the bin to really help keep those fruit flies away. This is a good idea in the warm weather months. You shouldn’t notice an odor with your bin, but if you do, you may be feeding the worms more than they can eat. Back off a bit and see if that doesn’t solve the problem.

I’ll do a later post and let you know how things are going with the worms, how to harvest the compost, and make worm tea. In the meantime, I found this resource helpful: urbanwormgirl.com. Also, another good book on vermicomposting is Worms Eat My Garbage.

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Seed catalogs and websites are good resources for basic gardening information

I’ve been pouring over seed catalogs and websites lately, busy on a plan for the spring garden. So far my list includes swiss chard, tomatoes, red peppers, lettuce, kale, basil, radishes, bush beans, okra, onions and beets. While gathering information, I’ve found some pretty cool interactive online tools and resources for the gardener that make it easy and fun.

If you’ve got a list of things you’d like to plant, but are not sure how much will fit, this tool from Gardeners.com helps you plan and arrange your garden. You input the length and width of your plot, and they divide it into a square foot grid. You fill your plot, square by square, using a menu of vegetable pictures which you drag and drop into the layout of your garden. When you place the picture, the number of seedlings to plant appears in that square. Then, below the layout, useful planting information pops up about each vegetable.

gardeners.com has a fun picture planner

Before thinking about planting though, it’s important to know what zone you’re in (I’m in zone 6), and then you’ll need to know the last frost date in your zone. That’s because planting (whether starting seeds indoors or planting outdoors) is relative to the last frost date. This Burpee Seed resource helps you figure out both easily by just entering your zip code.

Some seeds are direct-sow… that is, directly planted into the garden. Others need to be started ahead and are transplanted in warmer weather. Some you can do either way. To know which vegetables to start indoors, and when, I’ve found some useful seed-starting charts such as these from OrganicGardening.com, and Burpee.com. There is also a very comprehensive PDF chart you can download at HighMowingSeeds.com. (click “vegetable planting guide” in the upper right corner.) Or, this one is nice from TheVegetableGarden.info once you’ve determined your zone.

I found these resources useful. Let me know what you’re planting and if you have any favorite resources to share.

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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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