Archive for April, 2013

On-line Garden Planning – Get Your Garden Geek On

There is so much information on the internet and in books about gardening. I find it overwhelming to sort it all out and make it relevant to my specific garden needs. While shopping for seeds this year, I found some great interactive garden planning tools that will help, especially with succession planting and gardening into the fall and winter.

The first is from Johnny’s Seeds. It is a series of on-line and spreadsheet calculators, and guides to help determine the number of seeds or plants you need for a given amount of space, when to start seeds and when to plant particular crops outside. It also offers access to their entire library of information on subjects such as succession planting, food and flower crops, tools, supplies and general information from their research farms.

The second is the one I’m going to use. It’s an on-line flash program called Vegetable Garden Planner from GrowVeg.com. You enter your frost dates, draw out your garden plan, place your plants, move them around until it’s just the way you want. The program gives you growing information on each crop, when to start your seeds, set outside and harvest. It also help organize your succession planting and much more. It will even email reminders based on your plans. You can view your garden as it progresses through the season and add journal notes. It’s free for a 30 day trial and $25 for an annual subscription.

This is the plan of my garden in May. As the season progresses, summer crows are replaced with fall plantings.

The Garden Plan in May. Click for larger view.

I’ve used it for a few days now.  As I view it monthly, early season cool weather crops come out and opens up a space to add a new crop. No more empty spaces because I forgot to start seeds on time. It knows to adjust growing conditions if I place a plant in the greenhouse or under a row cover. The program remembers all the little details for you. It’s pretty cool.

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It’s Salad Season

We spent most the the day working out in the garden getting ready for the warm season planting. I found a couple of carrots left in one of the beds. A fresh cutting of lettuce that re-sprouted from last year’s plantings, add a few things from the fridge and we have our first garden salad of the season for dinner.

Almost dinner

Almost dinner

Things are warming up nicely in the garden.The garlic is about 10 inches tall. The onions are settling in. The new season’s planting of kale, spinach and lettuces are coming up. Oregano and Thyme is going well. The Lemon Thyme came through the winter like a champ! I don’t think it lost many leaves. The blueberry bush is budding. The tomatoes and peppers are getting a great start in the greenhouse. The weeds were happy until I ripped them out. I think I got the Chickweed, Purple Dead Nettle and Spring Cress before they went to seed. The beds are now ready for the next round of weed sprouting, mostly Lamb’s Quarters and Purslane. All of these weeds are edible, but I never really liked the taste of them.

I belong to the local Freecycle group. One of the members posted a need for perennials and shrubs to fill a space left after removing some English Ivy. I wrote back and told her to come on over and get some bits and pieces of our landscape. We set up a meeting time and she came over Sunday. This might be the wrong time of year to be transplanting some of this stuff, but she’ll give it a try.

She got some nice babies from the Forsythia, Rose of Sharon, Snowball Viburnum, Euonymus, Moonbeam and Lance Leaf  Coreopsis, Cut Leaf Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Columbine and Mother of Thyme.

What a great way to celebrate Earth Day, sharing my plants with another gardener.

What’s growing in the yard

Just a few photos my husband shot of what’s growing. See more of his photos at his site.

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The dogwood is starting to bloom.

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I love the way the Japanese Maple sends out new leaves. It looks like fireworks.

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Moonbeam Coreopsis cover the ground next to the Japanese Maple.

Helebore blooming.

Hellebore blooms.

Red plastic cups, not just for beer parties

It’s time to pot up the tomato seedlings into larger containers. I usually do this 3 to 4 weeks before my planting date. Because I over-plant my flats, I need to separate and pot up the seedlings to give them more room to grow. Right now, the tomatoes are about 4 inches tall after 4 weeks in the 6 packs. I could clip out all but one plant per cell and leave them in the 6 packs, but they will quickly get root-bound and slow their growth. I can grow a much larger, healthier plant by giving it more room. The average 6-pack grown tomato would be 6 to 8 inches tall. In the cup, it would double that size.

Several years ago, I got a deal on those 4 inch green grow pots. I paid 10 cents each for about 100 of them. When I ran out, I realized what a deal that was. To replace them would cost about 25 cents each, so I looked for an alternative. While shopping at Costco, I found a package of 240 red Dixie 16 oz. cups for $15.00, that’s about 6 cents each.  They worked great. The cups are inexpensive, sturdy, easy to clean and reusable. I am still using the cups I bought about 7 years ago.

The easiest way I found to get drainage holes in the cup was to melt it with a candle flame. Hold the bottom edge of the cup briefly above the flame. It only takes a second to melt a half inch hole. Turn the cup and melt two more. Be careful not to put the cup in the flame, it can catch fire and that hole would be be waaaay too big.

That’s it. Perfect drainage holes along the bottom edge of the cup.

Melt 3 holes in the bottom edge of the cup for drainage

Melt 3 holes in the bottom edge of the cup for drainage

The cups hold the same volume of soil as the 4 inch pots, but because it is deeper, the roots can really get going before hitting bottom, start growing in circles and become root-bound.

When potting up, I use the same Pro-Mix BX potting mix, but I don’t screen it like I did with the seeds. Each flat cell has 2 or 3 seedlings in it. Gently put apart the root ball to separate the seedlings. Don’t worry about ripping some roots, tomatoes are resilient.  Fill the cup about 1/3 full and press a seedling down into the soil mix. Fill in around the plant while holding it in the center. Gently tamp down the soil around the plant while filling the cup. When you’re done, only the leaves are visible. New roots will grow along the buried stem and make a nice sturdy plant.

Newly potted tomatoes

All ready to party with the festive red cups.

Don’t forget to write the variety on the side of the cup with a Sharpie. After planting, the cups can be washed, the markings can be easily removed with rubbing alcohol ans stored away until next year’s potting party.

A standard tray will hold 15 cups. After I give the plants a good drink with half strength liquid fertilizer, the trays are kept in a shaded area of the greenhouse for a couple of days. The plants will need to be checked twice a day, especially on sunny days when it can dry out quickly. The trays without holes allow for bottom watering, so on those hot days, keep an inch of water in the trays. I’ll move the trays to full sun gradually over a a few days’ time.

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Shaded by the shelf above, the plants get used to their new party cups in the greenhouse.

I ran out of trays, so some of the seedlings are still in the 6 packs. I ordered more trays and should have them in a few days.

When the weather allows, the plants can be moved outside for the day to feel the wind in their leaves. This helps the plants develop good, sturdy wind resistant stems. Avoid full sun while they are out of the greenhouse until they are fully hardened off. More on that later.

Early Spring in The Garden

There’s a lot going on in the spring before the warm season crops are planted in the garden.

The autumn planted garlic is doing great! All but 4 or 5 of the 150 planted are growing. I planted 100 from last year’s stock and for insurance, 50 from the previous year’s stock. I’ll tell the story of The Great Garlic Debacle in a later post. Suffice it to say that my worries were unfounded. The upside is I learned some things about garlic and have tons of bulbs to share.

We had a short stretch of nice weather in mid-March, I rushed the season and direct sowed some cool crop seeds in the garden, hoping spring has finally sprung. Nothing happened, the soil was still too cold. This week, I noticed some sprouts in straight rows among the sprouted weeds. Nature does what she wants when she’s good and ready. We now have mixed kale, mixed lettuces and spinach, along with the lettuce, spinach and kale leftover from last autumn that started growing again.

This year's garlic and last year's kale.

This year’s garlic and last year’s kale.

I moved the pepper and tomato seedlings to the greenhouse to acclimate to the brighter sunlight and cooler temps. Right now, they only get very late afternoon light and early morning light. I will increase the time in the sun over a few days time before transplanting to larger containers. I’ll start 2 more flats under the lights with flowers and quicker growing vegetables like cukes, zukes and green beans.

Tomatoes hanging in the greenhouse, waiting for bigger pots.

Tomatoes hanging out in the greenhouse, waiting for bigger pots.

We planted 270 onion transplants in 2 beds. Everyday, I have to replant a few as the robins pick through looking for worms. I had about 70 plants left from the 5 units I bought, so I found new homes for them through my local freecycle.

Freecycle has become a really great way for me to share seeds, plants and gardening information. If you’re unfamiliar with Freecycle, it’s a internet community network designed to keep unwanted but usable household stuff out of landfills. It’s free to join and the only stipulation is that the stuff is given freely. Visit their site for more information or to join your local group.

There are still beds to clear of weeds, but that can wait a bit longer. The daffodils are blooming and they last such a short time.

Swarmageddon is Coming!

Heads up East Coast – The Invasion is almost here!

Magicicada Brood II is a 17-year periodic cicada due to make its appearance this spring along the east coast from New England to North Carolina. Sometime within the next 6 weeks, billions of nymphs will crawl up out of the ground, molt and have the biggest and noisiest cicada orgy since 1996.

Oh Hai! I hear there’s a party going on.

Hear a loud sample of the festivities. WARNING: turn down your speakers.

The party goes on for 6 weeks. After mating, the females will lay eggs in the tips of tree branches. The eggs hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground and burrow, starting another 17-year cycle.

Radiolab of WNYC of New York set up a Cicada Tracker Crowdsourcing Project to collect data from home-built soil thermometers to predict the date of Swarmageddon.When soil temperatures 8 inches down in the ground reach a steady 64°F, the emergence will begin.

All the instructions are on the website to build your own set-up, or you can do what I did and stick the compost thermometer 8 inches in the ground, take a reading once in the morning, and once in the evening, average it and enter the information at the Tracker website. If you don’t have a compost thermometer around, you can use a long meat thermometer if the range goes low enough, or buy a soil thermometer for about $8.

Yesterday, my soil temp was 48, today it’s 50. It shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 weeks.

In my life, I don’t remember any emergence being  particularly annoying or even noticeable. Even the huge Brood X from 2004 wasn’t a bother here. But this year, I’m not going to miss the party. If it’s not in my neighborhood, I’ll go looking for it.

On a final note, the cicadas are harmless. They don’t eat crops, they won’t bite you. They are just a nuisance and will be gone by mid-July. I’m going to enjoy the show.

Overwintering Carrots

I’d love to have a root cellar, but we really don’t have a reasonable place to put it. So I make do with what we have.

Onions, garlic and butternut squash keep pretty well on a basement shelf, though it would be better if it was a bit cooler down there.  For the carrots, I leave them in the ground. All they need is a thick 10 inch layer of leaf or straw mulch tucked around and covering the bed. The green tops will die back but the carrots are happy to stay there all winter, getting sweeter as the weather gets colder. When I want some carrots, I just pull back some mulch, root around and harvest what I need.

Come spring, any carrots left in the ground will start sprouting new green tops. At this point, they need to be pulled up. If left too long, the carrots will become bitter and inedible.

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Overwintered carrots among the violets, starting to sprout in mid-March.

Last season’s carrot seed germination rate was a disappointing 60%. But what they lacked in numbers they made up in size.

This freak was the largest. At 1.5 lbs., 10 inches long and 8 inches around, this is a serious carrot.

This freak was the largest. At 1.5 lbs., 10 inches long and 8 inches around, this is a serious carrot.

But size comes at a price. The larger carrots aren’t as tasty, but they will not go to waste. I cut the larger ones up in chunks, blanched and froze them for soup stocks and roasting. The smaller carrots were sliced, blanched and frozen for side dishes.

Overall, the carrot harvest came in around 35 lbs. for the entire season. Not too shabby.

The early spring harvest was about 25 lbs.

The early spring harvest was about 25 lbs.

I’ll cover more on preserving methods later on in the season.

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