Friday, April 30, 2010

Tomato Varieties

Market Miracle ripening last fall

This year I'm growing 14 different varieties of tomatoes. Many of them are paste or canning tomatoes. I'll start with the ones I've grown before then move on to the new varieties. All are open pollinated unless otherwise labeled.

Old varieties:

1) Chocolate Cherry 70 days ind - This tomato seemed to grow and taste just like Black Cherry. It produced very large 1" cherry tomatoes with a wonderful and unique taste. Grown from saved seed.

2) Emma Sungold F3
3) Gabrielle Sungold F3 - Both Emma and Gabrielle were grown from F2 Sungold seed. I figured that I would grow a few out this year from each plant. I got the seed all mixed up and right now have two Emma plants and one Gabrielle. I think there is another Gabrielle somewhere under someone else's label, but not sure.

4) Market Miracle 65 days det - This is a Russian tomato that produces the most beautiful flawless 6-8oz slicing tomatoes. They survived our bad summer of 2009 and produced well and early. They taste like a homegrown tomato should even when the rain is constant. Their flaw is that the tomatoes can fall off the vine prematurely (though they don't seem hurt by this). I'm guessing there are better tomatoes for the better tomato growing areas in the country, but for anyone with short cool wet summers they are fabulous. I can't wait for Granny to grow hers to see how they stack up in a good tomato growing area. Are they only good as a short season tomato? Grown from saved seed.

New Varieties:

5) Heinz 2653 68 days, det - A very early heavily yielding plum tomato. 2-3 oz fruits. Will produce even in cold environments. Good for canning. Fedco seed.

6) Opalka 82 days, ind - known for its taste. 3x5" very solid horn shaped fruit. Dry texture. Good for canning. Polish heirloom from the Opalka family. Seed from EG.

7)Peiping Chieh 75+ days ind - Produces 2-3" fruits. Good for slicing or canning. Seed from wintersown. Chinese heirloom.

8) Early Kus Ali 70+ days ind - Produces round 3" fruits. Good cropper. Good for slicing and canning. Seed from wintersown. Chinese variety.

9) Hong Yuen ind 75+ days ind - Produces 2" fruits in large clusters. Sweet. Good for slicing or sauce. Good cropper. Fruit are very uniform so good for canning whole. Seed from wintersown. Chinese variety.

10) Romeo Roma 75 days ind - Created by Tim Peters. Typical roma shape, but huge. 1-2lb fruits. Good for canning. Seed from wintersown.

11) Amish Paste 85 days ind - Large meaty heart shaped nippled fruit 6-8oz. Great flavor. Good for canning. An heirloom from the Amish farmers in Wisconsin in the 1870s. Needs space, fertility, and sun to produce well. Seed from wintersown.

12) Principe Borghese 75 days vigorous det - Often used for sundried tomatoes as it has few seeds and not a lot of liquid. Small but prolific plum shaped fruits. There are four strains with this name and who knows which one I've got. Seed from wintersown. Italian heirloom.

13) San Marzano 80 days ind - Produces 3" plum shaped fruits that are very dry. Productive. Good for canning. Seed from Silence. Italian variety.

14) Cherokee Purple 77 days shorter ind - 10-13oz fruit that is dusky in color, supposed to be one of the best eating tomatoes as the taste is fabulous. Seed from Dan.

So there you have it. I'm growing way too many canning tomatoes, but I wanted to do some trials this year to see what I wanted. Then again maybe it is just the right amount. I love that I have varieties from all over the world and that I can collect seed from any of them. So whatever I like I'll get to save from year to year. I'm hoping next year to have fewer varieties. I'll always try new ones, but having the tried and true is better.


Tomatillos are big enough to plant

Today will be a big day for the seedlings. After some really cold and windy weather, we will be getting up into the 70Fs and maybe even the 80s for the next week. Our normal temps this time of year are in the 60Fs, so I'd better take good advantage of all the sun and the warmth. It is time to get those warm weather seedlings out to see the sun.

I have a few partial flats of seedlings still going under the lights. Above are the flowers and herbs. From left to right we have: borage, basil, flat leafed parsley, State Fair zinnia, and Ground Control marigolds. I like being able to take out the blocks that don't germinate.

The New Zealand spinach isn't coming up. I'm wondering if it is one of those plants that need to be nicked to germinate in a reasonable time. They have a pretty hefty seed coat. Has anyone grown these before?

My peppers were germinated in paper towels. Most of the seeds that were transferred came up. Just a couple decided not to after sending out roots. Currently I have them labeled with color coded toothpicks.

My tomatoes are doing well. This is the first flat of them. I only have three along the middle because the lights they are under are not very wide. They only have an eight inch reflector and the ones on the outside rows were leaning in way too much. Three rows works well for the narrow lights. The lights with the twelve inch reflector seems to be working well with the whole width of the flat (the peppers and flowers). Maybe I should buy a few more of those before they disappear from the store.

This is the second partial flat of tomatoes. I'm labeling these with my old Popsicle sticks. I germinated these with paper towels too. Though one of my Amish paste never came up the rest are doing well. The Opalka and the San Marzano still have one or two missing but they have just been put into the blocks since they germinated later than the rest. I was going to put the descriptions of all the tomatoes in this post, but I've decided that I would rather have it in a separate post for my own info. I tend to forget things and want all the information easy to find.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Harvest Monday - 26 April 2010

Harvest Monday is a sad day today. I've been sick for the second half of the week. Though I've been getting my garden work done, the thought of cooking just didn't appeal. Even last night when I made fish for dinner. I wanted to have my garden fresh spinach, but I just couldn't convince myself to go out to the garden and pick the spinach that late in the day, much less wash it. So it stayed out in the garden. I'm sure it will keep there.

Earlier in the week I did spend money however. One of my plastic flats sprung a leak. I bottom water. So I fill the flat up with water then remove the blocks (which are in a mesh flat). When I was filling up the flat, I was hearing dripping. So I looked and noticed it was dripping all over my lights. Ack! I quickly turned off the power strip and cleaned it all up. The flat was so old it didn't have any recycling info on it so just had to be tossed.

Spent: $2.65. Spent total: $191.33. Total earned: $3.44. Tally: 187.90

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and like to Mr Linky below.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Mulch

Last fall I didn't buy my straw or salt marsh hay as usual. I usually buy a few bales to mulch my paths in the spring. Instead I made a container of chopped leaves to put in the paths come spring. I've never done it like this before, but it seems like a good solution. The leaves are free and local. The leave will add to the soil over time. The downside I saw was that it was a lot of work to chop all the leaves up with the lawn mower.

So Thursday I finally got the time to mulch the paths. Now I see another downside. I loved the look of the straw, but I don't like the look of the leaves nearly as much. I know they will mat down over time, but it looks messy to me. What do you think?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

A second post in the same day? Unheard of! But I suppose a vegetable gardener must celebrate Earth Day. What do we do every day but dig in the earth? We live to get our hands dirty. We celebrate the soil itself each and every day. Many recently have gotten into growing their own food for love of the earth. I confess that is not me. I garden because it is in my blood. I love to watch the seeds sprout from the soil. I watch as the plants grow in wonder. I celebrate the harvests. The miracle of growing my food each day is why I do it.

I appreciate that it helps the earth too. I garden organically, or rather naturally. I let the bugs duke it out in the garden. If the bad bugs get too aggressive, I hand pick them. I rarely use pesticides and when I do they are very nontoxic and very directed to the individual bug. This year I'm using Bacillus Thuringiensis, which is a bacteria that only kills caterpillars. I'll only use it on the winter moths to protect my blueberry blossoms in the spring. In the last four years I haven't gotten any blueberries because the moths had eaten them all (they are an alien invader that came to Massachusetts recently). I'm also using Sluggo for the first time. It is nontoxic and I'm really sick of handpicking slugs after two years of excessive rain. This year is stacking up as a rainy year too so far. So I celebrate nature and let the good and the bad live (mostly) in the garden. They usually maintain a good balance.

The quest to use my car less is one reason for my move to the new house. My current house has a walkability score of 28 which is a Car Dependent score. The new house has a score of 79 which is Very Walkable (though weirdly they missed the CVS that is three blocks away when making that score). I used to try to bike to things. When I worked outside the house 8 years ago, I biked 45 minutes into work and an hour back home whenever the weather was nice enough. That extra fifteen minutes coming home was a result of the hills. I live on top of a large hill. It is work getting up. I could stop at the grocery store on the way home, but carrying the gallons of milk that my son went through was nightmarish on a bike. All that extra weight. I eventually gave up on doing grocery shopping with my bike as too much work. The new house will be within a mile of just about everything. Both of our families are going to be going down to one car (both Priuses or is it Prii?). We are thinking of a shared minivan with a third friend, but I don't know if we will do it or not. It would make hauling leaves easy.

We are also only 0.7 miles away from the red line subway stop and if they actually build the extension to the other line we will be close to the green line too. The bus stop along Mass Ave is just a few blocks away. Most things will be so easy to get to without a car. Life will be greener at Lee's End Eden, which is the new name of the condominium association. Though it was almost named Earth Lee. And I kind of liked Happi Lee Ever After. But Lee's End Eden it is. I hope it lives up to its name. I just hope I don't get kicked out for eating the apples.

Busy in the Garden

Tuesday I had a lot of work to do. I was going to do some over the weekend but the weather wasn't all that nice. Tuesday was a glorious day. It was in the mid 60Fs and mostly sunny. A perfect day to be outside.

My first chore was to clean up the fruit garden. My little raspberry patch should have been trimmed up a month ago, but as usual I waited a bit long. Not that I've ever had problems with doing it in April, but the experts say to do this kind of thing in February or March. I clipped off the old dried flowers at the end of the stalks. Then I cleaned up any canes that were broken by the snow or too small to fruit well. Since it is an ever bearer I thin the canes out in the summer and not now.

Then I checked the blueberries. I cut out a few crossing branches, but didn't trim out anything else. The roses got all the old hips clipped off. Then I went for clipping off the dead branches.. I hate this chore. This particular rose, a David Austin rose called Windrush, is vicious. Its thorns will grab you and not let go. I need arm guards for this chore. Ouch! Luckily I only do it once a year.

Then it was on to weeding and cleaning up the fruit garden. I tend to get a lot of dandelions in this bed. I pull them out a couple of times a year. Right now when they bloom is the first time. I leave all the leaves over the winter in the bed. I raked out quite a bit. I leave the leaves in the raspberries as I don't find it looks all that bad with the close canes, but I get them out of the hostas, blueberries and rose.

Then it was on to the vegetable garden which didn't get raked but did get a good portion of the leaves removed. I probably ought to rake it all up to make it look better, but since I'm going to mulch this year with leaves I figure I'd just leave some of them. As I was cleaning up, I noticed that my poor winter sown lettuce was still in its container and they were all dry and wilty. I watered them and waited until they perked up. Then I planted them out. I had to rip the roots apart to separate the plants. For a lot of plants this would be devastating, but lettuce seems to handle this kind of root shock just fine. I planted them in the little shady patch. I'm guessing they will grow very slowly, but might keep longer than the other lettuce planted in the full sun.

Since I was planting I finally got in my turnips. I noticed that I had forgotten them when I planted out the brassicas. Whoops. And I left no space for them. So I just planted them between the rows like I do for radishes. Now I'm sure everything is planted too close together. I put in two varieties, Tokyo Cross from Mac and Oasis. I hope the slugs don't get to them before they even get up.

Bed all nicely prepared

The next order of business was planting carrots. They get planted in the solanum bed between the tomatoes and peppers. As I looked at the bed I noticed a lot of cilantro growing. I didn't want the little seedlings to die so I transplanted a lot to other random corners of the garden. Then I did a light fertilization of the bed and loosened the soil over the whole bed. In the spots where the carrots were going I did turn the soil over more. I was trying to get any big rocks out. This bed is not as well prepared as last year's bed (no double digging on a bed I'm about to leave), but the soil was very loose anyway. It was easy to push the fork all the way in without any effort. Last year this bed got a lot of compost. Worms were everywhere doing their job.

I'm not good at covering the mats totally

The day before I had made some mats like Granny does. I put the seed three inches apart. Though I did put two seeds at each spot. I'd rather thin than have empty spots. I only put in 7' of them. I'll put in more in a couple of weeks. After putting them in, I'm not sure that mats are my style. I like to put in little rows. They are much quicker for me. They do require more thinning, but I don't mind that part. Since I couldn't put just one seed in I'm going to have to thin anyway. I can never trust a single seed to do its job. Even some of the peppers that I presprouted before planting aren't coming up. I like my insurance policy of too many seeds.

Dill in the path

In total I spent about 3-4 hours outside. I have more work to do this week also. I didn't get to turning my compost and starting this year's compost pile. I didn't mulch the paths, which really need it right now as the weeds are taking over and germinating all over (read this as dill and parsley everywhere).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This and That

Yesterday I went to my mailbox and there was a padded envelop addressed to me. I hadn't ordered anything, but it looked suspiciously like a package of seeds. I've gotten enough of them in the mail that I know what they are like. Indeed they were. Silence of Poor Richard's Almanac sent me some seed. Thank you! I love these kinds of surprises. The lavender will be grown in the new house's herb garden. I'll have to start it soon. A lot of herbs take a long time to grow. The lettuce won't get in until the fall planting though. I'm wondering about when to start the cosmos. I'm thinking soon. I'm hoping it goes in the border of the new perennial garden. It will be a place holder until I figure out what all will be planted. The thyme seed sadly I don't need. I have both French and English thyme now and I'm going to take cuttings to bring along with me. If anyone wants it just let me know, I'll pass it along.

As you can see the San Marzano paste tomato is already opened. That was me. I started my tomatoes on Saturday in plastic baggies and paper towels as I did with the peppers. The peppers were done with the baggies so I figured it was time. I made a whole flat of 2" soil blocks to put them in once they are up.

I'm debating on what the second apple tree should be. I want the first to be a Honeycrisp as it is my favorite apple and a good keeper. The second should be a good applesauce apple that is a good pollinator. I'm thinking either Ginger Gold or Liberty. I love Ginger Gold for fresh eating. It makes good apple sauce and they ripen a month before Honeycrisp so it will extend the season. Liberty makes good applesauce. I have no clue about the eating quality but is best when left to mellow a month before using. It ripens the same time as Honeycrisp. Its claim to fame is that it is really disease resistant and that might be good. Diseases run rampant in the north east. Has anyone grown any of these?

For plums it seems that the Santa Rosa is the self pollinating plum tree. It is good for zones 5-9, so a dwarf one might be nice. it looks like they get about 5-7' tall.

The other fruit tree I want is a self pollinating peach (I think most in our zone are self pollinating). I know nothing about peach trees at all. Anyone have favorite varieties? Elberta seems to be a popular one to sell and I can get it in a dwarf size easily and it is self pollinating.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Harvest Monday - 17 April 2010

Yesterday I was making dinner and thought to myself that I hadn't used any of the overwintered spinach yet this week. So ten minutes to serving time I ran out and picked it. I washed it up fast and trimmed it. What I forgot was to weigh it. I'm guessing it was the same as last time because the bowl I harvested it in was the same and it was very full. It might have been more as the spinach was grew really well. I didn't even pick it all. I suspect another harvest is in the works for the middle of the week.

I also forgot the photos until it was cooking. The flash photo was too blurry to blow up big like my typical photos, but I figure a small photos is better than nothing.

And now since Monday Harvest days are are the busiest for my blog, I'm going to ask for some advice while I have a large audience. For those of you that grow Asparagus, how big is your patch? And how much gets harvested from it? Jeavons says 7.3lbs/100sqft. Which means if I put a whole bed of it in that is 4x16, I would get only 4.6lbs. I'm assuming that each family gets half of the harvest in the new house so I would only get just over 2lbs. It doesn't seem like a lot, but I suppose that is a good handful of meals for me. Are his numbers about right?

My tally is very very slowly getting less negative. I'm sure it will go down more than it will go up soon, but for now it is getting better. Total spent: 188.68. Total harvested: $3.44. Total: -185.25.

If you would like to join me in showing off your harvests join me and put your name and link into Mr. Linky below.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hometown Winner

We have a winner to the Hometown Seeds giveaway. I don't have a drum, but imagine a drum roll in your minds.

JPhoto is the lucky winner. Congratulations!

And did you know there are a million and one random number generators on the web? I used They use atmospheric noise as their way to get a random number. I think that is appropriate for gardeners as our weather is just so important.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Introduction to the New Yard

The design of what is happening to the grounds of the new house is just starting. We had to take into account what I want and what my friends want. Their priority is a hot tub and a table outside. My priority is a large enough spot to throw a barbecue (in front or back), a large vegetable garden, an herb garden and places to put all the fruits I want. The land we own is about 94' x 75' (7000 sqft), but in reality we have a larger area. The road is a private way and we are at the end of the road. Though we don't own it, we are responsible for its care and upkeep including the unpaved parts. If we include that part it is a square 94'x98' or about 9000 sqft. In fact the builders fenced this whole section in so it is very private. The dead end does not have a turn around and end abruptly so no one else is likely to come down this way. The road in front of the house looks and feels much more like a private driveway than a private way.

This is the private way in front of the house. The neighbors have gates to access it. As you can see there is a large raised planting area. It is the sunniest planting area I will have, but it isn't fenced off from any critters and can't be. It is three feet wide and has a planted area of about 200 sqft. The tall fence will probably have little eyelets screwed into it so I can put up trellising when I need it. It would be great for heat loving plants. With the rock wall below it will be very hot in here. In the winter it might make a good greens area.

The front of the house is shaded for quite a while all morning long. It is the northwest side of the house. I expect that a peach tree or two would be a nice addition since the ground won't unfreeze here for a good long time. I'm guessing it will act like a northern slope. But by summer the sun will be high enough to give it plenty of sun.

Then we get to the back and side yard. Above is the back yard from my side of the house looking towards my friends side.

Here is the backyard from the other direction.

Then here is the side yard which right now is totally paved. This is the southwest side of the house and except for one spot gets a lot of sun. We will rip out most of the pavement and make some kind of parking on their side for one car. The parking is very hard here and tight. Even with the spot they put in it is hard to get out since the private road is only 13' wide. We have already hit the back of the car against the rock wall once. And you probably guessed it but we are ripping out the pavement to put in my vegetable garden.

Above is the current plan that is very much in flux. You can click this one to get a bigger photo so you can see better. I'm thinking of a 3' brick walkway along the ends of the beds from the driveway down to the bottom of the paper where the compost piles are. Then it will turn to your right and go along the compost piles and then turn again and go up into the back door of the house. The paths between the beds will be mulched. This gives ten beds that are 16'x4' wide (63 sqft each). The three closest to the bottom right corner get only 5 hours of sun a day right now (and yes I've been there at different times during the day to check out the sun). There is a maple tree in my neighbor's back yard that shades it a bit. I'm guessing there won't be much shade there in June or July as the sun gets higher. The other side beds lose the sun just at the edges for a short time. The two beds by the house already have full sun all day long.

Along the fence in the garden area I want a small short shed at the end for my tools. I want a potting bench. Then a place to store the wheelbarrow. After that the leaf collection area and the compost piles. My friends will be taught the basics of composting. I think I'm going to get a tumbler for the veggie scraps though. I'm thinking anything on the ground will attract rats. This ought to keep them out. Once they are decayed enough I'll put them in the real pile. I'm hoping Molly, my friend's cat, will also help keep the rodents out of the yard.

If you look harder you can see some of my fruit ideas. Nothing is written in stone yet. Currently I have blueberries along the house basically from the driveway to the small spot that sticks out of the house. On the other side of that I have a gooseberry (is one enough?). Then I have rhubarb in front of the air conditioning units (the two circles next to the house in back). I' thinking of putting the raspberries with three sides surrounded by something (the stairs down to the yard, the wall of the house, and the bulkhead). Raspberries are weeds so really need to be kept under control. Now I only have one side to deal with. Then I have two dwarf apple trees in the back yard. I wanted to put them where the raspberries are, but I think they really need more than 5' to spread. I think the neighbor has an apple tree right against the back fence too so I should have good pollination.

We discussed more fruit trees as there is plenty of room in the front yard. But she is allergic to cherries and I hate the upkeep of a pear. I hear of too many pear deaths and issues. A single plum would be nice, but I don't think they are self fruiting and two plums is way too much. I'll eat them, but don't go crazy over them.

So that is the start of the plan for growing edibles - which could change at any time. It has about 800 sqft of growing area which to my mind is huge and about three times what I have now. Is it too big? It really is a garden for two families though so in reality it is just 50% bigger.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Soil at the New House

Our new house will be the unit on the right

The history of this lot is that it was never built on. It was farm land for a while but mostly in recent years it has been fallow at the end of a private way. It was weird to have a lot that wasn't built on in Arlington, but this lot didn't have the proper access so getting a permit was hard. It took the builder six years to get all the permits for it. I'm not too surprised. The private way is more like an alley way than a real street. It isn't long. There are only seven other houses on the street. Two on one side and five on our side. The road snakes in back there. So the area is weirdly private, but only about a block in from the major road in town. Since the private way curves and the buildings are tall and close together, the noise from the busy street is largely unheard.

Our closest neighbor is a little old lady that has lived in that house for 70 years. She is very sweet and I suspect she will be the recipient of some fresh produce from the garden at times. But we couldn't help her out with what she was really hoping for. She wanted kids playing in the street for her to watch. Since we are two couples that are empty nesters it isn't going to happen. She will have to talk to her son that lives downstairs, but I suspect he has heard it all before.

Our house is a two unit town house. One side will be occupied by my husband and myself and the other by our good friends. Much of the area is multifamily homes. The neighbor's lot is much smaller than ours and all paved over. I guess it makes for easy maintenance, but I want green in my lot.

Even before the purchase and sales agreement was signed I was out with my shovel at the new house. I needed soil samples to send into the UMass Extension service. I was hoping that the original soil was there. A fallow lot that was garden much of the time might be good (or it might have gotten dumped in, but less likely since I bet no one but the abutting neighbors even knew it was there). But the original soil is not what I found. It seemed like fill to me with no topsoil on it yet. And the results agreed with me.

How can I tell it was fill and not original? Well our soil here in the North East is very acidic naturally. Blueberries grow wild in the woods. We have natural pHs of about 4.5-5.5. The soil tested in at 8.5. It really makes me wonder where the heck that soil has been. No natural soil from here could ever have that high of a pH. It is also half rocks. I had trouble getting enough soil out. I should have brought a pick axe. Needless to say it won't grow anything as is and I don't want those rocks in my garden. I suppose at least the lead levels are low. I might just have someone remove it from the area where the veggies are going and replace with top soil and compost. I have to bring in top soil anyway to cover the remainder of the yard.

The front yard had the same fill put in. Then they covered it with top soil. The top soil there has a medium lead level so I'll probably remove it from where the herbs are being put, but the rest will be ornamental and fruit trees so no worries there. The pH again is high but not nearly as bad. It was 7.5.

The whole yard is a blank slate since we told him not to landscape it. I'll give you the layout soon. And our next chore is to find a landscape designer that is good with hardscaping, grass paving and cars. We have real car issues on this lot which will probably affect where the fruit trees can go.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Peppers and Such

Last week I made some more soil bl . . . What? Why am I talking about last week? Well I'm a bit behind. I did the gardening but have neglected the blog. Yes I'm so sorry, but I so don't promise that it won't happen again when things get crazy with the move again.

No more interruptions. I have to get this out before I forget what happened. Hmm I was planting things. Oh yeah. I made some soil blocks. I really wasn't sure at this point how many to make. My new garden hadn't even been put to paper at all yet. Just random ideas for a few things and where the garden will be. Will I need a lot of plants to fill it up? Will I need just a few? Will I need to plant both gardens up with my plants? Not knowing made it really hard. I stick with my original plan. I sowed some zinnias, some flat leafed parsley, borage, basil and New Zealand spinach. I forgot to label them . I know the zinnias are on the end and have lots of rows. Each of the others have one row. Or did I do two rows of basil? When I say row I mean a line of 6 x 1 1/2" soil blocks. They fit perfectly across a flat. I guess when they come up I'll be able to tell what went where. I didn't even write down what day I planted them. Tuesday? Thursday? Your guess is as good as mine.

Which reminds me. I forgot to plant the marigolds. My tomatoes won't grow well without them. I need to get them in soon.

I forgot. No interruptions. So they got in. Then I decided not to plant my peppers in the little annoying 3/4" blocks. They need to be in the 2" blocks, but instead I started them in paper towels, just like I do for my spinach. For each variety I took a part of a paper towel and put twice as many seeds as I needed into it. I folded it over and moistened it. Then stuck it into a ziplock with a label. When they start to germinate like in the photo below, I pot them up. I started Early Jalapeno, Serrano, Big Jim II (from Dan), Sweet Cherry, and Cayenne. I also did my tomatillos this way. I made 2" blocks for all of them right away so they would be ready when their roots came out.

Now the 2" blocks have different inserts that can be changed depending upon what you want to do. Currently I have the insert that makes space for the 3/4" block to be put inside. I really didn't want to switch it because they are such a pain to switch. So I didn't. I'm just going to plant the seed into the little square. It will work. I hope.

I made a lot of blocks. 8 for the jalapeno, 4 for the cayenne, 4 for the tomatillos, 4 for the sweet cherry, 6 for the serrano and 6 for Big Jim. I put the blocks on the heat mat and the ziplocks on the dome above that. As the seeds have started to germinate I've put them into the blocks and covered soil or vermiculite. The tomatillos went crazy. They germinated fast and already have two coming out of the soil. Big Jim and the serranos are being obstreperous. Hopefully they will get with the program and start to germinate already. All the others have their seeds out of the bags and planted. Big Jim only has one and the serranos only have two.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Down, Two To Go

I've been busy with the garden(s) recently, but I'll post about it one thing at a time. Yesterday I decided my brassicas and chard had to go into the garden and I finally had time to do it. I had actually figured they needed to go in last week since the weather was so nice, but that didn't happen. Time is such an important part of gardening. Well this week I have it. Last week I didn't.

My biggest issue with planting is that I don't plan on paper. I have three sections of the garden that get rotated each year. I know what goes into each section, but not where they go. Part of my mental planning revolves around successions and row covers. This bed is the greens and allium bed. It is about 24' long. All my beds are 4' wide. Garlic was planted last fall at the east end of the bed. The garlic gets harvested in the first half of July. The next section I planted my lettuce and radishes. On the western end of the bed I planted my onions and leeks. As a side note the leeks were a dismal failure this year. I tried using the little 3/4" blocks for the leeks and some bunching onions. Alliums don't germinate and grow well in these. I redid the bunching onions in the 1 1/2" blocks and they were fine. I didn't elect to redo the leeks so I have three good leeks to grow and a few struggling ones. I may over plant that area in nasturtiums later and just give up on them.

Anyway back to the bed. So both ends of the bed were already planted up. In the back of the unfinished section are the peas. They take up one foot all the way across the back. So I had a nice section of bed of unknown length but around 9' long and 3' wide. I kept switching back and forth in my mind where everything should go. But I finally put the chard next to the onions because it won't need to be covered during the summer. Only the brassicas will stayed permanently under a row cover. I also wanted the brassicas near the lettuce and garlic. The latter will be taken out earlier and can be succession planted with more fall brassicas. I want the cover to go over them later.

My other issue was that my overwintered spinach was in the middle of this section. The brassicas needed to go in, but I wasn't willing to pull the spinach prematurely. It is my only fresh green right now. Until the spring spinach starts getting harvested or the plants bolt, I want them to stay. Broccoli was my easiest solution. I plant them about 18" apart. They don't really need that space at the start of their life. So I planted four broccoli in spots where the spinach wasn't growing as well. I think they will do OK. I have another two that are in open parts of the bed so I can compare the two and see if it was a reasonable workaround.

The following were planted: Yokatta-Na, Purple Mizuna, Tatsoi, Fun Jen, Komatsuna, Ruby Chard, Argentata Chard (which is supposed to be green, but has some reddish stalks), Piracicaba broccoli, Packman broccoli, Chinese Kale (from Mac), Choy Sum (from Mac), Shanghai Bok Choy (from Mac), Ching Chang Bok Choi (from Granny), Senposai (from Michelle), Chinese Cabbage Rubicon, Napa Cabbage (from Mac). I was going to have White Stem Bok Choy too, but it never germinated. In fact the Ching Chang only had one good plant. Luckily the Shanghai Bok Choy is growing well or I might be bok choy less.

I almost got all the plants in. Some are a bit squished at 8-9" apart, but they will survive and I can pick alternating ones to open more space later. I tossed the weaker ones and saved seven plants just in case something happens to the ones in the bed. I'll only save them for a couple of weeks then toss them. I don't even know what they are anymore as I didn't label them. The plants in the bed are all nicely labeled though. I'll know what I'm eating and if I like it I can grow it again.

When I was done I sprinkled some Sluggo between the rows. It was my first time using it. I also put it at the edges of the paths. I noticed that the bok choy was already starting to get eaten and it hadn't even been planted yet. I did leave it outside for a few nights to harden off though. I'm sure it was munched on then.

This vegetable bed is fully planted now, just two more beds to plant up. Doesn't it look pretty? OK it is pretty ugly under the Agribon. But the brassicas won't look as hole ridden without those caterpillars munching on them so at least they will look prettier.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Harvest Monday - 12 April 2010

I need a drum roll or confetti coming down from the ceiling. This week I harvested the first of my overwintered spinach. Finally I can join in with the harvests. So here it is, 3.7oz of greenness. Can I get an Ooo?


Can I get an Ah?


OK so it is just a little bit of spinach. Some of you won't even show your harvests every week because it is just the same old same old lettuce. But this is only my second picking of the year (the first was kale in February). It has been over a month with nothing fresh from the garden, so I'm celebrating. It is also the first time I've ever tried overwintering spinach. The leaves aren't quite a perfect as the spring spinach will be, but not bad.

And there is breaking news from the pantry. The last jar of pickles has been opened. I won't get anymore until the peas get harvested and I pickle some of them. It is going to be a long pickle free couple of months. Maybe I should try to make this jar last a while. It is hard though. I ate three of the pickles yesterday. Usually a jar won't last the week.

So now for the tally. I have a whopping $1.83 on the plus side and $188.68 on the minus side so far. That minus side will get huge this year as I build my new vegetable garden and since I'm switching gardens I might not have as much of a harvest. Time will tell.

If you would like to join me in showing off your harvests join me and put your name and link into Mr. Linky below.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Love Spring

Nothing is better in the garden than seeing the seedlings come up in the springtime. This year we had a long warm spell that jump started our spring. The trees are already getting their leaves. I could swear this is weeks earlier than usual, but since I don't keep track of when the leaves come out I'm not sure how much earlier. I do know that the daffodils are out at least a week earlier than last year. The hellebore above is just starting to fade. The buds are already on my bleeding heart.

The garlic is coming up like beautifully. Last year I had casualties. This year not one of the cloves died. In fact one is double. I could swear I only planted single cloves.

I don't know if I will get to harvest it or not this year, but I would love to be able to save at least some of the cloves for the new garden.

The peas are coming up well. Some places are spotty, but I think there is enough so I won't have to reseed. I'll check again in a couple more days.

And look at my first attempt at wintersowing. Those lettuce plants look great. Not that I really need more lettuce, but I'll plant them over in a shaded part of the garden so as not to take up even more space. I don't know if I can actually eat all the lettuce I already have planted.

Sadly the weeds have started germinating too. If today hadn't been rainy I would probably be out there weeding the spinach bed. The spring spinach is up and starting to grow. The next nice day I'll take off the cover and weed it and see how the germination went this year.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday in the Garden

Lou is starting a Wordless Wednesday for gardeners. I'm not big on saying nothing, but figured I'd post one for her. I really prefer to go on ... and on ... and on. Really Wordless Wednesday is not for me. I want to tell you that these are my brassica seedlings that have been out in our beautiful sunshine for days now. My lights have been turned off since the good weather started. Maybe I'll even plant these out early. OK I promise to shut up now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Planting

The poor lettuce seedlings. They were so crowded. My schedule says they were to go into the ground on March 20th. Well that didn't happen. I finally got them all planted yesterday, April 5th, more than two weeks past when they should have gone in.

Still they looked pretty good since they were put into the 2" soil blocks. A 2" block has a lot of growing space for their roots. They seemed rather happy even if they are crowded. I have eight varieties, two of each kind. I have my Deer Tongue and Red Sails that I saved seed from last year. Then I have seed given to me from all over. Little Gem came from Dan; Freckles came from Emily; Paris Island from Granny, Tom Thumb from Stefaneener; Dazzle and Bath Cos from Jody.

I think they will be happier where they are now. I usually leave them for a couple of weeks under the row cover. I like the row cover because it protects them when they are newly planted. If you notice I also plant radishes between the rows. I forget when those seeds got in. I had five minutes so threw them in one day. Usually I space my lettuce 8" apart which is very pushy for some of the bigger lettuces, but for the best production in a given square foot I think it produces the best. This time I spaced them a foot apart in one direction and 9" in the other. Since I'm trialing so many lettuce varieties, I figured I'd give them lots of space to see what they could ultimately be.

And since I had a bit more time I decided to put in the onions. Their date to go out into the garden isn't for another week and a half, but what the heck. I had time. We had a beautiful sunny mid 70F degree day. So it was a good excuse to do it right then. I put in Ringmaster, Red Wing, Varsity, and some bunching onions. The bulbing onions were multiplanted. I had two onions in each little soil block. Usually I would put onions 4" apart, but since there were two, I put them 6" apart. That way they have the same space per plant.

I don't have a pretty jig like kitsapFG. I just use a stake as a straight edge. I know the distance between my thumb and first finger is 6". So I use that as my measuring tool. I marked every 6" and then planted the first row. I offset the second row so the plants were all in a diamond pattern.

This year with my soil blocks I've been using screening underneath to make the bottom of the flat - well flat. Flats have ridges all around so the water can flow, but the blocks sit better if the bottom is flat. So I cut screening for the bottom. It has worked pretty well. The lettuce had no issues at all. However the onions' roots grew through the screen. When I pulled the plants out there was as much root outside of the blocks as inside. Maybe I kept this flat too wet at the bottom? Whatever was happening the roots weren't air pruning as they should. I'll have to watch and make sure to drain out the flat after watering.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Harvest Monday - 5 April 2010

No harvests yet. I keep thinking I need to have a greenhouse in the new house. If for nothing else, I need it so I can be a proper hostess of Harvest Monday. But no. I had a spot all picked out for a small one against the back wall. Then the next time we went he had put in the air conditioning units. Two huge monstrosities in the only place possible. Now I'm thinking little mini hoop houses like Thomas and Dan have. Time will tell if it really happens.

I was eating from the stores again this week at least a little. Thursday I had been cleaning all day. My husband was off on a business trip and I really didn't feel like making dinner. So I scrounged in the freezer and found some garden goodness all tucked away.

You can't beat minestrone soup for a taste of the garden in winter. I had forgotten I still had that down there. I still have one more batch. It won't get eaten right now because we have been having record breaking hot weather in the last couple of days and it is going to continue at least through Thursday. But last Thursday it really hit the spot.

If you have a harvest or have been eating your harvests up in some way, add your name and URL to Mr. Linky below and show us yours.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I've been totally remiss because I've been too busy. Robin who is my partner in the Get Growing series set up a giveaway of seeds. I'm supposed to pick a winner from my site. I was supposed to put up the info then, but didn't. So I'll copy her text here and do it now.

We are very excited to offer a giveaway this month sponsored by Hometown Seeds. We will select one winner from our site, and Robin will also select one winner. The prize is an amazing assortment of vegetable seeds from Hometown's Survival Seed collection, a total of sixteen packages of vegetable seeds ranging from beets and pole beans to butternut squash, cucumber, zucchini and sweet peppers. The winner will receive almost a pound and a half of seeds, specially packaged to keep a minimum of 5 years. All the vegetable varieties are non-hybrids which is wonderful if you like to collect and save seeds.

To qualify, you must live in the continental U.S. and you must post a comment here at any time between now and April 15th and mention the Hometown giveaway. If you post a comment, please enable us to reply so we can retrieve your details if you are the winner. Seeds will be shipped directly to the winner from Hometown Seeds later this month.

I think US law makes me say that I'm not being paid for mentioning them and not receiving anything personally. So there we go. Hopefully after Tuesday my life will almost get back to normal for a few weeks. My house will be on the market April 6th so all the work has to be completed by then. Then I can devote more time to gardening again. Yay! This should include both the garden from this house and designing the garden for the next house. I can't wait. It is much more fun than painting, fixing up, and cleaning.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Get Growing in April

This is the fifth in a twelve part series for new gardeners. If you have never planted vegetables before but always wanted to, this is the series for you. Robin, who writes the blog Vegetable Matter, and I will post on the first of every month. Robin lives in Houston and I live in Boston. We will be posting about what to do in the garden that month and giving advice. So if you have always wanted that vegetable garden, but didn’t know where to start, you have no excuse. Get growing!

In New England April brings warmer weather. The ground is unfrozen and warming up fast, but we still have a chance of freezes and snow. Only plants that can stand some frost can be planted out now. There are a wide variety of crops that prefer to grow in the cool weather of spring. Last month we planted spinach and peas which can even handle some of the hard freezes. This month we start to plant things that can handle the milder frost.

Common cool weather crops good for planting in April in Southern New England are carrots, radishes, beets, Swiss chard, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli. onions and lettuce. This month I'll be talking about plants in the Brassica genus which include a lot of common and uncommonly grown plants. Plants in this genus are commonly called brassicas, cole crops, or sometimes even crucifers. These include most of the Asian greens, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, kohlrabi, and turnips. They all prefer approximately the same conditions and treatment. They vary a bit, but not enough to worry about. Most of these plants grow as well or better in the fall as in the spring.


Asian greens are often quick to grow. Tatsoi here only takes 40 days from planting out.

Your soil is very important to growing brassicas. Mineral deficiencies are common if the soil pH is too high, but brassicas don't like soil with a low pH, so you have to make sure it is in the right range. Brassicas do well in with the soil pH in a range between 6 and 7. Though 6.5-7 is often better. Fall is the best time to lime to bring up the pH of the soil, but I've done it right before planting some years. The plants do just fine.

Brassicas also do best with a high percentage of organic matter in the soil to make the nitrogen more available in a cold spring. So add lots of compost. All plants need compost, but brassicas do especially well if they have a lot.

After the main head is picked, broccoli keeps producing side shoots

They are heavy feeders, which means they ought to be fertilized before planting and again about halfway through their growth for the longer maturing ones. The midway fertilization is called side dressing. The fertilizer is sprinkled over the surface of the soil in a circle around the plant and scratched very shallowly in. You should not place this fertilizer near the plant stem, but toward the outer leaves of the plant. A slow releasing fertilizer is best. Cole crops have a very shallow root system and if you give them a large dose of immediately available nitrogen it could burn their roots. Most organic fertilizers are slow release by nature, but blood meal is an exception. It can burn roots if applied too heavily. Cotton seed meal should also be avoided as cotton is not an edible and is grown with some very nasty pesticides.

A good rule of thumb for planting is two weeks before your average last frost. I sometimes plant earlier because I always grow them under row covers which give them protection from a freeze. Brassicas can handle a bit of cold weather and frost, but it is best that they don't see hard freezes because some will bolt prematurely in the spring. Asian greens seem to be very susceptible to this. Don't despair if your Asian greens start to bolt though. The flower stalks are often very good and on many, the leaves are still good to cook with. Think of the flower stalk as a bonus. If you do want to grow good heading Asian greens (like pac choi and Napa cabbage), fall is a much easier season to grow them as they won't bolt then.

Except for the root crops like turnips, brassicas are generally put in the garden as transplants here and not seeds. Transplants can be grown indoors under lights or bought at a nursery. Whoever grows them, the transplants have been coddled for a long time. The plants are not hardy enough to go straight out into the garden. If you put them right into the garden they could languish, get sunburnt or the worst case, they could die. To avoid transplant shock you should harden all seedlings off before planting them. This gets the seedlings used to the environment slowly. The first day you might put the plant outside in direct sun for an hour, then bring them back inside under lights or under partial shade. At night they get brought in to start with. Then slowly increase the time in the sun. After about five days they should be in the sun all day long and outside at night provided no freezes are forecast. After a week they should be transplanted.

Now I have a confession to make. I don't always do this. If I think bought plants have been outside for a while I will cut down on the time. You don't always know and the plants can suffer if you miss guess. A week is much safer. My home grown plants are grown in soil blocks and I use a fan to harden up their stems inside. Transplant shock is pretty minimal for them. They still need to be hardened off however to make sure they can handle real sun instead of the much dimmer fluorescent lights. So my biggest concern is making sure they don't get sunburned by planting out too quickly. You know you have sunburnt your plants if you find white patches on the upper leaves. The plant will survive, but it won't grow quite as well at the start.

So now you are ready to plant. Dig a small hole in your fertilized bed and put the plant so the soil surface will be the same height as it is in the pot. Many brassicas can get away with being planted a bit deeper. Some plants will rot if you do that, but brassicas seem to survive that alright. Water the plant in well. Then keep it watered so the soil doesn't dry out.

I've never experienced any diseases with brassicas. Club root is a possible disease. It doesn't live well if the soil is over a pH of 7, so many over lime that part of the garden. The issue with this is that boron (and other minerals if you bring it even higher) becomes less available to the plant. You might need to foliar spray the plant with boron if you use this approach. Many with the disease in their soil will rotate their crops on a long schedule. Five to seven years is a normal rotation schedule if you have this problem. If you do rotations, make sure not to reinfect other parts of the garden by not cleaning off your shovels after digging in the brassica bed. My brassica rotation schedule even though I've never had problems is six years.

My biggest problem with brassicas are the insect pests. I have four major pests in my area. Root maggots are flies that lay eggs in the soil around the base of the plant. The little larvae live in the soil eating all the roots. You will typically not notice the insects themselves, but when your brassicas start to wilt and they have been recently watered, you can bet it is root maggots. If you take the plant out you will notice that it doesn't have much of a root system left. They are most problematic on small seedlings. A large plant can often survive a mild attack.

The next insect pest is the flee beetle. It is a small beetle that jumps when you bring your hand close. They look like small little black dots. These can have several generations in a year. The larvae feed on the roots of the plants, but do minimal damage. The major damage is caused by the adult beetle. They may be small but if there are enough of them they can chew up the leaves and can kill seedlings. Larger plants are not as badly affected.

The third insect pest is the caterpillar. There is more than one type of caterpillar that feeds on brassicas, but these can totally strip the leaves from the plants if there are enough. In addition they can get into the heads of broccoli and make it pretty disgusting to eat as you often can't see these pests as you pick the head.

Broccoli unmolested under a row cover

I'll get to the last pest, but first I'll talk about control of the first three. If you put on a row cover, like a light weight Agribon right when you plant and keep the edges tacked down well, it will prevent most of the damage. I find I'm not perfect and occasionally get a little root maggot or caterpillar damage, but very little. If you don't want to row cover your garden and don't want to spray toxic chemicals, flee beetles can be vacuumed off of plants. More will find you, but it keeps the population down. One beetle does not do a lot of damage. Root maggots need to be able to get to the soil surface near the stem to lay their eggs. Many people use paper collars around the plants so the fly can't reach the soil surface. Caterpillars can be killed by spraying with Bacillus Thuringiensis. This is a bacteria that infects only caterpillars. All other insects and animals are not affected. Make sure you get the kind that targets caterpillars since there are strains sold that affect only mosquitoes and black flies.

The last insect pest is my nemesis, the slug. People who live in dry areas of the country tend not to have these, but here in the northeast we have lots and row covers will not keep them out. They can crawl right under them. They can eat direct seeded brassicas before you ever get to see the seeds come up. This is why I always use transplants with brassicas. They are a slug's favorite food and will be drawn in from any nearby lawn or wood. They can quickly eat any transplants too if you don't protect them. There are many ways I've tried to keep slugs out of the garden: beer traps (I have teatotaling slugs), diatomaceous earth (slows them down but they still eat the plants and has to be applied after every rain), crushed eggshells (helps, but still only slows them down a bit), and handpicking at night with a flashlight (works the best of the above, but what a pain). This year I'm going to try iron phosphate (sold under the brand name Sluggo). Iron phosphate is an innocuous substance where pets and humans are concerned and both iron and phosphorous are good for your plants. I've heard very good things about it.

I hope I haven't scared you off with respect to brassicas. They are not the easiest of garden plants to grow, but they are extremely productive in a small space and you can get at least two crops out of that space. One in the spring and once that one is harvested you can put in the fall crop. Fall is an easier season for them as often some of their insect pests have found other hosts already (caterpillars and slugs will always be an issue) and bolting is not an issue..

Other post in the series

Determining your growing zone and planting peas (Vegetable Matter - December)
Planning a Garden (Daphne's Dandelions - December)
Growing Lettuce (Vegetable Matter - January)
Starting transplants indoors (Daphne's Dandelions - January)
Growing tomatoes (Vegetable Matter - February)
Compost (Daphne's Dandelions - February)
Snap Beans (Vegetable Matter - March)
Peas and Spinach (Daphne's Dandelions - March)
Eggplant (Vegetable Matter - April)
Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Asian vegetables) (Daphne's Dandelions - April)
Edamame (Vegetable Matter - May)
Tomatoes (Daphne's Dandelions - May)