Friday, March 30, 2012

Sweet Potatoes

The circle garden

This will be my first year ever growing sweet potatoes. If the weather keeps up with above average temperatures I might succeed. I'm going to give them the circle garden to grow in as it is the warmest part of the garden. It gets the most sun and it is surrounded by a brick path on three sides. And the walls of the raised beds are made by bricks. So think hot.

Right now I have some of the smaller Asian greens growing in one of the beds in the circle garden. Above is some Choy Sum coming up. The tatsoi, white stemmed baby bok choy, and Fun Jen are all coming up well. The Shanghai bok choy has only a few up. I think this is its last year. So sad. You can bet I'll be ordering more come next winter. The seed from that and from the white stemmed bok choy and the choy sum were a gift from Mac years ago. One year during my seed give away I asked if anyone had any Asian greens they liked. She sent me a ton of different seeds.

Sweet potato slips

Gardeners are so generous. This year I didn't ask for anything, but Norma offered to send me sweet potato slips. Whoohoo! They came this week. We were both a bit worried about Monday night's cold temps, but luckily they weren't left out on a truck that night as they arrived safe and sound. She sent four varieties. Korean Purple. Purple, and two whose names are unknown. The first two are short season and grow in her garden in upstate New York, so I figure they ought to grow here. I am cooler in the summer because of the sea breezes, but it ought to be hot enough with the weird weather we have had this year.

As soon as I received them they were put on the windowsill in water with my sweet potatoes that I'm trying to make slips with. These are Garnet and I think Beauregard. They are also short season sweet potatoes. I'm so excited about growing them. New things are always so much fun.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Costa Rican Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard

As many of you know, I was in Costa Rica a couple of weeks ago. We ate and had so many wonderful things. The fruits there are just wonderful. Above is a fruit stand at one of our rest stops.

Anyone know what these are? I'll make you guess. When the fruit hangs from the tree the greenish gray part is face down and the colored part is the top. The Costa Ricans drink the juice form this fruit though here in the US I've never seen it. I have seen what comes from the bottom though. It is poisonous unless cooked. I never knew how they grew before. Personally I eat a lot of them. It is one of my favorites. And if you still can't guess, you can mouse over the photos and see how I labeled the photo.

For breakfast the Costa Ricans eat something called Gallo Pinto for breakfast. If you know me, you know I love beans. And this is basically a black bean and rice dish. They use lots of cilantro in the dish and it is delicious. Since I had just picked a ton of cilantro it seemed to be a good choice to make.

My "Gallo Pinto" isn't true to form four two reasons. I didn't have any black beans left. Well I had a few but they were not cooked and I was using my canned beans. Next year I need way more black beans. They really are my favorite bean. The other reason is that I put a bit of cumin it in. This is not normal for Gallo Pinto. Oh and normally there is about half as many beans as I add. I do love my beans.

I can't give you an exact recipe since I didn't follow one and sort of just threw things in. But I'll give you the gist of it. Start with some onion. I used a very small onion. Saute it in tablespoon or two of oil for a couple of minutes then add a cup of rice and about 1/4 c of cilantro. Saute for a couple of minutes more. Then I added about two cups of chicken broth. Maybe a bit less and cooked it until it was done. I tossed in two jars of cooked beans. Mine were Apache Red, but to be authentic it should have been black beans. I added another 1/4 c of cilantro, about a 1/2 t salt, and a 1/2 t of cumin. I didn't measure really. I'm guessing here. Then heated it all through.

Yum. I love beans and rice. Though the photo doesn't really show it they looked a bit like Christmas beans and rice since the beans were red and the cilantro green. I didn't have mine for breakfast, I had mine for lunch along with some Tzatziki, cold cooked beans, and carrots. Is it wrong to combine Costa Rican food with Greek food?

Actually the Tzatziki is left over from my husbands birthday party. I love it so I'm eating it up at every chance. Above is another meal with it. The beans and cukes are left over from the party too. I buy in bulk from Costco for the party. Our birthday parties tend to be large (this one was probably 50 people) and nerdy. They are gaming parties and we play Euro games from 1pm until I finally kick people out after 11pm. Oh and back to the food. The fried rice has cilantro, asparagus, and kale. Those at least were from the garden. The asparagus was only half from my garden. The other half was also leftovers.

Many people wondered what I'd do will all that cilantro I picked last week. Well here are two dishes that used it. Cilantro is widely used in the world. It is used in many Asian countries (certainly in Chinese, Indian, and Thai food) and many Central American dishes. I see it a lot in more upscale US restaurants. It is a wonderful flavor if you like it. Some hate it as they have a gene that makes it taste different than it tastes to me. I keep waiting for it to be on Iron Chef. I really want to see it in the ice cream machine. Anyone up for cilantro cinnamon ice cream? It seems like it would be really tasty. Or maybe it would be terrible. I don't have the skill they have of guessing what something would taste like without trying it. Hmmm maybe cilantro lemon would be better.

Join Robin over at The Gardener of Eden for the rest of the Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard posts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cleaning Up

Over the weekend and on Monday I got some work done in the garden. And noticed a few things. Cleaning up of all the dead foliage was the primary goal. I Really don't have much of this in the garden. I clean out my crops when they get harvested. But some things are more perennial. Like the mint above. I have four pots with mint. Mojito Mint, Peppermint, Chocolate Mint, and Citrus Kitchen. Since their little leaves are starting to pop out of the ground it was time to get rid of the dead branches above them.

Then there are the two strip gardens. The one by the house with my cilantro, sweet alyssum, and sunflowers. And the one above that holds my Anise Hyssop, Chamomile, Achillea, and Coreopsis. Above is the latter. You can see the Chamomile coming up. It seed was blown all over the garden. I occasionally weed one out all over the place. But the bed nearest where the spinach is has tons. I'm going to have to keep those flowers picked better this year. In my last garden it would reseed but barely.

In the strip garden by the house I also have two rosemary plants. Above is Tuscan Blue. I cut off some of the dead foliage, but it seems to have survived the winter even if it is a bit ragged. This plant is hardy to zone 8. I didn't think it would survive but I figured I'd try it anyway since it is the epitome of rosemary flavor. It has a nice microclimate here. The wall holds a lot of heat and is facing southwest. I shudder to think what insects have survived the winter if a zone 8 plant can survive in my garden.

The other rosemary I have along this wall is Hill Hardy. It is a zone 7 rosemary. It survived without too much damage at all. I'm hoping I can keep it alive in perpetuity even though I'm only zone 6. I also have an Arp, which is another one that has a chance here. Most say it is hardy to zone 7, some zone 6. I can hope. It did well in the circle garden which doesn't have as nice of a microclimate, but it is right outside my kitchen door. It was severely cut back in the fall. I was worried this might have damaged it, but it seems just fine. I don't have any new growth yet on my rosemarys, but I'm pretty sure they have survived at this point. I've dreamed of overwintering rosemary in my garden for years. It looks like I've finally been successful in this weirdly warm year.

On Monday I read three weather predictions for the night. One was 17F and the other two were 24F. Ouch. After the really hot weather we have had (in the high 70s and low 80s all last week), this was going to be a shock to the plants. The only ones I was worried about were the onions.

So I covered them on Monday with a row cover. And we only got down to 26F. It probably got a nice frost under my cover, but I'm guessing it didn't freeze the soil. I'm wondering if I should just leave the cover on for a while. The cats have already dug a couple of onions up. This will let the soil settle without any disturbance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Harvest Monday - March 26, 2012

Yes! I had lots of harvests this week. The first was some overwintered carrots and bunching onions that I had to pick to clear out the bed for the fava beans. Most weren't huge carrots. Some I even had to toss as too small to be worthwhile, but I got a lot. I also still had some carrots saved from last fall in the fridge. I did a taste test on them both. The fall carrots were a tad bitter but still good. They were full of flavor. The spring carrots were very sweet but a little insipid. They didn't have the rich home grown carrot flavor. They didn't even have the supermarket flavor. Now don't get me wrong they were still good, just a bit bland. All in all neither of them won the taste off. It was too much like comparing apples and oranges.

The kale is fine staying in its bed for quite some time, but the weird hot weather was starting to make them bolt. Not to mention the cabbage butterflies made an appearance. So they won't last whatever happens. I pulled out the bolting ones, which was pretty much all the kale except the Red Russian and some unknown green variety that looks like Red Russian.

The other harvest in the basket was cilantro. I have three beds of cilantro. This is one of them, the only one that gets to stay in perpetuity. I'm thinking of having the main cilantro bed be in the strip along the wall. In the back will be a row of sunflowers and in the front some sweet alyssum or other low growing flower. I would like a permanent bed for it since it reseeds itself so well. And maybe by the rock wall it will over winter like it has done here. I cut back about half of the cilantro. I cut back a strip along the back where I'll seed the sunflowers and along the side where I'll eventually rip the roots out and stir the soil. I think a later crop will start growing if I do that. There are still a lot of seeds in that soil. I'll never get a summer crop here. It is hot along the wall. But I'm OK with that as summer crops are impossible anyway. I think the over wintered crop will go to seed early and maybe I'll get a fall crop again. I'm hoping. The huge harvest was mostly frozen for summer use.

  • Bunching Onions 0.53 lbs
  • Carrots 5.46 lbs
  • Kale 2.44 lbs
  • Cilantro 1.54 lbs
  • Weekly total 9.96 lbs
  • Yearly total 13.18 lbs
  • Tally -$523.42

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 link to Mr Linky below.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wishing for Spring

I look forward to spring every year, but this week we seem to be getting summer. When I was working in the garden the other day my neighbor was convinced that my garden loved this weather. I do love being out in it, but it isn't good for the garden. Last night the low was 63F. The normal high is only about 50F at this time of the year. The high was over 30 degrees above normal.

This afternoon I noticed that my New Red Haven peach tree was starting to bloom. The Reliance isn't far off. It is MARCH for goodness sake. I know we have been in the upper 70s and low 80s all week long, but on Monday the forecast is for more normal weather. The weathermen are thinking hard freeze. That would kill all the peach blossoms. For my dwarf trees this isn't a big deal. They were planted last year. I'd be lucky to be getting a peach or two even with perfect weather. What I'm really worried about is our apple crop. If these wild swings keep happening the farmers around here won't get crops. And apple farms are plentiful in Massachusetts.

For me I'm more worried about my overwintered spinach. The weather could well make it bolt before I get good harvests. The leaf miners are bound to show up in April instead of May and destroy the crop anyway. I really count on this crop for my winter veggies. I usually have spinach once or twice a week during the winter and this is the season it grows enough to freeze. My kale is already starting to bolt and it isn't even April yet. Even the cabbage butterflies are out.

All is not bad though. The spring spinach is up and growing a month before last year. The peas are up about three and a half weeks early. I've got my fingers crossed though that our temperature swings will be mild from now on and we have more spring like than summer like weather.

In other news I did get my radishes planted yesterday. I decided the upstairs didn't need to be cleaned this week anyway. No one is going to be in the bedrooms except to throw down their coats. I went shopping for the party today in two trips. I so wish our birthdays were at a better time of the year. I had to buy all these veggies for my vegetable platter. I could have grown them. The only home grown veggie will be the carrots. Though the salsas will be from the garden too - both green and red. Happy birthday Joel!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Planting

Yesterday I still couldn't stand up without getting dizzy and I couldn't eat much except a little toast and applesauce. I think I'll call it Montazuma's Diet now since I'm losing weight without wanting to eat more. Yesterday I didn't really feel bad except for my symptoms. You know how sometimes you just feel sick, with or without symptoms? Well I didn't feel sick yesterday. I just couldn't stand up for long. I felt like going for a walk or a bike ride. Not that I was leaving my trusty bathroom for that long. But the garden was a great place to be. And the weather has been so nice with highs of 79F for the last three days. Just so you know we are usually about 30F lower this time of year.

Lettuce protected from the cats and birds

The day started with my transplanting the lettuce. I had already prepared the bed yesterday when I planted the carrots so it was pretty easy. The lettuce was volunteer lettuce that had overwintered. I have no clue if it will be any good or not, but there was no harm in moving the lettuce from the paths to the lettuce bed.

Soil block ready to be planted.

Then I tackled the onions. First I had to prepare the soil. This bed was to be just an allium bed this year. I had planted garlic in there in the fall. I used up about 5' of the 16'x4' bed. So I had 11' to loosen up and fertilize. I went back in to rest a couple times during. I never could have done this if it were my old garden with heavy clay soil, but this garden is so light and fluffy. The work is easy.

Pink marks every 3". Green every 6".

Then I marked out the rows with a stick. I have a 3' bamboo pole that is marked on one side with 6" markings in one color and 3" markings in another. On the other side it is 4" markings. I use the pole to measure and make impressions in the soil. I made each row 6" apart and put the plants 6" apart in rows in a triangular pattern. Above you see how I plant. I take two fingers and pull the soil away. It makes the perfect hole to drop in the soil block.

This is the bed partly finished. I planted 167 onions. Though I found out afterwards that I mixed up some of the Ailsa Craig and Redwing Onions. Once they grow more I'll be able to tell them apart because the Redwings are, as you might guess, red.

I was exhausted after this and took a long rest. Then I figured I'd better plant my radishes. While I was hunting for the seed I noticed my fava beans. Oops! I should have planted those ages ago when I planted my peas in February. So I went out and prepared the fava bed. Which was way more work than expected. This is where the overwintered carrots were. I had to harvest and wash them all.

Just for future reference, Mokums don't overwinter well. Purple Haze were the best at over wintering and SugarSnax were good overwinterers. Also I noticed that the carrot fly damage didn't seem to affect how well the carrots survived. Nice to know since carrot flies can be annoying.

Once the carrots were out, I fertilized and prepped the fava bed. Then I planted. Last year I put the seeds on a six inch spacing. I thought this was too close. They seemed to want to branch out but didn't really have room. So this year I used 9" rows with 8" between plants. Which might be too much, but I'll find out. I only put one seed in each spot. I hope I won't regret that. With 6" spacing it is OK when a couple don't come up, but not as much with the larger spacing.

I don't have a lot of time to plant radishes today. Saturday is my husband's birthday party and we throw a party that starts at 1 and goes to 11. So today I clean. If the house is clean and I still have time I'll go out and plant them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm Baaack

So yes I'm back home. I didn't wait long on Sunday to take a look at the garden. In fact it was the first thing I did. I didn't even go in the house and put away the luggage. The spinach called to me. The overwintered spinach looks fabulous.

And lo and behold my early sowed spinach all came up.

And I'm totally shocked that my peas came up. Almost every one of them. Just a few didn't show. It wasn't that it was so cold out. The ground did freeze on them, but really they were planted on Feb 24th. No one plants peas that early here. I thought all those early sown spinach and peas would be goners when winter really hit. But it never did. Usually I'm digging my garden for the first time around St Patrick's Day.

On Monday I got the rest of the spinach bed fertilized and sowed. I don't really turn over my soil on a regular basis so I just forked it a bit without turning any layers over. I wanted to get some air into the depths. Then I added a row cover to keep out the leaf miners. With the overwintered spinach I don't bother. But this year I think I'll have problems with them in that bed. The insects are coming out a month early. Hopefully I'll get a good harvest there before the miners hit.

I also seeded a lot of soil blocks. Since the soil is so dang warm outside I decided to accelerate the schedule, if I had been home I probably would have done it even more. I seeded everything that was on the March list. Some of them are a week early, but with the soil so warm I'm not too worried.

Sadly Monday night I came down with Montezuma's revenge. I had been lulled on the ship and in Costa Rica to complacency. At the Panamanian airport I got a sandwich at Quiznos (most of the food places were American chains). Sadly I didn't tell them to keep the lettuce off. Monday morning I had a small stomach ache, but it hit hard on Monday night. Tuesday I was pretty out of it. Mostly I sat reading blogs (too out of it to comment though) and writing. I wanted to be in the garden, but standing up made me dizzy. I finally made myself go out and plant the peas and carrots at 1pm.

The weather was beautiful. It was in the high 70s. It felt nice sitting in the dirt. It didn't feel nice standing up. I was tired so I decided I didn't need to strain my soil so I could put it over the little carrot seed. Instead I put on some vermiculite. As you can see I made a bit of a mess with it, but mostly it followed the rows and was so quick.

Here you can see the burlap on the carrots. The snap peas are the foot wide strip in the back. About 3/4 of the front 8' section was seeded before and are coming up. So I seeded the last quarter and seeded about a third of the farther 8' section of bed with snow peas.

I still have many things to do that I was hoping to get done today. I want to plant my onions. I want to seed some radishes. And interestingly enough some self seeded lettuce overwintered and I want to transplant it out of the paths and into the beds. There is a lot of other things that need doing. I never pruned my fruit trees. I'll have to do that soon. The buds are swelling already. I know I'm late.

Some of my Asian greens came up that I seeded right before I left. I want to over seed where there aren't enough. There is a little bit of raking to do. Oh and lots of weeding. All those winter weeds have got to go. I ought to pull out half of my cilantro bed and stir the soil. The seed remaining will germinate. I should check under the old sweet alyssum and if it is germinating already I ought to uncover it. So much work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Soil Block Tutorial

I've been asked a lot this spring for a soil block tutorial. I have some pages that explain some of what I do, but I haven't put it all in one page. So this will be the page I can link to when people ask questions.

What is a soil block and why would anyone want to use them?

Soil blocks are just blocks of soil that have been compressed enough so they don't fall apart easily. They are a way of having a plant grow in soil without a pot. They are more fragile than a typical six pack in plastic. But once the roots fill the blocks they are surprisingly sturdy. Recently I left my onions seedlings with friends to take care of. The onions grew way too tall for the lights and when I got back two of the blocks had been knocked out of the flats by the edge of the light fixture when they were put back, but the plants and blocks were still fine.

There are two reasons that I love to use soil blocks over pots. The first is that I don't have to use all that plastic. I don't like buying more plastic that isn't necessary. I don't like washing out all the plastic at the end of the season. And I hate the plastic six packs floating around my garden during the season. You might be good about putting things away when you should, but I'm not. And for me the little six packs end up everywhere.

The second reason is that there is much less root disturbance when you transplant your seedlings. I've heard some people say that you don't have to harden off your seedlings when you use soil blocks. I don't believe that. They need to get used to the wind and the sun, but the roots are much happier. The roots never get root bound. In a six pack by the time the roots have filled out their container there is always a circle of roots at the bottom that you have to untangle before planting. With soil blocks the roots are air pruned as they grow. There are lots of little root ends at the edge of the block just waiting to grow when they get transplanted.


The first thing you need is some kind of potting mix for your blocks. Just about any commercial potting mix will work, however commercial potting mixes aren't made to be compressed as much as a block is and often don't have enough drainage built in. So they won't work as well. You can make your own with Coleman's mix (recipe is about half way down in the linked page). It is very inexpensive if you make large batches. I've done it all. I've found that my plants grow best with the Vermont Compost Company's Fort V mix. It is hands down better than the homemade mix. It doesn't hold together quite as well, but it is good enough and the plants grow amazingly well in it. They grow much faster and more stocky than with anything else. So they spend less time under my lights.

BTW even here in Massachusetts this mix is hard to find. You can get it mail order from Fedco but the shipping is expensive. The Massachusetts branch of NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) does a tristate bulk buy every year in March for MA, RI, and CT. You order early in January and February (don't remember the exact times) and have to go somewhere to pick up at a certain date in March. You don't have to be a member or a farmer. You can be a little tiny gardener, but you get a lot of things cheap. Including Fort V mix.

Soil blockers

Once you have your soil you need some kind of blocker. If you do an internet search you can find instructions for homemade blockers that are cheap. I recommend buying a commercial one however unless you have lots of time or don't have many plants. With commercial blockers you can make multiple blocks all at once and they are square so more space efficient.

Size does matter. I have three sizes. The smallest is a micro blocker. It is only made for germinating seeds. You put just one seed in each micro block so there is no thinning. After they come up you have to transplant them to the 2" (the largest of mine) right away. Most people love that system and size. Personally I hate it. I find seeds don't germinate well in the micro blocks. They don't have holes that are large enough for bigger seeds. I find the 2" blocks take too much room under my lights. Most of my seedlings I put in the 1 1/2" blockers. They fit 72 into a typical US flat. I would consider this size about equivalent to a six pack when you are growing plants. It is probably more soil and nutrients than you get in a six pack (remember that the soil is very compressed and there is less wasted space). You do get less light since six packs fit 48 to a flat.

I use the 1 1/2" size for onions, lettuce, chard, brassicas, herbs, and flowers. I only use my 2' size (without the mini blocker, I seed directly into the 2" size) for peppers. For tomatoes I start with the 1 1/2" size and grow for three weeks. Then I transplant to some tall bottomless newspaper pots. After a week they have filled out the pots and can be transplanted. Yes I only grow tomatoes for four weeks total. I like my transplants small (about 5" tall) and very well rooted. I'd say my newspaper pots are 4" deep. So the bottom is almost as large as the top. The greens I typically transplant at 3 weeks. The onions are 8 weeks (provided the weather cooperates). Flowers and herbs vary a lot. Some are very slow growers some are fast.

Making the blocks

The first thing you have to do to make blocks is to moisten your soil mix. You are always told as a gardener to not work your soil wet. Well here you want it wet. Very wet. As you can see above. I'm squeezing the soil and water is dripping out. If yours isn't that wet add more water. Beginners have a tendency to not get it wet enough. You aren't going for soup, but it will still work with thick soup, but it won't hold together if it is too dry. Most mixes have a lot of peat moss in them that is hard to wet. So use hot water. It will moisten the soil better. It is also better if you moisten your soil a day in advance. I never plan that well when making blocks, so I just do it right before. I mix well with my hands to break up any peat moss that isn't wet.

Twist as you make your blocks

Then you push the bocker down into the soil with a twisting motion. I often do it several times to make sure it is totally filled and compact (especially getting more in the two ends which tend to get less full). You are going for very tightly compact soil. Loose soil won't hold together. And here is where I differ from most instructions. I always check the bottom after I do it. I make sure the soil is well pressed in in all the cells. Then I take my finger and make the bottom flat. Usually it is rounded on the bottom. The blocks don't sit flat if the bottom isn't flat. Every other instruction I've ever seen says to not take soil off the bottom. I always do so that the bottom is even with the edges of the blocker.

Then you press out the soil onto your flat. Often at this point the soil wants to stick to the blocker. Other instructions say dip the blocker into water every time before making blocks. I've found that doesn't really help. It sticks just as much for me prewetted. So at the end I vibrate my hand so it releases. It is a very small movement, like you are shivering. This tends to release the block without any flaws.

After you are finished making your blocks wash your blocker. I once let mine sit for a several hours. I made some blocks in the morning and was going to come back in the evening to make more. The blocker had already started to corrode. So wash it right when you are done.

Once the blocks are made I dust the surface with cinnamon. This is helps prevent damping off. Then I seed the little holes in the top of the blocks and cover with vermiculite. Vermiculite is easier for the seeds to push up against and it also is pretty sterile compared to the soil. It doesn't have any of the damping off diseases in it so a good choice for seedlings.

Maintenance and containers for you blocks

You can use just about anything for for containers. I think Coleman recommends that you make your own wooden containers with a side missing (the side missing so they can be transplanted in the field easily). He mists the blocks to water them. I don't like that system. Wood sucks the moisture out of the blocks so they have to be watered more. My big sprayer is too cumbersome to spray neatly in a small area evenly (would work in a greenhouse, but not my room with wood floors). The small hand sprayers would take too much effort. Overhead spraying promotes damping off. His system might work well for a greenhouse and a large field operation, but I'm a home gardener.

So I figured out a system which I've yet to see anyone else use. It uses things I had or things I could get easily. I had flats. I had solid flats and I had mesh bottom flats (though a friend helped me out with more of these). The mesh bottom flat goes inside the solid flat so it doesn't drip. The mesh bottom flats were too uneven to hold the block well so I added some screening. In addition with the mesh bottom it lifted the block off of the plastic and and let the roots air prune a bit. I would like to get some wooden strips to lift the mesh off farther. Right now occasionally the roots grow into the bottom as it is moist enough.

Above is what my blocks looked like after making most of them. I think the blocker puts them too close together to root prune well and since a flat gives me the space I rearrange them to be even.

This is a flat that is finished. As you can see the 1 1/2" blocks fit very well at 6 across and 12 down. There is just enough space between them to keep most of the roots from crossing from block to block too often. They do cross occasionally. A good thing to do would be to cut the roots between them about a week before transplanting, but I never bother.

One of the nice things about this set up is that watering is easy. I remove the mesh flat from its bottom solid flat. The put it in another flat that I keep half filled with water. So I bottom water all the seedlings. Once they are moist on the top I move them back to their original flat. You could fertilize them like this too. I've found I don't need to. The Fort V mix has lots of nutrients. Even my onions in the 1 1/2" blocks have no trouble over 8 weeks. Other things need more space for the light when they get bigger, so I always pot up to bottomless newspaper pots for them.

The original flat is labeled on the sides with tape. So I'm careful not to rotate the flat when I put it in and out of the watering flat.

Thongs for moving a block

Coleman's flats had a side missing to take out the blocks easily. I don't. So I have a pair of tongs I use that makes picking up the blocks a snap. It isn't uncommon for me to rearrange the flats as time goes on. The cabbage family tends to stay in their flats for about 3 weeks (though future successions will be potted up in newspaper pots as I won't have their space ready yet). Somethings grow fast and shade out the small plants. I try to take this in to account when seeding, but some things are seeded much later than others. So my blocks will be moved around. The tape will come with them as they move.

Hardening off

Hardening off is easier. Usually there is massive transplant shock with plastic pots. The plants can be stressed in several different ways. They can get sunburned if they aren't used to direct sun (white patches on your leaves). They can get shocked by the wind (I pet my plants and use a fan at times which helps out with this). And they can have a shock to their root system. I don't have to worry about the root system. It stays intact and is never root bound. So my main issue with hardening off is the sun. The cool weather crops get a few days since the sun isn't as strong when they are being transplanted. But the tomatoes and peppers get a lot longer. The sun is very strong at that time of the year here. It helps if I plant them and put a row cover over them for a week. That way they get a bit of shade (about 15% with a lot of row covers) and less wind shock too. If I push their hardening off I'll always give them a row cover.

Hopefully I haven't missed too much. If so I'll edit the post after the fact.

Oh and just so I have it here. I grow my transplants under shop lights with cool white fluorescent bulbs. You do not need expensive grow lights for transplants. You need them to get something to flower, but not for vegetative growth. And even for flowers your plants will be healthier if you don't have flowers on them when they get transplanted out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Harvest Monday - March 19, 2012

If my flights went well, I should be home from my trip by now. But I scheduled this one before I went just in case I didn't make it. Obviously I have no harvest since I haven't been home for two weeks, but I did do a couple of things to get the garden ready for spring before I left.

If you remember my MIL gave me some birthday money and I spent some of it on irrigation. I now have all of it in but the T-tape in the back and side yards. I finished the rock wall garden by the driveway. But in the back and side yards I only have the mainline hose down right now.

You can barely see the pipe running along the bricks near the kale

This back and side yard irrigation will only hit the circle garden outside my kitchen door (but not the actual circle in the middle with the herbs) and the strip along the foundation where my cilantro and sunflower will grow. Oh and some flowers. I'm hoping the sweet alyssum will reseed itself, but if not I'll buy or seed something very short there. I'm hoping it will be bee heaven.

I also seeded some of the early spring Asian greens. This bed will have, from inner circle to outer circle, tatsoi, green stemmed baby bok choy, white stemmed baby bok choy, choy sum, and Fun Jen in the corners. I only did half the bed. I'll do the other bed when it warms up more. It was supposed to get into the 60s when I was gone. I hope it did. I hope they came up. I'll find out later today when I wake up. Oh and did you notice how I followed the circle in planting. I don't know why I did that since I'll never have the cover off to look at it except to harvest and weed. But I couldn't help following the curve.

After they were seeded, I tamped them in and watered. Then I covered with my new row covers. I'm thinking these covers won't keep out the flee beetles. I'm OK with that. I can keep the population down with my white containers filled with soapy water. It doesn't get them all, but does seem to keep the population in check. But it does look like it will keep out the root maggots and the cabbage butterflies. I was putting it up in the wind and I'm happy to say the wind goes through this more than it does for Agribon. So one good thing. It will keep things from damping off as much. It seems like it would let the water in a lot better too. I'll find out as time progresses.

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 link to Mr Linky below.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harvest Monday - March 12, 2012

I'm off drinking tropical drinks in another country this Monday so no harvests today. I thought I'd show you what I put on my windowsill before I left for my trip. I got them from Russo's a vegetable store. (And don't worry by townhouse mates are watering them when needed so they won't die if they start to sprout.)

These are the old wizened men, looking out into the yard. According to one of the extension services in New England (I forget if it is NH or ME) if you buy an unlabeled sweet potato in the US it is most likely Beauregard and it is a good variety for New England.

These are my young women gabbing among themselves. They were labeled Garnet. So at least I know the variety. What I really wanted was a Georgia Jet as they are very fast maturing and produce very well in the north, but I couldn't find them. I might have to buy a few slips at some point. I'll see later. In fact if my slip production doesn't work (it is the first time I've ever tried doing this) then I still have plenty of time to put in an order for slips. If I end up really loving a variety I can just pot up a vine and bring it inside for the winter. I'm terrible with houseplants, but one can always try.

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 link to Mr Linky below.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Harvest Monday - March 5, 2012

It is so sad when the hostess can't come up with a harvest to show off. But I've got nothing. I'm leaving on a two week trip to Costa Rica and Panama and I've been working on eating up everything in my fridge and trying to eat up the spinach in the freezer. I now have only two packets of spinach left in the freezer so I did well on that front.

Which is good because the spinach outside is looking great. I think it has even started growing again. I'm hoping when I get back there will be a lot of new growth and I can pick. It would be so much earlier than usual, but I'll be happy to be eating freshly picked spinach again.

There are many seedlings I should have planted to get a head start, but this year because of my trip I decided to just plant onion seedlings. The rest are being pushed back to when I get home. My townhouse mates are taking care of them when I'm gone. I figured the onions were pretty easy as seedlings go. The aren't prone to things like damping off so they shouldn't cause problems. The hard part is telling when to water. Over watering is bad and so is under watering. Hopefully they have the idea of when to do it. They wanted a schedule so they knew when to do it, but as they grow it gets closer and closer together as the plants get bigger. You have to look at the soil to figure it out.

Obviously I won't be here for the next two Harvest Mondays, but I'll have the posts scheduled and you all can have fun without me. Hopefully Blogger will be working and the posts will come up on time.

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 link to Mr Linky below.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seed Storage

Granny, Robin, and Ed posted on how they store their seeds. So I figured I'd weigh in. Currently I have five containers of seeds. The containers I use are airtight. The two above are stored in the back of the fridge. This tends to keep the seed viable for long periods of time (just make sure to bring the seeds to room temperature before opening). I also have a container in the freezer for seed I might want to use some year, but I'm not this year. Sometimes I find it hard to throw away seed that I've loved but have something else I'm growing now.

These containers are indexed. One has all my big seeds like corn, peas, and beans. The other has everything else. I had these containers for a long time not being used. Then I found out they were the exact size of a seed packet on its side. They are the perfect seed storage containers (2qt ClickClack containers).

The other two are sometimes used. One has seed that will be sown in the garden soon (peas, spinach, lettuce, Asian greens, and fava beans). It is kept by the back door. The other has seed that will be sown indoors soon and is kept upstairs in the plant nursery.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I am a very unhappy gardener this morning. I looked out the window at the snowfall. Not much is accumulating. But when I looked out my office window to my gooseberries in the front yard, I saw this.

That is a raccoon print. I've yet to ever have a raccoon in my garden before. Groundhogs yes. Raccoons no. I think he has taken up residence under my neighbor's dilapidated garage in his back yard. This year the plan is to grow a lot of sweet corn. 88 plants to be exact. Raccoons so love sweet corn. And keeping them out of the garden is impossible. I can only pray. I do have plans for squash under the sweet corn. Supposedly raccoons don't like the prickles of the squash plants. Somehow I don't think that will be enough to keep them from the banquet.