Monday, April 25, 2016

Dr. Martin Lima Beans

      A few years ago, some of the gardeners at the park introduced me to Dr. Martins Lima Beans.  The vines grow huge, and although the beans are very large, they are delicious.  The only problem I had was getting the dried beans to sprout.  A lot of the literature suggests to soak the dried beans overnight.  All that did was to result in planting mushy beans in flats that resulted in a rotting mess. With some years of experimentation, I have come upon a simple method.

Dr. Martin starts, April 25, 2016
      Five days ago I filled these four cell packs with soil, and soaked the trays in water.  Poured off the excess water and planted one dried bean per cell.  Actually one FROZEN dried bean per cell, as these beans are from my dried crop from November 2015 that has been stored in the freezer.  Who would think that frozen beans would germinate?  Not only do they germinate, I think I will get all 16 seeds to sprout. How about them beans?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paper Towel Germination Update

Upper Rack
      Last month on January 4th, I started germinating some seeds using the moist paper towel method. At the time I believed that the forecast for a big El Nino winter suggested that we would have a mild winter here in the Mid Atlantic area.  I should be able to get starts out early in the cold frames, right?  Not so fast.  I have been cold, and we are looking for a low of 3 degrees overnight on Saturday!!!  Not exactly early gardening weather.  Now back to the moist towel method.

      On January 4th, I started:                                                            Results
Asian Pak Choi                  Livingston for 2013                                  Good
Mizuna Mustard                 GWD seed for 2012                                Good
Dwarf Chinese Cabbage    GWD seed for 2012                                 Good
Bloomsdale Spinach           Bulk seed from Alexanders, Year ?           Zip
Forellenschluss lettuce        Fedco for 2012                                         Zip
Winter Density Lettuce       Fedco for 2012                                         Zip
Lettuce Red Sails               GWD for 2011                                          Zip
Romaine Lettuce                Livingston for 2008                                    Zip

      On January 5th, I started:
Radish                               Burpee's French Breakfast for 2015           90 % +
Beedy's Camden Kale       Fedco for 2010                                          Good
Radish, Purple Plum           Lake Valley for 2015                                 90 % +
Swiss Chard                      Livingston Bright Lights for 2015                Only fair
Romaine Lettuce                Fedco Winter Wonderland for 2012          Good
Arugula                              GWD but unlabeled                                   Zip
Hardy Mild Mustard           GWD for 2012                                            Good
Curly Kale                          GWD for 2011                                            90 % +

      On January 6th, I started:
Sylvetta Arugula                  Fedco for 2010                                         Zip
Roquette Arugula                Livingston for 2009                                   Fair - Okay
Chinese Mustard                 GWD Thick Stem for 2014                       Good
Purple Kohlrabi                   Lake Valley for 2015                                Very good
Savoy Cabbage                   Fedco var Deadon for 2012                      Okay
Swiss Chard                        Burpee's Rhubard Chard for 2014             Good
Lacinto Kale                        Fedco for 2012 Nero di Tuscana               Good
Radish, Watermelon             Livingston for 2015                                    Good  

      What did I learn from all of this?  Early January is too early to be starting fast growing crops.  Had it been a very mild winter, the starting time could still have been delayed for probably two weeks.  The seeds for year 2012 seem to be the tipping point for germination.  Prior to that there were a lot of zero germinations. For 2013 and later, only the Livingston Bright Lights was spotty.  So a little later this spring I should use up all of my 2012 seeds, and only carry forward 2013 or later.  And maybe work hard to use up the 2013 seed as well.  The results also suggest that my own GWD saved seed have done quite well.
       With the exceedingly cold forecast for overnight Saturday, I am going to have to bring the starter trays back inside for some period of time.  Bummer

Middle Rack
Lowest Rack


Organizing the Seeds

      I have tons and tons of seeds.  And in many places.  Old seeds, new seeds, labeled seeds, and nearly useless unlabeled seeds.  My paper towel project was a start to test the viability of some of the older seeds, so I could see what to keep for next year.  This project is an attempt to get them all in one organized spot.

      The pile on the left is total seed chaos.  The seeds were kept in a box that had no internal dividers. Paper bags containing seeds were all battered.  The soda sleeves on the right are 5" by 5", and a box I found from a holiday delivery was a perfect 15" by 15".  I cut that down to a depth that I thought would be correct, then cut the soda boxes down to 5" tall with the fourth side 6" tall.  That will allow me to write a label on the taller 6" section.  After putting the seeds in some order:

      Wow, that is much better.  Nine little boxes fit snugly in the big box, but are large enough to hold a lot of seed packets.  There are squash and cucumber seeds in one box, lettuce and various salad green seeds in another, herbs in one, and flower seeds in another, etc.  Something accomplished on a snowy day.
      Did I mention that the price was great for this organizer?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Early Veggies, What to Do?

Veggie starts, January 20, 2016
      What happened to the warmer winter forecast?  El Nino was supposed to bring us a milder winter.  So I pushed the envelope and started seeds early, maybe too, too early.  I had moved these trays to the porch for more light and cooler temperatures.  But not brutally cold temperatures.  The porch stays about 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, so I figure the porch is alright for a forecast low of 18 degrees for these cold hardy starts.  But for back to back lows of 14 and 17 degrees, I figured these flats should vacation for a couple of days in the basement.  Now with the lowest prediction of 23 degrees over the next four mornings, these flats are going back outside today.  Just in time for the foot of snow predicted for Saturday.  That should make for lots of snow reflected sun light.

      The flats are all back on the porch for now.  I believe that the cold temperatures on the porch prevent the starts from getting leggy from growing too quickly.  That is why I wanted to get them back to the porch as soon as possible.


      These little plants are Mizuna Mustard.  Despite the mustard in the name, they are really quite mild.  The frilly leaves are absolutely gorgeous in a salad and delicious to boot.

Ruby stemmed Swiss chard

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

      Last year I may have started some tomato plants from seed, but nothing else.  Just never had the proper urge to get started.  The problem is that the lazy method gets expensive having to buy all of the veggies as starts, and it may be difficult to find wanted varieties.  With all the news about a milder El Nino winter, I believe cold weather crops will be able to go out to cold frames very early this spring.  As in a couple of weeks.  Gasp.  Well anyway, that is my theory and I am sticking to it.  Plus I have tons of old seed that needs to be used or tossed.
      So it was time to start paper towel germination on January 4.  Not tomatoes, nor peppers or anything like that.  Lettuce, kale, arugula, pak choi, and similar seeds.
      Here is my method:

      First, take a paper towel sheet and cut it in two, yielding two smaller sheets that are 7 x 5.5 inches.  Place seeds in the middle of one of the sheets, Lacinto Kale being shown here.  Dampen the area around the seeds with water from about 1/2 of an eyedropper.  Just dampen the towel, don't flood it.

      Fold the bottom third of the towel over the seeds to start enclosing them.

      Fold the top third down.  Note the eyedropper used for dampening the sheet.

      Lastly, fold a little bit of both ends over to make an enclosed packet.  A drop or two more water on the fold overs helps to hold them in place.  I bought tons of little 2 x 2 plastic bags at a party store, and use them to store seed or in this case, hold labels to keep them dry.  The label and the dampened envelope go into a "snack" baggie for the germination process.
      So how long does that take?  I started damp towels of eight different seed varieties on January 4th, and here on the 6th I had to plant out some Pak Choi.  Wow.  I will now be busy.

      Here are the Pak Choi seeds which have broken through the shell and started to send out roots.  Using the little tweezers shown, I tease out baby plants, and put them two to a cell for grow out.  If you wait too long, the roots grow into the towel, making the baby plants difficult to capture.  If and when that happens, just plant little pieces of towel along with the babies.

      You can see a couple of the little Pak Choi plants in this picture.  I believe I got 100% germination for this seed packed for 2013.  Though this method may seem a little tedious, ypu can find out quickly if you will get seedlings without spending weeks waiting for flat after flat of supposed seeds to do something.  Been there, done that.  Wasted a lot of time.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Delicious December

      It is quite unusual to be be able to pick many different veggies fresh from the garden in December.  But then again, not every winter has an El Nino believed to be the biggest in history.  Maybe harvests will continue awhile longer for the cold tolerant crops.  All pictures below are from today, 12/27/15.

Flat Leafed Kale

      Here are two more kale plants that volunteered from under a stack of flowered and seeded plants that were piled here in late spring.  It is actually surprising that there were not dozens of volunteers.  This strain seems to be very cold hardy.  I am hoping for them to survive this expectedly mild winter.

Lacinto Kale

      The darker kale in the middle of this picture is one of the kalette plants that I cloned earlier in the spring. The lighter kale surrounding the kalette is Red Russian kale.  From the similarities in the leaf form, I believe that Red Russian was the kale used in the cross with brussel sprouts to make kalettes.

      These plants are Florida Broadleaf Mustard that volunteered.  I even have some growing in the lawn where they seeded.  If only we would remember to harvest and eat it once in awhile.

The voles missed these two Swiss Chard plants

      These are Russian Red garlic plants that have sprouted from bulbs that never got harvested in July.  They will be needed to be transplanted in the spring to assure a crop for next summer.  Some will be eaten as green garlic over the winter.

Leeks, not garlic
Fresh mint still available

Smaller cold frame

      The cold frames have not been necessary so far because of the warmer weather.  However the deer have not figured out how to pull off the glass, so our lettuce is protected.  There are three tatsoi in the above frame.  Let's take a closer look.

They are beautiful

Bountiful Broccoli

      Sometimes pure dumb luck is just better than being smart or knowing what you were doing.  Last fall I bought a six pack of broccoli starts.  Good move.  Delaying the planting and leaving them unplanted was a dumb move.  Then dumber the longer I left them around.  I can't even remember when I finally planted them, but the garden police could not have been happy with my laziness.  I never expected that they would mature when I finally put them in, but I never expected that El Nino would come to my rescue.
      This morning I put on my brand new boots, then slogged my way to the garden.  And was thrilled that I took the trip.

      Look at that broccoli.  And a couple of days after Christmas!  Oh how lucky I am. Dumb lucky.

A different view
Never a better harvest
      I failed to mention that I got even dumber.  I had found more broccoli starts, and yes I bought them.  And admired them in their little container.  At some time they went into the garden with absolutely no chance of maturing.  But yet...

      Dumb, even dumber.  If you look real closely, you can see small heads developing.  I never thought these would make it.  El Nino, bring them on.