Monday, February 21, 2011

Here's Lookin at You

Spider Mite on Spinach, 2/21/11

       Hey dude, gimme a break!  Turn off those bright lights.  I gotta thank you for this great big warm cold frame / green house thingee you built for us bugs.  Sunshine most days, no wind, high humidity, wow.  And the food man!  A sap sucker's delight.  We got your mustards, we got your lettuces, and the arugula is to die for. Hey man, forget I said that last thing.  And kale and collards.  We have been able to chew down real early this year.  Get big and fat and happy, and lay nice eggs like the ones to my right.  If you don't mind, I would like you to take my leaf here and stick it back where you found it.  I'm gettin a little warm with these special Hollywood lights you are using.  Thanks dude.  Me and millions of my buds will be hangin out in your cold frame thingee.  Come visit anytime, but don't forget to leave the lid on  - Spidey Mite Man.

Call me Chook

     I followed through yesterday on my promise to give lettuce and arugula to Barb and Em.  Both daughters joined into cold frame mania last fall for the first time.  I am remiss to have failed to take pictures of Barb's THREE cold frames.  Her husband Rob salvaged their sliding glass doors that their Husky had ravaged and got an "A" for his first solo construction job.  With the double pane doors, her veggies are way ahead of mine in their new spring growth.  I certainly would expect little resistance from Barb about planting her frames more heavily for the season next year.

Straw Bale Frame 2/20/11
     Emily and husband Mike host a Halloween party for friends and family in the fall.  Mike has access to a full size tractor and trailer, the beginnings of a top notch hay ride.  All the kids, maybe twelve or more, fill the space in the trailer.  Adults have to trek around while the little candy grabbers ride in luxury.  Still, a good time is had by all.  Lonely straw bales at the end of the day.  A golden opportunity for Pop to get rid of the nasty old storm windows stored in the garage for decades.  Mom thanks you Em.
     Last fall, Emily and I put the bales around some existing plants in her garden, and moved some others.  An instant cold frame.  Unlike her Pop who worries and coddles and tries to insulate his veggies, Emily ignored her charges over the cold winter.  She was shocked and pleasantly rewarded to see beautiful Swiss Chard and various lettuces happily growing through the hard winter.  Em, as I suggested yesterday, things could use a little water.
     The conclusion I make is that these veggies are far hardier than we expect.  Given just a little protection from the Winds of Winter, they will reward you with some wonderful winter greens.  I should have tried one bed uninsulated to see what would have happened.  Call me chicken.  Faced with the same conditions next year, I will put the extra plastic layer inside.  Simple to do and remove, a little insurance for my veggies.  Maybe I won't awake at night to worry about my veggies.
     So I have a question.  Having read about the adventures of many of our Australian or New Zealand bloggers keeping chooks instead of chickens, I wonder if the phrase there is "Call me chook"?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Movin on Out

Bellevue Plot #84, 2-20-11
     Yesterday was one of the windiest days I have ever witnessed.  Sustained winds of 30 - 40 mph, gusting to the high of 56 mph.  I was afraid that glass would be littered everywhere as it is not strapped down, yet was greatly relieved to find all intact.  A bit chilled, with frost on the panes, but that was to be expected.

From Porch Starters 2/20/11
      Well, it's time to live dangerously and start moving flats into the cold frames in a big way.  I need the extra space in the porch for newer seedlings.  Movin on out time.  The bottom flat was started from seed on 1/25/11. From left to right, are Florida Broadleaf Mustard, Redbor Kale, Giant Winter Spinach, and Chinese Thick Stem Mustard.  The Florida Mustard and Redbor Kale were started from my own seeds saved from last year!  The Chinese Thick Stem was new to me last year, and was one very delicious and attractive addition. 
     The top flat has garlic started in December from my own runt garlic cloves from last year's harvest that were too small to eat.  The little tray in the uppermost left corner has garlic started from the little tiny seed bulblets from last year.  The leafy plants next to the garlic are Ice Bred Arugula from Fedco, started in December of last year, and grown till now on the porch.  I snitched a leaf this morning, oh so delicious.  It pains me, but I am going to be a nice Pop and give a six pack of arugula to each of my daughters this morning.  Now that that proclamation is public, I will have to honor it.  The Black Seeded Simpson plants that over wintered on the porch are also movin out this morning.  Finally, the last row of plants are Rainbow Lacinto Kale, started only on 2/4/11.  It was another newcomer to my garden last year that was quite productive, but underutilized as food.  There are many times in the summer when things are growing well, and you just can't eat it quickly enough!  Such a problem to have.  Senposai grew abundantly last year, but alas, was never harvested.

Bellevue Cold Frame 2/20/11  
     Into their new home they go, just as flats.  This is to grow them out some more.  They will get far more light than on the porch.  The skinny little things in the bottom left corner are Red Burgundy and Walla Walla onions started from seed.  Somewhat disappointing on germination rates, but an interesting experiment to try something new in the onion category.
     You probably noticed that all of the cells have around four baby plants. That would be because I plant four seeds to a pack expecting some failure of germination.  Whoops.  Anyone local who would like to come over and divide out some babies is welcome to give me a holler.  I might divide them on my own, but I think that is probably just a fantasy. 
     It would be unusually cold now to dip below 20 at night.  Predictions into the mid teens would cause me to add a plastic layer inside the frames.  I actually had to use the watering can this morning, as a couple of flats were drying out.  So with some things movin out, there will be space for me to start tomato and peppers seeds in flats later this week.  Gardening in earnest has begun!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid February Promise

Bellevue Plot #84, 2/15/11

     The snow has finally melted from the park!  I didn't say it was beautiful.  The collards in the foreground look quite unhappy.  It is wet, muddy, and frozen in spots, but the snow is gone.  Let the dreaming begin.
     On the 13th, I was over at the park with my snow shovel, a first for me.  Somehow, my big plastic orange snow shovel just does not elicit thoughts of spring gardening.  But the shovel was perfect for clearing the soggy mats of straw from the third cold frame.  I am very happy to report that the crunching underfoot during a previous visit was the ice giving way, not one of the glass panels.

Bellevue Plot #84, 2/15/11

     The low part of the uppermost cold frame was the bed with the straw under the glass.  These plants seemed to suffer the most over the winter.  There are two fist sized openings in this frame that were stuffed with leaves or straw, but maybe more air got in.  It is definitely the hardest to clean up to get going again, so the inside straw treatment gets my bottom vote.  I am thinking about pulling everything in this bed to make room for my new veggie starts.  The plants from the frame with the plastic inside look great, as do the plants from the frame with straw on top.  Being in the shade of insulating material during a couple of weeks of the coldest weather does not seem to hurt the plants in the least.  It is about this time, the middle of February, that the sun light is getting longer and stronger.  Growth is soon to resume.

Spinach, arugula, Winter marvel lettuce, Tango lettuce
 
    The little patch of green in the center of the above picture is a clump of volunteer celery starts that are trying to survive the winter on their own.  You can just barely make out the "mother" plant just a little higher and to the left.  The cold frame at the corner of this shot is shown in the next photo.

 
Baby volunteer celery
     The light green clump at the top left are thousands of volunteer baby celery plants.  They appear to have been  very happy under the glass.  There is a volunteer lamb's ear plant, lucky that it had not been pulled as a weed.  To the bottom left corner is a radicchio that is recovering nicely from the Thanksgiving deer raid.  The next threat for that lovely head walks on two legs.

Backyard, 2/15/11
     And you thought the snow was gone!  This is my back yard, only about a mile from the park.  The veggie garden out back is still covered in snow, protected in the shade of the big pin oak.  The shade in this shot is from two maple trees off to the left.  So although I originally rented the Bellevue plot to help get more summer sun for peppers and tomatoes, the winter sun is just as critical in my attempts to extend the growing season.
     So there is mid February promise of better things to come.  Garden on  -  George


  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ex-Seedingly Cool

      A friend had called a couple of days ago, and teased me by saying that he had something to give me.  Said I would most probably enjoy it.  Left it hanging.  So the day comes, and it is a big brown box.  With a huge smile on his face, he opens the box and shows me seeds.  Glorious seeds.  I spent the afternoon thinking about the fun I would have that evening going through my new treasure.


    The box was pretty heavy, ah, that would be from the three 4 lb boxes of organic fertilizer.  The rest was seeds, all for the year 2009.  Well within my date range, as probably a third of my seeds are still that year.  I have been discarding 2007, and look askance now at 2008, but 2009 is fine to me.  Most of the seeds are from "Heirloom Seeds" of Pennsylvania.  They should mostly (excluding cole and curcubit crops) be varieties whose seeds I can collect and expect to breed true in years to come.


     What is this thing?  Any guesses?  I found it about three months ago at a warehouse place that sells used furniture from estate sales.  Knew immediately that I had to have it.  Was not deterred in the least by the $2 price tag that my wife thought was highway robbery for another piece of junk that we didn't need.  Didn't need?  Here was the perfect seed sorting machine ever invented, and it fell into my lap for only two dolla.  Couldn't pass that up.  OK, for you youngsters out there, there used to be a technology of sound recording to cassette tapes.  This was a box that could be attached to a wall to house your modern tune library.  And I guess CD's are now dinosaurs to the Ipod.  Don't know how to even use an Ipod.  I was just getting to like CD's.

 
     So bingo, bango, after about 1/2 an hour, there is some method to my madness.  Lots and lots of new seeds to play with, many new to my growing collection.  I am going to start Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard, American Flag Leek, America Spinach, and De Cicco Broccoli in just a few minutes.  The only thing missing from the $199 invoice, was one box of the fertilizer!  The friend had been asked to get rid of this stuff at the recycling center.  Recycled they will be.
     Ex-Seedingly Cool.   George

    

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's About Time

     It's about time.  My patience has run out.  The forecast is for warmer weather, so I have to see what is going on in the cold frames.  To the park!
  
Bellevue Plot #84, 2/13/11
    Things are melting, just a bit.  I had cleared the snow from the top most frames yesterday, but was afraid to clear the snow from the middle frames for fear of breaking the glass.  Two days ago while taking some pictures, I stepped on the straw on the bottom most frames, and heard a crunch.  Yours truly probably breaking his own cold frame.  Duh.  Insulated so well by the straw that I stepped on the snow, then crunch.  I tried to clear away the straw today, but it is frozen to the glass.  Straw on top of the frames may not be the way to go, yet the final verdict will need to wait until the frames are cleared.  Using the little trowel, it was time to clear away the snow. 
      Carefully.  Without stepping on any mores glass panels.  With the snow cleared, it was easy to remove the plastic bags from within the middle row of frames.
     Wow.  The plants look pretty good.  Maybe even grew a little.  Even the spinach looks good.  Who knows, maybe I will hit the perfect fifteen minute window for spinach this spring.  Before the slugs and bugs get it, or before it bolts.  Just maybe.

    The soil within the cold frames was soft and pliable.  Outside of the frames it was difficult to get the pitch fork to even penetrate.  The straw within the top frame was difficult to get out, and lots of green leaves from produce were lost in the attempt.  So score one now for the plastic layer inside the frames.
     It was beautiful to see the green.   George

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Seedy Notes

     One of the foremost reasons to write this blog is for my own record keeping.  The journal thing became tedious, lugging a notebook around while gardening.  Little notepads worked fine, though piles of notes get jumbled, or lost.  Going back over copious notes becomes tedious.  Getting pictures to match up with notes on my computer is a skill that I don't currently possess.  Except when using this blog.  Where it becomes easy.  Easy to reference past posts with labels.  So this blog will have some note keeping functions for me, such as this post which will be some notes about the current seed starting process.



The garlic started from last fall from puny cloves is doing well.  They should be planted outside next week when the weather is expected to improve.  The Ice Bred Arugula on the right can also go in a cold frame.  Will free up a whole flat for new stuff.





 

  The radicchio that was so beautiful last year is starting to sprout.  It was part of a Mesclun mix, the only thing that lasted through the summer heat.  So this year, I actually started plants from straight seeds.  Hope it equals last year's performance and beauty.





     The seedlings on the porch look better than they appear in this washed out photo.  I believe the cool porch temperature keeps their growth rate slow and prevents them from becoming leggy.
     I gave up on the Prizehead lettuce this morning.  Planted Windsor Fava Beans in the same cells.  Will certainly be no trouble telling them apart if the lettuce comes up late.  Fava beans are unusual in that they can go out in the garden in cool weather.  Cold actually.  Gave up on the Baby Romaine as well, and planted Little Marvel peas in the same cells.  Peas can be started outside here in a month, so these will have a good head start when transplanted.
     Basil is usually very tough for me to get started.  But, I have lots of nice tiny sprouts emerging.  That seed was planted 2/4/11.  Parsley is also usually tough for me, but those seeds too are just starting to unfurl after having been started 2/2/11.  No pictures for either.


In the cardoon / artichoke race, the cardoon on the left has a slight head start on the artichokes.  The cold temperatures on the porch will hopefully trick the artichokes into fruiting in their first season (vernalization).  What will you bet that it does not work?

   The weather is supposed to start to warm up a bit, with next week maybe hitting the 60's.  Hopefully last night's low in the low 20's will be the coldest of the year till next December.  At least that is my hope.  Time to plant soon directly in the cold frames.  George

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homemade Plant Labels

     If you have read many of my previous posts, you know one of my top garden rules is CHEAP.  In my opinion, a big benefit of home gardening is saving money.  Most of my accessories are therefore home made.  Why should garden labels be any different?  Cheaper means better, but only if effective.  I thought I was onto something last year using aluminum strips cut from lasagna pans, but in the end, the strips were too flimsy and would blow away easily.  Magic marker would fade within weeks.
      Never one to quit trying, the plentiful plastic bottle was next on the agenda.  Turns out, it works great.  Let's go through the steps for free labels, well at least for the cost of the pens.


   Start with an unending supply of one or two liter clear plastic bottles.  Use the labels BEFORE you take them off to help with keeping your cutting lines straight.

    



Use a single edge razor blade to start a cut about one inch long against the label.  This cut must go through the plastic, as it is a starter cut to insert the scissors in the next step.




Insert small scissors in the razor blade cut, and cut all along the label, removing the top in a nice straight line.  Repeat this procedure at the bottom of the bottle, either along the label, or a seam to help you keep the cut straight.






Use your scissors to cut this sleeve to open it, using some line on the label or a seam to help you with a straight cut.  The plastic will try to curl after the cut, but will be fine as you cut narrow strips.  Remove the label now.  If you cut a lot of strips, you can use the part with the old glue, recycle those strips, or try to soak off the small bit of label.  Putting those strips into recycling works for me.






This is the fun one.  You have to be extra specially nice to your spouse to borrow their amazing craft store cutter gizmo.  Or do this when your extra special spouse is not home.  Do a year's supply at that time.  Anyway, the little roller blade allows one to cut off plastic strips at any desired width.  Without this handy gismo, scissors would be the safest way to cut the plastic into strips.



Magic Marker fades quite rapidly when used on the plastic strips.  I found a PAINT pen last year and tried that.  The blue one, with a fat tip.  Worked well, but the tip was wide and made it hard to write.  Well my wife asked, "Why don't you use the fine point?"  Duh, didn't know there was a fine point.  The dear lady bought me two Sharpie Fine Points!  Two glorious Paint Pens.  Next, read the directions on the pen.  Repeat eight times.  Have plenty of time on your hands to read the directions again.  Once you get it going, it is quite easy to get easily readable labels.  The black krim label seen here is from last year, having made it through the whole long, hot summer.  The last step is to take a single hole punch to make a hole in the end of the label.  If you look very closely, you can see the hole in this label just above the black cap of the Sharpie pen.  Now you can put the labels in your starter flats, in the ground, or attach them to stakes or trellises with twine or reused twisties.  Works great for me.  And did I say it is really cheap?  But I guess I shouldn't bother to look for garden label manufacturers as sponsors to my site.
     Please be careful when using the razor blades and scissors.  Try making these labels at your own risk.  Even though my typing is horribly slow, it is not from the loss of fingers.  I just choose to only use two of them.     Garden on  -  George

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seed Starting

     Seed starting begins in earnest in late January, with the intent of getting all starts either out to the porch or into the cold frames.  Obviously the first seeds to start here in Zone 7 are the plants known to be able to grow in cooler weather.  Except for germination time in the basement, all starts need to be able to grow or survive now in the two cool locations mentioned above.  Thus, it is not time yet for me to start the warmer weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, egg plant and squash.  I am tempted to start peppers because of their slow growth rate, but have hesitated as of yet.
      The Ice-bred arugula from Fedco Seeds planted 12/22/2010 looks great, with multiple leaves.  The small plants can go outside to the cold frames now if we got any break in the weather.  The fennels and parsleys have not sprouted yet, but they generally take a little while to start.  Ditto for the basil.  The prizehead lettuce seems to be a total failure, which was dumb on my part because it did not germinate well last year.  The baby romaine lettuce still has not sprouted either.  Both of those lettuce starts will get tossed within a week.
      Everything else is doing quite well.  A lot of seeds have germinated within only three days.  The arugula, bok choy, red cabbage, redbor kale, red sails lettuce, and florida broadleaf mustard are all from seed that I saved from my own plants from last year.  I am thrilled that they are all doing well.  It will be interesting to see if the cole family crops grow true, as I did nothing to isolate the plants as they produced flowers.  The bronze fennel from my seeds has not germinated yet, though it is too early to panic. 
      The following table is part of a large spreadsheet I created to try to keep track of all the seeds I have on hand.  The sheet includes where I got the seed, what year the seed should be planted, and has a small space for notes.  This blog format only has space for me to pull out a few columns.  The third column that says "flat" just means the seeds were started in cell packs and set in flats, as opposed to direct seeded or cold frame seeded..  Most of the seeds I have planted are two six packs, though the onion seeds are one whole flat for each of the two types.  Below is the list of everything that is started:


Artichoke, Globe

Green Globe

Flat

1/28/2011

Arugula

Arugula

Flat

1/31/2011

Arugula

Ice-Bred Arugula

Flat

12/22/2010

Arugula

Sylvetta Arugula

Flat

2/6/2011

Basil

Sweet Italian

Flat

2/4/2011

Bok choy, or Pak Choy

Bok choy

Flat

1/28/2011

Broccoli

Packman

Flat

1/28/2011

Broccoli Rabe

Raab

Flat

1/30/2011

Broccoli Rabe

Sorrento

Flat

2/2/2011

Brussel sprouts

Rubine

Flat

2/4/2011

Cabbage

Red Cabbage

Flat

2/4/2011

Cardoon

Cardoon

Flat

1/28/2011

Claytonia

aka Claytonia perfoliata

Flat

1/22/2011

Collards

EvenStar Champion

Flat

2/6/2011

Corn salad

Bistro

Flat

1/22/2011

Dandelion

Dandelion - Italiko Rossa

Flat

1/28/2011

Fennel

Florence

Flat

2/2/2011

Fennel, Bronze

Bronze

Flat

2/2/2011

Kale

Beedys Camden Kale

Flat

1/24/2011

Kale

Rainbow Lacinato Kale

Flat

2/4/2011

Kale

Red Russian

Flat

1/24/2011

Kale

Redbor

Flat

1/25/2011

Kohlrabi

Early Purple Vienna

Flat

2/6/2011

Kohlrabi

Early White Vienna

Flat

1/30/2011

Lettuce

Baby Romaine

Flat

1/30/2011

Lettuce

Black Seeded Simpson

Flat

1/31/2011

Lettuce

Prizehead

Flat

1/31/2011

Lettuce

Red Sails

Flat

1/30/2011

Lettuce

Tango Lettuce

Flat

1/28/2011

Lettuce

Winter Marvel

Flat

2/6/2011

Minutina

Minutina

Flat

1/22/2011

Mizuna greens

Mizuna - Zesty

Flat

1/31/2011

Mustard

Chinese Thick-Stem

Flat

1/25/2011

Mustard

Florida Broadleaf

Flat

1/25/2011

Mustard

Tenderleaf Hardy Green

Flat

1/24/2011

Onion

Red Burgundy

Flat

1/16/2011

Onion

Walla Walla

Flat

1/15/2011

Parsley

Extra Curled Dwarf

Flat

2/2/2011

Parsley

Krausa Parsley

Flat

2/2/2011

Radicchio

Giulio

Flat

1/24/2011

Senposai

Senposai

Flat

2/2/2011

Spinach

Giant Winter Spinach

Flat

1/25/2011

Tatsoi

Tatsoi

Flat

1/22/2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Still Snowy after all these Days

     Someday.  Someday the snow will melt.  It must.  It should.  Maybe.  Till then, I still make my trek over to the park to look at my cold frames.  Expecting some miracle.  Hoping for salad greens begging to be taken for a ride.  I am led to believe that five or six feet down the earth is at a steady temperature of something like 50 degrees.  Isn't that the driving force to geothermal heating fields for homes?  If it were 50 degrees, I naively expected that heat to migrate up to the surface when protected by a cold frame.  In my dreams, the snow on the frame would melt from the slight heat within, then the open glass would allow for solar gain and the plants would be happy and I would be happy.  Somewhere along the line I was mislead, for alas, that has not been my experience.

Bellevue Park Gardens 2/2/2011




   On Wednesday, January 26th, we received 10.4 inches of snow.  A lot of it is still here on February 6th. The picture above shows the park gardens on 2/2, a week later.  Still plenty of snow, cold frames still covered.  A closer picture of that same day below

Bellevue Plot #84, 2/2/2011

   Hardly any melt whatsoever in the week.  Certainly no reason in my mind to disturb the snow cover.  Plus the fact, it was cold, baby, cold.  So maybe another day would be better.
    Another day has come.  And gone, and then some.  This morning is February six, a beautiful day.  Blue sky, no clouds.  Great morning to go to the park.  The temperature is even above freezing at 9:00 in the morning, a minor miracle.  I will be able to take off the glass tops, look around, maybe even have an early February salad.  After walking the dog, and still with damp shoes, I hop in the truck, ride over to the park, and there it is.  A parking lot still covered in snow and ice.  Ruts from some other vehicle that have turned into perfect training runs for the luge team.  Still a landscape of snow.  My lonely tracks in the snow from days before nearly gone from the wind trying to erase all evidence of my prior visit.  Well here I am, I might as well go visit.

Bellevue Plot #84, 2/6/2011

   Looks nearly identical to the picture from 2/2.  A little snow has melted from the box, hardly any from the low frames.  Not much reason to pull off the snow.  Let things sleep.  Today is supposed to be 40 degrees and partly sunny.  Tomorrow 45 degrees and partly sunny.  Maybe tomorrow will be the day.  Maybe.  Wishing and hoping.  Still snowy after all these days.  -  George