Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pea Planting Time

I plant out peas in the first nice weather after about 20 Feb. By nice, I mean days when the lows are projected to be consistently above or just at freezing for several days in a row. Interestingly, this usually coincides with the blooming of the trout lilies out back—the first sign, for me anyway, that spring is actually approaching.

For some people, Spring’s herald is the blooming of the daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, or forsythia. My daffodils and crocus have been up for a couple of weeks (or more!) already, and since they’ve come up the temperatures have dropped crazily into the teens at least once. It’s hard to think “Spring” when the front steps creak with cold when I leave the house.

However, I’ve been watching the trout lilies, and several fat buds have been pushed up from the emerging leaves out near the compost pile. They’ve been just waiting there, for about a week, in which the low temperatures have been in the low-to-mid twenties. The forecast is for warmer weather later this coming week. I expect those buds to break open when that happens. Then, I will be out planting peas.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wandering through a Big Box Store

I went to Home Depot today with my husband, who was looking for tubing for his home-brew set-up. Not being all that excited about tubing, I wandered over to the garden area. Indoors, the seed racks were full of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Out of doors, lots of shelves were empty, but one set of shelves held a small selection of early spring herbs and vegetables that could be planted now.

The herbs included hardy perennials: rosemary of an un-labled variety, Provence lavender, oregano, and thyme. One biennial on the shelf was curled leaf parsley.

The veggies included broccoli, arugula, cabbage, collards, turnips (a variety for greens), head lettuce , and onion sets, for both white and yellow types.

Also at the store were big pots of fruit trees: apple, pear, plum, and peach—several varieties of each. In addition, a fairly large section was filled with potted blueberry bushes, so anyone who forgot to order theirs from the 4-H club this Spring can still get some.

I am assuming that Home Depot isn’t the only store in the area that is well on its way to being ready for the busy-ness of Spring gardening. It seems likely that anyone who doesn’t mail-order seeds and plants and wants to check out the selections for this year can now go out and start making decisions about what to get.

Although it is a bit earlier than when I usually plant out onion sets, I bought a bundle of yellow granax onion-babies and brought them home to plant. The weather forecast is for continued mild winter weather, with highs in the 50s and lows mostly in the 30s, with a possible dip down into the high 20s in the middle of the week. The little onions should settle in well enough in those temperatures, so, in case no one has guessed so far, those are already planted out near my garlic and multiplier onions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Seedlings in the House: Tomatoes and Peppers

When the weather is as nice as it has been for the past week or so, gardeners get the seed-starting “bug.” This is okay as long as adequate (10-12 hours) light is available for the seedlings, but when the only light available is the sunlight streaming through a south-facing window, it is better to wait a couple more weeks before starting those tomato and pepper babies.

When not enough light is available, the seeds will germinate, but the plants will grow to be unusually tall and scrawny. In the botanical world, such a plant is called etiolated. This condition is bad for a couple of reasons. One is that the elongated, extra-slim stem just won’t be strong enough to withstand much pressure, like a strong rain or windstorm. The plant could be knocked to the ground and damaged, possibly beyond recovery, when transplanted outside.

Another is that such a plant, having been deprived of adequate light, may also have a weaker root system than a plant that has received more light. According to my (ancient! copyright 1974) freshman Botany textbook, some substances that promote root growth, such as the vitamin thiamine, are actually formed in the leaves, and then transported to the root zone where they do their good work. A plant that has not had adequate light will have less leaf area (pathetically small leaves), so may be producing less root-growth-factors than are needed to support a healthy plant.

This is probably more than anyone wanted to know, but the point is that, unless good light is available for starting seeds of tomatoes and peppers, it is best to resist the seed-starting bug until six weeks before the last frost date, as suggested on most seed packets. In this area, that date is 15 April. That means that the earliest pepper-and-tomato starting time is 1 March. Luckily, that isn’t too long from now.

Even with the 1 March start date, the little plants will not be as sturdy as professionally grown plants available for purchase in many stores; however, they will be good enough, and setting them outside on warmer (above 60 degrees Fahrenheit) days will help. I know that lots of people transplant their tomatoes and peppers to the garden on 15 April, but the weather here is unpredictable.

We have had freak freezes past that date. To be safe, and to give peppers, especially, the warmth they grow best in, it is generally recommended that these plants not be planted outside for another week or two beyond that date. However, if the weather forecasts are all for warm and continued warm weather on 15 April, it is probably safe, for those who are impatient, to transplant to the garden.

For those who have a very bad case of the seed starting bug, a set of fluorescent lights can provide enough supplemental light that home-grown seedlings will be fine, even starting this early. I have fluorescent lights over my seedlings, and I use the lights in the early morning and in the evening when the sun isn’t shining, and on cloudy days. An example of a home-built seed starting table is here at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op blog.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Beautiful Day

Usually, I keep seedlings by the south-facing glass door that opens onto the deck, with fluorescent lighting overhead for cloudy days and other dark times, but today the temperature reached into the low 60s, so my first flat of seedlings has enjoyed several hours of direct sunlight on the back deck. This first round of seedlings is for the new cold frame. I started this flat last weekend, so the seedlings are all just little cotyledons (seed leaves) on barely visible stalks, but they are mostly up and looking good.

The seedlings include lettuces (Bronze Arrow, Oak Leaf, and Tom Thumb), spinach (Bloomsdale Longstanding), cilantro (unnamed variety from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), chard (Perpetual Spinach), a red chicory (Italiko Rosso), and broccoli (Piracicauba). These should all be able to withstand the cold weather that I know we have still ahead of us.

In addition to the great weather, my last seed order, the one from Sand Hill Preservation, arrived today. This was the last order I sent out, and that was via regular mail and only a couple of weeks ago, so I didn’t really expect it for another week. Not only was my order complete, but it came with a bonus packet of seeds, for Yellow Marble Cherry Tomato. I checked the catalogue description and learned that this is an indeterminate variety, so by August the one plant from these seeds that I plan to start is probably going to overwhelm the pot I expect to grow it in. I can’t wait!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When Gardeners Gather

The Plant a Row for the Hungry gardeners that I volunteer with met today to plan this year’s garden. One reason this group of people is great is that we have a common goal of providing good food for people who need it. Another reason this group is great is that they all talk happily and knowledgeably about seeds and planting.

I am really lucky to be part of this group. Not many people get to have such lively conversations about whether to allocate some of our space to corn, about which varieties we want to grow this year, about row spacing in the bush bean plot, or about whether we should trust that the beneficial nematodes that we released into the garden (twice!) have actually managed to control the wireworm population. As the meeting went on, we found that we want to do some things the same this year, and some differently:

* We want to keep using the half-runner beans as our pole-bean crop.
* We want to keep planting the same squashes, but maybe fewer of the Seminole Pumpkin Squash, since it vines so vigorously through the garden (our other squashes are yellow summer squash and Tromboncino squash).
* We want to plant more Beauregard sweet potatoes and fewer Vardemon.
* We want to grow more sweet peppers and fewer hot peppers.
* We want to grow the same bush beans, but maybe in wide rows that have wider walkway spaces (for us to sit down in) between them. Picking bush beans while leaning over the rows is hard on our backs!
* We want to grow cucumbers, but not on the fence, where last year they got caught between the wire rabbit fencing and the wooden picket fencing.
* We want to grow more sunflowers and put them in a corner space that until now has been underutilized.
* We want to try a new melon, since our cantaloupes keep cracking before they ripen (the new melon will probably be the Sugar Nut Hybrid that has done so well in my yard).
* We want to have a field trip to Ladd’s Farm Supply store up in Cartersville for seed-potatoes (we decided to trust the nematodes!).
* We want to plan an additional harvest day each week, rather than just hope one or two of us can show up to pick on days that aren’t our whole-group workdays.
* We may try a different way to label the tomatoes, so we can keep better track of which ones do really well (our small labels that are stuck in the ground at the base of each plant tend to get lost in the mulch).

We were all reminded to start saving our newspapers and any plastic shopping (grocery-type) bags. The newspapers are used under the mulch, as part of our weed-control program. The mulch is old leaves, saved as a humongous stack of leaf-filled plastic bags. The shopping bags are for transporting veggies to the food pantry that we deliver our harvests to.
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