Thursday, December 27, 2012

Indoor Blueberry Babies

It's taken awhile, but a couple of the blueberry seeds that I planted in November have sprouted. If all goes well, several more will come up in the next few weeks. However, if this is all I get, I can't really complain.

The seeds were from berries that had been in the freezer, from the rabbiteye blueberry bushes in the front yard. When the house was smashed by the tree this past summer, the berries probably experienced more freeze/thaw cycles than were good for the seeds' eventual ability to germinate.

The baby plants are super-tiny, with stems thinner than sewing thread and cotyledons sized to match. For the rest of the winter, these will grow fairly slowly, and I will be keeping them under flourescent lights, repotting as necessary, until the weather moderates enough that they can go outside. Then, as many as there are will go into a "nursery bed" outside until they are big enough to pot up for sharing. One of the great things about gardening is that I get to see everyday miracles like the one of  such tiny plants growing to become full-sized bushes!

To separate the seeds from the blueberry pulp, I followed instructions from University of Maine's Cooperative Extension, which has published a very useful "how to" called "Growing Blueberries from Seed." 

I started these seeds as part of my "eHow" adventure. This is the video about how to plant the seeds:

Since the winter garden is slowing down, and the weather has turned decidedly colder, I am very happy to have some new plants to tend indoors.

I hope that everyone else's winter-garden adventures are going well!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Crazy for (or because of) Cauliflower

The cauliflower season at my house is short, which makes it (in theory, anyway) all the sweeter. I've been growing my cauliflower from transplants purchased at a standard garden-supply-type store, and it probably is a good thing that the transplants aren't available as early in the fall as I'd like to plant them.

When planted too soon, the heads mature in weather that is too warm - which leads to weirdness. A Q and A on the University of Illinois website tells exactly what happens:

Q. What causes leaves in the head and separation of the head into loose, smaller curds?

A. These conditions are caused when cauliflower matures during hot weather. Try to time maturity dates of cauliflower to minimize the risk of extreme heat as the heads form.

As a gardener who has seen this in action in her own yard, I know firsthand that this outcome is a huge disappointment, mostly because the flavor is affected, too. This is what can happen when cauliflower is planted in August. However, later plantings run the risk of not having enough time to mature before colder weather sets in. The window of opportunity is a small one, and it can be hard to gage.

The  cauliflower in the lower left corner is pink and "curdled."

Have you ever been driving down the road when a squirrel races out right in front of your car, and then while you are busy applying your brakes and mentally urging the squirrel to keep going - please! - the squirrel makes a heart-stopping dramatic pause smack in front of the car, and then, at the last second, when the car is so close that you can't actually see the little animal anymore, it darts onward, but the only way you know it finally raced away is that you didn't feel its little body go under the wheels?

Growing cauliflower can seem a little like that. Lives aren't at stake (thank goodness), but the drama is there, unfolding in slow motion. This year, I ended up with a decent amount of good cauliflower and a little weird cauliflower.

In other words, my timing wasn't perfect, but it wasn't awful, either.

Some of this year's weird cauliflower turned pink. I've done quite a bit of searching for possible causes, and it turns out that some cauliflower has more pinkish-purple pigmentation than other cauliflower.

According to the University of Illinois (see earlier link, above), if I had done a better job of pulling leaves over the heads to keep the sunlight off as they formed, the pink might not have appeared at all. In other words, the pink was unexpected, but it's not outside of the realm of normal for cauliflower.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Adventures in eHow

Several weeks ago I spent part of one day working with a video guy who produced educational films for Demand Media Studios, which had a deal to post them in eHow. In about five hours we made 17 little films about various gardening topics.

He got paid, but I didn’t, even though I worked hard, too. However, it was a very interesting experience. I had wondered about the whole eHow thing, and now I know a bit more about how it works.

The topics had to be chosen from a list provided by Demand Media Studios, and the wording wasn’t allowed to vary. For example, if the topic had the phrase “blueberry tree” in it, those exact words had to be in the introduction to the video. At first, this seemed a little weird to me, but it turns out to be a way to reach the audience where it is in terms of gardening knowledge, and the audience is full of people who might not yet know that blueberries grow on bushes rather than trees.

The experience also helped me understand why some eHow videos seem incomplete. We were given a pretty tight time limit for each video. There was only enough time for the "bare bones" of each topic, which meant that I had to leave out some potentially useful information. Also, because the filmmaker/videographer needed to have at least 15 little films lined up to make his trip out to my garden at all profitable, and because we had to choose from a somewhat eclectic list of topics, we were not quite “in season” for all the topics being filmed.

The good news is that the list included enough topics for which I had actual, real-life experience that we were able to pull the project together. Here is one example from the set:

When I started this blog, one main motivation was to share information - that might actually be helpful - about growing food in gardens here in the South. The Atlanta area in particular is packed with people who are not originally from here. I’m a perfect example: grew up in Oklahoma, but previously gardened in other states, including the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where growing food was super easy.

It would be pretty safe to bet that I am not the only person who has found gardening here a bit more of a challenge than it was in my previous yard.

I don’t know yet whether making eHow videos is at all helpful to gardeners who are new either to this area or to gardening itself, so I don't know whether I'll be making more of these, but I am happy to have been able to participate in this little project.

(Note: The videos are on an assortment of topics, including raspberries, blueberries, fertilizers, transplanting, plant propagation, and soil preparation; hence, the long list of "Labels" attached to this blog post.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: Nov. 2012

I'm pretty sure I've picked a lot more lettuce than is recorded here. I bring some in several days each week for the bunnies, but by the time it hits the kitchen it's mixed with chickweed, violet leaves, dandelions and chicory, bits of dill and fennel that are still green, parsley, and other bunny-friendly weeds and herbs.

The harvest total is suffering a little as a result, but the bunnies are doing great!

As always, the recorded weights are in kilograms:

Persimmons, Asian
Radish, winter
Bok Choy
Potatoes, sweet
Onions, green

I found a couple more good sweet potatoes when I was digging over the space for multiplying onions. They were an unexpected treat! I am sure I'm not the only gardener to uncover more spuds - of any kind - weeks after the initial harvest.

Overall, the November harvest was not especially large, but it was varied. November's harvest total is 7.85 kg, which equals 17 pounds, 4.9 oz.

The running total for 2012, Jan. through Nov., is 189.2 kg, or about 417 pounds. 
I can't complain, but I also think I can do better. Maybe in 2013 I'll be 100% consistent about recording the weights of absolutely everything that I bring in from the yard, including the bunny salad, and maybe I'll do better at planning (and implementing the plan) to not let any space go empty.
The future is hard to predict, so I won't make any guarantees, but I am hoping to do better next year!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carrots, Catalogues, and a Mixed Up Plant

What a great time of year it is for gardeners! It isn't meltingly hot outside, but there is still food in the yard to harvest for supper.  The carrots are only just now getting big enough, but it's looking like I can quit buying carrots for a month or so.

The carrots in the yard are extra-sweet, too. These look like they are probably a Danvers-type, but when I planted carrots I had a little bit each of several kinds. I'm not sure when I'll run across a Chanteney or a Nantes, but that will happen eventually, if any of them germinated (some seeds were fairly old).

Other good news is that the seed catalogues have begun to arrive. Seeds Of Change hit the mailbox before Thanksgiving, and Fedco came today. The Fedco catalogue is especially wonderful this year because it contains poems and quotes by Wendell Berry (bio here and a great poem here), one of my favorite writers.

Neither of these first two catalogues is my main source of seeds (that would be Sand Hill Preservation), but they are great for the beginning of planning next year's garden.

Yet more good - or at least interesting - news, is that my key lime tree, a.k.a. "Old Spikey," is in bloom.  The plant is a month or two ahead of its usual flowering schedule, but the year has been weird. How can I be surprised?

Plenty of beautiful, warm weather is forecast for the upcoming week, so we've rolled Old Spikey out of the dining room - its winter home - and out onto the back deck. For the next week, anyway, we will be able to maneuver around the dining room without the risk of being raked by two-inch spines.

Outside this afternoon, Old Spikey was host to some honeybees that must have been grateful, in their own little honeybee way, for some fresh pollen and nectar. The whole plant was haloed with scent and sound - a honeybee oasis!

I hope that everyone else's gardens are lively and productive, too!
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