Thursday, March 27, 2014

Generosity of Gardeners

Earlier this week, a gardener from the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry project in Kennesaw stopped by the Extension office with some seed potatoes leftover from that project's big potato-planting day, for us to give away to anyone who stopped by the office and might want to plant some potatoes this year. I've been pushing seed potatoes all week, as a result. 

A new gardener in the area had "scored" a lot of free seeds  - way more than she can plant - and she dropped those extra packets off at the office, for me to give away at tonight's Vegetable Garden Basics class. Last week that same gardener brought over some "Growums" seed starting kits that she'd picked up on sale, and we've been giving those to people who want to garden with children.

I'd already been giving away seed packets that had been brought over by the Keep Cobb Beautiful office, since we get more vegetable-gardener traffic than they do.

We have a lot of seed packets from the Georgia Department of Transportation, too, all full of Cosmos seeds. Cosmos are great flowers for attracting pollinators.

Can I just say, now, how great it is to be in the center of this hub of garden generosity? I tell people that I   am "all about growing good food," and it is wonderful to see that a lot of other people are the same way!

Most of the "free seeds" are packets from 2013, so the germination rates are not going to be as high as for fresher seed, but planting a few more seeds per foot or per pot than usual will give a gardener plenty of plants.The seed potatoes (Kennebec and Red Pontiac) are for this year, and they are forming good eyes. Anyone who is interested in stopping by Cobb Extension to pick up a few seed potatoes should call the office (770-528-4070) to make sure there are still some here, but as of today, March 27, there are enough to provide for several more small gardens.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Waiting, but Busy

Seedling cilantro.
Here in Cobb County, we are expecting a drop down to 26 degrees F tonight, which is a little disheartening for local gardeners. What we all are longing for is warm-enough weather that we can, at the very least, start to move our trays of seedlings out to the porch in the afternoons.

What we have, instead, is a forecast for cold-enough weather that crops of many tree-fruits in the area are at risk. In my neighborhood, many of the dwarf fruit trees are in bloom. If the weather tonight is as cold as predicted, the blossoms won't survive to set fruit.

While we wait for the weather to moderate, there is still plenty to keep me busy. I've moved more seedlings from their original flats and Jiffy Pellets to larger pots; I've planted a block of green peas where the first round of tomatoes and peppers will be planted; and I've watered (!) the garden.

After last year's nearly non-stop rain, it seemed as though there had to be enough water in the ground to last us for years, but that didn't turn out to be the case. My lettuces and assorted other seedlings were standing in pretty dry soil until I dragged out the hose on Sunday afternoon.

Tonight, though, the gardening tasks include hauling "old spikey" (my key lime tree) and my lemon seedlings back into the house and putting covers over some of the smaller cool-season plants that are in the garden. Even the crops that can take a lot of cold are more sensitive when they are young.

Also, a couple of weeks back I went to the studio in Sandy Springs for America's Web Radio and was interviewed for two episodes of the Master Gardener Hour. The first aired on March 15, and the second aired on March 22. Not too surprisingly, Cheryl Lenker (the host) and I spent the whole two hours talking about vegetable gardening!

Both episodes are online in the archives for anyone to hear. I played the first one on Sunday afternoon, so I could hear it while I was doing some housecleaning, and it turned out pretty well.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seedling and Potato Progress

My indoor seedlings are making good progress:
Pepper seedlings need to be bumped up to separate pots.

Tomato seedlings that moved into these "6-packs" two weeks ago are almost ready for new, larger pots.
I didn't work on these seedlings over the weekend (they should be fine for a few more days as they are), because I focused my gardening energy on getting the seed potatoes planted outside.

The crop rotation schedule that I designed has a flaw in that, some years, the tomato-family plants end up with less space than I would prefer, because not all of my garden beds are the same size. This year, the tomato/potato/pepper/eggplant space is alarmingly tight.

To make sure there would be enough room for everything, I hacked up some more lawn out at the ends of two beds for potato-space. After peeling off the turf part, I dumped on an inch or so of compost and dug that a couple of inches down into the awful red clay. Then I layered on more compost, laid out the seed potatoes on top, then spread another couple of inches of compost over the seed potatoes.

After the seed potatoes have sent greenery up above the surface, I'll pile on some more compost, then finish the top off with some old hay. As the plants grow, I'll water them a few times with a little fish emulsion solution for an extra phosphorus kick. At least, that's the current plan.

While poking around online to decide whether my plan could work, I found a really great article in Mother Earth News about growing potatoes organically. The article "How to Grow Organic Potatoes" is an interview with Jim Gerritsen, a professional grower in Maine, that hits all aspects of growing, and it even includes information for gardeners here in the South. The article goes on for quite a few pages, but, for anyone planning to grow organic potatoes, it's worth taking the time to read.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Potatoes and Lettuce and Peas (and More!)

It's been a beautiful day for getting things done in the garden, so of course I am running behind. I spent part of my day just sitting on the back deck, listening to birds and admiring the trays of seedlings that I had moved out to a dappled spot.

The good news is that the trout lilies are blooming in my yard, and that is my signal that the soil is warm enough that peas and other cool-season crops planted now will actually germinate and grow rather than rot in too-cold soil.

I've planted some peas, planted out some little lettuces that I had started indoors a few weeks back, and planted some radish seeds. If all goes well tomorrow, I'll plant some more peas, lettuces, and radishes, and possibly also some spinach and beets.

Not all of the peas that I plant this weekend will be left in place long enough to produce peas; some are going to serve as a late-spring cover crop and will be turned back into the soil about six weeks from now. They will help get the soil in shape for the summer crops that will follow them.

The garlic, shallots, and multiplying onions all made it through the worst of winter and look good. I am hoping that the cold will actually help the hard-neck garlic! When the winter is warm, they don't make as many cloves-per-bulb.

When those onion-family crops all come out in June, they will be followed by a late planting of tomatoes. The June-planted tomatoes won't produce until late August, but they will give my tomato-supply a welcome boost when they finally begin to ripen!

I've also set out (possibly too early) some seed potatoes. On a quick run through Home Depot I saw a display of boxes of seed potatoes, and I found myself buying a pound of Kennebec potatoes in addition to whatever it was we went in for. When I got the box home, the seed potatoes already had good eyes, so after a few days I went ahead and planted them. They haven't poked any green up above the surface yet, which is good, because there is more cold ahead, I'm sure.

I had already placed a small order through the Potato Garden for a pound of Garnet Chili seed potatoes (I grew them once before, and my recollection is that they were wonderful), a pound of Red Pontiac seed potatoes (good to eat and super productive in my yard), and a pound of Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings that a friend wanted a half-pound of, so we will be sharing those. The box of seed potatoes arrived in yesterday's mail. None of the spuds in the box have developed good eyes yet, so it will be another week or two before those can be planted outside.

Really, though, the urge to fill the garden with cool season crops is very hard to resist; there is so much good food that can be planted and grown successfully now! Sadly, most of those crops wouldn't be ready to harvest until sometime in May -- well past the time when I will want to have some of my summer crops planted.  If I want those summer crops ready to harvest in a timely manner, I can't fill the garden with cool-season crops now.

It helps that I spent part of my time at home in the last winter storm mapping out a plan for my 2014 garden; the map/plan supports my resolve to keep my hands off the packs of broccoli, collards, etc plants at the garden stores, so I'll have space for all the peppers, squash, okra, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, melons, beans, parching corn, etc. that I have planned to grow in my little garden.

Hope that everyone else is enjoying the beautiful weather!
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