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Category Archives: Gardening
April 5, 2015
Buried deep within the dark, moist soil
Listening to the winds, sounds of birds chirping
Wondering what lies above
Wondering what this Spring will bring
Alas, one by one they break through the soil
Emerging slowly from their long dormancy
Revealing green stems, leaves
Forming buds in all shapes and sizes
One day after being drenched by the rains,
thirst quenched and warmed by the Sun’s warm embrace
They blossom into beautiful yellow, pink, purple,
red and a myriad of other colors
Purple crocuses emerging followed by grape hyacinths,
yellow daffodils, pink tulips…
Now swaying in the wind, dancing to the bird songs
What once seemed so distant and far away above
the soil was now there all around them
Bulbs emerging, performing on Spring’s stage
Delighting in all the admiration, attention
Remembering, cherishing these joyous Spring days
for they knew it was all momentary, fleeting
and soon they will return to their home below the soil
waiting to rise, emerge once again the following Spring…
Join me in this journey not to another country, but to another kingdom–the Plant Kingdom! Gardening is both rewarding and challenging for me. I am always learning new things. For example, it is so important to continually build and nourish the soil. Gardening is not just about growing plants, but growing the soil. Check out the film Symphony of the Soil. Also it is so important to have plants that help to sustain beneficial insects, like bees, to help pollinate crops. Open-pollinated seeds are important because they allow people to save seeds. I am appalled at what Monsanto is doing worldwide with their patented seeds and pesticides. They pretend like they are helping farmers, but instead they are wreaking havoc on rural communities worldwide and putting our global food supply in serious jeopardy. Check out Seed Savers and Millions Against Monsanto. Want to test your Plant IQ? Take the Plant IQ quiz.
Garlic farmers have to be very patient. You plant one garlic bulb and it magically tranforms into a full head of garlic, but how long does it take? Typically you plant around October 31 Halloween and it will be ready to harvest close to July 4 Independence Day, close to 8 months!
Today as I inspected my garden, I noticed there were garlic scapes already forming. They blend in so well that sometimes they are hard to spot. It’s absolutely essential that you cut the scapes off, so the plant puts its energy into the garlic bulb, the root, and not the scape, the flower.
So I had these beautiful tender scapes, now what? I decided to check for scape recipes online and stumbled across this vegan garlic pesto recipe and decided to try it out. I boiled some fusilli pasta and voila, I had some delicious garlic scapes pesto pasta.
This weekend I harvested garlic and carrots. I planted the garlic October 19, 2009, almost eight months ago! Garlic requires a lot of patience. Two varieties of garlic I got from the farmers market are Music and German White. This garlic had not been treated like most garlic you find in the grocery store. You plant one clove and magically they turn into full heads of garlic!
I planted the carrot seeds on April 4th, so they took about 3 months. Carrots come in all colors, not just orange. I planted several varieties, including yellow and red ones. The key thing about growing carrots is you have to thin them if you want them to grow properly. Thinning carrots requires that you snip off the plants that are too close together.
I munched on a few golden and red raspberries while I was harvesting. They were sweet and delicious. Raspberries are easy to grow.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, peppers and watermelon are growing and look promising…
Some time ago I saw a beautiful flowering vine growing up a trellis and wondered what it was? Here’s a photo, can you take a guess?
Sweet potato! It’s easy to grow in a hanging basket if you have limited space. You can also cook up the leaves. Sweet potato greens with garlic and soy sauce is common in Taiwanese cuisine.
Besides simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Pink and yellow varieties are high in carotene, the precursor of vitamin A.”
I came across this great article How to Plant and Grow Sweet Potatoes. Here’s an excerpt of the article. See the rest at the link above.
Step 1: Start the Slips
Sweet potatoes aren’t started by seed like most other vegetables, they’re started from slips. Slips are shoots that are grown from a mature sweet potato. You can order slips from a mail order or Internet catalog or you can start slips from a sweet potato you bought at the store or one from your garden. If you buy a potato from the store, be sure to find out if you’re getting a bush type or a vining type.
To start your slips, you need several healthy, clean sweet potatoes. Each sweet potato can produce up to 50 slip sprouts. To create sprouts, carefully wash your potatoes and cut them either in half or in large sections. Place each section in a jar or glass of water with half of the potato below the water and half above. Use toothpicks to hold the potato in place.
The slips need warmth, so put them on a window ledge or on top of a radiator. In a few weeks your potatoes will be covered with leafy sprouts on top and roots on the bottom.
Step 2: Root the Slips
Once your sweet potatoes have sprouted, you have to separate them into plantable slips. To do this, you take each sprout and carefully twist it off of the sweet potato. Take each sprout and lay it in a shallow bowl with the bottom half of the stem submerged in water and the leaves hanging out over the rim of the bowl. Within a few days roots will emerge from the bottom of each new plant. When the roots are about an inch long the new slips are ready to plant. To keep your slips healthy be sure to keep the water fresh and discard any slip that isn’t producing roots or looks like it’s wilting.
They are everywhere! Cropping up in lawns, weeds to be eliminated RIGHT? Well, actually you can cook up the leaves, eat the flowers and even use the roots…They are quite nutritious.
Traditionally, dandelion leaves are eaten as a spring tonic, to gently cleanse the body with the change of seasons, but they are also edible in summer and fall.
The first rule of thumb when foraging for anything wild is to take the utmost care to ensuring that the plant is free from pesticides and chemicals. As dandelions are considered an evil scourge by those who know no better, steps are often utilized early on to eradicate them via weedkillers. Harvest dandelions only from those areas that you know to be free from any chemical toxicity.
As well, the milk contained within the stem is very bitter, so be sure when picking the flowers to snip them above the stem. Rinse the flowers thoroughly before using in any recipe.
When to Gather Dandelions
Opinions vary, but mid to late afternoon is best, as is collecting on sunny days when possible, which produces a drier, fluffier flower. Pick only blooms in their golden yellow prime – small buds will make the end result more bitter. Eschew the dried, fluffy white heads. Remember – the entire plant can be used for other medicinal tinctures and teas.
When you are purchasing seeds, it’s good to look for open-pollinated seeds, instead of hybrid seeds. According to the Primal Seeds website, “Hybrid seeds are the first generation offsprings of two distant and distinct parental lines of the same species. Seeds taken from a hybrid may either be sterile or more commonly fail to breed true, not incorporating and expressing the desired traits of the parent. The development of hybrid seed enabled the beginning of the commercial seed market. Farmers were persuaded to buy new hybrid seed each season, replacing the traditional practice of farm-saved seed, due to the “hybrid vigour” which can improve yields. Hybrid seed is also known as ‘high response’ seed. These seeds require fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and lots of water to achieve their high yields.”
Hybrid seeds can lead to higher yields, but they also require more inputs in order to do so. Well, this is great for the agriculture companies, but not for the farmers or the rest of us! Now let’s take a look at open pollinated seeds. The Primal Seeds website explains, “Open-pollinated varieties are the traditional varieties which have been grown and selected for their desirable traits for millennia. They grow well without high inputs because they have been selected under organic conditions. These varieties have better flavour, are hardier and have more flexibility than hybrid varieties. Breeders cannot manipulate complex characteristics such as flavour as easily as they can size and shape. These seeds are dynamic, that is they mutate and adapt to the local ecosystem, as opposed to modern hybrids, which are static.”
The open-pollinated seeds can be grown organically with few inputs and they can be saved from year to year. The Council for Responsible Genetics has put together the Safe Seed Sourcebook to help people find places to buy open-pollinated seeds. Companies have to take the Safe Seed Pledge in order to be listed in the sourcebook.
I decided to buy seeds from the Victory Seed Company, which has taken the Safe Seed Pledge. On their website it says, “Unlike most seed companies that purchase all of their seed stock and repackage, we actually do farm and what seed we don’t raise here, is obtained from a network of carefully selected growers.” It was wonderful to go through their online catalog and read the descriptions for all the different types of vegetables, each with their own nuance. It was difficult to pick between the different varieties, so I ended up picking multiple types of tomatoes, peas, watermelons and peppers. For corn, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, cilantro, fennel and a few other herbs and vegetables I picked just one variety. I spent about $48 altogether on buying seeds.
On a side note, it’s good to keep track of all your expenses in a spreadsheet, so you can see what you are spending most money on in the garden. Some things you will buy one time, like a fork and spade and other things like seeds you will buy every year.
I bought several 72 cell seed starter kits from DoitBest which cost around $5 and includes 72 recyclable cell pack, greenhouse dome, carrying tray, and 4 quart seed starting mix. I also bought portable greenhouse which is a bit cheaply made, but helps to protect the little seedlings from the elements, especially when they are outside.
I emailed Josh the list of seeds I had purchased and he sent back a schedule of when the seeds should be planted and whether they should be planted in the seed starter kits or directly into the ground.
The seedling trays came with seed starting mix made from coir from coconut, so I just had to add water and the seed starter mix expanded. I carefully planted the seeds, covered the tray with the greenhouse dome and placed them on top of the refrigerator. Now it was time to just wait and watch. Slowly the different seeds started to grow into little seedlings. I wrote down where I planted what seeds on pieces of masking tape and stuck those onto the tray. I also created a spreadsheet to keep track of the seeds I planted in specific cells and what date I planted them. I was quite meticulous at this stage of the process. Later when the seeds were transplanted I wasn’t as careful, so now I don’t know specifically what variety a particular tomato or pepper seedling is.
Here are some of the lessons I learned growing from seeds. This is my first year growing from seeds, so all you experienced gardeners please share your tips because these may not be true based on your experience.
1. Don’t let the seedlings get too leggy.
This means transplant them when they get big enough, so they don’t start getting tall and thin. These seedlings have a tough time surviving when they are transplanted.
2. Hardening off seedlings is hard work.
To keep moving seedlings around from inside to outside for a few hours a day is not easy. They need to get acclimated to the outside, but it’s hard to achieve the perfect balance in giving them enough exposure to allow them to survive outside. Only some collard greens, basil, tomato, onion and pepper seedlings were able to make it after they were transplanted. The rest of the little seedlings were not strong enough to survive…
3. Some things grow well directly in the soil.
I have had such wonderful luck growing peas, corn, cucumbers, sunflowers and a few other things by planting them directly into the prepared beds.
4. Consider buying some seedlings from the farmers market.
I bought some tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, thai basil and a few other herbs as seedlings from the farmers market. They are flourishing. They have a head start compared to my little seedlings. a friend of mine said that she prefers to buy seedlings for tomatoes and peppers because she wants different varieties, instead of the same varieties she would get by buying a pack of seeds.
Share your knowledge and experience growing from seed.
– Where do you buy your seeds and why?
– What are your favorite seeds to buy?
– Do you have any tips for hardening off seedlings and transplanting them?
– What seeds do you prefer to plant directly into the soil?
– Any other seed tips?
Imagine a backyard with a lawn and little else. Now imagine a backyard dug up with two raised beds, two double dig beds and some fruit trees and bushes. Earlier in the year for the first time ever I started a vegetable garden with little knowledge, but much anticipation.
As a child I watched my grandfather, parents and aunt grow many Indian vegetables quite effortlessly. Later I helped to pick vegetables at Clagett Farm in Maryland. I really enjoyed the fresh vegetables and the community at the farm.
Now it was time to embark on my own growing adventure. I checked out many books from the library trying to learn as much as I could about how to start composting and vegetable gardening. One of the many books that I found to be quite helpful was Vegetable Gardening: From Planting to Picking, The Complete Guide to Creating a Bountiful Garden by Reader’s Digest.
I learned many things from reading the books, but wanted guidance from someone who is experienced, so I put out a call on the different email lists. Someone suggested Joshua Wenz who has a company called My Organic Garden and helps people to start their vegetable gardens.
Josh came over, measured the backyard and later emailed me the cost estimate and the layout. He suggested that I put in two raised beds and two double dig beds. For the raised beds, he brought in truck loads of compost. We also used some compost in the double dig beds. Before digging these beds, I got the soil from the front and back yards tested through UMass Soil Testing. This helped to determine the lead and ph levels of the soil. Based on the results, Josh also brought soil enrichments that were added to all the beds.
Next I ordered the seeds and fruit trees and bushes. It was quite exciting flipping through the online catalog of seeds and selecting them. To be continued…
Share your stories and resources. How did you get your vegetable garden started? What are your favorite vegetable garden books, websites and forums?