Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seed Catalogs and Gutter Gardening

The seed catalogs arriving in the mail has me thinking of gardening! Last year I fizzled out, only growing a few plants that I bought at the farmer's market. We got some beans that reseeded themselves and some wonderful banana peppers, but the tomatoes died off pretty quickly, other than the red currant tomatoes (which were supposed to be yellow, but they were delicious no matter what what color they were). This year I'm going to plant peas in the bed we grew tomatoes in in the hopes of restoring some of the nutrients.

This year I'm hoping to get back on track. On the Square Foot Gardening forum I found a reference to gutter gardening so I went on craigslist and posted an ad requesting free gutters and I got some within a couple of days! I haven't dug into how we're going to hang them yet, but I'm excited about growing some lettuce in them as an experiment. The idea of vertical gardening fascinates me for some silly reason. There's a cool idea called a pallet garden that I might try too, although I worry about chemicals from the wood leaching into the soil. There's a Youtube video of creating a pallet garden online. Maybe I'll just plant flowers in that one, although I'm tempted to plant strawberries after seeing a picture of a strawberry pallet garden.

I have tons of seeds so I don't think I'll need to buy much, but it's hard to resist the beautiful pictures and the fanciful descriptions.

Here's hoping I find the drive to garden this year!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

I hope your weather has been as beautiful as it's been here in central Virginia. Yesterday I went to the greenhouse and bought leaf, mushroom, and cow compost, as well as vermiculite and peat moss, and got a couple of batches of Mel's Mix made for the Square Foot Garden we're putting in at my son's elementary school. I also went to the poultry swap at our local TSC. I didn't know there was such a variety of chickens, each and every one beautiful in its own way, not to mention the different sizes. We're planning to get three chickens this year. We have a small coop but we haven't built the pen yet, and after my neighbor lost all but four of her thirty-seven chickens to predators, I'm not willing to risk getting them before we have their enclosure completed. I was really tempted to bring some home with me yesterday, though!

I have lettuce still growing, as well as cilantro that I planted in the fall. I also planted chard and peas, although the peas haven't done very well this year. They're so unpredictable, some years I get a great harvest and some years they don't quite get going before it gets hot. I'll try again in the fall! Fresh peas are so delicious that they're worth it even if we don't get a great harvest.

We have to wait a couple of weeks to buy plants, but the local farmer's market started today and they had a wonderful array of plants to choose from, so I'm sure I'll find what I'm looking for once we're ready.

I planted some herb seeds a few days ago so hopefully I'll have some parcel (parsley that has a celery flavor) and hyssop growing soon. I also got a few herb plants at the Madison Museum's Herb and Plant Sale last weekend, which I finally managed to pot on Friday with my husband's help. My oregano is growing great guns and the thyme is coming back nicely, so I'm looking forward to eating new potatoes with fresh herbs as soon as I can buy them at the farmer's market.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I enter spring with both excitement and apprehension. I have tons of seeds, both from purchases and trades, and while I'm excited about getting the garden going this year, I'm also apprehensive about seed sprouting. I planted a lot of peas and in the past I've had great luck with them, but this year it seems that many of the peas I planted aren't sprouting. I've planted a few more and I'm watching them closely, hoping that the issue was the weather and not the seeds.

Today I planted three kinds of swiss chard in the bed besides the house: Bright Lights (red and white stemmed), Oriole (orange/gold stemmed), and Fordhook Giant (white stemmed). I love chard so I'm really hoping that most of them grow, although last year I didn't have great success. Only two of the chard plants I planted grew to maturity, which has me wondering what I did wrong. Others say that swiss chard is easy to grow so I'm going to hope that I just planted at the wrong time last year, and if the chard I planted today doesn't sprout I'll replant those squares. I have plenty of seeds, so I can experiment without having to spend more on seeds.

We're planning to expand the garden a fair bit this year but that involves a pretty sizeable investment in the soil, so I'm not sure the garden will expand quite as much as we've planned. Once things are finalized I'll talk more about the new beds we put in.

I've been contemplating seed starting inside but my very small experiment with herb seeds shows that they get very leggy, so I'm thinking that this year I'll just start the seeds outside. My brother was going to send me some lights he had for his salt water aquarium so that I could start some seeds inside with lights, but he didn't send the lights so I'm not going to have a set up that includes lights, which makes indoor seed starting seem impractical. Unfortunately I bought some seeds planning to start them inside, so we'll see if I get a harvest from those if they're put in the ground instead of being started inside. I'm going to plant some herbs in the coldframe today since they shouldn't get leggy if they're grown in natural light, hopefully they'll be successful.

Last of all, my cold frame wasn't very successful this year. There's a gentleman on the SFG forum who did some testing this winter and he recommends buying soil heaters instead of using coldframes alone, so I'm thinking about getting soil heaters for a couple of the new beds we're putting in.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winter Savory Sprout!

Last night I looked at my little yogurt cups of soil on my kitchen table, where they capture the morning sun, and I noticed a tiny little sprout! The epazote hasn't sprouted yet, but I saw one little winter savory sprout, and looking closer this morning, there's another one. It filled me will joy. Is that silly? Maybe, but I'm so happy to see those tiny little sprouts. I tried to take a picture but they don't show up at all against the soil. I watered them with diluted tea this morning in the hopes of staving off dampening off.

Yesterday I planted peas, miner's lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi, and ho mi z mustard greens. I planted six different kinds of peas:
  • Golden Sweet are yellow-podded and the pods are edible, with gorgeous pink and purple flowers
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow peas grow extra tall and have edible pods
  • Blauwschokkers are blue-podded shelling peas, although my husband loves the young pods, and I have both regular-sized and dwarf seeds
  • Little Marvel are shelling peas that I've grown before
  • Wando are shelling peas that I've grown before
I'm so excited about the garden this year! I'm going to try to stay focused on the beauty of it instead of the work that it takes, because the work is absolutely worth it. I have far more seeds than I'll be able to plant, but I've been trading some of them and I've gotten so many flower seeds in my trades. My husband and I have an agreement that I won't spend money on flowers, other than an occasional, "They were on sale so cheap!", purchase, so it's wonderful to know that I'll have gorgeous flowers this year thanks to the generous online community at the Square Foot Gardening site.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Planting the First Seeds of the Year

Today I planted the first seeds of the year, epazote and winter savory. Winter savory was a bit hard to find but I tracked it down at Garden Medicinals, which it turns out is affiliated with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Both herbs are touted as good companions to bean dishes and supposedly help to reduce the 'gas' factor. This year I'm going to start a few seeds inside and I'm excited about getting some aquarium lights from my brother to help with that endeavor.

I've placed seed orders with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Johnny's Seed Company and plan to order the last of them tomorrow, including a couple of grafted tomato plants from Territorial Seed, which will be fun to try. I'm excited about the garden this year and have had a bit of 'garden fever' for the last couple of weeks. I think the seed catalogs are the cause of that! Baker Creek's catalog is so beautiful. My husband and I spent a couple of hours browsing its pages and deciding what to grow this year.

We also joined a local CSA that's brand new this year at Liberty Mills Farm. They had a great corn maze for Halloween and we went on full moon night, which was so much fun! I'm really happy about supporting a local farm and it will allow us to grow more exotic fare since we'll get our staples from them. I'm extra excited about them having strawberries that aren't grown with the traditional cocktails of chemicals!

I'll post a list of what we're planning to grow this year, as well as more information about the expansion we have planned. Hopefully this year will include chickens as well!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Carrot Harvest

As usual I've been remiss in my updates, but I had to share pictures of our carrots. I participate in the Square Foot Gardening Forum and there's a young man there who offered to send my son some seeds for world-record sized carrots. I swapped him some yellow mushroom bean seeds and my husband built a 2x2 bed that's quadruple-depth, since those carrots could grow as long as a foot. My son was beside himself with excitement when we planted the seeds but I was apprehensive because I tried carrots last year and the carrot maggot flies got to them, so we didn't get much of a harvest. This year I planted radishes amongst the carrots and it seems to have worked, because there was no maggot fly damage at all! I pulled this carrot from the ground December 5th and it was the largest in the bed.

Biggest Carrot

The ground froze solid before I remembered the carrots were still in the bed and I didn't mulch them, so I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get them out of the ground. New Year's weekend was unseasonably warm, reaching the mid-50's, and my beloved husband went out to the garden and freed the carrots.

The Aftermath

My Hero

Here's the harvest, all cleaned up. There was over six pounds of carrots!

Carrot Harvest

And here's what I did with them... the biggest of the orange ones canned as Dilly Carrots, using a recipe from the book Put 'em Up, which is a great book about preserving food.

Canned Carrots

I saved the exotic ones and the smaller orange ones and steamed them. They're as beautiful steamed as they were when we harvested them. I'm glad I snitched a couple of the white and yellow ones, because my son ate the entire bowl!

Steamed Carrots

I can't wait to grow more carrots next year!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saving Seeds

Today I cleaned out the sunflower bed and replanted it with wild lettuce mix and cilantro. This is my first attempt at saving seeds, and the cilantro is my first experiment. It's so satisfying to plant seed from plants I grew, and when I cleared the sunflowers I tied them to the fence for the birds, as well as saving a few seeds to plant next year.

A few days ago I went to a friend's house and tried my hand at canning, which was wonderful! I should have snapped pictures, but I didn't think to do so. I pickled sweet banana peppers, canned heirloom tomatoes, and made spaghetti sauce. My friend gave me a hot water bath canner and I'll likely be purchasing a pressure canner sooner than later. It's wonderful to see food that I grew sitting in my pantry, waiting to nourish my family.

If anyone knows of a good canning recipe website I would appreciate it! I'll share anything I discover as well.