Got Some Growin' to Do

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Monday, 26 March 2012

The Plants are Taking Over!

This afternoon, I transplanted most of my baby seedlings into larger pots. It's a good thing I didn't have anything else planned, because it took quite a bit longer than I expected... four hours or so. And, I still have about a dozen that need to be done. I ran out of peat pots. I put some in plastic cups, just to see how they'd do, but I'll pick up some peat cups for the seedlings that still need pots. It's a good thing we built a shelf that fills up the dining room table.

newly transplanted seedlings

A quick update on the early tomatoes. They've been living outside, hardening off, for the last few nights. Last week, I thought I might put them in the ground this past weekend. Of course, now we're getting a few nights that are getting into the 40's, and it may even get into the 30's tonight. So, I didn't plant them, and they're spending the night in the garage. I'm going to put at least a couple of them in the ground this weekend, no matter what. I'm thinking of April Fool's Day. That sounds appropriate.

first tomato plants

I know the leaves look a little spotty, and it caused me quite a bit of worry until I realized it was just pollen stuck to them.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Got Worms?

I do!

Look what came in the mail today:

Box of worms

I ordered my worms from Earthworms 4 Sale a little over a week ago. I'm not that familiar with worms, but they look pretty good to me. I ordered one pound of redworms (eisenia fetida), also called red wigglers, for my Worm Factory. If you're wondering if a pound of worms smell bad or funny, the answer is no. The only thing I smelled was the peat that they were packed with.

As soon as I got them in the house, I opened the box, pulled back the layer of moist, shredded newspaper on top of the Worm Factory tray, and dumped the worms in.

worms in the worm factory

Last Thursday, I added some vegetable peels and tea leaves under the shredded paper to let it start breaking down. The worms eat all the little organisms that decompose the food and other organic matter, so letting the food sit in the tray while waiting for the worms to arrive will give them something to start working on as they adjust to their new home. I have the worm bin sitting under a light that will stay on overnight. They don't like the light, so it will keep them from surfacing or possibly leaving their tray.

close up of worms

I think I'll be adding some more food scraps for them soon. I have to keep them happy!

Monday, 19 March 2012

In the Ground We Go!

For several days now, my broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower plants have been living outside. I put them on the top shelf of my little unfinished greenhouse, protected with some floating row cover. I've seen a couple of little white butterflies in the yard, and I don't want them setting up nurseries in my veggies.

covered plants on stand

Not pretty, but it did the job.

Today, my little plants got to move from the shelf to the garden bed. While I was planting, I saw that some of my cabbages didn't have root systems that were as strong as other cabbages. I'll just have to keep my eye on them. I've got six broccoli, 6 cabbage, and four cauliflower plants.

plants in the garden bed

Look how big my peas are! (Left side, the length of the bed)

I covered the plants the best I could, but I need smaller hoops, so that it doesn't take two pieces to go over the plants. Hopefully, the cabbage butterflies won't find their way in before I can fix it up a bit better. I haven't decided if I'm going to cut my PVC to make smaller hoops or rig up something else.

garden bed with floating row cover

One more bit of news from today is that my spinach is sprouting. Of the four peat pods that I seeded with spinach, only one came up, and that happened weeks after the rest of the plants. So, when I sowed some spinach seeds directly in the garden, I put quite a few into each hole. That worked out well, and they came up much quicker this time.

spinach seedlings

Pea Explosion!

I've never grown peas before, so it's been fun seeing how fast they grow once they sprout. We started to see just a few poking through the soil on March 15th. When I went out two days later, all the peas were up. Now, they're growing like weeds. Tasty weeds, I hope.

peas growing

I think the little pea seedlings are pretty. They resemble succulents at this stage, they're so plump.

pea seedling

Friday, 16 March 2012

More Bits 'o Green

A few little updates on the garden today.

See what those darned slugs did to my poor little cauliflower plant? So glad I noticed before they chomped holes in everything.

leaf eaten by slug

Quite some time ago, my dad bought two greenhouse shelf units, but he only put one together. He gifted me the second one a few weeks ago, and I've almost finished putting it together. The metal frame is done, but the plastic needs to be attached. I didn't think to put my plants on it yesterday after I got it done. Maybe if they were on the shelf last night, the slug invasion could have been avoided. The frame is pretty lightweight, so I'm able to move it around easily. Today, I moved it so that the plants could get their first exposure to direct sunlight.

plants on greenhouse stand

Some seeds make you wait and wait before they sprout and start showing you the green. Some give almost instant gratification, like these:

radish sprouting

Radishes! These little sprouts are from seeds I put in the ground four days ago on March 12. I don't eat radishes (though I do like radish sprouts), but my husband does. They're so easy to grow. The are from some seeds we picked up at Lowe's: Burpee's Cook's Custom Mix. I'll try them; maybe I'll find some I actually like.

sprouting lettuce

Lettuce! Instead of planting this lettuce with specific spacings, the way I planted most of my other squares, I just scattered the seed all over one square foot of the garden. As they grow, I'll thin them and eat the baby greens. I decided to scatter the seeds because this is a mix of lettuce, and I thought it would be the best way to get a good mix of the lettuce varieties in the packet. I bought the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and it is their Rocky Top Lettuce Mix. My dad is a die-hard UT Vols fan, so I just had to get this mix. Doesn't hurt that it looks lovely and has great reviews, either.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Oops! And Ewwwwwwww!

I put my seedlings out on the back steps today for some fresh air. I can't really say I'm hardening them off, because it's been unseasonably warm lately (we broke a heat record this afternoon). But, it's still good for them to be outside, I think. I haven't put them in direct sun, though. Anyway, we started getting a little rain in the late afternoon, so I left them out to get some rain water and some cooler temperatures.

What didn't I think about?

Slugs!

We brought the plants in, and as I was getting them settled back on the light shelf, I noticed a small hole in one of my broccoli leaves. It was one of the small seed leaves that was sitting close to the soil. That's when I saw the little bitty slug that had climbed up into the peat pot and gnawed on my broccoli. And, that's when I started to look and find oh so many more little slugs on my peat pots. We then investigated every single plant, removing slugs, for the next 15-20 minutes. Yuck!

More garden construction

Since my last entry, we've added a third bed to the veggie garden and put up trellises on all three beds. But first.....

Pea seedling coming through the soil

PEAS!

We saw 6 little pea plants breaking through the soil this afternoon. I'm growing several things I've never grown before, and peas are on that list. This is one of the Tall Telephone peas, an English pea (or May pea, as they're often called around here). I hope they'll do okay, considering the warm weather we've been having lately. It was 83 degrees today.

Once the new bed was in place, we put a thick layer of cardboard and paper down, then my husband mowed the yard and emptied the grass and leaves from the mower bag on top. The rest of the box is filled with a mix of topsoil, peat moss, and compost. Some of the compost is mushroom compost, which I've never used before. None of our beds have the same mix in them, and I probably should've kept some sort of record about what is in each one.

hanging trellis net in garden bed

The new bed is there in the background. All of our beds now have these trellises in them. We decided to try 1/2" electrical conduit (EMT) to make the trellises. I've read conflicting opinions about whether this size is sturdy enough, but it seems to work well for some people. We shall see. We're using nylon trellis netting, which has nice size holes to reach a hand through, and it's supposed to hold up well over multiple seasons. I just need to get my square foot grids put into the two beds that don't have them yet, and they'll be ready for planting. One of the beds will be getting sugar snap and snow peas, probably before the end of the weekend.

garden bed with peas and trellis

Now, the Tall Telephone peas have a trellis just waiting for them to grow big enough to grab on to it. I noticed today that birds (I assume) did some digging in part of this bed this morning. Luckily, they chose a spot that I haven't planted yet, but I don't expect that luck to hold on much longer. So, it looks like bird netting is going on the shopping list. They didn't mess much with it last year, and they aren't bothering the bed that we built earlier this year. I did find a lovely worm when I moved the thyme, so I'm wondering if the birds are finding some nice worms, too. I guess those CDs aren't having the deterrent effect I hoped they would.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Sowing and Growing

Finally got some more seeds in the garden this afternoon. Still waiting on those peas to show themselves. If I don't see something soon, I may become impatient and start digging around to see if there's any evidence of pea sprouting. In addition to my lazy peas, I now have some carrot, lettuce, radish, spinach, and oregano seeds in the soil. More waiting! I also moved my thyme plant and found a lovely surprise... I had a worm! I hope I start seeing more of those; they're so good for the soil.

Speaking of waiting and worms, I got a Worm Factory about a month ago and finally got it prepped for worms. I ordered them last night, and they should be arriving sometime next week. So excited! I've wanted to start vermicomposting for a while, but my husband's been a little unsure about keeping worms in the house. The Worm Factory looks nice and neat, so I was able to win him over with it. This is my waiting Worm Factory:

closed worm factory

Under the lid is shredded newspaper; the food scraps go under this layer of newspaper.

shredded paper layer in worm factory

Under the shredded paper is a layer of coir, paper, a small amount of soil, and some crushed egg shells as bedding for the worms.

bedding layer in worm factory

I should have some food scraps after I make dinner tomorrow that will be added to the Worm Factory, along with some tea leaves I've saved, under the paper layer. That will give it plenty of time to start breaking down before the worms come.

Before I go, a quick look at my seedlings. Mostly tomatoes have come up, but there are a few peppers starting to peek out, as well as my eggplant and summer savory. If most of my plants do well, I'll have more than I can use, but I hope I can share the extras.

growing seedlings

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Think I'll be getting another light... or two

I made my light shelf with a shop light, using daylight fluorescent tubes, and the grow light that came with my seed starting kit. I started a new tray full of seeds early this week, and some of them are sprouting now (yay!). Part of the tray is sitting directly under the grow light, which is hanging just above the tray. But, my tomatillo seedlings really want that 'daylight'.

seedlings reaching for daylight fluorescent

As you can see, even though they have that grow light just above their little heads, they want the other light. And, even though the daylight tubes aren't directly over some of the older plants, the side reflectors on the light fixture seem to be enough to keep them growing straight instead of bending and reaching.

older seedling under daylight fluorescent

I feel a bit bad that the kit my husband got me for Christmas has been replaced so quickly with our homemade project. I can still use it for small batches of seeds, but it certainly isn't up to doing enough seedlings for the main garden. Luckily, my husband doesn't mind, and we're chalking it up to lessons learned.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Look Outside

Here's a quick look at my vegetable garden right now. Last year, we started (late) with just one tall raised bed. Earlier this year, we built another, and today we're just about finished building a third. As of now, we're planning to build a fourth, and final, bed. We've been in our house just over a year, so there's plenty of work to be done on the rest of the landscaping, but the veggie garden came first.

I'm using some of the ideas from All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It's an intensive-style gardening that allows for greater yields in less space. That's why there are strings marking off each square foot of my bed. It really helps with planning - deciding what to fill each square with - and keeps things neat and structured (or as much as a garden will allow, anyway). I'm not using the soil mix advised by the book (Mel's Mix), but my soil mix isn't very different. I'm using approximately one-third each of peat moss, bagged topsoil, and compost. It worked pretty well for last year's garden, so that's the mix I'm going to stick with for my beds. I will be amending the soil with compost, of course, to help keep the soil healthy and full of nutrients. My beds are 4'x8' and just under 2 feet tall. It's not cheap to fill beds of that size, but my plants have a good depth for their roots, and it is so easy to maintain. Before filling with soil, we layered the bottom of the beds with cardboard, paper, grass clippings and leaves. That filled up several inches, so we didn't need quite as much soil. In addition, it helps with drainage, keeps weeds from growing up through the beds, and it will eventually decompose. I should also mention that the bottom of each bed also has chicken wire attached, to keep out any burrowing creatures that may want to nibble on our plants.

garden bed

The PVC poles are there so that I can attach plastic or row covers. Of course, it's been such a mild winter, that they wouldn't have gotten much use even if I started the garden as early as I had planned. Still, our last frost date in this area is mid-April, so I may still need them for frost protection. I'm going to be putting cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower in that bed, so I'll used them to hold row covers too. Row covers will let in water and light, but it will protect the plants from cabbage butterflies. A few days ago, I planted Tall Telephone Peas in the squares that are outside the hoops, along the length of the bed. The hanging CDs are an attempt to keep birds away, so they don't come and nip my peas when they start sprouting. The idea is that the movement and light reflecting from the CDs will scare them. It seems to work better for some than for others. Doesn't hurt to try.

I had three things left in my garden bed from last year - thyme, parsley, and some spindly little chives that I pulled out when I planted the peas. I'm really surprised by the parsley, because it was devoured by caterpillars last autumn. It had nothing left but stems. Then, all of a sudden, it started putting out leaves and is growing quite well. I'm planning to keep the thyme and parsley, but I'm moving them to new spots. The thyme is supposed to help deter cabbage butterfly, so I'm just moving it to a new spot in the same bed. The parsley is going in a different bed.

parsley and thyme

The thyme looks a little shabby, because it had spread pretty well over the last few months, and I trimmed it back quite a bit. I'm sure it will bounce right back.

We just need to attach the chicken wire to the third bed, then it will be ready to fill. It will be in approximately the spot that it's sitting in the picture. The black pod in the background is our compost tumbler. It's mostly lawn debris, with some kitchen scraps mixed in. It's mostly cooking right now, we're not adding much to it. We're thinking of getting it a sibling, and I will also be starting a worm composting bin soon.

garden beds and composter

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Movin' on Up

It was a beautiful 64-degrees this afternoon, so my first batch of seedlings took their first trip outside. My husband was in the garage painting, so I used our back steps as my planting bench.

seedlings ready for transplant

This seems like a good time to let you know what I'm growing, at least in this first little batch of plants. I've never grown an early spring (or late autumn/winter) garden before. Although, as mild as autumn was last year, I had tomato plants until early December. I've just never grown the plants associated with those gardens: peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. My husband loves cauliflower (not my favorite, but I'll eat it), and we both enjoy broccoli and cabbage, so I thought it would be fun to try growing those things. I'm starting small with 6 broccoli, 6 cabbage, and 4 cauliflower. I also put in seeds for 2 spinach plants, but they didn't do anything until March 3, when one finally popped up out of its pod. I'm going to sow some spinach directly in the garden. Maybe I'll have some luck with it out there. I've also got 6 tomato plants started - 3 each of 2 varieties. I'm experimenting with getting some early tomatoes this year. It seems to be tradition in this part of the country to plant tomatoes in early May. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll actually have a tomato sometime in May.

These are the varieties I'm trying this year:

  • Broccoli - Green Sprouting Calabrese

This is an heirloom broccoli that produces lots of side shoots once the main head is harvested. It's been grown in the U.S. since the 1880's.

  • Cauliflower - Early Snowball

An heirloom variety, introduced in 1888.

  • Cabbage - Red Acre

We love red cabbage in our salads, and this heirloom variety is supposed to form early and store well.

  • Spinach - Bloomsdale Long Standing

Popular since the 1920's, this variety is supposed to mature quickly and hold up well when it starts to get warm. That's if I can get it to sprout.

  • Tomato - New Girl

An early-maturing hybrid variety.

  • Tomato - Stupice

An early-maturing heirloom from the former Czechoslovakia. It's supposed to be quite tasty and also do well all through summer.


roots growing out of peat pod

As you can see, the roots on my tomatoes are ready to move up to a bigger home.

seedlings transplanted into peat pods

Almost all the seedlings are in peat pots now, and I'm not sure if I mixed up one of the cauliflowers with a broccoli, but I'll find out later. After a night of rest and adjustment to their new pots, they'll go back under the lights tomorrow morning. I hope they do well, so I can start working on getting them used to the outdoors before they move into the garden beds.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Catching up with the seeds

This entry may be a bit long, but I wanted to show what's been happening so far this year.

Since I decided I wanted to start most of my own plants from seed this year, I asked for a little seed starting kit to get me started, and my husband bought me this for Christmas from Park Seed:

Seed starting kit

I put some seeds in the little peat starter pods on February 18, and by February 21, some had already started to sprout. sprouted tomato

It was fun watching them grow, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with how my little light kit was working. The tray is wider than the light fixture, and the seedlings that were on the edges starting becoming leggy, bending towards the center to find the stronger light. Since I was only using one-third of the pod trays, I was able to turn it so that it was parallel to the fixture, so all the seedlings on the ends were under more direct light. That's when I decided that it wasn't going to work well when I started the majority of my seeds for the summer plants. My seedlings were growing quickly, and I knew it wouldn't be long before I needed to get all the rest of my seeds started. They needed better lighting, and I needed more room for more seeds. These are my seedlings on March 3rd:

seedlings

After looking around the net to see what other people had done, we constructed a lighting shelf based on one that was simple and quick to construct. Our cat was quite interested in it when we brought it in the house.

cat climbing in the light shelf


Today

All of the above brings us to today. Most of my first set of seedlings are outgrowing their pods, and I wanted to get them transplanted into some small pots. After they've had a couple of days to adjust to their new pots, I'm going to start hardening them off. I'd like to get them into the garden beds in the next week or two. I was going to try a little earlier, especially with the very mild winter we've had in southeast Virginia this year, but mid-March is earlier than I've ever started a garden, so I'm still pleased with how things are going. Here are my seedlings and light shelf from this afternoon:

light shelf

Most of these were in pots by the end of the day. These seedlings are about three weeks old.

3 week old seedlings

These little pods were all seeded on March 5, and I saw a couple of baby plants just starting to poke through this evening. I have 68 pods seeded in the white tray, but they won't all make it to the garden. If they all do well, I hope I can find them homes with family or neighbors. As long as I get one good, healthy plant from each variety I'm starting, I'll be happy.

light shelf

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Starting simply

I had a bit of a garden last summer, which I documented on Facebook through pictures and some status updates. At some point, I got it into my head that doing a garden blog might be fun. So, here I am!

There's not much going on in the garden itself, right now, but the growing has started. For the first time ever, I'm doing the majority of my gardening with seeds. The little bit of gardening I did up to this point was mostly with purchased transplants. A long time ago, I did start many, many plants from seed, but they grew up in a commercial-style greenhouse (I was a horticulture student for a brief moment in history). Maintaining a growing operation on my dining room table is a bit different. There will be plenty of photos and details about my little plant nursery, as well as the garden, soon.

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