Sunday, March 24, 2013

Starting Seeds revisited

In years past, I have started my seeds using those peat pellet kits you get at most home stores.  You know the ones that come with a tray and a clear plastic dome to simulate a green house?  They always start out nicely, however once they start, I never quite know what to do next.  Do I leave the dome on?  Where should I put them?  Should I transplant them into bigger pots?  What I have done in the past is leave the dome on longer than should be, and then once I take it off, just set it in front of a sunny window in my bed room.  However, each year, my plants look sickly and small.  So there I am in the spring, transplanting my sickly tomato plants in my tilled and ready to go beds, while next door, my neighbor has these healthy, bushy tomato plants purchased at a garden store.  What am I doing wrong?  Needless to say, the poor start that my seeds get, translate into late season fruits and a mediocre crop.

This season, I am trying something different.  I was listening to a local garden radio show called "You Bet Your Garden"  and they were talking about tips for starting seeds indoors.  To sum up, window light, although may seem good enough, really isn't enough light for the young seedlings.  So in order to deal with that, it is recommended to use fluorescent bulbs for light.  Keep the light about 2" away from the plants and keep the light on them 24 hrs a day 7 days a week.  You can read about it here.

I can adjust the distance of the bulbs to the plants with the chain.

So, what we did this year, is Mike made for me two shelves worth of fluorescent bulbs.  I have 4 - 3 foot fluorescent bulbs on each shelf.  He connected the lamps with pieces of sheet metal and then I can raise and lower the lights with a chain he attached to the sheet metal.  This is great, as the plants grow I can adjust the distance of the lights.  I keep the lights about 1"-2" away from the plants and I have the lights on constantly.  They seem to be responding well to this set up.

Makeshift lights does the job - 2 bulbs attached together with sheet metal
So, based on a projected last frost date of April 21 (however I suspect this will be later this season with how cold it's been), I worked backwards with my plan of when to start different seeds.  I started in the beginning of  February with onion, broccoli, broccoli raab, celery and parsley seeds.  Each week planting different seeds such as, pepper, radicchio, lettuce, swiss chard, tomato, kale, napa cabbage and brussel sprouts.  Out of all of the seeds I started, all but pepper, tomato and lettuce are repeats for me.  So needless to say, this will be an interesting learning year with all these new vegetable varieties.

Hoping that these tomatoes will look better than last year.

Radicchio - always tasty in a salad.

Onions - this is the first time I'm growing from seed.  I usually start with sets.

Peppers and celery

Broccoli and celery

and more celery - I will have celery this year!

Rather than using peet pellets, I planted my seeds in those 6 pack trays and using potting soil.  The potting soil needs to be saturated, similar to the peat pellets.  I filled my trays with soil, then wet the soil a bit, planted the seeds and water some more.  By doing it this way, the seeds won't float to the top as the soil is already a bit moist.

I will continue to share my experience on how this is all going.  So far I'm pleased.  Warmer weather can't get here soon enough.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Back to Eden

I have been inspired this year by a video that I saw called "Back to Eden" which you can watch here on Vimeo.

God is the great orchestrator of all on earth.  And when we (people) try to take over, we mess things up.  What I have gotten out of this video is that if we just pause for a moment and take a look around, we can see all of the answers to our questions by looking at God's amazing creation.

So, what does that mean for gardening?  Well...if you look out in nature, you can see that God gives us all we need to grow crops, and grow crops well.  It's when we try to over-engineer things that we make more work for ourselves.  Tilling, weeding, pest control to name a few.

Additionally, over the years, we have become more accustomed to all things prepared, refined and boxed.  Our taste buds know little anymore of whole, raw, organic, fresh food.  We find something like a donut to be called a sweet treat, when an apple is what a sweet treat means.  Sweet doesn't have to be bad for you,  God didn't make it that way.  He gave us taste buds to enjoy food.  Indulge yourselves without guilt with a bushel of fresh strawberries, for example.  Satisfy your crunchy craving on fresh baby spinach and baby carrots.  Nibble on sprouted lentils   It's all there for the taking.

So, what does this mean for me this growing season?  Well, I am going to be adopting the principles from Paul Gautschi by focusing on a ground covering for my garden.  I've been using raised beds for years and have been pleased with the success from them.  Beds that are not walked on and I am constantly enriching with compost.  I started falling back onto my old habits of tilling, which is really contradictory to God's plan.  Tilling is really more harm than good.  It breaks up all the good soil and worms that are busy keeping my raised beds soft and fluffy.  That plus, without fail, a week after I till, I am out there weeding.  One other issue I have throughout the season is watering.  What a chore it is to make sure each day that my garden is watered.  And if I miss a few days, the crops are stressed.

So my plan this year is to get a good covering on my garden which will keep weeds down, and the earth below constantly moist.  According to Paul, and also Ruth Stout with a covering, one does not have to worry about watering.  The covering keeps just the right amount of moisture in the garden during periods of drought as well as rains.  The covering continues to break down providing the nutrients that are needed to keep the soil enriched and soft.

What I have done the past weeks is get a good 3" covering on my raised beds.  I have about 200 sq ft of raised beds.  I called our township borough to make sure it was ok to get some wood chippings from their compost facility.  They were happy to ablige.    So over the past weeks, Mike and I have filled garbage bags with wood chippings and leaves and brought them to my garden.  The picture in this blogs illustrates what this looks like.  I also have my compost bin constantly at work.  One thing that my compost bin lacks is browns (the nitrogen) as we have no trees on our property or on our street for that matter.  When Mike and I were pitching leaves from the compost facility into garbage bags in the dead of winter, I was amazing to see a warm steam coming from the composting leaves.  The leaves were even hot to the touch!  How cool is that?!  God at work even in the coldest of days.

Birds eye view of my garden

tree chippings

more tree chippings, garlic is under there waiting for the warm weather!

There is never a wrong time to get your garden started with a good covering.  I will be blogging about my experience of my Back to Eden garden this season.

This weekend I started some early seeds.  Onions, (yellow and scallions), broccoli, broccoli rabe, celery and parsley.

Onions, broccoli, broccoli raab, celery, parsley started

Next weekend peppers and radicchio will be started.  My goal this year is to see if I can grow, all that I enjoy eating.  Years past I've focused on large quantities of the easy stuff.  This season it will be more of manageable portions of we eat on a regular basis.  Some newer endevours for me are radicchio, kale, brussel sprouts, chinese cabbage, dried beans, parsnips and winter squashes.  Biting off more than I can chew?  Perhaps, but with all failures, come growth and learning.