Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, 2011

While our neighboring state to the north rolls its collective eyes at winter precipitation advisories, we have steely grey skies with highs in the 40's and 50's F.  Too cold for beans...  even peas will just sit and wait this out; but spinach takes it like the Energizer bunny and keeps on growing.  In two weeks we hope to be harvesting sweet green leaves loaded with vitamins.  While we're thinking about it, time to drag out the Black Hen composted chicken manure (people with sensitive noses be advised, this stuff is really smelly) and sprinkle a helping down the rows for an extra boost of very natural nitrogen.
Our velvety green carpet of red clover has grown knee-high during the last month, but I've been plotting how to kill it:  we're several weeks away from corn planting, and it's time for our green manure to work its magic, turning sterile subdivision soil into a humusy, fertile compound.  Mowing it may kill the lawnmower.  Weed whacker?  I'll be vibrating all night.  Neighbors might act jittery if I head out there with a scythe in hand...  Looks like a tiller wins out as the power tool of necessity, though it will take several passes to completely lay clover to rest.  Our rain gauge measured 2.1 inches collectively over the weekend, and soil is much too wet to till.  Will have to wait for a drier weekend.
Though it is too soggy for outdoor chores, bell pepper seedlings under fluorescent lights indoors have been drying out every day, a sign that they need to be transplanted.  Foam cups make inexpensive pots, not organic I know, but recyclable.  Anything may be used.  It's the vigorous root systems this extra growing space encourages that helps transplants take off after they are moved to the garden.  We've made reflectors out of cardboard sheets covered in aluminum foil to help keep light focused and strong for stocky plants.  In a couple months these tiny seedlings will become major architectural landscape elements in the yard.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21, 2011

Spring arrived at least two weeks early in these parts; the last day of winter warmed to 81 degrees F while the vernal equinox was 20 degrees cooler.  That's March!  ...And the Upstate, SC.  These peach blossoms are almost finished, and dropped their petals during a quick Saturday afternoon thunderstorm.  We received 0.7 inches of rain with hail stones 1/2 inch in diameter.  Apple trees have finally broken dormancy.
With all our cool weather crops in, it's time to finish seed-starting indoors focusing on tomatoes and other warm-weather crops.  (No one is neutral about okra:  people either love it or hate it, and we reside firmly in group B...  unless the taste is buried in frying batter, but then what's the value?  You won't find it in our garden.  But, I digress.) 
I find small, 4-week-old seedling tomatoes transplant into the garden much easier than lanky 8-week-old plants, so I'm really not a procrastinator or behind schedule.  People who follow package directions to start tomatoes indoors 8 weeks before last frost will find their plants need staking before they get to the garden.  We use tomatoes in everything, so we plant enough to can for the winter--Roma for sauces, Beefsteak for summer BLT sandwiches, Brandywine and others for multiple uses.
Spinach sprouts in the garden row.
Indoors peppers, broccoli, and herbs have all sprouted; outdoors carrots, onions, peas, and spinach have sprouted.  All remaining crops will be direct-sowed into the garden in April after the permanent arrival of warm weather.  Still saving those empty milk jugs?  They will come in handy in a couple weeks as mini greenhouse covers for broccoli transplants.  Plum and cherry have finished bloom, while raspberry and blueberry are leafing out.  Happy Spring, y'all!

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 14, 2011

We had a wet week (no complaints there!) ending with some great 76 degree F sunshine and drying just enough to work the soil.  Peas by St. Patrick's Day is an easy date to remember (or one month before last frost in other zones); I pre-sprout my seeds between damp paper towels in a dark, warm area (like on top of the refrigerator), mix with a powder inoculant (rhizobia bacteria for nitrogen fixing), then set them carefully in the ground to finish sprouting and grow.  A boost from bone meal mid-season will supply extra phosphorous for a great harvest.
It looks like 80% of the spinach seed sprouted (much better than average -- my experiment worked!), but this is interesting, I planted different brands in each row.  Burpee had excellent germination, but Ferry Morse was very poor: both brands were purchased at the same home improvement store.  Granted, the seed is two years old because it was packaged for 2010 (since we moved last year we did not put in a garden).  But I'll be using Burpee from now on!  It's not too late to re-seed.
It's time to harvest brussels sprouts.  If you never liked them as a kid, garden-fresh are nothing like the kind that come from grocery stores.  Our winter-grown brussels sprouts are buttery sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender!  We blanched and froze enough to pull out later when we want them.  By July it will be time to start new seed for next Fall's plants. 
What a busy weekend, from mowing the lawn, to mulching foot paths in between vegetable rows, there was more to do than time to do it.  This 'Salad Bowl' leaf lettuce over-wintered from last Fall.  We like it because of the bright apple-green color and excellent flavor even into hot weather.  This weekend I put in a wide, intensive bed of lettuces.  Intensive beds yield more per sq. ft. because plants are not cultivated in traditional single-file rows but rather in wide blocks. 
We use wheat straw to mulch in between vegetables, but since most wheat straw contains viable wheat seeds (which can sprout and turn into "weeds" even though wheat is an edible crop), it has to be de-seeded.  With a little planning, this is easy:  we purchase several bales of wheat straw in the autumn and throw them in the front yard with a few pumpkins; everybody loves the seasonal display.  Bales overwinter outdoors in the rain around the compost bin, where they become saturated.  Seeds inside either sprout on the bales (adding more organic material) or suffocate.  By Spring bales can be broken apart and spread as mulch on the garden, where it will compost over the season while keeping weeds down and soil cool and moist.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 2011

Spring ahead for Daylight Savings Time Sunday the 13th at 2:00 a.m.  We don't mind missing the hour of sleep for the gain of extra evening light, especially as garden chores begin to pile up.  Ugh, there's already weeds to pull.  Three inches of rain received cumulatively over the weekend is really going to help get verdure off to an explosive start.
Bell pepper seeds planted indoors have sprouted using bottom heat from a seedling heat mat.  
We start all our annual garden plants from seed, and many can be sprouted early under fluorescent lights indoors.  Even in a sunny window, seedlings often end up too weak and leggy.  Bryan hung some discarded (free to us) fluorescent lamps on chains from the ceiling of our bonus room over a counter top; lights can also be hung in an unheated garage covered with a sheet of heavy gage plastic to hold in warmth.  Timed to run 6am to 10pm and kept 2 inches above developing leaves, fluorescent tubes will cultivate stocky seedlings ready to transplant next month. 
Vegetable plants we start from seed usually grow 3 times bigger and produce 5-10 times more than vegetable plants purchased from local stores.  There are more varieties available to start from seed; also, we can save our own seeds from heirloom and standard varieties for next year, banking a little extra money.  (Saving seeds from hybrid varieties generally doesn't work).  By selecting the biggest and best fruits, saving those seeds, and planting them from year to year, we are refining a genetic adaptation of the plant that performs best in our very own back yard.  We prefer to call this "intelligent selection" rather than "natural selection."
Seeds we will be starting indoors this week under fluorescent lights are jalapeno peppers (can't wait for that summer salsa!), parsley, broccoli, dill, and other herbs.  In the garden outside we will cultivate and plant peas and leaf lettuce:  romaine and 'Salad Bowl' seem to stand up well through June. 
Meyer lemons are finally ripening after the long winter indoors.  Any small citrus can be grown year-round in five-gallon pots if you have a sunny window.  This tree will summer on the deck after danger of frost is past. 

About Me

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (