- Eat root veggies small - the longer they are in the ground the wormier they will get. Baby carrots are delicious!
- Radishes are one of the fastest growing veggies around, good for avoiding worms and fun for kids to get quick gratification from planting seeds
- I don't get nearly as many worms in my potatoes (compared to carrots), but I know some people have problems with it.
- I've never actually grown beets, I'm just guessing they are a lot like carrots.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
ONLY READ CATALOGS AND LOOK AT SEEDS THAT GROW WELL IN OUR CLIMATE
If you are growing in the Pacific Northwest, I want you to go to Territorial Seed Company right now and order a catalog from them. The information that is printed about growing each variety will be super helpful to you, even if you never order seed from them.
Territorial is located in southern Oregon and specializes in seeds for gardeners in our climate. By "our climate" I mean a cool growing season. Yes, we get a couple hot months, and thankfully our evenings stay relatively warm compared to mountain regions, but we just don't get enough sunlight, even in summer, to easily grow many heat loving veggies. So right now, please cross these veggies off your list: Eggplant, most peppers, melons, okra
Someday, you might want to experiment with these and that is fine. But not for your first couple years and not if you are tight on space. In fact, if you have small raised beds, also cross winter squash and pumpkins off your list, they are huge plants that will fill your entire bed with only a few fruits per plant.
Now that your list is shorter, you can peruse the catalog and read whatever you like. But don't order anything yet.
BUY SEEDLINGS WHENEVER YOU CAN
For the new gardener, it is much easier to buy vegetable seedlings if you can find a source for cheap, good quality ones. Bellingham is blessed in this regard. Joe's Gardens has an incredible selection of seedlings. Not only that, they only put out ones that are appropriate for the season and they generally only sell ones that perform well here. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and all this is for only $1.39 per pot - which is usually 6 plants or up to 20 for onions & peas.
Joe's starts are also sold at Haggens and the Food Co-op, but if you go directly to Joe's, they are usually a tad cheaper. They are grown without pesticides but Joe's does use a chemical fertilizer on all their plants.
If you live somewhere else, try nurseries, farm supply stores or farmers markets. Remember these guidelines and ask the people working at the store if you are unsure about their plant quality:
1) Plants need to be "hardened off" which means they have been outside, overnight in your locale, not lounging about in a greenhouse. The shock of going from warm greenhouse to cold raised bed will stunt their growth or even kill them.
2) Plants for most things should be young and stocky NOT outgrowing their pots or looking spindly. For spring plants, they should all be tiny. Summer plants like tomatoes & peppers can be larger, but should be in a large pot.
3) Choose a place that cares about your success and does not carry plants that don't grow where you live.
The benefits of seedlings are these:
1) You can plant earlier in spring. Seeds don't germinate well in the cold wet spring, but if you put in seedlings, they will start growing roots and will take off as soon as the weather warms even slightly. Planting & harvesting early is vital to avoiding pests that come out in swarms late spring/early summer.
2) In the summer, you don't have to remember to water your seed bed everyday to keep it moist for germination. (I can't tell you how many times I've screwed this one up)
3) You don't have to over seed and then thin out your plants, you just plant exactly how many you want, spaced out how you want and are done with it.
1) you don't get to pick the exact variety you want - less choice
2) Overall cost is a bit more
Most seedling trays come with more than one plant. Be sure to tease each plant apart and plant them spaced out appropriately. Don't worry if you break a few roots, this should only take a couple minutes. If spacing info is not on the tag, this would be a good time to get out your Territorial catalog and read the correct spacing for whatever you are planting.
WHEN TO BUY SEEDS
You can not buy starts for everything, some things - i.e. root crops - do not like to be transplanted. Also, for things that are small, that you need a lot of - i.e. arugula plants - seeds will be much cheaper.
So for those of you crying about not getting to pick out gorgeous seed packs, there is hope! Even better, for most root crops, you can buy any brand and any variety you want. Go crazy! Rainbow hued carrots? French breakfast radishes? Golden beets? Go for it.
But whatever you do, you must PROMISE me, do NOT start any seeds in those cute magical jiffy pellets indoors. (or in any pot indoors) Someday, yes, you might want to try it. But starting seeds indoors is really hard. You must have a grow light of some sort. Sunny windows will not cut it. Worse, you must gradually introduce them to living outside which means days of moving them in and out, in and out of the house. Seed starting is not for busy moms who are just starting to garden.
IF YOU CAN'T FIND SEEDLINGS....
If you really truly can not find a reputable and cheap source for seedlings, go ahead and start your spring crops from seeds, sown directly into your garden bed. Some good easy bets for this are lettuces, snap peas, herbs, green beans, kale, zucchini, etc. Plus all the common root vegetables. The only ones to stay away from are the ones I already crossed off your list, plus tomatoes. You must buy tomato plants to have any hope of getting ripe ones in our climate.
Don't worry, I will go through the pros & cons of a bunch of common vegetables in a future post and tell you when to plant them (very important) and what to watch out for when picking the varieties.
Again, I recommend purchasing from Territorial Seed, but there are many good brands at nurseries. You won't be able to start your garden quite as early using seeds, but since you get so many in a packet, it is fine to experiment. Plant a little batch and see if they sprout. After a few years you will get a good sense for how warm it needs to be for them to germinate.
Really, planting seeds is not hard at all, just read the packet and stick them in according to the directions. Pay careful attention to spacing and do not ever plant the whole pack of seeds. Most seed packets are huge and last me at least 3 years. Seeds do go bad and stop sprouting, so don't keep them more than three years.
Seeds need to stay moist to germinate. In the spring, I rely almost exclusively on rain to do this for me unless we get a surprise warm dry spell. In the summer, they need to be sprinkled almost daily, especially if they are planted shallow.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I am going to do two types of posts for my garden guide - ones that tell & show you what I am doing right now in my garden, and ones that delve into specific topics, like what to grow & when to grow it, exactly how to fertilize, etc. So don't despair if all the details you want are not here.
THE WINTER AND EARLY SPRING GARDEN TASKS
First, I'm going to back track and start our growing season calendar in October, (or November...or even December when I am super late) with the first (and some in my family might say most important) task of the year - planting garlic.
Each fall, I clean out the tomato bed (they die early) and stick garlic cloves in an entire bed. They poke their tips out of the ground during the winter and as soon as it starts to warm up, they are off and running.
I don't touch my garden again until about February. In February, on one of those lovely rare warm days, I spend an hour cleaning out anything left that is dead and picking out weed seedlings. The kids then help me spread "all purpose organic Whitney Farms fertilizer" (found at Fred Meyers) over all the beds. (they list how much to use & instructions on the back of the box). We sprinkle it around and then rake it in. I spray it with some water if we're not expecting rain.
I like to do this early so the fertilizer gets a chance to start breaking down & releasing nutrients as soon as it gets warm. Organic fertilizers take longer to start releasing nutrients compared to chemical ones. This provides a nice even base of nutrients for anything I plant in March.
In March, as soon as we get a few warm days, I go buy some veggie seedlings from Joe's Gardens. My seedlings might not grow very fast until it warms up, but they are there, waiting, growing nice roots and are ready to go at the first sign of sun.
For early spring this year, I chose snap peas, kale, romaine lettuce and broccoli. For about $6, I was able to almost fill two beds with seedlings.
Spacing your plants can be hard until you get to know how big your plants will get. I screw it up all the time, especially if I buy more than what I have space for. The nice part is that if things get too crowded, you can just eat a head of baby lettuce so there is more room for the others. In fact, I often squeeze them purposefully so I don't feel bad harvesting a few things early. Baby veggies are delightful.
There is one plant I grow from seed that does extremely well in the cold spring - Mizuna. You may not have heard of it, but it is common in baby salad mixes. It is actually a type of mustard, but if you harvest it young, it is mild, delicious, prolific, easy to harvest (clean) and I didn't see a single bug on it last year. Much easier for salads than mud splattered lettuces that get plagued by slugs & aphids.
Here is my first bed that I planted yesterday:
First, notice that I put the tall snap peas in the back. (the north side of the bed) They are actually a "bush" variety which means they will be shorter and don't need tall poles to grow up. Always plant tall things in the back (north) so they won't shade short things. Kale gets quite large, but I harvest mine as baby leaves for salads, they will get covered in aphids by the time they get huge. I just rip them out when that happens.
The garlic on the right was just planted in February and is densely packed. It will be for a spring treat called "green garlic". You harvest it before it bulbs and treat it just like green onions. I generally throw mine on the grill whole or chop up some leaves and toss them in a salad like chives. We can most likely start eating it by mid April.
In this bed there are more self seeded herbs and another patch of snap peas. I always plant my leftover pea plants in a special spot and harvest the tender pea shoot tips & tendrils to toss in salads. They are so yummy! You just pinch off the softest new growth, leaves, tendrils & all. Even blossoms sometimes! Generally they will never grow big enough to produce peas if I keep on top of harvesting the shoots. This little patch should give me enough sprouts to toss into salads for weeks and are soooo easy.
I am not sure if I should have planted that broccoli. It gets covered in aphids so easily, but I grew some last fall once it cooled off and had a couple delicious bug free heads. So it is an experiment to see if I can get heads before the bugs go crazy. I will let you know how it goes.
I planted red romaine and have some more lettuce varieties I will plant seeds for in a couple weeks. The seeds are leftover from last year, but I think from now on I will just buy starts and not mess with seeds.
The sorrel is sort of a silly thing I grow - each spring I make a batch of sorrel soup, just for fun. I also toss a few leaves in salads, but they are quite lemony flavored and strong. Chervil is a french herb that I also like to toss in salads. I let some go to seed last year and a ton of it sprouted and survived the winter. The flowers are also pretty & delicious in salads.
I told you, I adore my spring salads, and what I really love is having all sorts of wonderful, unique things to throw in them. Herbs, flowers, lettuces, other greens....I just pick a few leaves of each thing and toss them all together. This way, I slow the growth of my lettuces by plucking baby leaves and then still get a head at the end when it gets really warm and they get huge quickly.
Lastly, my huge bed of garlic. We are still eating last years harvest. The chive plant is a perennial which means it doesn't die. It dies back each winter, but re-sprouts in spring and lives in that corner permanently. I love chives & chive flowers in my spring salads.
I should also be planting potatoes right now, but I sort of forgot and then realized my beds were full. I am supposed to be getting another bed (or 3) this spring, but we can't agree on where to put it (or them).
These are my favorite gardening gloves. They are so soft, its like you are not even wearing gloves at all. They are only $8 or so (find them at Garden Spot and lots of other places) and keep your hands clean. I love getting my bare hands in the dirt, but when your kids come running up with a poopy diaper, it is nice to not have to scrub your hands before you touch them.
For leafy crops like kale, broccoli and lettuce, I sprinkle around a high nitrogen fertilizer. Yes, it is made from blood and no, my plants don't turn into vampires. It sort of stinks if it blows on your clothes and animals sometimes dig in my beds after I use it. Once my dog ate a bunch. But it works great. I will go more into fertilizers in another post.
While I got all this done (about 40 minutes of work) Saben built a swimming pool and beach for ants. (really. that is what he told me it was)