Beginning…

Folks are posting this week on the theme of beginnings. Anywhere their minds may wander from there is allowable. The word “beginning” sure lends itself to mind-wandering on my part…or perhaps that’s the ninja dance party in my belly these days causing the wandering…

It is the beginning of a new year, after all, and the beginning of a new season’s garden plotting. The mail box has shifted from holiday cards to seed catalogs. My drool-inducers have shifted from mac ‘n cheese to photograph after photograph of plant porn. (Ok, I lied, I will still drool over homemade mac n’ cheese…) My dining room table has let go of the wrapping paper and ribbon station and moved on to the inventorying of current stock.

The beginning ebbs and flows. Is the beginning the seed catalogs arriving? Or when I begin drafting on graph paper? Or when I pour the seed starter from the bag into the trays and smooth out the surface?

For today, let’s say the beginning is pulling out my seed stock and reacquainting myself with old favorites and rekindling excitement over new experiments to come.
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Things I learned from this beginning? For still not liking to eat tomatoes (I try to like them every year, I do!) I sure have a lot of tomato seeds…*cough* twenty-three varieties…*cough*

Bees and seeds

DH and I were talking about the internet the other day. These days, it’s hard to “run out of internet.” There is so much of it to begin with, in addition to the social aspect, the interactive pieces, and the dangerous Bermuda triangle that is Wikipedia that it’s easy enough to waste away an afternoon just click-click-clicking.

When we first met, you could still quite easily “run out of internet.” If you ran out of questions you needed answered or topics to read up on, you were done. That, and there just wasn’t the sheer volume of content on the internet then that there is now, never mind any social media rabbit holes to fall down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. I work on it all day. I use it on my phone exponentially more often than I use my phone to actually call people. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been out with friends, someone has forgotten the name of a movie or street of a restaurant recommendation and the comment has been made: “You know, you have a phone for that. Look it up.”

I just wonder how much of our lives might be spent doing time-wasting things that don’t do anything or help us be anything. When I’m sixty, I won’t remember that funny meme I just saw. Or maybe I will. But I hope I have more memories of people and moments and adventures than I do of content I witnessed through a screen. (I’m rambling. Through a screen.)

However, I love gardening for how it roots me back down to what I do love about the internet. The blanket flowers bloom nearly year-round in my garden. They attract the honey and bumble bees, the birds and the butterflies. Recently, they attracted a new bee in a shiny black coat that I didn’t know. I pulled out my phone, searched, and learned right there in my garden – a carpenter’s bee.

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Then, if I so desired, I could dig more deeply and possibly discover which of the 500 possible species of carpenter’s bee had paid a visit to my flower bed. Or not. (I chose not.)

The other sort of learning I love best about gardening, is the learning of discovery. Experiential knowledge has always stayed in my brain much more concretely than other sorts. I’d known about onions. I’d known about their blossoms. I’d known about their seeds. What I hadn’t known was how their blossoms transformed into seeds. Did the seeds come with parachutes like dandelions and lettuce? Did they come in shells akin to sunflowers? Nope. They grow in pods more like larkspur and flax. Now just to learn how to get onions from young sprout to sturdy start…

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Caring for the wee ones.

When sprouting indoors from seed, quite often the light comes from one direction. My tomato sprouts shall demonstrate:

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I rotated them last night when they were facing the other way. They’ll get rotated 90 degrees tomorrow.

Nearly all of the tomato sprouts are up now. They usually appear one to three at a time until the ones that are going to germinate at all have done so. The ground cherries have yet to make an appearance.

The peppers, absent last night entirely, have almost all risen in unison today. Here are two emerging from their seed casings.

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The leaves will open more, discarding the seed’s exterior to the soil.

Onions don’t have two seed leaves like many veggies do, and end up hanging onto their seeds for quite awhile.

Onion sprouts start like little wriggly, white, worms.

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There’s one in the middle there, blending in nonchalantly, and another along the top edge.

The root end takes a few days to take hold, and as it’s working on that, the sprout elongates.

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With the root end more firmly gripping the earth, the sprout musters its wee strength and starts to stretch for the sun.

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At this stage, they are kind of comical. Bending this way, twisting around, seed ends getting stuck on other sprouts nearby…they amuse me a fair bit with their antics.

The air is dry here lately. A few weeks without rain, little humidity, and clear nights has the static up and the soil gasping quickly between waterings. I’m watering now by gently pouring small amounts near the sprouts. I don’t want to drown them, or soak the soil, but misting with my spray bottle won’t last 12 hours in these conditions.

I am getting antsy to put the seeds in the garden next weekend. Today was intended as a soil amendment day, but both Plan A and Plan B for adding compost and manure were a bust. Hopefully it comes together tomorrow so I can have it piled and ready as a weekday evening project this week.

Thing I learned today? 

– Beets aren’t something to start inside, but should be direct sown like other root veggies. So sayeth the package.

Any activity in your growth this week? Any prep work to be done or planting you’re (im)patiently waiting to do?

Seed Tray Labeling

When I first started gardening, I wanted row labels. I fell in love with the polished brash signs on sticks. They were out of my price range.

Channeling my inner child, I looked into Popsicle sticks. While researching types, sizes, pricing, and local sources, my mind wandered. Did I have some Popsicle sticks in my craft shoebox? I went to look…nope. What did I have that might work?

Colored toothpicks!

Things I (re)learned (that)day:

  1. Things that are on hand are often better than specially made things that cost money and take up extra space. (I like relearning this in new areas of my life.)
  2. Reusable is important. When I’m done with this tray, I’ll simply brush off the toothpicks and put them back in their (designated garden usage only) jar.
  3. Color is fun, but not necessary.
  4. Save the gardening budget for things that actually grow, or directly feed things that grow, when at all possible.

But wait a minute, you say, how do you remember what’s in each row?

The answer is simple: Magic.

Or a camera phone (or other digital camera, or pen and scratch paper)

It’s important, I’ve found, to do nothing else with my brain in between placing the seeds, laying out the packets, and taking the pictures. I can’t move the tray (I might rotate it and if it’s just rows, or quadrants, I may not remember which way is “up.”) That sort of thing.

If you notice, the toothpick layout does not exactly match the seed packets. That is what happens when you want to make sure you take the picture before going for your nightly walk…and forget to lay the last two seed packets down.

So even though I laid out my rough “grid,” laid out my seed packets to “match,” and took my pictures, I could have still had an “oops surprise” later on trying to remember what those last two spots on the right with the orange toothpick were.

Mystery solved!

Now you may be saying, that picture is small, from a cell phone, I can’t read the fine print – what’d you plant?

Pictured above (left to right, top to bottom as you move left to right):

  • Lark’s Tongue Kale
  • Even’ Star Land Race Collards
  • Dark Green Italian Parsley
  • Lemon Basil
  • Cumin
  • Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
  • Cimmaron Lettuce
  • Gentilina Lettuce
  • Little Gem Lettuce
  • Mignonette Rouge Lettuce
  • Rodan (Chadwick’s) Lettuce
  • Rouge Grenobloise Lettuce
  • Cracker Jack Mix Marigold
  • Red Cherry Marigold

I liked the romaine I grew last year in flavor, but not in production, and the other varieties of lettuce I grew I didn’t want to eat. That makes this season a Try Again one when it comes to greens. From this myriad of choices, I’m hoping a few stand out as delicious, productive, and happy plants. If I luck into a few such species, they’ll be rewarded in my Fall 2012 garden with more space. Whereas some of the underperformers will have joined other packets in my Trade Box.

Growing from seeds – Tomatoes and Peppers

I try to grow my garden from seeds as much as possible. My first garden (and second, and third…) watched sprouts appear through the glass, but never held the plants in their soil. Why? For one reason or another, it took multiple rounds of trial and error to succeed in getting seeds to sprout, those sprouts to thrive, and those seedlings to harden off properly and make it to harvest outdoors.

Last year, I solved the Great Pepper Secret.
1) Sow seeds indoors weeks before final frost: check.
2) Use seed starter mix*, or your own mix of lighter soil particles: check.
3) Keep seed bed evenly moist**: check.
4) Place in sunny window***: check.

I waited. I misted. I kept it humid. I waited some more. I checked the expected time for germination on the first seed packet, and the second. “First sprouts to appear in 7-10 days.” “Days to germinate: 10-14 days.” I was two weeks in and then some. Nothing. I checked my books. I read forums online. Finally, I reread the seed packets.

And there it was. The missing piece. “Soil temperature for germination: 75-85 degrees F.”

Well, didn’t I feel a fool. It was January. My house was lucky to hit 70 with the heat on. I needed to warm up the seeds without killing the heating bill. Online digging lead me to “seed tray mats.” Funny. Those look like big heating pads. I had a heating pad. Free and less-stuff-friendly!

I remove the fabric sleeve to avoid any stains it may acquire, set it.on.medium, and voila!

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Due to the added warmth, I mist it at least once a day, and check it twice a day to make sure it’s not too dry.

Last spring was a proud season for me. Each plant in my garden bed was grown from seeds in my entryway. (My lovely Other Half quietly and patiently awaits the day in March when the entryway is Obstacle-Free.)

This year I have some new seeds to try for the first time,
– Melons
– Winter squash
– Ground cherries
– Beets

or for the n-th time (so far without successfully reaching harvest.)
– Onions

Any experience with the above? Any tips to share?

*My first seed attempts involved regular soil. Results were less than exciting.
** My next mistake was to water as often as a houseplants, which is to say, not nearly often enough and with much too much water.
*** Indirect morning sun is not sufficient. Lesson learned 2009.