Sunday, January 29, 2017

Indoor seed starting tips

Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system
Sunday, January 28, 2017

What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most sure fire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

With the Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system, I don't even have to worry about using a heating pad for the warm season crops.  The drawback is the investment in buying the unit, seed starting tray, and plugs.  It is easy to take the seedlings and just plant into larger pot or directly into the garden when they are the right size for transplanting.

You can also start seeds in pots you make yourself with newspaper, toilet paper cores, paper towel cores, or paper cups and sterile, organic seed starting mix.  A nifty way to do it is to cut used paper towel cores into sections and line with old newspaper.  You can plant the whole thing or push out the newspaper insert and compost the core.
Paper towel cores with paper towel bottoms
Another option is to use peat pellets and peat pots.  Peat is not a renewable resource, but there are substitutes for it now on the market.  Just read the labels.  I just bought ones made with coir at Lowes.
The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots, containers and trays.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Newspaper seed starter "pot"
Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and allow to wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  Mine has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.
I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.
Some recommend using a small fan to blow on your seedlings to help them strengthen their stems, making them stronger transplants.  I have killed many transplants by accidentally crushing their fragile stem.

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not!  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

For larger seeds, and seedlings, either start directly in the garden.  I start peas and green beans directly in the garden bed.  Other larger seedlings like squash and tomatoes, choose a larger pot to start them in or transplant from the peat pods to a small pot before transplanting to the garden.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves, think of them as baby teeth.  The second set of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have many options, including heirlooms,  just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  Your local gardening centers will also carry the varieties best suited for your area.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ideal soil temperatures for starting your seeds

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Different types of plant's seeds have an ideal temperature range that you get the best germination success.  Adding some bottom heat can greatly increase the germination rate of many vegetables, particularly the heat loving veggies in the spring.  In the summer, you may need to start cool loving plant's seeds indoors or in a shady area.

Summer veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and beans love a little extra heat.  Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need temps at least 60 F to germinate in a timely manner.  If you try and start the summer lovers in cold soil, many times the seed will rot before it sprouts.  Sooner is not always better when starting seeds.

A good rule of thumb is at least 70 F soil temps for starting summer veggies indoors.  You can buy a simple, cheap heat map at any big box store.  For a list of germination rates by temperature and crop, this is a good link Seed Starting Temps

For cold crops, hotter is not better.  Lettuce will not germinate if the soil is above 80 F.  This is the reason you may need to start lettuce indoors during the dog days of summer unless you have a cool, shady spot to start the seeds.

If you want to go high tech, I found that using an Aerogarden with the seed starting insert gave an almost 100% germination rate.  Here is a link to their web page:  Aerogarden
Look for the "Garden Starter System" accessory for the seed starting insert.

It can be tempting to start all your seeds as soon as you get them.  If you are starting them outdoors, be sure they are sown when the temps are right for the type of crop.  Outdoor seed sowing seed starting times  If growing indoors, you can modify the conditions to what suits the type of veggie you are sprouting so you get the most success.

For more on seed starting tips, see Indoor seed starting tips

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New seed catalogs are here!


Sunday, January 15, 2017

It is that time of year as the winter wind is blowing and the dreary days seem endless; the time to dream of warm weather, spring breezes, and green things sprouting once again.  Can't you almost smell the fresh cut grass and turned earth?  

Every gardener looks forward to the new year’s bounty of seed catalogs.  You can spend long hours browsing the possibilities for the coming season, imagining what you want to plant where.  What looks interesting to try this year, to reminisce on what worked well last year.
The biggest challenge is controlling the urge to go a little wild on the seed and plant ordering!  Last fall, I did as I always do, make myself a list of what I want to grow the following spring and summer.  If I could only just stick to it.............

The definitions used in seed catalogs can be a little confusing.  Organic means the plant it was taken from was grown using only natural inputs and is certified to be organically grown.  Hybrid is a plant that has been bred to have characteristics that are helpful like being resistant to different diseases.  These are not ones you want to grow if you want to save seed because the plants grown from the seed saved from it will not grow up like the mother plant.  OP means open pollinated.  Organic and OP are types you want to buy if you think you may want to save the seed to use next season.  Heirlooms are plants that have been in a family for generations.  They are all OP.  They may or may not also have been grown organically.
Vintage WW2 poster
For seed catalogues, the best to order from are those that do their trials in your region of the country.  The seeds and plants they carry are the ones that have performed the best for them in their trial gardens.  If you are trying to find a certain variety, try this seed and plant finder search.  Mother Earth News seed/plant finder  This year, I ordered all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Baker Creek Heirloom and Territorial Seed Company Territorial Seed.  I love Baker Creek because they specialize heirlooms and rare seeds from around the world.  It is just fun!  Territorial Seeds has a good summary in each section of growing tips.

Catalogs I love are the ones that the links are on the right.  I have ordered from them all and been happy with their selection and how well the plants did.

If you are a beginner, start with the a kitchen herb garden Start a kitchen herb garden! and a tomato plant or two Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is starting with too much and it becomes overwhelming instead of relaxing and fun.  If you have a small space or just want a small garden, here are some tips  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Why grow your own food?

Victory Garden poster from WWII
Saturday, January 14, 2016

I have fond memories of long summer days at my Granny’s. She had a BIG garden. My sister and I were always Granny’s little helpers. Of course, she was also a wonderful cook.  Having all her ingredients at the back door, made everything super fresh and nutritious. 

Every gardener has their own story on how or why they got started gardening:
-Growing your own was how your Mom and Dad did it.
-Wanting the freshest produce that gives your family the most nutrients.
-An intensively planted edible garden in the ornamental garden looks great.
-Little Joey or Angel is a picky eater; if the little one helps plant it and grow it, they will want to eat it.
-Knowing that what you feed your family has no chemicals in it and contains no genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
-Enjoying the variety of what is in season.
-Keeping Grandma or Grandpa’s favorites alive from seeds that have been passed down for generations.
-Just love watching things grow and digging in the dirt (it is great exercise to boot).
-Ability to snip the freshest herbs to add to your latest culinary masterpiece.
The list goes on........

I migrated from flowers to herbs and most recently to veggies. I love fragrance and ran across a clearance herb book. It listed many herbs that could be grown indoors. I thought that would be a great idea to grow good smelling herbs to freshen the house over the winter. When spring came, I transplanted them outdoors.  They did great!  Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  Most are also perennials which means you plant once and they come back every year on their own.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

I toyed with adding veggies, but wasn’t sure how that would work out because our house was on a golf course! I decided to try it out, incorporating them into my flower bed. Our concerns evaporated when the golfers began complementing us on our “flowers.” It is amazing how much you can grow in very little space and how great it can look.

Nowadays, there is infinite variety in what you can grow in small spaces like the flower garden or on the patio.  There are so many new varieties that come out every year for small spaces.  These are referred to as patio, compact, or dwarf types.  Burpee’s seed packets display a terra cotta pot with a check mark in it for those that are good for growing in pots, which also work great in small spaces.  Veggies for small spaces  and Fruit for small spaces

Intersperse your vegetables and herbs with your flowers.  Not only does it look beautiful, but the flowers attract the pollinators that increase the amount your vegetables produce.  I plant my peppers with petunias in pots that we use on the patio and line the border of my vegetable garden with day lilies and marigolds.

You can grow healthy plants without chemicals, referred to as all natural or organic gardening practices.  Your plants need beneficial insects to pollinate your fruiting plants (like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers).  Insecticides don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug.  There are organically approved insecticides that can be used, but should only be sprayed cautiously.

Herbs are so easy to grow.  Many of our favorites (oregano, rosemary, thyme, savory, basil, chives) are from the Mediterranean region that has little rainfall and poor soil.  You actually get the most flavor from herbs that are kept on the dry side; it concentrates the oils in the leaves.  You can harvest from them nearly year round as they are also perennials.

I named my gardening blog after the gardens our grandparents and great grandparents started to help support the World War I and II efforts, called “Victory Gardens.”

Whatever is your reason for thinking about growing a garden, right now is a great time to plan what you are going to grow this spring!  How to know what to grow

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What's surviving in the early January garden

Garlic chives

Sunday, January 8, 2016

In our Zone 6/7 garden, mustard greens, sage, sorrel, rosemary, carrots, thyme, oregano, garlic, chives, onions, lettuce, leeks, parsley, celery, spinach, and peas are all still green in our January garden.  The peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, bay and citrus plants over wintering in the unheated garage are also still green. Our kumquat is loaded with green fruits.

To keep your cold hardy crops going as long as possible, be sure to apply a good layer of mulch in the fall.  Frost forecasted? Here’s your to-do list  Preparing for a hard freeze

Austrian peas are a great winter crop to grow for salad greens.  They stay green all winter long.  I planted the seeds in the fall in pots.  You can plant peas as soon as next month, as soon as the soil can be worked. Time to plant peas!

Don't despair if your onion or carrot tops look a little worse for wear, the onion bulb and carrot under the ground are harvestable all winter.

Mulch is not only good for retaining moisture and keeping the soil cooler in the summer, but does the same in winter, keeping the soil warmer.  This lengthens the winter harvest and protects more tender crops so that they have a better chance of reviving in the spring to give an extra early spring harvest.  As your mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

You can also use cloches, covers, and greenhouses to extend the harvest and get a jump on spring.   Biggest watch out when using cloches and green houses is to open when the sun is shining and temps get above freezing.  Temperatures can rise quickly inside the protection, killing the plant.  A row cover has more breathability, but that also means it will not keep the plants as warm.  See this blog for more on protecting plants  Extend the season with protection for plants 
Cloche
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?


Saturday, January 7, 2016

It can be confusing buying seeds or produce with all the different terms and descriptors used in seed catalogs and stores.  So, what do all those terms mean that you hear-GMO, Heirloom, Hybrid, Organic, All Natural?

GMO: Genetically Modified Organism 
Typically the Big Ag Chemical/Seed companies inject genetic materials into seeds that kill living things like pesticides.  They have also genetically modified them to withstand  massive doses of herbicides.  I don’t think anything that has been genetically altered to be able to kill other living organisms is the healthiest to be eating, if you know what I mean.  The first field trials of GMO’s began in the 1980’s.  Monsanto is the big GMO (and herbicide chemical company).  Today, farmers are forced to put even more pesticides and herbicides than they did prior to the introduction of GMO's because the weeds and insects have adapted to the chemicals and more are needed to do the same job.  The World Health Organization has said that Round Up is a probable carcinogen.  Be sure if you have to buy conventional produce that you wash thoroughly to remove harmful chemicals.

Heirloom 
Heirlooms are not genetically modified, they are open-pollinated, not a modern hybrid, been developed using classic breeding procedures, are at least older than 1951.  Some believe only those that are 100 years old qualify.  Heirlooms have been handed down from generation to generation.  Open pollinated means that you can grow a plant just like the parent from the seeds.  You can use the seeds from heirlooms you buy in the store to grow them in your own garden.

Hybrid
They are a modern cross between 2 different plants.  Many are infertile meaning they will not produce viable seed. This can be a good thing if you want a seedless variety.  The hybrids that do have seeds will not yield the same plant as the parent.  Hybrids are typically bred to provide plants that have better yields, better disease protection.  Many feel that hybrids sacrifice flavor for their other attributes.

Organic
Seeds can only be labeled as organic if they were grown by certified organic farmers.  The criteria for being certified organic is very stringent.  Organics cannot be genetically modified.  Organics cannot have been grown with any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers being used.  A farmer has to be chemical free for 3 years before they can be certified organic (and keep very detailed records to prove how they grew their seeds and be inspected yearly).  
So, if you want to buy organic heirlooms, you need to make sure that it is labeled as such.  Just being a heirloom does not mean it was raised organically or vice versa.  You can also have organic hybrids.  
You cannot have organic GMO’s as no GMO can be labeled organic!
On a similar note, many are not sure what the difference is between natural and organic labels we see in the grocery store. 

Organic label in the store
It is pretty simple, nothing can be labeled organic that contains GMO’s and it is not raised and/or made with 100% organic inputs and certified as such.  If you want to be sure you are eating produce raised without any chemicals, buy organic.

Natural

For meat, fish and produce, natural only means that no artificial or synthetic ingredients have been added to it after it was butchered (for meat/fish) or harvested.  It gives you no information on how it was raised.  It can be GMO (70-90% of what is labeled as “natural” contains GMO’s).  It can be raised using synthetic fungicides, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  It can be from factory farm animals.  Natural refers only to what is added to after it was raised and harvested.