Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stevia Success!

After reading all of the nay-sayer articles about the difficulties with germinating stevia, I am proud to say that I actually got two plants growing!  You can read more about stevia in my previous post (scroll to the bottom of the post). In reality, it was only a 50% germination rate, since I planted 4 seeds, and only two came up.  I wondered for a while if I ever WOULD get anything to sprout, since they took so long,  but I was happy to wake up one morning to see a hint of green pushing through the soil.  Go Stevia!

March 2, 2012.  Stevia, along with various brassicas. Look how tiny the stevia is.

Meanwhile, I checked out greens that had overwintered in the garden - they were looking pretty good!  The kales, collards and mustards were getting bigger and bigger - time to thin!

March 17 - thinning (a little late)
Greens - Feb. 17, 2012

Greens - March 10 , 2012

Of course, between all the travel, I neglected to thin them until last weekend.  Oops - think those spindly ones left will survive without the support of all of their siblings?  Well, at least we had some delicious micro-greens!  The rest of the over-wintered greens looked pretty good!  Some Swiss chard was left in the front bed, and in the back bed, I had sowed some mezclun greens - all that had survived was radicchio.

Swiss chard from last year - 3/17/2012
Radicchio from last year - 3/17/2012

Meanwhile, during the St. Paddy's day weekend, it was time to transplant the brassicas out into the garden plots.  I was actually able to find space for EVERYTHING I had started.

March 17, 2012, clockwise from bottom left: Box 6: Garlic, brassicas and sugar snap peas; Box 7: overwintered greens and some more transplantedbrassicas; Box 8 (top left): all transplants; Box 1A (top right long box) - overwintered swiss chard; Box 3: garlic, transplanted greens, and sugar snap peas; Box 4: Asparagus (close-ups later); Box 5 (bottom right): transplanted greens and sugar snap peas.

And finally, the wondrous STEVIA!!! It has really started to take off - I'll be transplanting it this week to larger containers.  I had a little scare when I cam back from travel - the jiffy pots had dried out and my poor stevia plants looked very withered.  Thankfully, it wasn't too late and they were saved by the copious addition of some H2O. The one on the right still looks a little parched, but I think it will bounce back.

March 20, 2012 - the Stevia is growing!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Self-Watering Containers

My experiment with self-watering containers - in this case, tomatoes (May 26, 2011).

I was going through my email, and found a post from Timber Press - they were giving away a free book: Small Space Container Gardens - and all one has to do is leave a comment.  BUT - if one also linked a photo of their favorite small container, they got entered twice, so here is mine.  This is a photo from last summer when I purchased two self-watering gardening containers from Home Depot (at about $30 each). These were cheaper than the ones I had seen online made by Earthbox - which were about $40 or $50. However, you don't have to be limited to purchasing ready-made ones from the store.  If you are so inclined, you can make your own following the instructions found here - (a downloadable pdf with some great photos)  or this one: an article from Mother Earth News, or one more here.

I was interested in testing out how they worked, and whether they would be worth using.   Well, I'd have to say the experiment was a success!  The tomatoes grew wonderfully, the stalks were nice and sturdy, and I would definitely recommend a self-watering container, whether you buy one ready-made or do-it-yourself. This year, I plan on re-using those two, as well as having a few more, so I can take advantage of the incredibly sunny locations on my brick path and driveway.

Those same containers in late June of 2011.

And the bounty from those containers was absolutely delicious! I can't remember all the varieties on the plate, but on the bottom are Green Zebra tomatoes, I think the big one on the right is Brandywine (maybe), the small red ones on the top are probably Principe Borghese, and maybe Big Rainbow on the left.  Whatever they were, they were yummy!

Heirloom tomatoes from my 2011 season. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Seedlings Started!

I did end up planting a very late planting of greens outside in November - I wasn't sure how they would do, but by late November, they were all sprouting! Well,  most anyway.  I  had put a row and a half of lettuces, and they didn't really do anything, but the other greens were doing great!  By December 9, they were getting fairly well established.  Notice the empty space on the left where the lettuces, and some OLD kale/mustard seeds were planted.

Greens - November 29, 2011

Dec. 9, 2011

By January, the garlic that I'd planted back in late November had also sprouted (see that post here), and by February, the greens were looking fantastic!  Time to thin them out and have a nutritious meal of  micro-greens.

Greens, Feb. 3, 2012

Garlic, Jan. 7, 2012

These are the greens that were planted in November: Mixed Kales, Champion Collards, Chinese thickstem mustard, Curly American mustard, Red Oakleaf lettuce, Italian Lacinato Kale, and Red Salad Bowl Lettuce.  The lettuces were on the far left (not so good). The half-row on the left is Lacinato kale. The first bushy row in the center is Curly American Mustard. The next bushy row to the right of that is Chinese thickstem mustard.  The darker green, not so bushy row to the right of that are Champion collards, and the half-row on the right are mixed kales.  The four rows on the right are all from seeds from 2008 from Evenstar farms - it was their "winter greens seed selection" - looks like the mustards had the best viability after all these years.  The lacinato kale on the left is from 2011.  I'll have try planting that one again in another season.

Jiffy pellets, seeds, and the garden journal. 2/9/12.
New pellets, along with planted seeds. 2/9/12

Now it was time to start planning the spring vegetables.  It has been such a mild winter, I am just kicking myself for not having started my greens back in the fall, they'd be so HUGE now.  Ah well - I can still enjoy these baby ones and look forward to more as the season progresses.  The first seedlings I'll start will also be those from the brassica/cole/cabbage family for an early spring start and a late spring harvest. I broke out my seed-starting  jiffy pot pellet containers and my garden journal and got started. 

I really like using the jiffy pellets.  The first year I tried them, there was some kind of white feathery stuff growing on the stems near the growing medium, so I did a web search and found all kinds of posts about jiffy pellet mold, etc.  So the next year, I used a planting mix, and sowed the seeds directly into that.  Well, the seedlings that year didn't do nearly as well, so I went back to Jiffy pellets last year and this year.  I sometimes still get some of that weird stem mold, but the plants seem to be doing fine, so I stopped worrying about it.

Newly planted greens and trays, 
both with and without covers.

Surprise winter snow dusting. Feb 12, 2012. 

The seeds that got planted in early February were: Swiss Chard - Fordhook, Bok Choy Tatsoi, Bok Choy White Stem, Spinach Mustard Tendergreen, Kohlrabi, Broccoli di Cicco, Chinese Cabbage Wong Bok, Cauliflower (Chef's mix), Cabbage Early Golden Acre, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage Red Acre, Chinese Kale Kailaan, and Collards - Georgia Southern. As of Feb. 17, 2012, most have sprouted except for the Swiss Chard and the Cabbage gold acre. Meanwhile, the outdoor plants are thriving - even lasting well through some ice and snow conditions. Those plants are definitely winter-hardy. You can take a look at last year's (2011) garden's seed starting and early plants here and then the later plants here.

This year, I am also trying something new.  I've been wanting to grow Stevia plants ever since I heard I could.  Of course, everything I read on the web said that the seeds were very difficult to germinate, and I'd be better off just buying already established plants.  I couldn't find seeds OR plants, and those who know me, know I'm always up to a challenge! Well, this month at Merrifield Gardens, I actually found Stevia seeds from two different companies.  Botanical Interests and Ferry Morse.  I bought the Botanical Interest ones (since I really like that company),

I then skimmed the web for Stevia germination instructions, and was delighted to find one website that was guardedly optimistic about home germination of seeds if one had the right equipment: light source, heat mat (they need to be between 70 and 75 degrees to germinate), etc.  (all of which I had).  So, I am proud to say that I also started FOUR pots of stevia.  Of course - they are the OTHER batch of seeds that have not germinated yet.  But I'm not worried yet, since  the packet says they take 7-21 days to germinate.

Feb. 15, Greens on left doing well.  Swiss Chard, Stevia and Cabbage Early Golden
Acre (under covers) not yet sprouted.  The cabbage seeds are older (2009), but the
Swiss Chard is from last year (??).

Of course, after doing some more reading, it said that the only stevia seeds that were viable were dark brown or black.  I thought back to the Botanical Interest Stevia seeds I'd planted.  They were green and tan.  Hmmmmm.  Now I wish I'd ALSO bought the Ferry Morse seeds.  Well, we'll see.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gardening happenings in November

Summer has come and gone, and I finally ventured out into the garden.  During August, the weather was so hot, that nothing much was happening in the garden.  And then along came September with all of that rain, plus school and activities starting, so gardening  unintentionally took a back burner to everything else.  In October, I finally took a look, and discovered the garden had been overrun with volunteer squash vines from the compost pile.

View from the SW corner of the yard.

View from the NE corner of the yard. 

 Besides climbing over all available trellises, boxes and containers, the vines also sprawled out into the lawn, making it challenging for my teenager to mow.  But I didn't mind too much, since they supplied us with delicious squash stir-fry.
Last of the tomatoes

Trompetta squash.

Bell Peppers

 In addition to the squash, there were still a few more things to be harvested before I cleaned out the boxes and got them ready for for winter and spring. I was able to harvest green, yellow, and orange bell peppers, long green eggplant, tri-color carrots, and actually some tomatoes! The carrots, combined with some apples, made a great stir-fry!

Carrot-apple stir-fry
Tri-color carrots
Buried underneath all the squash vines were some forgotten/hidden plants leftover from the spring planting. I found a patch of greens that I believe are leftovers from the spring mezclun lettuce, as well as some celery. I had planted 4 celery plants - 3 were in a sunnier location, while one was in the kale bed.  The sunny celery ended up bolting, but the kale bed celery grew much slower.  I ended up pulling the three sunny ones months ago, but just "found" the other one.

Mezclun  mix lettuce

The  hidden celery

Long green eggpla
Finally, I needed to turn my attention to fall planting.  I had really missed my opportunity.  Ideally, I was to start fall seedlings indoors to transplant outside in August and September, but the time got away from me.  Now it is November, and I'm wondering what could I plant now?  After doing some web searching, I decided there was still time to plant garlic, and I just happened to have a few heads that I had picked up in August while visiting my friend Mike in Pennsylvania. We had stopped at a farmer's market and I purchased some organic seed garlic from Eco-Sophy farms grown locally in central Pennsylvania.  I had totally forgotten about it!   I bought 3 or 4 varieties, and put them in separate bags with their labels.  They sat forgotten on the kitchen table for the next few months until I realized I could plant them now.  I went looking for them (I had just seen them last week) and couldn't find them, so I asked my husband.  Not realizing they were my seed garlic, he had removed them from the labelled bags just days earlier, and grouped them all together in my garlic bowl.  Heavy sigh.  Not to be deterred, I planted them anyway, so now I have will have a surprise come harvest time.  Not too much to worry about, since there were only 3 varieties, and are either Inchilleum Red, Music, or Kettle River Giant. Actually, two of the heads were labelled, so I know that I at least have Music and Inchilleum Red (I think).

"Music" variety of garlic.
Costco boxes w/frost covers
Now I've got to read up on garlic.  I know there are two main types:  Hard stem, and soft stem (good for braiding). This "Music" variety is of the hard-stem type.  I also decided to experiment with planting some hardy greens and lettuces using the "frost" cover for the Costco boxes.  I don't know that anything will grow this late, but it is worth a try.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chicago to Pennsylvania

We left Chicago just before the rains set in. Kathryn sent us off after a great breakfast of homemade blueberry pancakes! The kids spent time playing together and enjoying their new-found cousins (Hawley, Franny and Lenore).

Hawley and Sarah compared DS games. And we all had an opportunity to additionally enjoy their hospitality with good hot showers. Kathryn’s little girls had a great time playing with the teen girls, and got a kick out of exploring our partially closed trailer. All too soon, we had to bid our goodbyes and be off. It was so good to spend even that little bit of time with them.

We set off and headed south on I-294 to I-80 out of Chicago and encountered our first toll roads of the trip. The toll roads took us through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Funny, I never saw hide nor hair of a toll road out west. Go figure. I was perusing the maps and state guides, trying to find points of interest to visit while we were trekking to Pennsylvania. We hoped to get to Pennsylvania either late that night or early the next morning to sojourn a while with our good friend Mike (who had left his house in Boulder to go to his farm in PA). While going through Indiana’s state guide, I came across the RV hall of fame. Hey, how could we drive three quarters of the way across country hauling an RV behind us without stopping to see the place that exalted these vehicles! And to top it off, it was so close to the interstate we were traveling on (I-80), we could see if from the road. When I called to ask about hours, the woman on the line assumed that we were either driving or towing an RV. Ha ha. Actually, the place was pretty cool. There were several galleries – the first one was a showcase for new RVs. Apparently the RV companies drew numbers to see who got to display their particular unit, and 5 different types of RVs were represented. Folding travel trailers (pop-ups like ours), regular travel trailers (towed behind vehicle), fifth wheels (one end is attached into the bed of a pickup truck), class C motorhomes (like the classic Winnebagos) and Class A motorhomes (like huge buses). They were fun to explore, and the kids (and we) enjoyed trying out the seats and the beds, and finding all the fun hidden compartments. The kids decided immediately they wanted to trade in the small pop-up for one of the class A motorhomes. I told them sure, no problem, if they could come up with another $100K. We checked out all the fun stuff, and the kids took a family portrait (bears!).

The next gallery had displays of vintage trailers – one of the earliest was pulled by a model-T Ford. The best part about this section is that we were actually able to go inside most of these vintage campers. It was interesting that the concept of a potty in the camper didn’t come into vogue until sometime during the 1960s. We checked out trailers from the 20s through the 70s, from tiny teardrop units to massive buses.

We continued on our way in the rain through Ohio and finally made it into Pennsylvania. The landscape had slowly been going from flat to rolling hills as we progressed farther east. Now we were actually heading into mountains again. The weather was still slightly rainy, and the PA mountains were enveloped in fog. These hills were not nearly as tall as the ones we had recently seen in Colorado, but they certainly were beautiful. We got off the interstate and started winding our way through mountain passes to get to the valley where Mike lived – Penn Valley, just outside State College. Traffic slowed down, mainly due to the slower pace of the Amish buggies that abounded in the area, as well as certain obstacles like flocks of geese in the middle of the road.

After a few wrong turns - which we didn’t mind at all since we enjoyed looking at the countryside – we came to Mike’s farm. His family’s got a great piece of property with two old farmhouses and several acres of land. It was so peaceful to sit on his porch and pass the time and watch the woodpeckers and hummingbirds at the feeders. I could have stayed there for a whole week! And the kids were happy too, because satellite TV had just been installed that week. Mike, however, hadn’t set it up yet and didn’t know how it worked, but we had 4 tech-savvy kids in the house so you know they figured it out in no time at all! We spent several wonderful days with Mike before heading on to the last leg of our journey home.