July 28, 2009

General Garden Update

I've been feeling like the world's worst gardener lately. June and most of July were so rainy and cool that I hardly had to water. I all but completely ignored the garden and let the weeds take over. This week I turned a corner though. I got up at 5AM on Monday to reign in the wild arms of the tomato plants and harvest a few things. Today again, I was up at 6AM to give the garden a good soaking now that it's actually hot out. The weeds are taunting me, but perhaps I will deal with them tomorrow. I'm quite pleased with the harvest this week: more collards, several beautiful cucumbers, beets and celery (first time ever!)

There are some good things happening despite my neglect. Yhe cucumber plants really did climb up the trellis and the cukes are dangling well above the ground, just like I had hoped. Unfortunately, all of the lower leaves seem to have rust colored spots on them. I assume it's some sort of fungus from all the rain, but I've been too lazy to even get to the bottom of it.

The leafminers chewed the hell out of my beets and my aggressive defoliating didn't seem to make much of a difference. I can still eat the beets though, and they look pretty good. Sad to say it, but I think for the next year or two I'm going to skip the beets and see if I can chase these pests away.

The best thing the garden is doing now though is donating produce to a local food pantry. We set out a cooler over the weekend so gardeners can drop off their harvest, and then someone picks it up early on Monday to take the bounty. I gave up some collard greens and cucumbers, but I think we're going to need a bigger cooler once the tomatoes get going!

June 29, 2009

Beet it!

I was away in California and then NJ for about 10 days and, as is the norm when traveling during the season, I worried about my garden while I was away.

Luckily it rained almost the entire time I was gone and all of the next week. Unluckily, that meant I had a lot of weeding to do this weekend.

So, like many young Americans of my generation this past weekend, I let Michael Jackson be the soundtrack to my day. I popped on the headphones, put Off the Wall and Thriller into one playlist on the ipod and got to work. I was never a die hard fan, and I pretty much stopped paying attention by the time I got to high school, but especially when I was about 12 or 13 his music was very very important to me. The garden wasn't too crowded, so not too many people saw my "moves" as I boogied to the music.

It took about 2 hours and I got MOST of the weeding done.

After being away for so long, things looked pretty different. Mostly in good ways: cucumbers have almost started climbing, the collards and celery and brussel sprouts look huge and the tomato plants look to be disease free, despite all the rain. The big blow was evidence of my two most hated (after cut worms of course) bugs: beet leafminers and cucumber beetles.

I found a few things online that said that radishes repel cucumber beetles, so even though it's way too hot for 'em. I planted some seeds next to the cukes. I only saw one teeny tiny beetle in the California Poppies (which look great!), but it's early and I'm anticipating a swarm.

I'm feeling at a loss in terms of the leafminers though. I removed one of the leaves that seemed the worst and will probably go back and remove more if necessary. You can see from the top photo that the injuries from these evil pests are really really ugly. Even though I'll still be able to eat the beets, I want the greens too AND I definitely don't want them to infect other plants.

We've got a 3 day weekend coming up though and it's supposed to be sunny, so I'm hoping I'll have some more time to be in the garden and do battles against the evil bugs who plan my plants harm.

May 27, 2009

My Vegetables are not Vegetarian

This Saturday I planted just about everything. It's a bit earlier than the dude where I picked up my seedlings suggested, but I feel certain that the plants have a better chance of surviving in the roomy, sunny and compost-ful environment of the garden than they would cramped in their seedling containers on my porch.

I had a fantastic time planting and am very excited to see how it all works out. It has turned colder in the past few days so I'm a bit worried about the cucumbers, but I think everything else should be able to handle it. Ah yes, I did have to get new cucumber plants at the farm, so it would be a shame to kill another set.

I also started the "summerizing" of my front porch with a few planted flowers and an overall clean up from the dirt and mess of the winter. Once again, you can see my cat in the photo if you look carefully. She loves the porch.

As part of all this prep however, I realized that as I've moved from a flat out beginner to a slightly more experienced novice, there are things that no longer shock me. One such example is the fact that I routinely (and gleefully) treat my seedlings to a diet of dead animal parts to help them grow.

Do vegetarians know about this? What about Jews who keep Kosher?

What the best organic gardeners advise for a healthy, thriving garden, are small amounts of things like Pro Gro or Neptune's Harvest which is essentially a bunch of nutrients including blood and crab meal in the case of the former and liquified fresh fish in the case of the latter. Ew right?

On the big planting day on Saturday I added a few handfuls of compost to the soil in, around and next to every one of the seedlings and then this Tuesday I added a handful of Pro-Gro to everyone as well. The fish will go on this weekend and then I'll be repeating all of those steps a few times throughout the summer.

But I'm wondering....is this "Kosher?" How are vegetables grown with animal parts classified? It's not like you're eating the animals, but it sure is a part of the process. I recently read a detailed article in the New Yorker about certifying Kosher products in China so I feel certain that someone must have thought about this. I am sure there are non-animal alternatives, especially in conventional, non-organic growing, but there is very little labeling in American produce aisles and I can't imagine that your average vegatarian even thinks about what might have been added to the lovely "vegetarian" foods they may be selecting. I know that I never did.

I was a vegetarian for 13 years and I slowly started bringing meat and fish back a few years ago...right around the time I started gardening. It's all part of the cycle of life and quite poignant that something dying makes life possible for something else, but still, I wonder how those who vow not to consume animals (or at least keep them separate from dairy or not eat certain kinds) draw the line. I also wonder if I would agree with the way said animals might be treated if I knew. As those who've been reading this blog may know, I have toyed with the idea of buying fox urine to keep the bunnies away, but I have no idea how they collect it and my guess is, its not a friendly method. So while it may be "natural," I don't know that it's something I really want to support.

Going down this road too far is a bit much for me. I/we live in an industrialized world and where we get our food and what goes into it is a touchy and politically charged subject. I like to think that by growing an organic garden and mostly eating organic food that I can identify as an actual plant or animal means I'm on the right side of most of these issues. Really though, I think it's more of a spectrum, as with lots of things in our modern world, there is a little "blood meal" on quite a lot of us.

No answers here, just questions.

Meanwhile, the garden is looking good and I really hope the seedlings make it through the cold and rain this week, but at least I don't have to water.

May 22, 2009

Daisy in the Garden

My community garden is pretty amazing. In addition to the fenced off area that has all the garden plots, there are a few other open areas where neighbors can hang out. One of the important rules of the garden however is that no dogs are allowed in the area with the plots. And it's a darn good rule in my opinion.

And yet, sometimes a dog is exactly what you need.

Several weeks ago I planted some lettuce seeds and they seemed to be coming up nicely until I noticed them disappearing... apparently chewed to the ground. I've seen rabbits in the garden so I assume it's them, though I suppose it could be something else.

Last year, I had tried putting some Irish Spring Soap (or drugstore knock-off) next to the lettuce after I noticed a lot of greenery disappearing. It seemed to work, but with the bright green color and the STRONG perfume smell I'm still not sure if this was a smart idea - especially in a garden designed to grow food. Once I saw the damage to the lettuce again this year though, I went out and bought some "Emerald Mist" and planned to set to work. It's actually supposed to be the Sodium Tallowate in the soap that scares off the bunnies due to it smelling like a dead animal and not all that perfume.

Luckily I was chatting with a co-worker who said that his mom always used dog hair in the garden to keep away rabbits. Eureka! It just so happens that I live with a dog. Her name is Daisy and she is very cute and VERY hairy (see pic above.)

That very night I did some strange stuff with twine and dog hair that looks like some sort of ancient sacred symbol or sacrifice. Maybe voo doo? It's basically puff-balls of dog hair tied to the end of the twine and hanging a few inches above the lettuce. Oh the lengths we'll go to for the garden! So far I haven't seen any new damage, so we'll see if this works. I sure hope so, since dog hair seems way better than stinky chemical-filled soap.

Meanwhile I am fairly confident that the cucumber seedlings on my porch are toast. They look awful. I had to cut off many leaves because they were dry and discolored and the ones that are still left don't look too terrific either. I'm not sure if I should even try planting them or just pick up some new ones. The tomatoes actually look ok. Not quite as good as they did when I picked them up, but not terrible either.

The big highlight is that the San Marzano seedlings look terrific!

May 18, 2009

Big Mid-May Garden Day

I arrived at Re-vision House at around 10:15AM on Saturday and there was already a line to pick up seedlings. After a bit of waiting around and some chit-chat, one of the staff led me around to collect my bounty. These were the seedlings I had ordered way back in February and I could hardly remember what I selected. Since all the plants come in 6 packs I arranged to share the order with a friend who is also another gardener in my garden. She hates brussel sprouts and I'm not that into trying to grow broccoli again, but the plan was to split just about everything else...I think.

Back to the seedling collection: first, my farmer-guide and I went to the cooler temp crops that were already in flats on the ground and picked up collard greens, brussel sprouts, and broccoli. Then we headed into the greenhouse. I forgot to bring my camera, but the seedlings all looked huge and lush and amazing. I got 2 mixed packs of tomatoes - 2 each of 3 types of cherry tomatoes and 2 each of three other types of heirlooms (I think brandywine, striped german and pruden's purple) plus another 2 six packs of brandywine and black prince tomatoes, black beauty eggplant and marketmore cucumbers.

And then the stress-out started. I asked the farm dude in 3 different ways how to take care of the plants that were in the green house. He said in no uncertain terms to plant them on June 1st and until then water them, keep them on the porch and cover them at night. He said I didn't need to replant into another container because being on the porch they would pretty much stop growing. I KNOW this is what he said, but I am still so afraid that I am going to ruin the poor seedlings and end up with crappy crops because of it.

Last year I decided to skip the Re-vision house seedlings and just buy everything at Allandale farm to avoid this very problem and now that I'm back doing the Re-vision House thing, I remember why I did that. It is so damn stressful keeping the seedlings alive and well cared for on the porch.

Anyway, when I got home I stared at my plot for a loooong time and then finally made some decisions about layout which you can see in the photo of the entire plot. I created a few planting areas and a bunch of paths to get around and get to them which I hope will work pretty well.

As sometimes happens in a community garden, I started planting right around the same time that another gardener happened by....and she offered me 3 celery plants. I've never grown celery and always wanted to, so in they went. This is part of the reason I never make set plans for what I'm going to plant until I actually start, something always comes up....in a good way.

So here's what we've got in the ground:

4 brussel sprouts
3 collard greens
3 celery
a few small rows of beet seeds
1 more additional row each of cilantro, red lettuce and arugula behind the trellis

The rest of the seedlings are on the porch along with the san marzanos (which look ok!) and the basil (looks only so-so) the marigolds (eh) the shallots and parsley (also eh) and more arugula which looks bad enough that I might just toss. I cut open a plastic trash bag to make a sheet of sorts and have been using that to cover up the seedlings at night. It's cold today though, but I took off the "blanket" to let them get some sun. I really hope this works.

Oh and the mint is not yet coming up in the sink, but I'm hoping that't just a matter of time.

P.S.: Special thanks to my two friends who came to visit during my 4 hours of gardening to help plant some of the seeds and keep me company!

May 14, 2009

San Marzano Seedlings

This past weekend a friend from Vermont, who seems preternaturally gifted in the gardening department, gave me 4 lovely san marzano tomato seedlings that she started on the windowsill of her office. Seriously, she hasn't been gardening that long and she seems so good at it!

I was thrilled to get them and yet, almost as soon as they were handed over, I felt panicked.

I had ridden my bike to bowling (yes, I'm on a bowling team, but this is about gardening so...moving right along) so I had to have a friend take the seedlings in her car for me. By the time I got them, they were HOT and a little bit wilty from the stress of the car.

I brought them inside, but I wasn't really sure what to do next because these little guys were born indoors and I didn't really want to stress them by taking them straight outside. I knew they needed sun, but I had already decided that my sunlamps were making my seedlings too hot so I couldn't risk putting them under those either. My friend told me that they should be transplanted pretty soon, like in the next few days. All I really have are some leftover plastic soda bottles to replant them into and not that many at that.

So here's what I've done:

The first night I gave them a little water and left the plants on the windowsill and kept them there all of the next day. I knew this wasn't enough sun, but I didn't want to stress them with the wind and cold of the porch.

The next day I put the existing pot inside one of the soda bottle greenhouses I had made and put this out on the porch during the day. At night I took the whole thing inside and put it back on the windowsill.

The day after that I left it on the windowsill again, because I knew I wouldn't be home that night and I didn't want to risk the plants getting too cold overnight.

When I checked them this morning they looked pretty good. They were upright and a little bit taller, bigger and greener than when I first got them.

So...this morning I replanted 2 seedlings each inside soda bottle greenhouses. Unfortunately I don't have enough bottles to do the whole self watering system like I did with the basil seeds, so I just cut some holes in the bottom for drainage and will need to water regularly. I'm hoping that the plastic cover will be enough protection from the wind and cold. The problem is, the leaves are pressing right up against the plastic which I am guessing is not a good thing. I'm not sure what to do about this because I think without the plastic it could be too cold and windy for the little guys.

So I think the sun and the additional growing room is good. I think the protection from the wind and cold is good and I think the claustrophobia-inducing bottle top is bad.

I'm hoping to slowly get them used to the outside temperatures with the plastic cover and then start removing it (just during the day) until they seem strong enough to manage without it. I still might bring them inside at night if the temps look to be cold.

While I was at it I took my two healthiest looking basil seedlings and transplanted them to larger containers too (picture is at the top). I think I should do this with all of the seedlings that look ok, but I definitely don't have enough plastic bottles and containers for that.

Boston friends...can you help me out? Send me your yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese containers and your 1 and 2 liter soda bottles yearning for a new purpose in life.

I should mention that I planted all of this in the leftover coir that I had already re-hydrated and stuck in a plastic bag on the porch. This isn't potting soil, but I think and hope it's ok.

Stay tuned for more stress inducing adventures. I am picking up my seedlings from Re-Vision House this weekend and will definitely be planting a few things and looking for ways to keep those that are not yet ready to go into the ground protected.

As always, advice in the comments section is enthusiastically encouraged!

May 5, 2009

Seedling Update

Well I got back from Oregon and the seedlings are still alive.

They don't exactly seem to be thriving (ie: still a bit leggy, not much bigger), but not too terrible. I think my roommate kind of flooded them instead of just watering, but I guess they managed. I'm a little concerned because they are still on the porch and now a bit too tall to fit under the egg container cover. It's in the low 50s outside so I'm worried that the cold (plus the flooding) might all end up having been too much for the little suckers.

I might try to replant a few in larger containers this weekend and hope for the best.

The seeds I planted underneath the trellis seem to be doing great and I thinned the seedlings a bit. The flea beetles are already all over the arugula though and I'm not sure there's anything I can do about that. Holey arugula is pretty much what I've gotten used to.

April 26, 2009

Seedling Experiment - Week 1

So far it's not an abject failure, but I feel sure that my end could be right around the corner.

The marigolds sprouted first and looked to be doing pretty well. Then came the arugula and the basil. All looked ok UNTIL after a few days all the seedlings seemed quite tall. This is (from what I hear and read) a sign that the seedlings aren't getting enough light.

I had the light SUPER close and was leaving it on all day. In fact, I was worried that it might actually be sizzling the soil and seeds. It felt quite warm to the touch. That's probably not good right?

Anyway, yesterday was 80 degrees and sunny here so I took a gamble and put all the seedlings out onto my porch to get some sun. I kept the covers closed though, so they didn't also have to brave any wind and so they might stay warm if the temperature dropped. Nothing seems to have died, so that's good.

I brought all the seedlings back in last night to "sleep" and then refilled the water trays, thinned a few so only one little sprout is in each egg cup and brought them all back out this morning. 2 little shallot sprouts showed up, but the parsley is still dormant.

Meanwhile the soda bottle green house, that was always on the porch, has two teeny tiny basil sprouts that showed up this morning. I think this could be more promising.

So while I'm struggling mightily (mostly in my own mind I realize) with the "indoor" seedlings, all the arugula and lettuce I planted behind the trellis has sprouted! No sign of cilantro yet, but I'm optimistic.

I leave for a week in Oregon tomorrow though so I'm not sure if I should leave the seedlings on the porch (and maybe ask my roommate to check on them) or inside. The temps should be warm enough for them to stay outside and I think they may appreciate the light, but I just don't know how fast they'll dry out and if I really want to saddle my roommate with the chore of checking on them in addition to taking care of my insane, geriatric cats.

April 20, 2009

Are you Jealous of this Trellis?

Growing vertically and mastering the use of space in a small urban plot, seem to me to be a sign of someone who knows what they're doing in a community garden.

I have long viewed myself as more of a newbie, lacking the skills and expertise to try anything as ambitious as a trellis, let alone planting things near each other in a way that one plant can help the other.

I guess that's not entirely true. I've planted basil and marigold with tomatoes and those are supposed to help each other, and my arugula always seems to attract flea beetles which I think helps keep them away from my eggplant, but this plan, is far more ambitious.

Let me start at the beginning:

Last year I grew cucumbers and I really liked it. They attracted a lot of cucumber beetles though and took up a lot of space. The cucumbers also tended to hide underneath the leaves such that I could miss a cuke one day and show up a day later to find a baseball-bat-sized cucumber the next. I had heard, and seen others growing them UP and wanted to try it. In my internet searching I came across this cool design for a cucumber trellis that basically allows the cucumber vines to climb upward, but also leaves some room behind for lettuce which likes cooler temperatures.

I didn't really think I could build something like this myself. I'm easily intimidated by things like this. Luckily, I am fortunate enough have an in with Captain Awesome. He is pretty handy and agreed to build me a trellis.

So this Saturday ( a few hours after the seedling adventure) we headed out to Home Depot to get the supplies and make my garden dream a reality. We had a general sense of the items we needed and after I woke up from my "overwhelmed-by-the-choices-trance" in the nail aisle, we got it together enough to get our stuff and leave.

We bought 3 2x4s, some long nails, vinyl coated chicken wire, and a bag of plastic zip ties. Captain Awesome already had all the tools so we didn't need to get any of those. He built the whole thing right in the bed of his truck, with no power, or anything.

So now the trellis is all set up in all it's glory in my garden plot. I went ahead and used this opportunity to begin to figure out the layout for the garden this year. I dug up the black-eyed susan and moved it closer to the other perennials (and gave 75% of it to another gardener for her yard ) and moved the bee balm closer too. Now I've got only one area, by the sink, for flowers. I think this will work better and give me more room for veggies in the rest of the plot.

I've asked a few other gardeners if they think the stuff I plan to grow behind the trellis will work or get too shaded. Honestly, I'm too excited about this idea to even hear it when a few of them have said "maybe" or "I dunno." In this spirit, I went ahead and planted some lettuce, arugula and cilantro seeds behind the trellis. Sure, it might be too early, but I'm feeling bold and experimental at the moment.

I know that I can be very insecure about my gardening abilities, but at the core, I'm an optimist and a believer in my own ability to make things happen. Also, I do know SOME things. I haven't planted the cucumbers yet and I know I won't do that for at least another month.

I know I'm dealing with the natural world here and wanting something to work may not make it happen, but for now, I'll keep hope alive!

So it begins...

Early Saturday morning, I got up and planted my seedlings.

As you may recall, I've been talking about doing this for a while, but it took longer than I expected to pull together all the necessary materials and then find the time to do it. Here's the play by play of the plan.

Step 1 - Potting Medium
First I had to take the coir and add 1 and 1/4 gallons of water to it to turn it from a rock hard brick to something resembling a potting medium. I had purchased 2 bricks because I didn't know how much it would turn into once I added water and the bricks looked pretty small. I definitely only needed one, I now have a plastic grocery bag full of the stuff sitting on my porch, plus the unopened brick that I didn't even use. Anyone in the Boston area need this?

Step 2 - Something to plant in
Next, I prepared the plastic egg cartons. I'd been holding onto plastic soda bottles and plastic egg containers for a while, with the intention of making some seedling trays and mini-greenhouses so I had a ton on hand. The ones I have include a ton of excess packaging: bottom egg cups, top egg cups and top flat lid, all made of clear plastic. I used some scissors to cut off the top egg cup part and used those for a water tray at the bottom. I used a steak knife to puncture the bottom egg cups so that water from the bottom tray could get to the potting soil to keep the seedlings and soil moist.
Step 3 - Assembly
I pressed the coir (which was thoroughly water soaked at this point) into the egg cups and then used a pencil to create a small indentation in each "cup." I decided to devote each tray to a different type of seed: shallot, marigold, arugula, parsley and basil. This is not the most ambitious assortment of seeds, but given the fact that I have yet to do this successfully I wanted to start small.
I tried to drop 3 seeds into each indentation (though I am sure I ended up with 4 or 5 in a few.) I marked each tray with some coffee stirrers and then filled the bottom (formerly top) egg cups 1/2 way with water and placed the covered coir-filled cups on top.

Step 4 - Location and lighting
I borrowed a small table and set it up with 2 grow lights by the window. The grow lights are REALLY close to the seedlings which I think is how you're supposed to do it. For now, they're mostly keeping the soil a bit warm, but soon they'll provide the light the seedlings need to grow. The grow lights don't cover every single seedling in light evenly, but I'm hoping it'll work out. If anyone out there with more experience than me looking at these photos sees a problem with how I'm doing this PLEASE let me know. I really really really want this to work!

Step 5 - Care and Maintenance
My plan is to turn the lights on when I leave in the morning and off when I get home from work each day. I'm sure I'll need to thin the seedlings eventually and maybe turn the trays around if it seems like the light is hitting some more than others. I'm also planning to check the water in the bottom tray every day and just refill those when they seem lower. I think this should be the right amount of water, but who knows?

List of Worries:

1) Is the light enough, too much, too close, too uneven?
2) Is turning the lights on and off bad in terms of the temperature during germination?
3) Is it too much water? They're basically sitting in water all the time right now.
4) Everything is covered up greenhouse style right now. I assume that at some point I'll want to uncover them. When should I do this and how do I keep my cats from eating them?
5) If this works, how do I harden them off and get them ready for the garden? Do I need to transplant to something larger first? I've kept a bunch of soda bottles with the idea that I might transplant some of the seedlings to these at some point.

Extra Credit

As suggested, I did create one larger soda bottle greenhouse with basil seeds and stuck it on my porch. It seems way too cold outside for this to work, but I'm hopeful.

Believe it or not, this was only the FIRST major garden related project of the day. More to come shortly.....

March 23, 2009

Setting up for Seedlings

It's March 23rd and in the temperature is in the twenties!!

I've had about enough of winter and I'm ready for it to be warm enough to garden. In the meantime, I've been collecting the supplies I'll need for this year's seedling growing extravaganza. I'm still not convinced it's going to work and in the end I may have to spend more money than I normally would just to try. I figure it's still cheaper because I rarely buy any produce at any store once the garden is in full swing.

So far I've amassed an impressive number of plastic containers including lots of plastic egg cartons and an array of soda and juice bottles. I ordered some seeds from Johnny's Seeds in Maine and borrowed a small table from Captain Awesome. I still need to get some coir or other sustainable growing medium, some milk crates and a grow light from my pal Ms. Knapsack. I also got a soil thermometer...mostly because I've been wanting one for a while. I'm not sure it will even work for the seedling growing because the depth is so shallow.

Here's my thinking:
If I want to start planting around mid-May I should start the seedlings in the next couple of weeks. The small table is up next to the radiator which should keep them warm enough, although they're also near a window which could make them cold. The table will keep them elevated as a deterrent to my lovable, but evil cats who might like to snack on the tender greens.

The egg cartons have so much extra plastic, that I should be able to cut off the top flap and put it underneath and then poke holes in the bottoms of each of the egg cups and water only from the bottom.

Once the seedlings are big enough I can transfer the healthy ones to the soda bottle green houses, keep them inside at first and then eventually transfer them to the porch to toughen up before they go in the garden.

At this point it seems hard to believe I'll really be able to pull this off, but I am definitely going to try.

A few seeds I'm planning to start with:

Dill - I don't actually like dill, but I grew it last year because it attracts some good bugs, this is a good choice because I won't be crushed if the seedlings don't work out.

A few things I think I can direct seed, but might try to do seedlings as well:
Shallots - never grown these, but I'll be thrilled if I can.

You'll notice that I don't have any of the big-ticket veggies in here. I think I need to build my confidence slowly. If this works out I can always get more seeds to try more things a few weeks after I start. I've got the seedling from Re-Vision House ordered and I can always pick up more at the farm.

I've got the first draft of the whole garden plan done, but I need to review it in person to see if the spacing works.

I'm not planning to grow anything I've never grown before (at this point) except for shallots, just building on my skills with the stuff I've tried before.

January 27, 2009

Gardening Freedom?

I would really like to grow my own seedlings. For a while now I've put growing seedlings on a pedestal, thinking of it as an "advanced" gardening skill that is "out of my league," but that's some seriously pessimistic thinking and I need to get past it.

Let's face it, I'm getting to the point in my gardening career where I am no longer a complete beginner. I know a thing or two and it's time to try (again or for the first time) things that I have considered to be out of my reach. Growing my own seedlings is definitely one of these things. I did try this once before.... but all the seedlings died. That was 3 years ago though.

In my mind, I feel that If I can master the whole seedling thing I can pretty much grow whatever I want on whatever time-line makes sense. That's real freedom.

What I do now is spend a lot of time planning when I'll go to Allandale farm. I go with a vague sense of what I want to grow, but then I always find that some things aren't there so I end up making decisions on the spot. I find the whole thing a little bit stressful, in part because I don't own a car so dropping by the farm whenever I get the urge is not an option. I can't to go to the farm too late in May because a lot of the plants will be snatched up so I usually end up making two trips, one for "early" stuff like greens and one for "later" plants like tomatoes and eggplant. Similarly, when I've ordered from Re-Vision House, the plant pick-up is in the middle of May which is a little bit too early for most things to go in the ground. You see my predicament. I'm beholden to the whims and caprices of others. I want gardening independence!

Towards this end, the 2 ideas I've been toying with are as follows:

1) Soda Bottle Greenhouse.
I got this idea from a post by Mr. Brown Thumb. The basic gist is you take a regular 2 liter soda bottle, cut it in half and then plant the seeds in the bottom half. Terrific right? He seems like a very competent gardener and suggested just "trying it out" on my porch so I think that's what I'll do. I find it hard to believe that a greenhouse could really be that warm, but I know this is an old and tested way to grow things and people do it all the time.

2) Figure out how to set up a good indoor growing system in my apartment.
I live in the city. I don't have a ton of space and the space I do have is shared with animals and a roommate. I think my set up last time was ok. I purchased little soil pellets in a plastic container with a removable clear top and stuck the seeds in there. The idea is to stick the whole contraption in a sunny spot, water occasionally and watch your future garden grow. My future garden struggled and eventually died but I think the problems boiled down to heat and light.

I spent a lot of time moving the seedlings to spots far from my plant-munching cats. My best windows in terms of sunlight happen to be in places they love to go. But how expensive could it be to get a little lamp for a few seedlings? I've got to really think about this, but I would love growing my own seedlings so much that the idea of getting a "sun" lamp for them seems completely reasonable. I do have a bit of an outlet shortage too, but I think I can make it work.

Oh and I've recently learned that usually the pellets in these seedling kits are made of peat which, as it turns out, is not a very sustainable soil. This time I'll need to look for coir pellets or something similar.

Come to think of it, maybe I should try the soda bottle greenhouses INDOORS. The cats might still try to get to them, but it would be a lot harder.

January 16, 2009

Escaping the cold

The current temperature here in Boston is -8 degrees Farenheit. That's pretty cold. I haven't actually looked at my garden in a few months even though it's just on my corner. It's been freezing all week and I'm finding that my response to the cold is to think about my garden a lot. In the past few days I have thought about or done the following:

1) Drawn a little map of how I might lay out the plot this year - I'm ready for a change!
2) Talked or e mailed with no less than 4 people (including my Dad!) about whether or not I should try brussel sprouts again, make room for asparagus or order from the women's shelter that is also a farm with a seedling coop this year. Answers: maybe, probably not, yes, but I'll order only things I can plant right on the pick-up day.
3) Searched on the internet for designs for cucumber trellises and even bookmarked a few.
4) Contemplated the fact that this cold weather is probably good for the garden in that it may be killing some of the bad bugs that I hate. I also wondered what it does to the good bugs like worms and lacewings. Relatedly...
5) Will I plant dill again to attrack parasitic wasps to kill the leafminers? Still not sure on this one.
6) Thought about a few garden gadgets I might like to splurge on this year like a soil thermometer, better/sharper garden shears and a weeding tool like a friend has.

The colder it gets the more my mind wanders to warmth and the day when I'll first be able to turn over all the soil. By September the garden can seem like a chore, but in the middle of January, when I know I have at least 3 more months of winter, it seems like heaven.

January 9, 2009

A New Leaf for 2009

In the past I've paused this blog because I felt too busy or because I had nothing new to say.The reason I put a stop to my "mostly weekly" garden updates back in August was my discovery that my little anonymous haven was in fact, not so anonymous.

I was in the garden back on that fateful day in the middle of the summer. My lovely garden plot neighbor and I were chatting, when she said, in a tone that I interpreted as a mix of apologetic and disappointed -- with a hint of quietness like that reserved for talking about other people's terrible misfortunes as in "divorce" or "cancer" -- something along the lines of:

"You know you could have told me that our tomatoes were growing too close to yours." She then went on to describe that she and her husband were new to gardening and would have appreciated the advice about needing to corral their tomatoes and that another gardener had found my blog and mentioned my concerns to her. I was caught. I had in fact blogged about her tomato plants creeping over to my side.

It is hard to describe my feelings in that moment. Horror, shame, embarrassment. The pit in my stomach lasted at least 2 weeks and I still feel kind of ill when I think of it. I walked around, scanning people's faces, trying to figure out if they knew about my blog when I talked to them. I mean, I am also pretty new to gardening and I would have loved to help them instead of make them feel like crap, not to mention make myself look like a petty, two-faced gossiper. Dammit!

She then went on to say that she had noticed that some of her tomato plants had been pushed way over (back towards her side) and that the stakes really looked as if someone had physically pushed them. She mentioned this to another gardener who told her about my blog. Oy vey! I told her that I really really hadn't done it and that all I had done was walk through between our two plots and try to push the branches that had grown over to my side over to hers. My stakes had been moving around a lot too actually. I didn't expect her to believe me. After all, I'm the kind of person who, rather than directly and maturely speaking to this lovely person about the issue I had with her tomato plants, just complained to the entire world on the INTERNET! This blog established motive.

I honestly never imagined that anyone in my neighborhood would find this blog. Somehow, thinking that no one would find it made me think of it as a sort of diary or at least a private conversation that I was having mostly with myself. Myself and a bunch of other gardeners I didn't know plus a few friends that I have mentioned this blog to and with whom I am comfortable telling my inner feelings (about gardening.)

I apologized right away and have probably apologized since then about 5 times everytime I see her. I'd also like to take this moment to apologize to anyone and everyone in my little neighborhood for anything I have expressed in this blog that was the slightest bit hurtful in any way to anyone. It's not what I intended and really not who I am most of the time. In fact, I think the thing that bothers me most is when I think of the kind of person I might seem like to my neighbors after all of this. It makes me cringe.

I do realize that this is also funny. Most of my friends have laughed heartily at the whole thing. I mean, who in this day and age actually thinks their blogs are really anonymous?! Come on!!

The long and the short of it is that I seriously considered taking the whole thing down, but I decided it was better to come clean. In fact, I was encouraged NOT to take it down first by the same lovely woman who I blabbed about and then a few friends who also garden and actually like my blog for the tips. Special thanks to my friend in Vermont who grows excellent brussel sprouts and whose asparagus I hope survived all the construction.

I'm not quite to the point where I'm ready to make it easier for people to figure out who I am, but I'll just be writing now with the knowledge and assumption that anyone I might have hoped isn't reading this probably is and I should get comfortable with that and act accordingly. I might loosen up a little bit on the code names and other "masking" tactics, but maybe I won't.

Thanks to all for reading and feel free to forward to anyone you want!