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 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 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.