May 21, 2010

Keeping Hope ..... I Mean Seedlings Alive

So I picked up my seedlings last Saturday and like clockwork I started to get completely stressed out about how to keep them alive until it was warm enough to plant them.

I negotiated with the farmer from ReVision House and the staff from Allandale farm to try to get someone to tell me it was safe to just put them in the ground even though it was only mid-May. No dice. The seedlings usually get good and sad looking over the two weeks and I wanted to do better this year. I'm not expecting real growth, I just want them to stay healthy. I put the collards and brussel sprouts in the ground right away, but the cukes, tomatoes, basil, eggplant and pepper were not ready for that.

Also, my house is being painted, so I couldn't leave them out on my porch which is my usual routine. What on earth was I going to do? Not to count my chickens before they hatch, but the inaccessibility of the porch may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

As an aside, those of you urban dwellers know the unique challenges of growing things when you live in an apartment without a lot of space (indoor, but especially outdoor) and where all of that space is divvied up very carefully by all parties. There's no sunny growing spot out in the world that you don't work damn hard to get in Boston, that's for sure.

So I decided to ask my first floor neighbor if I could leave the seedlings in their yard (this is the yard that is in the back of the house I live in, but it is not mine) and put them in their covered "outdoor-shed/porch/living-room-type-thing" at night or if it looked to be bad weather. Given the house painting situation, they agreed. It turns out, this is way better treatment than they usually get on my own porch for a few reasons:

1) I usually put the seedlings on my front porch, which isn't as sunny during the day as the back of the house. I do have a back porch, but up until now it's been the "crappier" of my two porches because the paint in back was peeling so badly and because it's a little bit less convenient to get to than the front. Also both of these porches are covered on top, in typical triple-decker fashion.

2) Because they are on the porch and covered, I don't usually move them inside when it's going to rain. Also I have a cat (used to have two until this year, RIP my sweet Umbrella, but that is not what this blog is about so..... moving on) and the cat/s in my house have free reign and like to munch on vulnerable seedlings like nobody's business. So the long and short of it is that unless it was going to be freezing, the seedlings were outside for the duration with nothing more than a roof over their heads. Rain and wind could easily fly at them from the sides. Sometimes I'd cover them with plastic if the weather was particularly nasty, and only very rarely would they get to come all the way indoors.

3) In the past I kept the seedlings in the containers they came in. I knew this was wrong, but I just didn't have a plan for transplanting them. Again, where does a city kid keep all of the supplies needed for excellent gardening? It's a challenge. This year I was determined to do better. I found enough milk jugs, soy milk, oj and yogurt containers to give most of the seedlings a larger home. I still didn't have a great plan, because I was clinging to the delusional hope that global warming (tragic though it is) was going to work in my favor this year and I'd just plop all the seedlings in the ground.

Why I think this set up is better:

First of all, the seedlings look pretty good!

With the back yard set-up the seedlings get a lot more sunlight for more of the day and they are babied a little bit better ie: I've been bringing them in every night that it looks to get into the 40s and I keep them inside when it rains. Inside is pretty darn close to outside temperature-wise so I'm not sure what I'll do if the weather turns very cold, but so far I haven't had to worry about it and the forecast for next week seems even better. I think the complete absence of wind at night and the small temperature difference, probably helped a bit. In fact the subtle temperature difference probably works a lot better for them than going from low 50s in the evening to my cozy apartment which is probably in the high 60s. I mean they'd prefer it much warmer than that I know, but still gradual might be better.

The containers aren't perfect, but they still seem to help. I mean I totally screwed up on the water holes. I used a knife and ran it through the bottom of the containers leaving a few small slanty cuts (barely holes) for drainage. I was pretty sure I waterlogged some cucumbers this way, but they haven't died yet. I tried to fix the holes after planting in a couple places, but I don't think I got it. I learned my lesson with the yogurt containers and made larger holes which I think are better. Also, some of my containers are clear. I am sure that's not good since every planting vessel I have ever seen is a dark color. I assume this is to keep the roots away from the light. I'm hoping it'll still be ok because the containers are big enough that I don't think the roots will grow out to the edges all that quickly, but who knows.

The porches are due to be finished this weekend, but I really want to keep the seedlings where they are. It's just another week and I live all the way up on the 3rd floor.

Also, as luck would have it, I've realized that the back porch is likely the superior one for seedlings, but my current roommate is a smoker and she smokes back there. Cigarette smoke is not good for plants, especially tomatoes, so that's not a risk I'm willing to take.

Perhaps this porch-painting business is just the kind of bonding experience my neighbors and I need to make the back porch the permanent home for my spring seedlings. Who wants to stand in the way of a good garden produce, especially if you're a neighbor and might get some?

P.S. If things work out I'll have more seedlings than I'll be able to plant, so let me know if you are in the Boston area and might want some seedlings.

May 8, 2010

Early May Garden Worries

So far so good in terms of the "old" seeds sprouting to life. I am quite pleased. The beets, arugula and radishes have all come up nicely. I'm pretty sure that carrots, cilantro, dill, shallots, onions and parsley all take a bit longer so I'm not too worried that I haven't seen signs of life in those rows yet.

Meanwhile, I've got a new/old pest to contend with: flea beetles. I don't think there's much I can do. Frankly, I'm amazed at the lengths I go to (or at least consider) to keep the pests at bay and the minimal impact my efforts actually seem to have on the pest population. Let's run down the assorted critters and issues I've got on my mind in these early planting days of May:

1) Cutworms - these are my enemies from way back. I try to make a habit of turning over the soil as late as I can in the fall to expose any larvae to the elements and then again in early spring. That seems to have worked the past few years, but if it's not that cold (like now) I worry.

2) Bunnies - I am not sure it's rabbits, but in the past, something has gotten to my lettuce and chomped off a whole lot of it in the early growth stages. Same as last year, I brushed the dog living in my house (new roommate = new dog) and tied a bunch of his hair together with a string and hung it over where the lettuce is growing. I have no idea if this will really work, but it's easy enough to do.

3) Flea Beetles - I am honestly shocked at how quickly they started eating little holes through my teeny tiny arugula seedlings. I really haven't figured out anything to keep them away and I can still eat the holey arugula, but it's infuriating to see the damage and feel powerless to stop it. I suppose I could try some really thin sheets of fabric that allows the sun through, but it seems so large-scale farm-like for a little plot in a community garden.

4) Cucumber Beetles - I always get them and I definitely hate them. They don't come until later in the season, but I'm growing at least 2 things just for them: radishes (supposedly repel them) and dill (supposedly attract helpful bugs that eat cucumber beetles)

5) Leaf Miners - These guys REALLY piss me off. I've never actually seen one of the bugs, but they spend their time eating through the middle of beet leaves (and chard and other leafy greens) making them ugly and inedible. I can usually eat the beets, but it doesn't make me hate the Leaf Miners any less. I mentioned this problem to one of the staff at Allandale farm last year who suggested taking a year off the beets, but I just couldn't do it. This year I'm planting them in a new spot, in between rows of radishes and onions and hoping for the best.

6) Wasps - these are new for me, and they've been back since my last post. I don't know if I really want to go to all the trouble of installing a fake wasp nest to deter them, but I am not pleased to have wasps hanging out right in my plot. Flying around in general is ok, but within easy stinging distance all the time....I'm not into that.

The pick up for Revision House seedlings is next weekend, so I'm excited to get a lot more in the ground. It's been so warm, it might even be safe to put in tomatoes!

May 3, 2010

old seeds, new tricks?

This Saturday I finally managed to get into the garden to work. I did a pretty good job of weeding and turning over some of the soil in only 3 and 1/2 hours. It's been a while though and I guess I'm a bit rusty, because I also got a really stupid sunburn (the kind that makes it look like I'm still wearing a flesh colored t -shirt) and I planted cilantro (which I had already planted) instead of planting parsley. They really look alike!!

Overall I'm pleased with my accomplishment and feeling good about my work. I did plant old seeds though. This is not an encouraged practice since the seeds may not be alive anymore. I didn't store them in the fridge or take special care of them like you're supposed to, I just figured: "I have all these year old seeds, so what the hell?!" They had been in a drawer, away from extreme heat and sunlight, so I'm hoping I'll be lucky.

The real motivation was the fact that I don't have a car and didn't feel like biking over to Allandale farm. Partly because I just didn't feel like biking, but mostly because I knew I'd see things I wanted that were NOT seeds and that I would be unable to take back home on my basketless bicycle.

After I was done for the day, my favorite census taker drove me over to Allandale anyway. It was then that I bought some rosemary and "parsley" seedlings...that turned out to be cilantro. I was also on the hunt for something that might repel wasps. It turns out, my totally awesome cucumber trellis is attracting them. It appears to be the dry cracked wood that they like, but I am nervous that they'll try to make a nest which would completely suck. Wasps sting!! I mean, I've been stung a lot, but I'd rather not risk it every time I garden not to mention the fact that this is a community garden and there are 50 or so other gardeners and kids in the area all the time, some of whom might be allergic. I found a few comments online that mention installing a fake wasp nest to keep the wasps away. Apparently they are territorial and won't come near the nest.

The didn't have one at Allandale and I'm tempted to try it, but even looking at that giant (fake) wasp nest is a bit scary to me.

I think I'll keep checking the trellis for a few more days before I fork out the money for a giant, fear-inducing nest "waspinator" nest of my own.