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Seed Starting & More Mexican Vegetables

We are still planning on getting things planted around May 15th this year, so with that in mind we had to get some seeds started at the beginning of the week. (If you are looking for step-by-step directions on planting seeds, here’s my post from last year:

Because each of our garden beds usually has a different arrangement of plants, we have to divide all the seeds into how many of each plants we need. You can also see my notation of 1 seed per pot. A lot of people will put multiple seeds in a pot “just in case” a couple don’t grow. I hate to do that, because then I’ve got a bunch of plants in a pot that I can’t easily separate without damaging the roots, and I have to snip the extras out. I prefer to plant 1 seed per pot, but then plant an extra pot or two of each (depending on how much extra space I’ve got). So the tomatoes pictured on the left say “Plant 4” and what we really need is 2 plants. By doing it this way I know that we’ve got up to 4 healthy plants, 2 that we need and 2 more just in case. If only 3 of the 4 germinate, then I’ve already used up 1 “just in case.” It is pretty rare with fresh seeds to have poor germination.

We have almost 100 pots of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant for the garden this year! Because of the planned late planting date, we are also starting  a few other things indoors that wouldn’t necessarily have to be. Those include the Red Aztec Spinach, culantro (not to be confused with cilantro!), and Aka Red Shiso. The spinach and the culantro are for the Mexican garden and the Shiso is for the Beautiful Vegetables garden.

Here’s a look at the seeds of the Red Aztec Spinach (aka Huauzontle). They are quite small and look a bit like tiny snail shells. We actually did plant multiple seeds in each pot for these, since the seeds are so tiny!

The culantro seeds are also extremely tiny. There seems to be a range of seed sizes and shapes, which is unusual. Maybe the seeds weren’t cleaned very well? Again, we went with multiple seeds per pot.

I took a picture of the back of the culantro seed packet, since it has some interesting information. It is supposed to be more heat tolerant than cilantro, but I find it interesting that the seed packet suggests growing it in the shade…we’ll have to see how that works out!

As of today (Thursday) the Red Aztec Spinach is already growing, as are the marigolds for the edible flower garden. Everything else is still waiting to pop up. Of course, the jicama, thunbergia, and roselle are still growing too. Hard to believe that in about 5 weeks we should be out planting in our brand new raised beds!


Mini Friday PhotoEssay

I think this is the first offical Friday PhotoEssay of the year! Of course, you’ve been seeing a bunch of construction pictures, but I think it’s high time we moved on to plants, don’t you?

This is a bit of a “mini” photoessay because I’ve only got 3 pictures to share, and they are all of baby plants – seedlings. All of the seedlings I planted last week have germinated, so I thought we’d take a look since they aren’t your common, everyday seedlings.

This is the Thunbergia (aka Black-Eyed Susan Vine). Those big seed leaves look kind of chlorotic with the dark green veins and pale yellow areas between veins. However,  want to get some true leaves growing before I start with any fertilizer. You can see those first true leaves starting to unfurl. Since this is a vine, it is going to get rather gangly rather quickly. That will be a challenge with the lights!

This is the Thai Red Roselle seedling. It has its first true leaf already and while it isn’t red yet, you can see that tinge of red in the leaf petioles (stems) and starting into the veins of that true leaf.

This is the Jicama. If it looks a little bit like a pole bean, well there’s a good reason for that. Jicama is a member of the Legume family (the same as peas, beans, vetch, etc). Theoretically that would mean that it fixes a little bit of nitrogen from the air like other legumes, right? The seed packet does specifically say that it does not like too much nitrogen. I wonder….

After a quick internet search, it would appear that jicama does have the ability to fix nitrogen like other legumes. That ability results in a tuber that has more nitrogen than other edible tubers, theoretically making it more nutritious. I found a couple sources citing it as being more nutritious because of the nitrogen…I wonder if they are equating more nitrogen to higher protein? Nitrogen is an important building block in proteins.

So, even if we don’t get a great yield from our jicama plants this year, we should get some nitrogen for our new garden soil out of the deal!

Starting Jicama Seeds

In our Mexican Garden this year we are going to make an attempt at growing Jicama. You may have seen it in the grocery store – a big, tan tuber with crunchy white flesh. (Yeah, I know that describes a lot of tubers.) Jicama is a vining plant that produces the edible tubers at the end of its growing season, which is typically 7-9 months. Obviously we are borderline as far as getting a crop here!

We got the seeds from Bountiful Gardens, and even though we aren’t sure when we’ll be ready to plant outdoors, I decided to get these seeds going. It’s going to be tight getting them to produce this year anyway without creating any further delay. If they get too big before the garden is ready, we’ll just have to put them in a pot for the time being.

Before starting, read the back of the seed packet! There’s all kinds of good information there! For instance, we learn that it is best to soak the seed overnight before planting and to plant the seeds 1 inch deep.

Here are the seeds soaking in a cup of warm water. I started with the water probably about 95-110 degrees. (Same temperature as for yeast when you are making bread!) It cools down as it sits, but no need to change the water.

The light stand is finally looking less barren! It has had a much longer break than usual this year. I also planted the seeds for the Thai Red Roselle (Edible Hibiscus) and for the Thunbergia (Black-Eyed Susan Vine).

Next week we will hopefully start some hanging basket tomatoes to hedge against not getting the garden planted in a timely fashion this year. In a couple more weeks, we should be ready to plant the bulk of the tomato and pepper seeds – IF it looks like we are likely to have the garden ready to plant by mid-May. They have been making good progress on the classroom area structure, despite the rain. However, I suspect it will be several more days before it is dry enough to even think about laying pavers.

Garden Plans for 2012: Mexican Garden

Another one of our theme gardens this year is the Mexican Garden. This garden is going to be a fun mix of more commonly recognized vegetables with some uncommon vegetables!

We relied heavily on Rosalind Creasy’s book, The Edible Mexican Garden, for inspiration in planning our Mexican Garden.

Starting from the left side, we of course had to put in several peppers. Since we had so many peppers last year, we didn’t want to go crazy. Still, we have 6 peppers, ranging from serrano to bell peppers. Then we have a few rows of a black bean that can be used as either a dry bean or a fresh shelling bean. With the amount of space allotted, we know that we won’t get tons of beans, but it should be enough to have fun growing them.

Of course, the herb most people associate with Mexican cooking is cilantro, because it is in salsa. Unfortunately, cilantro doesn’t like the heat here very much in the summer, so we are also growing culantro. Culantro is an herb that has a similar flavor to cilantro but much better heat tolerance. We’ll also have a Mexican Oregano plant.

Cantaloupe are also a native Mexican vegetable/fruit! We are reprising the ‘Tasty Bites’ melon from last year on a trellis, as well as giving a shot at growing jicama. Jicama is a tuber vegetable, but the plant is a huge vine. It needs a long growing season, so it will be fun to see if we get anything from it.

You might have noticed that we skipped the tomatoes in the Mexican Garden, in favor of 4 tomatillo plants. Supposedly tomatillos produce better if they have another tomatillo as a pollinator, so we decided to try a purple tomatillo (2 plants) and an large green tomatillo (2 plants).

The two zucchinis are a paler grey color, rather than a typical green or yellow on a summer squash. The ‘Ronde de Nice’ is actually a round zucchini.

All the way on the right side of the map, we have 2 plants of ‘Aztec Red’ Spinach. Don’t let the name fool you – this is not a spinach in the sense we normally use it. It is a native Mexican green called Huauzontle (or Huauzontli). It is in the same family as Lambs’ Quarter, a common weed, which is also edible. The young, tender leaves of the huauzontle are eaten, as well as the immature flower buds. This will be a fun one to experiment with on some recipes this summer!