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Garden Cleanup & Spring Planting

We have kicked off our planting season in the Demonstration Garden with work days the last two weeks. We went from a garden that was full of volunteer wheat and cheat to a garden that had the beginnings of our plans implemented for the season.

32929204433_3da4bdaab1As you can see, the weeds/grass and leftover plants from last year were having a field day. This picture actually looks better than it would have a day previously, as the Compost Committee graciously pulled the weeds and spread compost in Bed 4!

33742353865_00d3d30728Here’s the “After” shot from yesterday. We removed the old hops vines, most of the other dead plants and all the weeds. We added a whole bunch of compost to the beds that needed it, and got started with planting.

33742337345_7d221b99e1The Colonial Garden is probably the farthest ahead in the planting game, as the vast majority of the plants in this garden are spring/fall (cool season) veggies. We transplanted three types of lettuce that Thomas Jefferson had records of planting, as well as two heirloom cabbage varieties and an heirloom, vining pea. We also planted both parsnip and salsify seeds.

33613084431_28699f536cThe Accessible planters are largely planted already with spring crops. These planters will have a mixture of kale, chard, sprouting broccoli, spinach, lettuces, radishes, and peas for the spring. We will have a couple tomatoes later on, but again, lots of spring/fall crops.

33742361035_ea89ed1edfOne of the most interesting things in the early spring planting is this kale mix. It is called Kale Storm Mix, and we planted it in several of the containers. This is a multi-seed pellet, sometimes called a “fuseable.” They’ve been around the flower industry for a few years, but this is the first time I’ve seen them for veggies. The seed company took 3 kale varieties and mixed the seeds in a uniform ratio and put them into these larger “seed pellets.” The result is supposed to be an evenly mixed, visually attractive blend of kale. We’ll see how it turns out!

33357398180_178b3ba755The ‘Cascade’ Hops is also an interesting experience. Last year I was afraid it wasn’t going to do much for the longest time. Then it did finally take off and grow. This year it is already half way up the cage before April 1st! Yikes! Another fun factoid: hops shoots are edible like asparagus. We tried nibbling on them, and they do taste like asparagus at first. But then there is a really nasty bitter aftertaste. Ugh! There’s a reason hops are not grown for spring edible shoots!

This has been a busy week, because we also got all our tomato and pepper seeds started inside. I don’t have any pictures of the plants yet, but I’m sure you can go back into the blog archives if you want to get the idea!

And just in case you were curious, I’m not planning on planting my tomatoes any earlier than usual – at this point. It’s cold today, and there’s a lot of weather to come before it is tomato planting time!

Garden Work Day in April Weather

Yesterday, although it felt more like April rather than mid-May, we forged ahead with planting our vining vegetables anyway! I’m just tired of waiting on the weather’s pleasure, and the soil is marginally warm enough anyway.

The main things we had left to plant were the cucumbers, gourds, melon, and pumpkins on the trellises throughout the garden. Here you can see the spinach and mustard still growing well in the trellis area of the Taste of India Garden. Typically we plant on the outside of the trellis, but given the plant and trellis placement this year, we decided to plant the seeds between the drip lines and the edge of the trellis.

We also had the Prairie Star Annual flower trials to plant this week. The entry gardens, quiet garden, and some containers were planted with the flowers in the Prairie Star trial. We’ll be keeping an eye on them all summer long to see how they do.

 Since only 3 of the original strawberry plants survived, we planted a few more plants of two different varieties that I was able to find locally. We added 7 Ozark Beauty plants and 5 Quinalt plants to our mix. I hope we have better luck with these! The rest of the garden we will plant to some flowers or herbs or something else. We’ll wait and see!

Except for a few miscellaneous things, we are almost done with planting for the year. It will be fun to see how things grow!

 

Thinning Seedlings

I think that one of the least favorite parts of seed starting for everyone is the process of thinning seedlings. I hate it too! For that reason, I try very hard to only plant one seed per pot. I even plant extra pots “just in case” so that I don’t have to thin or transplant lots of seedlings. Of course, unless you are perfectly dexterous every time with tiny seeds, there are times when you end up with more seeds than you want in one spot.

If you have a couple seedlings in one pot, but on opposite sides, it isn’t the end of the world. They will usually be easy to divide later on if you want to. The hard part is when you have more than one seedling growing from essentially the same spot, like you can see here. When that happens, it is usually best and easier to just snip the two weaker seedlings off right at the soil level.

I KNOW that it is so tempting to just let them be. If you do that, you are ultimately compromising the ability of each individual plant to grow. If you just can’t bear to kill the other seedlings, then you can try to divide and transplant them. The key to this is to do it at this stage, when the seedlings are just starting to put on their first set of true leaves. They have large enough roots to handle it, but not so large that you will cause major damage when you separate the seedlings.

After thinning and a little bit of transplanting this afternoon, I have over 150 tomato seedlings growing in my office! Most of them are the heirlooms we’re going to try out this year, and I can already see differences in plant vigor as the seeds germinate.

So…I know it is hard, but if you have started seeds already, make sure you thin or transplant your extra seedlings soon! Can you believe that in only 2 weeks I will start moving these little guys outside to harden off?

First Plantings for 2014

After we got all the compost into the raised beds on Tuesday, we had a few things to get planted. Because of our garden plans this year, we just had a couple things to plant here and there.

First, we had ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes to plant in the MG Favorites Garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the planting. We also had a bundle of ‘Red Marble’ cippolini onion plants to go in the ground. They came in the mail yesterday, so we needed to get them planted.

The cippolinis are relatively small onions that are much flatter than normal onions. We chose them specifically for the Italian Garden, and then decided to plant the rest in the Salsa Garden, since we already had them coming. The plants for these onions were pretty small – smaller than I’ve seen before with other onion plants. I’m assuming it is because the end product is also smaller?

We also had some Lacinato Kale to plant in the Italian Garden and some ‘Parris Island Cos’ romaine lettuce for the Master Gardener Favorites Garden. These plants were started about a month ago, but I don’t think I ever got that on the blog.

We planted spinach and radishes in the MG Favorites Garden in an area that will be under the trellis later this spring. We also planted spinach in the ‘Taste of India’ Garden.

In the Italian Garden, we planted seeds of the endive/escarole mesclun and the ‘Italiko Rosso’ dandelion (red rib dandelion).

Hopefully by next week there will be growing things to photograph!

Saving Tomato Seeds

This fall, one of our Master Gardeners brought in a cluster of tiny, Peruvian cherry tomatoes they had grown from seeds they had been given. I decided to save the seeds to have for later. Here’s what I did.

First, you cut the tomatoes in half across the middle, and squeeze all the seeds and the locular gel out.

I typically add a few tablespoons of water as well. Then you cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm spot for 10-14 days. The reason for this step is that the seeds are encased in all that gel, and you need to get rid of it.

Unfortunately, I either neglected to take a picture (or have misplaced it) of the next step. This is the part where the top of the seeds are covered in really cool looking fuzzy fungus. If you don’t know that’s supposed to happen, you might freak out and think your seeds are ruined! It’s okay! The fungus is eating up the gel and also chowing down on any pathogenic bacteria or fungi that may have been hanging out in the fruit or on the seeds.

Then you scrape off the fungal goo from the top of the mixture. Next you rinse the seeds and strain out the water.

I used a coffee filter over a mesh screen that we had. You could also use a sieve of some sort.

Most of the gel is gone and the seeds are clean. From there, it is just a matter of spreading the seeds out and letting them dry for a few days. The seed should not feel damp to the touch when you bag it up. Make sure you label the package! Be sure you make sure you store the seeds in a cool, dry location.