Blog Archives

Planting a Buckwheat Cover Crop

Since we harvested the rest of the garlic and shallots last week and we are not going to be planting our next crop until early August, we have a unique opportunity to grow a cover crop in our Demonstration Garden this year!

Cover crops are typically grown for a number of reasons: prevent soil erosion, increase soil nutrients, suppress weeds, improve soil organic matter content, and provide food for beneficial insects. They can also help with soil compaction & drainage, suppress diseases, and break insect cycles. With such an impressive list of benefits, you wonder why we haven’t done it before!

The challenge with cover crops is that they need a certain amount of time to grow, which can interfere with other things you want to grow. In our case, we had a large area that was otherwise going to be empty. Enter the buckwheat!

Buckwheat grows fast, tolerates drought, and can scavenge phosphorus from the soil. It is also excellent as a weed suppressor, and the flowers provide habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

The first step was getting the soil moistened in the areas where we wanted to plant the buckwheat. Except for rain, most of those areas hadn’t been watered in a couple weeks while we were drying down the garlic and shallots. As you might imagine, the soil was quite dry! We watered and worked up the soil to ensure even moisture. Then we scattered the buckwheat seed (about 1/4 lb per 100 sq. ft.) and raked it in.

This is the buckwheat seed. It is rather triangular (well, pyramidal) seed that almost seems like it has wings on the edges. It is actually related to rhubarb, and isn’t even a grain (like wheat), but rather a seed (from a nutritional standpoint). We should have some germination by next week or maybe even the end of the week.

Friday PhotoEssay

Another week, another cold snap. It looks like we may be in for that same weather pattern next week. UGH!

Here’s a little bit of spring cheer for you though:

I found this mini iris blooming and couldn’t resist picking one. When I went looking in response center cabinet for a small vase to use, I found this big martini glass. I have no idea what it was doing there, but I couldn’t resist using it for the vase!

Hmm…can you tell it’s been a while since we weeded last? Can you tell which is the shallot and which is the grass? I’ll give you a hint – wide and flat bright green leaves are one and the tubular blue-green leaves are the other!

There, that’s better! Now you can see the new growth coming from the center of the plant. It looks like some of the shoots are going to divide at least one more time.

Yes, this is the same lettuce from last week. It hasn’t grown a lot, but the new leaves are definitely another shade darker. There is a benefit to those random blasts of cold weather!

We are starting some of our basil varieties from seed this year rather than just buying the plants. I was supposed to plant them last week, but with our crazy weather I knew we weren’t going to be ready to put them outside until mid-May. Basil doesn’t grow quite as fast as tomatoes, but almost.

The radishes in the Root Vegetables garden are looking great, but these that we planted in the Kids’ Snack Garden look like they’ve been scorched. Not sure if it was sun or cold or wind, but the seed leaves are goners. Luckily it looks like the true leaves are going to be fine.

This is the third time I’ve tried to show you this picture. I was having trouble getting the bud in focus. This is a flower bud on one of the Red Beard Onions that we planted last fall. I keep expecting the flowers to burst forth, but I think the weather is holding things back.

Have a great weekend!


Hey, look what I found out in the garden this morning?

Those little, tiny pairs of kinda pointy leaves? Those are the parsnip seedlings! They have survived quite the weather fluctuation so far. (The bigger seedlings with the pink stems are the radishes.) Obviously, with our lovely weather, the radishes aren’t quite as big as we hoped they would be by this time. If we can just stay semi-warmish for a few days, those radishes should really take off! We will have to be careful when it gets around to harvest.

Friday PhotoEssay

Another Friday is here! There is no sign of germination where we planted seeds last week, so I’m beginning to get a little concerned. I haven’t done a great job of keeping the soil moist, but then it was covered with snow for part of the last week. I’m hoping that it is just the cold weather (keeping the soil cold) that is delaying germination of the typically quick-germinating radishes. It is so weird to have a late spring!

Here’s a quiz for you…how doe you tell if what you are seeing is grass or garlic or shallots? This picture isn’t too difficult to distinguish, but when the garlic or shallots are smaller it can be a real challenge! The garlic leaves usually feel thicker and waxier to me than grass, and of course, they smell like garlic too!

The rhubarb crown they planted a couple weeks ago is starting to slooooowly put on some growth. I could be wrong, but I think these leaves look like they got a little more cold than they would have preferred.

Speaking of cold, the lettuce and chard in our cold frame got a little more cold than they would have strictly preferred this week, since we left the cold frame completely open when it got so cold earlier this week. Somewhat surprisingly, they really don’t look that much the worse for wear!

This is the obligatory “before” picture. Rumor has it that we are going to be starting work on this shade garden this week. If nothing else, the compost has to move from the parking lot into the garden, since the farmers’ market is starting a week from tomorrow!

My light stand looks like a forest of plant labels right now! By next Friday I hope it will look like a forest of small tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants!

Have a great weekend!

Why We Research Before Planting Something New

Or why we set ourselves up for failure when trying to start new things from seed. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

This morning we did our major bunch of seed starting for the Demo Garden this year. That involved a bunch of tomato seeds, a few peppers, a couple herbs, and more varieties of eggplant than any reasonable person should plant. (That would be 7 different varieties!)

The first task….filling the pots with soil. We use a basic, soilless potting mix. I never spring for the more expensive “seed starting mixes,” although I do only use a mix that doesn’t already have fertilizer incorporated. I also recommend that you fill your pots with soil all the way to the brim and very gently pack it down. Don’t press hard, but you want to make sure you don’t have any air pockets in the pot. By filling them all the way to the top, you will have some space once the soil compacts during watering and you guarantee that all the pots have the same amount of soil. Why is that important? Because then they should all need watering at the same time, rather than some drying out faster than others.

The next step (if you didn’t do it already) is to write out your labels and stick them in the pots. We put one label in each pot, because things do get moved around a bit throughout the spring, and I hate having unknown plants. It also makes it really easy to make sure you are planting the right seeds in the right pot and that you have enough of each.

Then the fun part! Planting the seeds. I’m a stickler about one seed per pot (as long as the seeds are fairly easy to handle and only get one per pot). We usually only need one or two plants of each variety in the Demo Garden, so we plant extra pots rather than planting extra seeds in each pot. This year we only need one tomato plant of each variety, but we planted three. One of the extra is just in case germination is poor and the other extra is just in case something goes wrong when we transplant. Because a lot of our varieties aren’t available as plants locally, if we were to only plant one pot, we would be in trouble if something happened.

We don’t currently have a good watering can with a fine mist ability, so we have been using the spray attachment on the sink in the response center to thoroughly wet down our pots after seeding.

I now have six and a half flats of seeds under my lights in my office. And one 4-cell pack in the refrigerator.

Oh yeah, I was going to tell you about that.

You see, one of the things we were going to plant was this ‘Candy’ Stevia. Why wasn’t ordinary stevia good enough? Well, this variety is supposed to have 4″ long by 2″ wide leaves! Huge! So we’re getting ready to plant, and I turn the seed packet over to check the planting depth and read this:

Well then. Can you explain to me why the seeds need light to germinate, but then it is recommended to cover them with either loose mulch or put them in a refrigerator? Any why didn’t the catalog give me any warning about the crazy germination requirements?!? (It lists the “ease of germination” as “Moderate” and says that the seeds can be planted “anytime.” Yeah, right. Just it might be months before anything germinates. OR MAYBE TWO WHOLE WINTERS OF COLD!!! Couldn’t they put the seeds in the freezer for a year and sell me pre-cold treated seeds?

Anyway, we dutifully put the seeds on top of the soil and then gently watered them in. I put the cell pack in a plastic bag and then put it in the refrigerator. We’ll see how long it takes for me to get annoyed with it and throw it away.

And that is Why We Research Before Planting Something New.