Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Seed Order 2020

I've done it.  I've ordered my seeds.  And some of my supplies.  This is what I use any gift cards I get over Christmas for.  It offsets the cost, because gardening can be expensive.  I spend about $150 on seeds each year, $200+ on plants (annuals and some veggies/herbs), and an undetermined amount on supplies and infrastructure.  But hey, there are worse habits to "waste" money on.

Territorial has the BEST artwork
One thing I love about garden planning season is the technology we have available now.  Most seed company websites have an option to create an account where you can store a wish list and look back at previous orders.  I have accounts for Johnny's, Burpee, Territorial and Stark Bros. just to name a few.  I keep a detailed Pinterest board on what I want to try and what I want to repeat.  I keep Amazon lists of supplies I buy each year, and also new products I don't want to lose track of in case I might want to try them later.  And lastly, I keep a detailed Excel spreadsheet of my layout and my shopping lists.  I can look back over past years and see what I spent and where I bought things.  I can prioritize my purchases to fit them into my budget.  And I can also add up the cost of a new thought and make a decision as to whether or not it is worth the cash layout.

  I also use the spreadsheets to design my layout and keep notes as to planting dates, yields and supports required.  I've learned to keep careful notes on what height a given variety of peas might get to.  I save these layouts from year to year, and I start a new one each summer late in the season when I know what errors I've made, what I'm missing that I didn't grow, and what I planted too much of or too early/late.  I start thinking about what I would have done differently.  It is also useful for tracking crop rotation from year to year.

I always try to do a little something different each year.  Try some new varieties.  Grow something I haven't grown in awhile.  Try something brand new that I've never grown before.  Changing it up is what keeps things interesting.  I make a few goals, and see what happens.

Pole Beans 2012
For one thing, this year I am going to go back to pole beans.  I love the idea of pole beans because you can stand up while you're picking them, and that is so much better than crouching down.  But overall I prefer the bush varieties Blue Lake, Purple Queen and Gold Mine.  This year I am trying two new colored pole varieties, Carminat and Monte Gusto.   Not only can I stand up while picking, but they are yellow and purple which makes FINDING the beans so much easier.  They are perfect varieties for the old and myopic.


Monte Gusto
And I am also trying a new Bush variety.  Last year I added Jade to my list of veggies and they both outgrew and out produced the Blue Lake.  This year I am stepping it up one more notch and trying Jade II.

Jade II
Sweet corn is a little more complicated.  I know I've said before to slap me if I ever consider growing sweet corn or melons because so many people can do it so much better, and all I have to do is go down to the farmstand and get what I want.  But in 2018 the farmstands failed on taste so last year I grew some of my favorite super sweet Gotta Have It corn with good results.  I'm trying again.

Gotta Have It
But I also am going heed another great gardening concept to not put all of my eggs in one basket.  I want to try a second variety of sweet corn at the same time.  This is where things get complicated.  With the modern super sweet varieties you can't just grow two different kinds of sweet corn without careful choice.  It matters what two varieties you expect to co-habitat because if super-sweet varieties cross pollinate with other types of corn, the quality of both is reduced.  And I'm not just talking about the hybridized saved seeds.  I'm talking first-generation-what-you-are-going-to-eat-this-year problems.  So you have to learn about super sweet varieties.  Gotta Have it is an (sh2) variety and you have to isolate it away from (se) and (su).  So I found SS3778R which is also an (sh2).  

This will be the second year I have seriously tried to grow cauliflower.  Last year was a success and I learned a lot even if it seemed like the longest growing experiment of my life, beginning the fist of March with no serious results until early August.  That is DAILY attention to a plant for over 150 days in a row.  And then you get ONE veggie from it.

Flame Star
Honestly I never really like cauliflower all that much until I grew it.  My husband loves to have it ready in the fridge for a snack.  I didn't mind eating it if it were mixed in with some broccoli and perhaps smothered with cheese.  But growing several varieties really made me appreciate the subtle differences in the taste.  Now I am a cauliflower fan.  The yellow variety Flame Star was our favorite for its mild, sweet taste and attractive color.  It made the regular white varieties taste stronger and more challenging by comparison.  I will try Snow Crown again from old leftover seeds because it was the white variety that did the best in my growing conditions. Because we are both intrigued by veggies that are not the same color as what you get in the store I am trying Graffiti as well.

That brings us to potatoes.  I've grown a lot of potatoes.  I've grown them in the ground, I've grown them in raised beds, I've grown them in containers.  I've had overall good results with some shortfalls.
When all is said and done I prefer to grow them in containers.  In 2017 I grew them in Sterlite tubs.  I have a lot of these tubs because they are inexpensive and useful.  They come with lids if you need, and you can stack them neatly to store.  But they aren't so good for potatoes.

Now those potatoes in tubs look quite nice.  But they weren't.  The plants were very healthy, but not only was the overall yield the lowest I've had, the taste was just... off.  None of the potatoes were actually green which would suggest that they were not covered deeply enough, but they did have a faint soapy taste indicative of a high concentration of glycoalkaloids (natural toxins produced by the nightshade family).  It wasn't enough to make you sick, but it was enough to make me glad that I didn't have a lot of them.  Why is this?  The only thing I can think of is that the light colored plastic allowed too much sun in to the roots from all sides.  So this year I am going to try the popular method of grow bags.  You can go broke on grow bags.  But I found some on Amazon that are at the right price point.  If this works out well and the inexpensive bags don't hold up, I can spend more in the future.

One variety I am going to try is the Dark Red Norland  I've grown the Norland variety many times with good results.  Last year I had some very dark red ones that I purchased at the grocery store.  When they got too sprouty, I planted the last of them in the garden, late, probably in July, and I got great results.  The tubers were beautiful which, when you are spending too much money to grow something you could buy much more cheaply, is a very important factor.

So that's my plan.  I'm counting the weeks until I can put it into action.  It will only be five more weeks until I start the cauliflower seeds.  And then I will be counting the weeks until harvest.
Happy Planning!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas

Each year I look forward to decorating for Christmas for months and months.  This year was no exception, but when it got right down to it I felt really lazy about it.  Mostly because I hadn't come up with any new ideas so everything was just a repeat of examples of previous years.  It's kind of like gardening.  The fun part is try new varieties or new methods.  It takes creativity to get moving.
So I put up two trees to compensate for my lack of ambition. 

Don't get me wrong.  Every room got a touch of Christmas spirit.

Even the bathroom

Some of my repeat arrangements are my very favorite.
Grater luminaries and cow horns for stuffing Korv sausage, a favorite Christmas dish, are high on the list. They are in the kitchen where I can enjoy them all evening.

The single new idea I had was this crate full of old seltzer bottles.

The only new decorations I bought were handmade push pin ornaments.
They went on my larger all red tree.

These Victorian inspired crafts were popular from the 50s thru the 70s.

You could purchase kits at craft stores, 
or assemble your own from costume jewelry and fancy pins.

A family friend used to make them and we had a few on our tree.

You can still find vintage examples on eBay or Etsy.
But few of them are as nice as these from Orna Mentz in Virginia.  
They come on two sizes (2.5" and 3") and many color pallets.
Link to the website here:  Orna Mentz

I can't believe that the seed catalogs are already coming in the mail.  They used to be held at the post office until January 2nd.  This year I got my first one the day after Thanksgiving and I have at least half a dozen waiting to be studied.  I'm sure they realize that people overspend on seeds in the winter when we are cooped up indoors and longing to be outside in the soil.  All in good time.  Last year was a long year, beginning in March and ending in November.  
This year I am enjoying my winter downtime.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  
Seed season will be here before you know it.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

How BIG a Problem Are Our Oak Leaves?

I don't know... you tell me.

This might have been the last weekend for dealing with leaves.  They are no longer knee deep in the neighbor's lawn, just little deposits of them in corners.  All of the drains are clear and we are ready for winter.  Of course we will have to blow and chop at least once more in the spring, and hand pick them out from under shrubs and rocks.  But I think we are at last ready for winter.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Autumn leaves

October is a long, slow wind-down into winter.  Even after the garden is done, there is a lot to do.  Dealing with leaves is one of them.  We have two gas powered blowers, and the neighbor has one, and we combine efforts to blow his oak leaves out of our landscaping and back to the edge of his woods.  Leaf season takes a long time.  We start the first weekend in October with the soft and easy apple, ash and poplar, and continue cleaning every weekend through the brilliant maples, and lindens until the snow flies on the tough, leathery oak leaves.  In fact, last year we had snow in November, and were back to blowing oak leaves in December during a thaw.

We are surrounded on all sides by woodlands, and the leaves lay thick on the lawns besides gathering in the corners of landscape beds.  Since we mulch most of them into the lawn, or shred them in the general direction of the east woods the lawn mower stays busy until we decide there will be no more nice days in which to scrape and wash it to store for the winter. In the spring we will have to blow one more time and then hand pick the crevices.  I've chopped, bagged and set aside a couple of large bags to use as mulch on the raised beds next spring.

In years past I have mulched heavily with chopped leaves
Besides keeping the walks and beds cleared of leaves, I've gradually removed all of the annuals as they decline.  I hate to remove fresh flowers out from under the bees, but by this time we've had four frosts, the last one being a killing frost, and there was nothing left undamaged.

I try to time things so I pull them the weekend before they are damaged by frost.
The impatiens in the front landscape came out while they were still beautiful,
but a few days later they would have looked like this
I've collected seeds from the nasturtiums, milkweed and Indian blanket flowers.

 You can scrape most of the seeds out of a milkweed pod without disturbing the fluff.  Any remaining fluff with seeds can be placed in a paper bag with some coins and shaken until the seeds detach and fall to the bottom. Then just let the fluff loose into the wind and pour out the seeds.

I've dug and stored the dahlias and geraniums.  I still have to mulch some more tender perennials to blanket them from the cold, plant some daffodils, and spread the milkyspore.

Geraniums can be stored bare-root in a cool, dark place.
We are going to get the earlier cauliflowers before winter.  There are several heads forming, about the size of a fist now.

The two largest cauliflower heads

The Dirt Locker is almost full.
That's a lot of used soil that could have been wasted
The yard waste compost pile has been turned once and is beginning to break down.
 As autumn leaves and winter settles in, there are plenty of outdoor chores to be done.  Of course, if we were to get a foot of snow that didn't melt until spring, the garden would be ready.  But I like going out and puttering around on nice weekends.  I just came back in from doing a blustery day check.  I had to pin down the lettuce cover, replace clothes pins on the cauliflower cover and fasten down the lid on the dirt locker.

The leaves may have all been tidy and mulched yesterday, but there are plenty more today

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hits and Misses

Now that the gardening season is good and over (except for cauliflowers and carrots) it would be a good time for a season re-cap.  As with all years, there were highs and lows.  April was typical, but the first two or three weeks in May were dismal.  Not wet, but overcast and cool day in day out.  Then the second half of May was sunnier but we had several downpours that washed delicate seedlings away completely.

So the start of the season was delayed.  The soil didn't warm up.  There was no sun for the things that we did get started in April.  The peas and cauliflower started on time, but were late to harvest.  The cucumbers and other cucurbits took a long, long time to germinate.  But then the rest of the summer was warm and fairly sunny with an average amount of rain although the ground stayed very wet for a long time.

So here is a list of my notable hits and misses.

Hit: Penelope Peas - A great variety.  Grew just the right height for my expandable pea trellis on sturdy vines.  Produced long, full pods. This is the second year for this variety and it will now be my standard replacing Maestro.

Penelope Peas
Miss: Easy Peasy - A self supporting variety.  This means that they are more compact plants that have more tendrils that they use to mass themselves.  But what you get is one long floppy windrow.  The peas were OK.  The plants were a pain.

Two separate rows of Easy Peasy Peas
Miss: Not putting the Garden Sweet peas on a tall trellis.  This variety was supposed to grow 28" to 32" but instead outgrew the standard 37" pea trellis by at least two feet.  Then one day they just flopped over.  I wasted a lot of peas that I just couldn't get to. This variety is supposed to be extra sweet.  They did extremely well for me.  Next year I am going to try them on the double stacked trellis to see if they are really as good as I think they are.

Garden Sweet Peas
Hit:  Lettuce - it was a good year for lettuce.  I was very diligent about my succession planting.  My hope was to extend the season into July.  But even though I had fresh young plants, they went bitter in the heat the first week of July.

July Lettuce
Hit: Vitaverde and Flame Star Cauliflower - I've grown a few cauliflower and broccoli plants in the past but this was the first year I started them from seed and planted a large enough quantity to freeze some.  I used Johnny's Seeds because their website breaks down the best climates and growing conditions for each variety.  I chose Bishop, Snow Crown, Flame Star (Orange) and Vitaverde (Green).  I also grew four Diplomat broccoli.  All of the varieties did well despite being weeks late to maturity.  Our favorite was the Flame Star.  I started the seeds the first of March, so it was a long haul.  I seeded the fall crop July 15th and just set them out the past two weeks.  I'm looking forward to trying them again next year.

Cauliflower is what I call a long term commitment crop if you start from seeds the first of March but you would think you would get the best results carefully choosing your variety and being able to plant in April, a full month before the nurseries in my area put out vegetable plants.   A friend of ours delivered a TEN POUND cauliflower head to our door.  When I asked him what variety it was he shrugged.  "I don't know.  I got the plants from Troyer's and the tag just said 'Cauliflower."

Some people have all the luck.

Flame Star Cauliflower
Miss: Not starting Cucumbers in the cold frame earlier - Highly stressful.  I direct seeded towards the end of May and over-seeded twice more and thought I would never get a plant.  Three weeks later I started some in the cold frame and I was in business.  It's not usual to have to use the cold frame in JUNE.  But you gotta do what you gotta do.  The big problem was the rain we got in May.  Every time I planted, we would get a heavy rain that would bury the seeds too deeply.  And then our clay soil would harden over and the seeds were trapped.  Each time I tried to fluff them back out to the proper depth, and I did get some plants from the May seeding.

A Lone Survivor
Hit / Miss: Sweet Corn - Yes I had a nice healthy crop.  Yes the ears were as tasty as I expected.  No, the yield was not very good.  Next year I am going to plant them differently and try a second variety simultaneously.

Gotta Have It Sweet Corn
Miss: Pumpkins - like everything else this year they are late.  It seemed to take forever for female flowers to even appear.  I have a few nice looking but smallish pumpkins for my efforts.  The Connecticut Field Pumpkins that I've had success with in the past never set a single fruit.

My entire pumpkin harvest
Miss: Cantaloupe - in New York just isn't easy to grow melons out in the open.  This year they were even later than usual.  I've gotten a few nice melons.  Fresh, sweet, guaranteed chemical free.  But the crop is a waste of space and effort.

Beautiful, healthy cantaloupe vines
Hits: Tomatoes in containers - I think next year I am only going to use containers for growing tomatoes.  I can start with fresh potting mix eliminating soil borne disease.  I can easily control the water.  I am going to try making better use of the fence to espalier the plants for support.

Lenny and Gracie's Yellow Kentucky Heirloom
Miss: Eggplants - they were slow to grow and then the flea beetles took over them.  Somewhere this year I read on the Old Farmer's Almanac that Nasturtiums attract flea beetles.  This had never occurred to me because the flea beetles don't actually eat the Nasturtiums - not at least when there is an Eggplant to be had.  This would have been good to know - a few YEARS ago.

the invisible Eggplant is in the frame surrounded by Nasturtiums
Hit/Miss: Carrots - My first couple of seedings were washed away.. or so I thought.  In the end I got plenty of good usable carrots, but the center of the containers where the washed-out seeds collected and eventually germinated were very crowded and impossible to thin properly.  I tried Scarlet Nantes for the first time and preferred them over the Burpee A1 Hybrid that I've been using for several years.

A mixture of A1 and Nantes
Hit: Zucchini - I've learned not to be in a big hurry for zucchini.  I direct seeded with old seeds almost as an after thought in early June and got two plants that produced very well, and stayed healthy until mid-September.

Dunja Zucchini 
Miss: Potatoes - these plants started out great but never flowered and produced poorly.  I used tubers from a local nursery, Norland and Kennebec.  I actually had better luck with a few deep red store bought potatoes that went all sprouty on me in the kitchen.  Next year I am going to choose my varieties a little differently and go back to container growing.

Hit: Bush Beans - This year I grew my old standby Blue Lake, but I also tried Jade for the first time and they were awesome!  The second planting of the Blue Lake I even used seeds saved from last year's amazing crop and they did well also.

Jade Bush Beans
So that's it in a nutshell.  When I talk to other local gardeners we all agree that 2019 was a challenging year.  The biggest part being the miserable May, but all in all I can't complain about the weather.  My housework suffered awfully because we had nice weather every weekend.  The only rainy Sunday I remember was over Labor Day weekend.  And of course I can't do housework on a Sunday!  We had a major landscaping project that isn't completely finished yet but filled a lot of weekends with heavy work.  My cooking also suffered.  When you are laboring outside all day its tough to form a plan for supper other than "do you want me to order pizza or Chinese take-out?"

Pests were manageable.  The Japanese Beetles were comparatively awful which reminds me that I need to spend some time this weekend spreading Milky Spore.  I saw ONE cucumber beetle, a few stink bugs but didn't have trouble from those.  The flea beetles were AWFUL.  I haven't figured out how to fight them yet.  Cabbage Loopers have been a problem with the fall crop. The early crop they left alone completely.  I'll have to begin locking them out early this year so I don't develop a successful breeding program.

Once again I've gained experience, developed some new ideas and I'm already looking forward to next year.  But for now, I want to stay indoors, relax a little and just THINK about what I want to plant.