Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SEED STARTING, THE SEASON'S FIRST LEAF CROPS

GARDEN JOURNAL: February 24, 2010.  
Started the following seeds last Saturday:
BLACK SEEDED SIMPSON lettuce
MARVEL OF FOUR SEASONS lettuce
WINTER DENSITY romaine lettuce
TENDERCROP early cabbage
PACKMAN broccoli
RED RUSSIAN kale
WINTERBOR kale

All of these varieties are well suited for early season cultivation in my Zone 6 New England garden. I've been growing Black Seeded Simpson since the early 1990's because it does so well in April and early May.   As you can see from the photo I planted
the seeds in 9 cell containers set in an 11" x 22" tray.  After covering the seeds with a 1/8" layer of seed starting medium and
watering them I covered the tray with a clear plastic dome to retain moisture.  I then put them on the bottom row of my plant
stand under a row of shop lites.  Lettuce, cabbage and kale seem to germinate better when exposed to light
right from the start.  It's been my experience that germination can happen within days.  If there is no light
when the seeds pop out of the soil they will become leggy very quickly and you will have to start over again.

Seeds planted four days ago are starting to emerge.
It happens this fast with leaf crops.  In a couple of
days I'll add some liquid nitrogen fertilizer to my
watering can to give the seedlings a boost.  I love
it.  This will never get old.  Of course, the show
is just getting started.  In the next few weeks, I
will plant hundreds of seeds.  There will be more
leaf crops, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and flowers.  All of these seeds will begin their lives under lights on my plant stand.  I will show you
how to build your own plant stand on my next
post.  Until then, start some seeds of your own.
All the best,
Greg

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

THE GROWING SEASON BEGINS

The 2010 vegetable gardening season is officially under way in my house.  First honors went to our
favorite member of the onion family, leeks.  Leeks purchased at the market are expensive.  A bundle of
three usually costs in excess of $3.00.  For the same price you can purchase a packet containing 350
seeds.  I like that kind of payback. 

The seeds were started in a 72 cell tray.  Two or three seeds  were
placed in each cell and covered with a 1/4" potting soil.  The tray was
watered and a clear plastic dome was placed over the tray to help keep the seeds moist.  I then placed the tray on a heat mat with a thin barrier
of cloth to help moderate the heat.  Optimum soil temperature is 75
degrees.  In about 10 days the young plants will begin to emerge.  I
will then pick the healthiest plant in each cell and cut the rest.

Leeks are relatively easy to grow.  In late May the seedlings will
be large enough to be transplanted to the garden and the weather will warm up enough to provide the
best conditions for planting.  I use a dibble to make a hole in the ground, pour in a teaspoon full of
organic fertilizer and drop the seedling in the hole.  I make holes every 6 inches in all directions.  From
then on it is just a matter of keeping the leek patch watered and weeded.  Like onions, leeks don't like
competition.  We begin to harvest leeks in late September and continue to harvest until the ground freezes.   Whatever leeks we don't use will overwinter and be harvested in the spring.

The variety that I planted is noted for it's ability to overwinter successfully.  It is called BANDIT and was purchased from Johnny's
Selected Seeds.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

FAVORITE SEED CATALOGS PART TWO

About this time last year someone was kind enough to give me a copy of "From the Cook's Garden",a cookbook compiled from recipes first published in The Cook's Garden Catalogue. I have to say that
I was a bit embarrassed that I had never heard of  The Cook's Garden Catalogue.  As soon as I got home
I went on line and ordered a copy.  What a pleasant surprise.  This catalog features many seeds from
Europe, especially France.  Varieties are chosen primarily for their culinary appeal.  I went on a seed
binge and ordered a dozen packets without reservation.  For the most part, I have not been disappointed.

Over the last several years, my wife and I have been experimenting with growing beans for drying.  Many
of the bean seeds we have planted have come from the Vermont Bean Seed Company from Randolf,
Wisconsin.  We have tried Vermont Cranberry, Black Coco, Dixie Speckled Butter Pea and Peregion.
The Peregion has become a favorite.  This year we are going to try Brown Dutch.

I'm not one to order plants from seed companies, but I had a very good experience ordering herb
seedlings from The Natural Gardening Company.  They also sell seeds.  However, they really get it
with regard to shipping tender seedlings across country.  I have never had product arrive in such
good shape as I did from these folks.   David Baldwin, the owner of The Natural Gardening Company
starts every catalog with a letter from him, sharing his philosophy and emphasizing his commitment to
quality products and service.  I don't purchase from this catalog as heavily as I do from Johnny's, but
I try to support what this company stands for.  One of the nice things about dealing with most seed
companies is that you are supporting a small business run by committed human beings. 

Three other seed companies are worthy of mention:  Park Seed, Jung Seeds and Plants and
Totally Tomatoes.  Park Seeds will occasionally spark my interest with a unique cucumber or
melon variety.  My wife has been known to order flower seeds from them as well.  It is also noteworthy
that Parks Seed website now contains helpful gardening tips.  In the past 3 years I have switched
from starting my own onion seeds to ordering plants from Jung Seeds and Plants.  Their prices are
competitive and the results have been fine.  Totally Tomatoes, yeah the name sort of gives them
away.  Actually, they also have a comprehensive collection of pepper seeds and a smattering of other
vegetables.  If you are a tomato lover, you should have this catalog.

I hope that you have found these comments helpful and wish you a very successful gardening year.  The
growing season starts this week, at least for me.  I will be starting leek seeds indoors, under the lights.
My next posts will cover this event and include information on how to build your own light stand.
Until next time, all the best:
Greg

Saturday, February 6, 2010

FAVORITE SEED CATALOGS PART ONE

One of my favorite gardening related activities is browsing through the many seed catalogs that
come my way every year right after the holidays. Johnny's Selected Seeds has been my "go to"
source for over twenty years. Rob Johnston and Janika Eckert, the founders of Johnny's are
expert seed developers. They have some AAS winners among the many varieties they have
introduced to the gardening community. Some of my favorites are Kabocha squash, Yankee
Bell pepper, Diva cucumbers and Racer pumpkins. Of all the catalogs I do receive Johnny's has
the best instructions about starting seeds, planting in the field and dealing with insects and
diseases. Johnny's is also 150 miles north of my garden. My experience has been if they can
grow it at Johnny's it will do just fine at my house.

For many years I resisted ordering from Burpee. After all, I was a "Johnny's" man. I have
to admit that the good folks at Burpee put out a pretty good catalog with great photos and
well written descriptions. In the last five years I've become a fan and order at least a half
dozen packets of seeds every year. I especially love many of the tomato varieties they offer. Two of my favorites are Tangerine orange tomato and Red Lightening tomato. Also, Burpee has
the best deal on 4" plastic plant labels, 50 for $4.75 and $3.95 for each additional package.
My one fault with the Burpee catalog is the lack of growing information accompanying each
section.

The West Coast counterpart to Johnny's is Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove,
Oregon. The information they provide about growing different vegetables is excellent.
Territorial's growning tips about onions made a huge difference in the size and overall
yield of last year's crop. In addition, I am a big fan of Territorial's Complete Fertilizer,
especially for growing root crops. They have lots of tomato and pepper varieties to choose
from and do a very good job with leaf crops.

New to me this year was a catalog from Abundant Life Seeds. They are now affiliated with
Territorial Seed Company which is probably why I ended up on their mailing list. This is
an interesting company dedicated to the mission of preserving older seed varieties and
offering Organic, Biodynamic and sustainably grown seed to the public. They suffered through
a fire which nearly wiped out thirty five years of hard work. The company is now on their
feet again and offering a catalog full of interesting varieties. I bring this up because the arrival
of this catalog has reunited me with one of my favorite heirloom lettuce varieties of all time,
Sanguine Ameloire. I used to purchase seeds from Territorial. All of a sudden, this variety
disappeared. Now I know why. I'm thrilled to be able to grow this variety once again and
wish all the best to the hard working folks at Abundant Life Seeds.

Monday, February 1, 2010

NEW YEAR'S DAY IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN


My first official gardening task of the New Year was to harvest the last of the Brussels Sprouts.Now in my fourth year of growing this tasty vegetable, I can't imagine a gardening season without them. Brussels Sprouts are easy to grow with few issues. The most annoying problem is cabbage worms. It seems ironic that the favorite snack of the cabbage worm is not cabbage,but brussels sprouts. I have used a spray in the past to control this pest. However, this year the infestation did not begin to occur until the end of October. I was able to pick them off by hand until the weather turned cold enough to put an end to their party.


Brussels sprouts are in the cabbage family so I treat them about the same. The major difference is that the seeds don't get started until May 1st. After six weeks the seedlings are ready for the garden. As with cabbage I always surround the young seedling with a cutworm collar made from recycled yogurt containers. Being a leaf crop brussels sprouts need regular feedingsof a nitrogen rich fertilizer. It is best to stake the plants as they get tall and lanky over the course of the summer.The best time to harvest brussels sprouts is in the late fall and early winter. A hard frost or two takes some of the bitterness out of the vegetable. If picked at just the right size, about one inch in diameter, brussels sprouts can be one of the garden's best treats. When it comes to vegetables fresh is best. In late fall and early winter brussels sprouts are the star of the show.


What first attracted me to brussels sprouts was the prospect of extending the harvest season into winter. I take pride in the fact that I was able to go out to my New England garden on a snowy New Year's Day and pick some fresh veggies to enjoy with my family.


Brussels sprouts are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. As I mentioned previously, we serve them at Thanksgiving as a side dish roasted in the oven and tossed with roasted pecans and dried cranberries. Roasting brings out a nutty quality in the sprouts. They pair well with pork in stir fries as well as in a simple saute with olive oil and garlic. We've eaten them raw, shredded in a salad with celery root and bulb fennel. They also freeze well. That's all for now.

All the best,

Greg