Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Seedling Progress

The weather has been variable and it is chilly and breezy, more like March than late April weather. It has also been quite dry but still cloudy, and starting the garden is going to be difficult until the pump man re-installs the foot valves removed for the winter. I have not done anything in the garden yet except visit a few times, but I need to get going really, really soon.

As an example, the kales above are just about ready to be set out in the garden. I will have a single brassica row for the kale, broccoli, collards, and cabbages. Putting them in one row will allow me to cover them with row cover on hoops to keep the flea beetles and cabbage caterpillars at bay. From left: Red Ursa, Nash's Green, and Nero di Toscana.

Most of the broccolis are also ready to go. From left: Spigariello liscia, Blue Wind, and Atlantis. I am particularly impressed by the size and vigor of Atlantis and have high hopes for it.

The cabbages are ready as well. Clockwise from upper left: Golden Acre cabbage, Flash collards, Green Wave mustard, and Minuet Napa cabbage. The Green Wave mustard is getting impatient and starting to bolt. I may just re-seed it in place. The Minuet cabbage seedlings, new this year,  look a little strange for a Napa. The leaves are serrated on the edge and a bit fuzzy. I may start some Soloist as a backup.

The kohlrabis are doing well and are ready to go. These will get planted in the raised beds. Again, I have to plan the bed assignments so I can group plants that need covering together. Flea beetles are a big menace but the caterpillars seem less likely to attack these smaller plants. Top row is Azur Star and the bottom row is Winner.

Lettuces are also ready. Clockwise from upper left: Green Ice, Red Sails, and Buttercrunch, The fourth flat has escarole in the top row and endive in the bottom. I decided I was planting too may of them and didn't use them all before they bolted. So this year, three of each to start. The three lettuces above will go into my City Picker self-watering container on the deck, for easy harvesting without driving to the garden. I have also started seeds for Midnight Ruffles, Winter Density Romaine, and Webb's Wonderful crisphead which will go into my raised beds at the community garden.

I have shown the good and the bad, so now for the ugly. Above are pictured my successes with the solanums this year. The peppers clockwise from upper left: Revolution, Jimmy Nardello, Hungarian Paprika, and Lemon Drop. The sole tomato flat is Juliet. The rest of my tomatoes and peppers either failed to emerge (even after pre-sprouting) or I killed them by failing to notice a flat or two under the humidity dome had dried out. Just takes one oversight to wipe out weeks of effort.

I am happy with what I do have. Revolution and Jimmy Nardello are must have peppers for me. And how can I not be happy that I managed to sprout and grow those beautiful Lemon Drop plants after swearing off baccatam peppers. The best of those will go in containers to be brought inside for the winter to see if I can get some to ripen. And I have three (maybe four) Hungarian Paprika plants to play with again. Carmen completely failed to germinate from fresh seed, so that is puzzling and disappointing, but I may be able to buy them locally. The Super Shepherd peppers germinated but I managed to let their flat dry out and kill them. If I can find Carmen I will just substitute them for the Super Shepherd, which were just an experiment.

The tomato situation is a somewhat bigger disaster, since none of the tomatoes I was planning to grow are available locally. I did push some new seeds into the cells in the flats and some of them are starting to emerge now, so I may recover partially. After all, it is still 5 weeks or more to setting out.The Chinese gentleman in our community garden direct seeds his tomato plants and they eventually catch up with everyone's transplants. So not all is lost.

Finally, just to add additional pressure to get the garden ready, my onion plants arrived from Dixondale Farms last week and are being kept cool in the basement. These are Copra yellow storage onions and Red Wing red storage onion. They are huge and beautiful, better than anything I can grow. The one disadvantage is they are dormant, which makes it possible to store and ship them. I have found it takes up to a month before they break dormancy and resume growth. I suspect a well grown onion start might compete, being actively growing when it is set out in the garden. Anyway, the race is on to get these in the garden since day length is what it is all about, and how much foliage they can add before the summer solstice starts to shorten days up here in the northern latitudes.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Tiptoes In

I took a photograph of my Meyer lemon tree in January and noted it lacked blossoms, which it produces in abundance each spring. Well, the tree now has blossoms, so it must finally be spring. The sun is definitely stronger but it is still chilly and windy outside. On Sunday I stopped at the garden while doing a shopping excursion. It may be spring but the garden looks like tundra.

The only green is from the weeds that overwintered. The soil is still a bit boggy and not really ready to work. And there is more rain in the forecast, so no need to rush things.

There is a bit of green showing in my own garden plot. The garlic looks healthy and just needs a shot of nitrogen to get it really going.

Inside it is warm and the seedlings are doing well under the grow lights. The lettuces, broccoli and cabbages are sown and have germinated. While small now, they are weeks away from weather where it would be safe to plant them outside, so  these are on schedule. A couple of years ago I was wooed by an unseasonably mild spring and transplanted early, only to be set back severely by a single hard freeze.

The peppers this year are doing very well. The technique of pre-sprouting with a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag worked really well and all peppers have germinated adequately, and most of the sprouted seeds have emerged from the flats in which they were transplanted.

The tomatoes, however, are a mixed bag and I am not real happy. Usually I have much better luck with tomatoes. I tried the same pre-sprouting technique used for the peppers with the tomatoes. I was really surprised with how long some varieties took to sprout. Currently I am still waiting for Sunkist, Black Beauty, and Jaune Flamme to sprout after two weeks.. I sprinkled a few more seeds on the paper towels in case the original seeds are DOA. These are three varieties I can not buy locally so if they do not sprout soon I will not be growing them this year.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Seed Starting Season

Here in Massachusetts zone 5b, the gardening season has begun. Most of the brassicas have sprouted and are tucked snugly under the grow lights. The pepper seeds were placed in damp paper towels inside plastic bags on top of the grow lamp, where a warm  environment is maintained 16 hours a a day, and have started to germinate.

Outside, the picture is a bit different. We had a quick moving storm come through which gave us an inch of wet snow and some wind, but the sun is now out. This will all melt quickly.

This cardinal arrived on its way north and is not bothered in the least by a quick spring snowstorm. And fortunately, no power outages.

The pepper seeds have been on top of the grow lamps covered with a kitchen towel since March 27 and are starting to germinate. First to germinate were Revolution, Carmen, and Super Shepherd.


These germinated Super Shepherd seeds were placed in 6-cell flats and are now kept on the heat mat until they emerge from the starting mix.

The onions and shallots have received their second haircut and the trimmings are destined for omelets and other culinary uses. The expensive Takrima leek seeds finally emerged after a month and received their first trim along with the onions. I’m happy I will not have to buy leek seedlings after all.

Sunday I sowed nine varieties of tomato seeds, using the same technique I used with the pepper seeds. They are now on top of a grow lamp and will hopefully start to germinate within a week’s time. The plan is to get six of each started, or 54 tomato plants. That is much more than I have space for, but I will pot them up into 4 inch pots and then select the best for myself. The rest will be shared with friends.

Next up will be lettuces and chard. The lettuces will mostly go into self-watering planter on the deck where they are easily accessed without a drive to the garden. Then I have to get the garden beds cleaned up and figure out where I am going to put all of these plants. Hopefully we don’t fall into a pattern of stormy Sundays because that is the only day I have free until late April.

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