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When choosing garden seeds, what information is most useful?

seedcatGood day, folks. I know you are veritably bristling with excitement over the upcoming gardening season, champing at the bit, so to speak. And, for the ‘old-timers’ out there, what I’m going to discuss today might seem old stuff, so you might as well go pour yourself a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps something stronger (hey, it’s been a really cold week here in the US – in Tampa, Florida, it was 36 degrees F at one point. The rest of us here in the northeast have had to sing praises when it hit positive numbers).

For the rest of you out there who are beginners or who have not been involved in vegetable gardening for very long, this, my little dear ones, is for YOU. (more…)

2014 – a year in review

Yoohoo, everybody!! Since today appears to be ‘International Gotta Review 2014 Day” for bloggers, I guess I have to woman up and work my way through the good, the bad and the did..not…work for 2014. Organization, I realize, is everything here, so we will go by topic sub-group so that for those readers who are only interested in one topic, just scroll down until you hit that. (more…)

So, whatcha got?

Good afternoon, little munchkins. Now that you’ve theoretically crawled out from underneath the holiday wrapping paper and all the cookies, I’m sure what is burning at your brains is this:

What is new in the seed catalogs for 2015?

Yes, my plump little gardening elves, the seed catalogs have been out for a while; I swear the first one to hit my mailbox arrived the week after Thanksgiving. They are everywhere and I think they are all sharing their mailing lists as well since I’ve received some catalogs from companies that I’ve never heard from before.

However, I, your sweet old Auntie, have spent some of MY holiday time (a dirty job, but someone must do it) in checking out what is new. Not that I immediately rush to whatever new thing the seed folks are serving up (I do have my favorites, such as Royal Burgundy beans), but it’s always good to check things out because, after all…you…never…know.

Here are a few things that caught my eye. Not that there are not literally hundreds of new and newly-rediscovered varieties out there but here are a few that rang my bell:

Territorial Seed (Oregon): These folks, ever since I started buying a big block of onion plants which always do very well, have become one of our favorite sources. They have some very interesting things which might (depending on your point of view) be worth trying out:

Summer Purple
Summer Purple Broccoli. This does not form a big head (which is not a disadvantage in my book since you have to cut it up anyway) and, with a 60-90 day growing period looks to be something people could try out for early spring gardening, fall gardening and even, if you live in a relatively mild early winter area, winter gardening.

Quinoa
Quinoa. Yes, believe it or not, if you are interested in giving growing quinoa a shot, you can get seed here. Even if you live in a short-season area, it might be worth it to grow just for the nutritious greens.

Pinetree Garden Seeds (Maine): This seed house has been a long time favorite with us. In the early days it was because we could get small, relatively cheap packets of seeds. Since then they have grown on us because we can also get mixtures of seeds (such as mixtures of lettuces, or mixtures of peppers and so on), which is actually a lot more fun to grow.

Chia
Chia. This will take 4 months, and here in the north, will require starting just like tomatoes and about the same time, but if you’d like to give it a shot, here you go.

Celery
Peppermint Stick Celery. This looks good – fast to germinate and worthwhile growing because to be frank, grocery store celery is one of the top items on the ‘dirty dozen’ list of fruits and veggies which have high concentrations of pesticide residues. Grow your own.

Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa)
The grand-daddy of the heritage seed saving organizations.

Sorghum
Sorghum. Want to grow your own pancake flour? Shoot – want to grow your own pancake flour AND pancake syrup. Here you go. Long season – strictly for the south but definitely worth trying.

Hustard
Heirloom Mustard – the description says it is not prickly, which makes it a huge improvement on anything I’ve found. If you want to try mustard greens – here you go.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Vermont)

Gunsho
Gunsho (looks like Chinese asparagus to me), also referred to as choi sum. Great for stir fries and harvested for the tender stems and just-opening flowers.

Radish
Sora Radishes – The best feature here is heat tolerance so you won’t lose your radishes as soon as the first hot weather in the spring shows up.

Tiren Tomato
Tiren San Marzano. Great San Marzano tomato shape and flavor but earlier which is always a benefit.

So, check out the seed sites; open up those seed catalogs and put together your order, pronto.
What am I excited about this year? Cover crops – in specific, tillage radishes (which are really selections of daicon radishes which grow HUGE roots, pull up all sorts of nutrients in the soil and then…DIE, releasing all of that goodness into the upper reaches of the soil. Great stuff.

End of the season?

novgarden2 And a good, good day to everyone, wherever you are. This has been a very busy week in the garden for the DH and your Aunty. Not for choice necessarily, but sometimes you have to get things done before the weather gets colder, or rainier or something else (yes, what is on that kale is SNOW – it was 27 degrees F this morning. I think we can safely say that winter is coming).

The big job that had to be taken care of was the arrival of the replacement fruit trees. Yes. Replacement. Not addition. Replacement, as in ‘Dear Sir, the fruit trees x.y.z etc. that I ordered from you did not grow. As a matter of fact, they died. Toes up. Kicked the bucket. Gone to meet their maker. Please send replacements. Respectfully…” It happens, and if you don’t know this first thing in the spring (which most people don’t because you are waiting, hopefully, that the damned things will leaf out and oh, joy!!

Only these ones did not. (more…)

Plants I can recommend: Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

chrysanth1 For years (shoot, for DECADES), your Aunty Toby has been trying to find a chrysanthemum which not only claimed to be hardy but also really WAS hardy and did not go ‘toes up’ after a tough winter.

A couple of years ago, I went to a local Cooperative Extension plant sale and frankly, because the price on the pot was ridiculously cheap, I picked up this thing that claimed it was a ‘hardy pink chrysanthemum.

Dang, if that was not the complete truth. Any chrysanthemum which can deal with a) my rather negligent style of gardening and b) our unbelieveably crazy winters (some winters it is very dry; some winters we get 100″ of snow; some winters it’s relatively warm – that is, no temperatures lower than about 5 degrees F – and then some winters where we get -20 degrees F a LOT), and still come back year after year and blossom gets the ‘Aunt Toby Siberian Seal of Approval’ for sure.

chrysanth3This is it. No question. It does seem to take a bit to get going in the spring and everything above the ground will be dead when the snow disappears. Just cut it back to about 1″ above the ground and it will take off. The flower buds start appearing mid- to late September (here at Chez Siberia, which is Zone 3), open up in early October and keep right on going until we get a massive killer frost. We have had several weeks of tremendous frosts down to 27 degrees F, but no big killer yet. The plants do spread a big but are not too crazy invasive. In full blossom, the plant will be about 18″-24″ high.

chrysanth2Another reason to recommend this plant is this: Because it blossoms so late – and can hold onto its blossoms through frosts, at this point, it’s the only thing in blossom here. All the wild plants in the fields surrounding us have been blasted by the frosts, so the bees have nothing to eat. Check out the photo at the top again – that plant is covered in bees. I counted at least three different sorts of bees on it today plus other winged insects. At this point in the year, if the weather has not closed down for the winter, the insects have nothing to eat, so this plant is a real boom to them.

I did a quick and dirty search on the internet on this and all sorts of nurseries carry this plant – this coming spring, please think seriously about adding it to your garden.

OK, so you’ve got a garden – what are you going to do with it?

tomatopasta1OK, so here we are, at what, for us here at Chez Siberia, is well on the way to the prime production time out there in the garden. And frankly, even though we’ve been doing this for (ahem) 35 years, we, too get the shakes when we look out there (and our garden is not that big, truly, folks) and see all that stuff that has somehow been produced through seeds, sun, and water.

It’s humbling, truly. (more…)

Helping out pollinator friends

If you read news accounts on various pesticides and their effects on pollinators and birds, you might feel we are doomed. Not so.
If you are interested in Monarch butterflies, you might also feel we are doomed.
Again. Not so.

There are a lot of plants out there which can provide nectar (food for adult insects) and leaves (food for the larval forms) for pollinators and the more we can make sure there are a lot of them around and that they are blooming at the appropriate times (that is, that there is stuff in bloom basically all spring, summer and early fall), then we are basically doing our job. (more…)

Cue the scary music

I am sure a lot of readers here have seen a photo that is out there on the ‘net’ showing a huge boulder with a tree growing right up through the center of it as an illustration of ‘paper beats rock’ or something like that.

But in the garden (or at least the gardens that most of us have), we are not dealing with a tree growing up through a rock. We are dealing with vegetables that, pound for pound are probably stronger than we are. I point out the photo at the top. That, my friends, is a tendril from a vine of (deh-duh) a spaghetti squash. I love spaghetti squash; I truly do. But the vines all by themselves are aggressive and voracious, running all over the place in a garden, climbing out, hitting the streets. so far, the only way we’ve been able to keep them under control is with a lawn mower.

Truly.

This year, because we put out electro-net fencing to keep out the bunnies (and we’ll see how well this works; I’m thinking the openings are too big for bunnies. They might work with a rather rotund woodchuck, but I’m thinking a bunny is going to have no issues with it, frankly), the spaghetti squash vines have made a break for it by attaching themselves to the electro-netting. And wrapping themselves around it with those tendrils. Look closely; those thing don’t just snag on the netting; they are wrapped around in corkscrew fashion. A few more of those and I anticipate seeing that fencing laying flat on the ground and waving a white flag. (more…)

Garden update: early harvests

Well, here we are in the early stages of our garden here at Chez Siberia. We’re now long past the early ‘spindly’ stages of things; now the garden is really shaping up. We’ve got a couple of odd empty spots where certain seeds did not come up or the rabbits have chewed things down. We have fencing up now so that should not be so much of an issue (though part of it is that the plants themselves are old enough now that they don’t taste so yummy to the rabbits and they’ve moved on to other, younger things outside the fencing).
(more…)

When do I transplant seedlings?

If you are just starting out growing plants from seeds on your own, you might have some questions about how quickly or soon to transplant to the next size pot.

The secret here, to be blunt, is to concentrate on what’s going on AT THE BOTTOM; not what is happening at the top. As long as the roots are kept properly hydrated, they will keep the top growing. On the other hand, if the plant is stuck in water all the time, there will not be the proper exchange of oxygen in the soil and the roots will rot and the plants will die.

Roots are everything, truly.

So. The trick is to frankly pick up the pot or six-pack or whatever you are growing in and as soon as you see little white roots starting to stick out of the drainage holes in the bottom (you do have drainage holes in the bottoms of your pots, right?), it is time to transplant to a size up. If you have a lot of time between when you transplant and when you will be transplanting the plant out into the garden or out into its final growing place such as a large planter, a ‘grow-bag’ or whatever, you might even consider moving the plant into a container a couple of sizes larger than what it is in right now.

For example: The tomato plant in the photo at the top was in a four-pack (I’m not really a fan of ‘six packs’ – I feel I get more time and a better root system with a larger original growing container). Four-packs have a seedling space that is a cube of 2.25″x2.25″x2.25″. I have taken all of my seedlings that are four-packs (or single seedling pots of the same dimensions) and moved them into 4″ pots. This will give them enough space that if the rest of the spring continues for us here at Chez Siberia in the same way it has so far this spring (read that: cold and rainy), I will be giving myself some extra space and time so that the plants will not end up with roots all tangle around one another at the bottom of the pots, or running around the outside edge, which is not good for the plants in terms of when you plant them in the ground.

If you have seedlings or plants that have been in the pots too long and have become ‘root-bound’ like that, the thing to do (and I know it’s a little bit scary but it’s necessary) is to take a knife (or your hands) and either slice the rootball at the bottom in several places, spreading it out in the hole and then covering it with dirt, or tearing it apart with your hands and doing the same thing. To be quite blunt, yes, you ARE damaging the root system. The plant will respond by growing my roots from the ‘hurt’ spots and the plant will end up stronger and healthier as a result. If you just take the root-bound plant out of the pot and chucking it in the hole, the tangled and intertwined roots will never untangle themselves and the plant will not be able to achieve it’s growth destiny as a result.

So, if you pick up your seedlings and start to see roots, transplant them into something slightly (or more than just slightly) larger, give it a good drink and keep it going. Don’t just leave it in the pot to become root-bound. If you feel you will not have enough pots, then use household items such as milk cartons, yoghurt or cottage cheese containers (with holes punched in them) and so on. They will hold up nicely in the meantime and get your plants the space that they need until the weather is more conducive to putting them into the ground.

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