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Archive for March, 2012

Aunt Ruby's German Green, Sundrop Cherry, Purple Russian, Green Zebra, & Speckled Roman Tomatoes: just part of last season's harvest.

My three favorite days of the year are:

  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Christmas
  3. The day we eat the first tomato straight off the vine in the garden

This weekend is when the journey to #3 begins!  #3 is the day when all of your hard work pays off, and you suddenly understand what all this gardening nonsense is all about.

Garden tomatoes are absolutely delicious–they will make you never want to eat store bought again. (For a great post about just this subject, check out: $25 a pound for tomatoes — bargain or foolishness? | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat (also some good tips there about critters in the garden)).

Keep in mind that each tomato plant will need about 4 square feet of space in your garden.  (Actually a tomato plant needs a circle 2 feet in diameter, the area of which is Pi square feet.  Coincidence that a pizza pie is covered with tomato sauce?)

While it’s tempting to plant 10 different varieties (which I do), first figure out how much space you actually have to plant your tomatoes when you move them into the garden, then decide what to plant.  I usually suggest getting a variety of types of tomatoes:

  • Globe tomatoes:  The all-purpose tomato.  These are usually 3-5 inches in diameter.  Can be diced or cut into wedges for salads, or sliced for sandwiches.
  • Beefsteak tomatoes:  Bigger varieties.  These are perfect if you want a big fat slice to top your burger.
  • Plum tomatoes: Great for everything from salads to salsas to sauces.
  • Cherry and grape tomatoes:  Perfect for salads.  They are also a fantastic snack when you are out there weeding.  Just pluck straight off the vine and pop them into your mouth.

If you haven’t read my post on planning your garden, start there, then go plant those tomato seeds!

Additional Resources:
Lesson #3: The Plan
Lesson #4: Planting the Seed
$25 a pound for tomatoes — bargain or foolishness? | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

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If you have never bought vegetable seeds before, it can be overwhelming.  You have decided what you want to plant, and you head to the nursery with list in hand, but when you get there, you are confronted by gigantic racks with hundreds of seed packets.  These are usually in alphabetical order, which makes it pretty easy to find the veggie you want, but when you get to the T’s, you discover they have 50 varieties of tomatoes, packaged by 8 different seed companies…  It’s a lot.

I have recommended Botanical Interests for new gardeners because the seed packages contain all of the information you need to get your seeds started.  However, if you are going to the nursery as a rookie gardener, these packages can seem like they are written in a foreign language (oh, wait, that actually is Latin on there!)

Here are some quick little diagrams to help you decipher the mystery…

Seed Packet Front

Front of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

Seed Packet Back

Back of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

I used a tomato seed packet for this particular example, since tomatoes are so popular for home gardening (not to mention delicious!)  Different vegetables will have different info, for example, “indeterminate” applies to tomatoes that produce fruit for a long period of time, but that doesn’t apply to all veggies.  The important things to note for planting all seeds, though, are on the bottom half of the back:

  • How deep to plant seeds.
  • How far apart to plant them.  This is actually under the “Thinning” section on these packets, NOT the “Seed Spacing” section.  I suggest planting your seeds at this distance from the get-go, then there is no thinning later!
  • When and where–how long before the average last frost, and do you start these seeds indoors or out?  (This section will also include any odd germination quirks–if a seed likes to be cold to germinate, or if you should soak it in water for a period before planting.)

Important Note!  When you get home, don’t just rip into these packages–make sure you open them carefully, because the inside is also filled with useful info, a drawing of the sprout (in case you forget to mark your seedlings), harvesting details, further cooking tips, and sometimes even some trivia about the veg.

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Horseradish (yum)

Fresh Horseradish

This weekend I was turning over my beds (see Lesson 2: Digging in the Dirt), and I found, as I do every time this year, my returning friend (enemy) the horseradish plant.  Hubby and I planted Horsey before he was my husband.  So yes, the plant is old enough to have a nickname.  Sadly.  Every year when we get out to work on the garden, we swear loudly at Horsey.  Why the *%#$ are you still here, Horsey??  Horsey must feel very unloved.  But really?  He is back again?  How does he do it?  I have seriously been trying to kill this guy for 12+ years, and I never really have to try to kill plants.  I am pretty good at it naturally.

I don’t actually recommend planting horseradish, because you will never ever ever get rid of it.  I supposed if you are a huge fan and really want to try, you could try to put it in a container, just to keep the madness in check.  But if you already have some in your garden, you might as well benefit from it.  This year I decided to put Horsey to good use.  I dug out as much of him as I could get (see the photo), and I made “prepared horseradish”.

Here’s how:

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Chives are one of those things that are just a glory to have in the garden.  They taste fresh, green, herbaceous, and I put them on everything!  Today I started cleaning out my beds and discovered the chives already going full force!  Yay, spring!  Oregano is another herb that is fantastic fresh from the garden.  Last year I also borrowed a dehydrator and dried a TON of oregano–it puts the stuff from the grocery store, even the stuff from Savory Spice Shop completely to shame (and I LOVE Savory–no offense, guys).

However, chives and oregano are bullies.  They are the kind of plants that just muscle their way in to any part of the garden they want, and they stay there (until I come along).  Oregano will send roots out several feet, and little sprouts will come up all along the length of the root.  And a small 4 inch pot of chives can grow to a patch a foot in diameter in just a year or two–not to mention it reseeds itself like crazy if you aren’t careful.

For this reason, I highly recommend planting these guys in containers, rather than in your garden.  They are hearty enough to last in a pot, and they can’t choke out other plants if they don’t have any to compete with!  My chives and oregano, though, are not in containers–they are in a bed–so something had to be done.  Armed with my spade and a bunch of old plant containers, I went to battle against these meanies, and what I have left is much smaller versions of the plants in my garden, with a bunch of transplants ready for new homes (read this: if you live in Denver, get your butt over here and pick some up!)

Divided Herbs

Oregano and chives, after being divided and repotted, all ready for new gardens! I know the oregano doesn't look like much, but trust me those roots are in great shape!

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This weekend is all about starting veggies from seed indoors.  If you haven’t read my post Lesson #4: Planting the Seed, you’ll want to start there–it’ll give you a shopping list of everything you need to get started.

These are the seeds to plant this weekend:
Eggplant
Kale
Onions
Peppers

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Seed Display

I love seeds.  Seeds are the first indication that the gardening season is indeed returning, even if it’s currently 15 degrees and there is still snow on the ground.  Seeds say, “Yes, you will be eating fresh tomatoes off the vine in just a few short months!”  Seeds conjure memories of reading books in the Sky Chairs on the back porch.  Seeds are the promise of a delicious summer.

Hubby will tell you that, yes, I do in fact have a seed addiction.  They call to me, drawing me into their seemingly innocent display stands, and I am absolutely compelled to bring the poor little babies home with me.  It’s worse than passing by the cheese counter at Tony’s or the clearance rack at DSW.  Really.

I usually end up planting WAY more seeds that we can actually use—or that we have room for in our itty bitty house.  The kitchen becomes a mini-greenhouse, with trays of seeds on every surface near a window.  (It really is a problem.)  Luckily, I have lots of friends who don’t grow plants from seed, but are more than happy to take extra seedlings off my hands.  I can only hope they give my babies good homes.

Of course, you can just as easily (ok, MORE easily) grow a garden from plants that you buy at the nursery or the big box store (or mooch from me).  If you want to go that route, log off right now, and save yourself from reading about effort involved!  This is going to be a super-long post (most likely the longest one I will EVER write), and I will definitely not be offended if you aren’t committed to the seed idea.  Go pour yourself a glass of wine and put your butt on the couch.  But if you aren’t scared…

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This is the planning stage.  I usually start this part around January 24, right about the time we are getting that fourth snow storm since the holidays, I just finally put away that last Christmas decoration I kept not seeing, and I am completely over wearing boots and sweaters (and I love my boots and sweaters).

I might be jumping the gun just a bit, but you do want to have a plan before you get out there and start digging.

The two most important things to do before planning what to plant:

  • First, ask yourself:  What do I love to eat?  If you really don’t like the texture of eggplant, don’t plant it.  Do you eat a salad every night with dinner?  Then lettuce is a must!  Make a list, and prioritize.
  • Second, if you haven’t already, go measure that garden area.  Plants need room to grow–some more than others.  You can get over 500 carrots in the same space that one tomato plant needs.  If you have a very small space to work with, think about planting several vegetables that grow on small plants, rather than just a few larger plants.

No Rows!Traditional vegetable gardening has always been done in rows, where you dig a trench in your soil, throw a bunch of seeds in the trench, and cover it up.  Then in two weeks, when the seedlings start coming up, you have a billion little plants that are all smashed together.  Since veggie plants can’t grow that close together, you have to get down there on your hands and knees and pull all those extra little plants out.  Doesn’t that sound wasteful (not to mention kinda painful)?

Instead of the using row system, plant individual plants.  Here’s why:

  • It doesn’t take any longer—in fact, it will save you time, since you don’t have to go back through later and pull out the extra seedlings.
  • You will use less seeds (and can save the rest for next year—more on that when I cover starting plants from seed).
  • You can get more plants in less space.  Don’t we all want as many fresh veggies as possible from our garden?
  • I think veggie beds look more natural and prettier this way.  I like pretty. (more…)

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