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Posts Tagged ‘vegetable garden’

Let’s celebrate Earth Day by greenifying our garden and getting some seeds in the ground!

Pea Sprouts

Pea sprouts from seeds planted two weeks ago. Yum. Peas.

We have two tasks this week:
1. Plant outdoor seeds.
2. Transplant indoor seedlings for larger plants to larger containers.

This week we are ready to plant these seeds outdoors:

Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Leeks
Swiss Chard
Turnips
Watercress

If you are doing successive planting, you can also plant some more of these:
Lettuce
Radishes

Radish Sprouts

Radish sprouts from seeds planted two weeks ago. (Despite my “no thinning” policy, I am going to have to thin these a bit–they should be at least an inch apart.)

We are done planting indoor seeds, but keep babying the ones you have planted until we are ready to get the seedlings in the ground.  If you have any seedlings that look like the are outgrowing their containers, this is a good time to transplant them to larger pots.  Larger plants, like tomatoes and peppers, are good candidates for repotting.  The more room they have to grow, the better developed their root systems will be.  The better developed the root system, the healthier the plant.  Smaller plants, like onions and lettuce, will be fine where they are for another couple  of weeks until we put them into the garden–their root systems don’t grow as large.  Think about it this way–if a plant will be large above the ground, its root system will be large below the ground.  These are the guys that can use a little more room to grow.

Transplanting is pretty easy.  Look for a container maybe twice as wide as the one your seedling is in now.  Fill it about half full with potting mix–it’s not as important to use mix specially made for seeds here (if you have some left over, though, you might as well use it up), but do use a good, moisture-retaining potting mix.  Then pop your seedling out of its current container and into the new one.  Fill the rest of the way up with potting mix.  Water.  The hard part is finding the room for the bigger containers in your already-plant-filled kitchen.

If you are transplanting tomato seedlings, it’s a bit different–tomatoes like to be buried deep in the soil, because they will develop roots all along the part  of the stem that is buried.  For tomatoes, start with an empty container.  Put the seedling in the container, and bury all but the very top set of leaves in the soil.

Happy gardening!

repottingafter

After

repottingbefore

Before

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We are about six weeks away from our last frost!  My guess is that with as warm as this year has been, we aren’t actually going to have too many more frosts, but this is Colorado.  You never can tell.  We are proceeding under the assumption that our last frost will be around or just after Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, May 13.  If you can, clear your calendar the weekend of May 19/20–that will be our biggest planting weekend!

Forsythia

Everywhere you go right now, there are beacons of spring: forsythias.  Forsythias are the shrubs in full screaming-bright-yellow bloom right now.  The rest of the summer they will be green, and fairly inconspicuous, but this time of year they are all calling, “Boo-YA!  Spring is here!!”  Forsythias bloom when the ground temperature reaches about 55 degrees–that’s just about the temperature the ground needs to be to plant a bunch of cool season vegetables.

This weekend, we will be planting seeds both inside and out.  Although we might still have a couple of frosts to come, the forsythia tells us that soil temperatures are high enough to get seeds germinating.   So let’s get ’em in the ground!

Here are the seeds we’re planting this weekend:

Indoors:
Cauliflower
Lettuce
Radicchio
Watercress
(please be sure to see Lesson #4 below, if you haven’t already)

Outdoors:
Bok Choy (this is a new one for me this year–will let you know how it goes!)
Broccoli & Broccoli Raab
Greens – Mustard & Collard
Kohlrabi (weird looking, but so delish!)
Peas **before planting peas, soak the seeds in water overnight**
Radishes
Spinach
(please be sure to see Lesson #5 below, if you haven’t already)

Additional Resources:

Lesson #4:  Planting the Seed

Lesson #5:  Down & Dirty ~ Direct Sowing Seeds

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SeedlingsUnlike planting seeds indoors, planting seeds outdoors is super easy, and it’s much cheaper than buying seedlings.  Peas, beans, radishes, carrots, corn, parsnips, turnips, spinach, squash, lettuce, other greens, and cucumbers are all great candidates for direct seed sowing.  But it’s barely April, you say, why are we addressing direct seeding now?  Don’t we have to wait until all danger of frost is past?  (Because you know we will be getting one of those nasty spring snow storms this month.)  (In fact, it’s snowing as I publish this post.)  Lots of these guys will grow from seeds planted directly into the ground even if you think it’s way too cold out to plant anything.  If you can dig into the soil, usually there is a seed that wants to grow there.

Supplies list:

  • Seeds—the backs of your seed packets will tell you which plants can be sown directly into the garden, vs. those that need to be started indoors.  (By the way—lookie what was in my Inbox this week—buy 2 get 1 free seeds at Echter’s!)
  • Plant tags—you can find little plastic tags any place that sells seeds, or get creative!  Anything that you can write on that won’t disintegrate when wet can mark plants!  Small flat rocks?  Sure.  Paint stirrers?  Yup.  Get creative.  I found a great post on making plant tags from a material which everyone has too much of lying around the house (don’t we?): DIY Plant Markers.
  • A permanent black marker to write on your plant tags.  I have used blue and purple Sharpies in the past—not recommended.  In time, they fade in the sun.  Even better, you can buy UV resistant permanent markers at most nurseries (they are right next to the plant tags).
  • A ruler or tape measure.
  • A hose long enough to reach your vegetable beds.  Even if you have irrigation installed, you will probably want to get out there and douse your little babies yourself in the beginning.
  • A nozzle for your hose with a shower setting or a garden wand.
Nozzle

Notice this nozzle has several different spray patterns. Use the one called Shower for watering your seedlings in the garden.

Water Wand

A water or garden wand is longer to make it easy to reach into gardens or to water hanging baskets. These either come set to send out a shower of water, or the are available with different patterns.

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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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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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This post is dedicated to Ghost, the Garden Cat.  He was always my helper in the garden, but he particularly liked to get in the way during this stage of the game.

You’ll want to wait and do this after the ground has thawed.

Vegetables need good, rich soil to grow well.  Most Colorado soil is very dense and full of clay—it will need to be amended with some good stuff to make your plants are happy.  Check out the soil in your planned garden area—dig down a foot or so.  CAN you dig down a foot or so?  If not, you definitely need soil amendment—I’d double the numbers listed below.  Any earth worms in there?  If so, congrats!  Earth worms are our friends!  Your soil is probably in pretty good shape.  You can buy a soil testing kit if you want to know exactly how good your soil is, what’s in it, what the Ph level is, etc., but that’s all a bit too scientific for me.  I’d rather just get in there and start digging.

Soil Amendment Ingredients

Ingredients needed for soil amendment: Soil Pep, Vermiculite (optional), Fertilizer, and Compost (not shown)

Shopping List:

  • Compost:  Any kind of compost is fine, but I suggest mixing a few kinds together.  You can also add a bag or two of manure into this mix.  Whatever kind you use, mix them together in a wheel barrow before spreading it.  I suggest using about one bag per 25 square feet.
  • Soil Pep:  I am a huge believer in Soil Pep—it’s kind of a mix of bark and other decomposable natural stuff, but it’s not compost.  It does a great job in breaking up tough soil and keeping it light and loose.  You can find it at pretty much any garden center or nursery, but I haven’t seen it at a big box store.  One bag is usually good for about 50 square feet.  Added garden nerd bonus:  the Soil Pep you use in your garden this year will break down before next year and further amend the soil!  Woohoo!  And look what I just got in my email box this morning–a SP coupon!
  • Fertilizer:  There are lots of fertilizers out there, but I use one called Colorado’s Own Vegetable Food—it’s good for all kinds of veggies.  It’s in a orange bag, and the numbers on the bottom are 5-10-5 (sorry I don’t have a photo yet).  Go to Echter’s for this.  (If you haven’t been to Mecca—I mean Echter’s—yet, go.  Just go.  I apologize now for the damage it will do to your check book.  (I am sure that will be the subject of a future post.))  One bag of fertilizer should be enough, unless you have a huge plot you are planting.  It should say on the bag how big of an area it will cover.  Extra is not bad here—you will use more later in the season. (more…)

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