Enlightenment of a Sort

As I write this the wind is howling and freezing rain is pelting the windowsills. Still, there has been enough decent weather recently that I’ve officially emerged from the “do nothing” months of winter and started tackling the larger projects I’ve been contemplating for months. So far this year I’ve managed to arrange a contractor to fix the front sidewalk, get married, make a dent in some of the junk purging, and start picking out the materials for a kitchen update. I’m anxious to get gardening now that I’ve got some forward momentum.

With a few dozen pots of plants to observe growing away under one of my new fluorescent fixtures something has occurred to me.

Under the Lights

I noticed the plants at the edges of the tray were leaning in toward the bulbs more than I’ve seen in past years. You can kind of see it in that pot of tomatoes to the right of the orangeish label. (Ignore the horribly leggy cilantro in the back, there. I started it on the windowsill and didn’t get it under lights soon enough.) It occurred to me that my previous light fixtures were quite a bit wider and the bulbs were spaced farther apart than in these new ones.

Light from Above

From above I can see they don’t even provide full coverage for the width of one flat when they’re low over it. I have another hanging parallel to this one and I was planning on placing flats perpendicular to them to get four under each pair of fixtures. Not sure what to do at this point. I wish I’d thought of that when I bought them. For now I’m just going to rotate the rows of pots within the tray. This is going to be a pain when the plants get larger and go into larger pots.

Indigo Apple and Amish Paste

In better news, the tomato plants are growing well enough that they may be getting potted up by next weekend. Here’s a fun comparison. On the left is ‘Indigo Apple’ and on the right is good old ‘Amish Paste.’ Indigo Apple has been bred to have high levels of anthocyanins and even the leaves are dark with a purplish tinge. The reviews of their performance and flavor are mixed but I thought they’d be something interesting to try this year.

Spinach

The official opening day of the community gardens was yesterday but I was up there a little over a week ago to check on things. Under the leaf mulch the overwintered spinach was looking excellent if a little muddy. I covered it up again because I knew this temporary return to wintry weather was coming.

Artsly Garlic

This week I visited again and found garlic poking up through the mulch. My favorite spring bulb! I couldn’t see what I was doing and the photo turned out blurry so I ran an artsy Photoshop filter on it. Edgy, huh? OK, I’m not an artist or a photographer but, hey, I was excited.

Seed Starting for the Poorly Prepared

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I shared any of my fascinating goings-on here. Believe me, I haven’t been just sitting around–much, at least. March is the month when I seem to emerge from the winter inertia along with the plants and critters outdoors.

American Flag Leek

Seed starting actually commenced weeks ago with the onions, shallots and leeks. Here are the American Flag leeks waving their seed coats up toward the shop lights. Today they got their first haircut.

In the time since the leeks and their ilk were sown I started a few other things as well. Then last weekend I got started on my favorites, the tomatoes and peppers. In the past my system was to sow a couple of seeds together in a tall, 2” pot. I have tons of these around from back when I grew Paphiopedilum orchids. If both of the seeds germinated I would just snip off the weaker one. If neither germinated I’d have wasted the space that barren pot was taking. This year I decided to sow multiple seeds in 4” pots and since they shouldn’t be in there too long and need a lot of root room, I cut the pots shorter for easy access. Or, at least I started doing that after I realized what a pain it is to get to seedlings in a pot as tall as they are. (See left-hand pot of leeks above.)

Early Jalapeno

Anyway, after potting up a few kinds of peppers as seen above, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough pots. Either I hid them very well from myself or I purged a little too aggressively last fall. As I was contemplating driving out to the garden center yet again, I was hit with a brainstorm…

Paper Pot

Paper pots! I quickly rolled and folded up a bunch and I was back in business.

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See how meticulously I placed the seeds in the potting mix? I also labeled the tags with the number planted in each pot.

Paper Pots in Use

Once the plants have reached the size where they can be transplanted I’ll move them up to individual 4” pots. Those will be plastic pots because they will be more durable for moving around under the lights and transporting out to the garden when they are ready. I’ll have plenty of time to get out to the garden center before then. I’d better start making a list.

In Which It Takes Me a Moment

Over at 2 Boys 1 Homestead, a blog I’ve recently started following, Ben mentioned a few days ago that he is considering growing a patch of lentils. I’ve wanted to try growing my own for a while so they have come and gone from the forefront of my attention over the years. This mention so soon after my call for nominations of fun new crops to grow in 2015 got me thinking about them again. I like lentils. There are a handful of recipes I turn to again and again when we’re having a Bollywood night that call for lentils. My main concern, apart from the question of whether they’ll even grow and mature here, is that their yield per given unit of area might be on the low side. Still, I moved them to the front of the line for trying this season. Then I thought where am I ever going to find seeds for them? Better start googling.

If you laughed at that last bit you’re faster than I am.

Sprouted Lentils

I have a bag of lentil seeds, a.k.a. lentils in the pantry! The only thing left was to test them to see if they will germinate. They did. They were also delicious. I’d forgotten how good lentil sprouts are.

It’s ironic it took me this long to think of lentils given that during my recent seed testing bout I tried everything I could think of from the spice cupboard including anise, cardamom and mustard but I never made it over to the pantry where the legumes live. Now that I know I’ve got some viable lentil seeds and that they’re a variety I like I’m closer to allocating a small area of the garden to giving them a go.

Shooting Toward Spring

A few weeks ago I started testing dozens of packets of seeds and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Most had high rates of germination including the ones most near and dear to me, the tomatoes. Another survivor, which came as no surprise, was the snap peas. Once the testing was over, I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the sprouted seeds so I potted them up. They’re a nice little bit of early gardening and when they’re a little larger I’ll enjoy adding their tender shoots to a salad.

Pea Shoots

Expo Exposé

Around the beginning of February people around here, especially the gardeners, are starting to feel restless and in need of a pick-me-up. Fortunately, Wisconsin Public Television holds a big garden expo every year. I used to hate expo time when I was at my old job. What should have been something to look forward to was dampened by having to design and sometimes staff a display using the depressingly middlebrow materials our company pushed. We were lucky to have some decent plants to spruce (literally!) it up. Now that I’m free of  that task I can just go and enjoy the event for what it is.

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The expo consists of an exhibition hall with scores of display booths, seminars and workshops. I’ve been skipping the last two things but should probably try to attend one or two of those sometime. Instead I just go for the vendors and information booths. And, of course, there are always plenty of forced blooms to remind us spring is coming.

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There are always great booths with Master Gardeners and people from Extension to talk with and answer questions. I hope this sort of service can continue but right now we’ve got a state government that is openly hostile to this part of the University’s mission.

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I had a great talk with one of the reps about basil and tomato pathogens and picked up some literature. These programs are an awesome thing and if you haven’t checked into your state or county Extension already you should. You’ll be amazed how much information they share and the services they provide.

There were plenty of what I now think of as “on topic” vendors there.

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Landscape design, restoration and management companies

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Publishers of garden books (and other topics)

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Plant vendors! I’m going to see about getting some more martagon lilies from this place. They didn’t have any with them but had oodles of Asiatic and oriental ones. The vendor I’ve gotten many of my Trillium from was also there but they didn’t have anything I didn’t already have. Too bad, because the plants I’ve gotten from them before have performed wonderfully.

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Garden art. I had to keep reminding myself that this stuff does look less tacky when there are one or two pieces in a garden. Displays crowded with them were a bit much.

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Outdoor furniture

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Power equipment! Vroom vroom!! We’re going to have to get something versatile if/when we finally move to the country.

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What I was really most hoping to see in the way of vendors was greenhouse companies. There was this one represented at a hydroponic store’s booth but nobody from the actual company was there as far as I could tell. I did get some literature, though. I’d like to have a greenhouse or conservatory some day. I gather from the blogs I read that gardeners in other countries tend to have home greenhouses more than we do around here. I wonder if it’s just more part of the tradition.

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I thought this little conservatory sample was kind of cute.

There were also plenty of booths that inspired me to think of the “on topic/off topic” concept…

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…like jewelry…

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… and paintings. Sure some of them have gardenesque themes, but I’m not a big fan of art fairs.

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There were also a number of “As Seen on TV!” type products like this broom. Really? I don’t consider having seen something on television that great of a marketing point. I just walk on by but couldn’t resist pointing out that I don’t feel these contribute much to the expo except perhaps to keep the booths full.

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Let’s end on a positive note. All the area botanical gardens, garden clubs, plant societies, arboretums, etc. were there. I even found one place that we’ve never been to that would make a nice day trip this spring.

In the end I walked out with one packet of leek seeds and some brochures and such. Still, I felt it was a decent way to spend a little time and get some inspiration for the upcoming season. Is there a garden show or expo or similar event in your area? I’d enjoy hearing what different ones are like.

A Little Pre-Season Look Back

I peeked in here earlier this week when I came to approve a comment and was a little dismayed but not surprised to see I haven’t posted anything for nearly two months. I’m not even going to say “Yikes!” I stopped posting about food and cooking quite a while back. I decided my photos weren’t very good and there are so many other, much better food blogs. I blog to learn about and enjoy the community of gardeners. But, the thing is, in my part of the world the gardening season is limited. This winter I’ve been putting more time into other projects while I have the time. They are the things that will similarly get put on the back burner when spring finally rolls around.

Still, there has been some garden-related activity. I’ve been planning and preparing for the coming season. I got some new shop lights this week to expand my seed starting area and I tested a bunch of old seeds to see if they would be OK to share in the seed swap a friend of mine has mentioned hosting. Spoiler alert: The tomatoes all did great, even the ones that were several years old. Woot!

Anyway, just to stay in the blogging groove and to keep from forgetting how to use the software, I’m going to share a little series of photos with you. Last season, I got the idea of taking an image of the gardens from the same spot over the weeks and months. I’ve pared the collection down to some representative ones that show the progression of the plots over time.

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May 20—Most gardeners have been at it for weeks already, myself included.

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May 26—Only a week later and you can see how much someone’s lettuce there in the right foreground has grown. So has that patch of weeds to the left of the image’s center. That’s the neglectful neighbor’s plot I wrote about once. My plot is the one just about in the center of the image. You can just see the light brown posts I put up for my tomatoes. In the right of the image is some of the abundant stickwork my kitty-corner neighbor does each season.

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June 9—A couple more weeks and those beans in the foreground have really taken off. On the right you can see a trellis platform up on poles. She grew pumpkins up on that!

Photo Jun 21, 6 10 12 AM

June 21—Things are really getting lush now.

Photo Jul 13, 11 14 57 AM

July 13

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September 14—I somehow missed taking pictures in August. We did leave town for a couple of weeks to go camping and I guess I just neglected this project the rest of the time.

Photo Sep 28, 4 18 33 PM

September 28—Trees are starting to color and it’s getting dark earlier. The row of trees to the west of the gardens starts casting its shadow farther into the garden every day at the same time.

Photo Oct 06, 11 44 47 AM

October 6—Things are starting to definitely look past their prime. This is about the time of year we could start getting frost but it hadn’t come yet.

Photo Oct 25, 12 22 25 PM

October 25—Still no frost/freeze. This is why I just go ahead with fall crops as if the frost date might be weeks later than anticipated. Sometimes it is.

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November 28—A month later everything has changed. We were still picking Brussels sprouts, of course, but for most everything else it was over.

I’m finding I enjoy looking through the images I took in the garden over the past seasons and years. Sometimes they serve as a reference of what a particular crop was doing at a specific time. It’s also just nice to have some reminders of what a green garden can look like months after it’s all been covered in snow.

Do you ever just flip through old garden pictures and enjoy remembering?

Call for Garden Nom Nominations

Garden

The garden catalogs have started arriving and I’m already thinking about what to grow in the coming season. Every year I like to try something new in the kitchen garden. I always set some space aside to grow an edible crop I haven’t tried before, the stranger the better. Some past “experiments” are relatively safe bets, like unusual colors of common vegetables. Purple carrots, green tomatoes and golden beets are a few of examples. The beets have actually become a regular part of the garden. Other crops, however, have been things I’d never thought to try or even heard of until I ran across them in some catalog, article or podcast. This category has included things like cumin, edible chrysanthemum, Malabar spinach, cowpeas, salsify, fava beans, alpine strawberries and collards. This year I grew peanuts and oca for fun. One was a qualified success, the other not so much.

Here is where you come in. I’m looking for suggestions of unusual garden noms to try out in the 2015 garden. Nom-inations should be for crops that are:

  • growable in my USDA Zone 5 garden where I have roughly five to six months of growing season with the ground getting warm enough for warm-weather crops about a month after the last spring frost.
  • containable within a portion of one of my garden beds which are roughly a meter wide. Anything wider than that or that needs to ramble I just don’t have the space for.
  • edible and while not absolutely required, tasty is a plus.
  • obtainable. I can usually sniff out where to find most horticultural oddities when I know what it is I’m looking for.

One of the joys I get from gardening is the give-and-take I’ve found in the online communities. I’ve learned so much and have been able to share the bits that I know. So, what can you share for new crop ideas?  I’m looking forward to all the wonderful new possibilities I’m going to hear about in the coming weeks!

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