Friday, March 27, 2009

We Have Babies!

Look what happened while we were out walking! Broccoli Sprouts! They weren't there when we headed out. Yes! Sprouts happened! In ONE HOUR. Isn't that amazing?

This was a few days ago, March 25, only 4 days after planting. The broccoli seeds deemed us worthy and good, and erased our nagging thought that not a single one would sprout. Up came the tiniest of leaves and stems, hoping against hope that the sun and soil and water will continue to nourish them.

Bouyed by the idea that we managed to do one thing well, we ventured outside to plant our "cool crop" bed, referring not to the trendiest, most popular crops, but to those preferring cooler soil and air temps.  Here is Teresa, planting Swiss Chard:  

This bed, hopefully, will bring forth spinach, lettuce, carrots, sugar snaps and shelling peas, as well. Impressive, yes? I know - we make it look easy. It's supposed to be pretty easy. But it was not. Picture two inexperienced dorks walking around the bed for forty-five minutes, discussing the best way to proceed because we were too scared to actually DO it. 

He: "How far apart did it say to plant these?" 
She: "It says 1/4 inch deep, three inches apart."
He: "Okay."
She: "That's not three inches.  That's, like, two."
He: "I know three inches, trust me."  She measures. It's not three. "Oh, okay then."

And so on. Every seed, every row required many measurements, consulting of seed packets, and discussions.  He won some; she won some. In the end, the seeds made it into the ground--probably too close together; or too far apart. Probably in rows that make no sense and with a terrible waste of valuable garden space (EVERYTHING else has to fit in the big bed, and ALL the herbs have to squeeze into the herb bed, oh dear!). But they're in there, and they might even grow.

But what about row markers? Knowing nothing about what all the real gardeners use, we looked around the house and came up with this idea:

That thing on the left? The row marker? It's a bendy straw. I wrote the plant name on it with a sharpie. I think they're weatherproof enough until either the plants start growing and thus identifying themselves, or we buy something more permanent. But hey, they're working for now. Even King Cucumber approves. (We found him in the yard a year or so ago, and now he rules over the cold crop bed.)

In the last four days, we've also seen sprouts for the basil, eggplant, grape tomatoes, thyme, oregano, cucumber, and brussels sprouts. Wow. Nature is just amazing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seed Starting Virgins

Yesterday was the second day of spring, and our first day as seed parents. We finally put our start-inside-seeds in the dirt. There is quite a bit of planning and math involved with this process, and in the end, much guesswork as well.

A series of procrastinations and practicalities prevented us from planting on our original target day of March 5, which is 6 – 8 weeks from our purported last frost range of April 16 – 30. Most of the seeds needed 6 – 8 weeks inside (although rosemary needs 8 – 12), so this seemed reasonable to me. Then I heard from more experienced gardeners than we that Mother’s Day is the big planting day around here. Mother’s Day?? That’s around the 10th of MAY! Where did I get the idea that April 16-30 was our last frost date?  Why, from this book:

Oh, and the seed company we ordered from says our last frost is May 6! Who’s right? What to do? What if I plant them too early? Too late? Will they be too leggy? Will my eggplants get such a late start that they die on the vine before we even harvest them?

We decided that mid-March made more sense, so we were able to put it off a bit.  And luck intervened again when a last-minute trip to Austin and Houston made the decision for us. Not wanting to saddle our house sitter with the house, a dog, two cats and 125 seed pots to care for, we happily put it off until we got home. Once back, jet lag and work intervened so we fell even farther behind. Can you tell I have a fear of taking on the unknown?

Finally on Thursday we soaked the pots and Friday we cleaned and air dried them. David helped with this part.  Doesn't he look happy?


Saturday was THE day. It turned out bright and sunny, so I filled up all the pots with seed starter out on the deck while David fixed our broken washer agitator. He remained completely focused on appliance repair throughout the afternoon, so I was forced to figure out the seed planting on my own. Not that I couldn’t—I just hesitated to proceed without my co-virgin because I didn’t want to screw it all up by myself. Shared blame is so much more palatable.

I set up my planting station and got started. Let’s see. . . how many pots of peppers should I plant? Got me.  How many seeds per pot?  I dunno.  How deep do they go?  What does “2x their diameter” mean? They’re TINY! That means one speck of dirt to cover each seed, right? What if I bury them too deep? They’ll die! Scared again, I scoured the Internets for the answers. I hit some really amazing sites like A Way to Garden (by Martha Stewart's former garden editor) and Garden Guides. Then I looked through all my gardening books. I still didn't know a peat pot from a drip tray.

Whatever. Unable to put it off any longer, and hearing nothing but grunts and curses from the laundry room,  I proceeded to planting them however many to a pot and at whatever depth I thought was right, based on the sketchy instructions on the seed packets. 

By the way, who’s in charge of writing these instructions, anyway?  Talk about inconsistent!  Some packets tell you how many days to germination. Others, from the same company, do not. My research indicated that the packets would have all the answers. Nope.  But I did my best. 

I planted, labeled, and misted. All the seeds were tucked in safely. Then we tried to figure out a whether to cover the trays of pots or not. 

This book 

says that some gardeners use plastic wrap to keep the soil from drying out; but others don’t.


This book says to cover them with plastic wrap, period.


This book 

says to use damp newspaper,which breathes, rather than plastic, which can cause fungi to grow. But not if your seeds need light to germinate, which some do—the information will be on the seed packet. Except it wasn’t.

In the end, we decided to just leave them hanging out there all naked and uncovered. 

They live in our mudroom, which is a pretty cold area of the house. They have a big southern-exposure window, which helps during the day, but we keep our house very cool at night, and these babies need to be warm in order to germinate. We’re tricking them, you see, into thinking that they’re outside in warm soil in a warm climate so they’ll actually produce this summer.

So last night, we set up a space heater to keep the area at 70 degrees. This made David very nervous because everyone has heard the stories of house fires caused by space heaters. This one is new and seems safe, but really, who knows? David put a smoke detector on the shelf just to be sure. Which led me to conclude that all space heaters should have built-in smoke detectors. 

Our seeds are tucked in; we’re keeping them moist and warm. All we can do now is wait, while I am plagued with one thought: what if they don’t germinate?


Monday, March 9, 2009

When Irish (Potato) Eyes Are Smiling

Here's an astounding news flash: more people are planting gardens, so seed company sales are way up! It seems everyone I know is doing it and today I see this article in the Seattle Times. It says that sales at Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, a seed and seed potato packing company (and winner of today's best company name award) are booming. Most of their inquiries are newbies like us.  "We had one person ask us which way the seed goes in the ground," said Sue the owner. No, it wasn't me.  I haven't received my seed potatoes yet, so I'm saving that question for when they come. 

People are thinking survival. Planting tubers and building chicken coops. Raising their own food for eating, or for bartering. Tightening belts, and trying to have some control over SOMETHING. Ensuring that the food you're eating is organic--and that there will actually be some food on the table--is a damn good start.

Here are last year's top ten seeds, according to Burpee (is it me, or are they kind of blah?):

1. Green beans

2. Zucchini squash

3. Tomato

4. Lettuce

5. Cucumber

6. Peas

7. Sweet corn

8. Peppers (sweet and hot)

9. Carrot

10. Radish

Photo courtesy of Seattle Times

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Oops. Our First of Many Mistakes

Nothing growing yet. Not quite time! Patience, patience!

Last weekend we began our seed starting supplies search. Lots of cool stuff available out there--mostly ridiculously expensive. We hit Lowe's and our local Farmer Store (that's what I call it, anyway), where a pet mouse ran around on the loose for awhile before he scurried out the door into the wilds of Bellingham. Good luck on surviving, kid. We skipped out, too. Didn't want to pay 25 bucks each for kits, especially when we would need several.  Cheap is how we're doing this garden thing.

Our do-it-yourself system requires flourescent lighting, so we went by the recycled building supply, the RE Store. There, we scored no lighting, but did find a bunch of recycled plant pots. We bought 120 or so for a few bucks, along with some stakes to keep a certain big dog out of the beds.
Next day, I was telling my friend Cyndi about our score at the RE Store, and she said, "I dropped those stakes off yesterday morning. I could have just given them to you!"  It was true. We paid 20 cents each for them, too. Darn.  Could have saved 4 bucks. Here's how the beds look staked and covered with snow:

But while we were searching for used lighting fixtures for our lights, the genius in the family (that day it was David) said (and I swear a spiral-shaped lightbulb appeared over his head), "Hey, we don't need no stinkin' light fixtures! Every light fixture in our house has flourescent bulbs in it." After we pondered this for a few minutes (staring at each other with puzzled looks, trying to figure it out) we realized that yes, we have a zillion flourescent lights in our house already.

Giddy, we went home and set up our seed starting station.  I set all the little pots on plastic draining trays and filled each one with the seed starting mixture we bought at the Farmer Store. I brought them into the house (without spilling, even), and set them on the leftover-from-our-old-house plastic shelf unit David had set up in the mud room. 

Then, we rigged up lights and lamps, and popped in some flourescent bulbs.  It looks like this:

We don't know if the light will be bright enough or close enough to the pots.  Might have to go with the long tube type lights after all! Drat.  But even this isn't our real error in all of this set up.

We forgot to clean out the pots. DOH! It's very important to sanitize the pots so your little seeds will have a nice clean environment in which to hatch and grow.  We knew that, but in our excitement, completely forgot to do it.

Now I have to dump out all the starter dirt, clean the pots with a bleach (blech, so not environmentally friendly) solution, and refill. Sigh. Mistake numero uno!

[Does anyone know if the hydrogen-based "bleach" products sanitize like traditional bleach does?]