Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First greens of 2011

It's been three days and we already have our first sprouts.  I can't wait to toss up our first homegrown salad of the year!
Now I know why "seedling green" is my favourite colour!

Is it unnatural for a grown adult to get this excited over a couple of sprouts?   

Garden Plans for 2011

Starting in February, planning for the gardening year ahead becomes earnest.  I leaf through catalogues, check out blogs and websites, read some books and attend a couple of workshops.  Throughout this process I take lots of notes in my gardening notebook.

At some point, I take all these thoughts and draw a plan for our garden plot.  Our plot is 30' x 40'.  I divide it into four segments so we can walk around easily and plan for our crop rotation.  Rotating your crop (planting different veggies in different spots every year) helps minimize pests and disease.  It also helps to manage your soil better as some crops are heavier feeders than others and some (like legumes) actually add nitrogen back into the soil.  I also take into consideration companion planting (which plants like to be beside each other and which don't, eg. borage and cucumbers love each other).

It seems like a lot to consider, but after figuring it out once, you can basically follow the same plan year after year, just rotating the plan.

Here's what our plan looks like for 2011 (Sorry Dad, North is pointing down!).

The dots are the garlic bulbs I planted in the fall.  The o's are onions, l's are leeks that I use as borders along the paths.  I have a legume section, squash section, corn&kid section, and a cabbage, tomato & pepper section.  Squash are heavy feeders so I follow them with the legumes to replenish the soil.  Tomatoes and peppers are my favourites so they get to follow the legumes.  And the last section, well kids and corn are great companions!  That's my theory, anyway.
Notice we don't have any potatoes.  I'm not sure if the kids will want to put some in, but I don't find them worth the effort in our clay soil.  Also note that we have strawberries in an annual garden that gets ploughed every fall.  These plants came from a neighbouring gardener last fall who said they grow well, you just have to dig them up before the plough goes through, keep them moist and then put them back in the ground after the ploughing is done.  I figure it's worth a try.

Oh, the thing in the middle is our wooden teepee that we use for our scarlett runner beans and as a shady spot for Mars.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lighting for Indoor Greenhouse

I hummed and hahed about the right light for our basement seed starting station.  I've seen and read lots of good things about the Gro-Lux bulbs and T5 fixtures.  They certainly seem like the best route.

However, getting a complete unit using these lights ($199-$399) is pretty expensive - too expensive for me.  If I were interested in growing fruiting vegetables (eg. tomatoes and peppers) indoor all year long, it's definitely worth considering.  But, I'm just looking at starting seedlings and perhaps growing some herbs and leafy greens throughout the year.

I decided to go the cheap and easy route at Rona. I found two 4' T8 hanging light fixtures that are ready to plug in and 2 soft white and 2 cool white fluorescent bulbs.  It cost about $47.  I would have bought T8 Gro-Lux bulbs, but they're tough to find (at least at this time of year). Others have said this type of set up works fine, hopefully it works for us too.

It took 1/2 day to rig up the lighting so that they hang very close to the seedlings (soil at this point).  They're fully adjustable so they can move as the plants grow.  I even attached them to a timer set to provide 18 hours of light.

Let's hope it works!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Seeding Has Begun

I'm so excited, I planted some leek and lettuce seeds today in my brand new indoor greenhouse!
Look I'm growing lettuce in a recycled salad container !
Ok, greenhouse may be overstating it a bit.  But I do have a little set up in the basement, where hopefully, I'll have some success at starting our seedlings.  We haven't started our own seedlings for a few years, basically because I always end up with a big mess and tall spindly plants that don't make it.

But, this year, this year is going to be different.   Well, I sure hope it will be different.
My strategy involves actually figuring out what to do rather than just plunking some seeds in the soil by the window.  Here's what I'm doing differently:
  • Rather than just putting seeds in the soil some time between March and May, I've actually checked out what varieties should be planted at what time.
  • Rather than relying on the natural light of a south facing window, I've set up some lights in our basement.
  • To avoid "damping off" (when seedlings die due to fungus), I washed and lightly bleached our old seeding trays.
  • I'm going to try "hardening off" our seedlings (gradually adjusting them to the outdoors).
Now, as long as we water and control the light properly we should be good to go.

Here's a look at my leeks!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Seed Selection

This is our 4th year of gardening at our riverside, community garden plot and never before have I paid so much attention to seed selection.  I've always just bought my seeds from those big colourful displays at whatever store I happen to be at.  As I become more aware, interested and involved in the local food movement, I'm paying much more attention to the seeds I choose.  That's what reading too many gardening books and attending a few gardening seminars will do to you!

However, let me just say, we were perfectly happy and very successful when I chose seeds haphazardly at those colourful displays.  My point is, don't get stressed out about selecting the right seeds.  As long as you check the date on the package, buy from local suppliers, read the growing instructions to ensure it matches your gardening site and your ability, you should be fine.

It's also a good idea to have some sort of plan when buying seeds.  It's easy to get swept away when browsing all the different packages at the store. Trust me, you really don't need four different varieties of cucumbers (unless of course you have a huge field).

I've been trying to come to grips with heirloom, organic or hybrid seeds.  I'm no expert, but here's my take on the three.

Hybrid Seeds
  • Designer seeds developed by cross-pollinating different varieties to get specific qualities in the resulting plant.  For example, sweetness in corn, size uniformity in tomatoes, colour in flowers, disease resistance in peas, etc.
  • Said to offer bigger yields, more uniform veggies, longer shelf life and greater disease resistance (at least for that disease it was bred to resist). 
  • Not as flavourful.
  • Often the seed produced from these veggies is sterile and cannot be collected and used next year.

Heirloom Seeds

  • Seeds passed down from generation to generation, harvested from garden plants and saved for the following year.
  • Based on the principle of "survival of the fittest", these seeds are often considered the hardiest and best for a particular region - as long as you buy regional heirloom seeds.  For example, buy Manitoba or Saskatchewan heirloom tomato seeds for best results here on the prairies because these are the seeds that have survived our conditions. Buying BC heirloom tomatoes wouldn't be an ideal choice for Manitoba. 
  • Said to offer the best flavours and most intense colours.
  • Give you the opportunity to save seeds for next year and to be part of a culture that believes in protecting seeds for our future.
  • Can have lower yields and may be less disease resistant than modern varieties.
  • The shape and size of heirloom veggies may not meet grocery store standards (personally, I don't think that's a bad thing!).
Organic Seeds
  • Organic seeds come from non-engineered plants (ie. heirloom plants) that have been grown using organic growing practices.  In other words, there are no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides used in their production.
  • All the pros and cons of heirloom seeds grown in the most natural way possible.

So, which will I choose?

My seed selection begins with deciding what I want to plant where.  Then, I'll look for seeds or seedlings that will fill those needs.  My first choice will be Organic then Heirloom then Hybrid.  All will be welcome in our garden.

How about you, which will you choose?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fake Blueberries - Just Another Reason to Grow & Make Your Own Food

When did food buying get to be so complicated? Why can't I just go to the store and feel confident that the food I buy for my family is good, nutritious and safe?  It drives me crazy!!!

People think growing, preserving and cooking your own food takes too much time.  Hah!  I'd rather invest my time in that, than reading ingredient lists, figuring out nutrition labels and avoiding advertising scams.

For example don't assume that those plain frozen chicken breasts are just plain frozen chicken breasts.  Many of them are now "lightly seasoned".  Why?  Why can't I just buy them plain!?  Just another reason to buy whole free range chickens.

And don't think you're doing your family any favors by buying items with blueberries in them.  Those blueberries, cranberries, or pomegranates may be fake!  Check out these Mini Wheats.  "Blueberry flavored crunchlets" - you have got to be kidding.

Drives me crazy, especially when it's wrapped in a pretty package that promotes the item as a "nutritious".

Do you have an example of items that have surprised/ticked you off lately?  Please let me know, so I know what to avoid next time I'm in the grocery store.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Worms in The House...on purpose???!!!

Say hello to our new little friends.

That's right we are the proud owners of a new VermiHut and a 1/2 pound of hungry, squirmy worms.  The VermiHut offers deluxe accommodations for red wrigglers that will devour our organic scraps and transform it into rich, luscious soil that our veggies are going to love.

We got our worms and 4 tray VermiHut from Bruce at Red Wriggler Haven in St. Norbert for $139.  Yes, I know we could have build our own vermiposter using a rubbermaid tub for a lot less, but we're suckers for good looks and convenience.  And, because we're proudly displaying our vermiposter in our kitchen, we wanted something that looked good and wouldn't lead to any mishaps.

It's been about three weeks since we set up our vermiposter and we're starting to see some progress.  I checked this morning and the carrot peels we threw in three weeks ago are gone.  Completely gone.  They haven't decayed into a small, liquidy pile of goop, they're just gone.  All that's left is a wonderful rich, black pile of worm poop!  And no, there's no rotten stench coming from our vermiposter.  Only when I open it up and go digging around, do I notice a whiff of moist earth, but that's about it.

I've learned that one pound generally includes about 1,000 red worms. Worms eat about half their weight each day, and need plenty of food to multiply. So two pounds of worms would eat about one pound of organic waste every a day.  That means, our 1/2 pound of worms will eat about 1/4 pound of food per day.  And, in about 90 days, assuming we keep conditions just right, our worms will double and we'll be able to feed them about 1/2 pound per day.

For more great facts and trivia about worms check out Cathy's Crawly Compost

We still keep the compost bucket under the sink, but I'm looking forward to feeding our new friends a little more now that they're used to their new home.

I can't wait to give some of that rich compost to our veggies later this spring.

Just wondering, would you keep worms in your house?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Garden Food in March

Tonight's menu - chili and biscuits.

Okay, so it's not a gourmet meal, but the fact that many of the ingredients came  from our garden, makes it pretty special in my books. Our garden ingredients include:
  • onions
  • garlic
  • cayenne pepper flakes
  • frozen celery leaves
  • frozen green peppers
  • frozen tomatoes
  • frozen scarlet runner beans 
And, the meat comes from the pig that lived happily on my sister's farm all summer.

Nothing fancy, but a delicious, nutritious hardy meal we can feel good about.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eager to Garden

It's the beginning of March, the days are getting longer, the seed catalogues are arriving, the local growing conferences are happening and my yearning to play in the dirt is getting stronger every minute.  But, it's - 27 degrees and there's several feet of snow covering the ground.  The digging is going to have to wait.

But, the planning can begin.  And begun it has!

A friend and I attended a seed swap several weekends ago and last weekend I attended a "Growing Local" conference.  My mind is reeling with ideas.  Ideas far bigger than our 30x40 community plot.

It looks like our front lawn is going to have to make room for food!  Given that our front lawn is on the North side of the house and there are some big elm trees around, it's going to require some careful planning.  The results of which I'll be posting throughout March and April.

Can you tell I'm excited?  In fact, I may be a bit too excited.  Actually, now that I consider my impulse buys at the afore mentioned conferences, I'm pretty sure that I might be over doing it.  My recent purchases include a "Vermiposter" (take possession of it and our new worms this Saturday), Popping Amaranth and Quinoa Temuca seeds.

Amaranth and Quinoa - really?  I might as well grow my own barley for beer and rye for toast! Why can't I just go and buy my quinoa at the store, like most people.   Wait til my dad (the retired farmer) hears I'm growing a fancy version of pigweed and lamb's quarter - on purpose.

I guess that's what happens when you let a cooped up, dirt deprived, urban farm girl attend a couple of gardening conferences in the middle of a long, cold winter!