Friday, March 9, 2012

Seed starting, 2012!

It's officially feeling like spring around here, though really it seldom felt like winter this year.  Of course, this *is* the Midwest, and a late-winter storm still might roll in and surprise us all...

Regardless, starting the first seeds of the year here tells me, indubitably, that Spring is on its way.  Today I planted a half-flat each of Cherokee Purple tomatoes, bush Italian Roma tomatoes, Nero Toscana (dinosaur) kale, and Red Winter kale.  :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I did say distractible...

But 4 months without an update?  Oy.

What I've canned this year, so far:

*Pickled beets
*Tomato sauce
*Yellow tomato/ginger preserves
*Blackberry vinegar
*Blackberry/wine jelly
*Yellow tomato and basil jam
*Mint jelly
*Pickled chard ribs
*Blackberry jelly
*Blackberry jam

Monday, May 23, 2011

This week

So much loveliness to look at this week!  In bloom are allium, irises, shooting stars, columbine, blue-eyed grass, and of course the omnipresent dandelions.

Added some soil acidifier to the potato & blueberry containers, planted windowboxes, replaced frostkilled basil and seeded a container for micogreens.  Enclosed the area underneath the "treehouse" with burlap to use as a second composting bin for yard waste. 

Homemade bokashi bucket isn't working so well; I think because it doesn't seal air out well enough.  Stuff in the "real" (storebought) bucket is ready to be put outside, so I can empty that and re-use, giving me a week or so to redesign bucket #2.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Soil and Health Library

The lovely Rodale gardening book I received for Mothers' Day contained numerous references to "Indore composting," sans explanation. So since I'm apparently the only person on the planet who didn't know what that was* I turned to the interweb for explanation. In that search, I found an awesome resource. The Soil and Health Library appears to contain electronic copies of a bunch of out of print books on organic agriculture, frugality, homesteading, and so forth. I'm excited to start digging around there on the next rainy day.

*The term "Indore composting" appears to be commonly used to describe cool temperature composting, but originally applied to a specific method developed by Sir Albert Howard in the 20s and 30s (in Indore, India). Details here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Garden Notebook

Since last update:

Planted potatoes, blueberries, EarthBox herbs, lettuce, tomatoes
2 nights in a row with temps in the 30s-- put jars/soda bottles over plants as cloches
Tomato plants look a bit scalded; should have removed cloches during day
Not sure if morning glories/moonflowers survived the frosty weather
Mulched blueberries with yew & juniper needles
Brief thunderstorm tonight

Solar cooking

Started building these solar cookers with my co-op science class today. I can't wait to try mine out on the next sunny day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My handy-dandy compost bin topper

I'm a fairly lazy composter. Constantly turning the pile, monitoring moisture levels, ensuring the precisely right C/N ratio... this has always seemed like too much effort to put forth for such a simple thing. I mean, come on, you stick stuff in a pile, and you wait for it to rot. We're lucky if I remember to take a stick and poke some air holes into it periodically.

But since we're in a fairly urban environment, with the neighbor's house within 10 feet of ours, I do need to make sure that nothing's getting overly aromatic. There's no back 40 to hide the piles in. So I got irrationally excited when I saw the giant bag of sawdust picked up by the vacuum system in my father's workshop. A couple of handfuls of high carbon sawdust would be the pefect thing to add on top of anything wet and sloppy with the potential for ickyness.

I'm pretty sure dad thought I was nuts when I asked if he could save it for me. But they humor me, so a couple of weeks ago my parents came over with a big bag of sawdust for me (along with the newspapers I'd been asking mom to save).

It worked pretty well, and also made a nice addition to the potting mixes I'd been messing around with. The dry sawdust was always blowing around and getting in my face when I scooped some out, though. Seemed it needed some moisture, and maybe a couple of additions to make it just perfect.

Which is how I justified spending the better part of a day hand mixing the perfect compost topper, shifting things from bucket to bucket every time I added something new. It's the closest I get to playing in the sandbox these days.

I do think the end result is pretty great, though, and wanted to make sure I remembered what was in it for the next time around. No clue about proportions, since I just kept adding a handful of this and a bucketful of that. But here are the contents:

Sawdust (carbon, absorbent)
Leaf mold (from cleaning gutter-- nitrogen, organic matter)
Composted cow manure (a small amount- nitrogen, organic matter, beneficial microorganisms)
Blood & bone meals (small amounts)
Backyard soil (a couple of shovels full-- microorganisms & other critters)
Bokashi (what was left in the bag after a critter got into it-- beneficial microorganisms galore)
Liquid nitrogen source

Good thing my dad is always making things in his workshop-- now I need more sawdust.

Garden notebook


Lots of wind coming from the east
Hardening off everything
Planted Swiss chard
Cut seed potatoes for planting
Set up trash can potato planters


Chillier outside but still sunny
Hardening off continues
Planted moonflowers and morning glories along fence
Sheet mulched* along fence
Spread excess hay in backyard

*Sheet Mulch
(from bottom)

Tiny bit of bone meal
Thin layer composted cow manure
Wet old cardboard
~3 inches of dried leaves/leaf mold scrounged from alley
Thin layer "compost bin topper" (see next post)
~4 inches straw
LOTS of water

Friday, April 29, 2011

Garden notebook

Today was lovely and sunny, and I spent pretty much the entire day outside.

- Filled remaining EarthBoxes and got them all in place
- Hardening off: chard, basil, thyme, oregano, marigolds, cilantro, mint
- Planted: Strawberries

A gazillion wild violets are blooming in the rock garden, including a couple of white ones.
Red tulip in the ivy is blooming
Lots of plants coming in on the rock garden
Visited by cardinals, finches, doves & sparrows while outside

Wild white violet in the backyard

Thyme, basil & Swiss chard

Quick link

I took a bunch of pictures of my lovely plants this morning. Still won't be able to upload directly until perhaps the middle of next week, but I did send several to my MobileMe gallery. There are some pictures of the plants in March when they first sprouted, as well as the photos from today. BONUS: since I can't seem to find a way to organize the photo album from this iPad, you also get several pictures of my lovely Lydia, and, I believe, a couple of pictures of bento lunches I packed last year!

Now I must get outside and get working on this beautiful sunny day.

Pictures, pictures, pictures.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garden notes

A catch-up garden notebook post, transcribing a couple of scribbled notes from paper)

For some reason, the tomato plants in the smaller (about the size of 4-packs) peat pots seem to be growing faster than those in larger peat pots.

I won't be using a sponge-like "hydroponic" seed starting tray again. Overall, the plants in there aren't doing as well as others, and outgrow the allotted space too quickly, requiring intermediate repotting.

Broccoli and lettuces seem to have wilted entirely. They didn't look happy in the spongy seed starting tray, but I'd hoped that they might perk up after transplanting to larger pots. Is this the dreaded "damping off?" Will give them a couple more days.

I got behind somehow on my seed starting schedule, and am starting cucumbers, melons & squashes several weeks later than planned. Hopefully, the fact that I primarily purchased short-season cultivars will make things work out okay. Or perhaps I will skip them this year and put in more tomatoes and peppers instead.

7 out of 10 EarthBoxes full and ready for planting. Need to finish up the rest this weekend!

I think that's it for the catching up snippets here.

Seedlings, hardening off, ramblings

Not trusting my own judgment very nearly killed 1/3 of my seedlings today.

I stopped by the garden center yesterday, ostensibly to pick up some vermiculite, but mostly so that I could wander around and stare longingly at the fruit trees. I got to chatting with the woman working there and mentioned that I'd just started hardening off a bunch of my seedlings, though "not the warm-season stuff like tomatoes & basil."

"Oh, no" she insisted, "you absolutely should be setting those out by now!"

Hmm. Not from everything I'd read. But while I was hauling other plants outside this morning, I thought, "perhaps she's right. She probably has more experience than me." It was shady outside, and I was feeling impatient to get everything planted, so out went all of the flats. What should have registered in my brain, besides the shade, was the fact that it was in the low 40s outside.

What I brought back in were some decidedly unhappy-looking and limp plants. Now that they've been back inside for several hours, most of them look like they'll make it. They won't be going back out till mid-May.

All of the seedlings moved up in the world today, though, leaving the warm basement and taking over my kitchen table. Hauling trays up and down the stairs in order to set them outside was just not cutting it.

[Let's just pretend there are some lovely pictures here of my kitchen table covered in green, growing things, shall we? As soon as I have a functional laptop again I'll actually post some non imaginary ones.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Creative" Bokashi

I was out of bokashi today, yet had a decent sized bucket of food scraps in need of going somewhere before they got gross. Of course, I could simply have gone and put them on the outside compost heap, but what fun is that?

There are a few guides to making your own bokashi starter online, but they all involve multistep processes that require at least a couple of days for the microorganisms to grow.

So I improvised. Bokashi is there to colonize the food scraps with particular microorganisms, in order to quickly ferment the food scraps. Various strains of lactobacillus and yeasts seem to feature prominently in most mixes. Hmmmm.

I grabbed a half-used packet of yeast from the pantry & tossed it in a bowl with honey, warm water, and a bit of spoiled whole wheat flour. After I let that sit for my maximum attention span of 15 minutes or so, I threw in a couple of big spoonfuls of yogurt. There! Yeast and lactobacillus!

I topped it off with a bit of gunk from the jar containing my “let’s attempt to make red wine vinegar” experiment that’s been aging in the pantry since January. And then for good measure, I decided to dump another glob of honey into the foamy mess.

Let that age for another 15 minutes or so. That’s long enough, right? Not so good with the waiting, I am. Tossed the food scraps into the bokashi bucket, mixed more spoiled flour into the concoction, and spread the resulting glop on top of the food scraps. There!

The worst that can happen is that I’ll end up with a really stinky bucket in a few days, when the icky sort of anaerobic bacteria take over. Then I’ll just have to bury the mess and try again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Growing Things

There’s not really any good place to grow vegetables in my fairly-urban backyard.

Half the yard is taken up by The Pond, aka hole in the ground surrounded by native plants. Another quarter is an ugly brick patio. The remaining quarter holds a swing set, mulch, and big bare spots of mud carved out by our German shepherd dog, Crowley.

This year I was determined to figure out *some* way to grow some food, which is how I ended up with a giant stack of 10 storage-tub-sized plastic planters, a.k.a. Earthboxes, in my entryway.

There’s still more than a month until warm-season crops can safely get planted here in Chicagoland, though, so most of them will be sitting there for a while.

While I’m waiting, there are trellises to build and seeds to sprout.

Currently sprouting in the basement: spearmint, black-eyed susans, lavender, rosemary, chard, basil, oregano, thyme, and several kinds of tomatoes and peppers. The first four on the list were planted ~2 weeks ago and look to largely be coming in nicely. The rest were just planted this weekend, so I’m still waiting for them to sprout.