Seedling inventory

under the lights

Started under lights down cellar so far: broccoli rapa, regular stem broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage mix, 2 varieties of zinnia, Lavatera (mallow), rice, 4 tomato varieties, “Minutia” salad greens, chard, kale, 2 lettuce varieties, sunflowers (1 of 3 varieties), 2 varieties peppers

Started in raised beds outside: Oregon Giant snow peas, winter spinach, kale, chard, winter lettuce. The fall-planted garlic is almost 3″ tall in the same beds.

My seedling FAQ

  • Those are regular, if eco-friendly, shop lights. I get the brand with the safest disposal protocols, but grow lights are only useful if you like to show off your African violet collection to its best advantage.
  • I use a peat-based growing medium that I recycle year to year with very little loss. I allow the used cells to weather the Maine winter in the hoop house and so far haven’t had any disease or pest transmission. For those in milder climes I’d suggest baking or freezing the loose soil to specs that you can find at your Co-op Ext office.
  • The average temperature in my unheated 20′ x 30′ cellar during Feb/March is 44 degrees F. It’s probably a tiny bit warmer directly under the lights – I should probably check that some day. The tomato and pepper seedlings take a while to get started, but the cooler temperature keeps the moisture levels constant and discourages rot. Tonight the temperature down there is closer to 39 because I didn’t notice that the north casement window had fallen open. I’ve closed it up and should be able to tell by tomorrow if anything was badly afflicted by the drop.
  • The most important thing I’ve learned about starting seeds is to limit how many I plant (with a few exceptions). I’m terrible at editing healthy little green sprouts and that means I have too many to plant in the space available – maybe even too many to care for properly. It’s much easier to plant fewer seeds at the start. The exception would be a crop that needs the whole season to grow (cannot be planted in succession) and should be harvested all at the same time, such as rice.

First garden update of 2012

The thermometer in the woodbin – under cover and without any influence from the spring sunshine – read 54 today. The Eagle Aboriculture crew dropped off three yards of bio-soil at the head of the driveway yesterday in the cold March rain, but it was warm and full of insect life this morning. I picked out red worms, pill bugs, and one large black beetle as big as my thumb in the first few shovel-loads.

D as in dirt

The raised beds directly in front of the house were planted with tomatoes last year. Then Hurricane Irene rolled through mid-season and soon every garden on the island had Fusarium wilt and the plants turned black and died. I won’t be able to plant tomatoes there for a few years so today I put in Giant Winter spinach, Green Meat radishes, and salad greens. The garlic I planted last fall is sprouting and will come up between the seedlings as the weather warms. Had to go rooting around in the boat shed to find the hoses to water everything in and then find the Agribon floating row cover.

Soon, radishes

The heather is in full bloom and full of tiny native pollinators, but sadly, not my honeybees. Mice attacked one hive, and when I dislodged them they evidently invaded the other boxes as well. No old colonies this year but I have two new ones on the way from Bee Weaver in Navasota, TX this spring. I’ll buy some metal hive entrance guards too.

Heath

Sorrel is my first real harvest in any year, maybe just two weeks away if this mild weather holds.

Sorrel

The alpine poppies are coming right along too. They bloom early, perhaps the first pollen for the new bees in late April. I remember buying these from Thompson and Morgan. The catalog described them as “rare but hardy, shy and difficult to grow”. A decade later they have seeded themselves in every stony nook and cranny of the yard – I have to regularly coax them out of the driveway and the cheery orange blooms are under foot in every path. Hardy they may be, but not so rare around here.

alpine poppies

 

Fedco Seed Order 2012

Just finished my order over at Fedco Seeds, Maine’s agricultural co-op seed house specializing in cold hardy varieties for the unforgiving climate of the New England growing season. Fedco has five orders: Seeds, Moose Tubers, Organic Growers Supply, Trees, and Bulbs, and sends out three catalogs. The seed division alone does about $3mm annually.

Completing the seed order is the way I mark my own personal start of the new year. Yes, the canning cupboard is full of glass jars of produce, the Rubbermaid boxes of potatoes and carrots sit ready to eat on the cold cellar floor, the garden is still holding parsnips, kale, and leeks, but all of that is just so 2011. Selecting seed varieties is my first foray into the new year and a snapshot of Garden 2012.  Here’s the list (in no particular order) and some highlights of my favorites from the catalog:

225 – Royal Burgundy Bush Bean OG ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
297 – Multicolored Pole Bean Mix ( A=1/2oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
338 – Marfax Bean ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( B=8oz) 1 x $7.50 = $7.50
678 – Dakota Black Popcorn OG ( A=2oz) 1 x $2.60 = $2.60
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
842 – Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
1035 – Halona Muskmelon ( A=1g) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
1311 – Boothbys Blonde Slicing Cucumber OG ( A=0.5g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
1409 – Raven Zucchini ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
1457 – Costata Romanesca Zucchini OG ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
1635 – Sunshine Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
1718 – Winter Luxury Pumpkin OG ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
2058 – Red Cored Chantenay Carrot ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80
2068 – Atomic Red Carrot OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80
2099 – Over the Rainbow Carrot Mix ( A=1g) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2267 – Green Meat Radish ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2306 – Andover Parsnip OG ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
2376 – Gold Ball Turnip ( B=1/2oz) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2504 – Bordeaux Spinach ( A=1/4oz) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
2738 – Antares Lettuce OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2983 – DeLuxe Lettuce Mix OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
2984 – Freedom Lettuce Mix OG ( A=1g) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2992 – Mesclun ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2993 – Greens Mix OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3034 – Perpetual Spinach or Leaf Beet ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
3075 – Speckled Friz Chickendive OG ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3122 – Minutina ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3740 – Sweet Pimiento Sweet Pepper ECO ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5210 – Tanagra Lavatera ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5263 – Mignonette ( A=1g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5280 – Alaska Nasturtium Mix ( A=2g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5320 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( B=0.3g) 1 x $3.00 = $3.00
5331 – Flemish Antique Poppy OG ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5421 – Selma Suns Mix Sunflower OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5441 – April in Paris Sweet Pea OG ( A=2g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5455 – Mrs. Collier Sweet Pea ( A=2g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5506 – Hopi Dye Sunflower OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5960 – Purple Majesty Millet ( A=0.05g) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
5970 – Duborskian Rice OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
6333 – Beneficials Mix ( B=7g) 1 x $7.50 = $7.50

Subtotal: = $80.20
Maine Sales Tax: + $4.01
Adjusted Total: = $84.21
Shipping: + $0.00
Grand Total: = $84.21

I did not include the prices last year and had to field a lot of budget questions later. My biggest costs in the garden are seeds and trees, and the seed portion averages right around $80.00. Trees/shrubs/perennials go about twice as much (in a good year when I can afford that), and equipment costs are another $50.00. This year I have to replace my 20 year-old shovel for instance, and in 2010 I replaced my sprayer.

Two items that I think will be fascinating additions to Garden 2012:

3075CO Speckled Friz Chickendive OG (70-90 days) Open-pollinated. Chicorium intybus x C. endivia Unique, chic greens from master breeder Frank Morton who crossed Wild Garden chicories with frisée, curly endive and escarole to develop this colorful flock of individuals, more tender than chicory, more cold hardy and ornamental than endive, with a mixture and flavor range that goes well beyond either and the sweet bitterness of a good endive. This gene-pool has variation, some plants open, others semi-headed, others with full heads. Has overwintered and been permutating at the MOFGA garden for the past six years.

2984FO Freedom Lettuce Mix OG An inspiring mix with plenty of surprises, this gene pool was created by Morton in what he called the “Hell’s Half-Acre lettuce trial” identifying those varieties most disease resistant and crossing them with his best-tasting varieties to select and recombine for excellent traits. Contains exceptional material including some experimental forms that would stand on their own as named varieties. Morton invites growers and breeders to work with this mix to create new varieties for their farms or for the general public, while stipulating that nothing derived from it may be patented or protected from others’ use in any way. This strategy, originated by software developers, is now known as copyleft (as opposed to traditional copyright). Morton has adopted it to keep his varieties and their derivatives in the public domain as a protected commons. Seeds as nature’s software! See wwwgnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html. for more information on copyleft. These days freedom is a rather slippery concept and many things are being done in its name that I don’t approve, but copyleft has the potential to return to free use such shared resources as our plant heritage that rightfully belong to all of us. As Morton proclaims, “Adaptive breeding cannot occur under a system of restrictive ownership.” Open-pollinated.

And finally, today’s garden photo: Fedco Harris Model parsnips still green on January second.

 

2984FO Freedom Lettuce Mix OG An inspiring mix with plenty of surprises, this gene pool was created by Morton in what he called the “Hell’s Half-Acre lettuce trial” identifying those varieties most disease resistant and crossing them with his best-tasting varieties to select and recombine for excellent traits. Contains exceptional material including some experimental forms that would stand on their own as named varieties. Morton invites growers and breeders to work with this mix to create new varieties for their farms or for the general public, while stipulating that nothing derived from it may be patented or protected from others’ use in any way. This strategy, originated by software developers, is now known as copyleft (as opposed to traditional copyright). Morton has adopted it to keep his varieties and their derivatives in the public domain as a protected commons. Seeds as nature’s software! See wwwgnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html. for more information on copyleft. These days freedom is a rather slippery concept and many things are being done in its name that I don’t approve, but copyleft has the potential to return to free use such shared resources as our plant heritage that rightfully belong to all of us. As Morton proclaims, “Adaptive breeding cannot occur under a system of restrictive ownership.” Open-pollinated.

Sparky

I dug a hole in the lower garden this weekend, and this is what I got.

Load 16 tons, and what do you get. . .

We moved here twenty years ago and started gardening as soon as we could fell some trees, but we have neighbors who have been at it almost twice as long. When I asked R.A.T. (who has beautiful gardens and fruit trees with C., his wife) what kind of soil I could expect to find on my lot he thought for a minute and said, “Sparky”. I had no idea what he meant but later that summer when I boot-heeled a spading fork into a future raised bed and nearly started a forest fire scraping the metal against the granite,  I got it. We don’t have dirt here, we have flint and tinder.

Yeah, good luck getting this one out.

I’ve hauled a lot of seaweed in the last twenty years – pickup truck loads of the stuff, first loose in the back of the truck and later packed into recycled contractor bags as I realized what the salt and sand did to my truck. Also leaves, sand, gravel, horse manure, bales and bales of hay, piles of pine needles, composted bio-soils, wood chips and lately, other people’s yard waste and branches as I’ve adapted to the practices of permaculture. I can actually grow things now but that doesn’t mean there’s any fewer rocks, large or small.

Extra large family size over compensating rock.

Rocks can occasionally be a positive element in the garden, especially in poor soil. I was weeding the strawberries during this last gasp of summer-in-November and found the plants had spread furiously under and around the rocks holding down the landscape fabric meant to suppress weeds. I stood there for a while and considered the situation. The strawberry plants loved those rocks, perhaps because they conserved moisture and regulated temperature changes? The landscape fabric certainly wasn’t doing anything to suppress weeds, and I have a lot of rocks. Why not make the plants happy? The strawberry bed went from this:

Argghhhh, mass strawberry attack.

to this:

Order out of chaos. Sweet, sweet order.

If nothing else, it will be easier to step into the middle of the bed to pick the fruit, and it can’t be any worse at weed suppression than the landscape fabric. Prettier too, and I find that counts for a lot in the garden.

October gardening

The late October to-do list includes:

Rake neighbor’s driveway: for the dual purpose of making her steep slope less slippery and harvesting wheelbarrows full of mulch for the blueberries, hydrangea, and current bushes. Every year I’m amazed what a soft, abundant cushion falls from the white pines that still look fully clothed in green needles.

Move the chrysanthemums from the yard to the hoop house and then eventually down cellar under the grow lights. Mums are one of my favorite plants to draw – their structure is so loud and on display – but they are the last flowers to bloom in my garden. That means nursing them through waning day length and falling temperatures, but it’s worth it for the source material. I indulge myself every year and buy two or three varieties from King’s Mums in Oregon, in search of my very own Mondrian.

Plant red garlic in the beds by the house where tomatoes grew this summer. A virus blew up the coast with Hurricane Irene and shut the tomato production down in August, so I should give these beds a rest from anything in the nightshade family for three years. I loosened the soil a bit with a hoe and planted a pound of cloves about 6″ on center all over the beds, while admiring the creepy-crawlies (baby pill bugs – very cute) and weeding out the tiny tomato seedlings (not this year, sorry). This spring I’ll interplant the garlic shoots with lettuce, spinach and beet greens, and then harvest the bulbs in late fall, 2012.

Prepare fruit trees for winter: rake up the leaves and compost them somewhere away from the trees to keep the pest population down, check the trunks for borers (apple borer is very common here) and rodent damage, put down a layer of seaweed mulch, then a layer of hay, and wrap the lower portion of each tree in wire screening to keep out the mice and shrews. Eventually I’ll also stamp the snow down in a big circle at the drip line to discourage tunneling. A friend of mine stopped by as I was kneeling on the cold wet ground and messing with string and mesh, and asked me why I bother, since none of my trees ever showed any damage? Ayuh.

Clear out the peas: One of my favorite garden tools is hemp twine. I used to spend time and energy ripping the vines out of nylon netting; now I cut the string from the poles and compost the whole heap together. Brilliant!

Return to the house cold and damp all over. Build a fire, make dinner, work on a painting, and go to sleep under two quilts; repeat until April.

 

It’s summer and. . .

the traffic is terrible. U turns in traffic, K turns downtown on one-way streets, and I think I saw an “M” turn (hint – it involved a boat trailer) down at the town dock on Saturday. On the up side, the Boy is home on holiday and brought the Girl with him and we are having a wonderful time.

Tonight we had La Piana squash ravioli with “everything” pesto. I picked handfuls of oregano, summer savory, Genovese basil, parsley, and a few carrot tops, processed them with garlic, sea salt, and olive oil and served topped with grated Parm. The tiny ravioli cook up soft and flavorful, and each box makes a huge amount. Fantastic.

I’ve also made brown butter rice crispie bars and blueberry boy bait from Smitten Kitchen, blueberry muffins, green curry, poverty cake, buttermilk waffles, and bog juice. I just can’t seem to help making all the family favorites, and I can’t regret it, either.

So I was out in the garden, watching the green hive (Pistachio) buzzing madly at their front entrance, no doubt screaming about the fantastic patch of goldenrod down the road at Triple Chick Farm. The buzzing seemed to be coming from two places at once, though, and I turned around to see a swarm of bees approaching from the swamp. They circled the big spruce tree a few times and then coalesced on a branch about 45′ above the hives. They stayed the night and were gone by 9 a.m. the next morning. Our current hives, Vanilla and Pistachio, seem unaffected by the visitors. The football shaped swarm is in the middle of this photo, right above our electrical wires.

Second plantings are in for kale, cabbage, broccoli, green beans (hedging my bets on a late frost), basil, lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsnips, and beet greens. We’ve had a respectable amount of rain for a Maine August and the garden is lush and productive at the moment.

While our son is here on break we tried out Eden, the new (or rather, resurrected) vegetarian restaurant in town. “Plant-based cuisine” for the win!  I had a bento box of grilled baby bok choi, spring rolls, maple roasted tofu, steamed soy beans – it was fantastic. Bonus points for being right next door to Mount Desert Ice Cream (Fearless Flavor!), where we had incredible cones: blackstrap banana, chocolate wasabi, and pralines and cream. We found out too late from another local that the shop will combine two flavors, so we’re headed back there this weekend for a “Cherie Special”: pralines and cream with salt caramel.

This seems to be the perfect year for corn. Now if the 7′ tall Silver Queen can withstand whatever we get from Hurricane Irene, there will be another post about dinner.

The garden in August

Cephalanthus O. has expanded into a multi-trunked thicket down by the lower driveway in the culvert ditch that leads to the swamp. Over the years the seeds (which are really “nutlets”) have dropped into the run-off in the spring, traveled through the culvert and seeded themselves along the stream into the swamp in a meandering trail of white, puffy blossoms buzzing with bees. The Buttonbush, or Button-willow, is a member of the coffee family and native to the NE US.

Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort, is in full bloom and covered with bees in the afternoon. They don’t seem to like it as much in the morning, perhaps it needs to warm up to produce a nectar flow? The plant contains up to 20% saponin (careful- toxic!) in the roots while in bloom, and even the leaves and stems will make a nice lather.

The peaches are coming along in the front yard. I expect the first ones to ripen in 3 weeks or so. Anise hyssop (for tea) and calendula o. (for salve) surround the tomato beds in the background.

Meadow-sweet has spread through the wild garden as cattails have increased the ratio of soil to water over the years. Next year I’m going to try harvesting the cattail shoots. The bees are all over the meadow-sweet which, like goldenrod, blooms in the heat of high summer.

July garden tour

A few days ago, I posted a photo of the garden in the morning when was still dewy and a little misty around the edges. It was a pretty shot, but quite a few people asked if they could “zoom in” and see the individual beds in more detail. Other people asked if they could get a list of what plants are growing in what area. I’ve just begun the work that will eventually build out “guilds” and “poly-cultures” of plant communities, but it’s not a bad idea to have a list of where I started for my records. This is by no means a complete inventory, but here we go:

This bed is in the “upper” garden, hard by the house. In “Gaia’s Garden“, Toby Hemenway talks about siting often-used vegetables close to the house. He suggests going out to snip a few herbs for an omelet and a side-dish of greens in the early morning in your bedroom slippers and robe. If you come in wet around the edges, the herbs are too far from the house. I can definitely snip greens from this bed without getting damp in the morning. Made of three layers of cinderblock, this bed is fairly deep. Even on the south side of the house it stores enough moisture for mustard, lettuces, radishes, and a few sorrel plants. Around the edges, in the cells of the blocks, grow anise hyssop, Thai basil, forget-me-nots (they’re everywhere), and alpine poppies. All the beds in the upper garden are ringed with strawberry plants, so that they benefit from the moisture and shade.

More in the upper garden: three beds of tomatoes surrounded by calendula and interplanted with bulls blood beets and white globe turnips. One of the tomato choices I made this season was Fedco’s Heirloom Tomato Mix.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of that over the course of the season and possibly picking out some new favorites for next year.

Down in the lower garden this bed contains Provider green beans, haricot verts, and started out with a lot of radishes that provided quick shade for the sensitive bean sprouts. I’ve since picked the radishes and the Carpet of Snow alyssum has grown up enough to provide a living mulch. I sow the alyssum at the same time as the radishes in the very early spring. Purple bread poppies grow wherever they like and provide full seedheads for bread and pastry and resowing in the fall.

This is one of the squash beds, set on the hillside for ease of walking around fragile trailing vines. The deer don’t bother the stouter vines, so these pumpkins and Hubbard squash can clamber up the hill and outside the electric fence. They are interplanted with nasturtiums (just for color – I don’t think these hybrids protect against bugs or nematodes) and green beans. These green beans are planted about two weeks after the beans in the bed mentioned above so that the harvest is staggered.

Corn! Two rows of Silver Queen white sweet corn, potentially growing to 9 feet and producing 3 or 4 ears per stalk in a good year. These are not interplanted with anything. I’d love to try the Three-Sisters method of corn stalks in mounds surrounded by pole beans and squash, but I have yet to convince my partner-gardener of that. This year he allowed mulch, so maybe there’s hope. That said, it’s wonderful corn.

Potato boxes with varieties Ratte, German Butterball, Green Mountain, and All Blue. The potatoes are planted in about a foot of dirt at the bottom of the box and boards and hay are added as the plants grow taller. I had a very poor yield in the 2010 boxes due, I think, to droughty weather and too much hay/too little soil to start. The vines are much healthier as we get into the really hot part of summer this year, so I have hopes for a good harvest. This is certainly a space-effective way to grow potatoes. In the late fall I dump the boxes over and use the soil, mulch and old plants to make a new bed.

Lilies and apple trees seem to go together well. The lilies provide a nice living mulch to cool the roots,  retain moisture, and shade out weeds. These are very old Tiger lilies from my grandmother’s garden in Connecticut growing under “Westfield Seek-no-Further”, which is covered in little green apples this year.

I have another whole group of close-ups for a post this weekend. We’ve had some rain so if I can stop picking green beans for a minute  I’ll make another post this weekend!

 

So much to do.

The days are just packed! And we’re still getting more than 16 hours of daylight.

Lady’s Mantle, elecampne, and willow fences line the path into the garden.

Little green apples beginning to form on the “Westfield Seek No Further”. The tree is covered with them – good work by the bees.

“Portland” roses from the Flanagan house in Portland with angelica in the background.

Fedco’s “Beneficial Insects” mix is in full bloom.

The bees are busy hoarding pollen, nectar and sunlight.

 

A color tour of the garden

We have rain in the forecast for the next three weeks, East Coast people. The corn is only 4″ tall but the lettuce – I could sell lettuce in gross tonnage. I took these photos last night and each one seemed to make a statement about the colors coming out in all this moisture and darkness.

Permanent violet deep – one of my least favorite colors in a tube of paint, but it looks good on the Purple Royalty smokebush growing by the driveway. Winter 2010-11 was the first year this shrub wasn’t mangled down to 3′ by being run over by the plow truck. Evidently the fix was to put a giant slap of granite in front of it.

Soon the orange honeysuckle will be in bloom and ruin the monochrome effect, but for now violet Dame’s Rocket, chives, and the bluer of the two pink tree peonies fill the dooryard to the northeast.

The little flame azalea is nearly engulfed in sweetgrass. Truly wonderful neighbors gave me this for babysitting their wonderful child, and I think of them every time I see it.

And green – very in with gardens in the area this summer. Even the weedy grass along the roadside is verdant right now, but we’ll see what July will bring.