Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's that time of year again...

Time to plan out the garden and start seedlings! Actually that "time of year" was a few weeks ago, but it's not too late. I promised to post about what I'd be planting, how much, and when.

Let's start with the "what":

Eggplant-black beauty
Last year I grew black beauties from seed and purchased Fairy Tale from an internet vendor. The black beauties were great although I got them started too late because I got into our town garden late. The Fairy Tales were too small and honestly, I never knew what to do with them. Maybe i just don't love fresh eggplant as much as I thought I did. I decided I wouldn't even grow eggplant again except I had some seeds leftover and Morgan has a Tunisian stuffed eggplant recipe from his grandmother he is eager to try again. So...I'll give it a shot.

Tomatoes-Roma and grape
I'm not the biggest tomato lover. I could even foresee a day when maybe I didn't grow tomatoes at all. That day is not today though! Mostly because I'm Italian and every generation of my family have grown tomatoes. Because of this luke warm attitude towards tomatoes (I should say Morgan likes them, so that's a reason too) I decided to only grow tomatoes I thought I might like-grape tomatoes for snacking and Roma tomatoes for making a sauce. Besides, vine-ripened sun-warmed tomatoes are so different from any other tomato I have ever met. I also ordered some heirloom variety (4 plants online) just in case everything goes belly up. I still want to have something decent to plant come May. Another reason to grow tomatoes is for canning purposes and Morgan has a great pan y tomate recipe of grated tomato atop French bread with garlic that's really delicious.

Peppers-sweet and banana, maybe one or two hot
Last year I was surprised by how much I enjoyed growing peppers. We had a lot of uses for peppers, especially the mild hot ones that we made into poppers for the beginning of the football season. This year I would like to try and preserve banana peppers because I like adding those to salads or sandwiches. Also, preserving is a good way to have home grown vegetables all year long. I also ordered 6 pepper plants, a variety pack of sweet peppers just to mix things up. The banana peppers I'm going to grow from seed.

I only had one plant make it last year. But a lot of seeds left. Here's to a whole year of learning and a good batch of lettuce.

Swiss Chard
I have the seeds and I like to eat it so why not!?

Beans-pole beans
Same here. Plus, this year I'm focusing on pole beans rather than bush beans. For some reason, last year I thought I didn't have enough room for pole beans, but this year I realize it's not really a land issue. Pole beans grow up but don't require much more room in the garden. Plus, they produce a better yield.

My favorite! It takes up a lot of room but I love zucchini. Im going to try for two plants and see what happens. Also, Johnny Appleseed style I may spread seeds all over my relatives' yards in the hopes they are able to grow some too.

I have the seeds and thought they'd be good for eating and preserving maybe.

The "when"-these are more or less laid out in order of when I need to start them, with the exception of the lettuce. I just want to start my lettuce early because I love it that much. But normally lettuce isn't a plant that needs to be started indoors. I've had bad luck starting seeds in the ground. I think my problem is keeping them moist enough. So I'll be starting all of my seeds indoors, just that some (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes) need 6-8 weeks indoors and the others will just get their start (2-3 weeks) indoors and then go in the garden. Most are cool weather tolerant too (not eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers) so they can go in the ground as soon as they start sprouting.

The "how much"-I'm not going to concern myself with this element that much. There are worse problems than having too many fresh vegetables. If this happens, it'll give me a great opportunity to learn about preserving vegetables. The banana peppers especially I'd like to preserve.

"Where?" - this year I am starting my seedlings in soil blocks inside on a heating mat under a grow light. When the weather is clear and sunny, not too warm or too cold, I move the seedlings into what I like to call my carden. This way I don't have to use artificial measures the entire time my seedlings are indoors. Especially as seedlings, it's important that plants receive enough light.

What's a carden? This is my car + garden = carden. It's the perfect greenhouse.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What, Where, When, and How Many - Garden 2012!

It's winter and although I have a lot of winter activities to keep me busy, I can't help to start thinking about my 2012 garden. This past season I did a lot of research, learned a lot of valuable lessons, experimented some, and endured just a few set backs. We were able to have a few meals from our homegrown bounty, but the best thing I walked away from 2011 with is a desire to do it all again next year-bigger and better.

This year we got our first cold spell and snow around Halloween. This signaled the real end of the 2011 garden. Actually it had ended a few weeks earlier, but this meant we were heading into winter for real. With the end of the 2011 garden, I immediately started day dreaming about 2012. My first step, naturally, was to make a Christmas list that included a seed starting mat and a soil blocker. A seed starting mat keeps a tray of seeds warm while they're germinating. The soil blocker is a zinc coated stainless steel tool that makes free-standing compressed cubes of potting soil which hold their shape without any container or waste, allowing plants to transplant with less shock.

It looks like this:

Well, Santa delivered, along with a seed starting greenhouse! Isn't that what every woman dreams of finding under the Christmas tree?

I spoke to the town already and am fairly certain I will get a full garden plot next year, so I know (hope) I'll be working with a full 5'x20 garden plot in our town's community garden unlike last year's half plot.

This brings me to what I am going to call the what, where, when, and how much of gardening.

First step is to decide what to plant. Naturally, you should start with what you like to eat. But you also need to consider what can grow in your region and how much space you will have, how big the plants get, how long the growing season is and how long you're willing to wait for results. Don't start growing Brussels sprouts in
June unless you're prepared to wait until September or October because brussels sprouts can take 90 to 120 days to mature. Also, if you live in a region like I do (with seasons) you only have about 3 to 4 months of a growing season for warmer weather plants (like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant). Don't try to plant a tomato seed in June and expect to be eating tomatoes in August.

This is also important. Will you be using a windowsill, a container garden, or a garden plot? Which direction does your garden face? Do you have the room to grow what you desire? For example, zucchini plants can get massive. This wouldn't be ideal for a container or a small space. In contrast, lettuce takes up relatively little room and can be grown in lower light situations (some lettuce varieties can only grow in cool weather).

This is the big one I'm going to try to master next year. When to start seeds indoors, when to transplant, when to sow seeds directly in the ground, and and maybe even when to start a fall garden. You can only do this after you've decided what you want to grow and where it will be going.

How many?
Another consideration is how much of a certain type of vegetable to plant. I remember planting 5 green bean plants (bush variety) last year and a fellow gardener walked up to me and goes, "You see all this...," gesturing to my green bean plants, "if all this comes might have enough green beans for one dinner for the two of you." I had overlooked the fact that pole beans produce a greater yield relative to their size.

Last year, this website was very helpful:

Next time that I write I will have a list of what i want to plant, followed by a schedule for starting seeds.