Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chrysanthemum Tea Plants

chrysanthemum tea plants
They're here! After 2 years of searching and an open plea to my readers, I finally have 4 of my very own chrysanthemum tea plants. They arrived last week from Companion Plants, a medicinal plant nursery located in Athens, Ohio. I don't know of any other commercial source for this plant in the United States.

Hopefully they will grow well for me this summer and bloom in the fall. The flowers are what is harvested, dried and then brewed into tea. Again, I have to thank Michelle of From Seed to Table fame for finding Companion Plants.

For me, part of the thrill in gardening is being able to grow interesting plants that are not widely cultivated in my area. I feel really lucky to have this one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What's Wrong with this Picture?

after the storm
Notice anything askew in this picture? Either two of my mini hoop houses grew legs and jumped off their beds or mother nature is frowning upon me at the moment. For the past 48 hours, we've been battling torrential rain and tropical storm-force winds. Several large trees were uprooted in our neighborhood and much of our yard is still under water. My poor next-door neighbor whose house is downhill from ours got 4 inches of water inside his finished basement. Hopefully, the weather will let up soon despite what the weather man says.

My shorter 2 feet tall hoop houses seemed to ensure the high winds just fine. I wish I could say the same about my 3 feet tall hoops, which luckily are still in one piece. I'll have to install stronger hinges and a lock to prevent this from happening again. Pests, flood, flying hoop houses - I guess it's true that bad things come in 3's. Hopefully, this will be the end of it!

UPDATE (Fri. 11:00 PM): I just went into the garden to survey the damage. As some of you may know, all of my 3 x 6 feet raised beds are enclosed by 2 x 4 inch pine frames. Imagine my surprise to find that my 2 taller hoop houses were still attached to their frames. Yup, the wind had ripped the frames right out of the ground. I didn't even think that was possible!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Question of the Day - To Trim or Not to Trim

onions
Presently, my Red of Florence scallions and Red Amposta onions are over 4 inches tall and are beginning to flop over a bit. Since I've never grown onions from seeds before, I thought I'd ask those of you who have whether or not you trim the onions seedlings at some point, and if so, how short? I can't seem to find a definitive answer to this question.

I have to say, I sowed a fair number of seeds, but it doesn't seem like I have that many seedlings to show for it. Some blocks failed to germinate altogether. I'm starting to second guess my soil mix or the fact that I may have pressed some of these blocks too firmly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spending Money and Strange Happenings

sets crowns and canes
By now, most of you are aware of my rodent problem. I've placed spring traps and sticky traps underneath my hoops but no bites yet. (Note to self - sticky traps are not sticky at low temperatures.) Then I came home tonight to find my garden completely flooded. It's been raining nonstop for the past 12 hours and the frozen soil has contributed to some drainage problems. As I stepped into the garden tonight, my boot sank several inches into the mud. My raised beds are practically floating at the moment and we're expected to get a mix of snow and rain for the next five days. I'm not looking forward to the cleanup.

This past weekend, I started my leeks, peppers, chilies, mini-Napa cabbage and first sowing of tomatoes. Amazingly, the cabbage and tomatoes have already begun to germinate. I'm seriously running out of shelf space. At Home Depot, I picked up some grape vines (Concord seedless and Reliance), Victoria rhubarb crowns and white onion sets, which are all lying dormant in my garage right now. I also placed an order with Nourse Farms for some Jersey Supreme asparagus crowns, Jaclyn raspberry canes and an Invicta gooseberry bush to ship in late April. Finally, I ordered Seville orange and Indio mandarinquat trees from Four Winds Growers to ship in late March.

I'm starting to feel as though I've stacked too much onto my gardening plate this year. I still have to dig 2/3s of my garden plot and think about possible irrigation systems. Hopefully, I won't be pulling out my hair in the coming months.

Monday, February 22, 2010

RATS!

Or should I say MOUSE!...I was dumbfounded when I opened up one of my hoop houses on Sunday and found this:

destroyed bed 1
It's amazing to me that a rodent can cause so much damage in such a short period. This is not something they usually advertise in your photo-shopped gardening magazine.

winter wild greens
This is what my mache and minutina looked like not too long ago.

destroyed bed 2
And this is what it looked like yesterday. I guess I won't be eating any wild greens this spring. As you can see, not only did my nemesis help itself to some salad, but by the looks of things, it made itself at home too...

destroyed bed 3
...as evidenced by this nest of chewed up straw that it built inside this pot. GROSS!

destroyed bed 4
And did I mention that one bed was not enough for this dastardly thief! All of my hoops showed evidence of forced entry. This rodent made off with most of my Tango lettuce and left no trace of Rouge D'Hiver lettuce.

destroyed bed 5
I must have spotted at least a half dozen of these little tunnels all around the garden. This would have been impossible a few weeks ago, but now that the hoops are warming up, the soil around them has thawed. So I did the only thing I could do.

cleaned up beds
I cleaned up this mess. At first, I felt completely deflated. (It's tough when something comes along and sh*ts all over your hard work.) But now, I'm just plain PISSED OFF!

I want this thing DEAD! And when I say "DEAD", I mean a Lord of the Flies kind of DEAD! I'm sorry if this offends some of you, but I don't intend to show any shred of mercy to this mouse. How do I know a mouse caused all of this mess? Because it decided to show its face and say "hello" as I said "goodbye" to my winter greens. THIS! IS! WAR!

(Question: when a mouse reaches 4 inches long, is it still a mouse or a rat?)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Harvest Monday - Carrot Cleanup

Harvesting February Carrots
This past week, my son Jonathan and I harvested the remaining carrots from one of my beds. They were the runts of the litter but tasty nonetheless.

washing carrots
I feel kind of silly calling this a "harvest", but for February in New England, what do you expect? :) Anyway, we did end up with 1.04 lbs of trimmed baby carrots.

P.S. I encountered a minor...no...make that major, catastrophe in the garden this past weekend. I'll upload some pictures tomorrow. It's only February but already I am in "KILL" mode.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February Seedlings - Part II

I thought I'd do a another quick post on how things are progressing so far. Enjoy!

red scallions and onions
The Red of Florence scallions and Red Amposta onions are getting taller by the day.

Tuscan kale
The Tuscan kale have grown their first set of true leaves.

Shanghai Pac Choi and Mizuna 2
The Shanghai bok choy and Mizuna will be ready for transplanting in a couple of weeks.

wild strawberries
The wild strawberries are growing slowly but surely. I have at least 24 blocks of Yellow Wonder and 17 blocks of Red Wonder.

thyme
The thyme has germinated in 6 days time.

ground cherry
The ground cherries are sprouting very slowly, but the germination rate looks pretty good. I should have about 10 transplants when all is said and done.

roselle
Only 2 out of 5 soil blocks containing roselle went on to germinate. The rest have rotted. I am currently pre-sprouting a couple more seeds.

Celery
The celery seedlings really need to be thinned. They look so delicate; I can't bring myself to do it yet.

Imperial Star artichoke
One of 2 Imperial Star artichokes I got from my first sowing is finally starting to develop its first set of true leaves.

Imperial star artichokes
Finally, 8 seeds from my second sowing of artichokes have germinated. It looks like I'm in business again!

This weekend is supposed to be a very busy one on my seed starting schedule. Hopefully, I'll be able to get everything done.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Week's Seed Starting Update - Part 1

starting herbs indoors
Last weekend (Feb 13), I decided to start some of my herbs for this year. I was going to buy transplants later on this spring, but of course that idea was shot down once I saw these seed packets. I multi-seeded 4 peat pellets each of rosemary, common thyme, sage and oregano, 5 pellets of chamomile and 10 pellets of lavender. Now I'm wondering if this is enough. Maybe I'll do a second sowing in a week or two. (I'm finding it really hard to exercise some restraint these days.)

chamomile seedlings
Already the chamomile has started to sprout. I thought for sure that this would be my "problem" seed of the bunch. I guess I was wrong.

artichoke sprouts
Finally, I thought I'd give a quick update on my artichoke seed-starting ordeal. Back on February 2nd, I sowed 10 soil blocks of Imperial Artichokes. Only 2 have sprouted thus far with one looking particularly stunted. I decided to dig into the rest of the blocks today and sure enough, the rest of the seeds had rotted away. My guess is that this has something to do with the soil blocks - maybe they dislike the super-moist conditions or the fertility of the mix is a bit off. Who knows.

This past weekend, I went all out and started the rest of my seeds using several different methods. First, I followed Dan's advice and soaked them overnight. Then I planted 14 of them into peat pellets. I followed Melody's advice and placed 6 pellets into the fridge for a couple of weeks of cold treatment. The rest went straight onto my seed-starting shelves.

I also thought I'd do some germination testing of my own by covering 5 seeds with a damp paper towel and sealing them inside a plastic bag. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about them until today. To my surprise, 4 out of the 5 seeds had begun to sprout. I decided to press them gently into peat pellets and placed them under my grow lights. Hopefully, they will take hold and continue to grow. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Late Winter Tilling and Cleanup

Welcome Peggy and Elspeth! Thanks for following!

late winter clean up 1
I was able to spend about an hour in the garden today to do a bit of tidying up. It felt good to dig into the beds for the first time this year. The warmer environment created by the floating row cover and hoop house made for soil that was moist, crumbly and completely free of frost.

late winter clean up 2
Out went the wild arugula and lettuce mix. The spinach will stay for as long as it will produce. I haven't decided what will go into this bed yet - maybe a super early crop of carrots, radishes or turnips. I love the fluffy look of freshly tilled soil.

late winter clean up 3
I also enlisted some help to pull up the remainder of my Napoli carrots. I had harvested all of the large ones in December and January. What is left never fully matured this winter. Still, they will make for tasty little snacks.

late winter clean up 4
The soil underneath this hoop was slightly frosty since I neglected to secure a layer of fabric row cover over the carrots this winter. I will go back to break up the larger clumps of soil as the weather warms up. In a couple of weeks, I will plant out some Shanghai bok choy and Mizuna, which hopefully will mature before an early crop of peppers is planted out in late April or on May 1st (my frost free date).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Seed Starting Update - Mid-February

Welcome Alan, Kim and Liz. Thanks for following!

I hope everyone is enjoying the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. I thought I'd just do a quick update on the seeds I've started so far.

Tuscan kale seedlings
Tuscan Kale - I started these on February 2nd. They seem to be doing pretty well. Germination was at about 80%. I'm hoping to have 8 transplants when all is said and done.

wild strawberry seedlings
Red and Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberries - I started 18 blocks of each on February 2nd. Germination for the yellow variety has been close to 100% (17 out of 18 blocks). However, only 7 blocks have germinated so far for the red variety. I'm hoping that this will improve within the the next few days. To be on the safe side, I sowed 6 more blocks of each a couple of days ago.

red of florence scallions
Red of Florence Scallions - I sowed 8 multi-seeded blocks (which I will not thin) on February 2nd. All of my onions will be grown in this way this year. Six blocks have sprouted so far. I'm guessing that if I had these over a heat mat, germination would have been a bit quicker. Last weekend, I started15 more blocks of these scallions and 15 blocks of Red Amposta onions. Still no signs of life from this latest batch.

shanghai pac choi and mizuna
Shanghai Bok Choy (left 2 rows and back row) and Mizuna - I sowed these blocks on February 7th and already all of them have germinated. In my experience, Asian greens are some of the easiest seeds to start indoors. I'd like to have successive sowings of bok choy going all year long.

celery seedlings
Celery - I started 8 blocks of celery on February 2nd and 7 have sprouted so far. I'm very happy about this as I've read that celery can be very slow to start. While the seed packet indicated that it could take anywhere between 15 to 30 days for the seeds to germinate, my seeds took about 11 days with a heating mat.

imperial star artichoke seedling
Imperial Artichokes - This is undoubtedly my biggest disappointment so far. I started 10 blocks on February 2nd and only 1 has germinated. Fed up, I dug into several of the blocks today and found no signs of life whatsoever. The seeds didn't look like they were rotting. They just look lifeless. It's these little setbacks that really make you question your gardening knowledge and abilities. I don't really know what to make of this since I've followed the growing instructions pretty closely.

imperial star artichoke seeds
Not that I was looking for someone else to blame but I did take a closer look at the seed packet today. It was then that I noticed the minimum germination rate disclosed by Johnny's - around 65% measured in July 2009. Also, the sell by date was listed as July 2010. Could the bad germination be due to the fact that these seeds are old? It would be really upsetting if this were the case since I purchased these seeds a couple of months ago. To be on the safe side, I am starting all 25 seeds contained in this packet. Hopefully, I will end up with more than just one plant to grow this summer.

I also started some ground cherries and roselle on February 7th - still no signs of life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Gardening - Successes and Failures (Part Two)

winter wild greens
I experimented with a few wild greens this winter, namely mache, minutina and wild arugula. The wild arugula eventually succumbed to the recurring hard freezes but the mache and minutina have proven to be virtually indestructible.

winter mache
One of my big mistakes this winter was sowing the seeds too late (mid-September). In all likelihood, these greens won't be ready for harvesting until early March, which isn't a big deal if this was what I was aiming for. This year, I will start the minutina in early August and the mache in late August. I will also sow the mache more densely and harvest the thinnings. Finally, I will be adding claytonia (miner's lettuce) to the list of wild greens to grow next winter.

tango lettuce
Tango lettuce was supposed to be my hardy winter lettuce for this year. As you can see, it still looks pretty good. Unfortunately, after a few weeks of hard frost, this lettuce started tasting incredibility bitter. I sampled it again last weekend and some of the bitterness has subsided. I'm hoping that as the weather warms up a bit, it will become edible again.

rouge d'hiver lettuce
I also had some Rouge D'Hiver lettuce growing well into December. As expected, it faded as temperatures inside the mini hoop houses dropped into the high 20's F. Interestingly though, the color has turned a brilliant burgundy wine. I did notice that it's starting to put on new growth. I've never tasted overwintered lettuce before. I wonder if it will be any good. Next winter, I will try to grow lettuce again, only with different varieties. Dan has had success with Little Gem this year and Winter Density also looks promising.

winter chard
The Bright Lights swiss chard is still hanging in there. I may look for another variety to grow next winter. Like the kale, I will plant my winter chard closer together next fall and harvest the leaves at a young stage.

winter carrots
Finally, the carrots have been a great success this winter. I'm sticking with the Nantes and Napoli varieties as they continued to put on size well into January. Not only are they extremely hardy, but also taste really good. I will say that it is absolutely necessary to hold them under a double layer of protection, something I neglected to do with my Nantes carrots. Doing so prevents the soil from freezing solid and makes harvesting much more manageable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Winter Garden - An Update (Part One)

Since it has been a while, I thought I'd do a quick update on what's happening in the garden right now along with some general winter gardening observations.

winter spinach
First off, this is the patch of spinach that I have growing under a quick hoop. All that is separating it from the harsh elements is a single layer of 6 millimeter plastic. I took this picture when the outside temperature was in the high 20's F and as you can see, it looks pretty comfortable underneath.

winter spinach 2
I have another patch of spinach growing inside one of my mini hoop houses. This one is also protected by an inner layer of fabric row cover. The difference between the two is pretty drastic. Although both seem unfazed by the winter conditions, this patch has been much more productive. In fact, while the other patch has stayed seemingly in a state of suspended animation (I did my first cutting this past weekend), this patch is actually growing through the winter months. In the span of 30 days, I've been able to get 2 cuttings from this one. As a result, ALL of my winter veggies next year will be grown under a double layer of protection.

winter pak choi
I sowed these pak choi seedlings in late November. As you can see, they've done absolutely nothing during the past couple of months. But what's interesting is that they look perfectly healthy desperate the cold. Next winter, I will experiment more with Asian greens. I have a feeling that if I can get these to size up before December, I can have Asian greens to harvest in December and January.

winter kale - red russian
The Red Russian kale is growing back slowing but surely. I've been able to get a couple of cuttings from last September's sowing. This variety is definitely a keeper. For some reason, I didn't think that Red Russian would be as hardy as other types of kale, like Winterbor. I think the added protection has a lot to do with it. Next winter, I'd like to start this kale indoors in August, plant them out closer together in September, and harvest the leaves at a younger stage all winter long.