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Seed Starting

Here’s some more information on starting seeds.  Right now is a great time to get seeds going for warm season crops like tomatoes and for cool season crops that need a little boost like collards.  While cool season crops can be direct sowed soon I find that doing starts let’s me get a bit of a jump on the season and beat the slugs too.

I put a lot of seeds in one pan to start with then plant them out.

I put a lot of seeds in one pan to start with then plant them out.

I have started sowing a lot of seeds in a cake pan with holes in the bottom then prick these out into larger cells once they have sprouted.  This way I can pick the strongest plants and know that each cell will be filled.

Dampened start mix.

Dampened start mix.

To prefill the cells I add water to the soil mix and shake it up until the soil is damp.  Wetting seed starting mixes can be a real pain but this seems to help.

I pour the mix down the middle then sweep it into the cells.

I pour the mix down the middle then sweep it into the cells.

Once the mix is damp I dump a lot down the middle of the cells then use my hand or a board to sweep the mix into the cells.  Next I lightly tamp the soil down with the bottom of another seed tray.

Chopsticks are just the right size for making a seedling hole.

Chopsticks are just the right size for making a seedling hole.

To plant out the seedlings I make a hole with a chopstick then carefully separate out the seedling touching only the early leaves and not the stem.

All set!

All set!

Once the seedlings are replanted place them in a bright window under a grow light.  Here is a good way to set this light up using what you can find at the local hardware store.

Spring Flowers!

This year’s warm weather has brought the flowers out in full glory.

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Cherry blossoms

Daffodils

Daffodils

Pink Magnolias

Pink Magnolias

White Magnolias

White Magnolias

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Giant Magnolias

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Tulips

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Even more cherry blossoms!

 

 

DSC_2604When I first started gardening I tossed seeds in the soil and hoped they would grow. Over the years I’ve grown a bit more scientific and have added a pH testing kit to my set of tools.

The pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is. Seven is neutral–numbers less than seven are acidic while numbers greater are basic. An acidic soil is common in areas with high rainfall and is called sour while a basic soil is common in dry areas and is called sweet.

So why does this matter to gardeners?

– Many plants and soil life prefer either acidic or basic conditions
– Diseases affecting plants tend to thrive in soil with a certain pH range
– The pH can affect the availability of nutrients in the soil.

Plants generally get maximum benefit from nutrients in the soil when the pH is between 5.5 and 7. The majority of food crops prefer a neutral or slightly acidic soil (pH 7). If a soil is too acidic you can add ground limestone. This replaces calcium and magnesium washed away by rain. Amending the soil with compost to help the soil resist a change in the pH is also helpful.

For more information on pH testing click here.

 

 

 

 

This year is a warm one so far and it’s hard not to succumb to the lure of the seed catalogs and rush out and plant everything.  Unfortunately this may lead to a lot of rotten seed in the ground and a need to replant. To avoid this disappointment it’s important to read the package and see at what soil temperature your seeds are most likely to germinate.

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To get a ball park figure for what your soil temperature is you can check out the AgWeatherNet site.  To find out what your garden soil temp is the best way is to use a soil thermometer.

8To warm your soil up you can cover with a plastic cloche or use black plastic.  While these methods will give you a little head start things seem to even out over time.

What’s in That Soil?

This soil looks great but how well will plants grow?

This soil looks great but how well will plants grow?

My soil certainly looked good; rich brown, crumbly with a nice loamy smell but what was really there?

Do I have lead in my soil? Does it have nutrients to grow healthy plants?

This year I finally got my trowel out, shot out of the house on a cold February day and dug up samples from several of my raised beds. Once back inside I mixed the soil together then wrote a 10 dollar check, completed the soil testing lab order sheet, dropped the bag in a box and shipped it off to the University of Massachusetts.  You can also get free testing by King County.   While they don’t test for contaminants they do test for Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, Sulfur, Organic Matter, pH, and Cation Exchange Capacity. They will give you feedback on your soil and give suggestions on what you can do to promote healthy plant growth.  If you live in the Asarco plume zone you can get free testing that does include contaminants.

Waiting for the results was kind of like waiting for medical lab tests to come back. I agonized–would my soil be healthy? After a couple of weeks I got an e-mail with the joyful results that there was no lead or other harmful things and lots of nutrients to help the plants grow. If I’d known it was this simple I would have done it years ago.

Before you start growing edibles in your backyard, be sure to get your soil tested; it will put your mind at ease!

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I’ve been cleaning out the beds for spring planting and the over-wintered kale had to go!

Luckily after a few frosts the leaves are almost sweet and quite tender.  The flower heads taste a lot like broccoli and are delicious as a salad or stir fry.

Ingredients:

  • Kale flowers and leaves, 4 cups
  • Canola oil, 1 to 2 Tablespoons
  • Garlic, one clove
  • Ginger, one quarter inch
  • Soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon

Branch Borders

I just trimmed my redwood dogwoods to get basket making supplies and decided to use the larger branches to make a border for a flower and herb bed.

Bed without border.

Bed without border.

 

Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.

Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.

 

Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over.  Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don't pop out.

Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over. Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don’t pop out.

 

I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.

I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.

 

 

 

Time to Plant Onions!

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

Why grow onions when they are pretty cheap at the store?  Because they taste better!

There are many different shapes, sizes and even colors of onions and most can be pulled young as green onions.

I like to plant my onions when the crocuses are blooming; they are a cool season crop and do best when planted early.  You can grow onions from transplants, sets, or seeds. Transplants are seedlings started in the current growing season and sold in bunches,   sets are immature bulbs grown the previous year and are the easiest to plant, the earliest to harvest, and the least susceptible to diseases. Growing onions from seed offers a wide choice in cultivars but it’s hard to start seeds here as we have such a short growing season.  You will need to start your onion seedlings indoors.

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Plant with the pointy side up.

If you are using sets then plant them two inches apart, 2-3 inches deep with the pointy side up.  I like to lay them out on the bed before planting as I lose track what I’ve planted where.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

There are short and long day onions.  Short day onions form bulbs when the days reach 10 to 12 hours long and are better for southern latitudes.  Long day cultivars need 13 to 16 hours and are the ones best suited for our area.

Once I have planted onions I cover them with Reemay less to provide heat than to protect them from the ravenous crows who view my yard as their private pantry.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

With well prepared soil no fertilizing should be needed.  If onions are in soil that has a lot of nitrogen then you will get great tops but small bulbs.  Onion do like to be watered regularly but are a good crop if you are going to be on short vacations this summer as they will tolerate some gaps in watering.

Harvest onions when the tops turn yellow.  Pull and hang in a dry place until thoroughly dry.  If you harvest them too early or don’t let them dry enough they will rot.  If well dried they will last 6 months to a year.  If you don’t eat them all before then!

Onions are in, peas are next!

Onions are in, peas are next!

February in the Garden

Pre-cleanup

Pre-cleanup

I knew it was time for a change when looking in the backyard all I could think was “a field of poo”.  Leo is a prodigious producer and the chickens were cranking out the smelly stuff at an alarming rate.  I would be skinned alive if a hair on the dog’s beloved head was touched but the birds?  I put an ad on my neighborhood Facebook page and by night the girls were out the door and on their way to a new loving home.

A bit more scrubbing then on to its new life.

A bit more scrubbing then on to its new life.

Over 20 years with chickens was great but no matter what I did I just couldn’t keep the flies and rats under control.  I tried wasps to kill larvae, treadle feeders to flummox rats and obsessive coop cleaning but all to no avail.  Short of completely rebuilding the coop I could think of nothing left to try so off they went.

Post cleanup

Post cleanup

With renewed interest I cleaned up the overgrown backyard, blasted out the empty coop and did spring plantings.

There still is plenty of Leo poop but if he’s walked regularly he much prefers doing his business then.  I’m looking forward to a summer of sweetly scented air wafting in from the backyard and picnics amongst sunflowers.  I’ll keep you posted on how this goes!

Rhubarb pushing up through the soil.

Rhubarb pushing up through the soil.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Budding raspberry canes

Budding raspberry canes

Crocuses

Crocuses

Daffodils

Daffodils

Chickens!

I'm still top chicken, don't even think about putting me in the pot.

I’m still top chicken, don’t even think about putting me in the pot.

“Yum!  Fresh eggs are here again!” said my daughter with joy.  When the hens start laying spring is just around the corner.

If you’ve ever thought of getting chickens now is a good time to get ready.  With a little preparation they are very easy to raise and the eggs and manure are great to have.  Starting with chicks from the feed store is a good way to go.

For chicken success you need:

  • A dry place for them to perch, lay eggs and sleep
  • An area for exercise and scratching
  • Protection from predators.  I have lost quite a few chickens to racoons; they are very good at pulling up fences, digging and even going so far as to pull boards off of coops.  Hawks have carried off a few chicks.
  • Access to clean water and food.  Food needs to be protected from rats or you can have a huge pest problem.
  • A good source of calcium for shell development.  This can be in the food or as a supplement such as ground up shells.

 

New eggs!

New eggs!

 

Chicken manure mixed with wood chips needs to compost for at least six months.

Chicken manure mixed with wood chips needs to compost for at least six months.

 

Using a treadle feeder like this one cuts down on problems with rats as they aren't heavy enough to trip it open.

Using a treadle feeder like this one cuts down on problems with rats as they aren’t heavy enough to trip it open.

 

Here's another style treadle feeder for a bigger flock.  This one is more robust.

Here’s another style treadle feeder for a bigger flock. This one is more robust.

 

There is a fenced outside run with bird netting on top mainly to keep out hawks.

There is a fenced outside run with bird netting on top mainly to keep out hawks.

 

Inside the former goat shed the girls have dry perches and boxes for laying.

Inside the former goat shed the girls have dry perches and boxes for laying.

 

Sometimes I use hay for bedding but often use cedar chips instead.

Sometimes I use hay for bedding but often use cedar chips instead.