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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.

Wild Edibles

Nettles are bursting with vitamins and pretty tasty too.

Nettles are bursting with vitamins and pretty tasty too.

So what do you do if you have very little land, a thrifty budget and still want to eat super local?  Wild edibles can be a great way to go!

By following a few simple rules you can safely harvest a bounty:

  • Only eat what you know
  • Harvest small amounts
  • Don’t harvest near roads or other places pesticides could be sprayed
  • Try a small amount of each plant before making a big meal of it, some people are allergic to things they aren’t aware of

This Wild Edible Plants presentation will get you started on your next super local meal.

Crock Pot Custard

Do you have tried and true recipes that you use all the time?  I have several that I keep taped to the inside of my cupboard.  One of my favorites is crock pot custard; this fail safe treat is ready in about two and half hours and is always a family favorite.

Favorite recipes

Favorite recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2c scalded milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla
This bowl sits nicely in the crock pot above the water.

This bowl sits nicely in the crock pot above the water.

Put a few inches of water in the bottom of the crock pot then either sit a bowl on top of a rock or something that keeps it just above the water level or use a bowl that sits on the rim of the pot.  Scald the milk in a pan or in the microwave.  Add in the sugar.  Beat the eggs with the vanilla then slowly add the milk and sugar mixture into the eggs; stirring all the time.  Once all is mixed put in a bowl and suspend above the water in the pot.  Cover and cook until a knife inserted comes out pretty clean.  You can add lemon zest or chocolate to make different flavors.

 

Time to Make Wreaths

The days are getting longer and the snow drops are blooming.  It’s time to make wreaths.  You can make wreaths out of any kind of flexible thin branches.  Here’s how to do it. 

Snow drops!

Find a weeping willow tree that you can trim.

Cut then bundle the thin branches for easy transport.

Take one end and loop it around the other end.

Add in new twigs and wrap them around the previous one. Tuck in the ends.  Wrap until you get the thickness you want then hang up or set aside to dry.

Here’s a much looser wreath made with beech twigs.

Have fun!

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!

Building a Raised Bed

I dashed out in between rainy days to prep the raised beds and found one in serious need of replacing. Happily building beds is pretty quick and easy.

The first step is a trip to the lumber store to get three 8 foot long by one foot high boards. I usually ask the staff to cut one of the boards in two; the first cut is free at most places.

You can use scrap wood but be sure it’s not painted or treated in any way. Scrap wood can save you money in the short term but it doesn’t last very long. To make this bed with new wood, hardware, screws and four bags of compost cost me about 70 dollars.

Next figure out where you want to put the bed.

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Lay the boards out first.

Next get out your power screw driver and charge it up. This is one job that I can’t imagine doing without a power tool.

 

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Decide how you’re going to join the boards together.

I have tried screwing one board into another and they come apart pretty quickly. Using this kind of fastener works well.

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Line your boards up and screw them together. Having a friend help at this point makes it easier.

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Finished bed all ready to fill and plant!

Once the bed is done wiggle it around to the place you want it to be then fill and plant. With help it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to put a bed together.

 

Gearing Up to Grow Starts

To really make use of our short growing season using starts is a great way to go.  It’s easy to grow your own from seed.  This weekend I am going to get out my supplies and plant some Dino kale and collards to put under cloches mid-March.  Once those go in I will start squash and tomato seeds.  (I always want to start tomatoes earlier but unless you have a lot of room, good grow lights and patience to repot, these plants can get really leggy.)

I use two mini greenhouses that I fill with newspaper pots planted with seeds. While you can use dirt from the garden I usually use sterile potting soil to cut down on mold and other organisms that can kill off young seedlings. Once everything is planted I water it, put the plastic cover on top and mist as needed until the seeds begin to sprout. Once this happens I take off the cover and put them in a west facing window.

This year I am going to follow directions from Becca Fong, from Seattle Tilth, and set up a Grow Light system as the light from the window is not really strong enough for good healthy plants. First I’ll need the following supplies:

– A T8 Florescent light fixture from the hardware store. Becca found T8’s to be a good and less expensive option than T5’s. This fixture comes with a chain and power cord and costs about 18 dollars per fixture.

– One 6500 k, T8 bulb and one 4000‑5000 k, T8 bulb

– Power strip

– Light timer – find one that takes 15 watts and can be set to the time of day. The power strip plugs directly into the timer. The cost for the timer is about 15 dollars.

Once I get these supplies I will hang them from the top of the window on adjustable chains so I can keep the light about an inch above the level of the growing plants.

For more information on growing your own starts with a Grow Light system, click here.

For seeds to grow there needs to be the right combination of light, soil temperature, nutrients and moisture.  Here in our cool Northwest climate one of the main things is waiting until the soil is really warm enough for germination to occur. Spring crops need soil temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s while summer crops need temperatures in the high 60’s.  You can raise the soil temperature some by using cloches or other methods to trap heat and warm the soil.

Seasons can vary year to year but a rough guide to use is planting by the holidays:

  • Peas by President’s Day
  • Potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, (this one is easy to remember)
  • Corn and beans by Mother’s Day
  • Tomatoes, squash and cucumbers by Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday.  (Ok, this one is a bit esoteric – it’s June 8th.)

To get more detailed planting information a great resource is Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide.

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!