Monday, March 30, 2009

Sleep tight, little plants!

Just tucked in my little plants tonight, the ones I sent out until the real world this weekend. Translation: I am hardening off (getting little plants used to the cold) the seedlings I started inside by setting them in a cloche outside. I realized how much I have bonded with those little seedlings when I joked with Jake about going outside to check on them (it was like 9 at night).

Last night, I actually had a dream that my cherry tomato seedlings (one of the plants that are hardening off right now) died from the shock of the cool weather. I feel like a worried mother. Is that wrong? ;-)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Last weekend, I built the wood grids for my square foot garden beds. It's so cool to see all of the square feet that I have to plant in. It's super organized and straightforward - just the way I like it. You can figure out how many plants of each variety that you can fit in each square foot by looking at the "thin to" spacing guide on the seed packets. If it says, thin plants to 12", you can have one plant of that type in the center of a square and that way you'll be sure that there is 12" of space all around. This is awesome, not just because you can prevent overcrowding plants (which I did last year), but also because you can maximize space as well, by planting lots of plants in one square that don't need as much room. For example, since broccoli needs 12" of space, I planted it by poking my finger into the center of one square and dropping a pinch of broccoli seeds into the little hole. On the other hand, the lettuce I planted, doesn't need as much space, so I divided the square into 4ths, poked my finger into each quarter, and planted a pinch of lettuce seeds in each one. The spinach square got nine.

I planted all those seeds in the bed that I have protected by a cloche (the temporary, plastic-covered, greenhouse-like structure that warms the soil and protects seedlings from changes in weather). I planted them on Wednesday, March 25th, the earliest I have ever planted seeds outside. Until this year, I have always planted all my seeds during Spring Break, regardless of the time and weather. I wasn't all that knowledgeable about seed life then - just planted when it was convenient for me. I even planted my zucchini seeds in April last year, which is really early since they like warm soil and warm temperatures. But somehow, they came up and survived, albeit overcrowded and a bit diseased in the end. This summer, I'll wait until it's warmer and will give them the space they need.

The seeds that I planted on Wednesday are all cool season, half-hardy crops - they can handle this weather, especially in the cozy environment of a cloche. I actually checked the temperature of the soil with my new handy soil thermometer and the soil was 50 degrees when I planted those seeds. That is actually a little on the cool side, but according to my research, most lettuce seeds can germinate at temperatures as low as 40 degrees. I checked it the next day and the temperature was up around 56 degrees, so I think we'll be OK.

So, now it's the waiting game to see which new seedlings come up. I'm waiting for:
  • 2 squares of broccoli
  • 2 squares of bok choy
  • 1 square of red kale
  • 1 square of 9 spinach plants
  • 4 squares with 4 different varieties of lettuce
  • 2 squares with 4 rainbow Swiss chard plants
Also, today I scored 4 organic strawberry plants at the farmer's market to add to my collection. Summer barbecues are looking better and better! 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cowgirl up, Brewer!

When I saw the forecast this morning (partly cloudy with sun breaks - no rain), I knew I had to take advantage of it. I had been waiting for a clear day for awhile so that I could fill my raised beds with soil. But before I could get started on that project, I had to meet my double dutch team at the Seattle Center for a quick audition for an upcoming variety show. As soon as we were done, I hopped in my car and raced back to Maple Leaf to get started on the garden. It felt like a race against time, like if I didn't get started quick, the sun would vanish and it'd start to rain. Naturally, before I could get started, I had to stop off at the hardware store to pick up some more peat moss and a wheel barrow. Picture me standing in front of Ace in my short black jump rope skirt and knee highs, asking one of the clerks to get a price check on one of the red wheel barrows out front - the silliest looking gardener they've seen, I'm sure. 

Once I got home, the back-breaking work began. Since I'm doing Square Foot Gardening, my task was to put together "Mel's Mix" like the author Mel Bartholomew describes in the book. It is a mixture of compost (for nutrients), peat moss (for mositure/water asorbtion), and vermiculite (for drainage). According to Mel, his soil recipe is the key to Square Foot Gardening success. Here is what I had to do:
1. Do the crazy math to figure out how much I needed of each ingredient since you need equal parts of each, measured by volume (cubic feet), not weight - done another day.
2. Run around to different places to buy all of the materials - also done on another day.
3. Build a wheel barrow (No, they don't come assembled unless I pay an extra $15. Ha! I can build it myself!).
4. Put out a big tarp on the grass, pour out all the bags of materials, and mix them all together with a shovel. When written out, this step seems so simple, but it was a lot of work. For one, the bags of materials are freakin' heavy to lug around. Second, turning and turning the mixture to get it evenly combined is a bear. Third, you have to understand the scale of this endeavor. When I said I poured out all the materials and mixed them together, I'm talking 27 cubic feet of "Mel's Mix":
  • 3 big bags of compost (2 cu. feet each)
  • 3 smaller bags of compost (1 cu. feet each)
  • 2 big bags of vermiculite (4 cu. feet each)
  • half of a smaller bag of vermiculite
  • 1 large bale of compressed peat moss (which I had to break up with the shovel)
  • 3/4 of medium bale of compressed peat moss
Jake's out of town this week, so it was up to me to do the manual labor this time. When I started lugging around the bags of compost to get started, I called Jake and said that I didn't think I could do it on my own because the bags were so heavy to haul around and mix up on my own. He told me to cowgirl up (in the most loving way, of course) and being the prideful girl I am, I did. 

I mixed it all together, shoveled it into the wheel barrow (making countless trips), and filled all three beds with "Mel's Mix". So, I am officially closer than ever to planting my veggies in the beds where they'll lie all summer. I'm pretty proud of myself for completing this task today and in just 3 hours - not bad at all. And not one drop of rain fell on my head the whole time.

As you can see above, Carl also made it out to the garden today. I think he's ready for spring too. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring!

It is officially the first day of Spring. Here's to a season full of new growth, more light, and good food. Cheers!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Phase three: Pot 'em up!

Ok, so let's review my progress. 
Phase one: I planted my seeds in a flat of soil, watered them, and put them on the heat. 

Phase two: As soon as green leaves started pushing through, I took the flat off the heat, got them under a light set-up, and made sure they had 16 hours of light each day. 

Phase three: Today, I thinned my seedlings by choosing the hardiest looking prospects. Then, I planted the seedlings I chose into individual 4in pots. I fertilized them with a watering can enriched with fish emulsion (thanks Bette!) and now they're resting for the night. In a couple weeks, I'll start hardening them off (putting them outside for spurts of time to get them ready to be out in the colder weather) and will plant them in my beds. 

Tonight, the moon is in Scorpio, a very productive time to plant, so there is a pretty good chance that these seedlings will not only survive, but thrive. I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for making it this far...visions of fresh sauteed kale and broccoli stir fry dance in my head. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's all about the voodoo...

This weekend, when I saw Bette, Jake's mom, another avid gardener (for real, her yard is amazing), she said, "I know why your seeds sprouted this time." And sure enough, I had planted them when the moon was in Pisces, one of the most productive signs. When I met Jake, he told me all about his mom and sister's gardens and how they both plant according to the phases of the moon. Jake said that his sister won some award like "Rookie of the year" at her P-patch (community garden plot) for having such an amazing harvest. Jake called it the "voodoo calendar" and I knew I had to get me one of those. Bette gave Jake a photocopy of her calendar to give to me when he told her I was interested in learning the ways of the moon and in my garden bonanza Christmas gift (an amazing gift basket full of garden goodies) was a brand new moon calendar for 2009.

My little seedlings are just about ready to up-pot (transplant from the flat to individual 4in pots). Once they have their first true leaves, they'll be ready. The first little leaves that emerge are the seed's embryo leaves (cotyledons). Can you see in the photo to the left the first true leaf that is emerging from the center of that broccoli plant? Isn't it great?

Finally, this weekend, Jake built my garden beds. So now, all I have to do is fill them with the soil mixture I'm concocting, build my trellis, lay the square foot garden grid on the beds, set up a cloche (the plastic tarp green house-like structure) and plant my new seedlings. With the cloche, I could actually plant some spinach and other greens directly into my beds soon without starting them inside.

We also installed my two compost cones. That was quite the ordeal - the two composting baskets have to sit in pretty large holes. But, as you can see, we got them in (again, thanks to Jake) and I was able to officially start composting. Don't I look happy tossing my decomposing food scraps into the cone?

Only 9 more days until the official start of spring, but who's counting? :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seedling Update!

Well, they sprouted already. I planted my seeds on Thursday and by Sunday, all the rows of kale and broccoli had sprouted. You really have to keep your eye on those suckers. They come up really fast! I was kind of disappointed that my spinach and cherry tomato seeds didn't sprout before I had to take the flat off the heat, but that's the thing about nature - things don't always go according to your plan.

They're now under my new grow light apparatus, 16 hours a day, and are doing great. Even my spinach and cherry tomato seeds finally sprouted. It's strange being so in tune with an ecosystem. Every day after school, I check on my seeds - my nose, just inches from the soil in the flat, closely inspecting for new growth and interesting changes. The other day, I noticed that the plants at the end of the rows were leaning in towards the light. If they could pick up their roots and move right in directly under the light, I think they would.

In other seeds came this week! It's so exciting. I can't wait until spring - only 16 more days.

I also found a cool new garden blog written by another fellow garden nerd. Yes, I am totally a garden nerd - I just bought the same soil thermometer that she talks about in her most current post and I am thrilled to start using it. :) Check it out. It's called Diggin Food.