Sunday, February 28, 2010

Toms and Peps Update

We went on an impromptu vacation to California this past week. While we were gone, my friend, the Garden Guru, babysat all 168 of my tomato and pepper seedlings. I don't know who was more insane; myself, for asking such a seemingly ridiculous request, or her, for her willingness to actually allow me to transport my lighted shelves and plants over to her home for her to take care of for the week. She obviously understood my deep desire to take care of my other babies (it was a huge sacrifice, going to Disneyland and the beach) and the dilemma I created when I decided to start such a silly project....glad I know such an awesome lady. I am happy to say that, between her great care and the fact that my seeds seemed to be quite viable this year, most of my babies are still alive and doing very well....

Now that most of them have their "true" leaves and seem pretty green, I'm moving them off of the light shelves and into the sunshine in the kitchen bay window...

And hopefully they will continue to grow well for the next couple of months...

I love the fact that they are kind of fuzzy...and that when I brush my fingers along their leaves, producing that wonderful smell of tomato plants, I am swept away to summertime...and the fact that I am going to be eating some yummy tomatoes in a few months time...

so worth all of this effort.

~.~ the purple sprout

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fluorescent Lights

I think every gardener out there will agree that, next to the excitement of actually harvesting their produce, watching a seed transform into a seedling is one of the greatest joys to partake in. The process is still amazing to me, no matter how many times I have seen it. It helps to remind me of how even the teeniest things in life are so important to watch and to appreciate.

Since there isn't always enough sunlight streaming in through my windows to give my babies what they need to get off to a great start, I am using artificial lighting. Having a good set of shelves with some fluorescent lights can help you to get a jump start on your garden. You can purchase some cheap shelves (the seedlings won't know the difference, believe me). And the lights seem to last for quite a while. I am not an expert on any of it, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the basic needs of a plant. Soil, water, light...and a little bit of love (and I have got it all).

It has been nine years since I have grown tomatoes and peppers from seed. I pulled out the shelves that I used back then....the lights were still attached and still working....WOO HOO!

I bought 3 more fluorescent lights (for around $13 a piece) and (my hubby) hooked them up on this cheap particle board shelf system that I wasn't using for anything else...

It is important for there to be ample amounts of moisture during the germination process. I mist my seeds/seedlings with a water spray bottle for the first few weeks, after they have emerged, until they are strong enough to stand up to a little stream of water. Notice the condensation on the lid? This is a good sign that they are staying moist. Once the seedlings are tall enough to bump into the lids, they should have enough of a root system to keep in their moisture from regular watering...

I love watching seedlings and their efforts to grow. One of my most favorite things to see is the seed still attached to the seedling...patiently waiting for the newborn plant to build up the strength to burst that little incubator right off...

Wouldn't miss it for the world!

~.~ the purple sprout

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Early Sugar Snap Peas

Since I promised myself I would plant peas this year, come snow or hail, I began by looking online and asking everyone who gardens when I needed to get them in the ground. No matter where I turned, I got the same response...."as soon as you can work the soil". Well, I could work my soil as early as January, thanks to my raised boxes and the awesome growing mix that I use for my veggies (I will share more about Square Foot Gardening, for those of you who haven't heard of this technique, in another post). Patiently I waited until I had a few sunny days and most of the snow was gone from my beds to really get excited about putting them in the ground.

For this year's peas, I chose the Sugar Sprint Pea . It is a variety that is supposed to do well with an early start, is an heirloom (which means I can harvest seeds to use for future crops if I so feel the urge), and it is completely edible (what a treat!). I began planning all sorts of wonderful destinations for my little pod buddies.

I put the seeds in some water to soak overnight, all 250 or so peas. I was determined to get an awesome yield this year! They were so plump and beautiful after the nightlong soak, Strider asked if he could try one.....and, being the awesome mom that I am, I let him....then I had to try one as well....just to say I had (the peer pressure was horrible). And they weren't half bad....other than being completely tasteless...I guess that is why the birds are out there scavenging them when they can.

I placed the inoculant in some ziplock bags, dumped my peas in, zipped them up...all ready to shake, shake, shake, shake your baggy!

Strider was seriously serious about his job as the pea inoculating serious...and that table seriously needs to be sanded and refinished...maybe this year, even.

He seriously enjoyed the experience...don't let the bored look fool you. He's really contemplating the universe and the role that the pea plays in the grand scheme of things.

He didn't realize it could be so much fun to roll a bunch of swollen peas around in some brown dust...we should all have more pea planting parties.

When he was done, Strider kept commenting about how they looked like little bunny pellets. I thought they looked like mini truffles. Needless to say, there would be no more tasting of the seeds after they took on their nitrogen fixing dust.

This is the inoculant that we used....and the only reason I used it all up was because the expiration date is December of this year. There was enough in there that I could have easily used it for all 500 or so peas, but I felt like 500 peas may be going a little bit overboard.

Shriveled, plump, and coated....from a bag, to a cup, to a bag.

I worked the soil with Shooter and Strider, which was very easy to do, only because the soil in these boxes ROCKS the soil world! After about 20 minutes of working the soil (with our hands, not a tiller, hoe, or a shovel), we were ready to begin planting. We all made holes in the grow boxes for the peas...we put the peas in, one by one....until the boxes were full (my hands were a little too dirty and cold at this point to actually get any pictures of the process, but you get the picture, right?).

I put the tomato cages in for future support, in the hopes that they would somehow coax the little sprouts out of their long winter's sleep.

The little prongs you can barely see poking up out of the soil....they're my own little crazy invention. You see, I have cats in my neighborhood. I created these little cat deterrents so I don't end up with my beds dug up and kitty nuggets instead of peas. I definitely love my neighbors more than I love gardening. I even love their cats. Hey, they can't help it if my garden appears to be a huge grouping of litter boxes laid out just for them.

The best part? Since the soil was already moist, I didn't worry about watering after I planted them...and hopefully I won't need to worry until March...

I'll let you know if it was indeed worth getting them in so much earlier. And before they are ready to harvest, I hope to have lots of yummy recipes and techniques for preserving peas.

~.~ the purple sprout

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Early Start

Every winter, I watch the snow falling outside my window, anticipating the coming spring. I dream of the sun warming my back as I knead the earth with my bare hands and lovingly prepare my yard for the season of growth and harvest. I crave the smell of rich soil and the herbs that I adore....lavender, catmint, rosemary, cinnamon basil, pineapple sage, and Corsican mint (just to name a few), all within my reach. I yearn for evening strolls through my vegetable garden, where I snack on warm cherry tomatoes, while watering my homegrown produce. I miss the smell of fennel and chives (okay, not so much the chives) on the breath of my young ones when they come in from playing out of doors. I eagerly await the opportunities of watching the simple and complex lives of completely oblivious insects, that I am blessed (and not so blessed), to encounter through my gardening experiences...

And yet, despite all of the desire I have to get started, despite the several months that I could use to get an early start during the winter, I never actually get going until well into spring. In fact, for the past 8 years, I haven't started my seeds before May. And by May, it is kind of late for tomatoes and peppers where I live, so I always end up buying them as plants instead. I have many valid excuses for why I haven't started seeds early; sickness, pregnancy, a new baby, too many other commitments, yada, yada, yada. Because of this, I easily spend at least a few hundred dollars on plants every spring. And because of my lack of skills in harvesting, preserving, extending the growing season, etc., the amount of money we spend never feels justified by the meager amount of produce we actually gain by the end of summer.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying mature plants from your local nursery (obviously I have been doing it, and will continue to, for the rest of my life). Yes, the cost is a little bit more to buy them this way, but for obvious reasons (duh, a lot less work). I am all for supporting local farmers (in fact, part of my plan for this year is to buy locally and to support grocery stores in doing the same). I have certainly not been able to single-handedly cover our family's nourishment needs with our little suburban yard, thus far, but I am willing to give it a try and learn in the process. There is this beautiful sense of accomplishment that comes from having grown your own juicy tomatoes from a single seed the size of a pin head. Whether you choose to grow the rare fruit or vegetable that you are unable to find at the grocery store or nursery. Whether you just want to be completely certain that you are eating organically. Whether you are trying to save money, help your kids to develop some good work ethic, or just need a great hobby to keep you outside breathing in some fresh air, having a garden is such a noble and worthy cause. Whatever your reasons for gardening may be, I believe it is completely worth all of the hard work and effort. Hey, it may even be therapeutic for definitely is for me!

And that, my friends, is why I have challenged myself this year. I am finally following through with my well intended my garden, in my kitchen, in my yard. And you are welcome to join me, through it all....the triumphs, the failures, the hard work, the disappointments, the rewards, the entire adventure. To all of you who wish to become avid gardeners and healthy eaters, myself included, here's to an early start....the very best way to begin.

Strider is my wolf (cub scout), so it's his job to help me plan out our vegetable garden this year. He started by using a little math while he laid out all of the recycled pots and got them ready for soil. Sweety is just there to smile...and the blanket of snow in the background is there to remind me that it was winter when I began this year...

Strider even rolled up his sleeves and really dug in....

Look, he has finished 136! Only around 152 more to go....and this is just the tomatoes and peppers. Once he filled up the pots with the soil, I got to wet the soil down, my all time LEAST favorite job related to gardening (other than axing out the ancient rose bushes that seem to resurrect themselves every year, despite all of my efforts and sore muscles). Wetting down bone dry seedling soil is very B-O-R-I-N-G. Once the soil was thoroughly wet down, each of the boys got to plant their flats up, which took all of 5 minutes time. Then we put the flats under the growing shelves in my room....

We put them in our bedroom, so they would be out of the little crawling SiGuy's reach....

But nothing can stop the SiGuy from getting his sample of dirt....nothing. Wow! A tie dyed baby playing in the dirt and growing plants under fluorescent lights in the backroom....yeah, we're obviously hip.

(Several Random) Disclaimers: No children were used for slave labor during the process of this experience, or for any other experiences that we are aware of. All individuals who were involved were compensated with lots of love, lots of food, and lots of good work ethic. No children were harmed during the process of this experience, due to the ingestion of harmful substances, such as dirt (or, as we refer to it in the gardening circle, soil). Nobody was actually allowed to consume the soil...only allowed to pose for the camera...after innocently exploring...through nearly all of their senses...a little bit of good old mother nature. Also, there will be more pictures to follow, just in case some of you actually got the plant reference and are concerned for our hippie-loving family's well being. While tomatoes do have a similarity to other known plants, they are indeed...only...tomatoes.

~.~ the purple sprout