Category Archives: Seeds and seedlings

Midwinter Merriment: Plant peas, yo!

Here it is – a countdown til spring. From now until the first day of spring, I will post ways to make the dreary days of midwinter a little more merry.

Day 20: Peas please!

20_Plant_PeasOnce you get your peas in the ground, it really feels like spring is around the corner! Peas are one of the first things you can get going in your midwinter garden. The newsletter I’ve written for you this month, which gets delivered to your inbox today, is full of links with tips and tricks for getting the most out of your garden peas! Check out past newsletters here, including today’s, and sign up for this awesomely free resource!

Day 21: Take a gardening class.
Day 22:Plant bare root.
Day 23: Sign up for Seattle Seedling’s Spring Fling!
Day 24: Plant primroses.
Day 25: Get yourself a doughnut and make it “for here.”
Day 26: Frequent the Farmers’ Market
Day 27: Eat Root Vegetables Disguised as Cake!
Day 28: Be a Garden Show Goer.
Day 29: Drink more hot chocolate.
Day 30: Create a springtime “advent” calendar.

My Garden Plan: Planting with the Harvest and Organic Pest Prevention in Mind

*This post is part of series on easy ways to get your garden in gear for 2013. Check out these related posts: 4 Ways to Get Your Garden Ready for the New YearThe Top Ten Seeds and Recipes for Your Garden and Table and Get Your Garden Ready for the New Year: Create a Plan
 

front_yard_2013 3Like I said on Monday, my favorite part of the day I spent putting together my garden plan was when I created the front and backyard layout sketches. After measuring all of the currently usable garden space I have in the front and backyard, I used the garden layout grid paper in my new planner to create templates of my yard that I could use yearly for planning. It took me three different drafts to get the front yard right, but I finally came up with a workable layout that appeals to my square foot gardening sensibilities. Each square on the grid represents a square foot. I made a few copies of the original template and got out my favorite colored pencils for the fun part. Here are a few things I considered when putting together my garden plan.

back_yard_2013

Color Coding

The color-coding I used on these templates is what really makes them work. Besides the fact that I enjoyed coloring like a kid, I found that the colors made it easier for me to see what crop is where. My color code is fairly obvious: green for leafy greens (I tried to use different colors for different plant families – except in the case of the front yard lettuces, but I’ll explain more later), red for the nightshade family (tomatoes), pink for root crops (beets), blue/purple for legumes (beans), orange for summer squash, and brown for the onion/garlic family.

Crop Rotation (Organic Pest/Disease Prevention)

I’ve learned that one of the best organic methods you can use to protect your vegetables from pests and diseases is to use crop rotation. I remember hearing someone say that rotating crops is a way of confusing the pests that like that crop. If you keep moving the crops to different parts of your garden, the pests have to keep searching for it rather than overwintering in the soil just to find it in the same place in the spring. The vegetables I love the most like dark leafy greens and broccoli in the brassica family and tomatoes in the night shade family should not be planted in the same spot for three years.

So, a few years ago I started using a crop rotation system in my backyard terraced garden. I started planting each raised bed according to different families:

  • Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant
  • Cucurbitaceae – squash (zucchini, cucumbers, winter squash)*
  • Fabaceae – beans and peas
  • Brassicaceae – kale, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and kohlrabi
  • Chenopodiaceae/Asteraceae – my salad bed (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beets)

rotationI have four beds that are laid out one in front of the other in different terraced levels. After the bed has been through a season, I plant that same family in the next bed in front of it (or back at the beginning). For example, in the image above, the bed labeled solanaceae was planted last year with brassicas. So by the time I get to the bed where I started, it will have been through at least three years of different families. Plus, the bonus of this new system is that plants within the same family generally have similar water and heat requirements, so I made my maintenance work a little easier and the plants a little happier too. Win win!

Maximize Space

Square foot gardening is a method for growing the maximum amount of plants you can grow in a square foot while also giving the plants adequate room to grow. There’s a formula for figuring out how many plants to grow in one square using the “thin to” distance on the back of most seed packets, but I’ve just memorized the ones I use the most.

beetsIn one square, I plant:

  • 4 lettuces
  • 1 kale
  • 2 beets (staggered like in the picture above)
  • 4 chard plants
  • 1 indeterminate (vining) tomato
  • 9 spinach plants
  • 9 Pole/vining beans or peas
  • 8 bush beans

I plant larger plants, like summer squash, in a larger block of squares, one plant per 3′ x 3′ section. 

Using the square foot gardening method, I could potentially grow 36 beets, 36 chard plants, and 54 vining peas in that one 4′ x 10′ bed alone. Not to mention the 40 strawberry plants I put in the first ten feet of the bed. Isn’t that fantastic?! That is, of course, if the slugs don’t get to it first!

Succession Planting and Light

With the beds in the front yard, I deal with the issue of light. I’ve got two beautiful maple trees that were just babies when I bought my house ten years ago and I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of them. So, I work with the existing sunlight and shade they cast on a good part of my yard. Since cool season vegetables, like lettuce, can use a little shade in the summer, I can use this edible yard design “flaw” to my advantage, especially if I strategize. Here is my plan for the lettuce.

lettuceI learned this summer that the food banks would much rather receive donations of lettuce over the abundance of kale that so many of us northwest gardeners grow (more on my food bank Giving Garden). I don’t mind eating my share of salads either, so I’m upping my lettuce production in a big way – 50 square feet of it. At 4 plants per square that could work out to be 200 lettuce plants! By growing them in two-week intervals (succession planting), beginning in early March, I will have an abundance of lettuce throughout the spring, rather than ending up with 200 plants that are all ready at once. I’ll start the earliest row, closest to the maple tree when it’s still leafing out. That will help prevent spindliness from lack of light. By the time I get to the 5th row, when the maple tree will be filling out, I will be sowing seeds where the bed gets the most light and the existing plants will be under a shelter of filtered sunlight. I will cover the entire thing with a cloche to maximize heat during those chilly, wet months of spring. I only wish I could start planting now!

squashIn the bed by the other maple tree, which will soon get more sunlight when my neighbors and I open up the fence between our yards (Hooray for light and community!), I am planting the squash in the section farthest from the tree and the leafy greens in the shadiest part of the bed so that both plants will be happy. It should be noted that the squash and kale will not be planted at the same time. All of the seeds will be planted during the spring or summer, when the soil and night-time temperatures are just right for the plant.

A Sneak Peek

mini_orchardThe last two parts of my plan are still a work in progress and will be the focus of much of my attention this year. Both are my main landscape projects this year – my flower cutting garden that I talked about in this post and my front yard mini-orchard.

flowersI haven’t decided exactly what flowers I want to grow in that bed, nor which edibles and perennials I want to grow around the columnar apple trees I plan on planting this spring, but that part of the plan will come. At least, I can rest knowing that I have a draft of a plan on which to make those decisions. And that’s a lot closer to my vision than I was last week!

*A note about cross-pollination from Edible Heirlooms by Bill Thorness:

There are four major species within the Cucurbita genus: All the summer squashes are C.pepo, as are pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and some gourds. Hubbard, turban, buttercup, banana, and mammoth squashes are C. maxima varieties. Butternut and some cushaw varieties are in C. moschata. Green and white cushaws are in C. mixta, a species only recently created as a spin-off of C. moschata. Squash are insect-pollinated, and varieties within the same species cross easily. You can control this by hand-pollinating or by growing only one plant of each species in the same garden space.

* Garden Layout grid paper from the Northwest Edible Life Garden Planner and Journal

*This post is part of Wednesday Fresh Food Link Up

Get Your Garden Ready for the New Year: Create a Plan

*This post is part of series on easy ways to get your garden in gear for 2013. Check out these related posts: 4 Ways to Get Your Garden Ready for the New Year and The Top Ten Seeds and Recipes for Your Garden and Table.

 

I think most people would be surprised to learn that I don’t do much extensive planning when it comes to my garden. In fact, in life, I tend to have a general idea of how things should go and then leave lots of room from growth and adjustment. I get inspired in the moment and true to the classic description of my sign, Aries, I jump into new endeavors head first.

IMG_3756With the typical garden project, it means making two or three trips to the hardware store for more supplies, which I would have known I needed had I done a better job of planning. My local hardware store guys aren’t even surprised anymore when they are graced with my presence three times in one afternoon. “Hello again, Stacy! What can we help you find this time?” they manage to say without condescension.

When I first started growing food, I was religious in my commitment to the square foot gardening method. But as soon as I got the hang of properly spacing my plants, which is what the method is really all about, I put away my notes and the unruly sheets of tracing paper I tried to use to keep track of my garden “plans.” I used my trusty month-by-month gardening guide, employed a crop rotation system and was free-spirited with the rest. My garden is a source of sustenance, but is also an outlet and where I play. Overthinking it by creating a garden plan felt like it took the fun out of it.

IMG_3774The truth is though I know that with a little planning and strategy, I have the potential to maximize even more the small space that I’m working with and could make the most of my precious time so play really could be my priority. The benefits of a good garden plan majorly outweigh all my reasons not to. It was time for a shift in perspective.

I started planning my spring and summer garden this weekend and instead of looking at it as a chore that stifled my garden creativity, I turned it into a creative opportunity. Like everything in life, garden planning is what you make of it. It’s all about your perspective and the attitude you have about the project before you start. If you can capitalize on your personality and the parts of it you enjoy, it can be a joyful experience and can almost make you feel like you got to play in the dirt!

IMG_3782The thought of planning my spring and summer crops always felt daunting, so having an easy-to-use, colorful garden planner to use as a jumping off point was exactly what I needed. I decided to use Erica’s Garden Planner because I like the idea of being able to pick and choose from the pdf what I wanted to use and customize my planner year after year. Plus, the girl’s got style and having an aesthetically pleasing, hip-looking planner made it feel more fun putting it together. I took Erica’s advice and bought 12-month dividers to make it easier to find my resources and records when I need them. I bought the prettiest ones I could find. The nerd in me comes out in full effect when it comes to organization and office supplies.

IMG_3770I repurposed some sheet protectors that were being underutilized in another binder. They would be put to better use as section dividers for my new planner. I was most excited about the harvest log, something I’ve committed to be better at this year – recording all of the food I grow in my yard in 2013. Now I have the perfect place to keep that record.

I’m also hopeful that the seed starting log and sow-out/transplant records will be helpful, though I’ll admit I haven’t figured out exactly how those records will improve my gardening performance.

IMG_3760The monthly calendars and checklists got printed out and stuck into the appropriate month’s section. I’m a to-do list girl, for sure, and having one easy-to-find place for those lists and monthly plans will save me time, if nothing else.

front_yardMy favorite part of the whole day and of the planner itself is my front and backyard garden plans. Out in the rain with my tape measure in hand, I took measurements of all my garden spaces. Then, with a warm cup of tea and some good tunes on in the background, I set to work on creating a template of my front and backyard that I could use yearly for planning. It took me three different drafts to get the front yard right, but I finally came up with a workable layout that appeals to my square foot gardening sensibilities. Each square on the grid represents a square foot. I made a few copies of the original template and got out my favorite colored pencils for some color-coding fun.

back_yardOn Wednesday, I will share with you the decked-out, colorful versions of my spring and summer plans. I’ll talk about crop rotation, an organic way to avoid pests and disease, and will give you some tidbits on spacing, how I’m getting the most food I can out of my garden. Until then, I’d encourage you to rethink your perspective on garden planning. Whether you’re just procrastinating or have an aversion to putting it all down on paper like me, it might turn out to be more fun than you think.

The best way to get something done is to begin.  ~Author Unknown

The Top Ten Seeds and Recipes for Your Garden and Table

Last week I wrote a post (this one) about four things you can to do get your garden ready for the New Year. Yet I must confess, I haven’t completed any of those tasks myself. So, I’m taking my own advice and am getting my garden in gear.

The first thing I suggested in that aforementioned post was to make a list of the things you like to eat and grow before logging on to your favorite seed catalog’s site and breaking the bank. Today’s post is my list. Of course, I did a lot of seed saving last year so I’ve already made a lot of seed decisions, but I thought it would be fun to take stock of the vegetables I love the most. These were my favorite, tried-and-true seed varieties and recipes from 2012. You better believe they’ll be making a comeback in my garden and to my table.

A la Dave Letterman, we’ll start with number 10 and work down to my number one favorite!

peas10. Sugar Snap Peas

Why? Because I love the satisfaction I get from being able to put these seeds in the ground so early in the year. And I love staring into the vines with a bowl on my hip, trying to see the camouflage pods. Irish Eyes: Sugar Daddy Snap Peas

Favorite recipe: No recipe for this one since this was my favorite snack of the year – a container full of fresh snap peas with a side of tamari-roasted almonds helped me get through the day many times.

9. Lettuce – Tom Thumb

Why? Of all the lettuce I grew last year, the little Chartreuse heads of lettuce I got from this Tom Thumb variety were the best, sweet and delicious. Of course, I always grow a few others to make my salads a little more interesting, but Tom Thumb is a mainstay these days. Baker Creek: Tom Thumb

Favorite recipe: Simple salad – these small heads of lettuce are the perfect size portion for one hungry girl. I’d cut the root off of the bottom, which would release all of the leaves, wash them and dress them with a simple vinaigrette.

beets8. Beets – Bull’s Blood

Why? Even though I think it’s actually more economical to just buy these from the farmers’ market, especially considering my beet-growing track record, I can’t help but try again. I love eating beets and even if the roots themselves don’t grow up to my standards, I can still take advantage of the greens, which is reason enough. Baker Creek: Bull’s Blood

Favorite recipe: Beet Green Smoothies and Oven-roasted Beet Salad with Blood Oranges 

carrots_ground7. Nantes Carrots

Why? I’ve had the best luck growing this variety. While my purple carrots fizzle out, these  always grow beautifully. I’ve learned to grow them in deep containers and to thin them so they have room to grow. Seeds of Change: Scarlet Nantes Carrots

Favorite recipe: Cumin Seed Pickled Carrots

6. Arugula (Rocket)

Why? Because I’ve missed it so much. I didn’t grow it last year or put my first crop in a place where it could grow and reseed itself. My salads were just not the same. Lesson learned. Baker Creek: Arugula

coriander5. Cilantro*

Why? Partly because my cilantro plants that I let go to seed last year produced so much coriander (cilantro seed) that I have to plant it again. A girl just cannot eat that much coriander, even if she tried! This is a double-duty plant – you can eat the tender cilantro leaves and then use the seeds as an edible spice. Although it’s likely the plant dropped enough seeds on its own to produce another bumper crop. Seattle Seed Company: Slow Bolt Cilantro

Favorite recipe: Creamy Cilantro Dressing – turns out, mixed with some lime-drenched shredded cabbage, this dressing makes the best side dish for carnitas.

4. Trail of Tears Black Beans*

Why? Because I think it’s super cool to be able to eat a pot of black beans that I grew in my backyard. These beans are another double-duty plant – can be eaten and canned as green beans or dried and eaten in a taco. Saving seeds from these beauties is effortless. Plus, I love my bike trellis and these beans like to climb. Baker Creek: Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Beans

Favorite recipe: Butternut squash tacos with black beans

chard3. Bright Lights Chard

Why? Because it is tasty, nutritious and a sweet addition to my smoothies. Plus, they don’t taste bitter when they bolt. Score! Baker Creek: Silverbeet Chard

Favorite recipe: Simple saute – with a little olive oil, garlic and a hefty squeeze of lemon.

2. Kale*

Why? Because dark, leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses and this baby loves our climate. I’m still harvesting pounds of kale from the plants I started in late summer. Seattle Seed Company: Lacinato Kale and Red Russian Kale

Favorite recipe: Raw Tuscan Kale Salad – I could eat this for days.

Drumroll please…

1. Stupice Tomato*

Why? Of all the tomatoes I grew, the Stupice was the first to produce, the first to ripen (In June, Seattle people. In June.), and the most productive. Baker Creek: Stupice Tomato

Favorite recipe: The Bomb Tomato Concentrate (a.k.a. tomato paste goodness) – this recipe was by far the best use of my tomatoes and will probably be the way I put up the bulk of my tomatoes next year. It’s fantastic because you can use pretty much any kind of tomato, including cherry tomatoes, and can freeze them using an ice-cube tray. The result is the perfect size of tomato goodness to add an amazing burst of flavor to almost anything you make. My lentil soups have never tasted so good.

Seeds marked with a * are seeds that I grew and saved in 2012. Those not marked will be purchased or a prior purchase of said seeds will be used up. Also, this list does not include the volunteer edible flowers that will inevitably come up from the seeds they dropped. I can’t seem to get enough nasturtiums or calendula.

More seed resources: