Sunday, February 19, 2017

Best laid plans

My process for everything = as little effort as possible and no outside resources that might not be available at some point. That includes electricity, which makes people look at me oddly and wonder about my sanity. To which I can only reply that if they knew me they wouldn't have to wonder.

I look through gardening catalogs and I see special starting trays, heat mats, specialized starting medium, even coated seeds so they germinate more easily and predictably. The gardener's perfect setup to ensure success every time! My own "setup" consists of a covered cake tray, toilet paper rolls and sphegnum moss. Whoop-de-doo. Severely high-tech, do NOT try this at home. :)

I cut the toilet paper rolls in half, stuff them with moss, put them inside the cake tray, hydrate the whole thing, plant the seeds and done. Well not technically DONE, but done with that piece. In a sunny southern window the seeds get plenty of heat--sometimes too much.

But someday, those resources may not be available and I want my plants to survive and continue to feed me. With that in mind, I want strong, self-sufficient monsters that are going to survive no matter what is thrown at them, and that won't happen if I coddle them with all the stuff that people seem to think is necessary. So when a seedling starts to sag from damping off, I pull it. If one comes up with no seed leaves, I pull it. I don't spend time and resources on trying to save something that will just pass on weakened genes to the next generation.

Up to this point I haven't taken this beyond seedlings, but this year will be different--if I can make myself pull perfectly healthy plants just because they get a virus or a calcium deficiency. I don't want those weaknesses in my seeds. If there is no fertilizer I don't want plants that have grown into that dependency over a matter of generations.

So starting this year I'm going to be ruthless. I hope. At least that's the plan.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Seedling update

True potato seeds (TPS) had about a 30% germination rate, which is fine because I only want the strongest plants to put outside. I'll be doing the next batch with brighter lights to see how that affects it. I was initially told to use supplemental lighting and bottom heat but I don't really have any way to do bottom heat without electricity so that's a no. Once this set is well established I'll be doing at least one more this year, then save the rest of the seeds.

Tomatoes had an excellent germination rate, which they usually do--all my own self-harvested seeds. Three of the pots had only one plant come up, but several had 3 so we ended up with 30 strong plants. I planted 32. One damped off so I pulled it. Only the strongest are going in the ground this year, and I've half decided (well, 3/4 decided) to pull any that have blossom end rot.

Last years peppers were a wash. Only a few came up and they didn't have seed leaves. I ended up with one after planting about 30. I assumed something was wrong with the seeds so this year I just pretty much dumped the seeds--anywhere between three and ten in each pot. It looks like most came up. I have 18 for sure, possibly another 10 or 12 coming.

Celery was a wash. Not a single seedling. I'm going to replant with brighter lights and see if that helps.

One licorice plant sprouted. I planted additional seeds to see if we can get more. Ideally one for each fruit tree (as nitrogen fixers), but if we can get one established we're home free.

No sign of fruit tree seedlings yet, but I don't expect that until later. Possibly as late as May.

One goumi survived the winter.

Last night's frost melted off in minutes. Another month before I can safely (!) plant out the tomatoes with protection. I did it last year in February and they thrived, but the other plants caught up and they didn't fruit any sooner so the extra work and care isn't worth it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


As spring gets closer I start dancing anxiously, wanting to be out there playing in the dirt. I look out my window and I see the grapevines that need to be trimmed, the trees that need to be pruned, my garden area (now covered with a six inch layer of leaves for mulch!) and my fledgling forest garden.

The forest garden was last year's major project. Everything up there will be perennials or self-seeding annuals, and I mulched it heavily this year so hopefully I won't need to water as much. The tree I have right now is a rescued apricot. I need two dwarf cherry trees to finish the "canopy" layer, but for the understory I have akebia, gooseberry, currants and aronia. Akebia is a vine, which eventually will create a windbreak for the strong winter winds. I also have edible honeysuckle that I grew last year, but I don't know if it survived the winter. At groundlevel I planted potatoes, herbs, strawberries, horseradish and kale along with various scattered annual seeds. This year I'll leave it mostly alone so the plants can fight out their own balance and naturalize wherever they fit best.

As I said, last year I covered the gardens with a thick layer of leaves for mulch. The plan is to use the fall leaves from the trees to cover whatever area is lying fallow the following year, giving the leaves a year and two winters to compost. If there are sufficient leaves (or I can get enough) I'll finish a new garden area each year. Every area of the garden will get a thick layer of mulch at least every seven to ten years rather than a scattering of leaves every year.

I have two major projects planned for this year. The first is the greenhouse. The roof will be a watershed, directing the water from runoff into the forest garden. During the summer it will be covered with vines for temperature control and it will sit flat against a block wall for heat in the winter. A combination of geothermal and sun. It will have a door on either side to allow the winds to blow directly through for another layer of temperature control.

The second major project is removing a bunch of grass and planting fruiting berries and herbs as a border around the yard. We plan to raise the ground level around the edge by about 18 inches, which will necessitate moving the sprinklers in and up as soon as the ground thaws enough. The flattening of the ground will prevent much of the runoff we currently experience and the rainspout from the roof will feed into this area as an additional water source. Since the plants I'm considering are drought tolerant or local natives (Serviceberry, lavender, etc), it shouldn't ever need supplemental water.

My minor projects are growing potatoes from true potato seed (TPS) and grafting fruit-trees onto serviceberry root-stock.

I'm anxious to get started, but the ground is still covered with white sky-dandruff. :)