Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons Learned This Season Already!

Gardening has been a great experience and I am always learning new things almost daily. Most of my, very brief, gardening knowledge has come from online research but some from personal experience. I thought I would share my new knowledge and hopefully somebody can learn from it.

1. Make Seed Starting Mix Moist Before Adding Seeds

Easy right? Think again. 

Last Spring, my first season trying to grow anything, I seemed to get it right but I skewed a bit this season already. Most of us heard the saying that "..if something isn't broken, don't fix it..." but I was simply looking for an alternative. 

Many people start seeds in peat pots and swear that bottom watering is the way to go but not for me. I found some peat pots at the 99 cent store and decided to try it. I filled about 10 pots with dry seed starting mix and added seeds. The next step seemed simple enough and I went with it. I found a small plastic salad container and placed the pots inside. I slowly added water and waited to see what would happen. The peat pots started wicking up the water slowly but surely. The peat pot was pretty soggy but nothing was going into the mix. One set of instructions said the leave them overnight to soak up the water but I knew these pots weren't going to make it that long. I took out the pots and tried to water from above but the mix would not take the water and it seemed to just let it slide right off the top. 

At this point, I was a bit frustrated and tried to pull the seeds out but some were so small, that I decided to empty out all the pots into a disposable aluminum foil baking pan. I was not able to locate all of the seeds and decided to cut my losses. I added water to the pan and mixed with my hands until the mix was damp. I then just filled in a seed tray with this mix and decided to stick that in the window in the kitchen to see if any of seeds would germinate. I didn't bother to even check the tray for a couple of days but when I did, I was pleasantly surprised to see seedlings emerging. Of course, there were many empty cells with no seedlings but some had a few. I left the tray alone and watered when necessary. I ended up needing to separate plants from each other and spread them out in the tray. Many if not all, of the plants that emerged have made it. I have since had a few rounds of seeds go through and are also now large themselves. 

Needless to say, this is how and why I learned to dampen seed starting mix before adding seeds. I know it works for many people but I have not been able to pull it off.

2. Have Many Containers for Transplants

Once that first round of seeds were getting too big for those cells, I had to find where to put them. This is where my online research and creativity came in handy. I started pulling out the 4 inch pots I had from last year and once cleaned, seedlings were potted up but I didn't have many of these.

My wife loves yogurt more than anybody should and I use to tease her about it but I am now praising her for it. She eats a yogurt a day and is now in the habit of bringing home those wonderful little cups for my seedlings. I figured out that instead of having to buy more 4 inch pots, why not use the cups she was tossing out everyday? Of course, once the plants get too big for these, I will need bigger containers or plant directly into the garden.

I bought many pots last year and they are now being used. I have also used many containers that usually get toss out, into planters. From 2 liter bottles to juice jugs are now housing my large tomato plants. 

3. Don't Buy Too Many Seeds

This one also seems simple enough but with the price of seeds, I now have many many seeds. Most seeds will last a few years, if properly stored.

You may be wondering how one can get to this point but let me tell you that it is easier than you think. Walking up to the seed displays is like a kid in a candy store. You want to grow them ALL but don't always think clearly and think about the space you have or don't have. 

It may be necessary to have someone with you when going into a gardening section to help keep your head out of the clouds. 

4. Use Chicken Wire to Keep the Cats Out

As much as I love my neighborhood, I really do, I can't stand the roaming cats. Most have tags for their owners but are left to roam the neighborhood to look for an outdoor litter box and this is when they find my raised beds or garden. The cats love the loose soil for doing their deed and like to leave me a "gift" but I can totally do without it. 

The raised beds are covered in hardware cloth for now and will stay that way until they are filled with plants. As the plants get larger, they leave less room for the cats to even get into them and this makes me a happier gardener. 

The other parts of the garden are not raised beds and seeds are sowed directly into the ground. I bought a roll of chicken wire and it was placed flat on the ground. It is being held down with stakes and bricks. As the plants grow, I snip parts of the wire to allow room for growth. I haven't had any issues with it yet and it continues to work just fine. 

If cats weren't an issue, I may not need the wire but then that would open to any other critters that may be around. Raccoons or Possums may be another one of those critters but not always.

5. Label, Label, Label

This is also extremely important and must be done in order to know what you are growing! I started seeds in seed trays and had all my rows labeled but didn't keep up with it. I put in 2-3 seeds in each cell and more than one germinated per cell. I didn't want to clip them and ended up moving plants around and potted up as needed. When more cells opened up, I moved tomatoes into it but didn't label. I can tell you the 3 different kinds of tomatoes and squash I started with but can't tell you which plant is which. I am able to tell what "family" it may fit into but not the exact variety. 

I originally started Moneymaker, Early Girl and Yellow Pear tomatoes and most of them have survived b but I can't tell them apart just yet. I also started Butternut, Acorn and Spaghetti Squash and have the same issue. Since then, I started more tomato varieties and trying harder to keep those labeled. The new tomatoes are Beefsteak and Large Cherry Red. 

I'm not sure how many plants I will be able to keep myself and may end up giving some away. I will just let the person know that I don't know what they are getting. It will be tomatoes, but I may not know which one.

6. Successive Planting

This just means that planting should be staggered 2-3 weeks apart for each vegetable and will require some planning. I originally started seeds in one area of the garden but left others empty. Those empty areas may be planted later with either the same things or new things altogether. 

The first area included carrots, radishes, and some greens. About 2 weeks later in another area, I planted the same thing and then repeated the process. 

First Planting: 12/28/10
Second Planting: 01/11/11
Third Planting: 1/25/11

I did these plantings in small batches in order to help stretch out the season and last longer than normally possible. I have done more than those 3 plantings but it was just to show the pattern and all of the radishes are now gone and more will be ready shortly. I just takes some planning and you can have fresh vegetables all the time. 

I hope my experiences can help somebody and possibly get a discussion going about these or any subjects. 

This covers this post and tune in Thursday for my weekly farm update. I may do another post before then but nothing is planned for now but that can change at any time.

Happy Gardening!

Luis

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