Hope Springs Eternal

It’s a rainy, dreary Sunday – indulging myself in indoor hobbies and this morning it’s gardening.

I’ve mentioned Winter Sowing seeds before (here and here), something I’ve been a fan of for years – it works.

   

My efforts are well underway. Some of the milk jugs had snow inside them (last weekend’s storm), but this week the seedlings are taking off as though that blast of chill startled them awake.

   

Knautia  on the left and closely Planted Pam’s Choice Foxglove on the right. The foxglove seed is at least 8 years old, so I didn’t expect such great germination. It’s a biennial – doesn’t bloom its first year, just sets a base of leaves that look like most weeds. Will have to mark where I plant them (and give away oodles).

The knautia are hardy here and have pretty neat seed heads (above is the knautia in maroon and lavender with seed heads), so I’ve planted white plus that wonderful deep maroon and lavender.

   

Short Blue and White Columbine on left. I’d run out of the larger milk containers I prefer for sowing. The smaller ones work but will have to be planted out sooner (and watched for overheating more closely).

     

Today’s efforts are centered on the “warm weather” seeds – eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. Many folks winter sow everything, but for these I like bottom heat and pushing them to get to a nice size for planting out. My new growing season is shorter than the previous home and I want to grab every moment. I’m pre-germinating the seed (detailed instructions here) then I’ll move it to the “root trainers” on a heat mat under shoplights. There’s a phrase “hope springs eternal” – last time I filled the four root trainer trays and got heavy into indoor seed starting – I lost almost all of them to damping off (I think the well water must really have those spores, never had such an issue previously). But, I’ve got a plan – we’ll see if it works. Today’s efforts also include mailing a few gift seed packets off and starting more herbs in jugs.

   

The beds during last week’s snowstorm and today (time to get the weed wacker out). The lowest bed is where I planted most previous year’s potted bulbs. They get a bit stressed in ‘too hot’ pots over the summer, so I’m taking what lived and nursing them with good soil plus bulb fertilizer. Hope to then get them in the ground to naturalize once they go dormant in a few months.

I’m also giving a go at Lavender cuttings  (and a few others) in the milk jugs. My endeavors will yield  either abundance of plant material or lots of food for the compost bins. Fingers crossed for the former.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknown Mami. 

Warm and Wonderful

Like many others, we’ve been having unseasonably warm weather. Although below snow level, I’ve usually had at least three or four snowstorms by now – but not a one. We’ll be worried about the snow pack and spring water levels if the pattern doesn’t change very soon. Ever the optimist, I have to appreciate gifts of the warm weather. I’m still enjoying my sweet Pak Choi discussed in my pre-germinating seed post (and there’s more on winter sowing in that post as well). The daffodils are well on their way to blooming soon.

This mountain area is USDA gardening zone 7, and look at my lush Echeveria glauca. Spring and even warmer weather will be the perfect time to create more plants from all these lovely little rosettes.

I’ve been waiting on the cold before going gung-ho into winter sowing. For winter sowing, you use containers like milk jugs, put in dirt and seed, water and place somewhere that they will experience the cold and snow. This mimics the natural season while protecting the seeds from birds or being washed away. It also creates a mini green house environment where the seed will sprout and grow earlier than usual in your zone. The same system works for spring sowing, you just wait to put out your warm season seeds until later in the season. The Winter Solstice is the usual start for the cold season sowing. Yet here I am mid February deciding to “just do it”. The seed may germinate too early without the proper cold and late in the season cold spell could kill them. Taking my chances – have 24 jugs of flowers planted, just need to move them to a colder spot in the garden today.

 

All those pots are my spring bulbs.

The other unusual bit is that the cuttings I started in early fall are alive and growing on their protected shelf (they should be dormant).

    

I’ve even been able to harvest my garlic chives continuously all season.

The weather folks haven’t yet begun their doom and gloom predictions a.k.a. not enough snow pack  = drought, so for now I’ll remain optimistic and enjoy the gifts of the season.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknownmami.com. Stop in and see what others around the globe are up to.

Growing Things

Woo hoo, wouldn’t have thought I’d be so excited, but it’s going to get into the 20s tonight and tomorrow and we may see rain before the end of the week. :-) Brr, it’s even pretty chilly now. Like many, we’ve had unseasonable weather – amazingly warm and dry. Last season we had some beautiful weather in January and February as well, but we’d started with our requisite rain, snow and followed up with more rain and heavy snow into April. This season we’re getting concerned when we drive past the cows nibbling  itty bitty tufts of brown grass in their un-irrigated pastures that haven’t seen rain for months or think about our plethora of fruit trees that only do well with a certain number of chill hours. So, our growing things schedule is off, the ski resorts are praying for snow, and the rest of us hope for at least some rain and a drought free summer.

Although some do it earlier, January is high season for scanning the plant and seed catalogs, planning next year’s garden, and ordering seeds and supplies. Also, time to make sure you get the last of your bulbs planted if you haven’t already (and I am so into bulb planting right now; above photos were previous season). I’m sticking with the optimism route and plowing forward (he, he) with my garden. I’d mentioned here, that I grow many things from seed and enjoy winter sowing (and more links to winter sowing are in that post). It’s been too warm and sunny to put the seed jugs out, but looks like this week will rectify that. Time to dig in the dirt.

For your own planning, Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a great calendar where you key in your average last frost date and it auto fills your specific planting out dates and seed starting dates. With row covers or any season extenders you can go a tad earlier. If you don’t know your last frost date – just pick any “by zipcode” sites on this Google search.

 

One of the tricks I learned that I find invaluable is pre-germinating seed in paper towel and baggies.

Label your baggie with a sharpie marker with the date and type of seed, cut your paper towel into quarters, dampen and ring out the towel and arrange your seeds on the damp towel.

Roll up (note this towel is a little too damp. I squish it out before I put it in the baggie).

Place in baggie and leave in a warm spot to germinate.

With large seed like cat grass, I might dump a bunch in the piece of towel. Here you can see it started to sprout and is ready to plant.

Above is sprouting scallion.

   

I get a pot ready with dirt, put the seeds down, spread them out a tad, cover with dirt and water. You don’t have to remove the paper towel as it’s biodegradable. This is the sprouted cat grass.

  

With warm weather, or in a protected spot, they’ll be poking through the soil in no time. The cats keep it “trimmed”.

   

   

Pak Choi  - from sprouting in Oct to now harvesting young leaves. Pre-germinating is great as you don’t waste space (and time) wondering if your seed is good and going to sprout. It shaves about a week off your seed growing time (see the calendar to figure your seed starting time).

  

I do sometimes let them sprout a bit longer in the towels than I should, but  am able to get healthy plants. If (with work and life) you can plant them as soon as they sprout, you’ll have nice strong plants and even better survival rates. If you let them go – still plant out and you may be pleasantly surprised at how resilient they are. Above is my Swiss chard. Pre-sprouting is not necessary with winter sowing; I was simply using the milk jug is a mini greenhouse to grow before transplanting to my row covered bed.

     

If you order seed, don’t forget to throw some sprouting seeds into your order. Park Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial all have sprouting seed at a good price (and my links will land you on their sprouting pages). Love the larger seed like mung beans in stir fries; smaller sprouts – mustards, broccoli or alfalfa – in sandwiches and salads. Not into any fancy sprouting systems here, I just grab an empty jar, put some boiling water into it for a few moments to sterilize, cut some cheese cloth to cover the top, add seeds and away you go. Generally soak the seeds for half a day or overnight, then rinse in the morning and evening (leave the cheesecloth on, fill the jar with water, tip it over to dump the water out, do a second time). Easiest if you just leave your jars by the kitchen sink. Once they approach readiness, you can move to the refrigerator to slow down growth (and yes, I did let the pictured batch of mungs get pretty green, but they were great). When I harvest a jar, I’ll rinse the cheesecloth in a bleach / water mixture as it gets greenish from the seed covers and, of course, clean and sterilize the jar between batches. You can place your sprouts in a bowl of water to skim off the seed coatings if you don’t care for them. I use either a strong rubber band or the rim of the canning lid to keep the cheesecloth in place. It’s so nice and easy to have fresh greens readily on hand any time.

Well I’m off to “get dirty” while we have some sun and warmth. This post is participating in Sundays in My City – be sure to pop over and see what others around the globe are doing on their weekend.

Meager Progress – the Turtle wins, right?

I’ve finally made some progress, however meager, towards a garden. Mike at Murphy’s nursery is happy to make and sell redwood garden beds. If you’re local and wouldn’t get around to building them yourself, give him a call.  I was getting a few and live close by, so he threw in delivery. The above photo shows my splurge of four 8′ x 4′ ready-made raised beds.

Critters of every shape and size are a natural part of living in the mountains. If you hope to harvest any vegetables, then screen on the bottom of your beds is a necessity. Voles – burrowing Meadow mice –  are pretty small as are the burrow holes in my on my property. I went with hardware cloth; chicken wire, although less expensive, won’t last long and I for one would not want to have to dig up the beds to replace the wire after only a year. As I want these to last as long as humanly possible, I painted them with Thompson’s water seal.

The hardware cloth comes in 4 foot rolls so you need to add a strip to the edge for full coverage and then twist wire to connect the pieces (or use rings/connectors made for dear/animal fence). Leaving a space the animals could get through defeats the whole purpose of installing the wire.

Next up was installing hoops to extend the season I can grow in the raised beds. Floating row cover, greenhouse plastic or shade cloth can go over the hoops as needed. My plan is for floating row cover as I’ve used it before and really like the stuff. The Winter Harvest Handbook discusses more on extending your season with row covers or check out About.com.  I may also cover one bed’s hoops with chicken wire as I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the deer fencing up before winter and I’m hoping to get a few winter crops (kale is a-ok with snow) from one bed this season. The others will be prepped (with lovely things like cow manure) and left to rest over the winter with the row cover placed on towards the end of winter. In my previous warmer zone, I used the overwintering bed to start cuttings – fig trees and roses were so easy to start there. I may give a few hardwood cuttings a go here as well. It’s so easy – just snip some branches and stick them in the bed (without the manure or have the rich manured soil at the bottom of the bed).  If they sprout in spring you have plants – if not, no harm no foul. There are oodles of You Tube videos on starting plants – here’s one on easy hardwood cuttings.

 

When living in the bay area, I was one of those avid gardeners constantly starting cuttings and trading plants, swapping seeds and hitting the plant sales and garden tours (can you say obsessive? Case in point – my seed collection; these photos not showing the jars or shopping bags in the garage that also have seed. A friend was giving my seed away for free on her website, she’s moved and the garden clubs here are only for ladies of leisure who can meet on a weekday morning. That leaves me out and my collection grows). But hey – buying some seed is $4.95 for 5 or 10 seeds (eek if you do a lot, and if the snails get it or damping off if you grow inside – so sad. I can be relaxed and cavalier – if it doesn’t work it’s just food for the compost. When you get thousands of seed from one snapdragon, it’s ok if the birds get a few of your seedlings). A lot of my seed is multiple years old – most seed is fine if kept out of sun and kept dry. Every now and then there are plants that need fresh seed. You can test your seed by pre-sprouting – roll some in a piece of damp paper towel and place in a sealed baggie – then see if it sprouts (you can plant that sprout if you don’t let it dry out at all in the transplanting). Now that I’m making progress, my optimism and enthusiasm is back as I plan for offspring of favored plants from my previous home – even with the awareness that I may just be creating a lovely salad bar for the local wildlife as they are truly persistent.

With the beds,  thought I’d need to pre-drill the holes to mount the pipe, but the 8 x 1 wood screws went in easily. They attach ½ inch two hole pipe straps that hold the ½ inch PVC pipe in place. My plan had been for two pipe straps at each end of PVC, but I found that one anchors them pretty securely so I’ll start with that. Eight-foot long PVC gives the rise you see here. I’m debating about doing some beds lower.

I’m planning now for winter sowing. There is so much material out there – I prefer photos (good shot to get the idea) and suggest you scan this Flickr Search. The bottom line is “no stress seed starting”.  My preferred method is the milk jug method – forget all those plastic bags, cheap coolers and plastic boxes.

Most folks time this around the winter solstice; now’s the time to start saving and prepping your milk jugs. Cut most of the way around a milk jug and get some holes in the bottom. Add soil, water thoroughly, seeds, water lightly, label, close (I use a small piece of duck tape), leave the cap off and place outside – a spot with morning sun works best for me so if I get an occasional scorcher day in the winter, they’ll survive.

 

I get busy (notice how consistently I post :-) ) so pretty much completely ignore the jugs until spring. If I had weeks of dry warm weather – I’d check if they need water. These hold more soil and if I can’t get to planting them out right away, I can just cut off the lids and let them grow on a tad. If you use food trays, you don’t have as much space for soil and they can overheat more easily, you’ll have to be fast at transplanting once they get going. I have used food containers successfully, just find the milk to be easier. Also, one row of milk jugs along the driveway or portion of the yard is not horrid for the neighbors to view. The idea is, if it’s not a tropical/warm climate seed, it will enjoy the winter chill, sprout earlier given the small hothouse environment and be a pretty hardy seedling as opposed to something nurtured with warmth and lights that must be carefully hardened off to survive. People do warm climate seeds – just set those out in early spring.  I’ve done this multiple times, in both my previous zone 9/sunset 14 (no snow) and my current zone 7 – it works well, takes very little effort or expense and yields volumes of plants. If you check out the Gardenweb board, you’ll notice folks have an acronym – HOS (hunk o’ seedling as many folks just transplant hunks and don’t bother with thinning). They also swap seed there and have a FAQ with decent instructions.

Time to get back to work!

Consider subscribing to the blog so you’ll be pinged when I post.  This post is participating in unknown mami’s Sundays in my City.