Tag Archives: seedlings

The garden is filling up

Sunday was a big planting day. We transplanted pepper and melon seedlings and directly seeded more beets and carrots. Ten beds out of 14 are filled with plants or seeds. Others are partially planted. Each bed is around 100 feet long.

Tiny corn seedlings

We gave the plants a snack of watered down fish emulsion. This provides plants with an organic and natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. We hope this will give the onions especially a boost (they’re looking a little stunted). Perry, the Jersey cow who lives next door, munched grass nearby as we worked. Gabbie stayed in the truck the whole time, which is typical for her.

We hilled the potatoes, meaning we piled up dirt around the stems of our growing potato plants. This prevents light from reaching the tubers. When potatoes are exposed to light they turn green and slightly poisonous. Hilling also keeps weeds in check and provides potatoes room to expand.

Newly planted melon seedling

It was a typical summer Sunday for us. Andy milked Perry the cow (she belongs to Medomak Camp) while I made pancakes and coffee. We ate breakfast while listening to NPR (paying particular attention to the Sunday Puzzle). Then we headed out to the garden in our new truck. After working until we were too hungry to continue, we came home for lunch.

We love having Sunday traditions, and working in the garden is something we look forward to. So far, the work load has been manageable with a few hours on Sunday and occasional time during the week. Surprisingly, we haven’t had many weeds come up yet, but that could change. Gardening isn’t easy, but it’s doable. With the knowledge and desire, I think most families could grow at least some of their own vegetables without a huge time commitment.

I made a map of the garden, which shows where everything is planted and will be planted. We’ve still got some open space unspoken for. Any ideas on what we should grow?

A map of the garden

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A quick garden update

Under clouds last Saturday, after a week of mostly rain, we happily transplanted broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, more tomatoes, basil and dill into the garden. It was a great day for transplanting – cool and wet.

Transplanted kale and broccoli

We planted two beds halfway with the brassicas (broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower) and covered them with remay to keep the flea beetles out. In the other half of those beds, we planted corn (8 rows in 4 beds all together). By yesterday, much of the corn had germinated.

Tomatoes

We have 102 tomato seedlings in the ground now (and more in pots getting ready to be transplanted). If it’s a good year for tomatoes, we might just be overrun. But we do enjoy canning tomato sauce and salsa, and last summer we roasted and froze tomatoes, which were great for soups.

The potato plants are huge, and we’ll have to hill them soon. Our clover is growing well between the garden beds. We’re hoping the clover will keep the weeds down and add nitrogen to the soil.

The potatoes are bigger every day!

We’ve planted two kinds of melons inside in trays – a cantaloupe and a yellow watermelon. I can just imagine the juicy sweetness, and I can’t wait. The melon seedlings are leggy, but they’re growing. We’ll put them in the ground in a couple of weeks.

Pumpkin seedlings covered by remay

Our pumpkins and squash plants are doing well. We planted the seeds directly into the garden on May 22. Cucumber seedlings we transplanted on May 30 are also growing well.

And we bought a truck! We found a 1994 Chevy Silverado 4×4 with a rebuilt engine in pretty good condition for $3,000. Now we can haul all the manure, veggies, chickens, wood and compost we want, without making many trips with our cars.

We bought a truck!

There’s so much hope and expectation this time of year. We watch the garden fill with lush green and wait with hopes of few pests and good weather.

Wishing for rain

It’s been a beautiful, sunny, summery weekend. Spring has been mild this year, and we’re tempted to plant many crops now. We have to remind ourselves that the schedule we made is meant to provide food for our September 25 wedding. We’re not looking for early crops. We’re also waiting for the electric fence to go up around our garden, which will probably happen in the first week or two of June. Lastly, we’re very aware of how dry the garden is right now, and we don’t have running water there yet. We would have to haul water from our house, which is around a half mile away. This is not an easy thing to do, especially since we don’t have a truck, yet.

So we’re trying to put off planting some crops, and we’re hoping for rain on the seeds we’ve put in the ground. Yesterday we planted Baby Pam pumpkins (good for pie) and two kinds of squash: Waltham Butternut and Hubbard Blue Ballet. We also planted some dill (for making pickles) and some lettuce for us to eat this summer.

We also laid black plastic on two beds. This plastic mulch warms the soil and keeps the weeds down. We will transplant heat-loving plants into holes in the black plastic, such as melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

We were happy to see that our dwarf white clover has germinated in the paths. We planted this short variety of clover in the paths to keep the weeds down and add nitrogen to the soil.

Tomato and brassica seedlings in the cold frame

Back in our homemade cold frame, many plants are growing well. Our scavenged tomato seedlings are doing well in their bigger pots, cucumbers are huge and peppers are finally sprouting their true leaves.

Unfortunately, some tomato seedlings are still quite stunted, but we have enough others that we might not have to use them. Our kale and broccoli seedlings are getting too big for their trays, but we don’t want to transplant them before the fence goes up. Being near the woods, our garden would provide an easy meal for deer. April 27 may have been too early to start these seeds.

Our seedling room is a warm, humid sanctuary filled with tomatoes, peppers, basil, dill and melons (which are starting to germinate). I love to sit among the plants and read or do yoga.

Experimental farming

Farming is an experiment. Especially in the beginning, though I expect we will continue to experiment for the rest of our lives. I wonder if experiment is the right word, though, since we often don’t understand what we’re testing for or why something works or doesn’t work. Farming involves guessing, intuition and flexibility.

I have to remind myself that failure is a learning experience, which can be a hard thing to do. It’s hard not to feel disappointed when our seedlings are stunted. What if this whole experiment is a failure?

It’s a test of our relationship, too, seeing how we deal with things not going right. I might be exaggerating a bit, since I’m just talking about tomato and pepper seedlings, but there is some stress when neither of us know what is the best action to take.

I know everything will work out fine in the end. We can buy seedlings if we need to. We could even buy our wedding dinner ingredients (we’ll have to buy at least some). But it would be nice to have a beautiful, healthy garden.

Our sad tomato seedlings

Here’s what’s happening with the seedlings… We planted three kinds of tomatoes and two kinds of peppers on April 15. We put them on a table in Beth’s greenhouse. They germinated fairly well, got to be about an inch high and stopped growing all together. Many of them still haven’t grown their first true leaves (meaning they only have two tiny leaves).

Our happy scavenged tomato seedlings

It’s a mystery. Beth gave us some reject tomato seedlings that were also very sad looking at the beginning of this month. We re-potted those and they have far surpassed our own tomatoes. We kept those under grow lights in our spare room. This would lead me to believe that our seedlings don’t like Beth’s greenhouse. But she has tomatoes in her greenhouse that are doing great. Hmmmm… curious. Let me know if you have any ideas.

We started potting up some of our pepper seedlings, thinking that might help them, but then we ran out of space under our lights. So we decided to build one of our chicken tractors early and use it as a cold frame for our seedlings.

Potting up tomatoes and peppers

The base our our chicken tractor/cold frame

We used scrap wood we got through Midcoast Freecycle, but we did buy screws, corner brackets and a roll of metal strap hanger (which we joked is the novice carpenter’s best friend). With the brackets and strap hanger, our joints hold firmly together even if our cuts aren’t perfect and the wood splits a little as we put in screws.

Finished structure

Since we didn’t have very much wood, we decided to make a 59-square-foot A-frame. We’ll probably put 20-25 chickens inside, depending on whether we choose to give them two or three square feet per bird. We’ll have to build another structure for the rest of the meat birds (we ordered 50 chicks).

Completed (for now)

We made panels and covered them with plastic to make a cold frame, or small unheated greenhouse. It’s not perfect, and the plastic doesn’t do much to keep the inside warmer than the outside. We’re still experimenting with it. We might put blankets over the whole structure overnight. We also plan to move it somewhere sunnier than our driveway. But in the meantime, we have our brassicas and some herbs inside the structure and out of the wind at least. Check out the Photos page for more pictures of us building the chicken tractor/cold frame.

Cucumber seedlings

Still under lights in the spare room we have beautiful cucumber seedlings, loads of tomatoes, some lettuce and newly planted watermelons and cantaloupes! We love melons!

In the garden we’ve planted onions, potatoes, carrots and beets. Soon the danger of frost will pass and we’ll plant many more crops in the garden. In the meantime, we’re still trying to figure out where to put all our seedlings as we pot them up into any sort of plastic container we can find. The tomatoes really seem to take off when they have more space for their roots.

Scavenging

My father has a story he loves to tell about me as a child. We used to go to the Wayne landfill, (this was back when towns just piled up their trash and buried it). One day I looked around wide-eyed at piles of other people’s trash, my father says, and said, “look at all this stuff, and it’s all free!”

Perhaps my strong distaste for waste comes from going to the dump with my dad, or maybe it’s somehow built into my genes. My father often talks about how resourceful his mother was. Either way, I hate to see things wasted, and so does Andy. I call every company that sends me a catalog to get off their mailing list. I always flip to the free section of Uncle Henry’s first. Andy and I go dumpster diving for juice and bread, and we’re always trying to figure out how to use what we have instead of buying something new. Once we have a permanent home, I just know we’re going to accumulate stuff like crazy – scrap wood, fencing, tools, all kinds of things.

I find it remarkable that Andy and I share this distaste for waste. Sometimes what we do to avoid throwing things away is a bit excessive, but I do think this will serve us well as farmers. If we can make do with buying less inputs, that means more profits or cheaper prices.

The same rings true for this summer’s wedding garden. I’ve said before that we don’t have much money, so we’re always looking around for free or cheap resources. One example is fertilizer. Though we haven’t gotten the results back from our soil test, we’re assuming our garden will need some nutrients. We thought about buying compost, but that would be expensive. Instead, we asked a local goat farmer if we could use some of the goat manure she has been piling up in a goat yard for years. Yesterday, on a beautiful spring Sunday, we went over to one of the places where the goats spend their time (they weren’t there at the time) and started shoveling.

What a beautiful day to shovel manure!

Gabbie loves cuddling with goat manure

Not having a truck, we filled big plastic bags and loaded up Andy’s car. Three trips and two hours later, we had covered a little less than a fifth of the garden with partially decomposed goat manure, and we plan to go back for more. I thought about titling this entry: “Look at all this poop, and it’s all free!”

I’m also a member of a Yahoo group called Freecycle Midcoast Maine. People post items they want to get rid of or things they want. By responding to a post to that group, we got free scrap wood to build our chicken tractor.

Andy is working for Beth at Dandelion Spring Farm for a few weeks. He was working on potting up tomatoes last week, and some seedlings were too sad looking to be worth the time and effort to pot up. At her scale, Beth plants extras and it doesn’t make sense to save every seedling. But we’ve got the time and space, and we’re more than happy to try nursing these spindly seedlings back to health. Andy and I re-potted them in new soil and put them in a spare room upstairs under lights. Hopefully they’ll make it.

Seedlings under flourescent lights

We’ve also been saving and collecting milk jugs and other plastic containers as plant pots, instead of buying stacks of plastic pots. Unfortunately, we did buy plastic seed trays. Though we don’t like using plastic, especially plastic that breaks easily and needs to be thrown away, these trays are the most convenient for us right now. Some day perhaps we’ll use soil block makers, which create blocks of soil to plant in, no plastic necessary. Watch a video about soil block makers here.

We’d love to build our house this way – scavenging windows and doors and wood and fixtures that other people are trying to get rid of and putting it all together into a house that’s functional and unique. We’ll see. The first step is to find some land. I’ll write more about the process of looking for farmland later.