Monday, April 18, 2011

our homestead: surveying growth in a cold spring

Well, the sun decided to show itself today (finally!). What a glorious day it turned out to be- bright blue sky, big puffy mountains of clouds and a gorgeous pink and orange sunset (which I watched down on the riverbank with my dog). We've been having such a frigid spring this year. Last night's temperatures were 39 degrees Fahrenheit by my house and it tried to snow in a few spots, so I was very grateful for some sunshine today.

I spent my time outdoors starting the preparations needed for transplanting my tomatoes into my hoop house. Mainly, I have to finish ripping up the sod along the floor of the hoop house, and then I'll bring in compost and supplement the soil. Then I'll be able to direct transplant my starts into the earth. Luckily my hoop house will protect my starts from the cold (though the chill does slow the growing process).

While out and about in my yard I stopped to weed my potato and pea patch. Hooray! My sugar snap peas (bottom photo) are starting to shoot out of the soil. Not surprising since peas do fairly well in cooler climates. I also checked up on my garlic (which I planted in October), and all three varieties are growing quite well. Next year my garlic patch will become my vegetable patch and my garlic will be replanted in my current vegetable patch (right near the asparagus). I plan to do wider rows for my next garlic planting as well. Anyway, seeing that things are continuing to grow (albeit slowly) makes me hopeful for the growing season. I am chomping at the bit to plant some carrots and onions though!

Friday, April 15, 2011

DIY almanac: asparagus planting video

Here's a little video I made while planting my asparagus crowns. It shares a few basics of the planting procedure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

our homestead: planting asparagus crowns

I was visiting with my mom the other day when she informed me that our local nursery had $1.00 Jersey King and Sweet Purple asparagus crowns for sale. $1.00! Hot boy! That's a deal! The asparagus crowns I'd been dreaming about were retailing at around$7.00 each, thus about 30 minutes after she let me in on this great find I was at the nursery, digging through a tub of soil picking out the best 10 crowns of each variety. Such a steal...I felt like an asparagus vandal.

Asparagus is a ferny spring perennial which will last about 15 years, providing delicious crunchy spears at the very start of the growing season. The only catch- you have to let it establish itself in the first two to three years after planting it before you indulge. So, there's a bit of planning involved when you decide where you want to grow your asparagus. I chose a previously prepped, deep raised bed at the bottom of my hill that receives ample amounts of sunlight every day (asparagus loves sun!). I checked my soil about a month ago, it seemed I had a pH of about 6.5...asparagus prefers a pH range of 6.5-7.5 so before I planted my crowns I sprinkled a few handfuls of wood ashes along my bed in the hopes that it would help maintain a pH ideal for my little crowns. Asparagus crowns are really cool looking- they are essentially a clumpy bulb with several long rooty tendrils. If you hold two up under your nose they'll make an earthy mustache.

To plant the crowns I dug 20 holes, 6 inches deep and about 18 inches apart from one another. I've also heard that folks can dig a long, 6 inch trench, but I wanted to stagger my plants. I spread a few inches of homemade compost in the bottom of each hole and then gently set each crown into place, being sure to spread about all the roots as best I could. I then covered each crown with about 2 inches of soil, and as my asparagus spears emerge from the earth I'll hill soil up around them (much like you hill potatoes). I then mulched around my asparagus. Throughout the next few years I'll try to keep my crowns well-fed and weed free so that they might prosper and become a welcome friend at future springtimes.


Friday, April 8, 2011

DIY almanac: upcycled seed starting containers and where to find cool seeds

I nearly have a vegetable garden growing throughout the windowsills of my home: Pink Brandywine and Evergreen Tomatoes, Candy Onions, Merlot Lettuce, Agnes Pickling Cucumbers, African Marigolds, Red Sun and Russian Giant Sunflowers, Mammoth Dill, Long Island Brussel Sprout and more. Soon I'll be hardening off and transplanting my little starts outside, but in the meantime I wanted to write about some of my seed starting methods...mainly in regards to some alternative seed starting containers I've been using and where I find my seeds in the first place.

Anyway, one doesn't need to invest in peat pots or seed trays (though these are certainly handy) to successfully produce baby vegetables- most times there are perfectly functional seed starting trays in your very own household, just waiting to be repurposed. Basically anything that can be filled with a few inches of seed starting mix with good drainage will do. You can use old yogurt and Tupperware containers providing you punch a few holes in the bottom for excess water to escape."Sawed-off" milk cartons work great since their waxy coating helps to retain moisture. Of, if you stop by your local grocery or food co-op you might be able to find tomato, pepper, apple or pear flat boxes which come with a protective plastic or cardboard tray for the produce (with individual grooves for each fruit. These are great because you can easily fill these with starting mix, plant one seed per groove and then easily punch out your start from its container and transplant it, much like a fancier seeding tray. Also, in lieu of peat pots, grab yourself some simple cardboard egg cartons, fill them with your starting mix and plant those seeds (check out my cucumber starts above). When you're ready to transplant you can either push the starts out of the carton or you can simply pull the carton apart (per start) and directly plant the starts into the earth since the cartons will biodegrade quickly. If you directly plant the carton pots, it does help to make sure there's a hole or tear in the bottom of each, to make it easier for your starts' roots to acclimate to the soil.

Now the fun part! Seeds! I get so excited when my first round of seed catalogues show up, right about the time winter is winding down. My favorite seed catalogues come from Johnny's Seed Co, the Territorial Seed Company and Peaceful Valley. Their selection is always astounding, chalk full of heirlooms and organics, and I adore the plant photos and illustrations. Recently I discovered a seed company called the Kitazawa Seed Co (it's funny because they have been around since 1917) that specializes in Asian vegetable varieties. They have all sorts of cool and quirky seeds such as melons, greens, cabbages, gourds, turnips, beans, sesame, eggplant, water peppers, leeks, mibuna, mugwort and the likes. I ordered a few packs of seeds from them including Lunar White and Kyoto Red carrots, a dark-orange winter squash called Uchiki Juri and Harukei Turnips (yum!). I've also had some success searching for seeds at my local Cenex (farm co-op). They usually have a decent assortment of seed potatoes and onion sets. Often I find myself on the hunt for local seed exchanges as well, wherein folks can come and share and collect personal heirloom seeds. I'm considering organizing one myself...