Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who’ll Stop the Rain?

As our unseasonably cold and wet weather continues, my anxiety over the newly germinating seeds has hit fever pitch.  Last Sunday I watched anxiously for any sign of the hail that was predicted and finally had to run out to cover the 6-paks of seedlings with empty flats when ¼” hail started pelting the gardens.  The seedlings were mostly the tomatoes, basils, peppers, okras, stevia and wonderberry.   On Monday morning, Baby Kitteh followed me out to the garden where I found that the tiny hail had made minute impressions where it had smacked into the cotyledons of the banana squash, which I hadn’t covered, but by afternoon the holes were filled back in.  The seedlings in the 6-paks did all right with the flats protecting them, even the ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes, which are just starting to push their first true leaves.

Unfortunately, the constant cool, wet weather has brought on another problem: slugs and snails!  This morning I pulled two giant snails off the sides of the cucumber pots (they had already done some sampling) and after checking underneath a couple more pots I found a whole neighborhood of slugs cooling their antennae until nightfall.  So just before sundown today, I went out and looked under every pot and pulled off the slugs.  I’m not good at salting them or stepping on them so I put them on the bottom of a basket with the hopes that the birds will find them and make them a tasty meal.  Do birds even like slugs?

Saturday, May 14, 2011


The greatest pleasure I get from growing my own vegetables is to start them from seeds then wait for them to germinate. It’s not that I haven’t a high level of envy when I see 1 gallon plants at the nursery, already well established and rooted, certainly moving fruit harvest up by weeks. It’s just that I have an innate childish excitement when I go out to the garden every morning to see if any seeds have broken through the soil overnight. It’s like Christmas every day. Then I’m checking off-and-on all day long to see if there’s a bulge in the soil surface or a spot of green stem showing through a crack in the soil.

All my seeds were sown from April 27th to May 1st. I made a list of germination times for each and then waited to see if the seeds came up in the normal germination window, the average being within 6-14 days. Most of the seeds have come up on time, but there are signs (or really no sign at all) that the Pumpkin ‘Baby Bear’ from 2006 and the Zucchini ‘Revenue’ and ‘Round Bush’ from 2005 are not going to come up. The seeds were old but I had hoped for some viability yet. I’ll wait till the end of next week, then toss them if the seeds don’t come up.

The Peppers ‘Hungarian Yellow’, ‘Large Red Cayenne’ and ‘Sweet Banana’ have also not come up but their window of germination is one of the longest—8 to 25 days. So I can be waiting until about May 22nd before they emerge. But I’ve grown peppers before and know this is normal. It just means a late season harvest.

The tomatoes have also been slow to germinate because it’s just been too cold at night, and daytime temperatures have been fluctuating as well. Once we get more days in the 70-75 degree range, and nights above 55 degrees, they should take off. It’s this temperature variance that can cause tomato seeds to take their time germinating or just rot in the soil all together because of the cold. I’ve planted tomato seeds as early as late-February to mid-March and have had 5” plants by the end of April. This has just been a colder than normal Spring and the tomato seeds show the effects.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Seed Planting for the 2011 Summer Garden

The long awaited day to start planting my summer garden seeds finally arrived on Thursday April 28th when the weather predictions were for at least 65° for the day. The potting soil, cell packs, 4” pots and flats were all ready to go. All the seeds start in cells or pots and then are transported to the gardens once well rooted. I just can’t keep up with the slugs and snails when I try to plant directly in the beds. And the container planting tends to produce very healthy, well-rooted plants that transplant well.

What I thought would only be a day or two of planting spread over the whole weekend as I dug through some of my older seeds to add to the mix of new Territorial Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. I generally toss any seeds over 5 years old, but some of the larger seeds like zucchini, melons and pumpkins will stay viable a little longer if kept under good storage conditions.

The biggest change for me this year was to only plant a limited number of cells or 4” pots of each seed. In years past, I’ve dutifully planted all the seeds that came in the packets, ending up with dozens of flats filled. But when it came time to plant the rooted seedlings in the gardens, I would come up critically short of space—even with additional space in my sister’s garden in Davis--and would end up trying to give the rest of them away or finally sending soil and seedlings to the compost pile. No more planting every tomato and zucchini variety I can get my hands on! This year there are only four tomatoes and two zucchini varieties, which makes more room for cucumbers, melons, okra, some basil, a good sampling of peppers and a few odds and ends.

I also had to plan for the ‘Jumbo Pink Banana’ Squash that will be taking up a great deal of garden ground very quickly. The 2 baby pumpkins won’t be quite so bad since their vines will be in manageable lengths.

And then there’s the ‘Honey & Cream’ Corn. The well composted spot I thought I would plant in has just too much shade for almost half a day. I’m going to have to use the raised bed I had planned to let go fallow this year and beef up the nutrients a little sooner than planned.

Here’s the list of seeds in alphabetical order with the Seed Company and year listed in brackets. Descriptions for the Territorial and Baker Creek seeds are in my recent blogs. There are some seeds listed from a company called Rogueland that were purchased in 2009 in bulk discounted sampler bags. They’ve grown very well for the last couple of years. As the seeds develop I’ll enter pictures and information in this blog and hope for a good year of winners.

Basil ‘Geonovese’ (Rogueland 2009)

Basil ‘Large Leaf’ (Rogueland 2009)

Bush Bean ‘Nugget’ (Territorial 2006)

Corn ‘Honey & Cream’ (Territorial 2011)

Cucumber ‘Green Slam’ (Territorial 2011)

Cucumber ‘Marketmore 76’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Eggplant ‘Black Beauty’ (Rogueland 2009)

Eggplant ‘Japanese White Egg’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Grain ‘Brown Maskal Teff’ (Rogueland 2009)

Herb ‘Stevia’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Leeks ‘American Flag’ (Rogueland 2009)

Melon ‘Hales Best’ (Rogueland 2009)

Melon ‘Jenny Lind’ (Pinetree Garden Seeds 2006)

Melon ‘Orange Delight’ (my save from ~ 2008)

Okra ‘Eagle Pass’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Okra ‘Star of David’ (Territorial 2011)

Onion ‘Red Burgermaster’ (Botanical Interest 2008)

Pepper ‘Hungarian Yellow’ (Rogueland 2009)

Pepper ‘Large Red Cayenne’ (Rogueland 2009)

Pepper ‘Sweet Banana’ (Rogueland 2009)

Pumpkin ‘Baby Bear’ (Pinetree Garden Seed 2006)

Pumpkin ‘Jack Be Little’ (Territorial 2011)

Squash ‘Jumbo Pink Banana’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Squash ‘Slender Gem’ (Burpee 2005)

Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Tomato ‘Early Girl’ (Territorial 2011)

Tomato ‘Green Grape’ (Baker Creek 2011)

Tomato ‘Stupice’ (Territorial 2011)

Tomato ‘Stupice’ (Totally Tomato 2006)

Wonderberry (Baker Creek 2011)

Zucchini ‘Revenue’ (Territorial 2005)

Zucchini ‘Round Bush’ (Bountiful Gardens)

I think that’s quite enough!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

I’ve had my eye on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ever since I saw one of their fabulous seed catalogs at my friend Virginia’s cabin in the back woods of Mendocino County. I had always marveled at the wonderful selection of vegetables she had in her gardens whenever I would go up to visit. When I opened the catalog I thought it was a high end glossy magazine. There were huge colorful photographs of many of the vegetables, along with extensive comments and history about the seeds. The prices for seed packets were in the $1.50-$2.00 range, which meant that the quantities were just right for a backyard garden.

The business statement about the purity of their seeds was what interested me the most and is the strongest statement you’ll find from any seed company. And that’s very important to me.

“All of our seed is non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. We do not buy seed from Monsanto-owned Seminis. We boycott all gene-altering companies. We are not members of the pro-GMO American Seed Trade Organization! We work with a network of about 50 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available! Many of our varieties we sell were collected by us on our travels abroad.”

"The Evangelists of Heirloom Seeds"--The New York Times

"...These are the people on the cutting edge of food culture..."O, The Oprah Magazine

So, I ordered a catalog at their website: www.rareseeds.com. They don’t even charge for this seed book masterpiece! The hardest part was whittling down a $50.00 order to about $30.00, including shipping. I still have to watch my budget.

I sent in my order April 15th and had the seeds by April 21st.

Here are the seeds with the catalog descriptions. The first group will be planted right away for the summer garden.

Cucumber ‘Marketmore 76’dark green 8”-9” fruit. Great slicer. Good yields. Excellent flavor!

Eggplant ‘Japanese White Egg’full, rich flavor; lovely 2”-3” white fruit are perfect for stir-frying. The plants give heavy yields all season.

Wonderberrydeveloped by Luther Burbank. Tasty small blue-purple fruit, good fresh or cooked. Small plants produce good yields in about 75 days. A historic heirloom that is easy to grow and fun for kids. Grow like a tomato. Do not eat green fruit.

Okra ‘Eagle Pass’from the area around Carrizo Springs and Eagle Pass, Texas. A great okra that is less slimy than others; big pods are tender and delicious. Productive plants are a favorite of the farmer who grows this variety.

Squash ‘Jumbo Pink Banana’large, pink banana-shaped fruit, can weigh 10-40 lbs. This variety is about 100 years old with a fine flavored, dry, sweet orange flesh. Popular on the West Coast. Large yields.

Tomato ‘Green Grape’sister to ‘Green Zebra’, this tomato is rich, sweet and zingy. The fruit are lime-green inside and have chartreuse-yellow skins. They are about the size of a large grape, perfect for salads and snacking.

Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’an old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety. Beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color. Superb sweet flavor and very large fruit. Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor.

Herb: Steviaa hard-to-find herb that is grown for the famous Stevia leaves which, when dried, are used to sweeten drinks and desserts.

These seeds will be planted in late summer for fall harvest:

Beet ‘Cylindra’a wonderful heirloom from Denmark, this one is famous for slicing with its long, cylindrical roots. Produces much more uniform slices than round beets. This tender and sweet variety is also known as “Butter Slicer” because of it’s wonderful texture. [I’ve grown this before and rate it best of all in flavor and cooking quality. Not so earthy tasting as some varieties].

Radish ‘Chinese Red Meat’the colorful “Beauty Heart” radish of historic China. The 4” round roots have white and green skin, but the magic is in their rose-red center which is so sweet, crisp, and delicious. A good radish to add color to salads and stir-fries. Must be grown in cooler weather and does best when fall planted. Sometimes called “Watermelon Radish” at market.

Radish ‘German Giant’very large, round red radish that was collected in Germany. These keep their fine quality even when large. This heirloom is very popular with the Amish. Mild and tasty.

Turnip ‘Boule d’Or’the “Golden Ball’ or “Orange Jelly” variety has been a mainstay of European turnips for over 150 years. This seed came to us from France where this old turnip is still cherished. It has a finer flavor than many of the white-fleshed varieties as the yellow flesh is sweeter and milder. Lovely color. [I had tasted a gold turnip before and was so pleased to find it didn’t have the sharp, sometimes bitter bite, a white turnip can have].

Spring Garden Overload--April

Only another gardener can appreciate the feeling of desperation that settles in when we have an over abundance of rain at the beginning of Spring, followed by a short “false spring” (when everyone thinks it’s time to plant tomatoes), then colder than normal temperatures, then another light warming with a few early spring showers, followed by a couple more frosty nights, all which keep the soil too wet to work in and too cold to plant in.

We watch the weather reports religiously to see how much the thermometer has inched closer to the 65 degree daytime temperature mark that favors seed germination. Then one morning we wake up to the sun shining and the frost finally over... and the snail and slug population exploded, grey aphids all over the cabbages and kale, and a nasty, sticky weed creeping all over every corner of the gardens...

We HAVE to clean out the squatters while waiting for the temperature to warm up to seed sowing range. What else can you do?

I ordered more seeds.