Two Tips for Starting Seeds in the Ground in Spring

by Sandy Swegel

Two weeks ago during a warm spell I had a little seeding frenzy and made tiny rows of lettuces and Micro Greens in a community garden plot along with the usual St. Patrick’s Day peas.  Every thing is coming up now (OK with their weed friends too).  There are two things I do whenever I put seeds directly into the ground to make sure I’m successful.

Here’s my basic process for seed starting that works for me.

Weed and smooth soil out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil
Pat the seed lightly with my hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil.

TIP #1
ROW COVER
I lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seed bed.  You want it loosely so the plants can grow and the row cover lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks (of which there are many in our soil) to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away.  The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note….I water right on top of the row cover.  It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

Sometimes there are seeds that are slow to germinate.  That’s when I use

Tip #2
PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.
Seeds like peas or carrots respond well if you soak them overnight, drain them, let them sprout in a baggie with a damp paper towel for a day, then put them in the ground.  The peas get cute sprouts.

I get a high germination rate even from difficult seeds when I use these two tips.  Which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save a little money.

It’s Spring!  Enjoy playing in the Dirt!

Photo credit: http://frontrangefoodgardener.blogspot.com/
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/row-covers?page=0,1

 

I miss my garden

by Sandy Swegel

I’m on the 6 am red-eye flight from New Orleans and all I can say after a week in this great party town in that I miss my garden.  Sure, fried shrimp and stuffed crabs are great but after a week of culinary excess, I’m yearning for the crisp still frozen Swiss chard that I’ve harvested all winter underneath piles of leaves.  In big cities, you still get a lot of that pale white iceberg lettuce.

The other thing I missed in this big city are front yard gardens.  All those small urban front yard lawns are begging to be turned from turf to nice raised beds. Perfectly groomed shrubs are not nearly as pretty to this gardener as sprawling squash vines or trellises of peas would be.  The best I could do was slip some herbs between the roses and azaleas in my mom’s tiny condo garden.

So I salute, today, all of you who are growing your own food in cities or in neighborhoods controlled by HOAs that abhor anything untraditional.  I live in the fantasy land of Boulder where it’s trendy to grow your own food.  I have new respect for you who garden in the city or where you’re the only gardener on the block.  And I’ve envied your fresh greens all week!

 

Photo Credits:

walkingberkeley.wordpress.com

blog.nilsenlandscape.com

 

 

 

 

Food Chains, Who Ya Gonna Love?

by Sandy Swegel

Spring is such a good time for photos.  All life is bursting forth again and I’m enamored with the newness and uniqueness of everything. Daily I’m getting great email photos of nature showing up for the first time this year.  Some remind me nature can be awfully brutal too. As humans we get to be the top of the food chain, except for the occasional clever bear, bobcat, lion or other wild animal. But most of the creatures we love to see in Spring aren’t so lucky.

A clever photo I got this morning reminds me life isn’t so simple further down the food chain.  Nature is full of life and death.  Death mainly because most animals are food sources for new life further up the chain.  Here’s a picture I got this morning of the potential destiny of the cute ladybug I saw in the leaf litter: a photo from last May of a Cordilleran Flycatcher eating a Giant Ladybird Beetle.

Fortunately nature creates such abundance that there are plenty of aphids and lady bugs and worms and birds and mice and hawks, bunnies and cats and foxes for everyone to eat to survive, reproduce and thrive.  Our opportunities as gardeners are to keep creating natural habitats in places: planting lots of flowers for the insects to eat, and make sure that there’s ample water for insects and bees and birds and mice and hawks and foxes to drink. (I’m not so keen on providing for the raccoons and coyotes.)  And don’t forget to provide hiding places like old dead trees and debris for babies to be born.  Spring brings the cycles of life to our attention.  Pay attention and enjoy!  And stay away from wild beasts that eat humans!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos: courtesy of Dave Leatherman of Ft. Collins.)

 

Plant more peas!

by Sandy Swegelworld peas (Mobile)

Rev your garden engines folks.  Today is St Patrick’s Day and the official start of pea season and there’s no need to wait.  You have jobs to do today.

Make sure beds are weeded. Those mallows from last year are easy to spot….they’re the only green thing in parts of the beds.  But they weed easy this time of year. I lightly cultivate the top inch of soil if I see lots of annual seeds starting. In my garden every last larkspur seed that fell last year has germinated.  Cute…but not in the pea bed please.

 

Put the Peas to Soak.  If your climate is high humidity, you may not need this step, but here in the arid foothills, I soak my peas overnight, rinse them tomorrow and then plant them.  Sometimes I even presprout them (just like making mung bean sprouts) and plant them with the big white root already fattening up.

Put your trellis in place if you’re growing the kind of peas that need support.

pea trellis

 

Think about row cover. Decide if you want to use it to warm the peas and speed their growth.

Think about inoculant.  I’ve written about this before. Gardens that have grown happy peas before may not need inoculant but new raw beds with less than optimal soil would probably benefit.  If you forgot to buy it, you can always plant anyway and sprinkle the inoculant over the soil and water it in later.

Remember the flowers.  I’m so fond of peas for eating whether they are oriental peas  or snap peas or plain old shelling peas, that I forget about how beautiful and fragrant sweet peas are.  My neighbor plants sweet peas on trellises along the fence, at the base of vines, in a circle in the middle of the lettuce garden.  Her garden is so beautiful and fragrant come June that I get very jealous.  Plant sweet peas!peasugarann350x350

PHOTO LINKS
“pea trellis” http://mixedgreensblog.com/2010/03/01/in-the-garden/ready-set-plant-peas/
world peas http://www.thewhatever.com/post/4555671838/world-peas

 

 

3 Veggies You Gotta Grow at Home

by Sandy Swegel

These three veggies aren’t easy to find in grocery stores.  Even if you can buy them, they are so much better fresh out of the garden AND super easy to grow.3.29.13 beet salad

Broccoli Raab Rapini
This is a relative to big broccoli stalks. You get the same great taste and vitamins as the bigger broccoli except this is easier and faster to cook. You can buy raab in the grocery stores sometimes, but it’s often large and the leaves can be tougher. Clipped young out of the garden and sauteed with olive oil or in stir fry, it’s tender and sweet.  And it’s easy to throw a little in your juicer without it overwhelming other vegetables.

Chioggia Beets
You can buy beets with greens attached, but again you don’t get the young tender sweet greens you can clip directly out of the garden that are great for stir-fry or slipped into a mixed salad.  Any beet would work, but the chioggia have those super cool stripes that look great sliced very thin in a salad.

Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas 3.29.13 Pea Blossom (Mobile)
Anyone who has read this blog knows I’ve got a thing for peas. But the dwarf grey sugars reign above all the others.  First, the plant with its pretty pink flowers could pass for a sweet pea.  Second, even the leaves of this pea are tasty and you could grow these peas just for microgreens. Third, the young pod is sublime. Eaten young right off the plant it is sweet and tender. Grown a little more, it’s a great snack refrigerated or even to be used in the traditional way in stir fry.

Gardening is fun but also can take a lot of time and work. I like to grow food that I can’t just buy in the grocery store but is a delight when grown at home.

 

Photo Credits:http://www.karensgarden.net/ki_galleries/2009/PeaBlossom.jpg

http://green-artichoke.blogspot.com/2012/07/beet-and-lentil-salad.html

 

 

How to Grow Baby Kale

03.10.14aby Sandy Swegel

Mixed baby kales are the currently darlings of the produce section…and in my refrigerator are Lacinato Kale, Organic Lacinato Kale, and Organic Red Russian Kale. Several companies now sell thrice-washed baby kales that are ready to use in salads, stir-fries, soups or juices.  As cute as these greens are, their prices are pretty steep…we pay $4 for five ounces and then there’s all that wasteful packaging.

You can easily grow your own baby kales (or any mixed greens). Here’s how market farmers do it:

The key is succession planting. 

About every three weeks, you should seed a patch of kale seeds fairly close together in intensive planting style. 

First Cutting
Once the leaves are about 4 inches high, use a scissors or knife to cut them off about an inch above soil level.

Second Cutting
Let the patch you just cut off continue to grow as regular kale and you can harvest again in a month.  Cut those off again about 03.10.14aan inch above soil.  The second cutting isn’t as tender as the first but still great for braising.

Third Cutting
Let the patch keep growing for a third cutting of mature kale.  Fertilize lightly.  The third cutting usually leaves the plant depleted and it’s time to pull those plants and reseed.

Because you kept making a new planting of kale every three weeks in a different section of your garden, you will regularly have both the tender young greens and mature leaves.

It’s that easy. Each packet of kale has over 200 seeds so this is a really thrifty way to get a lot of kale.  You can plant one kind of kale at a time, or mix red russian and lacinto together for a colorful mixture.

Eat more Kale! Yum.

Photo Credit and More info:
http://sixburnersue.com/cooking-fresh-eating-green/2013/03/new-at-the-grocery-store-baby-kale-10-ways-to-use-it/
http://www.fastcoexist.com/3016068/the-largest-urban-orchard-in-north-america-is-now-open-for-business

 

 

Straw Bales, Legos for Gardeners

by Sandy Swegel

Whenever I start to think about a new structure I need for the garden, straw bales are what first come to mind.  Having a bunch of straw bales is like having an entire box of Legos….there’s not much you can’t build. strawbale

I started thinking about a cold frame today, because I was a little over eager about starting perennial seeds.  They’re already emerging in my seed starting tray and the question did occur to me now, a little late, where was I going to stash all these plants when I have to plant them up in larger containers next month.  Then I remembered my first cold frame.   A rectangle of old straw bales with an old shower curtain secured on top by big rocks was a great cold frame.

I  tried storm windows one year in a community garden plot, but they are breakable if there are kids playing with rocks or loose dogs in the neighborhood.  I got a sheet of recycled tempered glass (old shower door) that worked great but was heavy for lifting.

The next great garden project is a compost bin.  I use spoiled hay bales from a nearby horse ranch because the bales are free and they also eventually become compost too.

Your imagination is your only limitation.  Think of any structure you’d like and do a Google Image Search with the name of the structure and “straw bale” and you’ll find someone who has done it already and posted a picture:  straw bale hoophouse, straw bale fort, straw bale lounge chair, straw bale chicken coop, straw bale bed, straw bale wind break, etc. etc.  Have Fun!

 

 

Mommies Who Garden

by Sandy Swegel

So we were hanging out at BBB Seed amid giant sacks of seeds waiting to be shipped all over the US this week talking about ?????????????????????????????how many different kinds of people bought our seeds and how they all gardened in their own unique way. One definite trend we see is a joyful kind of gardening practice by moms with young kids.  I spend the evening googling “mommies who garden” and found myself by moms all over the country who garden and who make time to write about it!

Naturally there is no one “mommy” way to garden since there are moms who work outside the home, moms who homestead, moms who use the garden as a classroom and babysitter, and moms who garden as a personal respite from the chaos that being a mommy can be.  But I saw two trends I want my own inner gardener to reconnect with:

Mommies who garden:
Don’t worry so much about having the picture-perfect garden but about whether the garden is a source of joy and fun for the family.  There’s a lot of mulch to keep the weeds down because moms don’t have so much time for weeding.  There are signs of home-made art projects everywhere: hand-painted rocks, cute makeshift fences, bowls with puddles of mud.   The garden isn’t just growing vegetables or flowers. It’s having fun and growing kids.

03.01.14bMommies (and Daddies) who garden:
are totally psyched about the fact that they have planted seeds and fed their family yummy wholesome food from their own garden. It isn’t just about saving money or growing organic food, it’s about all the love that went into the garden and the joy about having provided for the whole family and shared the harvest together.

So that’s our inspiration this week as Spring is struggling to return.  Let us create gardens that are fun and playful. And let’s grow some amazing food to share with family and friends and strangers.  Go Mommies!

Photo Credit: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1
http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1