Monday, March 21, 2011

Tomatoes are in!

Spent yesterday morning planting the next batch of seeds. Six varieties of tomatoes (including my first attempt at saved seeds thanks to my mother in law) with the majority of them being Roma's for sauce. Also got some more lettuce going and cauliflower.

Although we are not big users of herbs, I keep trying them. We have a small clump of chives near the back door, though we didn't use them at all last year. I planted oregano, basil and coriander to create a small herb garden with. I didn't grow any last year, it would be nice to get some decent growth this year to add to our tomato sauce.

For the non-edible portion of our landscape, I started some left over forget me nots, black eyed susans, purple cone flowers, and alyssum. In addition I started some flowers to include in the veggie garden to help attract pollinators (marigolds and nasturtiums, also saved seed).

I was tempted to try the plant peas on St. Patrick's day saying, but I'm glad I didn't as we got an inch of snow today and the rest of this week looks cool and wet. Better to wait and ensure the seed doesn't rot in the ground. If the long range forcast looks good come this weekend, I may plant some just to try.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The first seeds are in! - Update

After two weeks the green and jalapeno peppers are not doing well. One 6 pack of green peppers has mostly germinated, but that is it. None of the other 18 are showing any signs of growth. Although I may have jumped the gun a little, I went ahead and bought some replacement seeds and planted them this past Wednesday.

For the bell pepper I chose "Big Dipper", and for Jalapeno, "Gigante" both from Burpee. Although I did get some bell's from my existing seeds to sprout, I chose to plant a full 12 cells of each. If I end up with extra they could always be given away.

I knew the lettuce seed I was attempting to use was old and unlikely to germinate, and I was right. I have a total of 3 plants started. I threw in some additional seed as a hope against hope measure.

Two of the onion varieties are growing well, the third is struggling. I think I have been keeping them too moist which the Australian Brown and Ailsa Craig handled fine, the Noordhollandse Bloedrode has not. There are lots of malformed sprouts that won't make it and overall a lower level of germination than the other two varieties. I may add a follow on planting to boost the overall success rate.

I am also considering direct planting some onion seed to see how that does in my southern New England climate.

The broccoli came up very well and are growing rapidly. Perhaps too rapidly. I was fearful when I planted them that it was too early. Their rapid progress is proving that out...

Monday, February 28, 2011

The first seeds are in!

Planted my first seeds of the season on Saturday, February 26. I had planned all along to get the onions started early, but decided to give my peppers an earlier start than usual on some hopefully good advice from the manager at Comstock, Ferre & Co. To round out my plantings, I threw some assorted lettuce seed that had been given to me (and which is several years old at this point) into a spare planter and added a 6 pack of broccoli.

I'm not honestly sure if it was time to start the broccoli, but even if it is too early, I find the idea of using a cold frame intriguing, and this might be a way to force me to try it. My only trepidation is knowing that I'm not so good at remembering to check the weather each day to ensure I open and close it as necessary to avoid freezing or baking the plants.

For this year I have started 12 cells each of green bell, jalapeno and Corno di Toro Giallo. the bell and pepper seeds are now 3 years old. To compensate for the likely low germination rate, I planted 4 in each cell. Since the Corno di Toro Giallo's are new this year, I only planted one in each.

Since I am trying 3 different varieties of onions (Ailsa Craig, Australian Brown, Noordhollandse Bloedrode), and each variety is listed as containing at least 300 seeds, I roughly split each packet into thirds and planted 1/3 of each. The onions are all planted in the bottoms of one gallon milk jugs, cut off at the bottom of the handle. I then drilled eight, 1/8" holes in the bottom for drainage.

I have struggled in the past to get good germination from my peppers. To help things along I have set up the top rack of my light stand as a mini hot house with cardboard forming the walls and roof to hold in the heat produced by the florescent lamp. To this I have added a poor man's grow mat.

This consists of two 2x4's to set the planting trays on and a string of 100 Christmas lights spread out under the tray in the gap in between the 2 x 4's. With the two lights going 24/7, the inside of the "hot house" stays in the 70-71 deg F range.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Visit to Comstock, Ferre & Co.

I am lucky enough to have one of the most historic seed companies in the country less than a 10 minute drive from where I work. Comstock, Ferre & Co. celebrates 200 years of continuous operation this year! And yet, until this week I had only attempted to visit it (unsuccessfully) one time a few years ago.

I had lost track of time and didn't realize until this week that I really need to get my onions & peppers started ASAP. I wanted to try the Wethersfield Red Onion from Comstock this year, and so I made a trip to check out the store.

Comstock changed hands this past year, being bought by the owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The timing of the sale, after the busy spring season, and the vastness of the building complex leaves the store a little underwhelming currently. The process of re-stocking the store appears to be a work in process. I suspect this is hindered by the desire to carry only products fitting with the owner's principles.

That said, the collection of seeds available for sale was rather impressive. Instead of the typical small and crowded rack in the seasonal area of most stores, here the Baker Creek line is permanently on display in the main room of the store covering 3 walls and a central divider. The newly resurrected Comstock line of seeds is located in an upper room that also serves as the processing station for mail orders.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one interested in the Wethersfield Red onions as they were sold out. I will have to get my act together a bit earlier next year. For those not aware, Wethersfield Red was a very popular onion that was grown in the CT area and shipped around the country in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I walked out with a handful of seed packets:

Corno di Toro Giallo Pepper
Dakota Black Popcorn
Purple Podded Pole Beans
Envy Soya Bean
Straightneck Squash
Noord Hollandse Bloedrode Onion (in place of the Wethersfield Red)
Australian Brown Onion
Ailsa Craig Onion
Golden Honey Watermelon

I am not yet certain where I stand in the heirloom vs hybrid vs genetically modified debate. But the idea of being able to save seeds my own seeds to plant in the future is intriguing. In fact, I am planning to try a few saved seeds from last years jack o' lanterns and a butternut squash as an experiment.

If you are in the central CT area, stop by Comstock, Ferre & Co. The great variety of seeds are worth the stop and you can just feel the history when walking into the building.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures in Vermiculture - Part 3

Things have been quiet on the worm front. I check on them every few days and for the most part there are always a few hanging out in the upper bedding and food area, but the rest are hiding down farther.

One down side of using the one quart container as my starter bin is the lack of space to dig around and see how they're doing. Can't really poke around more than a couple inches down without fear of causing harm since there's no place for them to move to quickly.

Their food intake has been pretty slow. The last feeding was three weeks ago and they're just now to the point where they could handle another filter's worth of coffee grounds. I think this is partly caused by the low temps (~55 deg F) in our basement. I knew this would affect their activity level, but had hoped setting them on top of the water heater would help. Apparently it is not enough.

Although everything I have read indicates they will rapidly move away from light, they have not displayed that activity to the level I expected when checking on them. I am wondering if they are sensitive to ultraviolet light which is lacking in the florescent shop lights of my workbench.

Fun fact about florescent light from a faq on GE's website:

"The amount of UV produced by standard fluorescent lamps, such as those in your office, home, or school, is not hazardous and does not pose a major health concern. In fact, a paper by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) explores this subject in more detail. It cites a study in which it was determined that UV exposure from sitting indoors under fluorescent lights at typical office light levels for an eight-hour workday is equivalent to just over a minute of exposure to the sun in Washington, D.C. on a clear day in July."

Since it is the UV rays which damage human skin, it would make sense that even primitive creatures would be damaged in a similar way. Dehydration is probably more threatening to a worm than sunburn, but for a ground dwelling creature, sunburn alone would probably be deadly.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Adventures in Vermiculture - Part 2

Fed the worms yesterday for the first time since setting them up in their mini-bin. Of the 1 pot worth of coffee grounds and 3 or so apple peels I had started them with, there was nothing left! In fact, I probably needed to feed them sooner than the week and a half I waited.

The worms appear to have made themselves at home, occupying nearly the entire bin, including the feeding zone and the top layer of bedding. For this week I have fed them two pots worth of coffee grounds and a quarter to half of an apple worth of peels. I also smashed up an inch or two worth of egg shell to see how well they like that.

The rule of thumb for feeding is 2:1 per day, meaning the worms will eat as much as half their weight in food each day. I'd like to manage once a week feedings, so I am likely underfeeding slightly still.

The worms live in the basement, which is rather cool this time of year (~55 degrees) so I have placed them on top of the water heater to keep them just a little warmer and more active.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adventures in Vermiculture - Part 1

I've been interested in vermiculture, composting with worms, for awhile now. With our back yard currently 3 feet deep in snow, anything to avoid making a trip to the compost pile sounds like a good idea!

Although interested, I'm not ready to jump head first into a full size bin setup. So I'm starting extremely small scale. My local Walmart stocks a small fridge worth of live bait. One of the items they carry are called "trout worms", which appear to be a variety of red worm. Since i can't be sure what type of worms they are, this is to be considered just an experiment.

Most sites recommend a 1lb package of worms to start a bin. The going price seems to be in the $15-20 range. For an experiment, i wasn't interested in laying out that much (plus shipping). The bait shop price was $3 for 30 worms (I actually got a one worm bonus for what it is worth). The per worm price is not so good, but the total outlay is just right.

With such a small starting herd, it makes sense to keep the worms in close contact to promote reproduction. As a result, I built their starter bin from a 1qt yogurt container. The bottom and lid have several 1/8" holes drilled in them for air and drainage.

Following common recommendations, I put together the micro-bin with shredded newspaper bedding in the bottom half of the container. In the middle is the medium the worms came in, plus one pot worth of coffee grounds and a few apple peels for food variety. On top is more newspaper bedding. Water was added until it dripped out the bottom.

I would like to add a few tablespoons of dirt to provide the grit needed for worm digestion. But as mentioned, the yard is under a ton of snow right now, so that will have to wait.

One week later...

The worms seem very comfortable and have reduced the provided food by quite a bit. What will be interesting to see is how long it takes to start increasing the population. Once they start multiplying I'll create a larger bin. Based on discussions seen on various websites I am anticipating it would take a year or more to build the population up to the 1 lb level. We shall see.