What NOT to do when Gardening

mistakes

Okay. So this post is about, you read it, what NOT to do when gardening.

I’ve talked to quite a few farmers/gardeners now, and it seems we are all learning together.

The best way to learn in life, is to f** things up, pardon my language.

You can read as many books as you want, you can create as many charts as you want, and you can intern for as long as you want, but really, sometimes the best way to get things started is to just jump in and get dirty.

Which means you are going to make mistakes.

So I thought I would share my mistakes with you, so that perhaps you can avoid them. (However, you might not really understand until you go ahead and make them yourself.)

So, things started off well.

I planted one seed per tray and most of my seedlings germinated (thank you Greta’s organics and Jardins de l’écoumène)

I misted them 2-3 times a day, making sure they never went too dry.

And I bought a SunBlaser lamp (for germinating). However, I feel like this was an unnecessary investment. I think they would have germinated just as well (practically) without it. I think they would have done just fine in regular sunlight.

All of my seedlings seemed to grow upwards too quickly. So they were tall (wonderful!) but their stems were too thin, and therefore they weren’t as sturdy as they could have been.

I do have to look into this matter a bit more, but I think this was due to the sunlamp. Perhaps it was because it was positioned too high above the trays, but regardless. I still feel strongly that it was unnecessary. And so in the future, either my plants will be in a greenhouse, or they will simply grow inside with the help of natural light. (Granted when you do this, you do have to rotate your trays often as the stems grow towards the light, causing your plants to grow slanted).

I feel the sunlamp may have also provided too much light (I didn’t think that was possible with vegetables) but when we are talking about artificial light and sensitive seedlings, I think it may be possible. It almost seemed as if some of the seedlings were burnt by the lamp (too much light). However, this burnt/yellow affect could have been caused by moisture or soil quality, but again, I would put my money on the lamp.

But that does bring me to my next mistake.

Using store bought soil and not homemade compost.

I have read over and over how homemade compost is the best. How if you want to do it right, start making your own compost. It may require an initial investment (building a compost heap), and time, but it totally pays off in the end.

When seeding and transplanting I bought seedling and potting soil from the store. I didn’t add anything to my seedling mix (first mistake), such as compost/fertilizer/other nutrients. I did buy certified organic bone meal to add to my potting mix (which the dogs loved by the way), but even that probably wasn’t the best idea.

My stuff grew well, but they looked sad in comparison to the spaghetti squash seedlings that a friend gave to me. They didn’t even plant spaghetti squash seeds. They sprouted in their compost, all by themselves (they must have thrown out some spaghetti squash seeds at some point).

I tell you, after seeing these spaghetti squash, I now understand why homemade compost is the best. And I will make sure to have my own compost for next year. There is no going back!

Next: it’s never a good idea to do any type of gardening in the middle of the day (11am-2pm). Basically, avoid the hottest part of the day. Not only is it better for you, but it is also better for the plants.

Always water plants in the morning or the evening, if not, you risk “frying” them.

Also, do not transplant your seedlings during the hottest part of the day.

And to top that off, make sure to harden off your plants properly. And do not leave them exposed to extreme conditions, too long or too quickly.

I transplanted my tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis during the middle of the day, in the 30degree heat and sun a week or two back, and a bunch of the leaves turned white and translucent. This is due to too much sun (an extreme change in weather) before they were really ready to be left outside.

I don’t know what I was thinking. But I can tell you I won’t be doing that again. I was able to revive most of them as I brought them in once I realized why they were turning white. But alas, there are some that simply did not make it.

It is for these reasons that I am happy that I am taking this summer to figure stuff out on my own. I didn’t really want anyone to be relying on my for advice too much, seeing as I am still figuring this stuff out. If I make mistakes that cost me money, at least it’s my own money, not someone else’s.

And last but not least, (and I can’t really speak against this yet from personal experience) but do not till. I still feel guilty that I used a rototiller for the garden, instead of mulching. Everything I have read, and continue to read, has only made me more sure that mulching is the best long term solution to weed suppression and healthy soil. Basically, mulching will help improve your soil, whereas tilling will diminish the quality of your soil. Tilling may be the easier solution and provide short term benefits, but they will wear out in the long run.

So to recap:

  • Grow lites are not absolutely necessary. Unless you are growing pot for money, or have a commercial garden (in which case you would have a greenhouse, not growlites) growing your seedlings in natural light will work just fine.
  • Homemade compost. Homemade compost. Homemade compost! (I don’t think I can stress that enough)
  • Avoid doing any type of gardening work during the hottest part of the day. Take a siesta instead!
  • Take the time to harden your plants off properly before transplanting.
  • Don’t till. Mulch!

So there you go.

I’m sure I will have more mistakes and mishaps to share with you as the summer progresses. But hopefully, I will also have some amazing results to share with you at the end, despite my mishaps.

Till next time!

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Spring update!

sprout

Okay!

So I know I worked on a farm last summer, but that by no means translates into me being an expert on the matter of gardening.

Some people have turned to me for advice on, and I do feel like I have some knowledge to pass on, but truly, I feel like I am learning as I go. Really, I’m learning with you!

And so I have decided to share with you what I have done so far this year.

After the farm last summer, I had one main goal for this year. And that was to have my own garden this summer. I wanted to go bigger than just a few plants here and there. I wanted to produce enough food for at least two families for most of the year. And if it was possible to produce more than that, then so be it. #Foodisfree!

I am happy to say that this is still my goal and that I have begun working on it.

First I bought three 72-cell trays from Canadian Tire (which come with a plastic dome), along with 2 bags of seedling mix.

(I had hoped to buy a soil-blocker, and the proper soil blocking mix to go with it, which would eliminate the need for plastic trays, but it’s a bit of an investment, and also difficult to find  the proper soil mix, and it was getting to the point where I just needed to start my seeds and get it done! so to Canadian Tire I went) (I plan to get the soil blocker next year for sure!)

I also bought my first batch of seeds from Greta’s Organics. A local, smaller scale, seed supplier, and also the mother of a friend.

She’s got a great site, and from her I got my onions, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers (English and pickling), carrots, parsnips, and beets…

I also picked up a single tube growing lite  (35$ at Qué-pousse) and have hung it from the ceiling in my kitchen over my 3 trays.

I filled my trays up with seedling mix, and planted my seeds according to the package directions. (They tell you at what depth to plant the seeds, normally anywhere from 5mm-2.5cm). Then I watered them with a mister that I had also purchased from Canadian Tire. Every day, I leave my grow-lite on for 12-14 hrs, and I mist them at least twice a day. Once in the morning, once at night, and in the afternoon as well if I am home.

Always touch test the soil when watering. Too much or too little water is not a good thing. But then again, don’t stress. Seedlings and plants are very hardy. They want to grow! So as long as you treat them with care and give them attention they will do just fine.

And so, a few days after planting, I had my first sprouts! First it was the cucumbers, then onions, then tomatoes. I was worried about my peppers (red and habanero) but a friend told me not to give up on them, they tend to take longer. And wouldn’t you know it, eventually they began to sprout as well!

Once my onions hit a certain height (about 2 inches) they began to fall/slump over. At this point, or preferably before they start to fall, you need to trim them (meaning snip off the ends with scissors so that they don’t fall over). And you will continue to do this until it is no longer necessary or until you transplant them, whichever comes first.

About a week later, I visited La Coop Maison Verte to buy more seeds which I hadn’t gotten or couldn’t find from Greta’s. This included zucchinis, patty pans, butternut squash, kale, arugula, spinach, and lots and lots of herbs.

I planted a full tray of kale, some squash/zukes, herbs, and more onions. I also bought some higher ceiling domes this time around (at La Coop Maison Verte), as my tomatoes and cucumbers were hitting the top of the ones I had gotten from Canadian Tire.

My kale just started sprouting this morning! Lovely lovely!

And I only planted one seed per tray. Most of the time people plant 2-3 seeds per tray to ensure that at least one of them sprouts, but if more than one sprouts then you usually have to pluck one out. Which means in a sense you are wasting seed (even though they are super cheap) and you have to “kill” a plant. So I decided to have faith in my seeds and their ability to sprout, and it seems to be paying off pretty well.

The only ones I planted 2-3 seeds for were my onions, which you can plant in groups and transplant as is. They grow together in bundles. You can harvest some of them earlier on as green onions and then the other 1 or 2 will grow to normal size.

So that’s where I am at right now. Giving my plants lots of love, light, and sometimes I leave classical music on when I go to work (I figure it can’t hurt!).

I will be renting a rototiller either this weekend or the next to prep the ground for planting. I’m sure sore arms will follow.

Spring is here! and summer is on the way. My weeks are only going to get busier! But in a very good way. Looking forward to it. I’ll keep you updated!

Tomatoes 101!

tomato

Who doesn’t love a fresh garden tomato sandwich?!

Tomatoes are delicious, and I could easily eat a tomato every day.

Although tomatoes prefer hot weather, and are a bit more finicky than some other vegetables, many people manage to grow them regardless, even if only in a little pot on their back porch.

So really you may already be a tomato expert, but if you aren’t, here we go!

Like I said, tomatoes are warm weather crops (like the squash/cucumber family, and peppers). Ideally, in our climate, having a well ventilated greenhouse would be the best way to ensure lots of big tomatoes for an extended period of time. But most people do not have a greenhouse, including myself (at least not yet). And so let’s look at growing tomatoes sans greenhouse.

No greenhouse means you have to wait for the weather to pick up and be sure it is going to stay up. Tomatoes are very sensitive to frost and light freezes and simply grow better in warmer conditions. The warmer the better (not to be taken literally, because we do not want to fry our tomatoes).

For germination (seeds to grow), you need temperatures of at least 15 degrees (preferably soil temperature as well). And for continued growth, you need temperatures between 20-23 degrees. The more consistent temperatures are, the more growth you have. If temperatures are dropping every night, growth will take longer.

Row cover is often used to keep heat in, and can act as somewhat of a greenhouse, but most tomato plants require staking, and therefore are too tall to be put under row cover. Another option would be a hoophouse, if you have the money for the investment. But if we start talking about a hoophouse, we are talking about more than just your backyard garden. Here’s a picture of a hoop house to give you an idea of what it looks like but I will be working sans hoophouse (at least for this summer).

hoop house

Determinate tomato varieties, which are genetically controlled, can grow as a bush and do not need staking, and therefore could possibly fit under row cover, but I would like to buy organic indeterminate tomato varieties which will need staking. So keep this in mind when you are planning the layout of your garden. Anything that will grow tall will be casting a shadow. And so you probably want to have your taller plants at the edges of your garden, or spaced far enough away from your other vegetables so that they are not keeping them in the shade for half of the day. We love the sun and so do vegetables, so let them soak it up as much as possible!

Seeing as we have to wait so long for temperatures to warm up, it is best to start tomatoes from seed 6-8 weeks before you plan on planting them outside, and/or they can be bought as seedlings when you are ready to plant.

Starting tomatoes from seed does require a bit more work in comparison to some other vegetables but it ain’t nothin that we can’t handle!

So: plant them in flats or trays 1/2 inch deep, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart. This should be done about 8 weeks before you plan on transplanting them. The more time they have to grow, the bigger and stronger they will be when transplanted, and therefore they will be more likely to survive the transition. Keep them in the warmest, sunniest spot you have. Once they have 4 leaves, transfer them to a deeper pot (about 3-4 inches). When you ‘pot up’, remove the lower leaves, and place the uppermost leaves just above the soil line (so you can bury the rest of the plant). This will allow the stem to grow stronger. And you should ‘pot up’ again once they have reached a height of 8-10 inches into an even bigger pot. (The second potting up isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is a very good idea from my experience.)

Before transplanting them directly outside, you also want to give your transplants the chance to ‘harden off’ which means getting them used to outdoor temperatures but still sheltering them. So you can place them outside on a table under row cover, or you could place them outside but bring them in if ever it is too windy or cold. This helps them acclimatize and get used to outdoor weather. Treat your vegetables like babies; be very gentle but firm, so they can grow big and tall.

Once they have hardened off and you are ready to transplant them into your garden (because temperatures, including night time temperatures, are at or above 20 degrees), space them about 3 feet apart (only one row per bed). Again, set them into the ground deeply, so that the first leaves are just above the ground.

Once they are in the ground, if ever you know there is going to be a cold night, cover them up with something, even if it’s just a newspaper tent!

As the tomatoes grow they will need to be supported by something; poles, hanging wires, cages…something. It’s your choice really, you can use whatever you have at your disposal.

If you don’t have that many plants, you can probably get away with not trimming them, but you will have to support them a lot because they may get out of control. If you do trim them, which you should do if you have quite a few, you simply need to trim the suckers (the little stems that grow between the main stem, and the leaf stem). Basically, if you have what looks like 3 stems growing, break off (gently) the middle one.

stem

Your tomatoes will be ready to harvest about 70-80 days after transplanting. They normally don’t all ripen at the same time. There’s not much point to staggering planting dates, seeing as you basically need to get them in the ground as soon as you can so that they have enough time to grow. If ever some are still green when the frost approaches, you can keep them in newspaper or a paper bag in a dark warm place and they will continue to ripen.

It is best to eat fresh tomatoes right away! And if you do keep them for a day or two, you should leave them out, not put them in the fridge. And if you have tons of tomatoes, well then make sauces, soups, salsas, whatever you like! And freeze them. Or share them with friends and family!

(Important note: tomatoes need at least an inch of water per week!)

You can also use a red or black color mulch for tomato plants, to prevent weeds and keep the soil warm and moist. (A mulch is a sheet of plastic or biodegradable material that you can lay down on your bed. You can make holes in it where you place the transplants.)

Et Voila! You have beautiful, red, plumpy tomatoes.

This is a short 101 version of tomato planting of course. Just the basics. There is a lot more information on tomatoes and you can read about it at VeggieHarvest.com or any other site/magazine/book.

For now that’s it for me though. It’s a beautiful day outside and I (like the veggies) would like to soak up some sun!

Source:

http://veggieharvest.com/vegetables/tomato.html

 

Leeks 101

leeks

Yesterday I blogged about onions. For leeks it’s pretty much the same story.

Leeks are a very close relative of the onion, and I would say could be used almost interchangeably, however there is a subtle difference in taste.

I absolutely love leek and potato soup, and/or leek and mushroom soup. Frittata with leeks! Quiche with leeks! Lots of yummy things can be made with leeks.

Like the onion, leeks are normally started indoors about 2 months before planting (but you can plant them directly outdoors if you so wish).

What’s important to do with leeks is to cover up their base as they grow, so that you have a big and thick white stem (I just reread that, I was going to reword it but it’s the best way to describe it, so I’m leaving it as it is). You can do this one of two ways. Either plant them in a 6 inch trench, and fill in the trench as they grow. Or simply pile dirt up around them as they grow.

The rows should be 2 feet apart, and the leeks should be spaced 6 inches apart within the rows.

You can harvest leeks once their stems are about an inch in diameter. (Of course, you can always harvest earlier, but this is when they have reached maturity).

And in our (colder) climate, we should harvest them before the first frost.

Et voila! You have leeks.

Leeks don’t store like onions do. But you can definitely turn them into soups and freeze those!

Happy Planting!

Source:

http://veggieharvest.com/vegetables/onion.html

Onion 101

onion Okay! So I decided to get off of my herb kick and focus on vegetables which I may very well be transplanting. I hope to get through this list before March so that I (and you) can buy our seeds and start them indoors.

I know onions make most of us cry, but there is nothing better than the smell of onions gently frying in butter. Starting any recipe off with onions in butter pretty much guarantees success.

And so I hope to have lots of onions (and leeks) throughout the summer, and enough to harvest at the end of their growing season to last for the YEAR!

So here we go!

Onions are a very hard plant that can withstand frost and therefore can be planted as soon as the earth is workable in the spring. You can either grow them yourself indoors and transplant them, or buy seedlings and transplant them. You can also start them from seed in the garden, but in that case you might want to wait for it to be a bit warmer.

I hope to start mine indoors. And if I don’t have enough space, then I will buy the rest as seedlings.

You can either plant them individually, or plant them in groups.

Growing them individually, they would each get their own cell (in a starting tray) and then you would transplant them 3-4 inches apart in row, and leave 6-10 inches between the rows. Or you could plant 3-4 seeds per tray, and transplant them about 4-6 inches apart in row.

The more you plant together, the less space they have to grow, the smaller they will be. But what you can do is pick out 2 earlier on in the season (as green onions) and leave the other 1 or 2 in the ground to develop into big mama onions!

Onions don’t have very strong roots and so it is a good idea to have loose, fertilized soil to plant them in.

As they are delicate when they are young, it is also necessary to hoe and cultivate regularly to prevent competition from weeds. (Another good reason to transplant)

As I said, you can begin harvesting early on when the onions look like green onions you would buy from the store. For onions that you would like to store throughout the winter, you will need to cure them. And you might as well wait for them to get as big as they can. You will want to get them out of the ground when their tops start to yellow and fall to the side.

Harvest all your onions at this point. For shorter term storage, let them air dry for a few days in the sun. Remove the any dirt and let them sit out in the open air (well ventilated area protected from rain) for 2-3 weeks. Then cut off the tops and let the cuts seal (2-3 days). Afterwards store them in a cool dry place.

For longer term storage: again let them lay in a well ventilated area for 2-3 weeks until skin becomes crispy. Then you could rub off the roots and braid them together with their tops. You can them hang them in a cool dry place (50-60F) and they will keep for 6-8 months!

Et voila! You have onions.

Leeks are pretty much the same story. A few differences. I will mention them in the next post.

Happy Planting!

(Plant onions with lettuce, peppers, spinach, strawberry or tomatoes. Do not plant near beans, asparagus, peas, or sage)

Mint 101

Here we go again!

Up to bat: Mint!

mint

We like mint because mint is hardy (tough) and it’s a perennial.

It can be extremely invasive however, so it is best to plant it in a pot! Or if planting in the garden, plant it in a container (say a two pound coffee can with both ends removed). When planted in the garden as such, you should space the cans 2-3 inches along a row, and space the rows 18-24 inches apart.

I should mention at this point that it is best to plant mint from root divisions. Apparently, growing mint from seed will not grow “true” (whatever that means, I plan to look into it).

Et voila! You have mint!

And you can harvest it whenever you like really. The more you pick, the better they grow. Although you do not want to strip the whole plant at once. Picking some of the leaves off the top will encourage it to shoot out again. And if you’d like to harvest the whole plant, cut it to 1-2 inches above the soil and it should regrow if it has enough time.

Fresh mint is delightful in cocktails (hello! mojitos), salads and dips. I personally love it.

Plant mint near brassicas (brocolli etc) peas, and/or tomatoes. But keep it away from your other spices because they could become minty!

Happy Planting fellow gardeners!

Sources

http://veggieharvest.com/herbs/mint.html

 

Dill 101

Herb # 3: Dill!

dill

I was never a huge fan of dill in the past. I don’t know if we ever had it in the house at home, and I haven’t used it in my own cooking very often.

However, it smelt so good this summer on the farm. We also normally carry it at my store, therefore, it has begun to grow on me. It smells so fresh. (Plus, dill attracts the good guy insects, so it is good to grow in the garden, even if you don’t plan on eating it.)

Dill should be planted about 3 wks before the average date of last frost (May 3 for Montreal). If it’s not planted early enough, it may only develop the following year. However, if you let it establish itself, it will grow back every year.

You should plant dill 1/4″ deep. You can plant as many as you like along a row, but you will want to thin them out to 12″ apart. And you want to give 24″ between your rows.

Remember, you can lay out as many beds or rows of dill as you would like. You could just have one row alongside a row of another vegetable. Or you could simply have a small patch of dill at the end of a bed. But you want to give it enough room to grow. Dill especially has a long taproot. So if you do attempt to transplant it (which I wouldn’t recommend), you would have to do so while it is still a seedling.

Dill is another crop that you want to plant multiple times so that you can have a continuous supply as it does not last long once fully grown.

Dill will grow to be about 2-4 feet tall. Once it hits two feet feel free to snip away at the leaves with scissors. You can use them fresh, or dry them out. You can also use and dry out the seeds.

dill seeds

(Do not wash dill, or you will lose the oils that give it its flavor.)

Et voila! You’ll have fresh dill for dips, or fish dishes. Or whatever other recipes you come across. You can even add it to salads.

I’m excited! Hope you are too.

Happy Planting!

Cilantro 101

Herb #2: Cilantro! (one of my faves!)

cilantro

Apparently, whether or not you enjoy cilantro is dependent on your genes. To some people, cilantro tastes delicious and fresh, to others, it tastes soapy and yucky. (It tastes delicious to me and so I plan on planting a lot of it.)

I had hoped to grow cilantro indoors, but it’s actually not listed in my apartment gardening book, nor is it mentioned on Veggie Harvest as a plant that you can grow indoors. I’m sure you can, but I’m guessing it won’t grow as well as some others that you can grow indoors. So, in the garden it will go!

Coriander is best fresh and so it is a good idea to plant it every 1-2 weeks, so you have a continuous supply.

However, coriander isn’t very hardy so it is best to wait 2-3 weeks after the last frost date before planting it.

You should plant the seeds 1/4″ deep, in rows that are 8-12 inches apart. And you can plant as much as you want along your rows, but you will want to thin the plants so that they are about 12 inches apart in the row as well.

You can start picking/harvesting your cilantro leaves once the plants hit a height of 6″ or more. (I can’t wait to have fresh cilantro leaves to add to my dishes). Cilantro doesn’t store that long; you can keep some leaves or stems propped in a glass of water for about 2-6 days in your fridge but by day 6 they definitely won’t be as fresh as when you first picked them (I’m sure that’s pretty obvious, but figured I would mention it just in case).

Or you can harvest the seeds and use them as a spice (they are often used in Indian cuisine). To harvest the seeds, wait until the seeds and leaves turn brown (but before the seeds drop) or harvest the plant earlier and hang the plant upside down in a warm, dark, dry place for several weeks until they turn brown.

coriander

Et voila! You will have fresh leaves or dried seeds to give all of your dishes some extra pizzaz!

(In the garden, coriander grows well alongside caraway, eggplants, fruit trees, potatoes and/or tomatoes)

Happy Planting!

Sources:

Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington

http://veggieharvest.com/herbs/cilantro.html

Chives 101

Okay. Lets learn about some herbs.

To start with, chives!

chive

Chives are hardy perennials, that you can grow outside or on your windowsill! (I’m hoping to grow them in my apartment so that I can snip them off whenever I want to add them to my scrambled eggs, and/or salads, or simply use them as a garnish for a nice dish.)

For the longest time, I always used the terms “chives” and “green onions” interchangeably. However, chives are much smaller and thinner than green onions, and have a milder flavor.

I would like to start my chives from seeds, but they do take awhile to germinate, and actually need cooler temperatures to germinate (less than 15̊C). Seeds should be planted 1/2″ deep, in rows 12″ apart. Which translates to a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and about the same width if growing indoors. Outdoors, you can clump your chives. Meaning that you can plant them close together along the row (say about 25 seeds along 8 inches).

Chives will grow to be about 6-10″ tall. When you cut them for use, leave about 1-2″ of stem, and this will encourage them to regrow.

Et voila! There you have it. Fresh chives for any occasion. (Chives also freeze very well, and you can even dry them out, or use them to make infused vinegars).

You can grow them in the kitchen within arm’s reach or grow them in your garden. “Chives planted in the garden will grow for years once established” (veggieharvest.com).

If growing them in the garden, it is good to grow them alongside carrots, celery, grapes, roses and/or tomatoes. However you should not plant them near beans.

Happy Planting!

Sources:

http://veggieharvest.com/herbs/chives.html

Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington

Greta’s Organics

gretas

For those of you wondering where to get organic seeds for your garden this summer, check out Greta’s Organic Gardens.

It’s organic seeds for small(er) scale farming.

Its pretty local (from Ottawa, On.)

Plus, she is actually the mother of a friend of mine.

I will be buying most (if not all) of my seeds from her.

There are some larger companies such as Vesey’s, High Mowing, and Johnny’s Seeds. But they aren’t only organic, and often their seed packets are huge as they are for larger CSA operations.

Greta definitely gets my vote!

You can check out her website at : https://www.seeds-organic.com/