Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Big Picture - A Plan

Bob Hyland of Inside Urban Green is putting together all the pieces.

[Click on image for larger view]

Bob is a passionate advocate for SIPs, and he is tenacious. His background leaves no doubt in our minds that he'll have the above chart up and running in no time. Our only question is when the Chicago branch opens.

Keep up the great work, Bob!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How To Start Seeds, Part 1

Every gardening site has a section on Starting Seeds. I'm tempted to point to one of them--here's a good primer--and say good night.

I don't think that's enough.

I've come to believe it's not so much that people don't have the information, but are convinced that it's too difficult. With that in mind, a pep talk:

° Seeds are cheap

° The interesting plants are usually only available as seeds

° You did it in the First Grade

So if at some point this all seems a little too complicated, keep that last sentence in mind: You were able to pull it off when you were six years old.

Our little group got together a couple of weeks ago and came up with a list of plants we'd like to grow. We added to our leftover and saved seeds and bought heirloom seeds from Fedco, Victory Seed Co, Seed Savers, Seeds From Italy, Wild Garden Seed, Johnny's Seeds, and Reimer Seeds.

Naturally, the catalogs only sell the Best Prize-Winning Heirloom Vegetables available. With so many options to choose from, GrowingTaste.com's List of Desirable Vegetables was helpful in deciding which bits of advertising to believe.

It's confounding that in this day and age, in which there is a myriad of magazines discussing the qualities and tastes of comestibles from wines to commercial flours, we home-garden vegetable growers have no central source of plausibly reliable taste reports from which to compare the various varieties of each of the many vegetables we grow annually. A very few--tomatoes most notably--excite enough interest that there are extensive discussions available about varieties, but what's the best-tasting celeriac? Or, for that matter, broccoli?

We have scoured the internet, including both the web and usenet, looking for information; we have also, of course, pored over numerous seedsmen's catalogues, for what that's worth. (It is amazing how there can be sixteen varieties of a vegetable, each and every one of which is absolutely, positively the best variety there is.) Because of such bias, we have, in our evaluations of the literature, given far and away the most weight to various scientific studies, conducted mainly by universities and State agencies, because they have nothing to sell and no axes to grind.

With your seeds picked out, it's a relatively simple process to figure out when you need to start. Everything is based on your average last frost date--here in Chicago that's May 15th.

Why Start Seeds

Vegetables grown in areas with short growing seasons or ones that take too long to mature need to be started indoors in order to get a good head start before moving outside, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Planting time for vegetable seeds started indoors depends on when the seedling needs to be transplanted in the garden," said Maurice Ogutu. "This time may vary from four to 14 weeks."

For example, if the indoor start is done in relation to the last frost, the times are as follow:

10 weeks--broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and head lettuce;

Seven weeks--tomato, eggplant, and pepper; and

Four weeks--cucumber, muskmelon, squash, and watermelon.

"Starting vegetable seeds indoors ensures that high percent germination is achieved through provision of optimal conditions for seed germination," he said. "Some vegetable seeds are very expensive particularly hybrid varieties, so starting them indoors ensures that seed loss due to rodents or poor weather is minimal.

"Vegetables established from transplants tend to mature much earlier than direct-seeded ones."

Things get a little complicated when you have a garden full of plants with different starting dates. Having a calendar is helpful. By entering your average last frost date, this link generates a custom planting calendar. If you're in Chicago, Zone 5b, this calendar is a good one.

To add another twist to all this, you can plant outside sooner if you use cold frames and hoop houses. My co-blogger, H2, put a greenhouse , purchased as a kit from Costco, on her roof.

So now you've got the schedule figured out.

Next is picking up some supplies. You can buy seed starting kits--a reusable Deeluxe model like this costs $20 and starts 72 seedlings--or you can cobble something together for a little less money and get the same results.

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Ag Extension web site helps again:
"Get materials such as pots, trays, plastic flats, peat pots, and potting mix for starting the seeds ready or buy seed starter kits from local garden centers or catalogues," he said. "Containers or trays for starting seeds need to have drainage holes on the bottom.

"When starting vegetable seeds in a tray or pot, cover the holes on the trays with peat moss before filling with potting mix or soil. A good potting mix or soil for starting vegetable seeds needs to be light, loose, disease-free, insect-free, weed-seed-free, have good water-holding capacity, and well-drained."

Fill trays, flats, and pots with potting mix or starting media and level gently. Place the filled-up tray, flat, or pot on a pan of water overnight so that water can soak into the potting mix from the bottom. If trays are used, make shallow rows about one to two inches apart when starting different kinds or varieties of vegetables and label each row after seeding. Broadcast when starting one type of vegetable in a seed tray.

"Plant the seeds uniformly by pressing them gently into the starting media according to the planting depth recommended on the seed packet," he said. "Cover the container with plastic film or a piece of window glass to retain the moisture until the seeds germinate.

The only thing I'd add to that is to suggest that you use coir instead of peat moss. Sold at pet shops as bedding for hamsters and gerbils, or online at Rolanka, it's roughly the same price as peat, but there's a virtually unlimited supply of it.

I make my own potting mix - 70% (by volume) reconstituted coir, 30% perlite, mixed with a little Espoma 5-3-3 All-Purpose fertilizer. This is the same formula for what I put in all my SIPs, too.

Light and Heat.

For the past 2 years I've started roughly 100 seedlings under cheap fluorescent shop lights in my utility closet. The boiler and hot water heater keep the temperature between 70 and 75, and I use a timer to keep the lights on for 15 hours a day.

Not pretty, but I'll grow about 200 seedlings in these two areas this year.

More evidence that you don't need specialized equipment to do this.

Tiny Farm Blog has a nice Q&A forum on seed starting under lights.

Richmond Food Secure has a good post on building a seedling rack.

This is getting long, so I'll go over the rest in part 2.

[5.13.09 - Until I get around to an official Part 2, here are some posts that follow up on Part 1:

2009 Roof Farm Seed Selection - A Preview 2.4.09
Heirloom Seedlings For Sale (with this seasons planting list) - 3.15.09
March 22nd Seedling Update
Seed Starting Update - 3.29.09
Heirloom Seedling Update - 5.12.09]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2009 Garden - Seeds

As promised last fall, we at GreenRoofGrowers, want to share some of what we’ve learned about growing on our rooftops and will be including several posts throughout the growing season.

Last weekend, here in Chicago, we ordered our seeds to start our seedlings for transplanting this spring. Our goal is to get the broccoli, greens, lettuce going for an early spring planting. These cool weather crops can stand the cold weather but maybe not the freezing so we’ll have to watch our crazy Chicago weather (zone 5b). Next, we’ll start most of the summer crop – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc. – for a mid-May planting. We’re basically starting seeds 4-6 weeks before they go into our boxes. Bruce will follow up with a post about planting the seeds for seedling starts in the coming days.

We’re very excited about our seed shopping this year. We also have some seed left over from last year so we’re using them when we can. This year, we’ve mainly purchased seeds from Seed Savers Exchange and Victory Seeds but also from Reimer Seeds, Seeds from Italy, Fedco, and Wild Garden Seed.

We chose some basics and old reliables but also want to try a few newer varieties to see how they do. Here’s a snapshot:

-Beans (several)
-Greens (Collard)
-Herbs (several)
-Kale (several)
-Lettuce (several)
-Pepper (sweet and hot)
-Swiss Chard
-Tomatoes (several)

So, if you are planning on planting from seed this year (and live in Chicago or another zone 5 area), order them now. Although my transplanting dates will be around April 15 and May 15 this year, some of the other growers may try to start a bit earlier. We’ll keep you posted as to the progress.

Monday, February 9, 2009

On Re-localization, or Why we're doing this....

There's a direct line between my interest in political ideas and the vegetables on my roof.

Stan Goff has given me more to think about:
Re-localization is not utopianism. It is an initiative — being tried on many fronts and in many ways — to re-design the built environment whenever and wherever possible into something that is more sustainable and more accountable than what we have now (which, btw, is failing very badly and threatening us with a dramatic centralization of authority when the level of suburban anxiety reaches a certain tipping point). This initiative consists of model projects and experiments, or local networks dealing with political issues (there is a policy struggle in Durham right now about whether people may raise laying hens inside the city limits), to regional and inter-regional communications networks who share information and occasionally share work.
After reading far too many wonderful proposals about "What Should Be Done"--made by people who don't have the power, or intent, to act on them--my hope for this year is that we'll be hearing more from people who are Doing Things for themselves.

Bountiful Backyards is one of those stories.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009 Roof Farm Seed Selection

That title doesn't begin to relay the excitement around here. Say you love what you do for a living, the ability to concentrate rarely escaping you as you sit at your computer.

Now add a tin filled with last year's leftover seed packets to the mix, along with e-mails from the Green Roof Growers Seed Starting Club. Never underestimate the power of the coming growing season to divert you from your labors.

I moved the seed tin out of my line of vision...

...but moments later, Scotty from UPS delivered these!

New SIP buckets, which Mr H2 ordered from US Plastics.

The 6-gal bucket slips into the 7-gal bucket to create a monster reservoir,
visible in this photo. Now we'll need a taller wicking chamber.

Hmmm. Wonder what we'll make it out of.

I propel myself back to the desk...

But I'd rather be here.