Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Healthy Hives for 2012

What a sight! The bees were absolutely crazy this morning, Feb 29 2012.  It's nearly 60 degrees F in Chicago before 9 am...spooky if you ask me. But we're delighted both hives look so robust.

ps: for new readers, the images in this vid come from the downstairs monitors, wired into our two hives on the roof. We hope to have a live beecam this spring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My 80 pound lapdog, Carl

At 15 months, I'm not sure if he's done growing.

Thanks for taking the pictures H2.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Carl and the Hens...Fat Tuesday Edition

When you're in the coop offering the hens fruit and veg tailings, remember Carl likes his greenies too...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Plant Onions

Some tips on planting onions...

Seed Starting: Agretti and Onion Update

Here's a close up of Agretti seedlings just a few days old. They look like mini serpents! H2 grew her's in a cute mini travel SIP.

Planted in the soil they start to take on a new form.

The onions are coming along; they pop out of the soil folded in half then straighten up. 

Next seed starting project is winter sowing!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Giant Tomato Flashback

Aug 16  2007
Or is this like the effect of holding a fish out in front of you to increase its apparent size relative to you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Starting Seeds: 2012 Seed Swap

What's not to like about the annual seed swap? Busy people mark tiny packets, open and shake a few to share, close and move on to the next.

A big donation of flower seeds this year, courtesy of Debbie's work with a children's garden. I took a few each of the full-southern exposure lovers and will plant them in our window boxes, along with a couple dozen herbs.  Kitchen garden beautification.

Did I mention there was food? We ate everything but Debbie's homemade BBQ sauce. Seed sorting is hard work.

Debbie also brought a plastic gallon milk jug with cuts made to show me how she uses them for winter sowing (more from her in an upcoming post).

Mmmm--some lovely new additions

I stripped some agretti seeds off their stems to share. We let them go to seed last fall and then dry out, at which point I stuffed whole stems into a paper bag and stored in a dry area.

Don't let anyone tell you saving seed is difficult. That pretty much describes it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Starting Seeds: Free Heirloom Seeds from the US Government?

Well this is provocative. Bill Brikiatis writes at his blog Suburban Hobby Farmer...
Get rare heirloom seeds free. Many people start seeds indoors to save money, yet empty their pockets buying seeds. That’s okay if searching through seed catalogs is what you enjoy, but with a little more work, you can get rare varieties for free.  See how I got three unusual heirloom tomatoes from the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Rare Vegetable Seeds from the U.S Government. I didn’t even pay postage and the USDA would have sent me more seeds if I had asked.
Like many things governmental, the USDA Agricultural Research Service National Plant Germplasm System site is a tough search (and a mouthful to say).

of Chicago

I used the search tool to find lists of available seeds for "tomato" and "pepper." I looked for seeds with a weather profile broadly parallel to that of Chicago's (whatever that means these days).

A costoluto
from Bruce's roof

In other words, I bypassed the Mexican, Brazilian, and California varieties in favor of those originally from the Northeast and, just for fun, ordered the IXL Bolgiano’s Extremely Early Tomato Bill mentions because, buddha knows, if we get scorched this summer like we did last year we'll want all the early fruiting varieties we can get.

Grab the salt!
I didn't spend much time on all this because, as Bill notes at the link, the feds ask you what kind of research you'll be doing. We submitted the following:
Research entails growing these seeds in sub-irrigated planters on my roof in Chicago. Results will be published at Green Roof Growers blog.
Wouldn't it be nice if (a miniscule portion of) my tax dollars could cover our seed order next year?

And I would display my research

Friday, February 17, 2012

Starting Seeds: Onion, Shallot and Leeks

I love growing onions but it can take up to 120+ days for some of them to mature. Plus, I was too busy to plant any last week (which is when the seeds should have been started inside), so I took the easy way out and germinated some in a wet paper towel placed in a small plastic bag.

I figured it would buy me some time...and a few days later I was pleasantly surprised to find they had germinated, and most of them too! Great way also to test your seeds to see if they’re still viable.

Here’s a close-up of some sprouted onion seeds, just 3 days old.

Looking forward to tasting some of these onions, shallots and leeks. I usually plant them in between crops because rabbits aren't fond of their sulfurous smell.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Starting Seeds: Home Depot Offers Organic Martha, Burpee Seeds

Pretending to be looking at paint, I was drawn like a magnet to the seed racks at Home Depot this week. I rarely go there and it's early for spring garden supplies, but there they were, and so alluring.

I wondered if organic seeds could be genetically modified (GM) seeds or if the two were mutually exclusive. According to the back of the pack, Martha's organic seeds come from Ferry Morse.
Bruce did a little research into Burpee and found that its seeds are all GMO-free, per the chairman of Burpee who goes out of his way to thank Mr. Brown Thumb for giving him a platform to refute allegations that his company sells GMO seeds.

Bring on these luscious greenies...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Starting Seeds: Glossy Garden Porn via Hudson Valley Seed Libray

 Imperfectly perfect

Hudson Valley Seed Library, one of our favorites, muses on too-pretty seed catalogs in this post:
"Every farm or garden is a story with its own tragedy, slapstick, drama, sex, death, and delicious redemption. Where are the catalogs that communicate the stories of losing all your Brussels Sprouts over night to one woodchuck, giving a hummingbird a bath with the hose, finding self-sown volunteers from last year, wishing for rain, wishing for sun, having a stand-off with a young buck over an apple sapling, listening to pollinators, being stung, finding a lost ripe musk melon hidden beneath weeds, watching helplessly as your tomatoes rot from blight, forgetting what variety you planted and having to wait two months to find out, flitting from open flower to flower hand-pollinating with a freshly picked male stamen, sitting down to a meal your grew yourself, blemishes and all?"
Seems to me these shared stories of triumph and disaster are the reason garden blogs flourish, with ideas and potential fixes exchanged among neighbors across a virtual fence.

We who love growing often castigate ourselves for less-than-lovely outcomes. As if we're mostly in charge.

 Cracked, streaked, and delectable

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Starting Seeds: Culantro Ngo gai

We were delighted when Debbie shared seeds for culantro.
This herb has lots of monikers. The Kitazawa site says:
Also known as Mexican coriander, thorny coriander, spiny coriander, fitweed, saw-leaf or saw-tooth herb, recao and Tabasco parsley, this herb has a similar flavor to cilantro although much stronger. Each leaf grows from the plant base, rather than a stem, and the leaves are harvested by cutting the entire rosette at the base before the plant begins to flower. In mild climates, the plant can be considered a short-lived perennial, but more often it is grown as an annual.
In Puerto Rico it's called Recao

Purdue University has this on cultivation.
Although the plant grows well in full sun most commercial plantings occur in partially shaded moist locations. Shaded areas produce plants with larger and greener leaves that are more marketable because of their better appearance and higher pungent aroma. In a study on the effects of light intensity on growth and flowering of culantro, a significant delay in flowering and increased fresh weight of leaves were found in plants grown under 63% to 73% shade... Although culantro grows in a wide variety of soils, it does best in moist well drained sandy loams high in organic matter particularly under full light. 
Culantro will be a fun addition to this year's herb selection. Apparently there's no end to the info available.
In Asia, culantro is most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, where it is commonly used with or instead of cilantro for soups, noodle dishes, and curries. The Vietnamese use it to wrap other foods. Candied culantro seeds were popular in eighteenth-century Britain as a tonic, a cough remedy, and an aphrodisiac.
We're going to start our culantro seeds in a portable microgarden just like we did the agretti last year...
The growing medium is damp peat and coir with a little perlite, to ensure wicking.

On go the agretti seeds,
followed by a gentle tucking in + plastic greenhouse

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Starting Seeds: My Favorite Heirloom Seed Catalogue

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalogue is one of my favorites. I await its arrival in the mail each year and then spend hours viewing the beautiful heirloom vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. It’s amazing that these seeds come from more than 70 different countries!

Jere and Emilee Gettle, a 30-something couple, own and operate this unique seed company and are passionate about wanting to preserve heirloom seeds so that future generations can grow healthy, pure, nutritious food. When Jere was a child he took a strong interest in gardening. At 17 he launched his first seed catalog, consisting of 70 different seeds. Today his catalogue boasts more than 1300 varieties!

In 2010 Jere and his wife purchased Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the oldest continuously operated seed company in the US, dating back to 1820. Here’s a great video of Jere discussing the seed industry, how he collects his heirloom seeds, and the history of Comstock, Ferre & Co.

Here are some Baker Creek tomatoes we’ve grown... beautiful and tasty too! This year I’m going to focus on letting Little Green Girl save her own seeds. I hope it will teach her how important it is to save heirloom seeds for future generations and also how plants grow, die, and give life again.

Chocolate Stripe

Orange Flesh Purple Smudge

Black Cherry

Violet Jasper

Lastly, here’s a great video on everything you wanted to know about seeds and more. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Things You Don't See Everyday

This has been on my mind for some time; a waking nightmare.

Since this was made, in 2008, the numbers given in the video have at least doubled.  Maybe more depressing is that Mr. Hopey Changey himself is leading a bipartisan charge toward war with Iran.  What passed for an anti-war movement disappeared once a "D" became president.  "Savage Mules", indeed.

Putting seeds in the ground seems like such a small counterweight to all this, but it gives me a bit of hope.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Starting Seeds: Is Broccoli Worth it for Small Garden?

In our continuing seed conversation, Debbie writes: Have you grown broccoli? It takes an awful long time and takes up a lot of space no?
from Seed Savers 
(48-85 days)

The Green Goliath below takes about 60 days. But I'd argue there's a big reason to grow broccoli that nobody discusses: it's a rock star of an edible teaching moment. The summer the photo below was taken we had a bunch of kids visit the roof. Without fail, seeing broccoli growing was the highlight of these visits.

"Really? It grows like this?" so many asked, as if we'd glued on the flowering stems.

My advice: grow broccoli in a SIP like we did below. Watch it thrive and watch kids get turned on to growing.

From this June 17, 2009 post...
I'm trying something new this year: overplanting a SIP that's finished hosting its original veggie. Here's the broccoli Green Goliath (with my pal Trish)...

...harvested and re-seeded with Climbing Emperor beans. These we hope will climb the arches Art designed. I didn't add fertilizer, reckoning that there might be enough remaining.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Starting Seeds: Seed Catalogs and Dr Terry Wahls

As predictably as sap rising in maples, right around this time of year gardeners we know get the itch to plan a garden, think about seeds, start seeds, swear they won't buy any more seeds...and then order seeds.

Even though, uh, they have a great big messy tray filled with many varieties of seeds from previous years.
How lucky are we.

A scant 15 minutes after emailing Debbie regarding seeds for 2012 and why we were both going to try to use up old seed instead of buying new, I was entering my credit card number at Bountiful Gardens. Look at this aztec spinach and tell me you would have done otherwise.

I don't buy much of anything except good food and good shoes. And I can't imagine a better way to spend $20 (OK, $27).  A lot of my order was spent on greens I've not tried before.

Here's my rationale, and if you can't sit through this vid (Minding Your Mitochondria--and FYI mitochondria are the tiny power plants inside your cells), just know that Dr Terry Wahls reversed her multiple sclerosis by essentially eating mountains of greens and other real food (including some of the calorie crops we don't grow but probably should).

After ordering, I went looking for seeds saved from last year's plants plus seed purchased in the last few years. As though blown by a stiff wind, they seemed to have scattered themselves everywhere.

In the roof greenhouse: harvested seed in paper bags and the agretti still on its stem. Plus some random seed heads stuffed into a bucket.

On our second floor I ran into a cache of seeds for cool-weather planting, set aside after starting the indoor greens last fall (plus some Jimmy Nardello seeds).
Downstairs in my gardening closet (aka, my closet) I found last year's warm-weather seeds--tomato, peppers, eggplant, and herbs.
Seeds, everywhere.

Sunday, February 5, 2012