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March 23rd, 2009

Fruit Trees, Daffodils, Peas and . . .

bio_leslied
My fruit trees have been blooming for the last few weeks – here are some pix of Nonpariel almond, Mid-Pride peach, Weeping Santa Rosa plum and an Anna apple in front of a Bitter Almond tree.  My Royal Rosa apricot tree has little apricots on it already -  I have other fruit trees, but those pix were fuzzy – windy day or too much coffee? I’ve been checking the bloom dates to see if there are changes do to the global warming we hear about – but nothing has changed in my Las Vegas garden.  The trees are blooming at the same time they did last year.
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I am harvesting peas from behind the daffodils and pansies and have also transplanted new pea plants here and in other beds.  The snapdragons and more of the white sweet alyssum will be blooming in a couple of days.  In the meantime I am going out to pick some peas, also some spinach and lettuce from another bed – and I think I’ll pick the rest of the brocolli and Brussels sprouts and make room for some other yummy plant.

All the summer test veggies are growing and gaining some size in pots.  I’m looking forward to another bed of test melons, lantana and verbena as a ground cover in the front yard this summer.  These are amazing looking when planted together – last year this combination was a real traffic stopper.

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March 17th, 2009

Cool Season Winding Down in Dallas…Spring is here!

LeslieHWell, this might be the last of our chilly weather here in the Dallas area. It was 85 degrees this past Sunday, but we’ve had a last minute cold snap today with some much, much needed rain. So we won’t complain! The last round of my cool season crops are hanging in there. Cole crops, salad greens and carrots are still producing nicely. I grew a really tasty variety of Mustard green this fall/winter called ‘Southern Giant Curled’. It’s incredibly slow to bolt (still hasn’t started) and the leaves have a sweet flavor followed by just the right amount of Dijon Mustard flavor and heat. Not to mention, it’s pretty. I forgot I’d thrown out some direct seeded cauliflower a few months ago and stumbled upon a few nice heads in the garden. The cilantro from last fall left me with some volunteers that sprouted in January and are filling out nicely now. It’s always handy when the plants do the work for you and you don’t have to buy new ones! The snap peas seeded in late January are creeping up the trellises and the potatoes planted in February are just now starting to peek out of the soil. The fava beans are blooming gangbusters and are incredibly fragrant. Spring time is definitely here as all the spring flowering trees and tulips are in full swing. Here are a few shots of some ornamental peaches, a weeping cherry and some camellias to brighten your day. I’ll be planting my tomato and pepper transplants outdoors next week. Shortly thereafter I’ll direct seed beans, cucumbers, squash and corn. Can’t wait! Happy Spring.

March 10th, 2009

Hungry for Greens

bio_debbieIt’s been raining most of the day and the thermometer under the eave against the garage’s north wall says 35”F. But inside the unheated greenhouse against the garage’s south side, arugula and winter mustard are rebounding after January’s cold snap.

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There’s enough arugula to do a light cut which easily filled a big bowl.

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It’s the first fresh greens from the garden in a couple months! I’m hungry and can’t wait to eat some. No other greens are ready to make a salad, so I’m going to make one of my favorite pasta dishes. I love making it with arugula, but it’s also good with other greens and herbs. Also, it’s easy and quick.

Boil up enough water to cook as much of your favorite pasta as is needed to feed the crowd. Cook the pasta in boiling water for ten minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat up a fry pan with some butter or olive oil and drop in some pressed or finely chopped garlic. Throw in a large handful of chopped arugula for each person to be fed (the amount can vary according to how much is available and how much you like the stuff). Stir it around until the arugula wilts, then turn off the heat. Drain the pasta as soon as it is done. Add the arugula mixture and a handful of grated cheese (sharp cheddar, asiago, blue (use less), and/or parmesan) for each person to be fed. A bit of half-and-half, cream, or sour cream can be nice to bind it all together. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and serve.

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March 6th, 2009

Seed Starting Tips from Around the Country

bio_leslied
Seed Starting in a Cookie Box
When space is at a premium

There is about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of new seed starting mix in this cookie box – that’s all I need.  This particular mix is a mixture of fine peat moss and fine perlite and I would have added vermiculite, but I couldn’t find my bag of it.  No matter, the seedlings won’t care.
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I used my pancake spatula to make shallow indentations for 9 rows of seeds – I put 14 seeds in each row. The rows and seed in them are about 1/2″ to 3/4″ apart and the seeds are planted very shallow – about 1/16″ or less – it is a very shallow trench.  There are 126 Hawaiian Tropic tomato seeds in the box ready to be lightly covered with the mix. The boxes are about 8″ square.I carefully move the mixture over the seeds with the edge of the
spatula and pat the soilless mix down so there is contact with the
seeds.
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Watering can be tricky and I use a spray bottle,or a joggers running cup with a spout so the  water doesn’t move the seeds.

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Then I close the lid to keep the seeds from drying out – a problem in the desert. Then I do one of two things; I either place the cookie box on the back of my shop lights (grow bulbs in them), or I use my Salton Hot Trays for bottom warmth and faster germination for seeds that like warmth, like summer veggies and flowers.  These seeds will begin to sprout in about 40 hours, some varieties may take a little longer.  When I use the hot trays I put the cookie box on a couple of canning jar rings so the seeds don’t get too hot.
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My trays have a very low heat setting and I adjust the temp to about 105 to 115F – so when I put my hand on the tray my hand is warm – very scientific.  Then I put the box on the rings on the tray – the seeds go  nuts – they really like this warmth.

When they begin to germinate I raise the lid for air movement to avoid fungus growth, and I move the box so it is 2″ under my florescent grow lights.  They will grow and be ready to put in a bigger pot of soilless seedling mix in a couple of weeks.  Then I give them a foliar feed of liquid kelp and a quarter-strength mixture of liquid organic veggie food at the roots – they are little and don’t want more than a weak feeding.

Here are some basil plants I started to transplant into pots last week, they are 23 days old.
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They are easy to lift out of the box with a butter knife when they are little.  I lift them just as the ‘true leaves’ appear.  If I wait longer then I have some roots to untangle – they come apart easily and the little seedlings recover almost immediately. The tomatoes are 21 days old from seed planting and there are 70 plants in the cookie box.

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I’ve been starting my seeds this way for years and it is a real space saver for me.  If every seed was viable there would be 12 basil plants in each row.

bio_john_lewisSeedlings

You don’t have to have a greenhouse to start your own seedlings. You can grow your own seedlings with a very small investment in some flats, pots, potting mix and seeds. You will need a light source either a sunny windowsill or artificial light. You can make your own pots from newspaper or recycle the ones you have purchased from garden centers. Even the soil medium you can make yourself with some sifted compost. If you save seeds you won’t even need to purchase those.
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Here in New England you can start some of your spring seedlings in late February. I started my seedlings for spring planting on Sunday 2-22-2009. I planted seven varieties of broccoli, ten types of cabbage, six varieties of collards and kale, two types of Brussels sprouts, four varieties of cauliflower, and white and purple kohlrabi. It will be interesting to see what germinates – the seed ranged in age from 2008 back to 2004. What doesn’t germinate will be replaced by OG seed when it arrives.
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One flat went on a heating mat and the other in a small mini greenhouse heated by a five watt light bulb.  A quarter flat went on the window sill. Where did I start my seedlings? On my dining room table! My basement is too dark and damp and it is still too cold outside even for a cold frame. I’ve done this the last two years and had pretty good success. Obviously I won’t be having any dinner parties in the near
future!

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Update: As of 3-1-2009 I have had pretty good success – all the broccoli and cauliflower germinated, seven types of cabbage, all the kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts, and all but one kale. The few things that didn’t come up were from 2004; obviously five year old seed is pushing it. I set up a few small portable lights for now. When I have more time and the seedlings are a bit bigger I’ll hang two or three fluorescent shop lights.

The OG test seeds arrived Monday!!!






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