Monday, January 26, 2009

Wet Seedlings

I am in the process of learning a hard lesson about having the soil too wet around seedlings. Before my last trip to Europe, I soaked some topsoil, and planted 20 broccoli and 20 snow pea seeds in flats. When I returned, the soil was still very wet. I had left the flats in the cold garage, and to be sure they got plenty of water I left them standing in a small amount of water. The problem is that the small amount of water really drenched the soil.

After being in the ground for about 12 days, 11 broccoli and 3 snow peas sprouted. Now, 5 days later the broccoli are all turning yellow and dieing. As far as I can guess, the soil was simply too wet. Not sure if that's what happened to the 17 pea seeds that didn't sprout. I had heard that you need to nick pea seeds because they don't take up water very well otherwise.

If I think I have time, I may try to replant seeds in the flats again, but keep them much drier. I only have until about the first of May to get the broccoli crop in, so I can't afford to lose another two weeks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What I Plan to Grow This Year

Eventually I want to start using heirloom seeds, but this year I went with what they had in the seed rack at Home Depot. My garden is laid out in a 5 foot by 25 foot plot. I may have to add some on to that. But here is what I have planned:

20 Green Goliath Broccoli
20 Sugar Daddy Snap Peas
16 Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash
10 Big Boy Tomatoes
6 Clemson Spineless Okra
6 Burpee's Hybrid Zucchini
5 Pimiento Jalapenos
Big Top Carrots
Genovese Basil
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
4 Flame Seedless Grapes
2 Celeste Figs

As I have mentioned already, I have been experimenting since August with some of these. Cilantro and the broccoli thrived through the winter, surviving a low temperature of 16°F (Jan 16th, per the Weather Channel's website). I had some jalapenos outside in containers, and they survived until a hard freeze in December. So I am optimistic that I can get in a really good harvest of those until late fall. I have one basil and some oregano in the house. The oregano has thrived and the basil has survived, and I will plant both outdoors in late March.

The temperatures start to regularly get into the 80's in early May, so I hope to have a crop of broccoli, snow peas, and carrots finished by then. I will replant some of the warm weather items like jalapenos and okra in their place.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spring Planning and the Double Dig

January 22, 2009 – Freshly arrived back from Europe. None of the 40 seeds I planted before I left have sprouted, but the soil is still damp. I now have two broccoli plants that are ready to harvest. I will do that this weekend.

I harvested the compost from one of my composters and spread it around on the ground where I am going to do a double-dig of about 125 square feet. I realize I don't have enough, so I will need to either pick up more compost or some peat moss. One of the things I am learning is that decaying organic matter in the soil is very important for good growth. Not having that is why it took my broccoli all winter to produce.

I started the double-dig, and it was slow going. Lots of white rocks as big as my head have to be removed. I had put up a temporary fence to keep the dogs out, but I can see they have been in and gotten mud everywhere. My back started to get sore about halfway through the double-dig.

January 23, 2009 – I awoke this morning to find that 10 of the broccoli seeds and 3 of the snow peas have sprouted. I guess they were just waiting for me to get back home. I plan to let them grow for at least a couple of weeks – and maybe a month – before transplanting them outside. The only problem is that the flats are not very deep, and even now I have roots trying to come out the bottom.

Back in the fall when it froze and killed my nice-looking jalapeno (which in December was just about to bloom), I also had one in a container. I brought that one into the garage, and left it to die. Funny thing is that it didn't die. It doesn't look good, but I have some hope that I might be able to keep it alive until time to transplant it outside.

Right now, I am scheduled to go back to Europe on February 16th. I plan to transplant the broccoli and snow peas outside just before I go, as well as plant a row of carrots. Today I also planted 6 zucchini, 6 tomatoes, 16 crookneck squash, and 12 marigolds in a couple more flats. I plan to transplant them outdoors some time after I return from Europe the first week of March. Hopefully they won't be too packed in the flats by then. I am also going to plant some jalapenos in some small pots, which should be ready to go outdoors in March.

I went to Home Depot today and bought two grapevines (Flame Seedless) and a fig tree. I plan to set them out tomorrow.

Summarizing Fall and Winter 2008

January 11, 2009 – This will be my first entry, so I need to catch up on what I have been doing. I read John Jeavon's book book on high yield gardening, and plan to use his techniques. On August 30, 2008 I planted some jalapenos, some broccoli, some cilantro, basil, and oregano. All were in containers, but I transplanted the broccoli outside later on. The jalapenos lasted outside in a container until December, and one was on the verge of blooming. However, a hard freeze killed it, along with some basil I had transplanted. Cilantro and broccoli thrived through the cold, and here 4 months later the broccoli is about ready to harvest. The heads on it right now are about 2 inches in diameter; not sure how large they should be when I harvest. Had I planted it in more fertile soil, it would have probably been ready 2 months ago. I have some basil and oregano in containers, and they are doing OK in an East-facing window. The oregano is doing quite well and spreading, and I will transplant it outside when it warms up.

Today I planted 20 broccoli seeds and 20 snow (sugar) pea seeds in flats. I set the flats in a small plastic swimming pool, and put a small amount of water in the bottom to keep the soil moist. I go to Europe tomorrow, but when I return they should be ready to put outdoors. The Collin County Master Gardener site recommends February 10th for the peas (and for carrots and for lettuce) and February 10th for broccoli. Later on I will plant zucchini, crookneck squash, okra, tomatoes, and marigolds. These will need to go out in late March.

I fly to Europe tomorrow, but when I return in two weeks I will double-dig the bed. I removed turf from an area that is 5 feet wide and 25 feet long. I plan to have several 5x5 beds, with a 1 square foot stepping stone in between that I can stand on and work each bed. On the double-dig, I will spread an inch of mulch, remove a foot deep strip, put it in the wheel barrow, loosen down to 2 feet, and then transfer each 1 feet strip into the next trench over. Sounds complicated, but there are some YouTube videos showing how it is done. I dug a trench today just to see how much work it would be, and there are a lot of rocks in the soil. It was fairly easy to dig down to the 1 foot level, but beyond that there is a lot of sticky clay. This is also the rockiest soil I have ever seen; I keep running into white rocks the size of my head.


I love gardening. When I was growing up in Oklahoma, we always had very large gardens. It wasn't so much fun then to pull weeds out of a half acre of things like green beans - which I don't like to this day - but I did pick up the gardening bug. Everywhere we have lived, even when we only had a tiny piece of green in a condo, I would grow a few tomatoes, squash, and jalapenos.

In June 2008 we moved to Texas and bought a place north of Dallas. There is a nice area south of the house that I decided to turn into a garden. I decided to read up on high-yield, organic techniques, so I bought How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible by John Jeavons. The book was quite an eye-opener for me, and I can see that my previous gardening techniques were very rudimentary. While I started learning to compost in Scotland last year, I had never used compost, peat moss, or any soil additives to my garden. I had never really dug beds up and loosened the soil. I was excited about the possibilities.

This blog will be a journal for me to review and see what went well, and what didn't. It is much easier for me to keep a blog and track my progress that way. Plus, I might learn something from people who know a lot more about this than I do. I am always open to tips and suggestions.