Archive for February, 2013

The Seeds have arrived!

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks, but unfortunately not in the farming category. I’m happy to report that I FINALLY have internet at home, so I’m hoping my blogging will be more regular. At least from the standpoint that spring is just around the corner, I probably will have more interesting topics to write about.

The only new news for now is that my seeds have arrived from Burpee. I chose them since I have ordered from them in the past, and I received a nifty 20% off coupon in my email. My hope is that someday I’ll have a good enough stock of seeds from the previous season that I won’t need to buy seeds any more, but for now I have to buy them.

For the curious or bored, here is the list of what I bought. I have no idea how much will actually “bear fruit” so to speak, but as I mentioned before, I’m going big this year.

Corn, Golden Bantam
Tomato, Big Boy Hybrid
Tomato, Beefsteak Organic
Tomato, Mortgage Lifter
Squash, winter, Spaghetti
Squash, winter, Waltham Butternut
Squash, summer, Hybrid Zucchini
Squash, summer, Saffron
Squash, Gourd, Luffa
Swiss Chard, Bright Lights
Artichoke, Green Globe
Radish, Perfecto
Sunflower, Super Snack Mix Hybrid
Cantaloupe, Burpee’s Ambrosia Hybrid
Eggplant, Early Midnight Hybrid
Onion, Scallion, Evergreen Long White Bunching
Pumpkin, Early Sweet Sugar Pie
Watermelon Seedless, Big Tasty Hybrid
Lavender, English
Stevia, Sweet Leaf

Now, I hope I didn’t get carried away, but anything that I don’t use can probably wait until next year. I read that properly sealed and frozen seeds should last at least a year, sometimes longer. I would have to worry about germination rates after a while, but since I consider this year, and possibly next as an experiment and only the start to a (hopefully) long-lasting lifestyle of growing my own food…I’m willing to sacrifice a few seeds to learn along the way.

Given my seed bank that I have to start with, I’m considering expanding my garden to a 20’x40’ plot, but that is ENTIRELY dependent on if I can get the tiller working. I was gifted a Mantis tiller and a craftsman rear-tinned rototiller by my grandfather, and that will make working 800 square feet of land a LOT easier. They haven’t been started in over 3 years, so they might need more than just a little routine maintenance. My plan is to make the rows wide enough to send the Mantis through to make weeding less time-consuming. I’ll still have to weed by hand around the plants, but since space isn’t an issue, I can space out the rows more than I would have normally.

If you notice there are some seeds on the list that I didn’t originally plan for, it’s because, well…I got carried away. Yes, the 200 foot pitfall of all new gardeners, I drooled over the Burpee catalog and went a little crazy. The Stevia sounded too fun to pass up, and the green onions seemed like a much needed addition. As for the pumpkin pie and cantaloupe? Well, when you tell your family that you’re growing a garden, they love providing input.
I mean, who wouldn’t?

“You have almost unlimited space to plant and I don’t have to help out? Sure, I have some things I’d like you to plant!”

Yes, well, I did indeed ask my family for requests, so I guess I walked right into that “rake in the yard”.

Lastly, the unfortunate news that with moving in, stretching the budget a little to buy the house, and a multitude of other limitation factors, chickens will not be running around the yard this year. Quite frankly, they won’t ever literally be running around the yard, since I do think the neighbors would have a problem with that. They will be enjoying a chicken run that adjoins The Farm someday, but maybe next year. I know it’s only a few days before March, but given the fact that I’m still unpacking and there’s a ton of things to do inside the house as well as outside, it would be prudent to wait. Fear not, I will tackle the ups and downs of raising chickens in suburbia, just as countless other brave souls have in the past.
We’ll see what this weekend has in store for me, but for now, plan big and dream big all you farmers and gardeners out there. 2013 is going to be a good year, and if not, let it at least be a tasty year.



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“Wait, where’s my Roma Tomatoes!?” or “The Farm – 2013 updated layout without the rambling”

Proudly beaming at my third post, I realized that in my haste to create the layout I had left off the Roma Tomato row! 75% of why I want a vegetable garden is for canned tomato sauce for my wintertime pastas, so this was one heck of an oversight. Now, minus all the rambling, the updated layout:

New and improved

New and improved

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The Farm – 2013 Layout

One of the issues with moving is getting all of your services set back up. Power and water usually aren’t a big issue, and this move didn’t prove otherwise. However, getting internet again is proving to be difficult, which makes blogging on the weekends more problematic for the moment. I did manage to get my crop list into a layout. Having spent many months and years unable to grow the amount of veggies that I’ve been desiring, I’ve had plenty of time to read and study. I’ve read up on companion planting, and how to grow the various plants that I want. That said, I’m still very much a complete beginner jumping into the deep end of the pool. I put my layout on paper, or more accurately, in excel. I’m kind of a nerd, so excel seemed like the best option at the time. Plus with the cells, it makes a really nice grid for making things to scale. Unfortunately don’t expect anything like that from me 🙂

I started out wanting to make the layout to scale, and have each square be 6 inches, but I totally abandoned that idea about halfway into the plan. I don’t have enough experience with row spacing, plant spacing and knowing what I’m doing in general to really have anything that exact. So please don’t look at the layout like it’s to scale, and the blank spaces are either placeholders for something that I might grow, or just needed extra room for visualizing my plot. Keep in mind that this is only my initial brainstorm, and the final layout could be completely different.

Now, with my small-but-useful deck that I’ve had for the past 4 years has giving me opportunities to grow veggies in pots. I know cherry tomatoes do well in deck pots, so I have had good luck growing those. This has given me first-hand experience with companion planting and helped me stumble across the knowledge. Growing cherry tomatoes and hot peppers in the same container did very well and I always got really good yields despite the modest size of the containers. They were about 2 feet high by 2 feet width and length. Just enough for a cherry tomato plant and two pepper plants each, or one cucumber plant. Last year I decided to grow black beans. I heard they can grow in Maryland, which is zone 6, so I gave it a shot. The mistake I made was also putting the pepper plants in the same pot. All summer long, I wondered why the pepper plants never took off and grew. They stayed stunted and only put out one or two flowers. That’s when I looked up “what plants not to plant together”, or something like that. Google is smarter than me 99% of the time and it figured out what I wanted to know. There it was, right in front of me, beans and peppers don’t mix. Hooray, an “ah-ha!” moment that I would remember for the day that I had a respectable plot of land to grow on. The black beans themselves did fantastically well though. For a pole bean plant that was grown on a deck in a container, the handful of beans that I harvested was quite impressive. More of an experiment and lesson for later than dinner on the table. The bean stalks had snaked around my deck railings and up and around my blueberry bush. Oh yeah, I had a blueberry bush on my deck too. That was in a much larger container, probably about 3 feet high and 3 feet in diameter. I’m guessing, since I never measured it, but it’s one of the much larger plant containers that you can buy.

Going on a tangent for a little bit, the blueberries were a great lesson too. I knew someday I wanted a row of blueberries 50 feet long, maybe even 2 rows 🙂 So I figured that I needed to learn about them first. Some things I jump into the deep end, and other times I wad into the water first. The blueberries were the latter. I went out to Lowes one spring (EARLY spring) and bought a blueberry starter bush. The little guy was more like a twig than a bush, but I eagerly brought him home to plant and bask in the glory of bushels of blueberries someday. That “someday” would prove to be more of a joking reference than an actual date, more on that in a bit. So, first mistake: I planted it WAY too early. I think I bought the bush in March, and promptly planted it. Its three glorious leaves blowing in the crisp Marchy air. A week later, your standard its-too-early-to-plant-anything-you-idiot frost hit in Maryland. I looked outside onto my deck to see one green and one red leaf left on the blueberry bush. Doh, I should have listened to my mother. She said “It’s easy to remember when to plant in Virginia/Maryland, just wait until Mother’s day.” So, lacking any Farmer’s almanacs or meticulous planning and looking up average frost dates, Mother’s day was a good reference point. I had, of course, forgotten about that, and probably about Mother’s day itself as well for a few years (oops, bad son). For the rest of the spring and summer, those two stubborn leaves hung on, getting what little sunlight they could and storing it up. I kept the bush in the container because so long as those two leaves stay on there, I was going to give it a chance (plus I really didn’t have anything else to plant in there). That first year, there was no additional growth, the frost really hit that bush hard. However, by spring of year two, the little blueberry bush that could showed signs of life. Buds had formed over the winter and what would be the first vertical cane was popping out of the ground.

It’s probably worthy of mentioning at this point that anyone thinking about growing blueberries should know that you won’t get much of anything in terms of berries for at least 3 years after planting. Someone had warned me about that, so at least I was prepared in that aspect.

Also, before I ramble on too much more, I want to mention that the berries form on second year growth. Which means when you have a branch growing (I’m not using the technical terms just to make it easy on anyone new to blueberries) in one year, blueberries will form at the end of that branch the following year.

Now, back to the little blueberry bush. Year two was a good year for growth. There were strong canes that came out of the ground and several smaller branches that put out leaves. No berries this year either, but I was happy that the bush survived and was looking like it would bury me in berries the following year.

Year three arrived and I was ready to finally start getting blueberries. The two canes weren’t done growing I guess, because they didn’t develop the flowering buds at their ends. However, the smaller branches did. I think I counted about 4 flower clusters, and about a dozen or more flowers. So, in “counting your chickens before they hatch”-style, I proudly proclaimed to my wife that we would have at least a dozen blueberries this year, which is a good start. She was of course excited and supportive, but knew better than to believe me when I make ambitious or forward-looking statements. Year three harvest: 3 berries. Looking back, I have a sneaking suspicion that my year-four thieves were already around in year three.

Year four was just last summer, so it’s most vivid in my mind and hopefully the most accurate in my Swiss cheese brain. Now, each time a branch grows, it puts out leaves along the length of it. In the winter after, a larger flower bud forms at the end of that branch. The following spring, the flower buds emerge and smaller branches grow out from that first branch. The next spring, flower buds form at each one of the smaller branches and even smaller branches form from those. So each following year you can get much more berries than the year before. Remember though, pruning is very important since you don’t want branches touching each other, and the more berries that are being produced simultaneously by the bush, the smaller each one will be. You’ll want to find your own “happy middle” in terms of the amount of berries and the size of the berries. So, year four was a good year. By this time, the tiny little twig had grown into a rather large bush with 4 large canes and many side branches coming out from various points. I had done a little pruning in the fall of year three and most pages that I’ve read say not to prune the first 2 or 3 years anyways. I had just removed some sad little branches or ones that touched each other. By my count, there was at least 3 or 4 dozen flowers, so I again proudly proclaimed a basket of blueberries would be sitting on the counter one day this year.

…Sigh. You might be getting the picture why that “someday” thought of blueberries is now more of a joke. Harvest from year four: about a handful. I think maybe 7, but I think I blocked that memory for protection of my sanity. I did learn some great lessons though, and I discovered the identity of my blueberry thief. Now, the latter, since you are probably wondering. Cardinals LOVE blueberries. If I didn’t love watching Cardinals so much, I would have probably been a lot more mad, but I caught him red-feathered one day and actually watched as he masterfully hopped around the bush looking for the choicest, ripe berries. So lesson one: If you want blueberries, get a bird net to go over the bush or bushes. Several online catalogs have pop-up nets that can be placed over one bush if you only have a few, or home improvement stores have bird nets that can be 50 feet long. The nets are by far the best protection against birds. Owls work only for a while, bird feeders at other places in the yard only bring MORE birds, shiny tape or reflective “owl eyes” don’t work, and repellants don’t deter hungry birds. Without my berry thief, I would have harvested a good 3 dozen berries. Blueberries are hardy and pretty much grow themselves without much work at all. I think that the growth over 4 years is not what you’d get in the ground, but still impressive given that it’s 4 year old miracle grow soil that’s in a container on a deck.

Yikes, that was quite a tangent. I might be splitting this post up into two later on, I think a separate blueberry post would be easier to find later on when looking back in the archives. What was this post about in the first place? Oh yeah, the planting layout. If that’s the reason why you’re reading this post, I’m really sorry about the tangent. Maybe you just skimmed through the blueberry part, or at least enjoyed reading it. I’m hoping you scrolled down to the picture, looked at it, and are already doing something else like watching videos of cats or something.

Keep in mind: this isn’t to scale, I’m still a farming beginner, this layout could change, and this might not be the best way to plant what I want to grow.

The Farm - 2013 Layout

The Farm – 2013 Layout

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Year One – The crop list

So I’m going to try blogging daily if I have something worth posting, or at the least, once a week. Today’s post is going to be my ambitious list of crops that I want to plant. The list is pretty big, so I think I might not go all out unless I really get the farming bug. Now, due to the unique nature of my yard and the adjoining BG&E property, I’ll have the ability to have a herb garden in my yard, and the bulk of the veggies and grains on the BG&E easement land. This should save me quite a bit of money, since I won’t be as concerned about “ascetics”, such as raised beds, nice trim, and layout. I’m going to use the easement land and just put row after row of seeds or transplants until I feel I won’t have the energy to weed that amount of land. So for the purposes of following along when I use certain lingo, I’ll clarify.

“The Garden” – This will be on my property. This will be primarily herbs, flowers, and spice plants. Since it will be in my backyard/side yard, I will make this look really nice and have paths and whatever else to make sure my wife doesn’t start complaining that I’m making the house look too trashy.

“The Farm” – This is the name I’m giving to the BG&E easement land that I’m allowed to use behind my house. In case you’re wondering up until now, the easement is BG&E owned land that has power lines on it. No, not normal neighborhood lines, but the HUGE metal tower high voltage intrastate transmission lines. Yes, I’ve heard they can cause cancer. I actually went back to the original study conducted that started all the hype, and I can tell you as a former biologist, the results are pretty inconclusive. I will probably post the study at a later point if anyone is interested.

The fact of the matter is, in Howard county Maryland, it’s hard to escape those power lines. They crisscross through most of Maryland actually, and many houses are being built practically underneath them. The cancer rates would be much higher in Howard county if the electromagnetic radiation coming off of those lines were hazardous. Quite frankly, after looking at the study, you’re more at risk for cancer using your cell phone everyday and sitting at your computer at work for 8 hours a day than living 100 feet away from high power transmission lines.

Woo, anyways, I digress. So, back to “the farm”. This is where the bulk of my growing is going to be. I plan to have two sections. One will be standard rows of veggies, and the other will be experimenting with the native American “Three Sisters” plotting. The native Americans grew crops very well for hundreds of years using the three sisters planting method, so I figure I’ll give it a shot. More on that later.

So here is the list of what I’d like to grow in each (not alphabetically unless I get REALLY bored and reorganize it):

The Garden
Apothecary rose
Thai Basil

The Farm
Tomatoes (big boys, Roma, cherry)
Gourds (Luffa, Bottle, Birdhouse)
Squash, yellow and zucchini
Green onions
Bell peppers
Hot peppers
Swiss chard

“The Three Sisters”
Black Beans
Squash (spaghetti and butternut)

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