Posts tagged tomatoes

Guess who’s out of hibernation?!

*Yawn*  What have I missed?  A lot of potential opportunities to post here, for one.  Now, I’m a cold weather person, I tolerate hot and humid days because my tomatoes love them; but let me join millions of people across the country in saying “Go home winter, you’re not welcome here anymore”.  Partly the reason I haven’t posted lately (months??) is that there isn’t much to talk about in the winter, the other reason being it’s hard to write when you’re depressed and cold.  However, the days are getting longer, and I’ve started my tomato and pepper seedlings so there’s something to talk about.  Indoor greenhouse

I’ve rebuilt my “greenhouse” in my basement, and that’s good enough until I can get a real one outside.  I was able to reuse the solo cups from last year, so hooray for frugality.  To start the seeds, as I’ve done in the past, is to put them on the little Jiffy peat tabs in the covered greenhouse tray.  I put the heating mat under that, and while some heat escapes through the bottom, it’s warm enough to germinate the seeds (one rather spry tomato popped up in two days).  If you wanted to, you could cut a thick piece of packing Styrofoam and put it under the heating mat to hold the heat better.  Once the seedlings get bigger, usually when they hit the top of the cover or the roots start poking out of the peat pot, I transfer them to the solo cup to continue growing under the grow lamp.

Let’s see, what else?  I suppose in another post I can talk about my food storage plans and progress.  I’m working on cleaning up a mess of a pantry in the basement.  I can’t seem to get out of Sam’s Club without spending at least $400 and coming home with a 50 lb bag of something….Last time it was sugar, the time before that, flour.  I’m not sure if I’ve shared in the past my organizational goals, so I’ll post them again.  Eventually I’d like to have a good long term storage and short-term rotational plan.  I’m not a crazy end-of-the-world prepper or extreme hoarder, I just believe in the old boy scout motto “Always prepared”.  After losing power for a week after hurricane Irene came up the east coast, I’ve learned that it’s good to have some non-perishable food on hand; candles/oil lamps in the closet; and even a generator if you can afford one.  Non-perishable food isn’t totally necesary if you lose power, since your first priority would be eating yourself through your frig/freezer anyways.  Having a gas range is good, since I’ve never had the gas go out on us.  Things would have to be pretty bad to lose that supply.  Anyways, there are plenty of examples in the recent past where events have shown us the only one you can really rely on is yourself.  I trust the Government to go to war often, fix the roads eventually, and at the very least fund itself and keep the lights on….mostly.  But my blog isn’t about the Government or politics, it’s about growing food and finding peace in your own backyard.  So, here’s my pantry plan, I’ll get there some day, the best way to build up an emergency food supply is gradually, it takes the pressure off the wallet, so to speak.

Shelf_Reliance Jug_Storage_6_months

I’ve already started gathering the jugs, not exactly like the picture though.  I really liked the idea of the handles to make it easy to grab, but after searching for weeks/months I couldn’t find ones I liked.  I found half gallon and gallon sized jugs, but I didn’t like that the plastic was PP (polypropylene or number 5 on the bottom of the jug), PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride or number 3), or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene or number 2).  HDPE has BPA and phthalate , and can leach endocrine disruptors (which is basically a fancy way of saying it can mess with your hormones in high enough quantities).  PVC also leaches phthalates , which studies have shown can be bad.  PP is one of the safer plastics to use in long-term storage, but it’s not clear, so it doesn’t look as nice on the shelves.  I know, silly excuse not to use it, but hey, if you don’t mind translucent jugs, go for it.  Eventually I went with PET (or PETE, plastic number 1), it is the type of plastic used in water bottles and soda bottles.  It too can leach chemicals (plastic is basically a bunch of chemicals anyways, somethings bound to breakdown in it eventually), but I’m only using it for dry food, so I figure it’s the best of the 7 plastics.  The safest material of all to use?  Glass, naturally.  Glass doesn’t survive falls or clanking together though, so while I could have used half-gallon or gallon mason jars, I opted for plastic in the end.  Hell, glass is heavy too, I’m a guy, so it wouldn’t be too bad for me, but a gallon of salt in a mason jar would be a heck of a workout bringing upstairs.

Finding PET jugs with the handles proved fruitless, GallonJugI tried 4 different plastic companies and couldn’t find any.  So eventually as I was walking the aisle in Walmart I came across these jugs, and they won by default.  They’re gallon sized, PET plastic, and they have an easy-grip side, so it’s dang close enough.  You can’t buy them online, so you’ll have to troll the aisles over the course of several weeks to get a large supply of them.  At my Walmart they’re $2.97 each, so not too expensive, but considering these things probably cost 30 cents to make (if even that), that’s a pretty hefty profit margin for the Waltons.  I’d love to find their supplier, but since I’m not about to buy a pallet of them (as most plastic suppliers require as I’ve found) and pay the freight for said pallet, I believe I’m getting a deal at Walmart.  Below is what it looks like all happy and full of egg noodles.  I printed out some 2×4″ labels and they fit nicely.  My only complaint is that the way I put the labels on.  As you can see, the label wouldn’t fit on the grippy side, so to look pretty on the shelves, you can’t easily grab the jugs.  But I’ve found it’s not that hard to turn around the jugs to get to the grippy side.  They have little ridges on them too, so it really is easy to pick up.

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Okay, I tend to get carried away when I finally get around to blogging, so I’ll wrap it up for now.  I’ll be back again soon to post my raised-bed garden expansion plans and more pictures of the seedlings.  I’ll leave you with my recent purchase from Burpee.  I’m going to try growing some lemongrass, lemon balm and spearmint.  I drink a ton of tea in the winter, so I’ll let them grow nice and big this summer to give my tea a nice herbal minty/lemon taste.  New seeds 2015

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The Raised Bed Project

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Just kidding, not that kind of raised bed.  Rather, a raised garden bed to avoid some of the pitfalls and nuisances that I experienced last year (weed creep, bad soil, insects, deer, myself, etc.).  I decided on a simple 4’x8′ raised bed for 3 reasons.

1) 4′ seems to be the internet-agreed-upon width that allows you to easily reach into the center from either side.

2) Most 2×6 or 2×8 boards come in 8 or 12 foot lengths, making less waste in the end.  (Note:  I did get stuck with 10′ boards for one of the beds because that’s all they had, so I had some 2′ sections left over, still looking for something to do with them.  I did eventually find 8′ boards at the other home improvement store.)

3) They looked good in my “raised bed master plan”, meaning, inline with my usual “Go big or go home” mentality.  More to come on that later.

I decided on Douglas fir as my wood because it was cheap and readily available in 2″x8″x12′ sections.  The 2″x12″ boards were very much more expensive, relative to the 2×6 and 2×8’s, but I wanted my beds a little deeper than 12″.  Two 2×8’s stacked would get me about 16 inches, which I thought would be good enough.  I wanted to go with cedar or redwood, since I heard they were rot and pest resistant, but the cost in the end helped me decide.  They weren’t available in the local home improvement chains, and the lumber yards wanted one of my arms along with my credit card.  I figure I could replace the beds every 3 years (if I even needed to that early), and it would still be cheaper than cedar or redwood in the long term.

Eco Wood TreatmentI did splurge on some wood treatment, and I came across this stuff, which is pretty highly rated.  It’s called Eco wood treatment, and it’s supposed to protect against mildew, rot, and pests.  From what I researched online, it contains iron oxide and “other proprietary” ingredients, all of which is supposed to be environmentally and human friendly.  That was the main reason why I avoided pressure treated wood.  Even though they stopped using arsenic in the chemical treating process, they still use copper, and I’d rather not have those chemicals leaching into the soil of plants that I will be eating.  I’ve read that pressure treated wood is generally safe, but I’d rather go with something that says it’s definitely non-toxic.  It is expensive, but it’s supposed to protect the wood for years, it’s made in the USA, and it stained the cheapy-looking Douglas fir boards to a nice aged look.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures all through the process, but I did take the pictures of the final beds.  I decided towards the end that I wanted a little ledge on the beds to rest tools or whatnot, so I nailed some 2×4’s on the sides.  I used pressure treated wood for that, since they don’t directly touch the soil. I also added 1/4″ hardware cloth under the beds to keep groundhogs from burrowing up under my bed. They’re a problem where I live, so I figured the extra measure of protection was warranted.

IMAG0957Here’s the picture of the stained wood after the Eco treatment.  It looks rather dull and splotchy, but the color evened out and looks really good.  Much better than the bleached framing boards that I started with.IMAG1001

I started off with two beds for this growing season, but never fear, I have big plans for my suburban farm.  The white PVC pipes you see on the inside of the bed is for adding floating row covers.  If I need to add a frost cover or insect barrier, I just insert a long length of 1/2″ PVC pipe into the 1″ sections to form a loop over the bed. I can then attach the covers to those loops. I didn’t use it this year, but I figured I might as well install them now in case I need them.

IMAG1038IMAG1043 …and here is the first bed with my sad looking plants. That’s a story for my next post, but I didn’t really do a good job in raising those little seedlings on account of not setting up my indoor greenhouse in time this year. They didn’t get enough sun and were stunted for at least a month (hence why I just started getting tomatoes in late July) I planted 5 tomatoes, 5 bell peppers, and there are two eggplants in the middle of the bed. Once everything started growing, I also tossed in a packet of basil, since all of the plants in this bed are complementary. It worked out great, since the tomato and basil are great with some mozzarella cheese.  For my lessons learned post, you’ll learn why square foot gardening might be a better idea to follow.  I might have packed the plants in a little too tight.  You can’t tell from these pictures, but it became more evident as the summer went on.

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For anyone that’s curious on what I have planned for my suburban raised-bed farm. Here is the master plan. I hope to add 2-4 beds per year, that way I can stagger the replacement of them when the time comes, which will spread out the time and cost associated with that.

Garden layout designs
Why the weird design? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because I now have the opportunity to think about that. I’m not sure. I didn’t want just a bunch of raised beds in a row. I wanted something to be visually pleasing to look at. …and I wanted a dwarf fir in the middle that I can decorate with lights every Christmas, hence why I labeled it a “Christmas tree”. Maybe I’ll get bored this winter and build more than two. It’s a long winter, and I prefer the cold anyways.

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August update, or “Lessons Learned: Part One”

Part one of many, I figure, so I better get started now before my lessons are lost in the part of my brain that has to dump new knowledge to make room for “Futurama” quotes and Jeopardy trivia. I’ll have to deviate at some point to talk about my useless Jeopardy knowledge, but for now, a much belated update from the Suburban farm.

Things have been growing, despite my best unintentional plans to ignore the entire plot for days (WEEKS?!?) at a time. I have a few tomatoes that have survived some sort of mold/fungus/rot. A spaghetti squash and pumpkin that defied all odds to come out looking, well, looking pretty darn good. Also, it’s good to know that not many things will eat cayenne peppers. They do very well against drought too. The only downside is that there is a very finite amount of culinary creations you can do with a bushel of cayenne peppers.

“Ultra spicy omelets today? Eat up, I have a cayenne-carrot cake for a treat later!”

Sunflower and Peppers

I’ll most likely dry most of them out and make crushed red pepper flakes or grind them up in a spice grinder to make ground cayenne pepper.

The sunflower head was the second one that I’ve harvested. Those turned out really well also. However, I found out that stinkbugs like sunflower seeds. If you live where there are stinkbugs, cover your sunflower heads when they start to droop, because what happens to the seeds is the bugs eat a little of it, but it ruins the whole seed. When a stinkbug eats, it basically spits into the seed/fruit/veggie, and the spit dissolves some of what it’s trying to eat. The bug will have a little, but then wander off, leaving you with a pocked and possibly rotting harvest. In the case of the sunflowers, the stinkbugs turned the seeds inside brown. So I guess they’ll have to go to the birds this year.

Additionally, the cherry tomatoes are still growing better than crabgrass out front, so that’s great. The corn and beans on the other hand…there’s always next year.

Which leads me to my first lesson learned: Don’t start a garden if you have a newborn. Maybe you can do better, but from my experience, a baby is not only a very poor helper, they are an active ANTI-helper. While a toddler can’t help you weed or plant seedlings, they are more or less independent and can follow you around the yard. A baby on the other hand requires someone watching/holding/feeding/tending them constantly, so they prevent you from otherwise being outside doing something to stop the onslaught of weeds and rabbits from overtaking your best laid plans of self-sufficiency. Even now, as I attempt to translate coherent thoughts into interesting reading, I have a baby that is trying to unplug the laptop, pull all the hair off our dog, UNfold all of the laundry, and for the rest of the time maintain a high degree of satisfaction at achieving “the loudest one in the house” award. Believe me, it was a hard award to win. I come from a long line of loud-talkers, and there is never a quiet moment in this house between me and a dog that likes to bark everything: a car going by, a phone ringing, the TV, the wind, the lack of wind, someone outside, someone’s talking, it’s too quiet in the house, etc. So, when to start a garden? I’m not sure, I’ll let you know in year two, or three, or four…..

Lesson two: If you start seedlings indoors or in a greenhouse, give some away or make a plan on where to plant them. I got carried away because I decided to plant 12 of each variety of tomato seed that I bought (four varieties, 48 total tomato seedlings). When they all germinated and started growing wonderfully, I thought “Gee, I better till up enough room for them”, so my initial 10×20′ garden plot morphed into the 20×60′ plot that I had now (it could be even larger, I still have yet to measure it, partially out of fear). If you’re like me and love starting the seeds, then keep a few, but give the rest away. I hate the thought of wasting them, so throwing them away was out of the question. If they look really good, you could even try selling them. As expensive as they are at nurseries, if you sold them for a couple of dollars, you could at least get your neighbors to take them off your hands and earn some money to buy more garden toys.

Lesson three: Organic farming is an ideal to strive for. But in reality, insecticide powder is pretty awesome. It saved my eggplants from flea beetles, it kept Japanese beetles off my grape vines, and rescued a spaghetti squash from an army of hungry unidentified beetles. I tended to use the insecticide on hard-rind plants, or for leaves on plants (like the eggplant and grape vines). The beetles didn’t eat the actual eggplants, so I only needed to apply it to the inedible leaves. I will keep on trying to grow organic vegetables, and I hope raised beds and better soil will help, but in the end I will defend my garden and will use all weapons at my disposal to protect my harvest. I have read that a good defense is high-quality soil, since the plants will be stronger from having a huge amount of nutrients to pull from and recover from insect attacks. My compost pile will hopefully yield some good-quality soil for next year. Plus, with raised beds, installing floating row covers is a little easier, and if the bugs can’t get to the plants, they can’t hurt them.

I’ll come back to the lessons a little later as I remember more of them. I’m also going to update the garden layout picture, since the final layout differed quite a bit from my original plan. That will probably be in the next post. For the rest of this post, I’m going to post some of the harvest that I’ve managed to pull off, which surprised even me.

…and believe me, I set the bar pretty low once I realized what I had gotten myself into.

Front Stoop Cherry Tomato Plant2

Okay, first up are the cherry tomato plants. The one in the front right is some kind of mutant plant, because it’s just growing out of control. For every cherry tomato that I pluck off of it, it seems like another bunch of four to eight blossoms appear in its place. Of course this is embarrassing, as my wife pointed out, that these plants happen to be in our front yard right as you walk up to our house. She says that she would like to help me out and pick some of the tomatoes too, but she’s worried that a snake might be hiding out in the plants and attack her. I sensed a little sarcasm in her voice, but I think she was probably laying it on pretty thick.

Roma Tomatoes

Here are a few Roma tomatoes that made it out of the garden alive. I didn’t get a picture of the big boy tomatoes (they were eaten before I could even come back with a camera), but I harvested a few of those as well. I started some basil late in the season, but with the hot days we’ve been getting lately, along with me actually remembering to water them and planting them in containers with miracle-grow soil, they are already full-grown. So whenever I came in with some tomatoes and basil in my hands, they were promptly turned into caprese salads. My wife says that the tomatoes are delicious, so I’m glad that they turned out so well. I would have had a much bigger harvest if I had kept the weeds down and fertilized the garden, but a half-dozen or so tomatoes isn’t bad, considering the amount of effort I put in. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been completely lazy, I spent probably 4 or 5 weekends out there for about 3-4 hours each time. However, it wasn’t enough to keep the garden looking as it should, and given the size of it, it would have needed another one or two people helping even with an additional few hours each day of work.

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This is, unfortunately, one of my better ears of corn. Now, keep in mind this was on unfertilized bare soil, with no irrigation, and maybe 25% of the seeds actually germinating. I certainly wouldn’t try to eat this myself, but I know a few birds or deer that would be happy with this, so I’ll leave it out for them when it starts getting cooler out. Better luck next year, right? I’m going to plant the corn more densely packed when I get the raised beds built. If I don’t have to worry about walking between the rows, I can plant them as close as recommended. I’ve seen some fields planted with corn that the stalks are practically on top of each other. Another use for these ears of corn this fall, is to hang them up around the outside of the house as decoration. Considering that when I showed my wife the ear of corn, she jumped back and was totally grossed out, I would say it could make a pretty good Halloween prop.

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Ok, now for the squash and pumpkin that I was actually impressed with when I found them.

PumpkinSpaghetti Squash

They had actually been hidden from view by the huge leaves that grow on the vine, so I didn’t even notice them until a few days ago when the leaves started dying back. The squash is a spaghetti squash, and I grew it since my wife doesn’t eat gluten. She isn’t celiac, but eating gluten causes her to feel bloaty and nauseous. I try to help when I can, and growing the squash is my attempt at giving her a good supply of alternatives to gluten. Spaghetti squash can be used as a substitute in any pasta dish that calls for spaghetti or angel hair pasta. It probably could be used for any pasta dish, but the noodle dishes match up the best. The pumpkin is the pie variety, so I’m going to try to run it through my food mill and make some pumpkin puree for either pumpkin lattes or some homemade pumpkin pie.

 

 

Lastly, I made some cuttings from my blueberry bush. This had been on my to-do list since June, but I hadn’t had time to get to it. June or July would have been ideal for making the cuttings, since the leaves are already starting to turn, and you’ll see in the pictures that they’ve been eaten by bugs a little. It hopefully isn’t fatal, but it weakens the new plants from the start. After buying two more blueberry bushes this spring at $7 each, I realized that my idea of a blueberry grove would get VERY expensive. I did some research and found out that blueberries do very well taken from cuttings.

Rooting CompoundSo I bought some rooting compound, and found a good branch that was a second-year growth. Now, I know it’s not technically called a branch, but I’m a little distracted at the moment to look up what they’re called on blueberry bushes, I’ll trust that you can Google it and sound smarter than me when you’re talking about it to your friends. (Update: I remembered this morning that they’re called “canes”)

cutting stock

From that second-year branch (to right: the main branch is the second-year growth), I cut off the side shoots, which are this years growth. I snipped off the bottom few leaves, dipped that in water and then dipped the cutting into the rooting compound. After that I put the cuttings into a pot (or solo cup in this case) of peat moss and vermiculite. I’ll let the roots set up for the rest of the summer and fall, and then keep them inside for the winter to guard them from frost. If I didn’t wait too long, they should set up some good starter roots, and will be ready to transplant into the ground next spring. I’ll probably keep them under grow lights as long as the leaves are still green and on the cuttings. Hopefully ever bit of light helps.

 

 

 

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Here are the pictures of the cuttings, sitting happily at the moment in the potting soil that I made for them. I’ll let you all know how they turn out over time, since this is almost a completely free way of making more blueberry bushes from the ones you already have. I made six cuttings in total, so I’m figuring that if they survive until next spring, I just saved myself $42.Blueberry cuttings2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s all for tonight. I had planned on doing the first installment of my gardening product reviews, but it’s getting late and I’ll need time to regroup my thoughts. I received a few items from Gardeners.com from my mom, and since I had a free-shipping coupon, I ordered a few other things. While I like some of the things I have, there are others that could definitely be improved upon (or just not purchased). More on that in the next post though.

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Planting update: Three sisters garden and cherry tomatoes are in

So I’ve been a little busy this weekend. My new John Deere riding mower was delivered, so now I can *finally* mow the lawn. I should have posted pictures of the jungle in the back, the grass was already waist high. I got a D140 from Lowes, and so far it’s pretty nice. It has a 48″ cutting deck, which should make quick work of my half an acre.

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Also, I have planted my “three sisters garden”. The three sisters are corn, beans, and squash, and it’s based on a native American planting method that takes advantage of each of the plant’s characteristics. The corn provides a strong pole for the beans to climb up, the beans provide nitrogen for the squash and corn, and the squash’s prickly leaves deter rabbits and raccoons while also blocking weeds from growing. You mound up dirt into piles and then alternate between corn+bean and squash for each mound. I’ll re-post the graphic from my earlier post so you don’t have to go searching to find it.

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The cherry tomatoes I plant in containers since they do really well in them. I always put one tomato plant and one pepper plant in each container. Pepper and tomatoes are companion plants, so they do really well together. I know from experience that beans and peppers do NOT go together, and will stunt the growth of the pepper plants. I put the containers out front, since we don’t have a deck yet. This way when we get home each day, we can check for tomatoes and pluck them for nightly salads and stuff.

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Cherry tomatoes in planters

Cherry tomatoes in planters

..and finally, here is something you can do with a plastic 55-gallon rain barrel. I cut the top off of one, and then put about 6 inches of dirt in the bottom. I drilled some drain holes in the side near the bottom so that water doesn’t pool up in the barrel, then I put a sprouting potato into it. Now, normally when you plant potatoes, you have to dig a hole and plant the potato in really loose soil. Then since the plant can start growing new potatoes near the surface, where they can get spoiled by getting sunlight, you have to keep mounding up the dirt around the plant. Then, when it’s harvest time, you have to dig it all up, missing some potatoes and not getting the full harvest. It’s this reason and the fact that they’re pretty cheap at the store that most people say not to grow potatoes. I say “Go ahead and try, ambitious farmers!” This is where the barrel comes in. As the potato plant grows, you just dump some more dirt in the barrel. Eventually the plant keeps growing higher in the barrel and you fill it up with dirt to the top. When harvest time comes around, you just kick over the barrel and out comes all the potatoes!! No digging or missing spuds, everything is right there in the barrel. Just make sure to rotate the dirt out and put that in your garden, since it could contain potato molds or diseases that could affect your plants the follow year. Use fresh dirt each year in the barrels.

A new 55-gallon barrel

A new 55-gallon barrel

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it's journey upwards

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it’s journey upwards

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Farmers, start your gardens!

I can’t believe the average last frost date is already here. It seems like just yesterday I was buying seeds and starting up this blog. So much to do, and the clock is ticking! I still haven’t started up my tillers, so I don’t even know if I’ll have any mechanical help getting my garden bed dug. I should have really thought about this sooner, but time sure goes by quick. It really is a good thing that I’m not farming for a living, otherwise I’d already be sweating bullets about my harvest. So, with the average last frost date officially behind us, let me be the first to warn anyone in MD/DC/VA to NOT transplant anything quite yet. The forecast is calling for some cold weather to roll in on Saturday. Now, planting seeds might be OK since the frost (if it happens) won’t damage a dormant seed, but don’t go bringing your pepper, tomato, and cucumber plants outside. It will definitely be too cold for them still, even without a frost event. Best bet for those plants is to use my cicada planting clock that I posted about a few days ago, or go with the tried-and-true date of mothers day. By May, all worry of cold and frost is well behind us, and that’s precisely why we start the tomatoes indoors in Mar/Apr. By giving them those extra months of time to grow indoors or in a greenhouse, they may not grow as fast and vigorous as they do in the summer, but you’re giving them a head-start. By May, your growing season has been shortened considerably so you wouldn’t want to start by planting a tomato seed at that point.

This is my deadline for getting my tillers up and running though, so cold or not, I have to get my dirt loosened up and ready for the plants. I have quite a bit of nice, dark organic matter (an old leaf pile that has decomposed nicely) in the land behind my house, so I plan on working that into the soil where “the farm” will go. Also, while not of much use this season, I’ve been dumping all of my wife’s salad by-products into the compost pile, getting it ready to use next year. Yes, unfortunately at this point is literally is just a big pile of wilted lettuce, egg shells, pepper cores and other non-meat food scraps. I do plan on buying or making one of those really nice tumbler-style compost bins, but I do like the idea of having a giant compost pit that a bin just couldn’t match in terms of size. I will probably mulch-mow my lawn to build back up the topsoil, so I won’t have any lawn trimmings to add to the compost, but at some point I will get a chipper/shredder. With that, I’ll have plenty of shredded leaves and chipped/mulched wood to add, which will add a ton of minerals to my compost. All of that will have to decompose, which means I might want to have more than one pile/pit/bin so that I can rotate and let one decompose while I’m pulling from the other.

While I’m at it, I might find out what BG&E does with all that mulch that they make when they trim the trees by the power lines. I saw the truck just full to the brim with freshly shredded tree trimmings. I’ll ask them if they can just dump the pile in my yard (I know, I bet the neighbors will LOVE that). Trees are full of minerals like potassium, calcium, carbon, etc, which makes for garden gold once it has a chance to break down and release all of its goodness.

So, for those that are itching to start your garden like me, this looks to be a good weekend (45 degrees? Could be worse, just wait til the 95% humidity days are here). Grab a shovel, tiller, or just jump in with your bare hands, let’s make the step towards growing what you eat and having fun while doing it.

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Hear that cicada sound? That’s nature’s “event notification”

If you have a smart phone, you’ve probably set up event notifications.  It reminds you to take out the trash, or pick up something from the store.  Well, nature has event notifications too.  Here on the east coast, we’re about to be greeted with a sight that most people’s eyes and ears dread….the 17 year cicadas.  Yes, if you live near a forest or ground that hasn’t been dug up for 17 years, you’re about to be swarmed upon by the shrill, bug-eyed  creature’s most abundant emerging.  Brood II as it’s scientifically called, is nicknamed the “east coast brood” for good reason.  It is the largest emergence of Magicicadas, which are the 17 year species, and their extent stretches from as far north as Connecticut down to southern Virginia.  Certain species of cicadas emerge every year, but this emergence hasn’t been seen since 1996, and should be a big one.   Now, a lot of development has happened in suburbia in the last 17 years, many parts of the MD/VA/DC area have completely changed and are environmentally unrecognizable from 1996, but if you live in a more rural or undisturbed part, you’re going to get the full effect.
 
Now, first off, don’t panic.  They are annoying and can startle you when you find them all over trees or on your house, but they are harmless.  Their deafening song may sound like 4-6 weeks of being woken up early to most people, but to a gardener it’s the sound… of TOMATOES!! 
 
Here’s a bit of old-timey knowledge, mixed in with a bit of science.  Back before we had accurate weather prediction models and satellites to track clouds and temperatures, people relied on nature to tell them when to plant and harvest.  Cicadas emerge when the ground temperature is above 63 degrees F, which coincidentally is the same temperature that tomatoes need to thrive outdoors!  So when you start to hear the call of the cicadas, it means that it’s time for you to start putting your tomato plants outside during the day to get them hardened off, and then plant them soon after.  Tomatoes need soil temperature above 60 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night.  So get your gardening supplies ready or follow along with my journey, we’re about to get to the good part, growing your own food!

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April update

Nothing new to report as of right now, just some pictures of the sprouts.  It’s still a little too cold to plant anything outside, and the ground is too wet from the rain to plow it.  I still need to de-winterize the Craftsman tiller that I got from my grandfather, and since it’s been at least 2 years since it has been started, hopefully it still works. 

 

Here are some pictures of the tomato plants that I started indoors.  They’re starting to get bigger.  Next year I’m going to build a proper greenhouse outside, or if I’m still house-poor, at least get another light or two to help them grow.

From left to right: eggplant, cayenne peppers, “Mortgage Lifter” tomatoes, lavender in the foreground (not sprouted, I just started them on Sunday.  I didn’t realize I needed to start those early as well), Roma tomatoes.Image

 

Left to right: Cucumbers, Beefsteak tomatoes, Big Boy tomatoes.

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