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Posts Tagged ‘Plants’

Autumn is upon us and winter is coming. That means I’m looking out the windows and loving the burgundies and golds and stubborn greens on the trees. It means I’m reconnecting with the guy that plows our driveway, and I’m annoying Husband by insisting that we drain the hoses and bring the lawn furniture into the basement BEFORE it snows. It also means I’m looking forward to growing food in my greenhouse. Say what?!

Thanks to Eliot Coleman, I think my greenhouse will not just serve as a solarium during the winter. I think it’s going to produce food for us even when the nighttime temperatures dip below -10 degrees. I’m going to take the principles outlined in his “Four-Season Harvest”, and put them into practice.   Coleman gardens in Maine. He is the essence of Yankee ingenuity and Maine practicality. He believes in low-tech, in no guilt, in low cost. If I weren’t already married….

Book,Coleman,FourSeason,hori

The principle of the four-season garden is that you grow plants that are cold hardy, and you start them early enough in the year that they have reached maturity when the frost arrives. In that way, you aren’t growing in the frozen season, but you are still harvesting. The way this is done is to have your plants under multiple layers.   He uses hoop houses that then have covered low tunnels inside.

In Coleman’s own words:

“Our four-season harvest is based on a simple premise. Whereas the growing season may be chiefly limited to the warmer months, the harvest season has no such limits. We enjoy a year-round harvest by following two practices: succession planting and crop protection.…only the harvest season and not the growing season, needs to be extended. The distinction is important because the harvest season can be extended with cool-weather vegetables and simple crop protection.”

Coleman states that every layer of protection increases your hardiness zone by 1.5 zones. So, outside my Maine greenhouse it is Zone 5. Inside the greenhouse it is zone 6+ and I’m now in New York. And under the next layer of protection (my covered seed table), it will be Zone 8 and Georgia. Can I grow winter greens in Georgia? I trust Eliot Coleman and so I’ll say yes.

My greenhouse is built on a gravel base, and so I cannot use his low-tunnel technique of planting directly in the ground. What I am doing is using the wonderful seed table Husband built me to hold the seed trays and then covering that table.

I started planting two weeks ago. I chose 4 plants: claytonia (which my Boston-based daughter tells me is on the trendier menus in Boston restaurants!), mizuna, tatsoi, and mache. Here is what that first planting looked like in the greenhouse. Note that I’m only using the top shelf of the table at this point:

FirstPlanting_TopShelf

Following Coleman’s recommendation of succession planting, I started a second wave of seedlings this past weekend. I was concerned that the wire mesh that forms the surface of the two levels would allow cold air to come up underneath the trays and freeze the seedlings. (Ladies, think of the canyons of New York in January, when you’re wearing a skirt.)

BottomShelf_Before_Insulation

So Husband took some unused pink foam-insulation boards and cut them to size for me. I was working out in the garden, went to the basement workshop to remind him of my desperate need for pink planks, and found this waiting for me outside the garage door:

Insulation_Waiting_Garage

I emptied both levels on the table, and pushed the foam insulation into place:

BottomShelf_Insulation_SetIn

Then I set all the seed trays on top of the insulation. Here is the before and after photos of the trays, empty and planted:

2ndPlanting_Top_Bottom_Prep_Best

2ndPlanting_Top_Bottom_Planted_Best

Here is what I’m hoping to harvest in about 4 weeks:

Claytonia (montia perfoliata): Coleman says claytonia “should win the winter salad sleeper award for being both unknown and irresistible.” It is also known as “miner’s lettuce.” It is the hardiest of the winter salad crops and it’s so pretty it’s “almost ornamental”. I read that I’m never to thin the plant, but instead I should grasp the leaves and cut the stems below them. By doing this, claytonia keeps producing new leaves throughout the winter.

Mizuna (brassica rapa nipposinica): This is billed as a mild and delicate Oriental plant, with a slight flavor of mustard. It has fringed leaves and I read that it will yield over a long period if it is cut back to encourage new leaf production.

Tatsoi (brassica rapa rosularis): Also known as spinach mustard or rosette bok choy, this is another Oriental vegetable. I hear that it even looks nutritious because of its dark green shiny leaves. It is supposed to survive the coldest weather.

Mache (valerianella locusta): This is also known as corn salad, forming a small rosette of tender leaves. Coleman says, “It is to winter what sweet corn is to summer: a plant adapted to its season. It is the queen of vigor and robustness.” The recommended harvesting technique is to cut the whole plant at soil level and serve it intact in a salad without cutting it up.

Here are two photos of the first seedlings to emerge, on the top shelf: mizuna and tatsoi:

Mizuna_Seedlings_Horiz

Tatsoi_Seedlings

You’ll notice that the plants look identical! That’s because all you’re seeing right now are the cotyledons, the first set of leaves. The plants will differentiate when they push out their first set of true leaves.

What’s next? We bought 4 wire rods yesterday at the hardware store, and Husband is going to drill holes in the top shelf frame of the table. We will bend and insert the rods that will act as wickets. Then I will drape floating row cover cloth over the entire table, securing it with clothespins. Another advantage of planting indoors is I don’t have to worry about wind lifting up the floating cover. Coleman’s book advises having the cloth in place well above the plants, as contact with the plants will allow frost to grab and kill the tender seedlings.

So, Part Two of this post will be the installation of the wire wickets and the floating cloth. Photos will accompany, and hopefully I will have photos of the emerging plants to share with you soon!

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It is a world of imagination, where dreams come true. Where you appreciate the past, look forward to tomorrow, and fill your life with color, form, and fantasy.

Disneyland?   Nope. This magic kingdom is the annual Fedco Tree Sale in Clinton, Maine. If you’re a gardener, this event makes Disneyland pale. Yes, it is that good. Here is how I spent my day in Disneyland – I mean, in the Fedco warehouse:

It started with my placing an order for perennials in the last dark months of 2014. I ordered two roses, 6 yarrow, 3 echinacea, 10 liatris, 6 hollyhocks, 3 lavenders, and 6 butterfly weed. This was a separate order from the seed order I’d placed with Fedco a few weeks earlier. The seeds came to my local food co-op, as they offered their members the opportunity to place a group order and so receive a discount. The idea that a $1.50 packet of seeds required a further discount was almost laughable – but I have learned that Maine and its businesses often surprise me in the nicest way. So I accepted the additional discount with this group order and sent up yet another silent “thank you” to Fedco.

This perennial order was not part of the group order. I could have had the plants shipped to me, but I knew I wouldn’t be ready to put them in the ground for the April delivery. I opted to drive 70 minutes to Clinton to pick them up at the warehouse. What a happy choice that turned out to be!

The day before our planned trip, I received a call from a woman in the warehouse. She wanted to remind me that my order was ready for pick-up, and that I could only come that Friday or Saturday. I said I was counting the minutes until Friday morning, and she laughed. The morning of the pick-up, my GPS wrestled with me, and told me that despite the address on my order pick-up form, the warehouse was NOT in Waterville. Husband suspected it was in Clinton. I called the warehouse to ask if that was true. It was. I told the woman on the phone that I would be there at 10:58. (GPS is nothing if not precise) She laughed. It seems that everyone that works for Fedco is happy.

I had a pleasant drive with Husband on that sunny cool Friday morning in May. As we exited the highway, I saw the blue warehouse, with the huge “SALE” sign out front. We were waved into the parking lot by this gentleman. Sorry kids, but he was much more appealing to me than Mickey. He works for Fedco, and so naturally he was happy:

Fedco_SombreroMan

We pulled into the parking lot…

Fedco_WarehouseEntrance

…,and entered Disneyland for Gardeners. The air was cold in the warehouse and it smelled like wood and green leaves. The first sight was of wheelbarrows filled with damp sawdust, customers waiting patiently holding bare-root fruit trees, and workers wrapping those trees in the sawdust and clear plastic. (And note the milk jug “scoops” in the sawdust — Fedco uses milk jugs creatively. Read on to learn more.) The reason for the long line of customers: the fruit trees were offered at 2 for the price of 1.

Fedco_WrapTreesBetter

Now THIS is a shopping aisle that speaks to me:

Fedco_FruitTreeAisle

There were several areas for shopping. The first was the open warehouse with trees, roses, and shrubs. There was an interior room with small tables and small boxes filled with treasure. One table held tea, garlic, oils, and smudge sticks — hyssop and sage wound with bright string.

Fedco_BowlofGarlic

Even the signage in this room was true Fedco: The illustration was happy! Who needs Minnie Mouse? I had this gal:

Fedco_SelfServiceSign

I found medicinal herbs that I’d only read about and have never seen, such as black cohosh, and plants that frequently appear in literature, such as Solomon’s Seal:

Fedco_SolomonSealSign

Asclepias incarnata? You are indeed the personification of milkweed:

Fedco_AsclepiasSign

An outside area had more perennials, and yet another use for milk jugs:

Fedco_AppleMintJugs

Despite having already placed an order for roses and perennials, Husband encouraged me to go into their greenhouse, and I emerged with 4 hot pepper plants for him, and three varieties of thyme for me.

Back into the warehouse, we found grape vines, and Husband immediately made plans for the stand of Nuisance Sumacs (I have just made that an official variety) in our yard. I think he dreams of being a vintner.

Fedco_GrapesSign

I picked up my order, feeling like I’d taken every ride at Disneyland without waiting in any long lines, feeling like I’d emerged from a gift shop with something way better than a Tinker Bell necklace, and feeling once again that I much preferred the company of Mainers to that of really really big stuffed animals. I was happy.

On the way out, we saw this beautiful wreath on the wall. Made of plant labels and a plastic wrap bow, it was the sign pointing me to my own personal World of Tomorrow – a bountiful garden filled with blooms, pollinators, and charmed visitors. I’m working on making it the Happiest Place on Earth. Thank you (again!), Fedco.

Fedco_LabelWreath

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

–Plaque above the bridge as you enter the Main Street of Disneyland

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Thank you, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

I embarked on a grand experiment of testing the viability of 9 varieties of highly coveted seeds by using the damp-paper-towel method, and failed. Utterly. While I suspect the fault lies both with the seeds as well as my ham-handed efforts, it was a sobering event. Nothing like abject failure to make that mirror you look in every morning crystal clear. (Although Mr. Stevenson’s remarks have tempered my humiliation with a weency bit of pride for having at least made the attempt.)

I was gifted last fall with 9 baggies of seeds, collected by Generous Friend from her garden. I was delighted, and when I looked at the varieties, I was ecstatic. Some folks covet designer brand clothing, gourmet cookware, gems, or cars. Not me. I saw the package labeled “Salmon Coneflower” and was elated. How much did I want those plants? A lot more than a car, and that’s the truth.

I was a bit concerned when Generous Friend confessed she had collected the seeds when they were wet. My understanding is that is a no-no – the moisture encourages mold – but I was still game. The seeds waited in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator all winter, and I recently took them out, followed instructions found on the Internet for the paper-towel method of testing their viability, and began the attempt. Here is what happened:

I collected my materials. The seeds, baggies, a cookie sheet on which to rest the seed-laden baggies, bleach, a shot glass (for measuring, promise) water, sieve, and a bowl:

MaterialsLaidOut

Oh. And a diet coke:

BleachDietCoke

The idea is simple: Place some seeds between sheets of dampened paper towels, put the damp towel in a baggie, and watch for 10-14 days. At the end of that time, count how many seeds have sprouted. If you are testing 10 and 8 seeds germinate, then 80% of your seeds are viable. If only 2 germinate, and you still really want to use those seeds, you’d better plan to plant a LOT of seeds to make sure you get enough plants.

Do you really need to see the process of changing dry paper towels to damp ones? No, I’m certain you don’t. However, I took the photos, so here they are:

First, I soaked 9 sheets of paper towel and draped them over a rack in the sink:

TowelWetDrainPaper

As needed, I wrung out each towel and brought it over to my worktable to place my seeds:

TowelWringOut

TowelWrungOut

The next step was a cautionary one: dip the seeds in a mild water-bleach solution to kill any mold on them. I quickly replaced my large-mesh sieve with a more delicate one. I was in danger of losing the bitty seeds to the bottom of the bleach bowl:

DipSeeds_1

The seeds I was most eager the germinate, the salmon-colored coneflowers, were of course in the bag showing the most humidity:

HumidConeFlowerCloseup

I was undeterred. I shredded the seed head on a dry paper towel, and prepared to count out the 25 seeds I’d decided to germinate for each variety.

ConeStripSeedHead_Close

CountOutSeeds_2

Then I arranged the seeds on the damp paper towel, in neat rows. Easier to count and keep track of that way, I reasoned:

CountOutSeeds_1

Here is a damp paper towel, loaded with 25 seeds ready for the bag. Note that I put the seeds on one half of the towel, so I could fold the other half over the seeds:

TowelTwentyFiveSeeds

I folded the towel and slid it into a baggie. Each baggie was labeled, and as instructed, I left a small gap in the seal so that the seeds had some ventilation:

Bag_InsertFoldOver

Bag_LabelThePacket

Bag_LeaveGap

And then I placed the cookie sheet in a warm place, covered it so that the seeds were kept in the dark, and checked the seeds every day so that I wasn’t kept in the dark. After 14 days, I had a very puny result: 1 rudbeckia seed germinated and 1 bee balm seed germinated.  How good is your eyesight?  I promise you, there is a seed germinating in each of the photos below.

Sprouts_Rudbeckia

Sprouts_BeeBalm

Am I discouraged? A bit. Am I defeated? Nope. Am I still grateful to Generous Friend? You bet! My plan now is to plant my garden, and leave some clear welcoming soil for the remaining seeds. I will plant them, and give them a shot. Who knows?

Perhaps these seeds were the DIY variety, the ones not eager to accept a helping hand, the ones that wanted to launch on their own. Maybe Generous Neighbor had given me 9 baggies of Teenagers. You never know.

Mr. Stevenson declares that I should evaluate myself by the seeds I plant and not by the harvest I reaped. By that measure, I did well. I’ll take that assessment, thank you.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson, author (1850-1894)

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I had a basket heaped with ripe paste tomatoes, and no time. I’ve been putting in 10-hour days at work, and coming home to two teenagers leaving for college. The laundry, the locating, the shopping, and prep have just about done me in. I collapse into bed exhausted and wake up 4 hours later, completely stressed, making lengthy lists in my head. I cannot rest until I get up, drink coffee and write my lists down.

Tomorrow night is the last night before we head off to my son’s college. I am sure the evening will be filled with flurry. That left tonight for the tomatoes.

I couldn’t bear the thought of peeling them all, and then spending hours making sauce, or simply cooking them down. Then I remembered the glorious Barbara Kingsolver, with her casual comment about freezing tomatoes whole, for use later. I remembered the marvelous description of frozen tomatoes knocking around like croquet balls and thought, “That’s for me!”

Here’s how I spent the first two hours, post-dinner:

It's almost getting to be a routine: drop the tomatoes into boiling water for a few moments, and then lift them with a slotted spoon into an ice bath.

I cut off the stem end, slipped the peel off, and removed all bruises. I placed the tomatoes on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. The tomatoes were not allowed to touch each other. I want my croquet balls, after all.

And into the freezer they go! Can you see my tubs of home-made tomato sauce on the shelf below?!

I did test the cookie sheets before trying to insert them, loaded with wobbly rolling tomatoes, onto a shelf laden with uneven items. I rested each cookie sheet inside the freezer, and after 4th and final sheet was safely placed, I closed the door. That was 1 hour ago. I wonder how long it will take before they freeze hard enough to remove, and bag?

As one cookie sheet is resting on top of the box that contains my husband’s palette of oil paints, I hope it’s soon!

I am very happy to have harvested and stored (counting my croquet balls before they harden) food for my family. I forage for them. I am a provider. I am a mom that fills the freezer with red round food.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Tomatoes can even be frozen whole, individually on trays set in the freezer; once they’ve hardened, you can dump them together into large bags (they’ll knock against each other, sounding like croquet balls), and later withdraw a few at a time for winter soups and stews. Having gone nowhere in the interim, they will still be local in February.”

— Barbara Kingsolver, the chapter “Life in a Red State,” from the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

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