It’s time to dust off the seed starting flats, plug in your grow lights and rob the recycling bin. Once upon a time, I swore I would never be one of those crazy people whose every surface was covered with small contraptions of germinating sprouts gathering condensation under jury-rigged greenhouses. But if you want to move beyond Early Girl tomatoes and the slim pickings offered at your local garden center, or if you want to put veggies in the ground at any point other than when the large nurseries think you should, you’re going to end up starting your plants from seed. So now I am one of those crazy people and my husband is afraid the glow lights are going to attract the attention of the DEA.
But if the DEA busted through my door right now, their officers would find a small, but auspicious, flat of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and onion seeds waiting to sprout.
I cut one of my massive seed flats in half after realizing last year that I did not need, nor did I have the space for, 60 some-odd tomato plants.
It was heartbreaking to throw away those seedlings, but I learned a valuable lesson: most seeds will germinate, so plan accordingly.
For the spring I am sowing 8 broccoli, 8 cauliflower, 8 cabbages and a flat of onions. May not seem like much, but I am saving most of my garden space for beans, tomatoes and peppers — my “sure things.” For the fall, I will plant cole crops more heavily. It’s tough to get the cole crops to grow in the spring around here. Spring can be quite warm, last year we hit the mid-80s several times in April and it is consistently scorching by June.
So here is what I sowed — “Verdi” cauliflower , ”Di Ceccio” broccoli, ”Caraflex” cabbage and “Borettana” onions.
I also made my own capillary mat system out of a strip of fleece and an old salad container.
Now it’s onto the heating mat and next to the window. I’ll keep the seeds under tupperware until they sprout.
What can you do in the garden when the temps are in the high 30s, the days are short and wind sharp? On a lark, my youngest daughter and I pressed some fava beans into a raised bed a while ago. A while being maybe a month or six weeks ago. I didn’t have high hopes, it really was too late to be sowing seeds outdoors, but I couldn’t resist.
Well, here we are in early January with germination. That’s a baby fava sprout poking out of the soil.
Not sure it will amount to a hill of beans (sorry) or even be ready for harvest by mid-April, when I’ll need the space for tomatoes. If not, I’ll just cut the plants down and leave the nitrogen-fixing roots of this legume to enrich the soil. And next year I’ll start earlier.
The fava beans I used can be found here.
Around the corner from the pea bed, my Granny Smith Apple Sage is STILL in bloom. Unreal.
Then it was off to the front yard to dismember the Christmas tree. Let me back up, in Montgomery County, trees can be put on the curb to be picked up and turned into compost (which we can then buy back at about 5 or 6 bucks a bag). This is, in general, a good, but pricey, thing, as I use a lot of compost in my garden, way more than I could ever produce. So I knew if I put my tree out, it would end up in a good place, maybe even back in my garden. At the same time, I was in need of some mulch. And not just any mulch, but an airy organic mulch to protect my raspberry canes and strawberry plants from the heaving of the frost and thaw cycles we are experiencing. I wanted to use straw, but I didn’t want to spend the money. I happened to be looking at some old garden notes from a few years sgo where I mentioned mulching some new rose bushes through their first winter with evergreen boughs and *voila* I had an idea. I pulled the discarded Christmas tree from the curb and began clipping.
Here is my newly mulched strawberry bed:
And here is my newly mulched raspberry bed:
Cozy looking, huh? I loved doing this! I didn’t have to buy anything, and I didn’t have to change out of my gardening clothes and bundle the kiddos into the car to go buy straw at the garden center. Have you ever re-purposed yard trim around your garden?
It’s hard in the heart of winter to eat locally. How many turnip recipes do you have, or want? So why not drink locally? Maryland has some wonderful wineries, and Montgomery County is home to the award-winning wine makers at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.
Support local business and family farms, drink locally this holiday season!
Growing up on his dad’s farm, Robert Butz was surrounded by Montgomery County’s bounty. Peaches? Sure. Apples? You betcha. Corn, wheat, soy, Montgomery County had it. But nowhere in sight were grapes that might become a nice glass of Bordeaux or a crisp Chardonnay. Now that Butz is farming the land, he hopes to change that.
You can read more about Robert Butz and this issue in an article I wrote for Conservation Montgomery.
Holly berries? For the birds. Rotting persimmons? I’ll leave those to the squirrels. There’s not much going on in my garden right now, and certainly nothing warm and comforting. I don’t have a piping hot lasagna plant or a corn chowder vine. What I do have is Bok Choy. Also known as Pak Choi, or Bok Choi or maybe Pak Choy. I sowed some in my tomato bed in the early autumn, and by sowed I mean essentially dumped a seed packet into the bed. This is what it looked like in November, about a month after sowing:
On the other side I sowed buckwheat, but either the seed was bad, or it was just too darn cold for them to germinate. But on this side, the result of major oversowing has been several salads made of baby Bok Choy leaves, as I thin the plants. Well, yesterday I noticed that a few of the plants seem to be actually putting on some growth and needed a bit more thinning. Even though salad doesn’t always appeal when it’s chilly outside, I figured the fresh greens would do my immune system good. I took my scissors and a colander out to the front yard to get some lunch.
These baby greens are so good, they have a wonderful fresh bite lacking from lettuce. Of course, everything is better with prosciutto:
I am really bummed. I just got an order from Scheepers Kitchen Garden, which included ‘Cheddar’ cauliflower, a beautiful yellowy-orangish cauliflower, high in beta-carotene, which I was very excited to try.
I should have done my research before I ordered, because I just found it is a Monsanto seed. I just assumed that nothing at Scheepers would be Monsanto. I knew it was a hybrid, of course, I just did not know it was “owned” by Seminis/Monsanto.
I am tempted to send it back. I just really don’t want to grow any Monsanto seeds in my garden.
Any one else have thoughts?
I have added not one, not two, but three new raised beds to my yard! I am beyond excited. Here I am this morning putting the finishing touches on a 5′x3′ bed that will go in the front of the house. It took about 10 minutes to make, the big box store I went to cut the 2x8s down to size for me. I bought pressure-treated wood, so it was super cheap. They don’t treat wood with arsenic anymore, so no worries.
I plan to make this my corn box. I am fairly obsessed with the idea of growing some corn. A few years ago I grew a some Miro mini-corn. It was just as tall as regular corn, but with these mini husks. I stuck seeds here and there, and still most germinated. There was very little damage from pests and no interest from the birds, which surprised (and pleased) me. This year I will be much more systematic and I plan on planting either the hybrid Silver Choice or the OP heirloom Country Gentleman, which is a white shoepeg corn that looks wonderful. If anyone has any thoughts or experiences with these two, please let me know. I am also kind of interested in growing Strawberry Popcorn and Bloody Butcher at some point.
In the back, against the house, I have removed all the white alyssum and put two blue recycled plastic beds back there. Since the Silver Maple came down, that little spot has been flooded with light and sun and the heat reflecting off the white house makes it the perfect place to grow food. In between the two blue boxes, where I had a Cercis canadensis ‘Lavender Twist’, I planted a ‘Violette de Bordeaux’ fig. I am super excited. I plan to espalier it against the house.
This little spot has been through so much! It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago I was yanking out all the ivy.Then I planted a few hydrangeas until I decided that they were mismatched to the spot in terms of the size they were going to grow, not to mention there would be too much sun now that the Silver Maple was down, so I moved them to the edge of the backyard. Those particular hydrangeas have been moved more than four times each! I just couldn’t decide for a long time and I treated them wrong. I am sorry, hydrangeas, forgive me.
So early this year I moved the hydrangeas and was left with some dirt, in full sun.
That’s when I began my Moon Garden planting. Petunias and lot and lots of white alyssum seed. I also plopped the Lavender Twist in the middle. Poor guy, he’s been schlepped around the garden a few too many times as well. I can be very indecisive about plants. Here’s what it looked like in early May:
And here’s the sea of white in June:
By August, the alyssum had overtaken the petunias and the ox-eye daisies. This year they will be home to my tomatoes, probably only six this year, and my peppers. Only six tomatoes! This is going to be tough.
I will definitely be planting at least one, maybe two, Sungolds. These are my kids favorites. They fruit early, often and until frost. The kids pick them off the vines and eat them like candy. So that leaves me with five, or more likely four. Last year I grew Stupice — blech! What a waste of space, yeah it was early, but who cares? These are my candidates so far:
- Jaune Flamme
- Aunt Ruby’s German Green
- Aunt Gertie’s Gold
- Black Krim
- Hawaiian Currant (my kids love these)
- Amish Paste
Any thoughts, suggestions?
From ajuga blooms and grape hyacinths in the spring, through to the asters of the fall — there is always a way to get some purple into your garden.
I first saw Callicarpa americana at the National Zoo here in DC. I couldn’t believe that these boughs of purple colored berries were real. They looked so bright and shiny, so wildly inappropriate — I thought they had to be an exotic. But no, they are our very own, native to the southeast and tolerant of all kinds of conditions. They are a bit gangly, so keep them in the back, and they can handle quite a bit of shade. In the spring and summer they are really a nothing shrub, but in the fall they bust a move:
The berries are a food source for birds and small mammals. Rubbing crushed leaves on your skin may be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes. True. Read more here. I like to use them with cut flowers, they last a long time inside. See how the purple berries wrap themselves around the stem in a ring?
That is how you can differentiate them from their Japanese counterpart c. japonica, whose berries are held away from the branch on long stems