Maryland Grows

Spreading my roots

Yes, the time has come to move on….into bigger pots, that is. My little baby seedlings have matured quite a bit.

I had to transfer them to larger plant trays because they are just growing up so nicely!

When I was transferring my carrots, I noticed that the leaves on one of the plants had not completely released from the seed. It is in the shape of a perfect heart!

I see it as God’s way of telling me He loves me so much. It really touched my heart.

You’ll be happy to know that the seedlings are doing very well and growing just as they should. I am getting ready to begin my second planting of everything to extend my growing season throughout the summer.

Now that I am going to be selling at the Cheverly Community market, I want to be sure to have enough produce for my family and the market! Well, this is all for now garden gals and guys!

Until next time….happy gardening!

Chinese broccoli and other spring veggies

At our Montgomery County Master Gardener meeting yesterday, we had a great talk by Cindy Brown of Green Spring Gardens about unusual edibles. She brought some sample plants along and was generous enough to donate some of them to our demo garden. I look forward to planting them soon!

Some of the plants, like bunching onions and purple kohlrabi, I’d grown before, but here’s one that I haven’t tried: Chinese broccoli.

It’s another plant from the Brassica family, so related to regular broccoli, and to kale (it’s also sometimes called Chinese kale, as well as gai lun and other names). The stem, leaves and flower buds are all edible, and can be cut from the plant which will then continue to produce new side shoots. Chinese broccoli is grown from seed either early in the spring or in the summer for a fall crop, so maybe I’ll get some seed and look forward to a fall harvest.

Seed catalogs are a good source of information about edibles you’re trying for the first time, and you can also search on the Internet for both growing information and recipes. One regional source (meant for farmers in the U.S. Northeast) is World Crops, which sorts by continent and country of origin or use, and is searchable. A great local resource is the Asian vegetables series that Wendy of the Greenish Thumb blog is putting together about growing, buying and cooking vegetables frequently used in Asian cooking. Please pass on resources as you find them – we like information here at Grow It Eat It!

Cindy and her Green Spring garden are featured regularly on Adrian Higgins’ Washington Post blog about vegetable gardening (the “Groundwork” subsection of “All You Can Eat”). I liked this recent entry on kale – check out the soup recipe, too. We’ll be growing Nero di Toscana and Red Russian kale this spring in the demo garden, and then I’ll try some other kinds in the fall. Let’s hope the harlequin bugs stay away! I’ve also got some Jersey cow cabbage (also called walking stick kale) started and hope to grow it to a substantial height. If it works you will of course see photos.

Ba-a-a-aby plants

I love this time of year, both getting the garden ready outside when the weather cooperates, and spending hours inside getting seeds started, exclaiming in pleasant surprise when they actually germinate and grow, and just visiting with my baby plants. Have you got enough water? Too much? Are you close enough to the light? Is it time to put you in a bigger pot or give you some fertilizer?

Yes, I am one of those people who has trouble thinning seedlings. Why do you ask?

Here’s some of what’s taking up space in my laundry room and bathroom right now:

Basil seedlings, with the first true leaves just showing between the cotyledons. The differing shapes of each type of leaf never cease to amaze me.

Kale and Chinese cabbage seedlings, about ready to be hardened off outside; we should be able to plant them in the demo garden next week.

Sea kale (Crambe maritima), a perennial member of the Brassica family. I’m so glad I got it to germinate this year; the secret is removing the hard seed cover before planting. More on this plant later in the season!

Cosmos, because we need flowers in our vegetable garden too. There’s a striking difference between seed leaf and true leaf for you.

A fish pepper seedling, not yet showing variegation in leaf color.

Hey! Only cute baby PLANTS allowed here!

Winter Hardened Greens

Last September I planted some curly kale in a pot on my patio with the intention of getting a head start with seedlings in the spring. In early December I moved the pot up against a sunny south-facing house wall. Even the snow of the early February blizzard didn’t seem to harm the seedlings and by late February they were putting out additional leaves. In mid-March, I transplanted them to the garden and they are now thriving.

A surprise was the endive seedlings which also over-wintered in a container. I had expected they would be killed by frost, but in late November they were still alive. So I put that container near the house wall as well. In early March the endive seedlings were a bit ragged, but definitely still alive. I transplanted them into a sunny, south-facing raised bed on March 12 and they are also now putting out new leaves.

The world according to Mike McGrath

This past Saturday was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my garden career! I got to meet Mike McGrath, host of the national public radio show “You Bet Your Garden“. He lectured on the seven secrets to successful organic gardening. But if you are thinking “a lecture…how boring” you haven’t heard him speak. He is full of knowledge and makes you laugh–hard–while imparting his garden wisdom.

I was afraid to approach him for a picture, but I did it anyway and he was so very happy to oblige! His lecture confirmed some practices I was already using and gave me some tips for things I also need to add to my repertoire to enhance my organic practices. To sum it all up, use raised beds, feed your soil (I’m talkin‘ compost yaul), invite beneficial insects into your garden, birds are your friends, have something in constant bloom all the time, mulch against weeds, water wisely and (the most important tip) HAVE FUN!

Mike has two great books out. One is called You Bet Your Tomatoes and the other is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost. He autographed both books for me and even said I was “quite a tomato”….awww thanks, Mike, I’m blushing!

If you want more nuggets on each of these tips, leave a comment and I will be glad to share!

Until next time happy garden thoughts!!

Creative seed starting

Grow It Eat It has a new place for you to share your secrets of gardening success with the other members of the Network – it’s called Growing Great Gardens and you can read all about it and start sending your tips in right now!

This month’s topic is Creative Seed Starting.  So to get you thinking about what you start your seeds in, how you give the seedlings plenty of light and make sure they get to transplant size nice and strong, here’s a little photo essay on one way I reuse something sitting around my house.

I start with a plastic egg carton. 

This kind is very convenient because it has three sections and is all clear, but you can use styrofoam or (for one use) cardboard too, with plastic wrap to cover.

Next I cut the top off the carton:

The smooth top will form the drip tray.
Now to punch holes in one of the egg-holding sections:
I use a large needle such as a darning needle.
Then add moistened seed-starting mix to the cups with holes in them, plant your seeds, and position the trays one inside the other; there will be room for excess water to drip out.  The other half of the egg tray makes a convenient cover to conserve moisture until the seedlings sprout, but you could use plastic wrap instead. 
And a few days later: onion sprouts!  
Now, onions may not be the best thing to grow using this system, unless you can plant the seedlings outside later this month, which given the sodden soil conditions may not be possible.  But they sprouted quickly and showed how well this works.  Good uses for the Egg Carton Method include seedlings that you’ll be transplanting into larger containers when they are a bit bigger.  I have some peppers coming up in egg cartons right now – and some of those were from old seeds, which is another good use: if you don’t want to do a full germination test (with moistened paper towels and counting percentages of seeds germinated), or maybe you only have three seeds left to try with, you’re not wasting very much soil mix if the seed fails here.  And you can write the variety you’re growing right on the plastic egg-bump lid (though don’t forget when you take it off to stick it underneath or something, or you’ll lose your names!).

What seed-starting and seedling-growing methods work for you?  Send your tips in to Growing Great Gardens!  We look forward to hearing from you.

This year I’ll be on time

Last year I missed the boat. Not quite, but I could have done better.

2009 was my first year vegetable gardening on two raised 4-foot square beds and on another larger ornamental bed that I’d rescued from the weeds the year before. I’d intended that former weed bed to become a perennial asparagus bed, but I missed the deadline to plant the crowns.

(Actually, as I found out when I belatedly decided to get that bed’s soil tested, the pH was far too acidic for asparagus. As a result, even though I was late in transplanting tomato seedlings there, fortunately late blight was ALSO late arriving in my Washington County plot. Thus, humans and groundhogs enjoyed a plentiful tomato harvest.)

But that’s how it was… I kept missing planting deadlines all year. Including putting in a fall garden, because I didn’t realize that I had to start thinking about that in the middle of the summer! My most striking example of ill timing — which I left in the ground as an inspiration for 2010 — was my sunflowers. I sowed Mammoth sunflower seeds so late that I had only three days to enjoy the fully grown plants before autumn started to hit.

Those sunflowers taught me that seed packets truly contain useful information. Today’s date + Days to Germination + Days to Bloom = Plant Maturity Date. If that plant maturity date is due to happen after the first frost, we’re out of luck. (That seems obvious, but I had to actually experience it to truly register the lesson!)

So this year I’m paying VERY close attention to planting inside dates, to sowing outside dates, to transplanting dates, and to the information on seed packets. A good planting calendar is one of our most important gardening tools.

And it’s a free! Yesterday I found a very useful resource on a blog called “Little House in the Suburbs.” Their spring planting calendar is really cool, as well as their fall planting calendar and their herb calendar. (Don’t mind the 2009 date: you fill in the dates yourself based on your local frost dates.) And, if you’re more experienced than I with planning ahead, they also offer a really cool succession planting spreadsheet.

To find your spring frost dates in Maryland, visit this page at HGIC, and for fall frost dates, this one. Because I’m still a newbie gardener, in 2010 I’ll be sticking with the 10% dates… at least until I become well versed in the art of protecting my seedlings from frost.