Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Seedlings

Spring is springing up in the garden-- my first set of seedlings, the baby bok choi "Green Fortune" are up.  Since this picture was taken a week ago, something has been nibbling them, and they are quite raggedy.  I will seed another set tomorrow or Friday.    Just above the bok choi, out of the picture, my cilantro has started to sprout and show the first true leaves as well.  

I planted my indoor eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers on March 5th, and by March 12th I had all of my tomatoes up.  There's a heat mat under the containers which is speeding germination.   In the 3 days since the first sprouting, some eggplants and peppers have come up too. 

The tomatoes have spread our their cotyledon leaves and you can see the nubs of the first set of true leaves at the apical meristem. That's a great sign that I have the light at the right height. If the light was too far away, the seedlings would grow tall stems first in an attempt to get more light. The stems would be weak and spindly and the seedlings would probably fall over and fail. But instead all is well.

The lights in question are a pair of full spectrum fluorescent tubes in a white reflective hood.  I'm following the suggested spacing for fluorescent lights (via the Upstart Farmer's blog).  The plant stand has a pair of rails on each side, allowing me to adjust the lights as the seedlings grow upward.

I'm growing duplicates of some things, in case there are accidents or the germination rate was not good.  I'll share seedlings with gardener friends, there are always homes for wayward seedlings!  The light stand has two levels, and in a week or two I'll start my squashes and cucumbers on the bottom shelf under the other light hood.  They get to transplanting size much faster than the tomatoes and peppers, so I start them later.   If the chard I sowed last week outdoors hasn't sprouted by then, I'll start some chard too.  It's always good to have a backup plan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Three Sisters by the Square Foot

In my old space in the Charles Street Gardens community garden in Sunnyvale, I grew corn, beans, and squash in the Native American "three sisters" style.   Hills of corn are also planted with beans that vine up the corn stalks, and squashes ramble between the hills.  I'm not positive my backyard here gets enough sun for corn, but I'm going to give it a try.  I'm gardening by the square foot method, so I'll do three 2'x2' squares of corn.  That should give me good pollination, on a per square basis, so that I can stagger the plantings to spread the harvest out over the summer.  While I say "week" in my garden plan, I'll probably use 10 days as my spacing.

I'm planting "Painted Mountain", a corn developed from multiple Native American corn strains.  It can be roasted or steamed fresh, though it is not as sweet as the modern supersweet corns.  The real fun is that it can be dried to grind for flour.  I have a KitchenAid grinder attachment that can handle corn and beans, and I hope to get enough corn to at least bake a batch of cornbread from the corn flour.  

While the squashes I am planting in the three sisters garden are heirlooms, they are not Native American, rather they are compact Japanese squashes.  To make up for that, I'm making sure to use heirloom Native American beans-- "Hidatsa Shield", "Repokob" (also known as Tiger Eye), and "True Red Cranberry".  For the latter two, I'll be planting with seed saved from previous plantings of these beans, from my earlier three sisters garden.  That feels like tradition!

My biggest worry is about the raccoons who visit our yard every year to feast on our fig trees. Raccoons and corn are not a good combination-- at least not for the gardener.  When I grew "Mandan Red" corn in the community garden, I didn't have raccoon or squirrel problems, while folks growing sweet corn in nearby beds had issues.  Here in my backyard where it will be the only corn to choose from, well, I just hope that it's not as appetizing as sweet corn.  I've read that if you have a small corn harvest, you can wrap duct tape around each ear from the tip to the corn stalk.  Raccoons pull down on the corn to break it off the stalk, and are allegedly not strong enough to break the stalk.  We'll have to find out if it comes to that.  I might try covering the corn with netting too, though that's got its own problems.