Monday, March 24, 2014

Seed Starting 2014

It is officially spring now. The days are growing longer and the sun is definitely stronger and higher in the sky. A boy’s thoughts are supposed to turn to starting seeds, forgetting the winter that would not end. I have already started my onions and the seedlings are doing great. While I still felt like hibernating, this week I did get my tomato and pepper seeds planted.




I am starting the tomatoes separate from the peppers because the peppers take so long to germinate. I used 3/4” soil blocks for the tomatoes and will plant up to 2” soil blocks when they get some true leaves.. This year I am using a bag of McEnroe’s Organic Potting Soil I saved from last year to make the blocks. Compared to Johnny’s 512, it is much finer and has fewer twigs and rocks to pick out. I added some horticultural grade vermiculite, since it is lacking that. I covered the seeds in the dibbles with some UltraSorb, described later, and put the tray on the heat mat.


For the peppers and eggplant seeds, I decided to pre-germinate them in a medium and transplant them to 1 1/2” soil blocks when they get some true leaves. The medium I am using is UltraSorb, a product from Moltan and sold by Autozone stores in the US as an oil absorbent for garage floors. UltraSorb is granular diatomaceous earth, not at all like food grade DE or the powdered DEs used in swimming pool filters. It is very popular and extensively discussed on the Tomatoville forum, where it gets rave reviews.




To hold the UltraSorb, I used a Styrofoam egg carton with slits cut in the bottom for drainage. The idea is to provide enough opening to drain (and bottom water) the tray without allowing the UltraSorb to leak out. I used a razor knife to cut the slits, but found I needed a few direct holes in the bottom (made with a toothpick).




I used a Sharpie to mark each cell with the pepper variety. Each cell was filled with UltraSorb and moistened with water. I then used a pencil as a dibble to make planting holes, planted the seeds, and covered with a little extra UltraSorb. If you want to try using UltraSorb, make sure you get the product by that name manufactured by Moltan. AutoZone sells another absorbent that is made from calcined clay and it’s pH isn’t suitable for seed starting.




With that done, next step is to get some of the brassicas going, broccoli, kale and collards, and then the lettuces. This year I am also going to start the kohlrabi seedlings indoor rather than direct sow. I keep forgetting they are not a root vegetable. Indoors at least, spring is happening. Outdoors, a lot of snow has melted but we are still getting single digit nighttime temperatures. Everyone around here is tired of winter and can’t wait for warmer weather.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

February Gardening in New England 2014



This was gardening in New England in February, 2014.  This is the path to the compost bin where I walked in my slippers every morning, risking frostbite, to deposit the kitchen scraps in the compost bin. Gardening is all about optimism, the belief that the future holds promise, that this frozen mess will eventually thaw and the compost bin will heat up and yield some black gold to enrich my (now frozen) garden beds. We hope, we trust, we pray to our gods, but just realize, summer does not always come.


My maternal grandmother, Eva Weinert Thess,  came to the US from Hungary in 1905. Her ancestors were ethnic Germans who emigrated to the Batschka in the eighteenth century after several years of unending winter in the Rhine river valley. Valentin Weinert arrived in Tschonopel about 1786 with his first wife, Anna Catharina Schinck. None of their children born in their native village of Niederburg came with them, so it is assumed they died of starvation before the Weinerts emigrated to Hungary. If Valentin had not chosen to make that long but optimistic journey to a better land, I would not be posting here.


OK, OK, summer is definitely coming this year, I promise. It is now March and Daylight Savings Time has arrived. The sun is much stronger and there is still daylight when I drive home from work. The snow is melting. The oil truck finally made it up the driveway so we have heating oil. And the onion seedlings have sprouted under the grow lights. I have my seeds in hand and the 2014 gardening season has begun!



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