Back in March, I hired a landscaper to make me a garden. He did this by scraping up the barkdust in the “back 40″ and dumping a load of mushroom compost soil. He said I didn’t need raised beds because the plot had the right drainage profile. He also modified the sprinklers so they would water the garden bed, and installed sprinklers for each of my hanging baskets. The plot of soil looked like a large grave.
I started sprouting tomatoes, peppers, and other plants from seed at the end of March. I wasn’t aware that the real last-frost date here is really May 15, or Mother’s Day at a minimum. So informed, I’ve been sprouting and sprouting but can’t say I’ve ended up with good looking plants. I have already decided not to go this route for 2010. I shall instead just buy plant starts at the farmers markets and other plant sales.
I have been planting the lettuce starts for the past three weeks and eating some of the results. I put them in the front of the garden for easy access. I then have a long row of tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and peas. I’ll have to install netting for them to climb onto. Meanwhile, I have planted seeds for carrots and onions and plan to add in beets and others. Those were failures in the sprouting-indoors experiment.
I also plan to plant dahlias to bloom alongside the garden, and hide it a bit from the living room windows. But planting all of the garden was so exhausting that I’m delaying that till next weekend.
I visited The Garden Corner nursery in Tualatin to look for hanging baskets to mimic the ones Rich loves from Switzerland. The problem is that I don’t know for sure what flowers they use. My photos of the Hotel Gletschergarden don’t resolve the mystery. So instead I searched for near matches. With the help of one of the staff, I decided on making up my baskets with a mix of orange and pink geraniums, verbena, and petunias. Those should give me blooms at three levels, and I think Rich was really after the color combination more than anything else.
I made up my baskets, hung them, watered them, and sat back with wine and cheese for dinner. Ah, the good life.
On my way to and from my walk this weekend, I stopped in at two farmers markets I hadn’t yet sampled. The Parkrose Farmers Market is actually quite convenient from my side of Vancouver, just south of Airport Way near 122nd. It was opening day and they were giving out shopping bags and door prizes. At this point in the season, it’s a small market. I bought mustard greens, potatoes and onions at a produce stall and bagels from Gabriel’s Bakery. They have food vendors, plants, arts and crafts and an entertainment booth.
On my way back from the walk at Mount Hood Community College, I stopped by the Troutdale Farmers Market. Now, this one was truly tiny, just four tables. But they had exactly what I wanted, farm eggs and salad greens and some fingerling potatoes. It was a good stop.
On Sunday I stopped at the Vancouver Farmers Market and bought another 12 lettuce starts. The lettuce starts I planted three weeks ago are really going to town. The lettuce I planted in my planters is starting to take hold, but the most recent starts I made indoors are wimpy. I transplanted all of the my starts except the tomatoes, but I fear they are all anemic failures. I have good hopes for the tomatoes and pepper, which I will transplant in two weeks. I planted seeds for carrots and onions outdoors right before a big thunderstorm squall came through. I hope it didn’t wash them all away! I am thinking that next year I will plant seeds outdoors and buy starts for tomatoes, peppers, etc. rather than trying to sprout them inside. I just don’t have the right light, etc.
As my seedlings are sprouting away in the master bathroom, I called Mom to ask for gardening advice. My plot of soil arrived last week and I was eager to know when to transplant my seedlings. “You’ll have to call your brother,” she said. Why? “I always just bought the plants,” she said, “But he starts them from seeds.” Well, when do I plant the plants? “Late May.” Dad chimed in, “May 15,” and Mom agreed.
Yikes! Another 45 days without being able to use my jet tub? I have to trust my parents, we always had a great garden bursting with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn and cukes. But all of those seed packets led me astray with their talk about starting the plants weeks before the Last Frost date (March 23) and implying you should get them into the ground soon thereafter.
“Peas,” said Mom, “I think people are planting peas now.” For some reason, our family almost never planted peas, although Mom loves fresh peas.
In response, I bought lettuce starts at the Vancouver Farmers Market and took them out to my new garden plot. Lettuce doesn’t mind the cold. I have some sprouting in the bathroom, and I planted spinach and lettuce seeds in my containers. The containers are slowly sprouting. I planted the lettuce starts and impulsively planted three of my collard sprouts. We shall see if they all survive. I also planted some peas in the area where I’ll be putting up the support net for the tomatoes and peppers.
It makes sense that Mom bought plant starts rather then sprouting seeds. Our family home doesn’t have a good sunny room for sprouting seedlings.
It’s the first day of Spring, National Agriculture Day, and the Great American Meatout Day. I have about 200 seedlings growing around my bathtub. I had to take the sprouted plugs out of the Jiffy Greenhouse because the shoots were too tall, while some later-germinating types such as the peppers have yet to sprout. Not bad for five days on the farm!
Life on the farm is good. I called the landscaper and my garden plot should be installed early next week. It will be another couple of weeks before these guys are ready to plant. Meanwhile, the lettuce seeds I planted outside in planters show no signs of sprouting. But those planters also seem to be tilled by the squirrels as they bury the peanuts a neighbor gives them. I don’t know what this bodes for the garden.
The First Family is following in my footsteps and Michelle Obama broke ground on a kitchen garden at the White House today. Is she sprouting her seeds, too? I suppose they have some federal greenhouse that provides the landscaping plants for around the White House. I am preparing my garden plot the lazy way, by having a local small business install it and the sprinklers. That’s my local stimulation plan! Seeing Michelle with a shovel makes me think I really need to read about Back Safe Gardening. My plot doesn’t have any grass to dig up, and our soil is mostly a pile of rocks and gravel. So I’m having all of the good soil delivered and mounded on top.
Two days after planting my seeds, I have beet sprouts and collard sprouts! I really love the Jiffy Greenhouses. They are reusable and have almost no mess. I did all of the planting in my kitchen and they are incubating in my bathroom. Once I’ve sprouted and transplanted my seedlings, I can buy more seed starting disks at any local garden center and start the next round. This will be especially useful for crops like lettuce where you need to replant every few weeks.
My freezer is almost devoid of last autumn’s bounty. Tonight I use my last batch of slow roasted tomatoes for a puree to top baked parmesan chicken breasts. I’ll have only a bag of whole frozen tomatoes I plan to use in soup and chili, a few cubes of pesto and some forgotten frozen garlic tips I should use in soup.
The Vancouver Farmers Market starts up again this weekend – and none too soon!
I stopped by the garden center yesterday and browsed the seeds (50% off at Fred Meyer!). I bought a sack of potting soil as I was intending to start my seeds in egg cartons. But after inspecting the Jiffy Greenhouse Kit
display, I splurged on a 36-plant tomato version and a 72-plant regular version. I also bought The Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book by Barbara W. Ellis. I took my treasures home and started reading.
The book is super easy to read and very easy to understand – I didn’t need “Gardening for Dummies” after all. I read the pages about starting seeds and checked the Old Farmer’s Almanac frost chart for Portland and realized that I needed to get started now! My grandparents and parents always consulted the Old Farmer’s Almanac for farming and gardening advice. Grandpa had a farm and everyone in our family had a big, successful garden. I guess I need to buy that next!
I started planting the seeds and realized I didn’t want to go overboard with tomatoes, as I get some from my CSA subscription. But I also wanted plenty to roast and freeze or make into sauce and freeze for the winter. I planted at least 8 Romas for freezing and paste, at least 5 Early Girls for slicing (and hopefully for earlier maturing), and four cherry tomatoes. I also planted green peppers and jalapenos. But I didn’t want to go overboard with them and had a row left. I decided to plant the beets there.
The Jiffy Greenhouse has little disks of peat moss wrapped in netting. You add water to the base and they soak up the water and expand. Then you fluff up the top of each disk (now a tube) and plant 2-3 seeds per disk. You cover it with the clear plastic dome and let them sprout. Once they have sprouted, you prop open the top and put them in a sunnier location till they are big enough to transplant. I found an online review that had helpful hints such as transferring the sprouted disks to a clear plastic cup as some will sprout sooner than others.
I shall get to work with the 72-plant greenhouse next. I have beets, beet greens, collards, carrots, sweet onions, onions, lettuce, and basil to plant. I couldn’t find my old seed packets for mesclun mix, cilantro, or chard. I’ll have to pick those up before I start sprouting more in the 72 pack.
The Veggie Gardener’s book recommends growing things you can’t easily buy in the store. For me, that means things I don’t get from my CSA in enough quantity for my needs, or only get rarely. All of the seeds except for the tomatoes are things I don’t get enough of from the CSA. I didn’t get seeds for cucumbers or squash or green onions or radishes – I get plenty of those from the CSA.
I look forward to seeing my babies sprout!