Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Seedlings, Daffodils and Ducks

Seedlings, Daffodils and Ducks

Ducks on Pond
Ducks on Pond
The snow is barely off the ground and the garden season is already well under way at Abe's Beer Garden. I have planted the third spring crop of spring lettuce and transplanted the second. The first is growing in pots in the greenhouse, ready for planting in a week or so. The snowdrops have faded, the crocuses are finishing up and the first of the daffodils are brightening the garden. In the garden, the fall planted onion sets are poking their green tips through the ground. And, occasionally, a family of mallard ducks visits the pond, entertaining us with their swimming.

Yellow Daffodils
Yellow Daffodils
The daffodils are a little behind schedule this year, due to the lingering cold weather and snow. These
miniatures are always the first to bloom. The main show comes in a week or so when the hundreds of bulbs begin their display. We have a number if varieties planted, some early, midseason and late ones, so the bloom season lasts for several weeks.

Lettuce Plants in the Greenhouse
Lettuce Plants in the Greenhouse
On Sunday, March 22, I planted more lettuce, the third and possibly the final crop. I plant several varieties of lettuce, each with a different maturity date. This provides us with a nice flow of different types and colors of lettuce for salads throughout the spring and into early summer. The mix includes leaf, butterhead and romaine head lettuce. The varieties include:
Little Gem - Romaine - 22 Days
Indiana Amish - Butterhead - 40 Days
Midnight Ruffles - Loose-leaf - 45 Days
Prizehead - Reddish bronze Looseleaf - 50 Days
Black Seeded Simpson - Looseleaf - 50 Days
Nevada - Batavia - 48 Days
Royal Red - Red Looseleaf - 50 Days
Grand Rapids - Green Looseleaf - 45 Days
Buttercrunch - Butterhead - 60 Days
Red Velvet - Red Looseleaf - 55 Days
Slowbolt - Looseleaf - 54 Days
Matina - Butterhead - 65 Days
Eiffel Tower - Romaine - 65 Days
Red Romaine - Romaine - 55 Days
Paris Island - Romaine - 70 Days
Speckles - Amish Heirloom Open Pollinated - 50 Days
I never plant more than three seeds of each in seed pots under the plant lights. These usually germinate in four to seven days and I transplant them about fourteen days after seeding. I transplant them into the recycled toilet paper pots and place in the unheated garden greenhouse. Usually four to six weeks after transplanting they are ready to set out, pot and all. The pot disintegrates into the soil. Looseleaf lettuces may be harvested more than once. If cut off at ground level, the plants will re-sprout, giving the gardener two to three crops from one planting. I also planted some lettuce seed last fall in the greenhouse. Most of this over wintered in the unheated greenhouse and should be ready for harvest by mid April. One experiment from last year I am starting to test is lettuce seed. I harvested seed from the lettuce plants that went to seed. Since I try to label the plants when I plant them, I had a good idea of what I harvested. I ran out of commercial seed of Speckles, an Amish heirloom variety, and planted some of it. We will see.
I also planted tomato seed under the lights. The varieties I planted were:
Burbank Slicing - Heirloom 75 Days
Livingstone’s Grape 80 Days
Glacier Extra Early - 55 Days
Brandywine Heirloom - 85 Days
Better Bush - 80 Days
Note the heirloom varieties. I am experimenting with saving my own seed from open pollinated varieties. With the rising cost of seed and the desire for a bit of self-reliance, I am beginning to shun the hybrids. I have one inadvertent experiment that will probably fail. Some tomato plants that were volunteers that came up in some worm compost I used for potting soil. These grew nicely all winter in the sunroom. I transplanted them on Sunday and put them in the greenhouse. Because it was threatening to frost that night, I put a small electric heater in there. I forgot to turn the heater on. Most of those plants were about ten to twelve inches tall and some were blooming. They look like they all froze. I cut them off, hoping they might re-sprout, but I think they are lost.
Other Crops under the Lights
Sweet Potato Cuttings Rooting
Sweet Potato Cuttings Rooting
The green pepper plants, sowed in mid February, are still germinating. Some are up and doing fine. I planted some eggplant seed, also. I also took some cuttings from some sweet potato plants that I over wintered in the sunroom. This variety is one called Vardeman. I like it because it has short vines and the orange potatoes get big and have good flavor. I save these plants from year to year by taking cuttings before I dig the sweet potatoes in the fall and root them indoors.
In the Greenhouse
The transplanted seedlings are growing great in the toilet paper pots. These three flats contain about 150 seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, tomato, mescaline mix. In a few weeks they will slip right into the garden.
Seedling Flats - Cabbage, Lettuce, Mescaline
Seedling Flats - Cabbage, Lettuce, Mescaline
It looks like the early carrots planted in early March have failed. One or two of the seeds have sprouted, but most appear to have not. I will leave them another two weeks before replanting. The ground was still frozen a half inch down when I planted them and they may just be taking extra time. I did plant more. The varieties I am planting right now are Chatenay and Little Finger. Also in the ground went radish, spinach, chard and some more onion seed. The onion seed planted three weeks ago is just beginning to sprout. The Sweet and Mild Mescaline mixes are sprouted and growing well, as are the radishes. The beets from early March are imitating the carrots. I did plant some more.
Sweet, Mild, Mescaline and Germinating Onion Seed
Sweet, Mild, Mescaline and Germinating Onion Seed
In the Garden
There is not much going on out there, yet. I did plant some Early Frosty Peas and some Sugar Snaps. So far, the garden season is going just fine.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Crocus vernus

March 18, 2015 - Crocus vernus
Crocus vernus
Crocus vernus

The bright blooms of the crocus are usually the second flowers to appear in Abe's Beer Garden, bringing welcome color to the drabness of early spring. These early blooming members of the Iris family prefer full sun and a cold climate. They require about twelve to fifteen weeks of cold temperature, ranging from at least thirty-five degrees to forty-five degrees Fahrenheit to set the flower buds. They do best in USDA Zones 3 - 8. They like full sun to part shade.

Crocus vernus
Crocus vernus
Crocus bloom early and then go dormant for the rest of the year, though in the fall they will sometimes send up some green spiky leaves. If you wish to divide the crocus, then mark their location in the spring and dig them after they disappear in summer. Allow the corms to dry in a warm, dry place. After a week or so store in a mesh bag or similar container until fall. Plant the bulbs in the fall and they will return year after year to spread some bright beauty in the early spring garden.

Crocus vernus
Crocus vernus
There are varieties that bloom in the autumn. Their culture is similar to the spring blooming crocus. Plant them in the fall, just like spring crocus. The plants will sprout and bloom in just a few weeks.

Crocus flowers are a source for the spice saffron. To harvest your own saffron, remove the red stigma at the center of the flower. You may use the spicy stigmas right away or spread them out to dry for a few days, then pack them in an air tight container and store in a cool, dry place.

© Mossy Feet Books 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Biodegradable Seedling Pots - Building the Toilet Paper Roll Cutter


Looking for a biodegradable pot to use for seedlings in the spring I happened on the lowly toilet paper roll. It is essentially free and will  degrade in the soil once planted. All I needed was a way to cut the pots down to size. I designed the toilet paper tube cutter to cut the tubes in half so they could be used as seedling pots.

Base piece - 3 1/4" Wide x 11" Long X 1/2" thick
Blade holder 1 1/2" X 1 1/2" x 8"
Tube guide 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 5 3/4"
4 1 1/4 wood screws
Single edge razor
1" round head screw
Small washer to fit screw

Saw - hand or electric
Tape Measure
Center punch
Hammer or mallet

Step 1 - Cut the three pieces of wood to size.

Step 2 - Position the blade holder on the base piece flush with one edge of the base and two inches from one end of the base. Mark with dark pencil the position of the blade holder on the base. Leave in place for now.

Step 3 -
Position the guide block alongside the blade holder. The edge of the guide block should be four inches from the end of the base. Mark it's position with a dark pencil.

Step 4
Remove the blocks. Mark four holes as indicated on the base piece drawing making sure that they are centered in the center of the marks you made for each the guide and blade holder blocks.

Step 5
Center punch the marks, then drill four holes.

Step 6
Countersink the holes

Step 7
Screw the blocks on the base piece.

Step 8
Mark the hole for the razor blade. It should be centered horizontally, about 1/2 inch from the top of the guide vertically. Center punch and drill the hole. Put the small washer over the screw and screw the razor blade in place. Position as shown. Be careful, that blade is sharp.

You are ready to cut toilet paper tubes.

First Flower of Spring - Snowdrops

Galanthus sp.
The snow drop is always the first flower to emerge in the spring here in my southeastern Indiana garden, the pure white blossoms sometimes pushing through a light layer of snow. A native of the Pyrenees Mountains and other areas of Europe, this perennial spring-flowering bulb likes full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, humus-rich soils that are well-drained and will grow six to eight inches tall. There are several species and many named cultivars of this pretty plant.

Plant the bulb in the fall about two to three inches deep. It should flower the following spring. If happy Snowdrops will both multiply its bulbs and self seed. To propagate dig the bulbs after the plant has finished blooming and goes dormant. Store the bulb in a dry, cool place until autumn, then plant in the garden.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - First Seedlings in the Greenhouse

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The doors that were on the workbench on Saturday, February 28 I finished up on Saturday, March 7. Covered with plastic and moved to the greenhouse the greenhouse in a greenhouse was ready for business. It is not a moment too soon, because the seeds planted on February 22 have all sprouted and it is time to transplant them.

I spent Sunday morning, transplanting lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi and some radicchio seedlings.  Then I moved them to the greenhouse. I transplanted the seedlings into recycled toilet paper tubes that I have cut down into pots. I used these last year and they work great, the biggest problem is that I tend to run out of toilet paper tubes. For information about making the cutter, see the Building and Using the Toilet Paper Tube Cutter post and video on this blog.

I plan to use the garden greenhouse to raise the seedlings, as one of the beds is empty.

After moving the seedlings to the greenhouse and covering with the new lids, I weeded the other bed and cleaned it up. It has been quite cold out and snow still covers the four beds outside. In the greenhouse all the snow has melted. The ground in the bed I plan to plant is still frozen about a half inch down. I worked some worm compost into the soil that the worms in my worm farm have made from kitchen scraps and other organic matter I fed them.

After transplanting the seedlings, it was time to plant more seeds. In the greenhouse, I planted carrots, beets, spinach, radish two mescaline mixes and onion seed. There are five different kinds of onion seed, white, red, yellow, Walla Walla and Copra. The seeds should germinate quickly. I will transplant the seedlings out into the garden and by mid summer, they should grow into nice onions for cooking. Under the lights, I planted more lettuce. I plant about eight or nine different kinds of leaf lettuce with different maturity dates. I don't plant many of each kind, just three or four seeds. The resulting mix will give us plenty of nice salads for the table.

In addition to lettuce, I planted some Late Flat Dutch Cabbage and more broccoli and Kohlrabi. I had a Stevia plant go to seed last summer. I planted some of that seed to see if it will germinate. We will see.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Snow on Abe's Beer Garden

By early March the green spiky leaves of the hyacinth and other spring flowering bulbs have poked up through the leaf mulch. But this year the snow lays in a thick blanket over the garden, with more snow on the way. Temperatures as low as zero are expected before a warm-up beginning this weekend. The barely visible vegetable garden beds also sport a thick layer of snow. The garden greenhouse has snow piled around the base. Inside, under a tunnel of plastic some of the lettuce plants have survived.

Garden Greenhouse
Currently on the workbench, I have some doors cut and ready for assembly that will cover the two beds inside the greenhouse. I will write more on this project next week. One bed I will use to plant the lettuce and other greens that have sprouted under the lights. The other bed I want to use to raise tomato, pepper and other seedlings. This small greenhouse will not need much supplemental heat. A small electric heater should provide an ideal environment for these seedlings to turn into food for our table.

Activity at the Bird Feeder
As might be expected, the bird feeder in Abe's Beer Garden has been quite busy. A steady parade of Blue Jays, Rufus Sided Towhees, Downy Woodpeckers and other birds stop by to feast on the offering of black sunflower seed. They birds appear happy with this high nutrient food that supplements their diet. With the heavy snow covering the ground, their normal diet of wild seeds is unavailable.

By next week, the warmer temperatures will begin to melt the snow. By the last of the month, Abe's Beer Garden should have with a nice, bright carpet of daffodils and hyacinths. It will be a welcome relief from the snow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Garden Season Begins - First Seeds Planted

The beginning of the garden season commenced Sunday, February 22 in Abe's Beer Garden. I planted several different types of vegetables under the homemade plant light unit in the garage. The grow light unit is really a two-purpose unit. Below I have a flow through worm composter that converts kitchen waste into potting soil and compost for the garden. Above the composter is a double light unit that I can germinate seedlings. After germination, I can grow them to transplant size, at which time I move them to the outdoor greenhouse for further growing. I have installed a small electric heating unit to keep the worms from freezing. The heat from this unit will keep the worms alive and active and provide bottom heat to germinate seeds.

Mid to late February here in USDA Zone 6 is the time to plant the first cabbage, lettuce and green pepper seeds and that is the mission today. After filling bedding packs with potting soil, I use my dibble to poke small depressions in the soil. Then, using a home made hand seeder; I drop the seeds one at a time into the depressions. After labeling them, I cover them with a thin layer of fine sphagnum peat moss and mist well. Then I place the bedding pack in a no hole flat and put the flat under the lights. In about a week, the first of the seedlings should have germinated and the vegetable season at Abe's Beer Garden is under way.

© Abe's Beer Garden 2015