Thursday, January 21, 2016

January Garden Stuff, 2016

Well, it's late January and time to start the early processes that are the building blocks of a successful spring and summer garden.  Notice I say "the building blocks".  There is no guarantee I'll get a dang thing out of my garden, but if I don't, I will have had something to do during these bleak winter months and will have gotten some exercise.  Maybe learned a few things in the process.

One of these processes is Wintersowing.  I know I repeat myself sometimes (often) on the blog and I noticed I hadn't set up a label for Wintersowing so I did that today, and went back and flagged some of the past years posts, so that if anyone wanted to, they could just scroll down to the Labels section and pull them up.  The problem with my posts is that they tend to contain a little bit of everything since that's how I live my life.  And when I talk face-to-face with people, that's how the conversation goes.  I'm usually not organized enough to have a post on one topic.  Sorry, if that's what you're looking for, you're in the wrong place.  Really, if you want to know everything there is to know about Wintersowing, just go to 

It's funny how searches work.  I did a search on my own blog for Wintersowing and only got 4 hits.  But then I did a search on "milk jugs" and got 17.  Heh.

I use my woodburning toolkit to prepare the plastic milk jugs that I've been saving since early fall.

I usually burn two little round holes for drainage in the bottom of the jug, within the inset part so there's space for holding water.  Seems like it all runs right through the jug and doesn't get absorbed, otherwise.

With the knife blade, I cut the flap.  I usually draw a cutting line on each jug, though I don't always follow it exactly.  Could just freehand it but it seems easier, this way.

I went to the garage and mixed a batch of seedling soil.  I mix equal parts compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.  This year I will have to go half on the vermiculite because I didn't buy any up ahead of time, and all I have is a bag and a half left from last year that will have to last till Lowe's will let shoppers into the garden center part of the store again.  The compost was made from weeds in the garden that took a year to decompose, then I sifted it through a screen Hubs made me.  It's a wooden frame of left-over pieces of 2x4 lumber, with hardware cloth stapled around one side.  The post where I showed all that is HERE.  I always bake my compost for an hour at 350ºF to kill weed seeds and insect eggs.  When I mix the three components together, I add a good amount of water.  And then I go back every day for a couple of days and stir it around, add more water if it looks like it needs it.  It's better to have it damp beforehand because it packs better into seedling cups or wintersowing containers.  I've found when it's kept dry and not watered till it has seeds planted in it, either the water drains immediately out without being absorbed, or the peat and all the seeds float to the top and I don't get good germination because that top layer stays dry.  Before I scoop out anything, I give it a good stir, and this more evenly blends the peat moss into the other two components.  Peat moss will hold moisture once it absorbs it, but it wants to float on top at first.  And it will do it later on if it ever dries out completely.  Been there, done that.
Then I cut some squares of newspaper to put in the bottom of the jugs so the fine pieces of dirt and peat moss will not drool out with the water that drains.  Peat moss is not as good a choice as coconut coir, I'm told, but I'd have to order that, and pay a lot more for it.  Don't get me started on how my local merchants don't keep up with the trends, you've been there with me before.  Maaaaaany times.

I have 18 jugs to start with. 

Last year my son and his wife tilled up part of their yard and made a garden.  Her youngest child, a first-grader, wanted to have one, and I didn't ask any questions or give them any advice.  I'm feeling my way along, being a Mother-In-Law.  My first DIL took an instant disliking for me, not sure why, except that she was very close to her own parents.  I have to admit I watched her chase my son and I thought that was unattractive.  I thought I didn't show it but I'm told I'm not very good at not showing my true feelings.  But she ended up betraying my son's trust and hurting him to the core.  So there ya go.  I like this new wife he has, I think she's the answer to my prayers, in fact.  But she holds herself off from me and I find myself not knowing how to behave around her.  Especially since I'm not very good about behaving, anyway.  I'm a hugger and my son tells me that invades her space.  But, anyway, I know how most kids are about losing interest.  So I figured the garden would either fail, or my son would do most of the work.  They came over one day and announced they had so many squash they were giving them away to neighbors, and I admit to being a little jealous of their neighbors, and that's not only because of the squash harvest.  They didn't offer ME any, I s'pose they weren't aware I'd lost all mine.  I haven't been able to keep a squash plant alive long enough to make anything edible since I've been gardening out here.  Last year, I had luck with Cucuzzi, but even it had some minor cosmetic damage due to some kind of little flying bug that just seemed to like to sit on them and bask in the sun.  I think they were Cucumber Beetles.  So I decided, this year is going to be THE ONE.  Turns out, probably the reason why they had such good luck is that the moth that lays the eggs just didn't find them yet, and mine are probably wintering over every winter, especially since we didn't till at all.  HERE is a Mother Earth News article about how to keep borers from killing squash plants.  HERE is an Organic Gardening News article that shows what the moth looks like that lays the eggs that start all this in motion. 

On Saturday I scattered poppy seed.  That's all that's required for poppies.  I think it's wise to sow enough seed to allow for the birds eating some of it, usually there's enough seed from the previous year to do that.  I didn't know that there were several different colors of breadseed poppies for many years, I thought the purple flower was all there was.  This is what delights me so about the Internet and the connections it gives me to other people.  I am so grateful for the exchange of experiences and knowledge that I have enjoyed over the past ten or so years.  I have learned so much out of the generosity of others, and I hope I will always be able to pass that on.  Many of the things I grow, year after year, came to me as seed or plants exchanged through the mail with people I have come to know through blogs and e-mails.  I feel very close to some of these people (you know who you are).  Now and then I actually get to meet some of them face-to-face and that's always a treat.  In the spring, when I walk around the grounds of my home and see the plants as they begin to poke their heads up through the ground, and/or as they come into bloom, it makes me smile.  Not only because of the joy of new growth and the eye-candy that it promises, but because it reminds me of these dear people who have given so freely of themselves. 

Last year I tried to keep the poppy colors separated when I gathered the seed, and this time I planted the different colors in different places.  I really prefer to have them all in the same place, but when it rains the seeds tend to float into all the low places and the seedlings come up so thickly that they have to be thinned out, and that's before you know what colors they're going to be.  I tried, last year, waiting till they bloomed and then thinning, but the plants just didn't do as well as they do if you thin them early. 

Four more jugs to the Wintersowing project.  Zita Fino Fennel, Cleome Queen Mix, Sunrise Lupine, Liatris. 
I also started seeds to germinate in folded paper coffee filters: Brown Berry Cherry, Oxheart, Cherokee Purple, and some Red-Orange tomatoes that Hubs just loves.  Some of them are Beefsteak, some are round.  I don't know what variety they really are, as the original seed came to me in a seed trade with a woman named "Bea", in an envelope she had marked "Lime Basil".  Heh.  But seriously, they are wonderful tomatoes.  I wish I'd kept her address so I could ask her what they might be.  The only problem is, they struggle when it gets really hot and dry.  But they put on like gangbusters till then.  The Oxheart, after they've put on that first early flush of huge, heart-shaped, meaty tomatoes, don't do much of anything for the rest of the summer.  I'll just pull them out when there's nothing growing on them.  Every year I've grown them, they've been one of our earliest ripeners.  The Brown Berry bears all summer long, and I find them to have a lot more flavor than most cherry tomatoes, so I don't mind that they're a little laborious to pick.  There's usually a new batch ripe every morning, or nearly so.  I pick them a little on the green side so as to beat the birds and insects to them, and for the most part, they are unblemished.  They do tend to fall off easily when they start ripening, and the color that they are makes it hard to find them when they're on the ground.  Hubs is color blind and he says he can't tell if they're red or green.  That's his story and he's stickin' to it.  So far the Cherokee Purple isn't a very big producer but it tends to bridge a gap between the Oxheart and the Red-Oranges. 

I like using "The Coffee Filter Method" for germinating seed, and I'll always be grateful to Paula for showing how to do this.  The tedium of picking them out and planting them once they've sprouted is overshadowed by so many good things.  It's so much easier to keep the seeds warm.  You don't have to worry about the seeds drying out and there's no such thing as "Helmet Head" from that condition.  You don't have to waste soil planting a seed that doesn't germinate.  It eliminates the seed sprouting up "willowy" because you can plant the sprouted seed right up to the cotyledons.  I've never had a seedling "damp off" that has been started this way.  Germination happens faster, sometimes within three days.  Therefore if the seed is not going to germinate you'll know sooner than if you planted it.  And lastly, while the seed is germinating, you don't have to have your plant lights on.  Just dampen the filters, fold them into triangles, and keep them all together in an open sandwich bag. 

After a couple of days, I start checking them every day for signs of germination, and I generally wait till they've made cotyledons before I transplant them.  They are very delicate in the coffee filter, but they will tolerate some handling.  Just use common sense.  When you handle them, the leaves of the cotyledons seem to be the strongest part.  Otherwise, just use a wooden toothpick and be careful not to pinch stems.  Poke a deep hole in your plant's first pot, drop the seedling in, press the soil gently back around it.  Water around the surface of the soil rather than from the top of the plant.  A little spoon of worm castings certainly doesn't hurt, dropped into the soil before planting.

I always keep notes about what I sow and when, usually this is just in a document I create within my Word Processing program.  But this year, I found an 8" x 11" Planner at Walmart for only a dollar.

I think I'm going to like it better.  I just noticed, it even shows phases of the moon.  Today is the beginning of the First Quarter.

This is now Sunday, and I have Jalapeno pepper seed soaking in water that has a little Liquid Dawn dish detergent in it.  For a long time, I didn't know that pepper seeds have a protective coating that slows germination.  I can't imagine that any bird would eat pepper seeds, but maybe they do, or maybe, 'way back in history when the pepper plants were first evolving, they, or some other animal, did.  Critters that come to my garden generally leave the peppers alone.  It's just nearly everything else that they wreak havoc with.  This is one of those things that we just have to accept that it is how it is, and then we can develop ways of working around it.  Or not.  For pepper seed, a nice soak in anything that will break the protective coating without damaging the seed's ability to produce a healthy plant will speed germination and reduce the risk that it will rot in the ground before anything within the seed coat is allowed to awaken.  Later on, I will rinse the seed off and put them in coffee filters, as I did with the tomato seed.  This year, I will start Cheese peppers, in colors of red, yellow and orange, as I do every year.  I decided last year to start growing Jalapeno peppers again, but the plants didn't grow very well nor did they yield very well.  I know that pepper plants are very sensitive to cold weather and, after they have been planted, if they get too cold, it will stunt their growth.  This is one of the reasons why I absolutely will not buy pepper plants at the Big Box Stores.  If, for some reason, I can't start what I want from seed, I go to a reputable nursery where they grow their pepper seedlings in a greenhouse.  And even then, if they have their plants sitting on trays outside, I might pass them up because of not knowing how long they've been out there.  Anyway, I am always careful not to put my pepper plants into the ground until all danger of frost is past.  But I had been keeping the pepper seed in the freezer and I'm wondering if that damaged the seed.  Or maybe it was just that the seed had gotten too old.  This year I have seed I gathered last year.  I'm usually in the habit of using the oldest seed first, and that is just silly, because as long as I don't use ALL the seed I gathered from the year previous to this, so that I have some in reserve in case of crop failure, the only reason I need to keep old seed is if, for some reason, the newer stuff has cross-pollinated.  Then I have the old seed to fall back on.  I have had that happen with tomato plants, and have lost my Striped German tomato that always produced so well for me.  I also planted Kellogg's Breakfast last year, which is a very large, sometimes golden-yellow, sometimes lemon-yellow, tomato, and ended up with red tomatoes.  Hubs was delighted.  Did you ever hear of a color-blind man who refuses to eat yellow tomatoes?  Does anybody besides me find that strange?  The Kellogg's Breakfast tomato is actually my favorite.  A big, thick slice on a piece of homemade bread that's been spread with a little real mayo or butter, and a little salt sprinkled on the tomato slice.....  Mmmmmmmmmm. 

Maybe I'll dig around in my seed stash, take a few seeds out of each year's collection of seed from Kellogg's Breakfast, and see if I can end up with the proper DNA.  I know I could order more, and I might.  It's just, if the tomatoes on the vines are not yellow, they're red and flavorful, and enjoyed by Hubs.  Also, good canners.  So, a win, either way.  I've learned my lesson, though.  Even though tomatoes are self-pollinating, you really don't want to plant different varieties very close together.  Maybe if you don't have the wind we have out here, you could get away with it. 

Of course we need to remember to rotate crops when it comes to tomatoes and peppers.  I usually will grow peas or beans where I had tomatoes the previous year.  Which reminds me, I need to dig out the seed for peas and get those started germinating in a damp paper towel.  Peas will germinate in cold ground, but I have found that they germinate a lot faster in the house in a paper towel.  Then, on a warmish, early spring day, I can plant the sprouted seeds.  This prevents the seed floating up to the top of the soil during a rain, and then drying out and dying before I've noticed it laying there.  That's so dang frustrating. 

I'm not sure I can grow spinach at all out here.  The rabbits and the rats love it so.  Something always comes along and nips it off.  I do love fresh spinach and so I keep trying.  What is it they say?  "You haven't lost the battle until you've stopped fighting"?  I've been thinking I might plant it in the cold frame that is against the outside wall of the office.  I could keep the shower doors laid over it and that ought to keep the rabbits out at night.  We can't seem to keep them out of the yard now, even with all we've done to the fence to make it otherwise.  I'm very disappointed and frustrated about this.  And yes, I know if we just got ourselves a little Rat-Terrier, we'd have help with rabbits AND rats.  But, I don't know, it's so heart-wrenching to have to have an animal "put to sleep" and I just don't know if I'm up for that anymore.  By the time it would be necessary to have to do that for a new animal, I would be at least ten years older than I am now and not any less soft-hearted, I'm sure. 

Today I found THIS You-Tube presentation by accident when looking for something else, about how to grow lettuce hydroponically without a very big investment, and I thought that might be a fun thing to try, maybe with some spinach, as well.  She includes a supply list with links to Amazon, which was very helpful.  The investment in supplies comes to $38.97, but almost all of it is either reusable or is something that only a small amount is necessary, meaning, if it works well, I'll have enough left over to use in subsequent years.  If it doesn't, well, maybe I can use it in other ways or pass it on to someone who can. 

Well, here it is Thursday, and I'll try to get this posted.  We got "Wintry Mix" overnight and it promises to be cold with a little warm-up on Sunday.  That's January for you, I'll be glad to see this month gone.  February's still winter, but a short month, and then windy March. 

Do you remember The Christmas Potato Experiment?  Well, they didn't get dug at Christmas, and I'm not even sure there's anything to dig.  But here that is.

It's out in the garage, where it's cold, but not freezing.  It's only getting the light out of the western sky that comes in through the garage-door windows. 

This is what my spring-grown Yukon Gold and Russet Norkota potatoes are doing in the pantry.  It wasn't intentional and now I'm wondering what I should do about it.  I could strip off all those shoots and move the potatoes to the garage where it's cold, maybe they'd store better that way.  Or I could peel the potatoes and make them into mashed potatoes and freeze them in blobs for eating as we need them.  I'm kind of wondering whether they'll survive till planting time and then maybe I can just plant a bunch of them and get another spring crop.  Decisions, decisions......

Well, that's about all I have for this time.  I hope y'all who are stuck inside, like me, are finding interesting things to do and think about, and successfully staying out of that Black Hole.  Hugs xoxoxo


  1. Happy Gardening dear Ilene. It looks like you're getting a head start with your winter sowing.

    Have a great weekend ~ FlowerLady

  2. Do you have a window with light? Maybe you could do a bucket experiment. Here is the link to our bucket potatoes.

    1. That was an interesting post, Fiona. I wonder if I'd be able to do that without making drainage holes in the buckets? I'd hate to put holes in my buckets. I've grown tomato plants and pepper plants in some old office trash cans that I bought at a surplus store, back when I didn't have the garden space for everything, but they didn't do as well as they would have when planted in the garden. I can see that it'd sure be a lot easier to "dig" the potatoes that way. I guess I'll just leave these potato plants as they are for now and see if there's anything under the soil when spring comes. I was shooting for "Christmas Potatoes", and that ship has sailed. I might, though, now that you mention it, go ahead and start some of these potatoes that have already sprouted. I have some Kitty Litter buckets that already have holes in them that might work. I could set them on the driveway when the temperatures are above freezing....


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