Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hopeful Seeding

With the cold weather we have had I'm not really sure when to start my main indoor plantings. We had been having weather about 10F degrees below normal. But things seem to be moderating. Our average temperatures for the end of March are supposed in the low 50s. If I ignore Saturday which is predicted to be in the mid 30s, we will be getting that for the next week with some higher temps and some lower temps, but about what it ought to be. So some nicer weather. My seeding plan says I start my main plantings on March 20th. I decided to start them yesterday not quite a week late. I'm still a bit worried whether it will be warm enough by mid April to plant them. But I'm hopeful.

I love soil blocks, but not everyone does. I use the 1 1/2" ones for almost everything. Today I calculated that I needed 180 blocks. That makes 2 1/2 flats of them. One flat was filled with all the baby Asian greens. Usually I don't grow so many transplants of these. I often put in some for early greens, but then I direct seed the rest as it is less work that way. This year I won't have time to direct seed as the ground won't thaw soon enough. So I'm doing this batch and I'll do another smaller batch in a couple of weeks. This batch contained choy cum, Hon Tsai Tai, mizuna, tatsoi, and bok choy.

Covered to retain moisture until they germinate

The second flat was my other brassicas - Michihili, broccoli, three types of cabbage, kale, and kohlrabi. I wanted to do three different kinds of cabbage this year to try different early cabbages. I have Early Jersey, Point One, and Golden Acre.

The last half flat has my chard, marjoram, and savory. I've never had so many flats all in there at once. Usually my onions are already outside hardening off. At the most I might have three flats going. Often just two. But with switching what I grow this year (to get rid of most legumes) and the weather issues, I needed three lights turned on. I've never ever done that before. And if things don't melt out quickly enough I might just try to do spinach inside for the first time. Usually that isn't worth it, but I really want my spinach crop. We will see.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Soil Test

Last November I saved soil from the garden for a soil test. I finally got around to sending the sample in to the UMass Extension Service at the beginning of February. I got the results in March. I like to do a soil test at least every two years. Mostly it is just for the pH value. I could buy a pH meter, but honestly that is way too much work when I only need to know what is going on every year or two. The garden soil currently has a pH of 6.8 which is just about perfect, so I don't need to lime. Last time I limed (2013) I over did it so it has taken a while to get back to normal.

There are things to learn besides a pH level though. When I first got the soil in the garden I wanted to make sure it didn't have heavy metals like lead, cadmium, or arsenic. I am free of the latter two. And lead is very low. My soil was made from compost and crushed rock or so I'm told from those I bought it from. My lead levels are about 10 ppm. All of the natural soil around my town of Arlington is filled with lead. So in a way I guess I was lucky that I had nothing but subsoil when I moved in. That way when the soil was put in it was good soil, not something toxic.

I'm always curious as to how much organic matter is in the soil. In the past this was part of the main test, but now you have to request it separately if you want to know. My soil is 10%, which is pretty high. But I like it that way because it really holds on to the nutrients. I make almost all of my compost, so adding organic matter isn't expensive. It is just a lot of work.

One of the reasons that organic matter holds onto nutrients is it raises the cation exchange capacity of the soil which is another thing they test for. I have a sandy/gravely soil. It is not the best for holding onto nutrients or water. But adding a lot of organic matter every year (as organic matter decays over time and needs to be replenished), increases both the ability to hold water and the cation exchange capacity.

What is the cation exchange capacity (CEC)? It is the ability of the soil to hold and exchange positive ions, like C++, Mg++, K+, and NH4+. There are other ions, but those are the ones we are usually interested in as gardeners though there are lots of micro nutrients in this category too. So it measures the ability of the soil to hold on to those nutrients and supply them to the plants when they need them. My CEC this year is 21.3. It has ranged anywhere from 20-23 over the years. Which is pretty good for a sandy soil.

Along with the CEC they supply the base saturation numbers for C++, Mg++, and K+. This is the percent of the CEC that is held by each of those nutrients. Some people try to get a very particular ratio between them for the perfect fertilization, but most extension services (I tend to read the UMass and Cornell sites most often), now say as long as there is enough of each nutrient, it doesn't matter greatly what the exact ratio is. But you do want to it stay within a certain range. I'm well within the range for all three. Though calcium is higher in the range and magnesium and potassium are lower in the range. All this means to me is that when I do need to lime I'll be using dolomite limestone which is high in magnesium. But I'm not there yet. My pH is fine right now. Here in New England our soils get acidic over time so in a year or two I'll need to lime.

Another major thing the soil test provides is a list of macro and micro nutrients. The only one they don't provide is nitrogen as the number doesn't mean much. The amount in the soil changes too much with different soil conditions. The other nutrient values do have meaning though. My numbers are very high. Most are listed as above optimum. Which means I shouldn't be putting anything on the garden except nitrogen. The fertilizer that I buy isn't a balance one. I buy one that is something like 7-3-3. So I can mostly add nitrogen when I need to. When I need phosphorus I use bonechar. And when I need potassium I add some kind of rock dust, either greensand or azomite, which also provide a lot of the micro nutrients. But not this year. I'll just use the 7-3-3.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


We are supposed to have a warm up so I've started bringing the plants outside for some real sunshine today. I really want them to have bright sun for a bit. Leaves that don't get enough light can have nitrate build up. Usually it is an issue for greenhouse growing in northern areas. I figure the fluorescent lights aren't any better than that, though I haven't done the research to be sure. So I'm going to let the plants get a couple weeks of real sun before starting to eat them.

I would have put them outside earlier, but it has been really cold here. About 10F below normal, even if it has been sunny. Yesterday only got to freezing and one day last week didn't even get that warm. Brrr. In addition it has been very windy. I even went out and tossed some snow on my rosemary plant. It is by the foundation of the house to keep it warmer, but the snow melts off of there very early. And the bitter winds weren't doing it any good.

Beds 1 and 2 are starting to melt out a little.

In Beds 3-8 it is just the path melting out. But it is a start. The Farmer's Almanac says April and especially May will be warmer than normal. I hope they are right and our weather changes because the snow needs to melt. Kathy was putting her pea planting dates from previous years on her blog, so I looked mine up.

  • 2014 April 5th (but only half the bed as the other half was still frozen)
  • 2013 March 27th
  • 2012 February 22nd
  • 2011 April 2nd
  • 2010 March 19th
  • 2009 March 26th

So last year was actually one of the later years that melted out. And it had only melted out half of the bed by then. I have to keep telling myself I have time. But it is hard when you get such cold weather so late in March. We will get into the 50s this week, but another day of 30s is predicted for later. And there is even more snow in the forecast for Monday, but that is a long way off. Maybe it will change to rain or miss us entirely. I can hope.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Harvest Monday, 23 March 2015

My meals are getting less and less from the garden. The carrots are mine, but the kale is from the market. However the rest of the meal is a bit deceptive as it has small bits of the garden in it. The bread has my dill seed and the chicken is made with my dill relish. Even the homemade mayo has some of my garlic powder in it.

Cabbages are always on sale for St. Patrick's Day, so Last week I bought some cabbages. I combined them with some bought spring onions and some of my fresh garden carrots to make okonomiyaki. One of the sauces I use on top is plum sauce that I made two summers ago. The sauce contains onions, garlic, and mustard seed that I grew. I still have a few fresh carrots left. Not many though. Most of my remaining garden carrots are frozen. I wish I had more that were fresh as they seem to be holding up amazingly well and the fresh ones taste so much better. Bolero really does keep very well.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Planning and Reorganizing

I tend to grow things in the same groups and in the same position each year. Some years I change things around. I was intending to do what I had last year, but I really can't eat legumes anymore, so I decided to change it up a bit. Before the beans were running down the middle of the bed. But I found the beans blocked the water and the lettuce didn't grow well. Also why would I want to grow a lot of beans when I can't eat them. I didn't want to totally get rid of them. My townhouse mates like beans. So I decided to just grow them along the end of the bed. The ends are never the best spots in a bed. The soil is not deep as the foundation for the brick path goes in about a foot. But I think be beans will do OK there.

Instead of beans, I expanded my chard bed. Chard is a mainstay of my winter frozen greens. It produces a lot in a small space. I'm adding 6 sqft this year. So I'll be able to freeze a lot more and maybe I won't run out at the end of February. In addition I'm expanding my spinach. I have space in the late planted two sisters beds. I think I can get a good crop of spinach in the spring to freeze before the squash and corn need to be planted at the beginning of June. I hope so at any rate. We are having close to record lows right now and we didn't even get above freezing yesterday. And more snow is in the forecast for Friday. At least it isn't much snow. But if the bed does melt out in time I ought to be able to get a good crop of spinach out of it. I'm going to try. I need the extra greens for winter.

The next change was my peas. I usually run them along the whole back of a 16' bed. The bed has spring carrots and herbs in it. So I've expanded the carrots as I can always use more of them. Instead I'll grow peas in two small spots at the ends of the beds and see if I like pea shoots. I think I can eat those. I'm pretty sure it is only the seed of the legumes that I can't eat. In addition I'm not growing fava beans and that was a whole bed in the spring. So I've expanded the kohlrabi and Chinese cabbage plantings (GR stands for Green Rocket, a variety of Michihili cabbage).

And in the bed that used to have Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi, I've expanded the European cabbages and added in some kale. The kale is another mainstay storage crop. I freeze it for winter. I've never grown it in the spring like this. I've always overwintered kale, but I'll see how it does and if it can get large large enough fast enough before the carrots need to replace it.

You can see that I don't do this on the computer. I have the garden grid on the computer that I just print out each year. Then I add what I want. At the top is the crop I want to grow. If there are successions I add an arrow before the second crop. Along the sides are things like RC. RC stands for row cover. I have three that are tall and fairly strong. They usually go over the brassicas. Net is my netting that is fragile, but cheap. I like it best really as I can see through it and the rain and wind gets through better. Also it is prettier. The heavy one is white and stick out like a sore thumb. But it won't rip and let the butterflies in like the netting can if I'm not careful. I also write down things like when I put biochar on the bed. Or double dug it. Or if it had some pernicious disease.

And as you can see my handwriting is really terrible, isn't it? Sometimes I can't even tell what I wrote. Though I think you can make out the numbers on there. that is how many good transplants I need. Not how many I'll grow. But the good ones that get into the garden. I always have a few that struggle so I always want extras.

Once I have a plan I print out the seeding schedule. It tells me what to plant, how much to plant, when to plant, and when to transplant. It has empty slots for how many I actually planted and when I did it. And when they go out to the garden. Often that last one doesn't get recorded on it. I tend to forget after they have moved outside to harden off.

I actually have two seeding schedules. One is for indoor started plants and one (the little one behind) is for the direct seeded plants. I'll be behind on my peas, carrots, spinach, radishes, and turnips. They are supposed to be planted on the first day of spring. Tomorrow. But that is not going to happen. But I'm still good. I did an experiment one year with peas. I found that peas planted on the first day the soil could be worked and peas planted three weeks later only have a harvest date one week apart. As long as spring arrives in the next few weeks and the cold weather pattern shifts I should be OK. A little behind, but not horribly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Yesterday was St. Patricks Day, the traditional day to sow peas. With the snow still on the ground I didn't get to do that. Not that I usually sow on that day. Before and mostly after. This year it is probably going to happen in April. But I did get out earlier this week. I did some pruning, which probably should have been done a month ago. But the snowbanks were too high to get to the trees.



I keep my peach trees small. Winter pruning encourages the trees to put out more growth. Summer pruning doesn't do that. So most of my pruning is done in the summer. In addition it is easier to control how the tree is growing if you prune it in the summer. So that is my preference. This time I took off any crossing branches. Any branches that were growing up. And any that were underneath and small and weak. Hopefully it will produce well this summer. But who knows what the spring and blossoming time will bring.

I also pruned my pear and apple trees that are espaliered along the rock wall. I only took the tops off of them to encourage them to branch at the appropriate spot. I think it will take another year and a half for the main structures of the trees to finish taking shape. Though it will probably be mostly done by this year. They will have four tiers of side branches and each year I seem to be able to get one tier done.

I didn't get to the two apple trees in the back. The snow is still too deep out there for me to want to walk on it. I'm a bit sad about my Ginger Gold tree. The bottom branches were totally taken down by the snow. Not broken, but now they are at a parallel angle to the tree which isn't good. The melting snow just grabbed them and slowly pulled them down. I might have to cut them off. It isn't the end of the world. I was thinking they might be too low to the ground anyway. But it will be sad to lose the biggest branches. Though I suppose it will encourage the tree to grow its other branches out more.

I also started to prune the nasty thorny rose bush by the driveway. At least until I found this.

And then this.

And finally a third. All of these preying mantis egg sacks are at the top of the rose. The rose had lots of snow piled on it and I was going to cut it way back because half of the branches were broken. Well I can't cut off those tall ones with the egg sacks. I'm thinking of cutting all the branches down except the ones with the egg sacks. But will that leave the little mantids vulnerable to predation when they are young? I'm not sure. Maybe I should cut them off and spread them around the yard in some bushes? Anyone else every had this issue?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Yesterday I got around to another round of seeding. I had a flat that was mostly empty, but it had four rows of umbelliferae (yes I still use the old name) - some parsley, celery, and celeriac. They grow very slowly when they are small so they get started very early compared to most plants.

I filled the rest of the flat with soil blocks. I had 8 rows to fill up. I put in a couple of different kinds of black-eyed-susans, some gaillardia, and some edibles - lettuce and baby Asian greens. I think next week I'll start the major set of brassica seedlings. I don't want to start them too early as we still have a foot or so of snow on the ground. And after Tuesday we are getting more cold weather. Including one day that won't even get above freezing. So I'm afraid of starting things too early. There is a lot of melting that needs to go on. Oh and on Sunday we did finally set the all time snowfall record for Boston this year. I hope we don't do that again for a very long time.

I'm kind of wondering though if I should start them all on time and then just pot them up. I really hate the work of potting up. I tend to use my soil blocks and grow brassicas for about 3 weeks, then harden them off and plant them out. The less time under my indoor care the better for the plants. I have a tendency to forget to water and they grow so much better outdoors. I just hope the soil will be warm enough and the freezing temperatures will be gone by then.