Spring transplants and summer seed starts (part 1)

It’s easy to fall behind when tending to a big garden. Several spring starts already grew rootbound and were overdue for potting up.

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Note to self: check the bottoms of the seed trays more frequently. I was able to re-pot the rootbound plants without tearing too much of the overgrown roots in the process. Within a week the plants grew reestablished in their new containers with the help of vermicompost.

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After the spring starts were re-potted and hardened off, they were finally transplanted into the garden. The cloches have been working well for the first set of spring transplants thus far (see previous post), so I acquired bags full of two-liter soda bottles through the local Freecycle group and used these (with the bottoms cut out) to shelter the new transplants.

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I wouldn’t recommend this recycling center look for a front lawn. This setup would probably provide more visual appeal with row covers or hoop tunnels, but I’ll save that purchase for a future growing season. Anyway, I digress. Hopefully the next batch of peas will survive this time around:

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Now that I’ve cleared space in the seed trays, I sowed the first set of summer seeds (herbs, flowers, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes) to raise indoors. The fun continues!

Practice safe planting. Use protection

Sunny days are here, but the nighttime temperatures are still below the 40s. Without some protection from the elements, transplants won’t make it to the next week. Take my peas, for example:

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The trellis has withstood the winds, but these little guys didn’t. At least I learned my lesson to not leave transplants out in the open just yet. Thanks for taking one for the team, guys. May you rest in peas. On the contrary, the plants sheltered by the gatorade bottle cloches are surviving.

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These were made simply by cutting out the bottoms of 1 L gatorade bottles that I scavenged from the recycling bins. They also serve as humidity domes and as protection from slugs and such. I pressed them into the ground a bit so they wouldn’t just blow away or get knocked over by the slightest breeze. The onions transplanted fine and it seems like they’ll make it through (fingers crossed).

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Seeds of other roots crops, such as carrots, radishes, and beets, were sown outdoors under these cloches. Their sprouts have provided hope for more life in the garden at this time.

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A carrot sprout

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A radish sprout

(Note: it’s best to direct seed these plants…I once transplanted carrot sprouts after starting them inside, and the majority of them grew forked, looking like fingers on a hand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just makes peeling them less convenient.)

To end on a higher note, here’s an update on the garlic that I showed last week:

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Such a sight equals happiness!

Germinating spinach seeds

Starting the spinach seeds in the seed trays has thus far been a bust. After perusing the plethora of information online, I learned a few things:

1. I am not alone in this failed endeavor. Spinach seeds don’t have particularly good germination rates, so I shouldn’t take it personally.
2. Spinach seeds are no longer viable after 2 years.
3. They germinate in cool temperature.
4. Start them in moist paper towels. This advice was taken from a GardenWeb Forum: fold a moist paper towel over some spinach seeds, store it in a small sealed container, keep it in the refrigerator for a day, then let it sit at room temperature.

After 4 days this is what happened…

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…seed germination!

Transferred the germinated seeds to the seed starter mix and after several days:

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So whaddya know, it really worked!

Pre-spring cleaning

The succession of temperate days here is a blessing I haven’t taken for granted. The weekend was both warm and sunny, cool and cloudy. This was a ripe time for some pre-spring cleaning to prepare my garden for planting. But first, a nice surprise welcomed me after being estranged from the garden all winter:

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The garlic that I planted last November made it through the winter and has sprouted! Holler! After admiring the garlic shoots, I proceeded with the necessary business:

1. Uproot the remaining dead weeds from the winter

I’ve incorporated no-till gardening practices into my routine to alleviate the cleaning duties. At the end of last year’s growing season (5 months ago), I collected cardboard from work and used it as an organic weed mat on my garden plot. For something that was free, it did an excellent job. Most of last year’s weeds and plants had decomposed underneath the cardboard sheets, so all I had to do was pull out roots here and there. This method also gave the added bonus of providing compost for the soil.

2. Amend the soil with compost, chicken manure, blood meal, and bone meal

This is the organic fertilizer formula that a friend taught me to use years ago in San Diego. It has continued to serve my gardens well since then.

3. Mulch with grass clippings

In my humble opinion, grass clippings are the preferred vegetable garden mulch. It stays put despite strong winds (unlike leaves), it provides nitrogen to the soil, and in my current situation, it’s available in large mounds for free next to the community garden. Before I discovered this boon, I made the mistake last year of applying bark mulch. I was afterwards informed to avoid using bark mulch in the vegetable garden because it would leach acid into the soil. Thankfully, I was able to rake the bark mulch off before I planted anything. This page on vegetable garden maintenance provides a good breakdown of the different types of garden mulch.

4. Build trellis for peas

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The stakes were reinforced with 3 ft U-posts, which will hopefully withstand the occasional 20-30 mph winds here. Welded wire was secured to the stakes/posts with velcro tape.

5. Put pest controls into place

I don’t believe in pesticides. I also don’t care for traps, which would force me to deal with pest carcasses. Mice, rabbits, and gophers do roam freely within the community garden, unfortunately. The prevention methods I’m trying this season are gopher baskets for root crops and boxes for leafy vegetables.

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I purchased 10 of these 5 gallon gopher baskets from Peaceful Valley ($4 each). These require some shaping and it’s tedious work to have to dig them into the ground, but I’ll do almost anything to protect my precious plants.

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I constructed a few boxes (2′ x 4′ x 1′) from 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth to guard against mice and rabbits. The boxes are held in place at each corner with 2 ft rebar stakes.

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And now the garden is ready, bring it on!

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Getting ready to go outside

A calm, sunny day in the 60’s is like a diamond in the rough weather of the Tri-Cities. So when a place like this gives you a day like that, you make the most of it…because you never know when you’ll get that day again. Today was a such a day, which made it perfect to start hardening off the seedlings. The seed trays were covered with humidity domes and left outside this morning for a few hours to bask in the sunshine.

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And now, a shameless plug about these humidity domes: these can make the transition from indoors to outdoors for seedlings easier by serving as mini greenhouses. They’re 7″ tall to accommodate bigger plant starts, with adjustable vents on the top and sides. Plus, I found these for a good price ($5 each) at Portland Nursery.

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When I checked on the seedlings at noon, I noticed that some were wilting from the heat. It must have been a bit much for their first day out, so I re-watered them and returned them indoors under the grow lights for the remainder of the day. They eventually perked back up. I’ll have to harden off the seedlings more gradually so I don’t end up killing them prematurely.

Lastly, I started a new batch of seeds to practice succession planting. My spring garden plan allotted space for more bok choy, lettuce, onions, and peas. Staggering the plantings will also provide a more continuous harvest instead of one large lump sum of produce. Let’s see what happens.

Indoor seedlings: 3 week update

The seedlings are about 3 weeks old now and have flourished under the grow lights.

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Like whoah.

Since I sowed a couple seeds per cell, I thinned out the plants by cutting out the weaker seedlings, leaving the strongest one in each cell. Oh, the tough decisions a parent must make.

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The peas were the exception with just one pea seed in each cell. They grew big relatively fast, so I transferred them to larger containers (reused yogurt cups with drainage holes cut out at the bottom, filled with vermicompost for fertilizer). They are in dire need of trellising, but the weekend weather hasn’t been conducive to garden work thus far.

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My spinach seeds are taking their sweet time though…3 weeks later, and still…RADIO SILENCE…