First harvest of 2017

Picked some lettuce and cilantro. The flavors, aromas and textures of homegrown produce sure can’t be beat. Fresh cilantro is so powerfully fragrant — an entire supply at the grocery store can’t even come close to the aroma coming from just a few stalks from the garden. And the taste! A little bit truly goes a long way. With just a few leaves, I could actually taste the herb contributing to the flavor of my soup.

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Even lettuce did not disappoint. The main quality I noticed was the texture and crispness of the fresh leaves. They were tender and had…I don’t know how to describe it…the substance of an actual leafy vegetable. It was lettuce that didn’t leave me feeling empty after eating it, unlike the kinds I’m used to in a typical salad or fast food burger. These sure made some good lettuce wraps.

Winter garden update

With rain coming almost every week, I haven’t had to do much in the garden except weed. Here’s a look at the winter veggie patch:

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  • Back: Cilantro and Samarkand garlic
  • Middle: Green onions and Dragon carrots
  • Front: Georgian Fire garlic and Speckled lettuce

The bare patches used to contain shallot, bok choy, pansy and calendula seedlings. Something ate their tiny leaves and left behind their stems. I’ve restarted bok choy seeds and have extra calendula seedlings that I didn’t plant out yet. I’ll transplant these after they’ve grown several sets of true leaves and hopefully they’ll be big enough to not get fully eaten by whatever took out their siblings.

Ironically, a week after my previous post (in which I declared I’d experiment raising starts without grow lights), the first of several rough storms passed through and I ended up using my indoor grow light setup. And I keep forgetting how cold some of the winter nights can get here in San Diego.  We don’t have frost dates, but it can get cold enough to harm summer seedlings.

And because of the storms and frequent rains, I haven’t had to water my garden or tap into my rain water supply since starting my water saver challenge almost three months ago.

Seedling experiments

In past growing seasons, I’ve raised my seedlings under a grow light. An advantage of this method is faster seedling growth. Looking back at a previous post, I was amazed at how big my seedlings got in just three weeks being raised indoors under a grow light.

But because the seedlings got so comfortable indoors, they had to be carefully hardened off to withstand the outdoors. And that’s something I don’t have time to do these days. It’d be convenient if I could just leave my plants outside the whole day starting from day one. Also, grow lights use extra electricity.

So this year, I’m trying something different. Instead of raising my seedling indoors under lights, I’m bringing them outside as soon as they sprout. That’s where my raised bed greenhouse comes in, as well as these humidity domes:

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I’m counting on these protection methods (and the moderate San Diego climate) to keep my seedlings surviving outside. While my seedlings are growing MUCH slower than they did under a grow light (due to cold night time temperatures and winter sunlight hours), I no longer need to bring them back indoors every day. They’re growing less leggy and I’m saving electricity, too.

Another experiment that I’m trying is insulating my germination tray with a solar blanket. I have a heat mat, but it doesn’t seem to get warm enough to germinate pepper seeds (in my experience, at least). So I reasoned that wrapping the heat mat and germination tray in a solar blanket would warm the setup more, hopefully for peppers to germinate. Time will tell.

I started my second batch of seeds to get a head start on the summer growing season:

  • Borage
  • Marigold
  • Thai basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Thai chili peppers
  • America spinach (germinating via the paper towel method)
  • Isis Candy Cherry tomatoes (these are a peaceful crop, I assure you)

Raised bed greenhouse

Garlic and carrots have sprouted. Bok choy, cilantro, lettuce, onions, shallots and flower seedlings have been transplanted. Nighttime temperatures are in the low 50s, so it’s time for a greenhouse.

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I placed 6 rebar stakes (2 ft long, 1/2 in diameter) into the raised bed and slipped 10 ft long, 1/2 in diameter PVC pipes over them, creating arches to make the frame for the greenhouse. Pictured above are two of the three arches with the last two rebar stakes in the front. The PVC pipes were painted copper so they wouldn’t look so much like…well, PVC pipes.

Greenhouse plastic (purchased as a 10 ft x 100 ft roll from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply) cut into a 10 ft x 13 ft rectangle was placed over the arches and secured with row cover snap clamps. The open sides were closed with velcro stickers.

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Raised bed greenhouse!

Water saver challenge (day 1)

In honor of World Soil Day, I’m posting my water saver challenge:

How long can I go on watering my vegetable garden only with saved and collected water?

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That includes rain water, as well as any water saved from rinsing produce and mugs with unfinished coffee. Thanks to the rain a couple weekends ago, I was able to collect about 290 gallons of rain water (before it rained, I drained the water out my full rain barrels into whatever empty containers I had on hand — plastic storage bins, camping coolers, buckets, etc.

With one 4 ft x 8 ft square bed in a cool season, I’m guessing my water collection will last me 4 months. No calculations went into that guess, I just pulled that number out of thin air. We shall see.

I’ll also be on the lookout for more ways to collect garden water from household tasks.

Oh! I just thought of another one: save the water from boiling eggs.

Any other suggestions for ways to reuse and save water for a veggie garden?

Raised bed #1, rock dust and garden restart

First 4 x 8 raised bed installed:

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This area used to be a patch of lawn. 8 months ago, the area was covered with newspaper, cardboard, compost and planters (in that order). The sod underneath slowly decomposed. When the raised bed was ready to be installed, the ground was leveled (using good old shovel work).

The bed was filled with a mix of yard dirt and compost from the landfill. I amended the soil with vermicompost, blood meal, bone meal and my latest discovery — glacial rock dust. Rock dust is a source of trace minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, to name a few). This whole time I’ve focused on amending my soils with organic matter, a great source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but neglected to address the need to replenish trace minerals.

(Side note: I found out about rock dust because I was lazy to remove rocks from my soil. I wondered if rocks provided minerals to the soil, started researching sources of trace minerals and eventually came across rock dust.)

Today I planted seed garlic (Georgian Fire and Samarkand varieties), purchased from Seed Savers Exchange, as well as some Dragon carrots.

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Also started the following seeds in the germination tray:

  • Save the Bees Wildflower Mix
  • Calendula
  • Foxglove
  • Pansies
  • Petunia
  • Ching Chang bok choy (yes, that’s really the name of this variety)
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions
  • Speckled lettuce
  • Cipolini onions
  • Flat of Italy red onions
  • Shallots

Seeds were purchased from Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Peaceful Valley.

Vermicompost harvest

I took another hiatus from gardening…my container garden ended up getting neglected, which isn’t such a bad thing considering the drought.

But I’ve still been composting kitchen scraps in my worm bin. The top tray of my multi-level worm bin is almost full, so I figured this was prime time to harvest the black gold from the starter tray. Here’s about 10 gallons worth of mature vermicompost (started January 9):

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There were still some straggler worms in this tray, but the majority of them have already migrated to the top tray. So all I had to do was dump this onto my garden bed and mix it into the soil.

Oh yeah, I have a raised garden bed now. Picture and post to come soon.