Thursday, March 5, 2015

Itching to work your soil soon? Wait!

My seedlings want to go outside, but it's too cold and snowy!
I don't think any of us here in Maryland are interested in working in our gardens today - when I am it's snowing quite hard - but soon enough it really will be spring and we'll want to be out there planting, transplanting, and digging in soil amendments. I mean, we'll really really want to be doing this. And… we have to wait.

Why? Because, in all likelihood, the soil won't be ready for us. After all the snow melts, the soil underneath will be damp, wet, or even soggy; if we get typical March rains, it might be flooded in spots. You may be tough enough to go out and dig in the chilly rain, but you won't do your garden any good. Working wet soil can ruin the potential for good plant growth all spring and even into summer. Wet soil is easily compacted when you step on it, till it, or turn it over with a shovel, and compacted soil loses the necessary air spaces between soil particles that plant roots need to thrive. And the thick clumps of soil that form when it's worked wet are really hard to break up when they dry into rock-like masses.

How do you tell when the soil's ready for you? Grab a handful of it, and form it into a ball. Can you squeeze water out of that ball? Then it's definitely not ready. Can you break the ball up easily with your fingers, and does it fall apart into crumbly particles when you drop it? Then you are good to go. If not, wait another week and try again.

Raised bed gardeners and container gardeners, you may get a jump on the season over your in-ground friends, but watch cold soil temperatures and drainage issues. I've got some pots out there (that did have surviving cilantro in them until recently) with two inches of water on top despite plenty of holes in the bottom - the potting soil in between is frozen and won't let water through, and is going to need a whole lot of fluffing up before I can plant anything in it (or I'll just dump it and start over).

Those seedlings up above? My calendar says they should go out in the cold frames next week. That is, if I can find my cold frames under the snow...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Pruning Blueberries

Despite all of the snow and rain we got yesterday, it's that time of year to start thinking about pruning your blueberries.  I could write several long paragraphs showing before and after slides, but that really wouldn't explain all of the finer points.  Because my planting was made in 1986, I have mostly mature plants and mature plants are pruned differently from new plantings, 4 year plantings, etc.  So suffice it to say, rather than type, I an going to turn to an great blueberry pruning video I found on the Oregon State University's Extension website.  It is about a 20 minute long, but it covers how to prune all ages of plantings and even pruning for mechanical harvesting, which I'm sure none of us will use.

When your finished watching this video you will be ready to tackle your high bush blueberries.



635 pages of treasure: the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook

I joined Seed Savers Exchange because I support their mission to conserve and promote America's diverse food crop heritage. I do get a little discount when I order from their catalog (you can also order if you're not a member), and it's beautiful to look through, but the real fun - and the real membership benefit, even if you never take advantage of it - comes with the arrival of the Yearbook.

This is the listing of all the seeds that SSE members are offering for sale, the "Exchange" part of the organization's name. These are all open-pollinated, mostly heirloom seeds that gardeners across the country (and in other countries as well) have saved from plants grown in controlled conditions so they stay true to type. No pretty photos in this inexpensively-printed paperback, just 635 pages of seeds listed by category, plus instructions for ordering. (The Exchange now also has an online version.)

I don't actually order from the Yearbook frequently. It arrives in mid-February when I've already made my seed orders for the year, have been to a couple of seed swaps, and have realized that even given I'm collecting for two gardens, I have way too many seeds in stock. And since I'm not a "listing member" (though maybe someday I'll save enough seed for that to happen) the small packets cost $4-5 each. But it's still tempting - and it's also the way to find that one offbeat variety of seed that you've been searching for since your grandmother grew it, or else just to acquire something for your garden that none of your friends and neighbors will have.

Since it's the Year of Beans and Peas, let's peek at a few legume descriptions. I'm leaving out the quaintly coded information showing who is offering the seed and where they got it from in the first place, but both of those are an essential part of SSE parlance. If I listed I would be "MD SM E."

  • MOLASSES FACE. 90+ days. First dry pods in 95 days. Viney sprawling plants. Rounded green pods produce plump oval white seeds with a large yellow circular patch around the eye.
  • GOLDEN LIMA. 119 days to first dry pods. Plants climb to about 6 feet. Although it has lima in its name, it is not a lima. Flattened seeds of pinkish orange speckled and streaked with a darker orange color.
  • ZONA UPCHURCH GOOSE. Similar to Ohio Pole (both Appalachian) but seeds smaller and pod skinnier. Fine purple speckles concentrated at one end of the cream seed. Very late to mature but fairly productive. 60 seeds per plant, in full sun planted late. Not all ripe by frost. Hard to shell, tough and leathery. Lots of size variation in that some seed are twice the size of others. Might do better in a longer hotter summer.
  • BAGUETTE. 55 days, a great filet bean, excellent flavor, very prolific in 2005, were served at several dinner parties and universally acclaimed, also prolific in 2006 even with severe insect pressure, a very late but abundant crop 2009, great crop again in 2013 - slightly abused due to lack of water but recovered once again in fine style, naturally grown.
  • SHWI PEH. 60 days. Snow pea with purple flowers, excellent taste, produces for months. Plants are spindly looking but produce copious quantities. Obtained from a farm woman from a small village in the Inle Lake region of Burma.
  • LOLLAND RAISIN. The most renowned Danish gray or soup pea. Semi-leafless, i.e. no small leaves, just tendrils. Light smoky foliage and lovely bicolored flowers. Early, plants 36-50 inches, support each other until the pods fill out. Very tasty in recipes with bacon or smoked ham - they don't cook down as much as split peas so "soup" is misleading, more like stew. Grown on the Danish island of Lolland in the 1800s and shipped to Copenhagen, where it was both the working man's protein and a delicacy for the rich.
And so forth! Not to mention the mystery varieties given insufficient description for their intriguing names, like beans GROUND SQUIRREL and ETHNIC ECSTASY. Just paging through the catalog on a snowy day is entertaining, even if you don't find yourself reaching for a pencil to mark possibilities. Maybe I'll grow some of these next year...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Seedlings are love

Ip Ssam Hong Chinese cabbage

Happy Valentine's Day! It's so nice to have some seedlings growing under lights again. So nice that I probably planted way too much cabbage at the beginning of the month, but isn't that always the way? More greens to come soon!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Links for February reading

Got your vegetable-related reading, here, for when the temperatures drop again.

from Wikipedia
Kudzu bugs are spreading into our region. Unfortunately they like soybeans nearly as much as kudzu. And they will overwinter in your house.

10 Superfoods Healthier Than Kale. #1 makes great salads, though it's harder to grow than kale.

Margaret Roach is rethinking her vegetable seed-shopping rules after the arrival of a great farmstand nearby.

5 Places to Grow Urban Food. Just make sure you're getting your soil tested.

Vegetable purees are trendy and fun to make, but there are some rules and techniques associated with their preparation. I found this guide to veggie purees while doing my own research. It doesn't really answer my questions about balancing taste (though I think my celeriac and carrot puree needs potatoes) but it's useful advice.

How Marie Antoinette gave prestige to the potato (with a recipe). I will have to try wearing potato flowers in my hair.

Also in a historical vein: a gardening manual owned by Henry VIII goes on display (in Britain, sorry). Gosh, I wish we'd known during the Year of the Cucurbit that "squash will bear fruit after nine days if planted in the ashes of human bone and watered with oil."

Finally, a very lovely Flickr album of fruits and vegetables with lights inside. Enjoy!