Monday, July 12, 2010

The Big Beet and the King a Progress Report!

The big beet experiment appears to be working! It's such an exciting adventure in which to be apart. The leaves have stretched out and turned into branches, which required an unused tomato cage to contain. As I mentioned in the last post, it is a rewarding experiment, which will become part of the regular garden routine for this garden gal. Seed saving is an integral part of connecting ourselves to our food and our land. Remember that only open pollinated or heirloom varieties produce seed that is true to the "parent" plant.

The King of the North pepper is also going smoothly, flowers abound and peppers are setting well. Just before taking these pictures I caught a robin picking through the pot to find a big fat worm. A great reminder that when gardening in containers it is very important to keep them well watered. This ensures that the garden helpers who migrate up the drain holes in your containers don't fry in the hot sun, especially in the clay pots. This is another experiment I will repeat. If the King sees fit, I will take him in the house again this fall. I wonder how many years the King has?
I wish you great garden success! See you in "The Backyard"!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Progress Report on Experiments

Last fall I outlined two garden experiments I was planning to undertake for this year's growing season. The first was a King of the North sweet pepper that I wanted to overwinter in the house, the second was a giant Detroit Dark Red beet from which I wanted to collect seed.

Peppers, or more properly, chilies are not annual plants in their native environment, but here in Minnesota (and much of the US) peppers are grown primarily as annuals. So, last spring, I planted my most vigorous King of the North start in a pot, with the intention of bringing the whole works in the house. There were trials and tribulations. The plant suffered in the presence of low light and I believe that made it susceptible to aphids that must have come inside with it. Daily bug squashing and 4 doses of Neem Oil at weekly intervals took care of that problem. I did end up cutting it way back, leaving just a few leaves, so it is not (and still isn't) a very attractive plant to display in the living room. The second major issue that the plant suffered is a lack of temperature. I keep my home at 60 degrees in the winter and that is just not typically the temperature range in which peppers are happiest. This coolness, combined with lack of light and the aphids caused the leaves to yellow and eventually all the leaves from last summer fell off. I am happy to report that the plant is enjoying much more light and is making new leaves and even flower buds! It is still too early to put "the King" back out doors, but I have great hope that it will be an early producer and will overcome the awful haircut it received last fall.

The Detroit Dark Red beet is a much smoother success story. I wavered back and forth on the storage options for the beet through the long winter. I decided against storing the beet in sand in a cool, dark corner of the basement. I wrapped "big beet" in two layers of newspaper and stored it in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. I picked a day that seemed early enough in the spring, but still cool enough to freeze and opened the bag. I was so tickled to see that there were new leaves forming and it had not gotten soft or rotten on the tap root. I then dig a hole big enough for "big beet" and planted it out in the garden. I am happy to report that this experiment is going quite smoothly, and "big beet" is pumping out new leaves and hopefully when the time is right it will flower and make a multitude of seeds.

Good Luck with your garden experiments!
See you in "The Backyard"!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Big Big Mr. Beet

The Big Beet Experiement is nearly complete. Mr. Beet lasted all winter in the refrigerator and has been planted out in the garden. He was stored wrapped in two sheets of newspaper and stored in a plastic produce bag in the crisper. He emerged solid without evidence of rotting and even little baby sprouts shooting from the top. So, out to the garden he goes, planted so that the top is out of the soil, being careful to keep the roots straight, add a good bit of watering and wait to see what happens. The point of overwintering this beet and replanting him is to save seed.

This beet became a candidate for seed saving as a result of it's vigor in the garden, (it grew well and fast), and it's resistance to insect damage (when all the leaves on my other beets were ravaged, this one stood tall and undamaged!). Beets and other roots are biennial plants, in that they produce seeds the second year. So, Mr. Big Beet hopefully will flower and make seeds which I will collect to use in the future. The variety of this beet is called Detroit Dark Red, this beet variety is one on offer by Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA. Seed Savers Exchange promotes heirloom, open pollinated varieties in an effort to maintain the genetic heritage and diversity of our food crops. They also work with heritage breeds of chickens, ducks, turkeys, cattle and apple breeds. The work they do helps to combat the monopolization of our food system by companies who seek to patent genetic material and control the food chain from "birth" to plate. Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit and do tremendous work on behalf of anyone who eats! (

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring is Exploding!

It's time again, this year I think it's sneaking up faster than last year, at least here in Minnesota. I have tons of seedlings started, some more ready than others, all following their own path. The "green house" in the basement is serving well for the heirloom starts, everything from herbs to broccoli. No signs of damping off, and the germination mats are doing the trick.

After some welcome publicity, the client list expanded by 246% this season, holy buckets! There will be home gardens all over the land at this rate, which is the goal. Why is that the goal you ask? It's all about the food, it's just plain better if you grew it yourself! Heaping portions of pride and accomplishment, with dashes of dispair at times, the whole plate covered with a lovely gravy of nurturing.

What's the secret to keeping plants happy? The same thing as keeping relationships happy, pay attention! and when you can do something good, do it! How you care for your seedlings and plant starts now, has a direct effect on how they produce for you later. The classic plant start is the tomato, it seems everyone wants to grow tomatoes. Here are some rules of thumb...don't start them too early or they get leggy and weak, give them a bigger "home" if they grow out of the old one (don't assume that it will be okay until you plant it out-it's like wearing shoes that are too small, NO GOOD!). When you pot up the seedling, treat it carefully and give it lots of nice new dirt in which to play. Do let it get used to the sun and wind gradually by hardening off, meaning that the plants get ever slightly more exposure to the bright sun and wind over a period of 1-2 weeks. Don't get fooled by a nice warm spell, it could freeze again...wait until at least your average last frost date to plant it outside.

In the meantime, remember that certian things can be direct seeded now, even if it does freeze again. The list includes lettuce, spinach, radish, broccoli, cabbage, dill, beets and carrots. That certianly isn't a complete list but it will get you through the afternoon garden therapy session anyway!

Good Luck, See you in The Backyard!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is it time yet? Maybe yes, maybe no...

For the gardener, January is pure torture and delight! The seed catalogs show up and they have all these wonderful glossy pictures, filled with promises of "heavy yields" or "top producer", they promise resistance to drought or heat or cold or disease or infestation and they comfort the agitated gardener who looks upon the garden covered in a blanket of snow and can do nothing but think of spring. I have made my decisions, which as soon as the weather warms, I will abrubtly change I am sure. I have placed my orders, mixed up the starting medium, sanitized my pots and now I wait. Depending on your climate, it may be time to start seeds and get things started, but up here in Zone 4 we wait, or suffer the consequences. In fact for some plants I will wait 2 more months, for others I will wait just a few more weeks. As always, I am firmly on the heirloom side of vegetable gardening, they are true and proven, beautiful and delicious. Check out Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA ( for a complete run down on what they are doing to save our genetic seed heritage. The have started with heritage variety poultry and have some White Park Cattle, which I find to be about as beautiful as can be.

Here's a list of things that I start in February:
Chives, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Peppers (hot and sweet), Onions, Shallots

Remember to use sterilized starting medium, be careful with the watering (bottom watering is best), and give the little planties some good old fashioned heat and light. Heat mats can be purchased, but heating pads or electric blankets seem to work just as well. No need to purchase the fancy "grow lights" I have had great luck with regular florescent lights (warm and cool to cover as much of the spectrum as possible).

Here's what I am dealing with these days:

Happy dreaming to you all!