Transplants Started!!!

So last night on my way to work I stopped by my mailbox and my seeds had arrived!  I immediately felt the need to open each packet and look at all of them (I probably should have waited and only opened each one as I used it).  I am so excited!  So this morning I hustled off to Home Depot to pick up a couple of supplies to get some seeds started (time is of the essence, as late summer here is the worst time to plant, due to unfavorably hot initial weather followed by freezes by the time things like peppers get big enough to start producing).  While the vast majority of gardening books and blogs I have read advocate using a 4′ fluorescent light hung directly over seedlings, I simply don’t have the space, tools, or know-how to rig one of those up (I mean these people put them on retractable chains and all sorts of craziness!).  I figured I could get the same (if miniature) effect by using a plastic Rubbermaid type bin with an 18″ fluorescent plug-in light attached to the inside of the lid.  Low and behold, indoor transplants for dummies with small apartments:

 

Inside the box day one

I am holding the lid up (that is the lid in the upper left corner) but you can see how bright the light is.

   The one downside to my ingenious system is of course the very limited amount of space.  I had originally wanted to do eight marigolds, six broccoli and one each of the three cherry tomato varieties and two pepper varieties, but I only had room for four marigolds and three broccoli in addition to the tomatoes and peppers.  The peppers I am really not very hopeful about, since they take so very long to mature.  They will probably not be ready by the time the weather cools down, but it will be valuable experience learning how to grow the transplants anyway.  The pots that I had originally looked at online were square 4″ pots, but when I went to Home Depot they only had round 5″ pots, so not as many plants fit as I wanted.  Because broccoli is more of a cool-weather crop, however, once these transplants are moved to the garden in 4 – 6 weeks I can start a few more, and thus hopefully end up with two different harvests of broccoli (plus any side-shoots they produce).  Because I am only doing one transplant of each of the tomatoes and peppers, I placed three seeds in each container, just in case some don’t come up.  If all of them come up, I will just pick the healthiest one and mercilessly cut the others.

Potting Supplies

Potting supplies all ready.

  Instead of buying label sticks, I cut up one of the blinds that was left out on my balcony when I moved in (the window is missing two blinds, which for some reason were out on the balcony…and this one had been repaired once before across the top by staples, apparently…) and Sharpied in the name of the variety and what kind of plant it is.  Because I worked super late (or early this morning, really) last night, I did not make it to the work party at the co-op today, but I will make it to the next one.  Meanwhile I will go out probably on Tuesday and prepare the north side of the plot for the corn.  That is currently the most overgrown part of the plot, so that will be lots of fun, but it has to be done because the corn really cannot wait.  I am relying on the local extension office’s planting dates rather than the other co-op gardener’s opinions as far as all this goes, so it may come back to bite me, but since I am only planting a few of each plant, I will have lots of seeds leftover for next summer anyway, so I’m not terribly concerned.  I will leave you today with an image that happened as soon as I brought in the box with the plants and set it up with the light.

New thing must be for cat

Any new object must be cat entertainment.

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Quick Update

So this morning I went out and continued the battle against the weeds.  There will be another co-op work day this Saturday and I am trying to get my plot mostly cleaned up by then, since there are a couple of compost piles that will probably be ready so I can use the compost to re-level my plot, since the previous gardeners obviously were row gardeners and there are huge dips and hills in my plot (not conducive to the raised beds I plan to put in, not to mention the dips turn into giant puddles in rainstorms).  My ultimate goal is to have my plot sit slightly above the surrounding ground level so that I won’t get rainwater build up.  Once I get the weeds cleared and the ground leveled I intend to put down a layer of the weedblock fabric across the entire plot so that it stays nice and neat looking.  Next time I go out there I need to remember to bring a tape measure so I can see where the exact boundaries of my plot are, since the neighboring plots are even more overgrown than mine and have no solid barriers.  Thankfully I have a bunch of bricks that I had used to edge my small strip of dirt at my last home that I can use to mark the edges of my plot, though I don’t have enough bricks to form a continuous line.  Today I got the rest of the pile of pulled up weeds from my first trip out there and got rid of some more weeds as well.  Here is a picture after I was done today.

 

Garden 08-08-13

Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a lot better than it originally was, as you can see from the next picture.

Before Mowing

*Shudder*

  Other than that, the tomato seeds are still fermenting and I have been doing a lot of research on growing seeds from hybrid plants and it is really fascinating.  I have lately been leaning more and more toward going into research as a career path, and while I thought I would do equine research, it is possible that this might be an even better path.  The problem of course is that it gets a lot more into molecular biology than I have ever wanted to.  But that is years down the line and I am not changing my major again!  Still, I do wish I could grow more than one plant from this batch of seeds, since in all my research Sun Gold hybrid F2 seeds lead to a very wide variety of plants.  For example the Sun Gold is an orange cherry tomato characterized as having a “fruity” flavor, but people have gotten pink tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, red tomatoes, different shaped tomatoes, dwarf tomato plants, and regular tasting tomatoes all just from the F2 generation.  It’s really very interesting stuff.  It is also fun to think that eventually if I grew enough of the F2 plants and managed to find one variety that I really liked then took that plant’s seeds, etc, etc, etc, I could eventually come up with my own variety of cherry tomato.  And really if I started with non-hybrid varieties of tomatoes I could go even faster with it if I cross-pollinated by hand.  It is really very interesting stuff, and of course it doesn’t have the ethical downsides of animal research.  Anyway, I just want to leave you with a picture of a sunflower on the plot across from mine.  It is the only sunflower that I have seen in the entire co-op.

SunflowerI really want to steal it and put it in water at my apartment, but A) that would probably be mean and B) there were two bees on it and I am terrified of bees.

Saving Seeds

   So today I decided that since the Sun Gold cherry tomato I have left is starting to look rather yucky (it is mostly yellow now), I would pull the ripe tomatoes off of it and save some seeds to start when the rest of my seeds come in (I just ordered seeds yesterday).  So I looked up how to save cherry tomato seeds (since tomato seeds are reported to be some of the easiest to save) and found this lovely tutorial.  Then I dug out my actual camera and low and behold in the same compartment was my memory card to USB converter thing, yay!  After replacing the batteries in the camera I took some shots which will hopefully be of somewhat better quality than my usual cell phone pics (though I can’t wait until I get my big camera back from the abyss that is my mother’s house, as its wide-angle lens would have been even better for this!).  So here are some pictures of the process.

 

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A picture of the tomatoes to start.  These came off the tomato plants I ordered in the spring from Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants.  They are a hybrid, which means that they may not come true from seed, but we’ll see.  If not, I have two other varieties of cherry tomato seeds on their way!

 

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The tomato “guts” after squeezing out the innards of the above tomatoes.

 

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The tomato skins after squeezing out the insides :).

 

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The tomato guts plus a little bit of water, covered with plastic wrap (with a couple of air holes), ready to ferment!

 

   I decided to put the glass on the bathroom counter to ferment, since it is warm in there and there is some light, but not direct sunlight.  Of course immediately after that my cat, Marcus, decided to try to pull the glass off the counter (since I used a hair tie as a rubber band, and he has a weird obsession with hair ties), so I ended up sandwiching it behind a couple of heavy bottles of bath products.  Now I just have to wait, since it needs to ferment for 3 – 5 days.  Then, once there is a layer of mold (ewwww), I can rinse the seeds and separate them from the guts and leave them out to dry (most likely in my closet or somewhere else where kitties are not allowed) for about a week.  By then hopefully the rest of my seeds will have arrived so I can get some transplants started.  I ordered all my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, because they are organic (one of the rules for the garden co-op where my plot is) and are especially suited to southern climates.  I went with all vegetables that I am familiar with other than the long beans, because I know the co-op will have some free seeds later on in the fall so I can always try a plant or two of something new without having to actually buy a whole packet only to decide I don’t like that vegetable at all.  So without further ado, I ordered (all photos are from the website unless otherwise noted):

Lemon Drop French Marigold – Marigolds are necessary because they deter pests, and since this is a dwarf variety it should stay pretty small and cute

Stickless Wonder Asparagus Bean – The aforementioned long bean.  The great thing about long beans is that they are extremely heat tolerant, and are therefore one of the few vegetables that will keep producing even in the dog days of Florida summers.  This one is a somewhat smaller long bean and looks pretty much like a green bean to me so hopefully it will perform like a green bean.

Contender (Buff Valentine) Bush Snap Bean – I picked this one because bush beans can be grown again in the fall, so hopefully I will have some green beans this fall, it is heat resistant, which is always important here in Florida, and is supposed to be quite tasty.

Kentucky Wonder (Old Homestead) Pole Snap Bean – I picked this one because I think I am going to be crazy and try to grow it in the fall even though pole beans usually aren’t grown in the fall, and because pole beans tend to produce for a longer period of time than bush beans (though they take longer to reach maturity).  It is also one of the older varieties, from the 1800s originally, which I think is cool.

Premium Crop Hybrid Broccoli – I have never successfully produced a head of broccoli in a container, but according to other gardeners in the co-op it does really well in the fall, so I am crossing my fingers!

Danvers 126 Carrots – I love carrots, and just wanted to give an old faithful variety a shot.  This one is relatively short and thick, so I am hoping it will do well.

Golden Bantam 8 Row Sweet Corn – Pretty much everyone in the co-op grows a row of corn, and I remember my grandpa talking the other day about how they used to grow Bantam corn, so I decided to pick that variety!

Golden Calwonder Sweet Pepper – Bell peppers are quite possibly my favorite vegetable and I have actually successfully grown them in pots before, so I am just hoping I have enough time to get some in this fall (I will probably later write of the frost killing them off, but fingers crossed!).

Perfection (True Heart) Sweet Pepper – No picture 😦  This is a red bell pepper that is supposed to have really great flavor.

Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato – I just love the shape of these ones.  After the failure that was Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry I am hoping that these will be tasty!

Red Pisa Date Cherry Tomato – The website says it may be the tomato that was served as dessert at Monticello, and I just couldn’t resist!

White Wonder Cucumber – No picture 😦  It is supposed to be productive in hot weather, which is always good, plus what’s the point in only growing regular green cucumbers?

Straight Eights Cucumber – No picture 😦 Supposed to have excellent flavor!

Wild Garden Lettuce Mix – 60 different varieties of lettuce seed all mixed up together so your salad is always a surprise.

Evergreen Hardy White Bunching Onion – No picture 😦  This is just a green onion, since I love my Asian foods!

 

Anyway, that’s all for now, but look for an enthusiastic update once I get my seeds!

 

 

 

Garden and Apron Updates

So both the garden and the apron are coming along, and I have lots of pictures (compared to past posts, at least) today, so bear with me!  In order to get pictures on here right now I have to take them with my phone, then upload them to Facebook, then save them to my computer, then upload them here, so they are not super high quality right now.  I did find my little camera when I moved, though (the big camera is not something I want to risk at my garden!), so hopefully eventually I can figure out how to use that instead.  I used to have a special USB port that you could insert the camera memory card into, but I would have to look through my stuff to see if I can find that.  Anyway, enough about that, on to better things!

 

So I will start off with the apron.  I am using all 100% cotton that is technically sort of intended for quilting, but I already had it on hand and I wasn’t about to go buy more fabric when I already have a huge plastic bin full of it.  I did go out and buy a pattern because I haven’t made an apron before and I didn’t want to mess up my pretty fabric.  I also did have to get bias tape (I know you can make it, but I wanted it in solid black and I only have solid black fragments, and it was cheaper just to buy a couple of packages of the the double folded kind than to buy black fabric, not to mention a huge time saver, since cutting strips and pressing them perfectly would have taken me probably days).  The one downside to that kind of tape is that it is much stiffer than I would have liked (since it is partly polyester), which made doing the corners on the top part of the apron somewhat difficult, and they didn’t come out as crisp as I would have liked.  I also ended up taking a bit of extra time to sew the tape a second time closer to the edge, since I was using a contrasting thread (purple, if you can’t see in the pictures) and I thought it would both look nice (which it does) and also help stabilize the edge more (only time will tell).  Anyway, here is a picture of my materials.

 

Apron Material

The pattern I am using is the second from the left, though it may end up being the far right if I can’t puzzle out the instructions!

   Unfortunately I started off by making quite a few mistakes.  First of all, while it says “Size A” which I’m assuming stands for “adult” on the outside, on the pattern paper itself it says “Miss” so I’m not sure whether it is actually adult sizes or not.  I went with the large, and since it’s just an apron I’m hoping it won’t really make a difference anyway.  Then, when I was cutting out the pattern pieces I unfortunately had not read the instructions first or I would have remembered that patterns sometimes have notches that stick up from the main cutting line that you should not just cut straight through.  I also would have not cut the patterns out exactly before attaching them to the fabric, instead I would have just cut out the general shapes, then pinned them and cut them, thereby achieving a more accurate cut.  Again, since it’s an apron I am not super concerned about it, especially since the mostly dark, somewhat busy patterns of the fabric should help disguise some mistakes, and the bias tape around the edges should hide uneven cuts.  I didn’t have enough of any one color to do the entire apron in one pattern, so I made each skirt tier a different color, as well as the waistband (the top is the same as the bottom skirt tier).  Here is a picture of the pieced together skirt draped over a chair.

Skirt

For some reason you can only see two tiers in this photo, but there are three.

  Basically so far I have all of the pieces cut out, the bias tape sewn on all the pieces that need it, and the skirt stitched together, along with the top being basted to the waistband and the waistband stitched to the skirt, but that I will probably have to redo, since I think I am reading the instructions incorrectly.  I don’t know if it’s just my pattern illiteracy or if I am actually doing it incorrectly, but at this point I am kind of thinking of abandoning the pattern and just putting it together in a way that makes sense to me (and potentially adding another layer to the waistband, as it just doesn’t seem sturdy enough to me).  If that fails, I will probably just strap the top part of it altogether (I hate to think of how the shoulder straps are going to go on).  Here is one last picture of the apron.  I am hoping to finish it either way sometime this weekend, since I have borrowed my mother’s iron and she is bound to notice sooner or later (sssshhhhh!).

Attaching the bias tape

Attaching the bias tape to one of the skirt tiers with my beloved (though rarely used up to this point) sewing machine.

  One more thing I forgot to mention – I did everything up to this point at my mother’s house, but had brought the extra sewing materials with me, including the instruction manual to the sewing machine, not noticing that apparently I had grabbed the Spanish version of the manual…thank goodness for diagrams!

  Now on to the garden!  I know this is a long post, but it just made more sense to me to do one long post than two smaller ones, especially since I would probably lose motivation and only do one post.  So last week I actually started work on my garden.  Right now all the work consists of trying to get rid of all the weeds.  Since my new job is one that takes place in the evening to late night hours, what I have done both times I’ve gone to work on the garden is just stay up all night and go to the garden as soon as the sun rises.  This has pros and cons.  The pros are that it is much cooler, there aren’t any other people on the roads or at the garden, and it is very peaceful, but the cons are that the bugs are super active, and it is extremely wet in the mornings.  The first time I went out there to work on my plot I also didn’t know the code to unlock the gate or the shed, so had to hop the gate and hike in, and then I had no tools/wheelbarrow.  I also remembered my boots but forgot my gloves (no joke when you’re pulling up corn).  I also work short sleeves, which came back to bite me literally when I woke up the next day with a large spider bite on my arm (but hey, it’s near a university, maybe it’s a radioactive spider…too bad there are no skyscrapers to swing from in Florida…).  So I worked for about a half an hour pulling up dead corn and eggplant as well as some colossal weeds.  I also put down one strip of weedblock fabric to try to start killing the weeds under it.  Here is a picture.

Garden last week

Mine is from the weedblock back to the grassy path.

  So today I wore a long sleeved shirt and remembered my gloves but forgot my boots.  And I didn’t realize that apparently it rained last night, because there were huge puddles everywhere.  I was at least able to get into the shed so I took a wheelbarrow load of the stuff I had pulled up last time and went at the rest of the weeds with hedge clippers so hopefully they will dry out in the sun over the next few days.  Here is a picture of the garden as I was leaving today (sorry about the lens flare, I probably should have taken the picture from the other side).

Garden after rain

As you can see, it was a boggy mess.

   Obviously I still have a lot of work today, and I will probably have to suck it up and go out there while it is sunny at some point so I can get the rest of the pile of pulled up stuff and rake the dirt flat before laying out the rest of the weedblock.  I am trying to take it slowly, however, since it will be a while before anything can really be planted anyway, and I know that if I go out there and try to knock it all out in one day I will only end up never wanting to go out there again.  I am in talks with my financial planner (otherwise known as my mother, because I am an impulse buyer whereas she is a budget stickler and right now I need the discipline) about what seeds to buy but at this point I am planning to start a few things indoors in August to see how that goes.  I have never started seeds indoors before, but would like to try it.  I will probably be starting some broccoli, tomato, and pepper seeds indoors, depending on what my financial planner says regarding the gardening budget.  Hopefully if these crops do well I will be able to save the seeds and not even have to buy more next time (at least on the tomatoes and peppers, I have no idea how one saves broccoli seeds).  I am also eager to try some things I haven’t grown before, such as corn.  The other gardeners seem to only grow tomatoes, etc, in the spring, but all my research indicates that they can have a second planting in the fall, so I am probably going to try it.  I am also going to try sprouting some branches from my current cherry tomato plant (the graft I mentioned in a past post was a complete failure) to see if I can get some transplants of that without all the waiting (amazingly it is still producing despite all the heat and wet, but it is kind of yellow and gross looking now so I would love to get some healthy new shoots).

  Congratulations you made it through the longest post ever!

 

 

New Garden Plot!

    So the university that I am going to has a couple of different community gardens where you can rent a plot each semester, and all of them had waiting lists when I first started looking in the spring, but now my number has come up and I have my own garden plot!  The normal plot sizes are 12′ by 25′ but I opted for a half-plot, so mine will be closer to 12′ by 12′, which will be plenty of room since I have never done in ground or really regular outside gardening at all.  At first I think I will start with the Square Foot Gardening method and probably do two different 4′ by 4′ square foot gardens, just to try to keep it manageable but still more natural than container gardening, and then perhaps try a mini row or two in the ground as well.  Then next summer I will probably try some corn, since everyone else at the co-op seems to have grown it this summer (which means I get to pull out the dried up old corn stalks in my plot next time I go out there, yay!).  Anyway, without further ado, I give you a picture of my lovely little plot before and after they mowed some of the previous renters’ plants down.Image

 

    It’s a bit different from container gardening that’s for sure!  I have been reassured by many members of the co-op, however, that this is just what high summer is like and it is actually manageable during the rest of the year.  Thankfully since today was a work day for the co-op, where we mowed all the paths, etc, they took a mower to most of it, so now it looks like this:

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    The corn on the right hand side marks a border, and the wooden post in the middle marks the corner of the other side, so I still have to as I said, rip out the corn, but also remove the plants in front of the post that didn’t get mowed (because there are stakes and other things in there, I think there were peppers and eggplants in there before it became a jungle).  Everyone at the co-op was super nice, and it will be a bargain, at $12.50 to have this plot until then end of December, including free water, use of tools, some free seeds, compost, and some manure (though right now there isn’t any, so I will probably be scooping up a couple of bags out at the barn this weekend 🙂 ).  As I was leaving, the plot coordinator gave me a huge eggplant that was grown by one of the gardeners on her plot.  I have never had eggplant, so I will be experimenting with cooking that tonight.  It sounds like a lot of things that I haven’t ever eaten or sometimes even heard of grow really well here, so it will be an adventure!  

    That’s all for now, but look later in the week for the saga of me trying (and most likely failing) to make a pretty apron for working at my fabulous new job (I am a kitchen assistant at a cookie bakery)!

 

 

Farmer’s Market

So today I went to a local farmer’s market and picked up:

 

1 mini bucket of cherry tomatoes (since my plants are not producing abundantly yet)

1 mini bucket of green beans (enough for probably three servings)

3 cucumbers

2 yellow bell peppers

1 ear of corn

1 canary melon

 

for the whopping price of $12.75 for the lot.

 

I am pretty sure that all of the above was grown locally.  When I go to farmer’s markets I try to steer away from things that I know weren’t grown locally (why would I go to a farmer’s market and buy California strawberries or South Carolina peaches when I could get them at a regular grocery store and they would be just the same), so my options on fruit are somewhat limited at the moment.  I don’t get why back in March and April it was strawberries galore and now there are no Florida strawberries in the farmer’s market at all…I mean, there are everbearing varieties, so I miss that, but today I decided to try something new and went to a stand that had only seedless watermelons, cantaloupes, and these odd yellow skinned melons.  They had samples out, and I really liked the yellow melon, which it turns out is a Canary Melon.  It is very interesting because the flesh looks very similar to a pear and is similar in texture, but the flavor is sweet and a little tangy.  I really liked it.  Now I am off to my mother’s house to get her to cut it up (fair payment since I will be going out to wash horses for her later this afternoon!), because the last time I tried to cut a melon, more of it went in the trash than in the bowl and I nearly sliced off appendages more than once.  Anyway, I also find it a bit funny that things like sweet corn and canary melons (which are supposed to be a late season melon) are already ripe here while in a lot of the country people are just now planting those sorts of things out!

 

Wishing you sun from the Sunshine State!

Tomatoes!

So I have gotten the first few tomatoes off of my Sun Gold tomato plant and they have been delicious.  The other day I picked the first tomato off of my Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry tomato plant, and I think I should have let it ripen a bit more.  I was just too eager, since it has had green tomatoes on it for over a month.  Hopefully now the tomato avalanche will begin, but the plants have never gotten as vigorous as I would have liked.  There are a number of reasons why this could be.  I think one of the main culprits was that they ended up sitting in their closed box (I had transplants shipped from a nursery in California) for two days longer than they should have because the post office thought that when my instructions said “if not at home, leave at office” that that meant the post office when in fact I meant the front office of my apartment complex, so of course I didn’t see the notice that they were at the post office until after I got home from work, when the office was closed, and then the next day the post office wasn’t open, so the poor things, used to a life outdoors in the California sun, were shut in a lightless box for three or four days.  That was probably a run on sentence, but oh well.  Then, to complicate matters, we ended up having some very strange very cold weather after an extremely mild winter, so after the poor plants were put in their containers we ended up having a few freezing nights.  All in all, I will be happy with however much they produce since they did have such a rough start, but hopefully they will at least make up for their cost (though the transplants themselves were only about $5 apiece, shipping added quite a bit).  Considering that they cherry tomatoes you get in the store taste like nothing and run $5 for a tiny little box, I think I will easily make up the difference, especially since I already had the containers, the cages, and the potting mix from previous growing seasons.  Lately it has been storming a lot in the afternoon, so I haven’t had to water the tomatoes as much, but prior to the rain a lot of the leaves had started yellowing and developing little brown spots, though I’m not sure what the cause was.  I picked off all of the branches/leaves that seemed to have issues, gave each plant a dose of liquid seaweed, and am now trying to keep a closer eye on the plants so it doesn’t take over again.  Anyway, to wrap up this quick post, here is a picture of the tomatoes that I picked yesterday.

 

The smaller tomatoes are Sun Gold and the huge one is a Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry – so far I much prefer the Sun Gold, but that could be because I couldn’t wait to pick the Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry!