Early start to the veggie garden for 2013

image This spring has been very unusual here in my zone 3 yard. During the last week of April we were inundated with snow and cold – ok maybe that’s not terribly unusual for Alberta. But on May 6th we set a new record high of 31C (that’s 88F my American friends). I brought out all of my seedlings to acclimate them and its too darn hot! I have to protect them in the shade for crying out loud. That’s just not normal.

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The forecast says that the risk of frost in the next week is minimal, and Edmonton’s average last day of frost is May 12th, so I should be home free, right? Well, as much as I’d like to believe that I think I’ll wait another week before I transfer my seedlings to soil.

But the weather has been perfect for sowing my vegetable garden. Here’s what’s going in the dirt this week:

  • Corn: Fleet Bi-Color Hybrid
  • Squash: Spaghetti
  • Sunflower: Ruby
  • Zucchini: Raven
  • Spinach: Regal
  • Swiss Chard: Lucullus
  • Peas: Progress #9
  • Lettuce: Esmeralda
  • Lettuce: Buttercrunch
  • Carrots: Touchon
  • Carrots: Scarlet Nantes
  • Beet: Chioggia
  • Bean: TendergreenBush
  • Potatoes: Kennebec
  • Onion Set: White
  • Onion Set: Red

As far as seedlings go I’ve sown:

  • Tomato: Black from Tula
  • Tomato: Tumbler
  • Tomato: Mamma Mia
  • Pepper: Serano del Sol
  • Onion: Spanish Candy Hybrid
  • Cucumber: Spacemaster
  • Eggplant: Hansel
Seedlings in waiting

Seedlings in waiting

I have some winter lettuce that will be ready to eat long before the head lettuces. I think I’ll plant a second type of cucumber as well. My chives, lavender, mint and oregano have all returned and I have ample garlic coming up in more than one place. I’ve got parsley and cilantro seedlings started and I’ve bought some basil, thyme, rosemary and sage bedding plants.

Yippee! It’s spring!

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Upcycling Pots for Seedlings

Toilet Paper Pots

I’m forever looking for ways to reuse things I have around the house when it comes time to sow my spring seeds. I use anything I can get my hands on from yogurt cups to take-out containers.

This year I decided to try making small paper planters from toilet paper rolls.

Each roll can be cut in half to make two planters – tiny little planters suitable for some of the seedlings I’ll sow last, like lettuce and morning glory.

Fold the tp rolls flat then again so that they become square-ish.  Cut them in half then make a 1cm slice along each fold. Fold these slits as you would to close a box. Flip and fill.

Death From Above

I’ve heard about people who have to fight off docile deer and those fluffy little bunnies. They come up with all sorts of ideas to frighten, intimidate and punish the cute little wildlife that appear in their garden to have a look around and strike photogenic poses.

Common House Sparrow

Alas, but I wish I had such simple matters to deal with. No, in my garden fear comes from above. Yes, I have the viciously ruthless Common House Sparrow to contend with.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking…what could a tiny beady-eyed house sparrow do to your garden that a swipe with a broom couldn’t deal with?

Well, sparrows tienen los cajones (tiny ones albeit) of steel. They’ll pick away at my pea sprouts while looking me in the eye, then fly away when I rush at them hose in hand. They’ll laugh at me as they snack on my lettuce greens. With two broods a season, they have countless little beaks to feed and they’ll stop at nothing to get at my Swiss chard.

I’ve battled these villainous flying feathered fiends for years, and I’ve finally come up with a tidy solution to keep them away from the goods. I’ve built retaining walls – tiny jails to protect my veggies from the beaks of doom.

For four weeks after I sow my peas I protect them with a metal mesh from one end of my raised bed to the other. After they have reached about four inches in height they seem to no longer have the tasty bird-appeal they once did, and it’s safe to release the peas to grow tall and delicious.

My small planters of early greens are protected from seedling to salad by custom made wire mesh proctors.

I’ll be protecting my head lettuce this year for the entire season with my new lettuce coop. Built from flexible PVC hose and plastic mesh, this fortress of security is impenetrable. See the photo gallery for details.

Sowing Salad Greens in Planters

 

Mesclun mix

This morning the sun was shining brilliantly on my south-facing patio and it felt like spring had finally arrived in my zone 3 Edmonton backyard. Because we’ve had so much snow this winter, it’s taking forever for the grass to appear and the garden to make it’s way to the surface.

But today was warm, bright and sunny, chasing away the cold weather blues that have engulfed our prairie city for so many months. It seemed like the perfect day to sow the first of my outdoor seeds – the greens.

I don’t like to refer to my greens as “lettuce” because I plant so much more than that. My mesclun mix is a combination of lettuce, arugala, endive, mustard greens, radicchio and who-knows-what else. The oriental greens mix has gai lan, pac choi, mizuna, red leaf mustard, tokyo bekana, spinach mustard and toy choi. I don’t even know what half of those are!

I began by removing a significant amount of last year’s soil from two large planters I use for my salad greens, leaving about six inches in the bottom and topping up with fresh sterile starter mix. I do this so that I don’t have any random seeds in my mixed greens – I don’t want any poisonous plants growing among my yummy salad leafs. I wouldn’t know which were safe and which weren’t.

After I moistened the soil, I spread a small handful (about a teaspoon) of seed evenly over the surface and lightly pressed them in. I placed a brick under the back of each planter so they would tilt slightly to the sun, encouraging as much heat and light as possible on these early spring days.

Finally, I covered one of the planters with a specially designed wire mesh which I built last year to protect my seeds and shoots from the birds. The local sparrows were watching me closely as I covered their favorite open-concept dining room, and they were not amused.

In a week to ten days I’ll have my first few sprouts and within a month I’ll be eating fresh greens plucked from just outside my back door. By reseeding every two weeks I can have baby greens all summer long.

Eating Fresh: A Raw Deal

 

Tumbler Tomatoes

My favourite time of the growing season is when I start to eat the fresh produce that’s I’ve affectionately tended since spring. Although I’ve already been into my herb garden for over a month and eating lettuce for several weeks, this was the first week I was able to enjoy some of the slower to develop vegetables.

My Tumbler tomatoes, both in the upside down planters and my regular tomato box, have been producing a few ripe red fruit each day. Sliced on a hummus and vegetable tortilla, the tomatoes are like a ray of sunshine caught in a tender juicy package.

My Mr. Big pods are long, plump, and full of sweet green peas. Any pods lower than a foot off the ground have been meticulously plucked by my dog and gleefully consumed while I’m not watching. It’s the price I pay for having taught her where they come from.

I pulled and peeled the first of sixty garlic bulbs which are now two seasons old. I’ve decided that garlic cloves pulled fresh from the garden and added to a salad are one of the finest things in life.

The second finest is vine-ripened peppers, and I can start picking my Banana peppers any time now. The more I pick, the more the plant will produce.

My bok choy and spinach have been struggling, primarily because of the feisty nature of local sparrows that appear to have an insatiable hunger for leafy dark greens. Those plants that I covered with wire mesh are toiling away and should be ready in coming weeks.

There’s a certain melencholy that comes with the beginning of the harvest season. Days are getting shorter, the sun’s a bit lower on the horizon, and it won’t be long before the peas are done, the lettuce bolts and the herbs lose their best flavor. I have to remind myself that there are still beans to come (another puppy favorite), potatoes to harvest and my personal favorite: juicy carrots to eat fresh and raw from the soil.

Planting in Egg Cartons

This year I decided to try a new technique for planting my lettuces and other leafy greens: egg cartons.

I filled a supply of paper egg cartons with sterile gardening soil and planted 2 to 3 seeds in each of the twelve cups. My theory is that as the plants establish themselves they should be able to break through the paper carton and ultimately grow as any other plant would in the garden.

Why bother? Well, it sure was pleasant to sit at my table in the sun planting the seeds rather than crouched over the dirt trying to sow a straight row. As I filled a carton or two, I’d walk them over to my garden bed and immerse them in the soil. A little water and they were good to go.

This technique also gave me control over the quality of the soil that they were started in. I used a Miracle Grow container soil with a small amount of 5-5-5 fertilizer.

Within a week I had signs of spinach and lettuce in the egg cartons, and in another week I’ll thin them out to give them plenty of room to grow.

Only time will tell if this technique will produce healthy plants, so watch for an update later in the summer.