Perfect Roma Tomatoes. Every Time.

I have to give a shout out to T&T Seeds of Winnipeg for their amazing Roma tomato called Momma Mia. It’s been a staple in my garden for years, producing beautiful paste tomatoes that I love to make into sauce for those bland winter months. The quantity of fruit can’t be beaten, and I’ve never had any issues with the health and virility of the plants. Highly recommended.

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Square Foot Seed Tape: My Lightbulb Moment

Have you ever had an idea that was so awesome that you’ve thought, “OMG I’m a genius, why has nobody ever thought of this before”?

Well, this week I had one of these inspired brain explosions and I came up with Square Foot Garden Tape…or Sheets.
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Anybody who plants their garden using the square foot technique has discovered that typical carrot and radish tapes don’t work. What we need is a sheet of thin paper with the seeds imbedded in the appropriate pattern.
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Unfortunately a little research led me to discover that I wasn’t the first person to have this LED light bulb moment. Turns out it’s been done before.
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No worries, I went ahead and did my version of square foot seed tape using Sweet Nantes carrot seeds and tissue paper cut to size. I decided to plant 25 seeds per sq ft, which is more than the 16 recommended by Mel Bartholomew in his best selling book “All New Square Foot Gardening”. After laying out the pattern on a sheet of tissue paper,  I placed a dab of flour/water paste on each dot, the embedded a carrot seed in the paste.
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When it came time to plant my garden, all I had to do was lay the sheets on the soil, water them gently and cover them with a thin layer of dirt. It was so much easier on my back.

I planted some carrots the “traditional” way as well so that I could determine if there was any difference in germination time. I’ll let you know in a future post.
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Note:
For more information on square foot gardening you should have a look at this previous post.

Eggplant in Edmonton

Here’s what I can tell you about growing eggplant in Edmonton: It’s not easy.

You need heat and lots of it. And water. But not too much water.
I grow my eggplants adjacent to the south-facing wall of my house in a well drained flowerbed. They get all the heat they can handle, but they also are prone to drying out. This means I have to water regularly, but not so much that they become saturated. In other words, they need pampering.
I’ve been successful in two of the three years I’ve attempted eggplant from seed, and the one year I failed was because the seedlings dried out while I was away on a short trip.
I’ve tried growing them elsewhere in the yard but they don’t get enough heat to mature in the short season we have here in zone 3.
This is one of my Eggplant Hansel which I grew from seeds I bought from T and T in Winnipeg.

Seed Starter Pots From Toilet Paper Rolls: Upcycling

Last year I began using toilet paper cardboard rolls to make tiny seedling starter pots. They aren’t very fancy, but they also cost nothing and keep materials out of the landfill.

So this winter I saved all of my toilet rolls and came up with a fabulous collection of  seedling pots. My only regret is that I left them all in a big pile and had dozens to make all at once. Next winter I might be a little bit more proactive.

I’m happy to say I’ve got dozens ready to go.  It’s that time of year; I’ll be starting my peppers in about a week and my tomatoes the week after that.

From this...

From this…

To this...

To this…

To this

To this

Project: Up-Cycled Garden Scoop

All right, so you won’t be able to dig in the garden with this scoop, but you can spread seeds or sprinkle fertilizer. It’s just a handy little scoop to use wherever you need it. I use one for my dog food bag and another in my bird seed bin.

Draw your pattern directly on the milk jug

Cut out your scoop and trim to your liking

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.

Winners and Losers in 2011 Growing Season

Meet my favorites and those I wouldn’t grow again

I sowed many varieties of both vegetables and flowers in 2011, and I know which I’ll be bringing back in 2012 and which will not be making a return visit to gardeninggrrl’s garden. In addition to direct sowing, this year was the first time in many that I started dozens of my plants indoors under grow lamps. I had some successes and some failures, and I’m happy to share my experience with everyone.

Winners

Beans Straight 'N' Narrow

Green Bean Straight ‘N’ Narrow (T and T)

-high rate of germination

-more beans than I can eat

Pepper Serrano del Sol (T and T)

-10 days to germinate

-high rate of germination

-lots of hot peppers per plant

Pepper Jalapeño Mucho Nacho (T and T)

-10 days to germinate

-high rate of germination

-4-5 hot peppers per plant

Onion Candy Hybrid

Onion Candy Hybrid (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-large, flavorful onions

Tomato Tumbler (T and T)

-6 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-dozens of cherry tomatoes

-early tomato, still producing until end of August

-great in containers

Eggplant Hansel

Eggplant Hybrid Hansel (T and T)

-19 days to germination

-high level of germination

-lots of eggplants per plant

-needs a ton of heat and sunny spot

-plants with only moderate heat never flowered

Lettuce Romaine Baby Star (T and T)

-3 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-extremely tasty lettuce

-should have started more a few weeks later

Lettuce Esmeralda (T and T)

-3 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-excellent butter-type lettuce

-lasted long before bolting

Oriental Greens Mix

Oriental Greens Mix (Harmonic Herbs)

-excellent mix of early greens

-bolt quickly

Leaf Lettuce Mesclun Mix (T and T)

-excellent mix of early greens

Carrot Nantes Scarlet Coreless (Seed Centre)

-excellent rate of germination

-very sweet carrot

Petunia Shock Wave Denim

Petunia Shock Wave Denim (T and T)

-9 days to germination

-low level of germination

-extremely prolific flowering plant

-excellent in containers or beds

Sweet Basil (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-low level of germination

-prolific production once established

Cosmos Double Click

Cosmos Double Click (T and T)

-moderate level of germination

-huge plants with tons of blossoms

-lasts for almost two months

Viper’s Bugloss (Bedrock Seeds)

-11 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-lovely early flowers

Morning Glory Carnevale (T and T)

-moderate germination

-prolific flowers for over a month

Impatiens Super Elfin Blend

Impatiens Super Elfin Blend (T and T)

-10 days to germination

-moderate level of germination

-slow to develop

-lovely once established

Dahlia Unwins Dwarf Hybrid

Dahlia Unwins Dwarf Hybrid (T and T)

-6 days to germination

-moderate rate of germination

-lovely flowers for well over a month

Peas Sugar snap (McKenzie)

-high number of pods per plant

Cucumber Early Russian (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

-excellent production

Losers

Cucumber Early Mincu (Pike)

-low level of germination

-low production of cucumbers

Tomato Prairie Pride (T and T)

-11 days to germination

-high rate germination

-poor number of tomatoes per plant

Tomato Centennial Rocket (T and T)

-no germination on two attempts

Tomato Charlie’s Red Staker (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-poor number of tomatoes per plant

Swiss Chard Bright Lights (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

Spinach Catalina (T and T)

-low level of germination

-quick to bolt

Spinach Razzle Dazzle (T and T)

-low level of germination

-quick to bolt

Onion Evergreen Bunching (Pike)

-low level of germination

Sweet Pea Royal Family Mixed (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

-slow to germinate

Portulaca Sundial Mix (T and T)

-no germination

Coleus Wizard Mix (T and T)

-low germination

-no significant development of plants

Neutral

Eggplant Asian Ping Tung Long (McKenzie)

-16 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-none flowered due to inappropriate growing conditions

Beet Deep Cylinder (T and T)

-good germination

-small beets, uneven growth

Parsley Champion Moss Curled (McKenzie)

-16 days to germination

-low level mod germination

-prolific parsley once established

Peas Lincoln Homesteader (McKenzie)

-low number of pods per plant

-slow to germinate

Bean Pole Scarlet Runner (McKenzie)

-high level of germination

-non-edible beans (although Lucy ate some)

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.

Six Weeks From Seed to Six Inches

Tumbler Tomatoes

I started my tomatoes indoors on March 20, 2011 and transferred them to their own pots on April 8th. This week it was warm enough (ok, just barely) to start putting them outside a few hours every day.

The Tumblers are doing great; I’ve already transplanted some of them to larger pots as you can see in the photo. I made sure to plant then even deeper in the new pot, burying another 2-3 inches of the central stalk.

When I put the tomatoes out to harden them off, generally about two weeks before last frost, I begin by only exposing them for a couple of hours per day. Ideally they shouldn’t get any significant wind or direct sunlight for the first while. Hardening off is critical to the success of seedlings which have been raised in a safe indoor environment devoid of significant air circulation and UV radiation.

My grocery store began using these new non-refillable water bottles a few months ago. The deposit is a paltry twenty-five cents, so I decided they would make great cloches for the bigger tomatoes. I use the top of a juice bottle for the smaller ones.

It’s exciting to think that I’ll be able to transplant many of my seedlings to the garden in only a couple of weeks!

I planted the tomatoes in a large flat on March 20th

Pricking out on April 8th

Tomatoes Ready to Harden Off Outdoors April 28th

Dabbling in Dibbles

Insert the pegs and glue them in place

When I saw my first dibble board I thought, “Why haven’t I already made one of these?” It’s that kind of tool – a “duh” tool that should be in every gardeners shed.

A dibble (or dibber)  is a tool that makes a hole – ostensibly to sow a seed, but alternately for any purpose. They’ve been around since Roman Times.

Well, that’s all good and fine, but who wants to plant each and every seed by making a little hole one at a time? I wanted to take it to the next level, so I decided to make a dibble board.

As a square-foot gardener (for the most part) I wanted to create a board, or series of boards, that I could use to lay out a pattern for each individual foot of my raised bed. This meant that I would need one that made 16 holes per square foot, one that made 9 and one that poked 4 holes.

Square-foot gardening treats every foot of the garden as a separate patch in which you can sow any number of different vegetables or flowers. If you are growing carrots in that square foot, then you would sow 16 seeds. If you are growing spinach, you’d only sow 4. It’s a very efficient means of gardening, and if done correctly it looks great as well.

For sowing in past years I had made three cardboard guides with holes that I could drop the seeds through or poke a pencil through to make an appropriate hole. This was a bit lame, as they cardboard looked like heck and poking the holes in the soil was time consuming.

This spring I decided to make my own dibble board, so I began with a trip to Home Depot to pick up some plywood. I actually found a free piece of scrap plywood in their waste material that was exactly the right width for the project. All I had to do was cut three 12 x 12 inch pieces and I was ready to start making dibbles.

Using what I hoped would be simple mathematical principles, I drew out a pattern on each piece of wood and marked the location of the holes. I then searched around for something to use as pegs in each of the holes and decided that my collection of sponge paint brushes (10 for $1 at Michael’s) could spare an inch off the end of each brush. The handles were 3/8″ diameter and worked perfectly, although it took me some time to cut each one with the chop saw.

I drilled matching 3/8″ holes at the marked locations in the board and glued each of the pegs in place. Since I was using 1/4″ plywood, each peg stuck out just under 3/4 of an inch. This will make a hole too deep for some seeds, so that has to be considered when pressing the board into the soil. I don’t personally think that the depth of the hole is as critical as how much soil is placed over the seed once it’s been planted.

I tried out my new set of dibbles already, and I think they did the job marvelously. I was able to plant all of my carrots in no time. Of course, it snowed the next day – but that’s just part and parcel of growing vegetables in zone 3. Sigh.