Our 2023 garden: newest sprouts!

I love it when seedlings suddenly burst out of the ground and grow so fast, things are different every time I check on them!

When I checked on them yesterday, I could just see one Crespo squash starting to shoulder its way through the soil. Near the end of the day, I could see two emerging and one more just visible. I also spotted one eggplant peaking through. By the time I shut down the lights for the night, the eggplant was up, with signs of more starting to emerge, plus signs of one Caveman’s club gourd.

This morning, two of the Crespo squash are fully up, with the third one almost there – and the soil in the other pot looks like something might be breaking through soon, too. There are still more tomatoes emerging, and more eggplant peeking through. Still just one Caveman’s club gourd visible, so far.

As for the older seedlings, it looks like all the ones that got potted up have survived, though one drum gourd that did not need potting up doesn’t look like it’s growing. There had been two in that pot and one died. I was hoping the second one would make it. We shall see. The other two that were thinned by division are growing, and the third pot was reseeded, so I hope there will be more to transplant once the garden is ready. The more there are to transplant, the better the chances that at least one will reach maturity!

I’m happy to see so many seedlings emerging now. Soon, these will be moved off the heat mat to make room for the next batch of seed starts.

So far, things are looking good!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: last seed order has arrived

The last seed order I made, with Baker Creek, arrived this morning!

This was a last minute order that was not at all part of our garden plan for the year.

Interestingly, while the website warned that Canadian orders are now subject to duty, I did not have to pay anything when I picked up the package. There is a customs label on top of the original package label, and it says something about an exemption with a code on it, so I’ll assume that has something to do with it.

The Merlot lettuce we got as free seeds with our order are a variety we’ve grown before. We weren’t planning on growing lettuce in the garden this year, but still ended up with several packets of lettuce seeds! Now that we’ve got the cat barriers up, though, we might try growing some lettuce indoors, instead. That would probably be far more useful for us than trying to grow them in the garden and having to barricade them from critters.

The write up for the Mountain Morado corn now says these can be planted up to 2 weeks *before* last frost, so I might actually plant these this year, even though I have several other types of corn. It will depend on whether we can prepare a large enough plot for them, on top of all the other work we need to get done, like building trellis tunnels for the climbers. I intend to plant the popcorn in one of the low raised beds this year, and want to plant a variety of sweet corn, too, so this would make at least 3 varieties of corn we would need to make space for. We shall see.

We’ll be planting at least a few of the Spoon tomatoes, for sure; they did well for us when we grew them a couple years ago and, this time, we will be sure to keep seeds.

We’re still figuring out where we want to plant the two varieties of bread seed poppies we have; the only caveat is to plant them well away from each other, to reduce the chances of cross pollination, as we intend to treat them as perennials.

The salsify, we will definitely be planting this year, though they will be planted in deep containers – likely garbage cans we will be salvaging from the barn and garage, or in feed bags – so we can compare this variety with the others we have. With these, we won’t need to be concerned about having garden beds ready for them. Our top soil is way too shallow for salsify.

The sunflowers are still a “maybe”. If we do plant them, they will be direct sown. In the past, we grew giant sunflowers to act as wind breaks and privacy barriers, but we are starting to plant trees and bushes in those areas now, so we may not plant these this year at all. We shall see how our spaces work out. Plus, the deer really like sunflowers, so they need extra protection, too.

We’ve been expanding our gardens every years since we started – this will be only our 4th year of gardening since our move – but this year, we’re going to be building a lot more permanent structures, now that we have a better idea of what has been working, and what hasn’t. Most of that work has to be done by the middle of May, since the earliest direct sown seeds will go in at about that time or shortly after.

Here’s hoping the weather cooperates this year!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: new seedling set up

After a bit of adjusting, our new set up for the seedlings rotated out of the aquarium greenhouses is figured out.

The seedlings that need more warmth are inside the mini greenhouse, which is set up over a heat vent. The plastic cover is there to help trap a bit more heat, and protect them from the cold window.

It looks like we’ve lost one luffa, likely due to the chill, and one drum gourd, but there are still 2 luffa left, and 3 drum gourds. There are also several pots that had nothing germinate in them, but I’m leaving them for now, because who knows? Now that it’s over here, maybe something will happen.

The rolled up door in the cover is hiding them, but the thyme is looking like it could be potted up already!

The onions and shallots get to be on one of the shelves, as they can handle the cooler temperatures better. They look ready for a hair cut!

We were able to use some paracord to bring the lights down lower, and their heights can easily be adjusted. With just the two areas with seedlings, only one light is needed for the space right now. The shelves are closer to the window than the lights, so the seedlings are getting lit up from both sides. That was a major problem with our seedlings last year, and I was using aluminum foil to try and reflect light back to the shadowed side of the trays.

Also, you can see the trays of gourds from last year, in the mini greenhouse. They’re one shelf level above the heat vent; the bottom level won’t be used at all, since it’s right over the heat vent and very dark. If, for some reason, we need the space, we’d have to elevate the entire greenhouse frame somehow. The Tennessee dancing gourds are drying up nicely, but it looks like the Ozark nest egg gourds may still have been a bit too green when harvested. There wasn’t much choice about harvesting when we did, since we were starting to get frost, and that would have wrecked them completely. I still have seeds, though, and we will likely be starting them with the batches we’ll be planting before the end of this month.

With the cat barriers in place, and the living room rearranged for the seedlings, it’s actually made the room more useable. The girls have taken to actually having their meals in there, and even watching shows on Tubi. At the moment, they are enjoying some birthday cake in there! I’ve actually allowed myself one exception to my Lenten fast from sugar/starchy foods, to have a piece of birthday cake. It’s been long enough since I’ve eaten any sugar or starch, it’s actually making me fill a bit dizzy!

Anyhow. That’s our garden progress for the day! πŸƒπŸŒΏπŸŒ±

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: seedling progress

This morning I got a picture of some of our seedlings, after refilling trays to water them from below.

There are still only two little pepper seedlings. The thyme and lemongrass don’t seem to be growing much. I think this might be part of why they need to be started so early!

The two drum gourd seedlings in one pot are still the only ones to have germinated. With using these biodegradable pots, it’s been interesting to see how the pot the germinated seeds are in dries out so much faster than the other ones. Even the square cells the herbs are in show noticeable drying out in the ones with the most seedlings. For this reason, I still mist them as well as water from below.

Last year, I remember my first zucca melon seeds never germinated, and I had to try again. I’m hoping I won’t need to do that again this year. The zucca and the drums need as much growing time as we can give them.

We’re going to have to start other seeds soon. That means rotating things out of the aquarium greenhouses and, for that, we still need to make a trip to the city to pick up the materials we need to build barriers and keep the cats out of the living room. When picking up eggs yesterday, I noticed they had lumber in their truck and asked about prices. Lumber prices have gone down a LOT in the last while, which is encouraging. The prices are still high, but not astronomical anymore.

The trip to the city will have to wait until after the van’s date at the garage to get the temperature gauge sensor replaced.

Still holding out hope that we’ll qualify for financing on the Caravan, but if I’m going to be honest with myself, the odds are not in our favour. Mind you, our situation wasn’t much better when we got financing for the Grand Caravan we got, years ago. Oddly enough, my husband being on disability gives us a more reliable income now than when he was still working. Nothing like moving to a new city for a 2 year contract, only to have the contract end after 6 months, instead!

Ah, well. Whatever happens, happens. We just need to deal with what’s in front of us.

Which, at the moment, means turning the living room into a cat proof plant room. 😁

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: lemony fresh!

When I last posted a photo of our newly emerged thyme, a very close examination showed the tiniest of green hairs emerging in another row of grow cells. I waited a few days for them to be more visible before taking this photo.

Yes, the lemongrass has also germinated! So far, in just three of four cells, but even if the fourth one never has any seeds germinate, we should still have a decent number of seedlings for eventual transplant into a large pot (or two?) in the microclimate we will set up for them outdoors. We’ll be growing the luffa in the same area, so things are going to get crowed in that protected corner of the hosue!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: onions update

Not a lot of garden related stuff going on, but I thought it was time to post another picture of how our onion seedlings are going.

They are really coming up well! So many, they’re actually lifting up the surface soil on one of the trays.

If anyone is wondering why I’m starting onions so densely like this, it’s based on how MI Gardener now does it.

We did this last year, and they did just fine!

I’m looking at the trays, though, and thinking…

We don’t have enough onions! πŸ˜„

As for the luffa, no sign of germination, yet. It might be a while for those, still.

The Re-Farmer

Home made butter

Last night, I finally got around to making some butter, using whipping cream. It’s been ages since I’ve made butter! I decided to try it again when I was picking up butter at the local grocery store, and the cheap, house brand butter had gone up in price so much, it was actually more expensive than whipping cream.

Making butter is easy and relatively fast when using an electric mixer. It can also be made by putting the cream in a well sealed jar and shaking it. Hopefully, with someone that can take turns shaking it with you!

To make butter with an electric mixer, a fairly large bowl is needed, since it will be in the fluffy, whipped cream stage for quite a while. It feels like it’s taking so long, whipping and scraping the sides and whipping and scraping and whipping and scraping some more, when then suddenly it “breaks” and you’ve got butter!

Also, even with a deep bowl, you’ll get cream splattering all over! You are forewarned! πŸ˜„

One thing about using a mixer is that the churned butter’s initial texture is very different. You don’t get a lump of butter. Instead, you get this.

The beaters keep the butter from forming larger pieces, so you get lots of very little pieces, instead. This photo was taken after the butter had been drained of buttermilk, then rinsed with cold running water. The smaller pieces made it easier to gently turn it while it drained, being very careful not to push the butter through the sieve.

Once drained through the sieve, there’s still water in the butter than needs to be removed as much as possible. That’s actually the part I find most difficult. It might be easier if we had one of those old style butter presses, but I just had my flat wooden spatula to squeeze and mash the butter in a bowl. I’d press it, drain the liquid, press it again, drain the liquid, and when I thought I was done, I’d press it a bit more and get even more liquid out! Finally, I got to the point where I could mix in a bit of salt to taste. Then, I pressed the butter into a small bowl with a lid, and put it in the fridge to sit until we use it today.

In the end, I estimate I got about 1 3/4 cups of butter, and about the same volume of buttermilk. A pound of butter is 2 cups, so there’s less butter from 1L of whipping cream, but we also got two products out of it. That buttermilk will be very nice in baking!

Whether or not it’s worth making butter with whipping cream is debateable. At least if price is your measurement. Whether it’s the cream or the butter that’s more expensive seems to change rather quickly. About a year ago, I remember whipping cream selling for over $8 for 1L, while butter was still under $4 a pound. The next time I went shopping, the price of whipping cream had gone down again, though still higher than butter was at the time. If you consider being able to control the amount of salt, the flavour, and getting buttermilk as well, the benefits do add up.

If the price of butter keeps going up, while the price of whipping cream remains more stable, it may well become the most cost effective way to get butter!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: That was fast!!! and planning ahead

We had a light snowfall last night, making everything all white and fluffy this morning.

The outside cats didn’t mind it at all!

I counted 21 this morning.

Meanwhile, indoors, we have our first signs of spring.

When I checked the trays this morning, three out of four of them had onions sprouting. When I came back about an hour later, there were sprouts in the fourth tray!

I’m absolutely amazed by two things. One is, how quickly they started to germinate.

The other is, how much cat hair there is, all over the soil surface. These trays had lids on them. Where did all that cat hair come from? I mean, Beep Beep practically lives on top of the lights. She naps on them, rolls around on them, and even hugs them, so yeah… I can see some of her fur drifting down… but getting under the lids?

Yesterday, I marked on our communal calendar, two sets of dates. One was the number of weeks counted back from our last average frost date, June 2. This way, we can see at a glance that something that needs to be started 10 weeks before last frost, needs to be started around March 24, while something that needs only 4 weeks can wait until May 5th.

The other dates I marked was number of days counted back from our average first frost date, which is Sept. 10. We have exactly 100 days between our average last spring and first fall frosts. That’s the growing season we can mostly count on for frost sensitive plants.

For things that have really long days to maturity, it’s that “days before first frost” that we need to consider. If, for example, I have a gourd that requires 110 days to maturity, that’s May 23. If it needs 7-10 days to germinate, I would start them at least a week before that.

If I have something than need 90 days to maturity, that falls on June 12 and, by then, I could get away with direct sowing, instead.

One of the really useful tools I’ve found is the Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar. Most planting calendars just give number of weeks before first frost, because they’re meant to be generic. I can get that information from the seed packet. Farmer’s Almanac, however, lets you input your area code (or zip code, if you’re in the US). You can even put in your city (ha!) and province/state. It will find the climate station nearest you, then give you the calendar dates for starting indoors and transplanting, or seeding outdoors. It even gives you the choice of dates based on frost date, or on moon dates. Oh, and I discovered something very handy when I hit the print button on the web page. It allows you to remove things from the list that you aren’t growing, which greatly reduced the number of pages that got printed out!

It’s still a bit generic, of course, but the date range is pretty wide. For example, it tells me bell peppers should be started between March 24 and April 7. We have five varieties of bell peppers, and four of them are early varieties, so we could use the information on the seed packet to figure out which ones need to be started in March, and which can wait until April.

Of course, they can’t cover everything, so we still need to make adjustments. For example, their calendar says to start winter squash outdoors between June 16 and July 14. With some varieties, we could do that, but we’ve got some large varieties of winter squash that need more time to fully mature, so we would be better off starting them indoors. If we use the biodegradable pots that can be buried, that would reduce transplant shock.

We have always started summer squash indoors. I think, this year, we might direct seed them. The calendar says zucchini can be planted anywhere between June 16 and July 14, which is when we can expect the soil to finally be warm enough.

As for the things we’ll need to start the earliest, the herbs (except dill, which is direct sown) will need to be started at the same time as bell peppers; in March. The eggplants and tomatoes can be started in early April, melons can be started in early May, while pumpkins and watermelon can be started in mid May.

The direct sowing dates are pretty interesting for some things. If we decide to try growing radishes again, they can be direct seeded in early April – at the same time we’d be starting eggplant and tomatoes indoors. Carrots can be planted in late April, early May, which would be about the same time we’d be starting melons indoors.

All of which needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the calendar says to start onion seeds outdoors in early May. Sets, sure, but seeds? Nope. There’s a reason people out here start their onion seeds indoors in January! Also, it has dates to start lettuce and chard indoors, but none for direct seeding. Who starts lettuce and chard indoors? I mean, sure, you can grow them indoors, but for transplant?

As it stands now, though, we won’t need to start anything else indoors until March 24, at the earliest.

That gives us February and most of March to get the materials we need and build a removeable door and frame, to keep the cats out of the living room, and out of the seedlings!

We’ll also need to build a barrier to block an opening in the shelf to the left of the door in the image.

Frosty garden plans

We had fog roll in yesterday, so by morning, we were back to looking like a winter wonderland!

Nothing like seeing frost to get me thinking about the garden! πŸ˜„πŸ˜„πŸ˜„

One of my goals for today is to mark out on our calendar, when we need to start different seeds indoors. We will also need to figure out how to build a barrier to keep the cats out of the living room, as we need to migrate trays out of the aquarium greenhouses and over to the rest of the room. Last year’s set up had serious issues when it came to protection from cats determined to get at the pots. The problem there comes down to funds. The “unallocated funds” of our budget we would use for projects like this are now allocated to make “car payments” into savings, so that we’ll have a down payment for a replacement vehicle before next winter. That’s not going to leave much wiggle room for other things.

Still, it will need to be done! We’ll figure it out.

With the ground still frozen and covered with snow, I’m thinking about where things will be planted, and when. The old kitchen garden is getting to the point where we can start making it into an actual “kitchen garden” – the place to plant those things that we would be wanting to harvest casually and continually, as needed for our cooking. It is also a good place to plant things that will need more protection and warmth.

The waffle weave bed is done and ready. The contents will, of course, sink as time goes by, but I deliberately filled it higher than I wanted it, so that won’t be too much of a problem. With the woven walls, I do want the top of the soil to be lower than the top of the bed by a fair bit, so it’s less likely to fall through the gaps. That bed gets full sun on the long, narrow side, while the short side that gets wider at the end gets quite a bit more shade.

The rectangular bed will be built up a bit higher on the sides, plus an even higher “wall” to hold back the pink rose bush, so that won’t take much to finish. The hard part on that one will be trying to pull up all those mint roots again!

The small raised bed along the south side of the garden is ready, and the strip in front of it has bulbs planted. The area right against the bed, covered with grass clippings in the photo, has bulbils from the single walking onion that keeps coming back, planted. Last year was the first time since we’ve been here that it didn’t get broken by something before the bulbils formed! We’ll see if they survived the winter. It would be nice to have perennial onions in here. This garden would be a good place to grow bunching onions, too, though those failed completely, last year.

There’s a section by the laundry platform that is overgrown with mint that needs to be cleaned up. That could be another bed for some flowers, perhaps – my younger daughter really wants to have a flower garden in here. There’s a bed along the retaining wall blocks that needs some work – it got very compacted last year, and I finally gave up trying to keep it weeded. That bed is where the bunching onions died. πŸ˜„

This garden would be a good place to start our herb garden. We transplanted mint into alternating blocks of the retaining wall, and they did survive and grow last summer. I don’t know what variety they are, but we now have spearmint seeds. We could plant the spearmint in the remaining blocks, so we can keep it under control.

I like having a retaining wall that doubles as planters!

Other herbs seeds we have now that can go in here are the thyme (two types), chamomile and oregano. I do not want to plant the dill here, as I want to plant that somewhere it can grow freely and self seed, without taking over a bed from everything else. The lemon grass, of course, will be going into a pot and set into a microclimate against the house.

I’m thinking this garden would be a good place for the Little Finger Eggplant, as well as at least some of the peppers. The free seeds for Jebousek lettuce we got would probably do well in the shadier beds, and I’d love to try the Hedou Tiny bok choy in here.

It sounds like a lot, but I think we’ll have enough space for all of this. For things like the peppers, we’re looking to have just a few plants of each variety, as we see how well they grow here, and which ones are enjoyed the most, so they shouldn’t take up excessive amounts of space. As for the herbs, we’ll only need a couple of plants each to meet our needs, so they won’t take up a lot of space, either.

Hopefully, with raising the beds higher, we’ll have less of a battle with all those invasive flowers my mother had in here, taking things over! The raised beds should also make it easier to have protective covers we can more easily move aside, to access underneath. That was one of the biggest problems I had with tending this garden last year. We had netting to protect the plants from critters, but it had to be fixed so thoroughly, it kept us out, too!

The corner around the honeysuckle and white roses really turned into a jungle of periwinkle and purple bellflower last year. I’d like to keep fighting those off as much as we can, so my daughter can start planting new – non invasive! – flowers to eventually out grow the invaders. The purple bellflower even buried other flowers – lilies, if I remember correctly – to the point that they never bloomed. That patch needs to be divided, so we could take advantage of that and perhaps use them to create a border. I am considering transplanting the rhubarb out of there completely. They are not doing as well as they could, right under the ornamental apple trees as they are. Though, to be honest, I’d like to get rid of those apple trees, They’re creating too much shade and preventing other things from thriving. They’re so beautiful, though, and they do provide food for the birds, so I’ve no plans to do that until we have something to replace them with – somewhere else!

It will be good to have more effective use of this garden. Having a small garden so close to the house should be very convenient, if we plan things right.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: Veseys order placed – potatoes and more

Yes, I have gardening on my mind!

Among the things we were talking about ordering that will be delivered in the spring were potatoes and, potentially, raspberries.

It seems we weren’t the only ones that had a bad growing year in 2022, because the potatoes I was looking for were simply not available. However, Veseys has potatoes again, and so I placed another order with them.

Among the items we have ordered before, we are getting the Purple Peruvian Fingerlings again. We were really happy with them, in their grow bags, two years ago. They come in 2 lb packages, so we ordered two of them.

I am also ordering a couple of seed mixes from them that we ordered before (and using the coupon code from Maritime Gardening saved me the shipping costs!). I ordered two each of the Alternative Lawn Mix, and the Western Mix Wildflowers. The areas we had planted them, in the fall of 2021, got flooded in the spring, and nothing came of them. With so many wood piles chipped, we now have areas of bare ground that I would like to seed before they get taken over the invasive weeds again! Two of those areas will get the alternative lawn mix. The third does get accumulated snowmelt nearby in the spring, but should be fine to plant in. That area is next to our budding food forest, and will be good for attracting pollinators.

The seed packs will be sent right away, but the rest will be sent in time for planting in our zone 3.

Here are the new varieties we are going to be getting. All images belong to Veseys.

These are Red Thumb fingerling potatoes. They are noted for their delicious flavour. Unfortunately, there isn’t any information about how well they store over winter. These come in 2 lb packages, so we ordered two of them.

These are Irish Cobbler potatoes, an early variety also noted for their exceptional flavour. They come in a 3 lb pack, and we ordered just one of them.

These last ones are for our food forest. Royalty Raspberries. They come in packages of three, and we ordered just one package to try them. They are a late maturing variety, hardy to zone 2. So far, everything we’ve tried that’s purple has done really well for us, even in poor growing conditions, so I’m hoping the trend continues! These will produce fruit in their second year, so as long as we can keep them alive this year, we should have purple berries to try, next year.

There are still other things we will want to order for spring delivery, such as replacement sea buckthorn. We’ll just have to be careful to set aside the budget for them as we place the spring delivery orders, because we’ll be charged for them all at once, when they’re shipped!

This year, I’m happy to have several items, with different maturing rates, added to our food forest. The raspberries for production next year, apples that should start producing in 4 or 5 years, and the zone 3 mulberry trees that should take a few more years before they begin producing berries, as we will be getting 2 smaller, younger seedlings, instead of the 1 larger, older seedling they normally would have shipped, but are not available.

Little by little, we’re getting to where we want to be!

The Re-Farmer