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Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

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Today's harvest: swiss chard, broccoli sideshoots, purple sprouting broccoli, pink kale, baby beet greens

Today i finally transplanted the mustard seedlings that were going crazy under the grow light in the apocalypse room.  They were in a flat with leeks, arugula, and lettuce.  I cut around the mustard and scooped out the entire row, then broke groups of plants apart and planted two per hole- in case one doesn’t make it, and because the holes were far enough apart.  The soil wasn’t too dry- i had only begun keeping the rain off of it two days ago.  I didn’t dig up the soil at all, except to make little transplant holes, so hopefully that small amount of digging won’t turn the soil to brick. 

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I forget what kind of kale this is... Red Chidori? Waaay more ornamental and milder tasting than expected.

There was a good layer of worm castings underneath the fallen leaves that I raked away- so i know the worms have been working the soil and bringing organic matter down into it.  We’ll see if the “no-dig” method works for these guys (and the kale i planted earlier).

Yesterday, while it was freezing cold (not actually) and windy outside, i sowed 15 tomato plants, and some broccoli, cabbage, and swiss chard inside under the grow lights. 

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The kale transplants in their new greenhouse, with beer traps alongside- they're working well!

I’m trying 14 different varieties of tomato this year, and planting two sungold cherry tomatoes, because they’re consistently the shit.  I’ve got some non-early season heirlooms in the mix this year, which will hopefully produce with the help of the mini greenhouse.

After i finished seeding all the pots, i somehow got thinking about grafting tomatoes.  Territorial has sold them for a couple years and claim they’re amazing and vigorous.  The pictures always show someone gasping at how many huge, red tomatoes there are on the vine.  So I looked up tomato grafting on the interwebs, and found this sweet video from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  They sell the rootstock (Maxifort) used in the video for about 50 cents a seed, and it’s a hybrid plant so its impossible to save the seed.  I bought some anyway, just to try it out. 

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Our neighbor has become interested in our greenhouses and chickens- David is giving her the tour.

Maxifort is very vigorous and works best for greenhouse tomato grafting, but i’m hoping i can keep mine warm enough to take advantage of said vigor.  At the end of the video the dude mentions that you can also graft cucumber, melon, etc, onto winter squash, but i couldn’t for the life of me find the “bombo/shintoza” squash variety he used anywhere online.  So i got one called “triumph” instead. 

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Cat immediately found the seedling heat mat with her sixth sense

I’m not sure that the squash rootstock will keep the cukes and melons and zucchini from getting downy mildew (which they all succumb to eventually here- it’s a race to get some good fruit out of them before they’re taken down), but it may help them grow faster and produce more before they die.  Also, apparently downy mildew strikes plants that are weakened- usually by water stress- so a more vigorous root system may keep that from happening.

If only i had garden trial grounds where i could more thoroughly and scientifically investigate the advantages of grafted veggie plants… sigh…

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Owing to the fact that I love planning my garden way more than doing lab work, I have created a planting calendar for Seattle veggie garden growers.  It’s based off of multiple sources that are Pacific Northwest-specific but not Seattle-specific, including Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, The Four Season Harvest, The New Organic Grower, The Westside Gardener blog, and various planting charts from places like Territorial Seed Company and West Coast Seeds; and the Seattle-specific Maritime Northwest Garden Guide produced by Seattle Tilth- which is fantastic but does not have a handy planting chart.  So, after quite a bit of tinkering, I believe I’m finally finished enough to post this for your benefit (if you happen to live in Seattle).

Now, the planting calendar is just that- a planting calendar.  There is no indication of when your veggies will be ready to eat and the plants ready to replace with your next round of transplants- after three years I still have no idea how that works.  Anyway, there’s a range of dates you can sow most veggies- the harvest date will be roughly the number of days to maturity from your planting date, plus a few weeks that it will take you to harvest and eat everything.  (I don’t know if this has ever been true in my garden- things are just ready when they’re ready.  This might be because our soil was so crappy the first couple of years…)

I’m posting the whole Excel workbook instead of a PDF so that you can add in weird and unusual veggies and herbs that you like to grow, or so you can change the dates a bit (if you don’t live in Seattle, or if you discover i’m totally and embarrassingly wrong about something.)  If you want to play it safe, plant in the middle of the range of dates, not toward the outside edges.  If you have the ability to protect your garden with plastic cloches and such, or are just brave, you can venture toward the very early and very late planting dates.

Ta Daaaa!!!  Seattle planting calendar

If you don’t like it, don’t tell me because I worked real hard on it!  But i will accept suggestions on how to improve it.

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Look what David made for me!!! I mean, for the garden!!! From the used windows we got at the Ballard Re-Store and some lumber, we have fashioned a ginormous mini-greenhouse that fits over the 4-foot-wide raised beds in the garden.  It’s heavy and unwieldy, but it’s made from mostly recycled material that cost us, oh… maybe 50 bucks?  The windows are way cheaper than the wood, heh.

In any case, it’s fantastic and i can’t wait to get some planties in there.  It’s currently squatting over the section of the 2012 brassica bed that will grow kale (pictured below growing in the apocalypse room).  I’m hoping it will warm up and dry out the soil enough in the next week that i can transplant the kale seedlings out there, but we’ll see.  (The kale seedlings that Kate and i transplanted into the front yard a while back got obliterated by slugs- i forget that while fallen leaves shelter the soil, they also provide good slug habitat, and little seedlings can’t out grow them in the cold weather.)  Before transplanting this time, i will rake up what’s left of the leaf covering and give it to the chickens; it’s likely FULL of bugs.

We have plans and materials for another 4ft-wide by 3ft-long by 1.5-2ft-tall mini greenhouse, and three cold frames of various sizes that will be just tall enough for lettuce and other greens.  Between all of them, we should be able to start everything waaaay early this year- but we’ll see how things work out.  The tall mini green house will eventually be used to protect a few early tomato plants, and then we’ll likely shift it over to the cucumber/squash/melon bed.  Eliot Coleman, whose book Four Season Harvest i have, describes a neat system of movable greenhouses that protect cold-hardy plants over the winter, then move to less hardy plants, then tomatoes, then squash as each plant needs protection and the previous one will be ok uncovered.  The most interesting part is that he does this backwards also- the greenhouse goes back over the squash near the end of summer, when the squash are done the greenhouse moves to the tomatoes (which would be great in Seattle, since it’s the sogginess that gets them as much as the cold), and in November or so when the tomatoes are done, the greenhouse moves back to protect the overwintering veggies.  He manages all this in Maine, so i imagine it will work alright in Seattle too.  Although, his theory is that it’s the amount of sunlight that counts (as long as you can protect your plants from the cold), and so while he’s at the same parallel in Maine as Southern France (which is much warmer), both of those places are at lower latitudes and get more sun than we do here.

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I read this article in Grist today about how it can be hard for small livestock farmers to raise animals that are both organic and pasture-raised.

I understand that the cost of organic chicken feed may be prohibitive and agree that choosing to allow the chickens to free-range over buying organic feed for confined chickens is the right choice.  But… i wonder if the pasture that these chickens are raised on couldn’t be improved in some way to lessen the proportion of the birds’ diet that needed to come from purchased feed.

In this video, Joel Salatin of Polyface farms (of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. fame) describes the large variety of forage plants that grow in his pastures and how wonderful they are for his cattle.   I know that chickens did evolve to eat and digest grains (unlike cows), so it may make more sense to feed cattle on this pasture alone than chickens.   Chickens love grass and clover and… anything green- i think ours would eat the entire garden in a couple of hours if they had the run of it- but also need extra protein to produce their eggs (and to grow into nice meat birds quickly).  What about throwing some kale in the mix?  That stuff is amazingly nutritious- chock full of vitamins, calcium, and protein.   A sprinkling of wild garden kale seeds or a mix of siberian kales would probably do really well in most climates, and would self seed every spring just like other plants in the pasture.  Or grow some oats, barley, or buckwheat in there?

Of course, I don’t know what I’m talking about… I’m just sayin’… might be worth a try.

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While it may be hard for science PhDs to find jobs, apparently we still need more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in this country!

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I’m pretty stingy with my garden space- i don’t want anything growing in there that won’t be delicious for either us or the chickens.  This has meant that i have never planted any flowers, except for a few generic bulbs in the front yard- a decidedly neglected little piece of hard dirt.  I did attempt to plant some nasturtiums along the fence (somewhat less generic, and edible!) but they were over taken by the morning glory before they could produce more than a few leaves and blooms.

Without many flowers in the yard, we don’t get many pollinators coming around.  We still manage to get enough vegetables fruiting, but i’ll bet that two thirds of the flowers on the beans and tomatoes and squash don’t end up producing fruit because no one has come to visit them.  So i’ve recently become obsessed with researching the best flowers and plants to attract pollinating bees and butterflies so that i may recruit more winged, fuzzy help to my garden.  I also decided that i’d try to make most of these plants native- as a good challenge and to provide familiar pollen and nectar for native insects.  I also thought that most of them should be perennials, to save me time in the future and to leave the soil less disturbed from digging in new plants each year.

So, to start, here’s a list that i’ve come up with of mostly native, mostly perennial plants and flowers that bees love.  As soon as i research them all to find out what to put where in which season, i’ll let you know the deets.

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Stealing another link from Darrow.   This time it’s about the environmental effects of eating various types of protein.  The rest of the site gives tips for how to choose the best meat and why certain forms of protein are harder on the environment than others and a cool explanation of the meat production life cycle.

I’m doing fairly well, except that i drink gallons and gallons of milk.  And, if i could afford it, i would eat tons of cheese.  I wonder if goat’s milk and goat cheese are any better than cow’s milk and cheese…

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