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Archive for February, 2009

Out of curiosity, I compiled a list of articles relating to seed sales forecasts in 2008 and 2009,

… and these reports portend a banner year for seed companies that hasn’t been seen in thirty years.  Giants like Burpee, Park Seed, and Ferry-Morse are anticipating at least a 25% jump in seed sales.  Even boutique seed companies like Renee’s Garden will see a boost in veggie seed sales.

So what does this all mean to us, vegetable gardeners?

Don't wait till the last minute to get that special seed variety!

Don't wait till the last minute to get that special seed variety!

It’s not our intent to create a buying panic.  But if you’re picky about particular varieties, especially heirloom, it may be a good idea to finalize your seed purchases real soon. We live in Northern CA and pretty much sent in all our seed orders for the year.  Specialty garlic and seed potatoes are especially in high demand.  We’ve compiled a shortlist of seed companies we’ve purchased from and which Plangarden users have recommended to us.

If you’ve relied on purchasing seedlings in the past, don’t be surprised if your supplier may run short this spring.  Many people don’t have the patience to grow tomatoes from seed, and may find that supplies will be limited or of lower quality (due to greater production).

Potted herbs are another commodity that may run out quickly.  In the past, we’ve encountered shortages for common herbs like parsley.  We’ve now learned tricks and ways to accelerate germination for hard seeds (generally over 10 days to germinate), so it’s no longer an issue for us.

If you plan on preserving your harvests this year, don’t wait till the last minute to get supplies.  Ball preserving jars and lids saw a 40% increase in sales in 2008.

Finally, ornamental gardeners, take heed: there’s a good chance that nurseries and garden supply stores may be devoting more space and inventory to veggie gardeners!

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Go into any garden shed and you will find a shovel, trowel, rake, starter pots, string, and nifty little gadgets you bought on impulse waiting at the checkout stand.  But often missed is a soil or garden thermometer.

I admit that I gardened for years without one until one day when I asked the question,

“Why do we start X days before/after the last frost?”

The historical data for my region may or may not apply to this particular year.

A soil thermometer helps you determine when to plant!
A soil thermometer helps you determine when to plant!

For most vegetables, knowing when to plant has a lot to do with soil temperature.  There are detailed charts on germination percentages based on soil temperature.  The Iowa State University Department of Agronomy tracks soil temperature for farmers, indicating the significance of temperature for germination.  We can control moisture and planting depth, but outside of a cold frame or greenhouse, temperature is left to Mother Nature.

So I got my thermometer.  Now what?

The standard for measuring soil temperature is 2 inches (5 cm) and 4 inches underground.  At that depth you are not as likely to get faulty readings (e.g. surface temperature from a sunny day).  The deeper you measure, the more conservative (i.e. the later) you will be when planting.

We use three different kinds of thermometers (see photo):

  • A – This analog thermometer has a long probe and is easy to measure down to 4-6 inches (10-15 cm)
  • B – Seems to be the most accurate, but has a short probe and is difficult to read
  • C – Digital display is easiest to read, has a long probe but no auto shutoff (risk draining battery).  I also question the accuracy.

A soil thermometer is just a tool, and by no means a guarantee that your seeds or seedlings are sure to thrive.  But it can give you valuable insight into when to plant that is better than conventional wisdom, outdated or conservative frost dates.

(Disclaimer: Plangarden does not endorse or sell any particular soil or garden thermometer.)

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Proverbial "black thumb"!

Proverbial "black thumb"!

The idea to write about this came from discussions with a few reluctant gardeners.

  • “The Black Thumb” – Some people fear they have somehow been cursed with a black thumb.  They see it as a genetic trait, a voodoo curse or something more sinister marking them for life.  After exhaustive research 😉 , I think we can safely say there is no such thing as a black thumb.  At worst, it is simple a case of not yet having developed a “green thumb”.  We all have failures, good seasons and bad.
  • “Past Failure Does Not Guarantee Future Performance” – Everyone has tried to grow something at some time … and the plant died.  You need to accept that plants DO die and that you will “kill plants”.  It is part of learning.  Each season will bring new knowledge, successes and failures.  Hey, if the US government can bail out bad banks, I think you can cut yourself a break!
  • “Not knowing where to start” – Some people get excited about starting a garden, spend lots of money buying seeds with those mouth-watering pictures on the packages, but soon get stuck not knowing where to turn next.  Thanks to a new groundswell of interest in gardening (pun intended) that you’ll discover with excellent books, Web sites, Meetups, free Master Gardening help from county extension offices, you now have many resources at your disposal.
  • “Overcoming inertia” – Call it procrastination or the concern that “I must be too late”.  Some people who want to start don’t ever get over the inertia and end up in the autumn envious of other people’s garden- fresh veggies.

We’d like to hear your comments and reasons why YOU think people don’t join the ranks of others who grow their own food!

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Alright, so you don’t live in a Mediterranean climate, and you’re sick and tired of hearing how we’re harvesting bell peppers in Northern California 😉 .

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Well here’s a nice little project that you and your kids will love any time of the year: growing oyster mushrooms indoors! I was recently at a “mushroom camp” with the Sonoma Mushroom Association, and among many different lectures and activities, made my own oyster mushroom growing kit.

The instructor, Ben Schmid, pasteurized the straw (boiled to at least 180F), and excited, wide-eyed participants like myself stuffed it (using rubbing-alcohol-disinfected gloves) into clean plastic bags (about 2 gal capacity).  Finally, Ben added oyster mushroom spawn (mine were purportedly Australian Blue Oysters – but there’s nothing blue about them so perhaps I got a different oyster species) into the bags.

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

It took exactly 23 days till I harvested the first bunch.  It was kept in our well-lit kitchen that averages 65F throughout the day.  Needless to say, it was a THRILL to see the first bunch grow into a dinner-sized portion.  We cut them up (leaving the pretty caps intact) and stir fried them with red bell peppers and onions.  Delicious!

Ready for stir fry!

Ready for stir fry!

You can purchase mushroom growing kits from many seed companies like Territorial or from sites like Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stamets’ company.  See his TED video on how mushrooms can save the world).

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