let it go, let it go

No matter how long you’ve been gardening, there’s always a twinge of worry when you first place your infant seedlings at the mercies of nature. Even when you’ve done the same thing year after year and you know they’ll probably be just fine, there’s still a little voice saying ‘Maybe they should have been hardened off a few more days’ or ‘Maybe that cold night coming up will be too much’.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, the onion seedlings went out yesterday. There’s a 30° F night coming up this week, something they’ve never experienced. But I guess it’s like raising hundreds of little green smelly kids. You have to let them face life eventually. You use your best judgement and hope your guess is right.


Last year for the first time I covered my freshly planted carrot seeds with a board before they sprouted. The theory is that the darkness keeps most weeds from sprouting and the board keeps the seeds moist. It’s a method that requires close attention; you need to remove the board immediately when the carrots sprout. But it worked great for me.

I had a junk piece of plywood left over from building the chicken coop that was exactly the same size as my carrot bed, so here’s hoping…


all’s well with the world

It gets tougher and tougher to post things as the weather turns nicer and nicer.  It’s a gorgeous, sunny, windless day in the 70s, and hard to stay indoors.

Likewise for my Isa Brown chicks, who today for the first time went exploring down their ramp and into the pen.  They were a little awed at first…


But after some quality alone time and then a big bundle of chickweed fresh from the garden, they warmed up to the idea…

DSCN5748 DSCN5752

The early tomato and onion seedlings got a morning dose of sunshine too…


All’s well with the world.

thinking salads

Last fall I planted some spinach seeds and they survived the winter under a hoop house, even though our water pipes – deep underground – froze solid for nearly two months. Amazing vegetables! I planted the spinach seeds a little earlier in the Fall than the previous year (October rather than November), but both worked great.


One of the things that makes harvesting leafy vegetables much less painful is this gizmo…


A salad spinner. We got this one at a garage sale, and the thing is awesomely good at drying out those savoyed spinach leafs after a wash.

And as hard as it is for me to believe, it’s time to start hardening off my first seedlings;  a couple of early tomatoes and the two varieties of onions that I started in January. They’re my first attempt at onions from seed, but so far they’ve been as worry-free as one expects onions to be. I know sets can go in the ground way earlier than this, but little seedlings, even onions, take a little more TLC. So it’s back and forth from the closet to the great outdoors for a couple of weeks for them.


tomato holes and water lines

After 51 days, our water lines have defrosted.  A testament to the brutality of this past Michigan February.

But now, the thumb-twiddling, mid-40s, dreary Spring. It make a person antsy. It make a person look for things to do. We’ll start by filling up the space under the grow lights…


And instead of thumb-twiddling, I decided to do what could be done. Starting with aspirin. Last year was the first year I tried spraying the tomato plants with an aspirin-in-water solution. Whether it helped or not I’m not certain, but I do know I had far fewer tomato disease problems than ever. So why not?

Aspirin sprayed on tomato plant leaves is supposed to poke their immune systems, I guess sort of like smallpox vaccines do for humans. The dosage I use is four 83 mg tablets per gallon of water (or in this case, one tablet in a quart). I started spraying a little later on last year, but I wanted to try it on my seedlings. I shouldn’t pretend to recommend this; I’m not a doctor. But I think it’s safe and it worked for me. I crunched the pill with a pestle and dissolved it in a little warm water.


(It needs to sit a little bit. This isn’t fully dissolved.)

After getting rid of tomato headaches, I unburdened myself of the stash of pulverized, dried banana peels that I’ve been hoarding all winter, saving back some for the tomato holes.


And since I was outside, I decided to get my two early tomato holes cooking. First, a deep dig to loosen things up.


peat moss to mix in with the soil from the hole

Supplies gathered:

  • about a tablespoon of banana peels for potassium per hole (sort of a guess) because my soil test recommended more potassium
  • a tablespoon or two of Epsom salts (also tried last year) to help absorb the excess phosphorus in my soil. It also contains sulfur, which was something that my Extension agent said would help lower the soil pH
  • a couple of cups of worm castings
  • a shovel full of compost
  • about a cup of used coffee grounds (just wanted to…bad reason)
  • and a shovel full of peat mixed into the soil that I removed from the hole. I’ve not read anything about peat in tomato holes, but it worked well for me last year. Our soil is alkaline, peat is acidic. Our soil is sandy, peat soaks up moisture.


It seems reasonable to me to get these potions into the planting hole early so they can start doing their things for a bit before the plants go in.

I don’t know. It’s sort of scientific, but also kind of voodoo. Science is too exact for my pea brain, so I usually end up just swinging. Something to do when there’s nothing else to do.

beginning and ending

70° F, sunshine, wow. And it so happens that it’s planting day for my main batch of tomato and pepper seedlings.

This year’s varieties from saved seed:
Cherokee Purple
German Johnson
Mortgage Lifter

New to me:
Druzba (I love weird names)
Olpalka (I love weird names)

As well as Jet Star (a hybrid, planted earlier) and Amish Paste.

Everything’s ready, seeds out, pots full, labels made…



And while it was dirty anyway, figured I’d up-pot my experimental pruned pepper seedling. Nice root system, ready to sprawl…


Then out to the perfect day. Winter? Pfft. I don’t even remember winter (except for those still-frozen pipes). It was time to finally finish the never-ending chicken pen.

And it’s done.


Even varmint-proofed the ventilation system….


up-potting tomato seedlings

Spring tiptoes through my world, trying to slip in unannounced. But no dice, buddy. I hear you. I see the hyacinths and crocus flowers sneaking up under the dead leaves and I hear the geese (who are really bad at tiptoeing) circling the pond.

It’s refreshing to feel winter dying, gasping and wheezing, and it puts me in a great mood.

Time to up-pot the early tomato plants. My rule of thumb for tomato seedlings is to grow twice as many of each variety as I’ll actually plant. One for dropping on the floor and one for the planting hole.

I use cut-off half gallon milk jugs as my final tomato seedling pots. Lots of nice vertical room without taking up as much shelf space as gallon jugs would.


Sometime after the seedlings develop their first set of true leaves, it’s time to fill the jugs mostly full of growing medium, leaving space for burying most of the tomato plant stem. New roots form along the buried stems, helping to grow sturdy plants.


The original 4″ pots each contain a couple of plants, and I note the strongest from each. The pots get gently tipped upside down, with my fingers cradling the top of the soil, being careful not to crush the little seedlings as the rootball comes free. I put the strongest seedling in its new home and fill the rest of the milk jug with growing medium right up to the leaves.


Then back under lights, just a couple of inches between the light bulbs and the tops of the plants, with a small fan running periodically to toughen them up.

These particular tomatoes will go into the garden early under a double layer of insulation. They’ve done surprisingly well in the past, but I’m always prepared to lose them to the cold.

As for Spring, I needed some more soil time, so out came the tiller and under went the rest of the cover crop. There’s a small area that I’m going to let sit covered in leaves as a no-till experiment.


And the chickies went out to their permanent home this morning. It’s been a while since I started chicks, and I wasn’t very knowledgable about it even then. I just wanted to be sure my 250 W light would keep them warm enough in near-freezing outside temps. A quick search, a reliable source, I think we’re good:

The rule of thumb for overhead heat-lamp brooders is that one 250-watt heat lamp can handle 75 chicks at 50 degrees. If temperatures are lower than that, subtract one chick for every degree below 50 . For example, 20 below zero is 70 degrees lower than 50, so you would be able to brood five chicks (75 – 70 = 5) per heat lamp.


where did the garden blog go?

What ever happened to my garden blog? It’s turned into a chicken pen blog, and for that I apologize. Unfortunately I’m semi-retired and have a lot of time to waste putzing with things that interest me, and gardens just don’t do much interesting when the ground’s frozen.

Seeing as I’m pretending to be a garden blogger, here’s that experimental pepper that I pruned spitting out new growth…


No surprise. I’m curious to see whether the plant actually bushes out, and then of course whether it bears well. So conclusions are a few months out.

And now the all too familiar pen picture. Attaching fence this way is repetitive work. And I’m ver-ry slowwwww. I suspect a carpenter worth his salt would have had this whole pen done in a weekend, maybe even a day. But if he was that good he wouldn’t be learning as much as I am.


time for that haircut

It was cold out today. I’m still a little sore from chicken run constructing. Have 2x4s gotten heavier?

Just trying to find a likely excuse for not going outside in the wind and plowing into the pen building.

Ah, the onion plants need a haircut.

Before, wild and unruly…


After, suave and tidy, no tapering, more like a crew cut…


Onions are pretty indestructible and trimming the little guys doesn’t hurt them a bit. It helps me not have to jerry-rig the lights to varying heights. They actually need a haircut every few days because they grow so fast.

This is the first time I’ve grown onions from seed, but I don’t believe it’s much like rocket science. We’ll see how they do compared to my usual purchased sets or plants. And I really hope I don’t have to eat the smart aleck rocket science comment rather than onions.


I did hop outside for just a bit to put up a few more joists and whojigits. The door studs are on the opposite side of the structure in this picture, and the bottom right corner is where I hope to put a transfer door to get the girls into a yet-to-be-built chicken tractor.

So close, yet so far.

A  PS about my earliest tomato seedlings.  The other night I fired up our wood stove for the first time in a couple of weeks.  I forgot that there were four seedling pots on top of it, filled with potting soil and tomato seeds.  I made the oddest noise when I finally realized that I was cooking tomatoes.   Anyway, they’re no worse for wear.  Only the plastic bag covering the pots melted.  And yesterday they started popping out.  Talk about bottom heat.


pinching peppers and putzing

I started an experimental pepper plant a few weeks ago, with the goal to see what effects pruning the top of the plant would have on bushiness and yield.

It’s evidently a well-known practice that I’d simply never heard of or even thought of till this winter. It makes perfect sense to me, and as a bonus it would allow me to start peppers earlier without them outgrowing the grow lights.

Scoped out the plant, and it had four nice big leaves below the growing tips to sustain it…


So snip…

I might do the same to a couple more plants when they’re started. It seems like an idea that can’t be wrong.

Since I was in seedling mode, I decided to plant a few extra-early tomato seeds indoors; one hybrid variety, Jet Star, and one variety from saved seed, Moskvitch.


I’ve been doing this for a few years now, planting a few extra early tomato seeds, fully aware that they’ll need double walled protection when they go into the garden. And I’m also very aware that any given year they could be frozen out. Willing to take that risk, and chalk it up to fun if they don’t make it.

By yesterday afternoon I needed a dose of garden, so I hauled out two of my 60 pounds bags of Starbucks coffee grounds and broadcast them over the area where the corn and onions will be growing. Right on top of the green manure crop. Both corn and onions like nitrogen. I’ll be turning the cover crop and coffee grounds under well before planting time so they have a chance to break down and don’t suck nitrogen away from the plants in the process. There are still a couple of bags of grounds waiting for the compost piles.


Thoughts of turning stuff under made me curious enough to drag out the shovel and see if the ground clanked or squished. Neither! I turned over my first shovel-full of 2015 soil, and it was nice and black and not especially soggy.


killing time

The driveway is slowly thawing. Evidently the pipes are not. Oh well.

So we find ways to fill the void between winter and spring. I spent a little quality time with the outhouse. No, not that. It’s going to be a chicken coop, remember? I was able to remove the revered top of the three-seater, which will eventually become the platform that holds nests and the feed supply.


I also wanted to be sure that it would be possible to remove the outside door for re-hanging so that it swings outward. Sometimes these old buildings contain petrified wood and immoveable hardware. Luckily it looks promising. The door’s hung with these cool old square nails, that came out pretty easily.


And for grins I added another shelf and two more shop lights to the grow room. We’ll need it.

This is my experimental early bell pepper seedling (King of the North, OP). I wanted to try starting one plant earlier than the rest and pruning it to determine whether I’ll get earlier and/or better peppers.


And one last sad note. Today I had to say goodbye to an old friend. Green Shirt.


For me, a comfortable shirt is the pinnacle of clothing-ness. I try to prolong the relationship until it’s just no longer possible. It’s always bittersweet. Go softly into the night, friend.