Monday 30 March 2015

Harvest Monday: March 30, 2015 - On Chitting Potatoes

This is my submission for the weekly Harvest Monday hosted by Daphne's Dandelions where you can see what others are doing with their harvests.  My post is both a reference to last years harvest and preparing for this years.

I guess there is some debate over this topic (to chit or not to chit), but I've always chitted my potatoes to prep them for planting.  This just means to encourage sprouts to form from the eyes.  The sprouts then help to form the stem and eventually the leafy part of the potato plant.

So it seems logical to me that you would want to get a head start on the plant, huh?

I am using the last of my potato harvest from last fall to form the beginnings of this years (I'll need to pick up some Yukon Gold's somewhere as well).  I have several small Blue Russians and Fingerlings remaining (14 and 16, respectively).

Just like last year, the Blue Russians have already started to sprout in the dark, cold room where I store them.  They are a bit far advanced so I pulled off the longest of the sprouts.

This also allowed me to reposition the potato properly in the egg carton so that the most eyes were at the top (I store the smallest ones in egg cartons over the winter so just brought them upstairs in the same cartons).

The fingerlings have just a couple of sprouts.  I've readjusted them to have the best eyes at the top.

They are now in a back room of the house.  I've closed the heat vent to keep the room a bit cooler but they will now have better light exposure and should be good for planting in early May.

Wow, hard to believe I might be planting something in just 4-5 weeks with the looks of the yard earlier!  Perhaps a bit later, we'll see. A few good days of above-freezing temperatures can melt a lot of snow.

Sunday 29 March 2015

First Transplant of Tomatoes: From Peat Pellets to 4" Containers

I decided the time had come to transplant the tomato seedings from their peat pellets to larger containers.  This is when the amount of space becomes challenging - as I move from little teeny peat pellets inside 4-cell seed trays to individual 4" containers.  It pretty much quadruples the required space. In previous years, I had another fluorescent light setup in the basement but found it much too cool and many of my plants got a touch of mold.

But that is the whole purpose of having my new greenhouse - to have most of the start-ups out there.  The temperature during the day is fine, but I need to check night-time temperatures.  Last night was -12 Celsius but it should warm up in coming days.  I'll get the thermometer set up today and check it throughout the week and hope to get the sturdier plants out there by Easter weekend.

In the meantime, they are in the sunny window of my solarium (with plenty of snow still showing outside).

The use of peat pellets means very little transplant shock at this stage.  I don't need to use a fork or spoon (or whatever other people use) to pick a single seedling out of a tray to move it to its new temporary home.  It's so much easier with a peat pellet!  They all (or most) had 2 sets of true leaves which is a good sign that they can be moved into a bigger container - but also the roots.  You can see in this picture that the roots are already coming through the bottom searching for more nutrients:

1) Prepare the 4" container with a good organic potting mix (I just use store-bought) that has been lightly moistened
2) Dig a hole in the center of the potting mix

3) Make sure the peat pellet is very moist (I just dip it briefly into a pot of water)

4) Tear open the bottom and one side of the pellet (they are meant to dissolve, but don't always - so I give it some help to ensure the roots can get through)

5) Pop the pellet into the hole
6) Fill in with extra dirt and lightly tamp down so that the seedling is secure in its new space

Because I have both the pellet and the potting mix moistened already, I tend not to water for the first 24 hours just to let the seedlings settle. And that's all there is to it! 

Out of 18 pellets of the Rainbow Heirloom Tomato mix, I came out with 22 seedlings in their new 4" containers.  I always have a hard time killing off the weak ones (especially when they really don't look weak!).  If there are two in a peat pellet far enough apart, I can easily tear the pellet in two pieces and pop them into their own container  hence the 22 out of 18.  Also, because I am using a mix of seeds and I don't really know what is what yet, I tried to keep a variety based on slightly different leaf patterns.  And I also had 4 pellets with generic "GIANT" tomato seedlings; for those I just kept the best 4 as I didn't want too many.  Here are all of the "rejects" (so sad):

Next up should be the San Marzano plum tomatoes, Chocolate cherry tomatoes and some of the peppers, but I think they can all use a few more days.  And now that I have freed up more space under the fluorescent lights, I can move some seedlings from the heat mat (with plastic cover) under the better light conditions (the lavender looks ready for more light).

Hope all is going well with your seedlings!

Thursday 26 March 2015

Seedling Progress

Well, things aren't looking too well on the pepper front.  But I do have some good progress with other plants, so maybe I'll start off with the good news.

After what seemed like forever, the parsley started to pop up a few days ago.  Looking good!

Likewise for the thyme (left) and sage. 

Tomatoes are ready to be transplanted. They are currently in peat pellets - this weekend I'll rip open the bottom of the pellet and just pop each one into individual pots with some good potting soil.

And I have some peppers that are doing OK ... these include Hungarian Hot Wax, one variety of jalapenos and a generic red pepper.

And that's where the good news ends.  What is left in my jiffy greenhouse (on a heat mat) is mostly different varieties of peppers, with maybe a few tomatoes here and there.  Although peppers can take a while to germinate, the fact that some are already looking like healthy seedlings would suggest that the rest are duds (some of these are from brand new seed packets!).  I will start with some fresh peat pellets and reseed this weekend as it's already getting a bit late to start peppers for my area.  I have honestly never had problems like this before, but hey, it's all a learning experience, right?

And I don't know what happened with my lettuce - old seeds, wrong temperature, inadequate moisture levels?  Lettuce is the easiest thing in the world to grow!  But this is all I have after 2 weeks:

And, arrggghh, the rosemary!  Two years ago was the first time I tried growing rosemary from seed.  Very shortly after that I decided never to do it again (see post growing herbs from seed ...not). But that was when I was under the mistaken impression that my rosemary would overwinter here.  Not so the case and I figured even with low germination rates that it's cheaper to grow from seed then to buy several plants each year. But oh ... so frustratingly difficult!  After scattering MANY seeds into this and two other 4-pack seed trays, I have a single sprout - can you see it in the upper right quadrant?  Ugh.  I'll reseed this weekend in the hopes of getting more than one plant out of an entire pack of seeds.  In the meantime, I need to baby this little guy as much as possible!

Friday 20 March 2015

First Day of Spring

Hmmm ... first day of spring, huh?  Well, at least I can see spots of grass.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Tomato Seedlings - Day 6

I already have a good little batch of tomatoes going from my initial seed starting last Wednesday (posted on Thursday).  After they sprout a bit in the mini greenhouse (with heat mat) I pop the peat pellets into 4-cell trays and under the fluorescent light setup in my little "solarium" area.  I actually had the first 4 pellets under the light after only 48 hours on the heat mat.

It's been quite cool and cloudy lately so I have a space heater on the chair in front to keep the temperature reasonable.

Under the fluorescent light, I have the tray of tomatoes (seen below) as well as a pot in which I have started some parsley seeds.  They usually take FOREVER to germinate, so they'll be there a while.  And I've got an empty tray waiting to be filled up on the right side.

The majority of what is shown on the tray are the Park Seeds Heirloom Rainbow Blend which includes a mix of Aunt Ruby's German Green, Dixie Golden Giant, Black from Tula, Brandywine Red, Big Rainbow, and Cherokee Purple.  I planted 3 rows of 6 peat pellets ... and 14 of the 18 are already well on their way (some have more than one seed sprouting - I have promised myself that I really will pinch out the "weakest" ones and keep only the strongest seedling rather than trying to keep them all).

Top row L to R: 4 pellets of generic GIANT "Tomato Leader" tomatoes - a seed pack my mom brought me from Arizona a few years ago; a 4 cell pack with thyme seeds; 12 pellets of the Heirloom Rainbow Blend.

Bottom row L to R: two styrofoam trays of mixed lettuce greens (I can't remember what it's called), 2 pellets of San Marzano tomatoes; the last 2 pellets of the Heirloom Rainbow Blend.

 And I had a surprise when checking the rest of the seeds still in the mini greenhouse - one of the Stokes Super Red Pimiento Peppers has started to sprout.  Very exciting as peppers usually take a super long time to germinate.

In addition to my initial seeds started which I outlined in the post a few days ago, I have also started some sage and rosemary plus some other pepper varieties.  I think all I'll do in the next week or two will be a few more herbs.  I don't want to get too much started now - considering the current weather situation, it might be a long time before anything gets into the ground (it's dropping to -11 degrees Celsius overnight with a nasty windchill to make it even worse). 

Monday 16 March 2015

Harvest Monday: March 16, 2015 (and Making Ramp Butter)


This is my submission for Daphne's Dandelions weekly Harvest Monday where you can share your recent harvests or what you might be doing with past harvests.

In my case, I've only just started some veggie seeds so I definitely have some time to go before I'll have anything fresh to harvest (especially since it snowed again today ... ugh!).  But I am still working through what's left of last year's stores.

Twice previously this winter I pulled a bag of greens out of the freezer thinking it was swiss chard (due to my obvious inability to label things).  But it was ramps (wild leeks) so I just put the bag back in the freezer.  And then I did the same thing again this weekend so thought I'd better just do something with them - so I made ramp butter.

The ramps were given to me by a friend last spring (I suspect we are at least 6 weeks away from getting fresh ones this year). I had so many last year that the leftovers had been lightly braised then frozen.  After thawing them out, I squeezed out as much liquid as I could then placed them in a dry pan on low heat to extract any remaining liquid (or at least as much as I could get out).

I took 2.5 ounces (about 1/2 cup) and processed them in a food processor.  I then stirred them into 1 pound of unsalted butter along with 1 Tbsp of freshly grated lemon zest and a pinch or two of kosher salt.

Most of the mixture was wrapped in plastic wrapping to form logs - these can be stored in the freezer and easily pulled out and sliced whenever I want to add a bit of extra flavour to a dish. This will be great for starting off fried eggs or potatoes.  It can be used to top just about any vegetable or spread on toast or biscuits.  And it will be a delicious finish to a risotto or pasta dish.

Three large logs of ramp butter were put in the freezer for later use.  I kept some aside and ate it with some of the last fingerling (and one russian blue) potatoes from the fall harvest.  The few potatoes I have left now will be used as seed potatoes for this year.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Tomatoes and Peppers Started

I've been away this past week in the Dominican Republic (a few pictures on my last post for Wordless Wednesday).  It was -25 celsius when I left ... but arrived back Tuesday night to a balmy 5 degrees!  The greenhouse vents opened up as it was so hot inside!!  I have to admit that the open vent was a pretty awesome sight!  I later went inside to check things out and it was really warm - the original thermometer broke so I just need to get another one to see what it's really like in there before I do anything.

I booked the trip about a month ago so I knew I had to wait to get some seeds started.  I was really hoping to get an early start this year, in particular, to take advantage of the new greenhouse.  Oh well, it' still a bit of an average time to get going for me.

I usually store my seeds (in the cool dark basement) by plant family or other general groupings.  This helps me decide what I need to order or what I already have enough of.  But they get a bit mixed up ... for example, since I plan my garden around what I like to eat, I usually put the kale with the greens instead of the brassicas group because it's more intuitive when I plan my seed orders.

Then once my seed orders are all in, I split them out into planting method.  As shown in my recent post of my 2015 garden plans, this year I have three splits - starting indoor, starting in the greenhouse (new this year!) and direct sow outside.

I'm starting with the indoor seedlings ... first up are usually onions but I'm still getting organized for those.  So today I got on the tomatoes and peppers.  I have a bit of a short growing season so starting tomatoes and peppers inside is a must.

I always use a heat mat with a Jiffy greenhouse - the "greenhouse" is just a plastic base and lid that sit on top of the heat mat.   And I use peat pellets.

Just add warm water and they expand into little potting containers.  

After they have expanded (picture above is only halfway), I tear the wrapping to make sure there is plenty of space.  Into each go two to three seeds. Today I started the following (each row is six pellets):

Row 1: Park Seeds Heirloom Rainbow Blend (according to the website, this includes Aunt Ruby's German Green, Dixie Golden Giant, Black from Tula, Brandywine Red, Big Rainbow, and Cherokee Purple) - new pack bought in 2014
Row 2: Park Seeds Heirloom Rainbow Blend
Row 3: Park Seeds Heirloom Rainbow Blend
Row 4: Park Seeds Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes - leftovers from 2014
Row 5: West Coast Seeds Ancho Peppers - leftovers from 2014
Row 6: Stokes Super Red Pimento Peppers - leftovers from 2014
Row 7: Greta's Organic Seeds Cowhorn Peppers - new this year
Row 8: Greta's Organic Seeds Franks Sweet Peppers - new this year
Row 9: William Dam Seeds Ace Hybrid - leftovers from 2014 (very few seeds left - I didn't really need to use the whole row, but it's just easier to track that way)
Row 10: William Dam Seeds San Marzano Tomatoes - leftovers from 2012
Row 11: William Dam Seeds Jalapeno Raam - leftovers from 2012
Row 12: William Dam Seeds Jalapeno M Strain - leftovers from 2012

The heat mat greenhouse will sit away from the solarium windows as it gets too hot when the sun is shining.  But when they are large enough, I'll transplant them and move the seedlings into the brighter light here (after I get these plants moved out of the way).

I still have a few more peppers to get started so I'll work on that tomorrow along with the onion seeds and some herbs.

I'm very happy to finally get the season truly kicked off!