Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Celery and Basil

I started the celery today.   It's "Tall Utah 52-70 R Improved".  Whatever that means.  I chose it because this variety seemed a little more tolerant of weather and disease than others.  We'll see.

I decided to try it a few different ways, since I've never grown celery before.  I have no idea how it's root system develops, so I wasn't sure what type of container to use.

These are old fruit containers.  They're great for starting small, delicate seeds.  Just scatter the seeds, close the lid and you've got an instant greenhouse.  I usually use the shallow ones for starting shallow rooted seeds like lettuce.  I broadcast the seed over the top, then when it's time to transfer to the garden I break up the seedlings into clumps and plant them that way.  In this case, a shallow container got used for celery just because I didn't have much seed starting mix left.  Since I'm new to celery and everyone says that celery seed is temperamental, I figured I'd start some of it in actual seed starting medium....  just to give it a fighting chance.   The deeper container is compost.

I start most of my seeds in compost.  I'm a rebel like that.  My compost is made from horse and chicken manure and straw.  It gets hot, hot, hot.  I'm pretty confident I don't have much in the way of pathogens or weeds in there.  I've been successfully starting seeds in it for years.  Every once in awhile I have trouble getting something to germinate in the compost, which is why I keep a little seed starting mix on hand.

Once my celery seedlings get big enough, I'll thin them and transfer the ones in the shallow container to their own little pots.  I like to use those little red plastic drinking cups for individual seedlings.  I poke a few holes in the bottom, then put them all in a shallow tray.  They're cheap, easy to work with and infinitely re-usable.  Just don't leave them outside, they disintegrate in the sun.  Ahem, not that I've ever done that or anything.

Along with my celery, I started some basil seeds I collected from last years plants.  They'll stay in the sun room to supply me with fresh basil for the next few months, so they get a pretty pot.  I've found deep pots work best with basil, it gets root bound quickly.

In a few weeks I'll need to start the peppers and maybe some lettuce. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Celery?

The short answer:  My husband suggested it and I wasn't thinking. 

The long answer:  Every year I plant something new in the veggie garden.  Something that I've never tried growing before, sometimes something that I've never even tasted before.  Last year it was Swiss Chard.  I'd never grown it or eaten it before, it turned out to be absolutely delicious, beautiful, low maintenance and will be a regular in the garden from now on.  That's actually the way most of my new things turn out.  Thanks to my "One New Thing" rule, I also grow Thai basil, many varieties of squash and melon, corn, bok choy, and daikon radishes every year.  Of course, all those things are fairly easy to grow.  I have my suspicions that celery is not.

Celery is a Mediterranean plant and favors a mild climate (like California mild ...not New Jersey).  It takes a long growing season, about 120 days to harvest, and is intolerant of extreme cold and heat.  I'll have to start it indoors and I need to start it soon if I want to avoid the ridiculous heat of July in New Jersey.  Even with starting it early, I will probably still need to protect it from the heat in May and June by shading it.  Celery likes rich soil, which isn't really a problem since I have three horses that are happy to supply me with all the compost I could ever need.  I will need to water frequently, since our property drains exceedingly well.

Last year I was able to keep parsley growing all summer by tucking it in along the north side of the tomato cages.  During the hottest part of the summer, the tomato vines provided enough shade to keep the parsley from over heating.  I believe parsley and celery are related, I may try the same trick for the celery.

Depending on my spring celery planting success, I may also try a fall planting and overwintering in a cold frame or in a pot next to the foundation on the south side of the house.  I've been able to successfully overwinter several plants I didn't think would make it that way, including tarragon, rosemary and cannas.  It's worth a shot.

Collards peeking through the snow.  They weather the ice and snow quite well and produce steadily from fall to spring.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Deciphering My Notes

One of my main motivations in starting this blog was to better organize my gardening notes.  I've never kept a real gardening journal, I just jot down notes on scrap paper and cram them in my copy of the Sunset Northeastern Garden Book.  My system leaves much to be desired. 

Flipping through my book, I've managed to locate the following disjointed gems of wisdom:

Plant radishes in fall.  We had a really warm spring in 2010.  The radishes bolted long before they set a good root and the greens were small, sad, bitter things.  But the fall radishes!  The fall radishes were delicious!  They were huge, perfectly sweet and had wonderfully tasty greens.   However, I'm probably going to ignore that note.  We might have a mild spring, and I love radishes.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Plant more Fresh Salsa tomato.  Lime soil.  "Fresh Salsa" was a new variety of tomato I tried last year.  I usually only plant the tried and true Jersey heirloom "Rutgers" and "Super Sweet 100" cherry tomatos, but last year I decided to go for something different.  "Fresh Salsa" is a newer plum tomato that is just about the meatiest and least juicy I've ever seen.  I only planted three, since I wasn't sure how it would do or whether or not I would like it.  Those three bushes produced a glut of tomatoes that were absolutely perfect for making tomato sauce.  Unfortunately, they developed blossom end rot and I lost most of the fruit.  Hence the "lime soil" note.  For next year, I'd like to plant more so that I can freeze some tomato sauce for winter.

Mulch peppers and start earlier.  Only plant one jalapeno.   My poblano and bell peppers did not ripen until fall.  I did start them late, but I also think mulching will help get them fruiting quicker.  My jalapenos produced like champs throughout the summer and fall.  I had way too many jalapenos.

Try shading herbs.  The cilantro always bolts.  I want to try planting them under the trellises to see if a little shade slows them down.

Round "umbrella" type bean pole did not work.  Ha!  This was one of my "brilliant" do-it-yourself projects.  I un-bent a coat hanger, then re-bent it into a circle.  I tied the coat hanger to the top of a bamboo stake and then tied strings all around the coat hanger.  It looked like a redneck jellyfish.  Unfortunately, it also had the structural integrity of a jellyfish.  It broke in the first summer thunderstorm and I had to harvest my pole beans off the ground.  I won't be doing that again.

Use 2x4s to support trellises.  We get pretty high winds here, bamboo stakes are not up to the task.  See above.

Only Plant One Zucchini!!!!!!!!  I make this note every year.  And every year I cave and end up planting a couple rows of zucchini.  And every gardener knows how that goes......

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowy And Cold

I can't help but think I picked an un-opportune time to start a blog about gardening and farming.   New Jersey is having one of the coldest, snowiest winters that I can remember.  It hasn't been above freezing in weeks, everything is snow covered and it's way too early to even think about starting any veggies.  There's really not a lot going on here on my little farm right now.

Now, after I just wrote that paragraph, I paused.  "Are you kidding me?", I thought.  "My chores take ten times as long right now.  I'm doing a ton of stuff!".  Well, it seems like a ton of stuff, anyway.  Really, it just takes longer to do every little thing.

Winter brings a whole new set of challenges to farm life.  I may not need to tend the garden, but the livestock still need care.  The outdoor spigots are all frozen, the only source of water is the spigot in the basement.  I have three hoses linked together to reach from the basement out to the horses' water.  They have a heated tub, so at least I don't have to worry about breaking ice for them.  For the duck, I have a small rubber feed tub.  The little rubber tub is big enough for the duck to have her bath in, but small enough to be easy to dump out, even when it's solid ice.

The chickens are not always so easy.  When there is not a lot of snow on the ground, they free range.  Problem solved, they can drink out of the duck's tub.   When the tub is frozen, they eat snow.  Chickens are pretty crafty.  But when the snow gets deep,  I have to lock them up in their coop.

 Chickens are not really good at maneuvering through deep snow, as I learned last year when I had to rescue them, one by one, from where they had become stranded all over the farm after a snow storm.  Locking them up keeps them from getting stranded, but it does create other problems.   Mostly, water. 

There's no electricity in the coop for a heated waterer.  Right now I haul their waterer back and forth from the house several times a day.  If it stays out there too long, it freezes solid and is impossible to dump out.  To tide them them over between trips, I've been filling shallow bowls with snow for them to pick at and bringing them fresh fruits and veggies to eat.  They seem content, but I know they're ready for the snow to melt so they can get out and range again.

Me, too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Garden State

Thirteen years ago I moved from rural Louisiana to urban New Jersey to go to college.  I really didn't have a clue what I was getting into...

At first, I wasn't sure why New Jersey had earned the nickname "The Garden State".  It seemed like a dreary, grey parking lot of a state to me.  But, as time passed and I explored more and more of the state, I found that there were farms scattered here and there amidst the suburban sprawl.  I also found that you can grow just about anything here.  Summer here is long and hot enough for melons and peppers to bear fruit.  Winters are cold enough to set apples and pears, but not too cold for peaches.  Spring and fall are mild enough to grow lettuces, radishes and cabbages.  Turns out, "Garden State" is quite accurate.

Two years ago my husband and I finally escaped the suburbs and bought our very own little farm in Salem County.  Around the same time, I started a blog to document my progress training my horse.  It turned out to be a lot of fun and really handy.  Through my blog, I could keep track of my progress and easily go back through posts to see what I had done successfully (and avoid repeating my mistakes).   I've also gotten quite a bit of good advice and encouragement from fellow bloggers along the way.

This year, as I was going through all the hastily scribbled notes in my garden book, trying to make sense of what I had written to get ready for this coming spring, I thought to myself: "Why not make another blog for my garden?"  This way, I (hopefully) will be able to keep better track of my foibles and follies and be a bit more organized for the coming year.  Maybe.  Or, maybe I'll just have a lot of fun posting pictures and stories and chatting with fellow enthusiasts. 

Either way, I'm looking forward to it!
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