Let spring commence! Seed starting underway

After three consecutive weeks of record cold and multiple winter storms bringing at least 6” of snow, the weather is finally turning the corner and spring is in sight. Which of course means seed-starting time! First, I checked the dates on the seed packages to make sure they are still viable. I also referred to this handy chart in my Master Gardener handbook:


A few had to be tossed, but most were still relatively recent. Then I got my grow light setup re-assembled and planted spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and beet seeds. Once those are up, I’ll get them acclimated to the outdoors via our recently-completed mini greenhouse:


Once those are hardened off and planted, the summer veggies are next: slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, squash, cukes, eggplant and okra. This year, I really want to avoid watering by hand as much as possible (just about everything in pots died last summer as I didn’t have time to keep them constantly watered), so my wife and I are looking at some irrigation ideas. At the top of our list at the moment is this idea, which involves running drip line micro tubes from the main hose to the base of each plant, then hooking the main hose into a timer. Meanwhile, the winter rye cover crop I planted should be resuming growth soon as average temperatures start to climb.

That’s it for now, more to come as the new growing season sets in!

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Lawn = yawn. Grow veggies instead

One of my pet peeves as a gardener and former landscaper is seeing people pouring so much time, money, and energy in trying to have the most lush, green lawn in the neighborhood. A lawn that does nothing for pollinators (probably soaked in Round-Up) and contributes little practical good for the homeowner. So I was excited to read this blog post my brother found and emailed to me, that shows how one man transformed his drab lawn into quite an edible garden that produced so much, he had to start giving some away to neighbors.


Everybody wins: the homeowner saves money on groceries and gets healthy produce w/out added chemicals, the bees get a buffet of nectar, and surrounding property values go up thanks to the ornamental beauty of his lush garden.

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Veggies for tight spots

When I look out my back door and imagine the garden I hope to create this spring and summer, I count myself blessed and fortunate. Not everyone has even a half acre in which to plant almost everything they want to grow. Just do a Google search for “urban gardening” and you’ll find hundreds of articles on the topic, as interest in living self-sufficiently expands into cities where many people have only a small patio or even just a window sill in which to grow.

Thankfully, plant breeders are starting to catch up, offering dwarf varieties of vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant, that can be successfully grown without requiring a lot of space. I decided to scour the seed catalogs and list all these varieties in one place.


  • Minibel (determinate) – tops out at about 12″ without sacrificing fruit production
  • Patio Princess hybrid (determinate) – 1-2′, produces 4-5 oz. fruit
  • Tumbler hybrid (determinate) – a tomato for hanging baskets! Early harvest, up to 6lbs of 1 oz. tomatoes


  • On Deck hybrid – maxes out at 4-5′, 2 to 3 bicolor ears per stalk
  • Blue Jade – open pollinated heirloom variety that tops out at 3′, producing interesting steel blue kernels that turn jade blue when boiled


  • Spacemaster - short, compact vines; still produces respectable 7″ long fruits; resists scab and cucumber mosaic virus
  • Salad Bush Hybrid – similar to Spacemaster but with slightly larger fruit (8″), higher disease resistance; an AAS winner
  • Picklebush – a compact pickling cucumber with 2′ vines and tolerance of downy mildew and cucumber mosaic virus


  • Patio Baby – compact, dwarf variety that tops out at 24 inches; thornless and less bitter than other varieties and produces 2-3″ long egg-shaped black fruit


  • Baby Bubba hybrid – stays about half the height of traditional okra plants
  • Gold Coast – open pollinated heirloom; compact, 5′ plants, resists root-knot nematodes


  • Butterbush – a shorter-vined version of the classic butternut squash, only 3′ vines
  • Patio Star zucchini – half the size of most zucchini plants, full size fruit


  • Sugar Pot - compact plants only get about 12 to 24″ in diameter yet still yielding 8-10lb fruit
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Before you plant: are those seeds still good?

It’s nearly seed starting time, and if like me you have more seeds than you know what to do with, you may run into the problem of wondering if some of your older seeds are still good or not. As I was thumbing through my Master Gardener handbook, I found this page that lists the number of years each type of vegetable seed is viable for.

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Christmas gardening gifts keeping boredom at bay

It may be the dead of winter right now, but thankfully things are happening on the gardening front to keep my sanity in place until spring arrives! Two quick updates:

My grandfather-in-law built this nice mini-hoop house for my wife and I to help us get our veggie plants going this spring. I just need to get the plastic sheeting to put over it and staple it in place to the wood frame base.


This week I’m going to be re-assembling my grow light system and will be starting cold crop seeds earlier this year (kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) now that we have this hoop house.

Meanwhile, portabella mushrooms are emerging in the mushroom grow kit I bought my wife for Christmas!

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Gardening tips for a new year of growing

Merry Christmas! Hope everyone got some garden goodies from Santa. Or money to buy plants! It’s almost January, and it’ll soon be time to get back into the seed catalogs and start planning for the spring (woohoo!). I just got my 2015 catalogs in the mail the other day (Baker Creek Seeds, Southern Exposure, and Seed Savers Exchange).


What I like about these particular catalogs in particular is that they offer heirloom varieties that have been passed down and preserved for generations, many dating back to the 1800 and 1700s, and overall they offer a terrific selection of vegetable varieties. Shipping is quick, and I’ve not had any issues with poor germination. It can be overwhelming at times with hundreds of varieties to choose from, and I’ve learned from past mistakes not to bite off more than I can chew. So I start with one variety of tomato, pepper, squash, etc. and see how those particular varieties work out, and if they do well, then I feel comfortable with adding others.

Another tip, concerning tomatoes. If you plan on growing your tomatoes in pots, I highly recommend only planting determinate types (the kind that produce only 1 main crop of tomatoes, and grow to a certain height and stop), or using a super large pot for indeterminate types (the kind that produce a steady crop all summer long). Last year I had two indeterminate tomatoes (Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Purple) in only 7 gallon pots, and they really struggled).

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Just came across this post on Twitter and wanted to share; I had no idea poinsettias are actually small trees in their native tropical origins!

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