Peppered with Seedlings

Garden centres are getting better at providing more variety when it comes to vegetable seedlings. Last year I found a surprisingly nice selection of hot peppers at a nursery in Owen Sound. Still, I prefer to grow vegetable varieties that have the characteristics that are most important to me; whether that’s days to maturity, colour or disease resistance. I’m a bit of a control freak that way.

This year my priority is buying organically grown seed. I’m still using up seed from previous years, but most new seed I purchased this year had to be organic. One exception was a package of  blight resistant tomatoes – ’cause who knows when blight is going to strike and wipe out your entire crop. Better safe than sorry.

 

seeding peppers in a tray
The first seeds to be started around here are peppers. I’m still amazed that this little tiny dry speck grows into a lush tropical plant that provides food for us.

 

This is only my second year to grow pepper plants from seed, so I have a lot to learn. Last year it took the seeds almost a month to germinate in our less-than-tropical house. The sweet pepper seedlings I put in the ground were embarrassingly small compared to those hotties from the garden centre.

This year, I did some research into pepper growing so I had a few germination tricks up my sleeve. First, I started the seeds two weeks earlier than last year. Then, whenever I watered, I used warm water instead of cold. Finally, I set the black tray near the patio door on sunny days to heat up the soil.

All was going well until one sunny day about a week after I seeded the peppers. There was a squirrel on the deck which our German shepherd spied through the glass. She was so beside herself with that mix of exuberance and murder that dogs have for squirrels, she knocked over the seedling tray. Soil, seeds and bad words flew in the air and landed on the floor.

My carefully labelled seed cells were a mix of empty, half empty, untouched and overly full. There was also a fair bit of soil on the floor which probably contained seed; expensive, organic specialty seed. Continue reading “Peppered with Seedlings”

Variety is the Spice of Life

Heirloom tomato bounty at Polka Dot Hen Produce
The variety of tomatoes grown in our hoop house this year

So, maybe having a hoop house went to my head.

When it came time to order the tomato seeds last winter, I really didn’t think I was going overboard. Just enough variety so I could sell small baskets of multicoloured fruit. A sampler of REAL tomatoes for people who only have eaten those pasty cardboard varieties in the supermarket. That’s what I envisioned.

And that’s what we got. Seventeen varieties, all different shapes and sizes, grown on our property this summer. On St.Patrick’s Day, my daughter recorded them in the notebook as we seeded them: Alicante, Black Krim, Camp Joy, Garden Peach, Jaune Flamme, Longkeeper, Matt’s Red Cherry, OSU Blue, Red Speckled Roman, Red Zebra, Stupice, St.Pierre, Thai Pink Egg and Yellow Pear. Later additions were: Coeur de Boeuf, Sugary and Black Cherry.

Jaune Flamme heirloom tomatoes
Delicious Jaune Flamme heirloom tomatoes were an instant new favourite

At this point in the season, we’ve had a chance to observe, pick and taste all the varied fruits of our labour. Some old friends like Stupice and St. Pierre didn’t disappoint, even in the new environment. We discovered some new favourites like orange-hued Jaune Flamme and near perfectly formed red Alicante, an heirloom greenhouse variety. Continue reading “Variety is the Spice of Life”

Greens on my plate

Spinach starting to come to life
Spinach starting to come to life after a long winter

There is a time in late February when a little switch in my head clicks over and I am no longer content with the cabbage slaws that have gotten me though the winter. I want greens: vibrant, lively greens, on my plate and they better be fresh.

Nothing in the local grocery can satisfy my craving. Occasionally, I try the hermetically sealed packs of salad greens and spinach from California. Green, yes. Lifeless, also yes.

Last week, the spinach that overwintered in our raised bed under cover finally was of a size that we could pick it. Also, five of last year’s red oak leaf lettuces were shooting new growth. I gingerly picked the largest leaves from both, thinning where I could. I brought the pickings into the house like the Holy Grail. A quick rinse and we had a proper salad featuring our own hard cooked eggs. It was heavenly.

There is nothing  that can compare with freshly picked salad greens given a quick rinse and tossed with your favourite dressing.  At some point though, I do look for another way to prepare spinach. One of my favourite ways is to lightly blanch it and toss with a sesame and soy sauce dressing. This is also a favourite of my daughter who has become my dressing chef. See the recipe here.

The spinach that survives the winter is ready to bolt as soon as the weather warms up, which could be any day now. It will be several weeks until the new spinach seedlings are of a size that we can start picking. We will enjoy this abundance while we have it.

A tasty picking from the garden over the weekend
A tasty picking of spinach from the garden over the weekend. Look at the size of those leaves!

Picture a cold frame

vegetable seedlings wiarton cold frame
Seedlings of lettuce, chives, bunching onions, cilantro, bok choi and kale in the cold frame

There is only so much room inside the house, under the lights for seed starting. As the heat loving tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers need more space, the cold tolerant vegetables get turfed out. They are living life on the edge out in the cold frame.

Running a cold frame takes hourly attention in this land of ever-changing weather. Sunny days are lovely, but tender seedlings quickly fry if the lid remains closed. Ask me how I know. Think solar oven. Other days bring their own dance of lid up, down or slightly cracked. Laying  a piece of frost cloth over the open frame to block wind or bugs adds another move to the dance.

Today is a lid down, no cracks kind of day. It’s cold enough for there to be snow in the air. Continue reading “Picture a cold frame”

Starting the garden one seed at a time

Seedlings of Red Zebra and Red Speckled Roman tomatoes
Seedlings of Red Zebra and Red Speckled Roman tomatoes started from seed in March.

For most gardeners on the Bruce Peninsula, the rule of thumb is to start planting over the Victoria Day weekend. With our local frost free date hovering around May 20th, it’s not a bad plan. There are however a number of veggies that thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring. With a little protection, these plants can provide fresh vegetables for the table by the time the holiday rolls around.

This year, I am trying a new planting system based on the crop planning dates in Jean-Martin Fortier’s book The Market Gardener. You gotta start somewhere, and Jean-Martin knows what he’s doing. So rather than planting my entire “early garden” all at once, I am starting a few seeds each week to provide a continuous supply of produce. This approach should save us from the yearly greens glut when all of the lettuce gets ready at once and everyone is sick of salads. Repeat with the crop of your choice (bok choi, cabbage, broccoli.) I never seem to learn.

It’s really interesting to take this staggered approach to seeding. We started our tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and basil over March Break. A few days later, I seeded some lettuce, onions and cilantro. Every week, I’ve started a few more veggies: beets, leeks, Swiss chard, more lettuce, spinach, bok choi, cucumbers and summer squash. Also some more lettuce. Should I look into this lettuce fixation?

All of this is a bit challenging when juggling space under the lights for everyone.  Tomatoes and tomatillos are being moved to larger pots so the same number of plants now take up twice as much valuable space under the lights. And this is all taking place in the back bedroom.

Soon a few lucky winners will take a trip out to the cold frame. But that’s another story.