Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two Weeks Later

Two weeks later, the tomato, lettuce, cabbage seeds I planted are up and doing well. The lettuce and tomatoes are getting their first true set of leaves and obviously are developing a root system, since I am finding I need to water more frequently. Today I planted a pack each of Queen of Siam and Lemon Basil, and planted six peat pots of Fennel 'Fino', since all the fennel advice says they dislike root disturbance when being planted out.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Update

All of the seeds I planted last week are up! The Little Gem lettuce was the first to sprout - they were up by Wednesday. Then the other lettuce, the cabbage and even the tomatoes have emerged over the last few days. Now I just have to 1) make sure these seedlings don't get too leggy under the lights, and, at the same time, 2) make space for another round of seed starting! Nothing this weekend, but next week I will need to start the fennel, and those need to go into individual cowpat pots because they don't like root disturbance when planting out. The space crunch will be on! Just need to hold on until early April!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Behind Already?

How is it possible that, in the third week of February, I already feel behind on my gardening jobs? Well, not really – I had wanted to sow some tomato and cabbage seeds earlier this week, and I had wanted to finish up a sowing schedule from now to mid-summer, but I have been busy working on the book and a huge “To Do” list of other things, and so I just haven’t gotten to it. Today is the day! Thank goodness for three-day weekends! After lunch I will sow a pack each of Carmello, Juliet, and Gardener’s Delight tomatoes, some Savoy Express cabbage, Blushed Butter Oak and Little Gem lettuce, and Pistou basil. Only a pack each at this point – we want a variety of tomato plants, so we will only need one of each, along with others we pick up at the garden center to get a wide range. But I’ll plant a couple of extra, choosing the healthiest to plant out and giving the others away. The cabbage, lettuce and basil I will plant again in a month or so, to ensure a succession.

I’ve already set up my new grow light frame, so the packs can go in there to sprout. I’ve never used on of these before, but I figure it has to beat the erratic light on our windowsills here. The setup is very basic – essentially a metal frame from which hangs a grow light set into a reflective ballast that is adjustable up and down to allow for plant growth. We’ll see how it goes! I think this is the easy part. The problem comes when I have to harden these seedlings off before planting in the allotment. When we lived in the ‘burbs I had a little plastic greenhouse which was perfect for this, but I can’t see me putting it up on the fire escape! I’ll rig some kind of makeshift cold frame up; once again Alys Fowler may come to the rescue! Her latest article in the Guardian talks about pulling together scavenged cold frames. I’ll tackle that problem when I come to it (procrastination as survival mechanisim...).

And as soon as I get this blog post up, I’ll move on to finish the seed-starting schedule, which I will post later. I’m essentially going to count weeks backwards and forwards from the approximate frost date for Brooklyn, and then list what will be started each week. I haven’t found any real consensus on when our average last frost is here – I have read as early as April 10! I don’t believe it for an instant! So I am guess-stimating a date of April 20. Better to late than to early! I have included a few useful links below that contains practical how-to tips on when to start seeds and how to come up with your own schedule. Take a look and see which one looks the most practical for you!

From Mother Earth News (there is a link here as well to frost dates, in case you don’t know yours…)

From Gardener’s Supply Company blog written by the wonderful Kathy Liberté:

and a longer article on seed-starting advice, including a sample schedule from one of my gardening goddesses, Barbara Damrosch over at the Kitchen Garden Seeds site:

While you are there, you might want to check out some of the new interactive options for designing vegetable plots – I think they are cool, though I have to say I didn’t stick to the one I generated last year. But so much good information is available by playing around with these tools, like spacing and crop-rotation.

Let me know what you think about any of these sites, or any of your favorites that are useful during this planning stage of the garden!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Catalogue after Catalogue, Packet after Packet, Possibility after Possibility….

Sorry not to have posted another blog recently, but I was determined to blog AFTER I had finished my initial seed and vegetable plant choices of the year, and given the sheer number of seed catalogues I received this winter, it was a long process. A totally wonderful and exciting process, but a bit arduous as well. And I know I have only scratched the surface when it comes to seed companies! The range of possibilities has increased exponentially over the past 10 years, not only in the number of types of flowers and vegetables one can grow and the greater number of varieties for specific needs and demands, but also in the very way they are grown, harvested, and packages. Truly amazing.

The very difficult limitation I have to deal with throughout the process of choice is space. We currently only have a 10’x20’ plot in an urban community garden – this is bigger than many plots in other community gardens in Brooklyn (we are very lucky to have gotten a plot where we are), but it is still very small to grow a lot of things. So, reality check! I have a small little border where last year I grew some cutting flowers – zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, and snapdragons – but I really have to keep this to a minimum in order to grow the vegetables that my partner Daniel and I enjoy growing and eating.  So, I break my heart drooling over all those potential flowers I could grow from seed, but just can’t have.

Then, I have to really justify what I grow, and how much of it I grow. The tough decision this year is to forego potatoes, which I love to eat and really enjoy growing. I just can’t give over the space to them, unless, in the end, I just can’t do without and I grow them in some of these new potato bags over at a friend’s house. I’ve done it, but…more on that for another blog! Same goes for corn, lots of lovely winter squash, and what I really yearn for, raspberries and strawberries. I also don’t bother with things like beets and carrots, which are easily gotten at the farmers market and which they can grow better than I.

What is left is things that I feel taste so much better fresh off the plot, things that are very productive over a long period of time, and particular varieties I love – tomatoes, zucchini, French beans, lettuce and other salad greens. And herbs! I am way too cheap to buy bunch after bunch of things like parsley, cilantro, and basil at several dollars a pop when they grow so easily at the allotment. Finally, I always grow some things just for the fun – a few, seeing how they do and how they taste!

The final list is posted below (or at least the list for now, until I encounter something else I can’t resist!)…..

One thing I did note on the list is where I am ordering things – more on the companies I like and why in a few days. But I also noted seed that I had from last year. Always the first thing I do, before I even allow myself to start looking at the catalogues, is to go through my leftovers and make a list of what I have. I store my leftover seed in a tin box in the ‘frig – I figure this allows for the darkness and the consistent cooler temps and humidity that my gardening mentors recommend. I have to say, I am a bit of wimp when it comes to being brave about viability. A part of me would just like to order a new packet and not worry about the opened ones. But so often I only sow a few seeds from a packet (I mean, how many zucchini or sunflower seeds can one really sow in order to get the 3-4 ones needs for a small plot?) and it is a horrible waste. I am trying to trust the experts when they say that most seed will last about 3-4 years, barring things like corn, onion and parsley. That being said, I didn’t have as much left as I thought I would, so I will need to buy more. For a good blog post about seed storing and viability, check out

The other thing I noted were vegetables that I would buy as cellpacks, modules or potted-on transplants. Since I don’t have a lot of windowsill space to start things inside very early and grow them on, if I can buy the vegetable and the variety I want as a plant, I tend to choose that option. Tomatoes, herbs, and peppers for instance – Marion Gardens, a grower on the East End of Long Island, grows a fantastic assortment of beautiful plants, and organically to boot. How can I go wrong?

More later on favorite seed companies and why I chose certain varieties!


Beans, French pole             Emerite                         Kitchen Garden Seeds
Broccoli Rabe                    Cima di Rapa                 Kitchen Garden Seeds
Cabbage                             Savoy Express               have
Chard                                 Ruby or Bright Lights   cellpacks
Eggplants                           Ichiban                          transplants
                                           Purple Rain                   transplants
Fennel                                Fino                               Kitchen Garden Seeds
Kale                                   Tuscan Lacinato            have
Komatsuna                        Green Boy                      have
       Natsu Rakuten or           Kitazawa
       Summer Fest
Lettuce                               Blushed Butter Oak        Kitchen Garden Seeds
       Tintin                              have
       Ashley                            Cooks
       Merlot, Batavian            Kitchen Garden Seeds
       Heatwave Blend             Cooks
       Forellenschuss                cellpacks
       Assorted spring lettuce   cellpacks
Mache                                Verte de Cambrai,            have
Mesclun                             Festive Mix                      Cooks
       Provencal Mix                 Cooks
Mizuna                               Red Streak                       have
Pak choi                              Mei Qing Choi                have
       Toy Choy                         Kitazawa
Peas, Snow                         Snowbird                         Burpee
Peppers, chile -                                                           transplants
Radishes                             Gourmet Rainbow           Kitchen Garden Seeds
Summer squash                  Ronde de Nice                 High Mowing
Tomatoes                            Juliet                                Kitchen Garden Seeds
       Sungold                            transplant
       Brandy Boy                      transplant
       Tie-Dye                            transplant
       Early Girl                         transplant
       Cherokee Purple              transplant
       Carmello                          Kitchen Garden Seeds
Turnip                                 Hakurei                           have
Winter squash                    Honey Nut                       High Mowing
       Sweet Dumpling             Kitchen Garden Seeds
Zucchini                             Spacemiser,                     have


Arugula                              Runaway                         Kitchen Garden Seeds
Basil                                   Italian                              cellpacks
       Lemon                              have
       Pistou                               Cooks
       Siam Queen                     Kitazawa
Cilantro                              Calypso                           Burpee
Parsley                                                                                 cellpacks

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursdays, “The Cook’s Garden,” and Real “Garden Cred”

Thursdays are a special day of the week in my garden universe, because, summer or winter, that is the day Barbara Damrosch’s weekly column, “The Cook’s Garden,” is published in the Washington Post. I know, I must be a garden writing fanatic to look forward to a weekly garden column!  But Barbara Damrosch’s articles are always thought-provoking, useful, and well-written, and like many of the garden writers I read on a regular basis, they speak to that part of me that yearns for a grown-up garden. I may be gardening right now on a 10’x20’ urban community garden plot in Brooklyn, but some day I can dream of the space to indulge in the many unusual and wonderfully described vegetables that Damrosch features in her column. And when she goes on a rant about a gardening or environmental issue, it is usually about an issue I feel strongly about as well.

Damrosch has real “street cred.” (Or can we talk instead of “garden cred?”) She is the author of the best-selling The Garden Primer, now in its second edition . This is a great book – very comprehensive, with quirky wisdom informed by a commitment to organic growing and reflecting a  strong understanding that gardening is something one does. Gardening for Damrosch is not just something she does, but is integrally connected to her lifestyle choices and her attitude towards the world around her. And it is full of incredibly useful advice, administered with humor and a sense of perspective. Also, Damrosch is married to Eliot Coleman, and together they run the experimental market garden Four Seasons Farm in Maine. If you haven’t looked into Coleman’s books on organic vegetable gardening/farming, particularly his book on four season growing, you are missing out. Together Damrosch and Coleman grow and sell a huge variety of vegetables year-round, and then show amazing generosity by sharing their experiences with others.

So today’s article? Well, it is seed-ordering time. We all know what this annual seed-induced craze feels like. I am succumbing to the fever along with everyone else! (Soon I shall be posting about my own seed orders, seed-starting schedules, and favorite seed sources.) Damrosch joins in the deluge of recommendations with some of her new “must haves” from a wide range of seed companies. Again, this is bittersweet for me, since I don’t have room to grow most of these things. I can only dream of melons and corn right now. But maybe the “Midnight Ruffles” lettuce. And I have to check out this new broccoli-kale cross from Burpee, “Brokali.” 

But I so recommend doing a wider search and reading some of Damrosch’s back articles from the Post, all of which are still available online. If you are into vegetable growing, there are years and years of great advice and great garden writing to explore!