Creating Your Own Mini Greenhouse to Start Seeds

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Getting a jump start on the season is always a good idea.  I have had my trials and errors with seed starting over the years and have often ended up purchasing large tomato and pepper plants to put in the ground.  This year I am going back to the way I used to start seeds a long time ago and that always worked well for me.  I had given it up because of my lack of success transplanting them (that was before I knew you were supposed to water more than once a week!) and went on to more professional ways of seed starting, none of which worked for me.

I bought peat pots (good bye $100), I bought seed starting kits with mini green house lids, I bought grow lights (which mysteriously disappeared from my garage and is probably being used to grow pot by one of the neighborhood kids).  I bought seed starting medium, I took classes, I watched each seedling meet its untimely and sad little death.  And after all that money was spent, I had to find more money to go buy grown plants.  I should have stuck with the tried and true for me.  And that was creating little mini green houses on the cheap.

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Here’s how:

You will need organic potting soil, some Styrofoam cups, rubber bands, and sandwich bags.  So far I am fourteen dollars into this venture.  Yesterday I planted eighty-nine tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds and still have plenty left to start more.

Organic potting mix is a must!  You don’t need extra chemicals in there promising twice the growth when you may end up accidentally poisoning wildlife and bees.  Everything needs more water here in Colorado so I have found that the seed starting mediums don’t hold enough water.

I know, I know, Styrofoam?  How unsustainable.  But they don’t fall apart like newspaper, peat, or paper cups. You need several weeks to get these started and I have had pots positively decompose before I could even plant them!  I reuse the cups year after year.  If one breaks it can be added to the cold frame or between two boards in the chicken coop for added insulation.  It can be crushed up and added to the bottom of a pot before adding soil to make it lighter.  And the plastic one-time use trays don’t seem to be much better from an environmental standpoint.  We’ll just keep giving them new lives.

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Fill cup with soil and mark outside of cup with variety name with a permanent marker.  Believe me, you think you will remember, but you will not!

Water soil, don’t make a lagoon, just make sure it is uniformly wet, about a quarter cup in a twelve ounce cup.

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Add two seeds.  One to grow, and one for insurance, but no more than that or you will have to cut a lot of little seedlings out and waste seeds.  And organic seeds cost a bit!

Add just a bit of soil to cover the seeds and add about a teaspoon of water.

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Place the opening of a sandwich bag around the rim of the cup and secure with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse.

These can be placed in a very sunny window sill.  This year I put mine in the green house.  Seeds need sun and warmth to germinate along with humidity and water.  That is what we are creating in this environment.

This will self water for about a week.  You will see the condensation rise and fall off the sandwich bag.  Once it is not as humid in the bag, remove the bag and water with a spray bottle until seedlings are well established.  You can replace the bag as long as the seedlings are not too tall.  Don’t let the cups dry out (it is harder to without drainage holes) but don’t make it too wet either.  Just moist.

This makes a great homeschool project and is an excellent way to provide your family with more food security by starting your own vegetable seeds.  This will be a tasty summer!

Spring Time Lambs, Seminars, Seeds, and Farming

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We were driving home and heard a commercial on the radio for the Southern Colorado Sustainability and Outdoor Living Expo for this weekend.  We are participating in it so were glad to hear ads for it going out.  They named off different topics that were being spoken about at the fair.  It took me a minute to figure out they were naming off what I was speaking about at the fair!  I started giggling.  I changed my life.  I used to be invited to speak about herbalism.  Which I love, and is fine, but I want to be an herbalist for us and to teach herbalism, not promote my retail business anymore.  So, here I am speaking six times this weekend on homesteading and simple living.  A new start.

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My dear friend, Margie, bought my business name.  She is the new Garden Fairy.  She was my first student.  She used to run our shop when we were gone.  She is a part of the Celtic Festival in Elizabeth that we are avidly involved in.  She and our families get together for Christmas and see each other when her kids are in town.  She never thinks of herself, only of others.  And I am thrilled that she is taking it over.  So, if I am not the Garden Fairy anymore, who am I, the Pumpkin?  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is our new full time endeavor and it starts full throttle now!

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Our spring has begun.  My two books are done.  (I have a cookbook coming out in the spring, but that is not too time consuming.)  My promotional materials and work for the farm are done.  The seeds have arrived!

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Tomorrow we pick up two darling baby lambs.  Just like with our goat kids they will have collars and leashes and baby bottles for awhile and go with us everywhere until they are old enough to hold their own in the yard.  They will be attending the fair with us this weekend.  I’m sure they will be a hit!  They even made the poster!

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Tomorrow we also get into the garden.  Five rows of four foot by twenty-eight foot beds will be created and formed with bricks or whatever creative pieces I can find laying around the property.  Leaves and coffee grounds and old compost layered in, then topped with hay.  The walkways covered in wood chips.

Today 98 plants will be started, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and will line the windows with hopes of keeping them hidden from the kittens.

I’ll write about each thing this week!

Spring cleaning and the last orders being filled will take place as well.  Perhaps a little time in the sun.

Spring has sprung and we are now all systems go!

If you would like to go to the Expo this weekend we’d love to see you.  My speaking schedule is as follows but you can also just come by and see our new additions and say hey!

Friday at 3:00- Chickens 101 and Common Chickens Myths

Friday at 5:00- How to Live a Simpler, More Sustainable Life

Saturday at 11:00- Turning Common Weeds into Medicinal Teas

Saturday at 4:00- Smart Gardening; Interplanting and Permaculture

Sunday at 12:00- Chickens 101 and Common Chicken Myths

Sunday at  2:30- How to Live a Simpler, More Sustainable Life

 

Space and Seed Wonderings

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After writing the post about what I would do if I had no fear I realized that deep down I was done with the retail side of herbalism.  I wanted to get back to helping people that came to me directly and I want to make medicines for them on the spot with what is there.  It may sound silly, and not at all business savvy, but I was getting too big.  So within four weeks of that post I have sold my business name, almost cleared out all of my stock, and have really promoted my farm and school.  I am getting regular queries on what my farm will offer and folks are signing up for classes.

Then I wrote two books and rather than waiting to be discovered I just self published them.  This is called, Taking your life into your own hands!  Just do it!  It has to work!  I am not afraid of whether the farm will work.  Of course it will.  I am afraid that I will not plant enough.  I still do not have any idea how many lettuce seeds to plant.  How many tomato plants?  How many cabbages?  We need enough vegetables to feed our family, to preserve for the winter, and to sell at the market, and have some available for folks that visit the farm.  That seems like a lot.  Do I have enough space?  Time shall tell.  I guess I will make charts.  How much space does one broccoli take? (1 foot)  How much broccoli do I want for us? (One head every other week?)  Twenty-six plus however many I want to sell.  So, let’s say I want to sell another twenty-four heads of broccoli then I need one fifty foot row to grow broccoli.  I can grow greens in between and herbs.  They can share space.  I need to do that with all the seeds I bought!  There has to be an easier way!  I am sure the longer I farm, the more in tune I will be and this will come more naturally.  In the meantime, where should I put the corn?

I’m excited to watch this year’s farming season transpire.  I am excited to hear about how you are making your dreams come true as well!

Water, Mulch, and Reseeding (ways to assure a good crop)

I suppose a drip system would be the most effective way to adequately water without wasting and would save time.  Doug and the neighbor laid out their respective plans over the winter for an elaborate drip system for our gardens.  However, come spring we have enough budgeted for a new hose and maybe a sprayer.  A drip system didn’t fit into our meager farmstead funds!

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The system we came up with wouldn’t work in clay soil or in humid environments but here in the high plains of arid Colorado, it works really well.  It also saves us a lot of money on the water bill.  Last year I wrote a post about trench planting during the fires (see post here) and wondered if that would work.  This year when Doug rototilled the front yard rows, I left all the dirt on the sides creating a long trench.  I planted the seeds directly in the trench which is about six inches deep in some spots.  We can water quickly by filling the trenches with a few inches of water which happens in ten seconds per area.  It seeps in quickly and keeps two inches of soil wet for the next twenty hours or so.  The plants are protected from the wind and the moisture doesn’t get whisked away so quickly.

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In the garlic, onion, and potato rows I used the hoe to create small trenches along the sides of the rows.  I can quickly fill them with an inch of water and they will seep in right to the roots.

Once the plants are established a thick layer of old straw cushions the plants.  (See last year’s post on mulching here) I leave a little space around the stems so they won’t rot, but the entire area gets a nice blanket of weed squashing straw.  This is a far easier way to keep up with the straggly and strangling crab grass and other fun weeds here.  It really does slow down the weed growth and keeps the moisture in so that on some days we do not even have to water.

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My biggest failures for the first twenty years of gardening came from these factors.  Not enough water.  Not enough weed control.  And not enough diligence planting seeds.  If seeds didn’t come up, I felt that that particular bed was a failure.  I never heard of the saying, “Plant Three; one for God, one for the birds, one for me.”  Boy, is this true!  Every third seed seems to come up.  The birds help, no doubt, and apparently there is a tithe involved with planting.  So, if some seeds don’t come up, I am now out there planting another seed where I want it.  All along the pumpkin patch there were spaces of missing plants.  I just reseeded them.  Same with the corn.  Same with the brassicas.  Through the middle of June one can keep planting seeds that will be ready for harvest and mid-July for the fall crops.

Three ways to assure good basic crops.  Now we just hope for great weather and that Mother Nature looks kindly on our gardens!

Creating a Beautiful Tea Garden

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Creating a beautiful tea garden this year will not only bring great happiness, but also provide free medicine in the garden, help feed the bees and butterflies, and can be grown anywhere from an apartment balcony to a forty acre parcel.

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Herbs don’t require a lot of water once they are established so they can survive droughts, but also appreciate a light watering daily if it is available.  Herbs are easy to grow and affordable.  I often have trouble starting herbs from seed outdoors.  Too many factors, birds, wind…and I don’t have the room indoors but for $3 or less I can go to my local nursery and pick up one pack of my desired herb and it will spread and thrive throughout the summer.  Friends and fellow gardeners are also good sources for a small divide of herbs.  If you do not want them to take off like wild fire then plant them in pots, whether on the porch, or in the ground to help keep them from flitting about.  Mulch with wood chips or straw.  At the end of the season give them some compost and cover with straw for the winter.  Some Mediterranean herbs, such as Lavender and Rosemary, will be annual in mid to northern climates, but can easily be replaced or overwintered in the house.

When starting, rototill desired space and add a bit of compost and garden soil and mix well.  One can create fantastic designs, circular walkways, or checkerboards, or simple lines.  Herbs can also be added in with vegetables as they act as beneficial partners.  Bugs that love to eat plants are not attracted to herbs and may bypass the whole tomato patch if they only see the basil!

My choices for a tea garden are:

Chamomile– any variety- Dainty, beautiful, used as a calmative, sleep aid, heartburn relief, digestive distress, mild pain reliever.

Mints– peppermint, spearmint, chocolate- Hearty, fragrant, used for digestive distress of any sort, fever reducer.

Basil– any variety- May act as annual in many climates, used for digestive distress and to fight colds and viruses.

Motherwort– Watch out for stickers!  Used to moderate hormones, heart support, and fights colds.

Monarda– also known as Bee Balm- Used to fight viruses.

Purple Coneflower– also known as Echinacea- Used as anti-biotic, cancer fighter, and immunity support.  Use topically on wounds.

St. John’s Wort– Used for anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicine, helps heal nerve damage, strong pain reliever.

California Poppy– Easy to grow, used as a strong pain reliever.

Skullcap– Controls seizures, acts as strong pain reliever.

Roses– any variety- Mild pain reliever, mild anti-depressant.  Rose hips can be made into tea for arthritis pain.  Highest fruit in Vitamin C.

Yarrow- white variety- Used internally for heart and vein support.  Externally crush flowers and apply to wound to stop bleeding.

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Use leaves and flowers in any blend you desire for flavor or benefit.  To dry for winter, cut herbs and place in a paper bag clearly marked with contents.  Three weeks later the herbs will be dried and can be placed in a canning jar.

To the garden add a table and chairs, a bird bath, and bring a cup of tea out to your tea garden to relax and enjoy.

 

Farm Dreams Unfolding

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Pumpkin Hollow Farm is really coming together.  Thank you, Rod for making this beautiful hand carved sign for the farm.  Thanks to my friend, Deb, for helping me get past my twenty year plateau in farming. (Water more, for crying out loud!)  Nancy for praising my garden every time she sees it and for being my partner in crime at farmer’s markets.  Doug for watering in the evenings when I can’t get to it.  And for those enjoying my onions and greens right now, thanks.  The peas will be ready to harvest today.  I cannot guarantee there will be any left to sell.  I sure have been craving English peas!

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Farming has been good for me.  I have become more in tune with the seasons, what foods are specific to our bodies and what nutrients we need according to the time of year and how all of those things are wrapped up in what food is in season.  It is fabulous eating a strawberry in the garden after a long winter of no strawberries or those rubbery things in the store.  It is so satisfying biting into a swiss chard, cherry tomato, goat cheese, and fresh egg omelet.  It is a blessing to sit out with my husband in the back yard with the new goats and watch the sunset, beer in hand, and see all that we have accomplished and all we have been entrusted with.

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We are moving our shop to our home at the end of this month.  Order forms on the porch for those that need to place an order and we aren’t home.  When we are home (which I imagine will be a lot this fall and winter!), come on in and have a cup of tea while I refill your sleep extract.  The community is welcome to come up to the door and ask for two onions, a bag of lettuce, and a medicine for thyroid.  My dream come true.  To work from home on my own farm.  This place instantly, overnight, became a real live farm in my mind when the rooster starting crowing and the goats came home.  We are taking a leap of faith and it is fabulous watching it come together.  People signing up for homesteading and herb classes.  People already knocking at the door for a refill of lotion (alas, it won’t be at my house until the end of July!).

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Community, in season food, fresh, organic medicines, family, farm animals.  We are lucky indeed.  Walk onto our farm today via this post to see the before and after of what we have done since Emily, Doug, and I (and Maryjane) dug up the entire yard to start Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  And it’s only the beginning of July!

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A Poem to Beckon Spring

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Three more days of snow predicted.  The wind is howling.  I am in limbo.  Can’t use my new washer because nothing is staying on the clothes line!  Don’t want to chase any more underwear around the yard.  Can’t go planting.  The seeds will blow away.  Can’t let the baby chickies out.  They will freeze their bloomers off!  So, I wrote a little love poem.

Wherefore out thou?

I do search for your lovely face in undressed trees.

I seek out your presence in the dirt, on my knees.

I think I hear you on the waves of sweet birdsong.

I then promise myself it shan’t be too long!

Again I am tricked and so think that you are near,

Run out to see spring flowers that are not yet here.

I am certain you should be at my front screen door

but alas the cold snow comes knocking once more.

My love, come with tulip bouquets and carefree smiles,

with fresh, green grass running for miles.

Oh, Winter Everlasting, please do go.

(We do appreciate your water though.)

We just need sun kisses, rays of delight, warm air, intoxicating scents of lilacs wafting here and there.

Of crabapple flowers dancing on the light breeze, and rain instead of a deep freeze.

All your rainbow color, we shall invite and welcome in.  Spring, you are like our long lost friend.

Planting Onions (right side up)

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How lucky we are when we can find a mentor.  Debbie is a Master Gardener and willing teacher.  And since I was not raised on a farm or with any pass down farming knowledge, it has been all trial and error for twenty years!  Mostly error.  Every week that I go to her house and stand in her greenhouse in all its tropical luxury or outdoors among the cattle and rolling hills, I learn so much.  So many things that would seem obvious coming to light.

We planted onions last week.  In a 10×10 bed she stuck the thermometer in and it registered 40 degrees. We gathered up the bags of onions.  Every four inches we punched a little hole a few inches deep with our fingers.  Four inches in every direction went an onion.  She asked me if I knew which way to plant them, what side faces up?  I was so thankful that I did.  Sometimes I feel like a complete kindergartener in the soil but then I am happy in those moments when I can puff out my chest and say, “Yup!”  I have planted my fair share of upside down daffodils, tulips, onions, and garlic over the years.  I think I know better now!  I rather fear that in a month or so she will know which side of the bed I planted.  I imagine her beautifully straight rows on her end and the crooked grid on mine!  Onions every which way!

Roughly 20 minutes of water a day if there is no moisture.  Perhaps doubled that in the heat of summer.  In late summer the green tops will topple and the onions will be complete.  Now I need to know how to cure them and keep them all winter.  Mine turned to water after a month!

We are back from our trip and after redecorating my lair, I am getting out in that garden.  Need to pick up a soil thermometer.  Doug hasn’t had time to put in the drip lines yet so a low sprinkler on the early crops should be sufficient until he has a sunny weekend.

I can already smell the caramelized onions….

The History Mystery and Whispering Seeds

The Three Sisters method will be employed.  This town is called Kiowa after all and the soil belonged to tribes.  Smoke Signals will be planted in the far center garden bed.  The rows will look over the rest of the garden beds, standing proud of their heritage.  Their multi-colored, brilliant ears will provide delicious popcorn.  How many American Indian ladies planted this same corn?  And the Black Aztec will be in the next bed to try my hand at making blue cornmeal.  Did my great, great grandmother use the same varietal?  And the Golden Bantam, the original sweet corn, will adorn the other side.  Ancient seeds carried in covered wagons and in pouches.

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So many choices!  Buy organic seeds?  Or conventional seeds?  For me the clear choice as a history buff with too much imagination are heirlooms.  Who doesn’t want pink and brown pumpkins scrambling around their Aztec corn?  The colors excite me.  The histories enthrall me and I feel connected to every farmer, every family before me who fed their family using these seeds.

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Heirlooms are an important part of sustainability.  They are not genetically modified. They are pollinated by bees and birds and butterflies and the seeds can be saved so that my great, great grandchild will wonder who I was but know that I planted orange watermelons and that I may have been a little eccentric thanks to the multicolored beans I saved.  And heirlooms whisper about history.

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Imagine perusing a seed catalogue of seeds that are ancient!  Like the seeds that were just recently rediscovered.  These Morning Glories are not your typical shape but frilly raspberry colored petals.  I cannot wait to see them scrambling up the trellis.  Purple carrots will taste so much better than orange ones.  I do love to choose the prettiest colored vegetables, many that had to grow in this climate so they ripen early.  I plan on watering this year (whoops) so I do plan to have the most beautiful and productive garden I have ever had.  And walking through it will be like walking through a history book of covered wagons and pioneers, strong willed women and gracious, hard working men who fed their families using these very seeds that I will feed my family with.

Save a seed!  http://seedsavers.org (pictures were taken from their catalogue!)