Posted in Farming

Time to Start Seeds! (how to easily and on the cheap)

Starting seeds at home is a great way to try grow many different plants and be able to get a jump start on the season. Tomato starts, for example, can be pricey, and if you are planning on canning 200 jars of tomatoes, you are going to need a fair amount of plants. Being able to grow certain varieties that are not available in nurseries is another benefit. Every year the wind knocks some of my dried chile pods off my ristras from Taos, New Mexico, and the seeds shatter. This year I planted them alongside other chilies I am starting from seed. Mmm, delicious, homegrown red chile!

This here blog is filled with every bit of information you could ever want to learn about homesteading, farming, animal care, and self reliance, but I will tell you a secret…it is built on years of failures! Can’t learn until you kill ten dozen seedlings with root rot, right? I have written about different ways to start seeds every year, and they all work, but anymore, I am keeping it simple. One year I bought a very expensive grow light to start all my seeds. My children were teenagers at the time and one of them sold it to some kids so they could grow pot. Luckily, one doesn’t need a grow lamp to start seeds! You just need a sunny window, some recycled containers, and potting soil.

Recycled Containers

I never throw away salad containers with lids, they work amazing as mini-greenhouses!

You can also save tin cans and punch a few holes in the bottom. These work well because the plant can grow in them all the way up until it is time to transplant to the garden. The less you can disturb the plant the better, so I tend to use larger receptacles.

I even utilized old drawers from a broken refrigerator. They are clear so I can see how the roots are doing, if enough light reaches the plant, and I can plant many seeds in one container.

Potting Soil

I use potting soil instead of seed starting medium because I don’t have to transplant as quickly. The seeds germinate just fine and grow well. Purchase organic potting soil. Fill containers 3/4 of the way with soil and pour water over. Let the soil soak it up (it can hold a lot of water) and stir well, adding more soil or more water to make it evenly damp.

Plant Seeds

Seeds love to grow. Plant one or two seeds every three inches. I generally only plant one. That way I don’t waste seeds. I like to save some of the seeds to direct plant in case something goes awry with the seed starting endeavor (cats, lack of sun, over-watered…).

I plant things that need a longer growing season, like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I planted paprika, red chilies, green chilies, ancho chilies, Cherokee purple tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for fresh eating, and Brimmer pink and Romas for canning, Sunberries for fresh fruit, and rosemary. (All other herb seeds will be direct planted.)

Cover Plants

We want to simulate a greenhouse environment in the guest room. Covering the plants creates that condensation effect. I place sandwich bags over the cans and secure with a rubber band. I placed plastic bags that contained our vacuum parts when new over the refrigerator drawers. I used the lid that came with the mini-greenhouse. And I placed the lids back on the salad containers.

Enough Sun

Finding enough sun in this house for plants is going to be a challenge. Ideally, the plants would be set up on a table in our bedroom in front of the southwest facing window, and the cats highly agree. There is nothing more they would like to do but spill pots of seeds onto the carpet. It’s great fun, you know. Now that my husband is working from home, he has taken over the office. That leaves the guest room, which can be closed and might be ideal. I covered the bed with an oil cloth tablecloth to protect it. The room faces northeast. That is not ideal so I will have to keep an eye out and make sure enough sun is hitting the plants and that the water is continually evaporating and raining back over the plants. If not I will need to move them to prevent the seeds/seedlings from rotting away.

Water

Do not overwater! Those little legs can’t sit in water. Every few days mist with a water bottle. As the seedlings outgrow their lids, begin to lightly water as needed.

Transplants

Start seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Before you transplant, let soil dry out a bit and it will be easier to pop them out of their containers. Transplant seedlings into bigger containers as needed. Remember, that most of these plants that you are starting from seed are tropical plants in nature, so give them lots of mist and sun and they will be happy! And you will be happy come salsa season!

Posted in Farming

Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

Posted in Farming

Farming by the Moon and Canning Jar Cloches

It is both exciting and daunting to be farming in a slightly different climate.  We went up one zone and added at least a month to our growing season.  I am attempting Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and sweet potatoes with my new found month.  It is quite hot here in the summer though so this is really all a big learning curve.  As soon as I thought I was pretty dang good at gardening, the new landscape will again be a firm teacher.

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I have been farming according to the Farmer’s Almanac and have been very intrigued by my findings.  As the moon is waxing the above ground crops are put in.  Promptly following the recommended days of planting were three days of rain.  As the moon was waning we planted our potatoes dutifully on the days specified and it was followed by rain.  The statistics and patterns of the earth’s cycles recorded for so very long make it pretty accurate to tell the weather and the best time to plant.  It is a nice way to up our odds in the garden.

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I started seeds in the special little plugs but ran out of money to get one size bigger and the plants were suffocating in their cramped quarters.  When I was speaking at the Sustainability Fair a few weeks ago a woman mentioned that she puts her tomato and pepper plants under canning jars for two weeks and that they do amazing.  “They don’t burn up?” I asked.  She was surprised herself.  She first put the seedlings under the canning jar cloches and forgot them.  When she came back from vacation two weeks later expecting the worst, they were blooming frantically and joyfully under their inexpensive greenhouses.  So, here I am with Brussels and artichokes and a bit early yet to actually put them out but this is all a lovely experiment anyways with these vegetables so let us try it.  Under the free cloches they went and I shall keep you posted on the findings!

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Posted in Farmgirl Gardening Series

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Posted in Farming

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!

Posted in Farming

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