The garden in April

((Apologies — this was written in April and then never published))

DaffodilsNo joke: Our first daffodil bloomed this year on April Fool’s Day.

As I look back at previous years, I realize just how late that is. I’ve blogged about the first blooming in early March one year, mid-March another year. But this was a brutal winter, with snow on the ground until mid-March (end of March before the last was gone from some parking-lot mounds or super-shady bits of the neighborhood), and even after that, we’d be teased with a wonderfully sunny spring day that would be followed by freezing temperatures and at least the threat of flakes.

But with April, we seem to finally be getting warmer temperatures. And today I can’t count the number that are in bloom. A couple of hundred for sure, I’d say, though almost exclusively two varieties: All bright yellow with a big trumpet or a very pale yellow with a bright yellow trumpet. The clumps are getting bigger, too, which means I need to put dividing daffodils and mixing them up more as I replant on the spring to-do list. (I’ll never find them if I wait until fall).

The forsythia is also running late. It looks like it could burst out tomorrow, though.

As for the seedlings in the basement, we have nowhere near a 100% germination rate. That’s probably a good thing, given how many seeds I planted! Though I’d have like a bit more variety than what we have. As it is, we’ve already transplanted 18 tomato seedlings out of seed-starter mix, including six Brandywines and even more of Sophie’s Choice, an extra-early determinate heirloom from Canada that apparently delivers relatively large, flavorful tomatoes. Determinate means all the flowers come at once, rather than continuing all summer, but I will be thrilled if we are eating garden tomatoes before the Fourth of July.

We also have some Blondkopfchen heirloom yellow cherry tomatoes and a couple of Ananas Noir heirlooms, which I think will be mostly green with more red at the base and then more green inside. If nothing else, they will add some interesting contrast to a plate of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella.

Clearly I’ll be giving plenty of these away (this year’s bed has room for eight plants, though maybe I can get away with two Sophie Choice plants elsewhere, or in containers, to say nothing of the neighbor’s raised bed…), but hopefully I’ll also be able to swap for a different variety or two.


Setting myself up for a tomato glut

Every year I vow that I will restrain myself with tomato plants. And I do — sort of — when it comes time to put them in a raised bed. But I am less restrained when it comes to starting seeds. After all, you never know what will germinate and what will flop, right? (And last year, the Brit pushed for using up all those Sungold seeds…) So I usually find myself foisting plants on colleagues and/or appropriating space in a neighbor’s bed.

This year could be at least as bad.

In the quest to use up many of the seeds we have so that I can justify those blue indigo tomatoes next year, I have planted 27 plugs, each with a few seeds because, hey, they’re old so will they all germinate? If they all do, I’ll end up with close to 100 plants — probably enough for the entire neighborhood! But that’s a problem for another day, to sort of borrow a phrase from Scarlett O’Hara. In the meantime, I think (hope?) I’ve found a good way to keep track of all of them at least until it’s time to transplant them into bigger containers.

the tomato-planting plan

The good part is that I did use up a lot of the seeds. And that if it all flops, it’s early enough that I can start another round. The bad part is that I still have quite a few, though the variety is much more manageable for that second round. I didn’t even touch the unopened pouch of black cherry tomatoes, which was a tough thing to do. And maybe I’ll find someone who’ll swap a Sungold or a Sunsugar (even sweeter) for one of mine.

Even if I can’t pull off that last part, I could have quite the colorful tomato salad, with nearly a dozen types of tomatoes. The assortment includes plenty of Brandywines (two different gifts of seeds), an orange variety, yellow plum, yellow cherry, a chocolate stripe and more.

And heck, if I’m going to get my fingers all dirty and start a heat mat, I might as well try some other seeds. So the last of a pack of miniscule alyssum seeds is planted, as is half a pack of white nicotiana that I hope will add a wonderful scent to the deck on a summer’s evening.

Next round: Basil? Salad greens?

A winter-sowing experiment

Two days of sunshine and temperatures that hit 50! And on a weekend! Yes, more snow is possible tonight and later in the week, but for now, after this brutal winter, I am thinking spring and the garden.

Not that I can really see much green. The snow, while melting, is still deep, the raised beds are covered and the crocuses are nowhere to be seen. The river behind us? Sprawling from all the runoff.

flooded Millstone

So naturally I planted seeds. Seeds that desperately needed to be used and which I had forgotten to plant in years past. I took some plastic containers that once contained candied ginger, dried cranberries and greens (not all together!) that I had been stockpiling for too long with the intent of turning them into mini-greenhouses. Following the instructions here, I slashed drainage holes, filled with soil, watered deeply, added seeds, slashed air vents … and left them in the snow on top of a raised bed. The idea is that the seeds will germinate as the cold ends and the plants know it’s safe to come up. It will then be up to me to water them as needed and open their air vents more and more.

winter seed sowing

One container is full of Texas hummingbird sage, which promises lovely red flowers and hopefully a stream of hummingbirds. Another is borage, and then there’s mullein and tall fernleaf fiddleneck. The last has half a packet of butterfly weed, whose orange flowers appeal to me as well as to butterflies. I’ll aim to to spread the rest in April, when light frosts are still possible, because the packet says it develops a long taproot and therefore doesn’t transplant well. Just to hedge my bets.

And with that, five of our many seed packets are used up.

One of this year’s goals is to use more of what we have. So no blue indigo tomatoes until next year.

Starting Seeds

seedlingsIt’s a new year and time to be more resolute about keeping this blog up to date. The garden did fine in the back half of last year, but I got too busy to tend to it and do everything else .. and take pictures and write.

So we spent part of Presidents Day starting our 2013 seedlings (and trying desperately to use up some seed packets!).

First off, those awesome sungold tomatoes. We have nine plugs, most with an extra seed. All I want is two plants, so if they all come up, we will be taking names for those who want a plant or two.

I didn’t see any Ramapo seeds, but I filled three plugs withe the last of my Lynn’s beefsteak mix heirloom tomato seeds (supposedly a mix but I only seem to remember big red ones), black cherry and yellow plum. Another set was filled with some ‘peach’ tomatoes (a gift),, very few grape tomatoes (harvested from a previous year’s crop) and Brandywine from a colleague’s oh-so-tasty 2010 crop. Hopefully that will give us some nice variety. And again, if they all come up, more than enough to share (or swap).

And yes, somehow I will restrain myself to about eight tomato plants.

The Brit wants broccoli, so two sets of nine-plug containers have been turned over to that. A two-ounce seed packet comes with so many seeds that it could take us a long time to go through them. If you’d like some, let me know. I’d say if you want to swap seeds, let me know, but we have so many seeds already! (Oh, but I think we could use some rainbow chard)

We do have a set of nine pugs devoted to Fordhook Swiss chard.seedlings on the heat mat

Another set of nine plugs has been turned over to basil. Lemon Mrs. Burns seeds are finally used up, as is a packet of lime basil (a big favorite). The final third went to Italian basil, and I still have some cinnamon basil seeds to try. Once again, if they all germinate (or even if half do), we will have plenty to share.

A second set was devoted to three more herbs: some old Greek oregano seeds, plus gifts of lemon balm and cinnamon basil seeds.

Another set of nine went to parsley. I admit the seeds are a bit old, but there were lots, so we can have a high failure rate and still have plenty of plants to share.

The Brit then went wild with those Seeds of Change packets that my sister-in-law gave us a few Christmases ago. And still we have only used up one packet (Bau Si mustard greens). I think the only thing he forgot to devote any space to was arugula.

Bottom line: We’ve got two full trays on a heat mat and are anxiously checking for signs of germination.

Next month we’ll get a range of peas in the ground. And maybe we can get beets and rainbow radishes in there too. (or is that April? Potatoes are April, probably after a trip to see my mom in Ohio and the obligatory stop at a great garden center there.)

One lesson learned: snap shut that cap on the garden marker that has dried out.

Spring Planting, and the Search for Sun Golds

We are finally beginning to sow some seeds. It feels a bit late to be starting to get seedlings going under the grow lights, but somehow time keeps getting away from us. That, or the urge to attack all those white flowering weeds in the flower beds (never mind the lawn) that I have finally identified as bittercress. (I fear that will be a long battle, but that is another tale.)

leeks, tomatoes and more

So Sunday night I cleaned out all the old plastic planting cells and trays in bleach and water, hoping to kill anything bad. Tonight we started filling them up. Two sets of nine planting cells were packed with leek seeds, one Musselburgh and the other a Scottish heirloom from somewhere. (Two empty seed packets –yay!) If they all come up, we’ll need a new bed!

We’re planting only four cells per set of nine in the rest of the tray. I was only supposed to put in one tomato seed per cell, so don’t tell the Brit that I didn’t always stick to that rule! One went for Ramapos, another for Brandywines, yet another for black cherry tomatoes and a fourth for the unnamed orange golf-ball sized ones that add a nice mix of color to a summer salad. I finally used up all the gardeners delight cherry tomatoes. That’s already five varieties of tomatoes (and don’t ask how many other varieties of tomato seeds we have!) We also used up the pimento red pepper seeds (“produces a lot of small squat peppers,” said the friend who gave them to us). Maybe they will be this year’s pyramid peppers … more plants and peppers than we know what to do with!

tomatoes and more tomatoes

After all this, why do we think we need to buy sun gold tomato seeds? Worse, why are we making the effort to search them out when the usual suspects don’t have them? These don’t even have the cachet of heirloom seeds. It took calling a seed seller and asking what stores in the area carried the brand, and then calling them and finding one that was willing to include sun golds in his next order (or so he says, still waiting for confirmation. Paying postage that is more than the price of a packet of seeds crosses my pain threshold).

Botanical Interests, a family seed company with appealing packaging (drawings, rather than photos), gives this description:” Beautiful, plump, tangerine colored fruits are quite simply, very sweet and juicy! Provide support for vigorous vines that easily reach 6 feet long. Allow tomatoes to fully ripen for optimum flavor; fruits should almost fall off the vine when ready. You won’t find these gems in the grocery stores, since for the commercial market tomatoes must be picked under-ripe for shipping.”

Now do you understand? When I grew them a few years ago, I ate them like candy. And we’re not the only ones. We’ll be sharing seeds or seedlings with colleagues, and I’m thinking of a few family members who’d like them too.

Where am I going to find room in the beds for all these tomatoes, plus basil, greens, peas, beans and more? That’s something I’ll worry about in May!

Getting Started

I feel like I really need to get going on the seed-planting. After all, Memorial Day is just over two months away (!) and I’ll want my tomato plants in the ground that weekend. And it’s not like it takes a lot of time to fill a few seedling containers with soil and stick in some seeds. But somehow it’s all happening awfully slowly. Blame it on that commute, a longer work week because Europe hasn’t yet made the shift to daylight savings time and a few other distractions.

So tonight we headed to the basement for another round. I planted three pots each of three types of tomato seeds I’ve been given: the deliciously named Bloody Butcher, Ananas Noire (bi-color yellow and red–can’t wait!) and an Italian heirloom paste. That’s on top of the six types (18 pots) of tomatoes planted over the weekend. The Brit planted lobelia.

I really only want one of each type of tomato; the other two are for insurance. If they all come up, I will be giving plants away–remember, I only have room for 18 plants. And I still have another nine or so varieties I’d like to plant. Hopefully I’ll keep them straight til I get (at least) one of each in the ground.

Seed swap

Let’s get this seed swap going!

And to get things started, I am posting my four-page seed inventory. (Don’t laugh! And I am struggling to make this link work, so be patient.) Add a comment if there is something that catches your eye, and post whatever you have to spare. I will pass on email addresses privately. No guarantees, of course — I know most of my seeds are from 2008 or earlier, and I am sure the same goes for yours. Who can use up an entire seed packet in one summer anyway?

Debbie, I will happily take two of each kind of tomato seed that you haven’t yet given me, especially that Ananas Noire, and a little bit of lemon balm. I know you mentioned white cucumber and I forgot that in the packet I just mailed. Still want?

To help build the mood, here’s a New York Times article full of seed ideas, pointed out by one friend. Another send this link for free tomato seeds (as if I need more!). The Brit has been strangely silent about that one.