Sunday, March 31, 2013

Propagating Rosemary

Rosemary has always been one of my favorite herbs to cook with, and it’s also a very pretty and fragrant plant to grow. It can also be difficult to start from seed, so last year I planted an entire seed packet of it. I ended up with a very nice, productive container of rosemary that I brought inside for the winter.

I started this plant from seed last year
It has done remarkably well, and is continually generating new growth and branching out in the seedling room window. I really enjoy fresh herbs, but I also like to use dried rosemary for things like oven baked potato wedges, where fresh rosemary often burns. However, I wanted to keep my happy plant (rather than cut it and dehydrate it like I did with the other herbs).

Given this dilemma, I decided to try my hand at rosemary propagation via cuttings. That way, I could have one container of rosemary for drying at the end of the season, and one to bring indoors for fresh rosemary (and further cuttings). Luckily, propagating rosemary from cuttings is easy (or so “they” say) and far easier than growing it from seed.

Cuttings and root powder ready to go!
I began by cutting 5 branches from the plant. Since I had plenty of both, I tried a mix of woodier and fresh growth, just to see if it matters which one you pick. Then, I dipped the cut ends into a rooting powder (which you can buy at any garden store or nursery). Finally, I planted the cuttings in peat pots filled with seed starter mix. Below is a photo of the planted cuttings.

planted cuttings (they look good so far)
From what I’ve read, they should take root in a few weeks. Then, I plan on potting them up into a fresh container. If it works, I’ll probably repeat the process a couple more times, as herbs are a focus of my garden this year. Since I use a ton of them in my cooking, I really want a large harvest to dry in the fall. The food dehydrator works wonders for this (far better than hanging them to dry in my opinion). It takes 5-6 hours for most herbs, and it keeps them bright green and prevents dust from getting into them, which happened to my dill that I left hanging.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter weekend! Spring is just around the corner…

Friday, March 29, 2013

Seedling Table Update

The seedling table is taking its sweet time this year, partially due to the colder temperatures, which have made the back room where the seedlings are quite a bit cooler than last spring. I inadvertently made the problem worse by putting a fan in there to toughen up the seedlings, a mistake I’ve since rectified. I’ll put it back once the temperatures rise into the 50’s during the day on a consistent basis, because I do want to toughen the plants up for our windy upstairs porch.

marigold seedlings
As far as the seedlings’ progress, the peppers are finally starting to pop. We have 7-8 California wonders, a handful of jalapenos, and two Anaheim chilies. Each day more peppers are coming up, so it won’t be long until they are all up now.

starting to look like something...
The eggplants are doing great. I think every single Black Beauty seed germinated, so we’ll have some extra plants to give away. If you’ve never grown them, they are incredible if you love eggplants. Last summer I ended up with one plant from a mix package (which I’ll never use again for reasons I explain in this blog post. It ended up in a 6.5 gallon container crowded with two other plants, one round white and one long. Even from this small, crowded plant we ended up with several large, delicious, eggplants the size of a loaf of bread. This year I plan on treating them better, giving them more space, and hopefully reaping a larger harvest.

Black beauty from last summer
Tomatoes are all up and doing well, with the exception of the purple tomatillos and the sundried tomato variety (Principe Borghese). Germination rates for these have been extremely low. I did re-seed the pots, so we’ll see if they come along in the next few weeks. We do have two plants of each, but that’s about a 30% success rate. It could be the cold, though. Time will tell.

Petunias are in the foreground, in front of forget me nots
Finally, I’m excited to say that we have petunias! Last year I planted an entire seed packet of petunias and got one tiny little plant that promptly died. This time around they look great, so I’m hoping they continue to develop well. I love petunias, but buying them from the nursery can be expensive (especially for the unusual colors). This is a mixed color pack, which was the only type of petunia seed they had at the nursery. I also got some Chinese forget me nots, which look similar to other forget me nots, but bloom continuously all summer rather than just in the spring. Those seem to be doing well, as do the marigolds and zinnias.

 Until next time, happy gardening!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting Peppers to Germinate Faster

I know I said it last week, but what a difference a year makes in the weather. Last year most of the fruit trees were flowering and many of the hardwoods were budding. Some of the shrubs had full leaves by now. Granted, that was early and a bit freakish, but this year is the polar opposite. It is snowing and we have a “special weather statement” for snow. Will winter ever let go?

On a better note, it’s been a week since my poblano experiment began, and I’m happy to say that we have germination! I’ve read about the paper towel/plastic bag trick many places before, but I’ve never tried it. Well, after falling in love with poblano peppers at the inopportune time of mid-March, I needed a way to get them jumpstarted quickly for this year’s garden. Luckily, the old paper towel method was simple and effective.

The flash makes this look like foil but it's just a paper towel inside of a plastic bag
If you’re not familiar with the trick, it’s pretty simple. I’m not really sure it qualifies as a “trick” but given the eternity it usually takes my peppers to germinate I’m calling it that. I began by soaking a paper towel with warm water. Then, I placed 10 poblano seeds in between the moistened layers of towel and folded it over. I placed the damp paper towel in a plastic bag, labeled it, and set it on top of our Bunn coffee pot (which is always warm). One week later… presto! We have 2-3 seeds with shoots starting and the rest are swollen and look read to pop. Cable boxes, tops of refrigerators, and other warm spots would work just as well. 

We have sprouts!
Next up is planting them in seed starting mix, which I did today. Interestingly, they will be caught up with many of the peppers that I planted back in February, which are just starting to sprout now. I think it’s the cold in the back room where the seedlings are that kept them dormant for so long. The poblanos had just barely sprouted, so they aren’t above the dirt yet, but I know they are well on their way. I suppose I could have waited a day or two longer, but I’ve never tried this and I didn’t want the seedlings to die in the plastic bag.

They've lost most of their purple hue (the leaves were very dark and almost purple last week!)
Speaking of the cold, I ended up turning off the fan for now. Not only were seeds taking forever to germinate, but the tomato seedlings were turning purple. If that happens, don’t despair: they are just chilly. Once the environment gets warmer they’ll turn green and happy once more (mine have already lost their purple hue so I don’t have a picture). It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have any long-term effect on the plants they will turn into later.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes! (and other musings)

It’s been a couple of weeks already since my last post. Where does the time go? Speaking of time, what a difference a year makes! Last year we were spoiled, and as is often the case with being spoiled there were some major consequences, at least as far as crops and gardens were concerned.

March 20, 2012
Last year on St. Patrick’s Day it was 80 degrees here, the buds were all popping, and some fruit trees were even starting to flower. It all sounded great, but then April got much colder, and all those tender young buds and fruit tree flowers that excitedly rose early to greet the March summer got zapped by the April frost.

The consequences for fruit crops were dire. Harvests of cherries, peaches, apples, plums, and berries were decimated. Fruit prices were much higher, and many of the “cool” kinds of heirloom apples and pears that we enjoy wandering the countryside to find in the fall were either full of frost damage or not available at all.

This spring (much colder and more consistent) is really what you want as a gardener and as someone who wants to pick peaches and cherries this summer! As I type this some of the perennial herbs are just starting to show some signs of life under a cover of fresh snow. While the early warm weather last year was a nice treat, this is much better for the crops, and isn’t that what matters most?

Tarragon sprouts outside on the porch
On the subject of perennial herbs, it turns out tarragon is perennial here. I’ve never grown it before, but I kept all of lat year’s herb containers outside all winter just for the heck of it. The thyme always comes back, but we also have oregano popping up, and these pretty tarragon sprouts! And to think, I have a bunch of tarragon starting from seed inside! I guess I’ll have to figure out what to do with the extra.

Oregano sprouting outside
Most of the seedlings are up now, and we are finally getting some peppers! Last year the eggplant was the last crop to sprout, and I had started to wonder if we were ever going to see it. This year the eggplant preceded the peppers by a solid week, and so far we only have one lonely Anaheim chili and one California wonder sprouting. That’s a solid month after they were planted. It has been a lot colder this year, which is probably the reason the peppers have been slow to germinate.

The first pepper: Anaheim chili!
 One last note on peppers. I bought a poblano pepper from the store last week and grilled it up to put on a grilled vegetable sandwich, and I immediately decided I needed to add them to the garden. The issue is that it is March 19th already, so if they take a month to germinate I’ll have one inch tall plants in May. To get around this I’m going to try to cheat a bit and force them to germinate early. More on that in my next post (hopefully in a day or two)!
Lots of herbs!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Zucchini and Melons in Containers

As the calendar flips to March we’re ever closer to warmer days and sunny afternoons in the garden! Since I’ve received a few questions on the topic, I thought I would take a few minutes to discuss my thoughts on growing squash and melons in containers.

This plant was just starting out... They get BIG!
 In terms of container size, I would go with at least a 5 gallon container, but that would be the bare minimum. Zucchini (and any squash really) gets huge and needs space to stretch out. Our plant last year was about 3 feet wide and a good 2-3 feet tall. It’s one thing to read that, but once you have a monster plant taking over your patio it’s quite another! Unlike tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or even something like Okra, squash needs a lot of horizontal space. This can make it tough to fit into a patio garden, since you can squish a couple of tomato plants together (since they grow mostly up) but that is harder to do with something like zucchini.

These containers are the perfect size for many crops
This year I am going to use the square 6.5 gallon containers I bought from Home Depot and just plant one zucchini plant in each (one yellow and one green). As I’ve learned over the past couple years of doing this, you will get more (and bigger) fruit from one healthy properly spaced plant than two or three crowded (and consequently smaller) plants.

In terms of yield, a couple of plants should suffice. Zucchini plants are famous for being heavy yielders, and one plant will often produce several squash a week. In the height of the summer squash season you can pick three and six will take their place! As you can see, the plant we had was ramping up nicely with squash until the powdery mildew got it. This is probably the biggest threat (at least where we are in Western New York) and every year it rolls in like a plague, leaving dead cucumbers, melons, and squash, not to mention broken dreams, in its wake (squash, cucumbers, and melons are all related, and easily pass maladies back and forth in a small garden). I have read about a number of treatments for powdery mildew, but from what I’ve gathered the treatments are preventative in nature, not curative. But that’s another post!

These 12 gallon bins might even be a bit small for the melons...
That brings me to the bush sugar baby melons, which will be an experiment for us this year. I plan on using a flexible 12 gallon tub and planting a “hill” of 2-3 plants in the middle. What I’ve found is that the limiting factor in container size is often moisture content of the soil: the smaller the planter the more stress on the plant due to lack of moisture. Consider that the fruit of a watermelon is saturated with water, and it becomes clear that these are going to need a good amount of soil from which to draw that water.

According to the seed packet, these melons are space savers due to their bushy plants (rather than vines) but something tells me they are going to get pretty big, so I’m going to use the biggest container I have and give them a corner of the porch to themselves. Whereas the other plants are relatively easy to move (I brought the entire garden of huge tomato plants inside during an extremely strong wind/thunderstorm last summer) something like a melon with 5-7 pound fruits would be difficult to move without damaging the fruit and/or plant. The key will be to find a place that it can stay undisturbed for the entire season.

Lots of herbs sprouting!
 In order to give the melons a head start, I’m going to start them inside in a couple of weeks. Speaking of the seedlings, we’re getting more and more on the seed table!

A cumin seedling!
Until next time, happy gardening!