Archives for posts with tag: getting organized

When a pirate buries his treasure, it is not for forever; he expects to come back for it. It may take some time before he can return—there are many ships to rob and his own vessel’s speed is limited by the winds—so it is important that he prepare for an almost inevitable occurrence: that he will forget where he buried for it.

How does he prevent that from happening? Well, the organized pirate makes a treasure map.

And not just any treasure map. If the pirate is also clever (and if he is alive, he most certainly is; most dumb pirates will quickly end up dead), he will incorporate some sort of code into his map. That way, if it falls into enemy hands (a competing raider’s, say), the location of the chest of gold (or what have you) will not be immediately revealed. In the time it takes to decipher it, the original pirate can track down the thief (who, most unfortunately, will probably end up walking the plank) and reclaim his map.

Even for non-pirates, making a secret map to protect one’s buried treasure is a pretty good idea. Except for certain buried treasures.

I’m talking, of course, about flowering bulbs.

When I bury a chestful of these little golden orbs, I want to forget where I left them. One of the greatest joys of planting bulbs is the exhilarating jolt of surprise when the blossoms are first sighted in late winter or early spring, usually pushing through a crust of snow. Having a map that gives their locations away would spoil half of the fun, for me anyway.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I want to leave my buried treasures susceptible to theft. If I thought it would help prevent the squirrels from stealing my precious stash, I would employ the most enigmatic map I could devise.

And if I still caught them plundering my treasure?

Arrgh! I would send those marauding squirrels to Davy Jones’ Locker!

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I’m discovering some of the downsides to using last year’s seeds for this year’s crops. Sure, the practice is (theoretically) economical and minimizes waste but it is very unreliable.

For instance, after a month we have a grand total of one bell pepper seedling (a Quadrato d’Asti Rosso) out of 12 seeds planted. Not a great germination rate. I’m happy to have the one but this afternoon, I reseeded the other five red bell peppers and all six of the Orange Sun. These seeds have an expected life of two years and I am disappointed that they will be bringing down the average.

I also filled another half-tray with seed starting mix to get the tomatoes started. From last year’s varieties we have selected Country Taste Beefsteak, Yellow Brandywine, Black Cherry and Sungold. I concluded during my season recap (see January 15, 2014) that we did not really like Aunt Ruby’s German Green (except for the name) and, thinking about it further (see February 6, 2014), realized that the red Brandywine variety did not grow particularly well. We’re skipping the two of them.

That leaves us with four varieties and room for two more. It’s getting late in the seed-sowing season and we will have to choose them soon if we want to grow from seed.

I started with the Country Taste Beefsteaks and was surprised to find only three seeds remaining in the packet. Oops; another problem with using last season’s seed supply (although I guess that strictly speaking, this is more a problem of me not checking my supplies ahead of time). I planted the three and will hope for the best (and resolve to be more organized next year).

The Yellow Brandywine and Black Cherry seed packets were still mostly full—with many more than the six seeds I planted—but there were only two Sungold seeds left. I happily (and optimistically) planted them and wonder why some seed packets are sent out with only a handful of seeds in them while others contain scores. I do not believe there was any difference in price.

With the newly-sown seeds watered and safely tucked away on the seed starting apparatus, I next turned to the lettuces. The seedlings started in early February (see February 9, 2014) are now small heads and in need of potting up.

Following last year’s example, I composed a potting-up soil mix of equal parts compost and seed-starting mix. More specifically, the mix components are: 4 parts compost; 2 parts peat moss; one part vermiculite; one part perlite; and a tablespoon of lime. I stirred the soil together in a bucket, sprinkled in some water until it reached a satisfyingly moist consistency, and then went looking for pots.

I have several dozen plastic pots for seedlings but they are too small, even for a single head of lettuce. We also have an eclectic mix of terra cotta pots scattered about the basement and I sorted through them. Most are the basic eight-inch circular variety, big enough for a head of lettuce—but only one. Others are larger, with varying degrees of ornamentation, but none of them seemed practical for my purpose.

I then recalled a stack of rectangular plastic planters that we had purchased several years ago. We had intended to plant them with flowers and place them in our window boxes, which were painted wood at the time. We’ve since replaced those window boxes with open, wrought iron versions that are sufficiently decorative on their own.

The plastic boxes are terra-cotta colored and long enough to fit three heads of lettuce. I pulled two of them from the stack (which we had tucked away onto a shelf) and filled them with potting mix. I formed three depressions in the soil with my hands and then, using my specialized seedling transfer tool (which multi-tasks as a dinner fork), moved three Jericho Romaine and three Red Salad Bowl lettuce seedlings into their new homes.

Here’s another thing that can happen when tomato plants extend too far beyond their supports:  A far-reaching branch will develop a cluster of fruits which, as they enlarge, weigh down the stem and eventually exceed its capacity.  Sometimes the branch will break (and down it will fall); other times it will kink (what as a structural engineer I would call plastic deformation).

The latter has occurred with multiple branches of the apparently hapless Country Taste beefsteak tomato vines.  Despite their bad luck, they continue to grow enthusiastically.  Or perhaps it is the other way around.  Because of their unbridled expansion, they are experiencing mishaps directly associated with their size (see also August 13, 2013).  In other words, they are growing too much for their own good.

The beefsteaks are not the only ones.  In fact, all of the tomato vines have extended upward and outward from their cages.  Each now trails across the top of the adjacent cage to either side of its own.  The plants at the ends—the aforementioned Country Taste to the west, the Sungold cherry tomatoes to the east—have no cage to one side.  Consequently, their outer branches spill over and downwards, most of them kinked but not broken.

It puts me in an awkward position.  I had vowed to keep the tomato vines in control by careful pruning.  I have clipped the main stems and nipped the suckers on an almost daily basis.  But at some point in the last week or so, the vines sped past me during a moment (okay, maybe it’s a day or two) of inattention.  And now, not only are the vines very long, they all support several ripening fruit as well.  To cut the vines off at this point would mean losing a large part of our crop.

So I’ll adjust my approach.  On the longer stems, I will prune beyond the last cluster of fruit even if that means abandoning some blossoms.  For the vines that remain (and there a lot of them), I will do my best to support them from as many cages as necessary (without allowing the whole works to topple over).  We’ve ended up with a tangle of stems and leaves—the very condition I was trying to avoid—but at least we’ll maintain a good supply of tomatoes for the next few weeks.

And that, of course, is the whole point.  Our tomato harvest has really only just begun.  And the Country Taste beefsteak plant is looking to become the biggest producer.  We’ve already picked a couple of beauties—large, round, dense—and will be having them tonight for dinner.  Finally, a BLT.

In preparation for planting, I sorted our seeds (for a list, see February 8, 2013 and February 8, 2013, part 2) according to sowing method and incubation period.  We’ve been guided this year by the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski.  As the title implies, the book’s advice is arranged chronologically, relative to the date of last frost, which makes it very practical and easy to use.

Our seeds fall into three basic categories:  those that will be sown indoors before the last frost, to be transplanted when the weather is sufficiently warm; those that can be planted outdoors while it is still cold (i.e., before the last frost); and those that are best planted outdoors after any significant threat of frost has passed.

Some of the plants in the last category could be sown indoors (prior to the end of cold weather) but not all of them can be easily transplanted.  For instance, transplanting individual lettuce seedlings would be a tedious business and the chances of the seedlings’ survival would be diminished.  For some of these plants (again, the lettuces), we may elect to plant them indoors in large pots and then simply move the pots outdoors when the weather warms.

For the plants started indoors, some may need to be potted up before transplanting (e.g., the tomatoes) while others may not (e.g., the squashes and cucumbers).  All will want to be hardened off before migrating outdoors permanently.

Following the book’s lead, I tabulated our seeds into a Seed Sowing Calendar.  The only vegetables not listed there are the string beans.  They will be planted in the same spot occupied by the Sugar Snap Peas, after they run their course.  Last year, this was in early June.  We did not plant until July that year but will try to turn the crop over more quickly this year.

I’ve chosen May 5 as the date of last frost and that puts us today at six weeks before.  That also puts us three weeks behind on sowing seeds for eggplant and bell peppers and a week behind for peas.  I’m not worried about the peas—they wouldn’t be doing much outside in the cold anyway—and I’m not really worried about the eggplant or peppers, either.  They are late season vegetables so a late start should not make much of a difference.

On the positive side, the time is right to plant tomatoes and basil indoors and there are several other vegetables—carrots, turnips, beets and radishes—that can be sown outside at any time now.  The lingering cold and its effect on us (not the plants) is the only thing holding back our enthusiasm.

It’s not as complicated as it might look or sound but sometimes I ask myself, what have we got ourselves into?

With a big snowstorm approaching, we sat down with the seed catalogs today to continue—in a much more concrete way—our planning for the upcoming growing season.  We intend to start just about everything from seed this year and having made that decision, our options are much, much wider than they were last year.

Instead of being limited to the seedlings at our farmers’ market or garden center, we can choose from scores of different varieties of each type of plant.  And given the number of seed catalogs out there, the possibilities are practically unlimited (or let’s just say that they are only limited by our time and patience).

We wiled away an hour or two flipping through the pages of the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog, trying to keep in mind what vegetables we actually eat (as opposed to what sounds interesting) and what our experience was last year.  When we had gone through every page, here is what we picked:

  • Sugar Ann Snap Peas
  • Amethyst Purple Filet Bean
  • Roma II Bush Beans
  • Black Opal Eggplant
  • Rainbow Carrot Mixture (Atomic Red, Purple Dragon, Red Samurai, Royal Chantenay, Snow White and Yellowstone varieties)
  • Tanja Slicing Cucumbers
  • Alibi Pickling Cucumbers
  • Gourmet Rainbow Radish Mixture (Flamboyant French Breakfast, Feugo, Hailstone, Helios Yellow, Pink Celebration, Plum Purple, Roodkapje and White Icicle)
  • Jericho Romaine Lettuce
  • Red Salad Bowl Loose-Leaf Lettuce
  • Chioggia Beets
  • Touchstone Gold Beets
  • White Lady Turnips
  • Cavili Zucchini
  • Supersett Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash
  • Country Taste Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomatoes
  • Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
  • Black Cherry Tomatoes
  • Naguri Kabocha-Type Squash
  • Zeppelin Delicata Squash
  • Quadrato d’Asti Rosso Bell Peppers
  • Orange Sun Bell Peppers

Listed longhand like that, it seems like a lot of different vegetables.  However, there are only two more different types of vegetable than we had last year (the carrots and turnips).  Of these, the tomato, cucumber, eggplant and bell pepper seeds should be started indoors (and soon!).  Seeds for the rest can be sown directly in the garden, starting in early April.

We are also considering a few vegetables that we have never grown before but think might be manageable (and that we would actually eat):  Asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Bean Sprouts.  We can wait to start broccoli and cauliflower until mid-summer while beans can be sprouted indoors, anytime.

Asparagus would be a lot of fun to grow (and it will grow here; we have seen it at Stonecrop Gardens).  And yet, it would be a long-term commitment as it must be grown in a protected spot its first year and then given several seasons to reach harvestable production.  But it would be worth it to have this harbinger of spring growing in our own garden.

Our goal is to get the seed trays, lighting, heat (if needed), etc., prepared by the end of the month so that we can start sowing—and watering and lighting—at the beginning of March.  This will give us at least two months of indoor growing before transplanting the seedlings outdoors in May.

Everybody talks about spring cleaning and making a fresh start but fall clean-ups are just as important.  As the warmth of summer fades, we are spending less time outdoors.  The chair cushions, umbrellas and hammocks need to be washed, dried and stored inside.  The grill, in constant use through the summer, wants to be tidied up and tucked away on the back porch.

At the same time, the windows that have been open continuously since June must now be closed at night (and, eventually, all day) to ward off the chill.  We will vacuum a summer’s worth of gnats and no-see-ums from the screens and bring in the fans that brought cool air into the house.  These, too, will be cleaned and stowed in the basement.

In short, all of the summer paraphernalia must move indoors for the winter.  And the more effort we take to get it all organized, the better.  It won’t get in our way over the next several months and when spring comes, and it is time to move it back outdoors, it will be ready to go.  I’d much rather deal with it now than later.

It’s also a good time for us to exercise the three Rs, which in this case are:  reduce, reduce, reduce.  Unwanted books go to the library.  Clothes that no longer fit (but are still in good condition) go to charity.  And the inevitable bag or two of unusable or unsalvageable items—things for which we can find no other place—go into the trash.

Our goal in the last few years has been to make these reductions permanent and only replace those items which we find absolutely necessary.  We are not minimalists by any stretch of the imagination (a quick tour of my workshop would prove that) but we have embraced a less-is-more mentality that feels good.

Of course, fall clean-up is also important in the garden (but that’s the subject of another post).