To Seed or Not to Seed?

Propagation is one of my favorite garden tasks. It’s just a big word to describe a couple simple techniques for starting new plants.

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There’s seed (which I’m sure everyone is familiar with), cuttings (think of it as cloning, but all you need is part of a stem, leaf or root to do it) and layering. Since layering is a technique that is used on actively growing plants, I’m going to ignore that one for now and just focus on starting baby plants.

Sowing is the traditional way to grow plants. 

Just follow the directions on your seed packets and you should be fine. A good rule of thumb when sowing is to plant the seed only as deep as its diameter. 

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There are a few seeds that are dormant and need a little help breaking dormancy. In that case you can soak, nick or freeze your seeds for a specified amount of time. Few seeds require treatments like that, so unless your seed packet indicates otherwise no worries.

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Not all seed is created equal. Yup, you heard me. 

Some plants are sterile and don’t produce any seeds, while others which do, don’t come true to seed. This phrase “not true to seed” refers to planting seeds from a single plant, but the emerging seedlings show wide variation in color, form and/or growing habit. When this is the case, you should take cuttings. 

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I take cuttings for rosemary, tarragon, lavender and my scented geraniums in the fall so they have a good start before the following growing season. And even though you can take cuttings anytime, spring and fall are best.

Use clean, sharp snips or a razor to sever a 3-6″ long stem or leaf from the mommy plant just above a node. Then, trim the bottom to just below a node–your cutting will root quicker from there. Sometimes rooting hormone is useful, others not-so-much, but stick your cutting in a light potting mix and firm up the soil. Most cuttings root in 3-4 weeks. 

And whether you are starting from seed or cuttings, a heating mat is invaluable! 

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Cuttings are also useful when you see a plant at your friend’s house that you want to steal covet. It’s less of an imposition to ask if you can just snip off a stem rather than tucking the whole thing into your bag when no one’s looking and giving “innocent eyes” when someone discovers the plant is missing.

For more on sowing seed, cuttings and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Tomatoes, Who is Not Growing These?

Yesterday I spent the morning seeding tomatoes (they take a while to get started) and as I was gearing up for the season I thought about who wasn’t seeding them … I mean isn’t everyone?

I’m all about supporting your local nursery, but when they’re so easy and cheap to start and all you need is time and patience, why not? You’ll get much better selection with seed, and then you can swap with friends! 

So here are my Top 10 Tomato Growing Tips to get you excited!

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Tomato Growing Tip #1: Pick tomato varieties that you will use and are best for your zone. Besides trial and error, which while important and educational, is time consuming. You’ll get much better information about which varieties are good for what, grow well and taste good when talking with friends and neighbors (even your local agricultural extension).

Some varieties preform better than others in specific climates. There are even disease-resistance varieties available. So save yourself some time and ask around.

Tomato Growing Tip #2: Compost and feed your soil, don’t over think it! Get that nutrition in the soil BEFORE you plant your tomato seeds/seedlings. So many people I know add compost and fertilizer after they plant, but starting with a rich, compost soil first is much more beneficial.

Humus, present in healthy, rich soil provides all the potassium (K) your tomatoes need to develop strong roots and stems. And your compost contributes all the phosphorous (P) you need to flowers and fruits. So when you feed your soil a ‘balanced’ fertilizer you are adding more potassium and phosphorous to an already hefty supply. Then adding the extra nitrogen (N), which of course makes your tomato plant look green and lush, results in more foliage and less tomatoes.

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Tomato Growing Tip #3: Plant in a sunny spot. And by sunny I mean about 10 hours. The more sun the better. And if you can find a spot that has lots of air circulation that is even better. Not only will your tomatoes grow bigger with more sun, but the air movement keeps disease and pests away.

Tomato Growing Tip #4: Plant your seedlings deep. Whether you grow your seedlings from seed or purchase them at your local nursery, dig a hole deep enough so that the stem is buried up to the top 2 leaves (after removing the lower leaves).

Your plants will develop more roots this way. And more roots means a healthier stem, and a healthier stem means a healthier plant, and a healthier plant makes more tomatoes. Boom!

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Tomato Growing Tip #5: Mulch. So simple. Mulch your tomato plants. Use straw, pine needles, leaves, grass, seaweed, whatever! But mulch not only breaks down into yummy things for the soil, but it also keeps the roots cool, prevents weeds, and helps the soil keep its moisture. Which is especially important once the heat and dryness of summer arrive.

Tomato Growing Tip #6: Use Seaweed as a mulch. Your tomatoes will get some supplemental potassium (think stronger and quicker root development), and as the mulch breaks down it integrates into your soil, making it richer.

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Tomato Growing Tip #7: Grow your plants vertically. Keeping the stems and leaves off the soil helps keep pests and disease at bay. It also lets in lots of light to all sides of the plant, helping it grow stronger and healthier. I like to use the basketweave trellis technique (please ignore the pink twine … I ran out of the regular jute stuff and that was all I could find in a “trellising emergency”)  This complements the bright and airy spot in tip #3.

Tomato Growing Tip #8: Pluck the first flowers off your plant. This stops the plant from making its first tomatoes. Hence, sending its energy back into growing more stems, leaves and new flowers for new tomatoes. Most experienced tomato gardeners do this, and it is for a reason! Some are even more hardcore and pinch out all the flowers until the plant is a foot tall. I haven’t been that brave yet … but it is some good food for thought.

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Tomato Growing Tip #9: Pinch off suckers and non-fruiting branches. These divert your plants energy to places that lead nowhere. Instead by pruning these branches out your tomato plant can focus its energy on making bigger, tastier tomatoes!

Tomato Growing Tip #10: Water long and good. You don’t have to water everyday (except, maybe at the height of summer, in which you probably need to water more frequently) when your plant is growing. It is better to soak it once a week at the plant base. And avoid getting the leaves wet, that could cause some leaf scorch or lead to disease.

And plant, plant, plant! Plant a second (or third if you live in warmer climates) succession of tomatoes in 2-3 weeks of each other. This spreads out your harvests and increases your tomato yield. Which means more tomatoes, which is always a good thing.

For more on growing tomatoes, other vegetables and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

I’m Going to Sleep Here!

I cannot believe it’s here and I love it so much! I think I may actually sleep in our new greenhouse–it’s that gorgeous!

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Last year I was seriously outgrowing the current greenhouse space, and as I would jenga my way in amongst flats of basil, thyme and scented geraniums the little greenhouse troll would whisper …. “You need a larger greenhouse space!”

 

At first I ignored this. There was already so much on our plates with the work we already had. And how would I explain to my husband that I needed even MORE space? I could already imagine his face and the silly questions …

 

1. “You are only one person, how are you going to grow even more plants and have time to take care of them and the rest of the farm?”

2. “How is this greenhouse going to be different from the one you already have?”

3. “Where are you going to put it? I don’t think we can fit another building on the property and what about zoning? How are you going to pay for it?”

 

So many boring, ludicrous and nonsensical questions, but that is how his mind works. And I had answers for all of them.

 

1. “I’ll get up earlier (I may have been crossing my fingers behind my back) to take care off the extra plants.”

2. “This one is going to be bigger. Made of wood and polycarbonate to keep the plants warmer. And I can heat it (that last one may not have made it into the explanation. I can only tell CJ so much of my grand master plans, otherwise he thinks I’m “complicating” things).”

3. “And I’ve already decided where I can put it, contacted and spoke with a supplier and spent time over at the assessment office and got the green light. All I need to do it formally fill out the permit application! Oh, and since I am growing every year, recently received my mail-order certification and orders are rolling in, I’ll just reinvest some of what we made this year into the new greenhouse.”

 

I’ve obviously thought this all through.

And in time he realized it too.

By mid-winter I placed my order, and a few weeks ago it arrived and up like a carni-ride it went!

 

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The only concession I made to the hubs was that he wouldn’t have to install it. That made him a lot happier … particularly since I may have mentioned I wanted him to build me some more garden beds and a new compost bin system.  

He really is such a good guy to put up with me and my ever-expanding plans.

 

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So up it went in a matter of hours!

 

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I am loving the powered roof and side vents. All I have to do it set the temperature and it takes care of itself!

I really, really, really could sleep here!

 

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Oh, and did I forget to mention benching …

 

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Oh yes, all new ebb-and-flow benches! When I was in college and working at a farm in New Jersey they got these and I was in love! I thought all they would ever be is a fantasy. 

 

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Now in case you have not fully grasped my excitement, here is a taste …

 

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I may have run and jumped around a bit too.

 

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But how could I not? All my garden dreams are coming true! It’s just like Cinderella, just without the pumpkin and glass slipper!

Now I just have to transfer all my plants from the potting shed into my new fancy-shmancy greenhouse!

By |May 4th, 2016|Bowery Beach Farm, Growing & Gardening|

Compost, the Black Gold

Every gardener’s compost pile aspires to the almighty ‘black gold’. Full or nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, it feeds your vegetables, herbs and flowers so much better than any fertilizer can and the best part of it is, it’s FREE!

The hardest aspect of composting for me is the patience. I have none.

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It takes at least 6 months to turn your garden’s leavings from garbage into gourmet food.

You can make compost in a pile in the corner of your yard or homemade bin. If you are using wood, just be sure that is it not pressure-treated. You don’t want those nasty chemicals leaching out into your compost and then into your food. There are a number of materials that can be used to make great compost, including: plastic, wire, wood, pallets or fencing.

The key to happy, healthy compost is heat and the right amount of brown and green material. 100908_4354

Heat is generated by keeping your piles to a manageable size (3’x 3’x 3′) and turning it weekly. The ingredients are the other half.

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Shredded newspaper, pine needles, dried leaves and cardboard are all good sources of carbon (or brown) materials, while vegetable scraps, grass clippings and other green things are good nitrogen sources. The rule of thumb is for every one bucket of nitrogen, use two of carbon.

Since carbon materials can be in short supply in the growing season I’ll bag up a bunch of leaves in the fall and store them in the shed for use in the summer.

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Once your pile smells nice and woodsy, it’s time to spread it out in the garden. And don’t be stingy! Use a good 3-4 inches and your garden with thank you.

For more on composting and the organic kitchen garden, be sure to check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Spring is in the air!

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The calendar says it’s spring, but the snow outside my window gives me serious doubts. Still, I know the white stuff will disappear in a few days (hopefully less) due to our unseasonably warm weather. My garlic, chives and comfrey are all awake and I’ve been running flats of herbs and scented geraniums wrapped in frost blankets between the hoop house and potting shed. Even thought Mother Nature is teasing me, my plants and my garden, I will not let her get the best of me.  

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Aside from my little tirade about the weather, there are many lovely things happening and growing at Bowery Beach Farm. We have a new four-season greenhouse going up next week, the base of which is finished. This past fall we received our official mail-order nursery certification and our spring orders are already rolling in. And last, but certainly not least, my first book, The Backyard Kitchen Gardener, will be published by Lyons Press next Spring (2017). Their senior editor contacted me last fall and I signed my first very first book contract.

Needless to say, we’ve been quite busy, but also quite grateful!

By |April 4th, 2016|Bowery Beach Farm, My Life as a Gardener, My Life As A Gardener, Writing|

Planning the Garden

Ordering Seed  | Bowery Beach Farm

While it’s still chilly and cold outside here in my office I’m nice and cosy. I love this time of year. There’s nothing to do in the garden but imagine what can be …

Time spent pouring over seed and bulb catalogs. Mostly likely with a glass of wine. 

Making meticulous layouts of this year’s garden that will be modified many times over before the season is over.

And catching up on some of my favorite movies like Anne of Green Gables.

Seed Sorting | Bowery Beach Farm

Just the way I like to spend a wintery day.

By |February 1st, 2016|Bowery Beach Farm, Growing & Gardening, My Life As A Gardener|

What’s Flowering?

 

I wait all year for this time. I know there are so many plants that have already been flowering in the garden but there is nothing, and I mean NOTH-ING like dahlias in bloom.

This year I have quite a new new dahlias in my trial gardens, and this Mystery Day is one of them. 

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And while this new butterflies-in-the-tummy feeling I’m getting from getting my first look at MD, I know my one, true love is on its way. 

Yes, you know who I mean …

The Cafe au Lait. 

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But I can’t help but share with you my (minor) disappointment in seeing her first bloom is more pinky than blush. 

I know there is variation within these tubers so I’ll just have to wait another week for the rest of them begin to open and (hopefully) surprise me with lots of creamy loveliness.

It seems like my dahlias are a bit behind this year, not exactly sure why. But I’m thinking (and this is just a guess here) that we had a really chilly spring and start to summer and that is why they are so slow to bloom. But who cares?! They’re starting to flower now so I will forget all my worry and disappointment from the past two weeks of no dahlias.

In the meantime I will take heart in how the scented geraniums are coming along in the hoop house. It never ceases to amaze me the difference a few weeks makes …

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Even the Verbena Boriensis I planted on one side of the greenhouse is happy .

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So I will leave you with thoughts of blooming summer flowers …. 

 

 

By |August 5th, 2015|Bowery Beach Farm, Dahlias|

Happenings Here on the Farm

 

Things have been super busy here for us … I don’t even know where the Spring went. But it felt like we never really had much a a Spring anyway – we went …. Winter, Winter, Winter, Boom Summer. 

But that certainly didn’t stop us from growing (in more ways than one) this season. So our biggest and newest (and let’s be honest – most AWE-SOME!) addition to the farm is our Hoop House! We put it up in about 3.5 hours with the help of my husband and my sister’s boyfriend, who all did not believe me that those 10 24-foot steel tubes would turn into the gloriousness that is now our brand-spanky-new 50 foot hoop house.

Isn’t it beautiful?!

 

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And we dressed it up with some fancy landscape fabric.

 

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Which I promptly burnt holes into so I could sow seed and transplant my seedlings. And I will share this with you because we are so close – I really should have burned the holes before I laid the fabric down flat … as it appears the torch goes out when you point it down. Making that a much more time consuming step. 

Next went down the drip line – which again, I will lay down first before I lay the fabric next year. It’s all working out okay since the fabric is permeable and the plants seem to really be loving the cool slow drink from the tubing. And before long … voilá! Big happy plants! All 350 of them in the greenhouse.

 

Bowery Beach Farm | Growing Dahlias

 

And the propagation house has also been bustling with activity since March.

 

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For which I have learned the very, very, very important task of crop scheduling. I know this sounds like a boring activity, but without it our market table would look quite sad. So there is an never-ending weekly dance of sowing, propagating, transplanting, planting, pruning, fertilizing and then … repeat. All the while keeping in mind how many plants are headed to the field or greenhouse for harvesting, and those to market for sale.

 

Bowery Beach Farm | Potting Bench

 

The planning may not be the most fun job, but it gets me to the best part of the job … the growing! 

My favorite way to pass the time in the greenhouse vacillates between sowing and taking cuttings. I love to start things from scratch, but I also love making scented geranium babies from the mommy plant. I find it very cathartic and peaceful. Sometimes I save this task for the end if I can so I have something to motivate me to move faster (which is always helpful since I have more of a sedentary personality).

 

Bowery Beach Farm | Attar Of Rose Scented Gernaium

 

When I look at my scented geranium table I feel so ridiculously happy that everyone’s growing and healthy. 

 

Bowery Beach Farm | Scented Geraniums

 

And that doesn’t even take into account the raised beds and field of herbs ready for harvest. 

 Bowery Beach Farm | Caraway

 

I will also share that I get incredibly excited when plants that take a few years to mature before they can be harvested are ready. I’ve waited 2 years and now I’m rewarded with lots of delicious caraway seed. I think I should make some bread with it … you know, just to test it out first. 🙂

By |July 14th, 2015|Bowery Beach Farm, Growing & Gardening, Hoop House Greenhouse|

Sowing and a Growing!

I must be the luckiest girl in the world … because right now I get to sow and grow all day long. All day. Everyday.

It really is not boring.

But that may be because I bring a small DVD player into the greenhouse and play 80’s movies to keep me company. (And it’s not at all weird that I share my favorite movie lines with my little seedlings expecting for them to enjoy them as much as I do.)

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So my world now consists of seeds, dirt and water. And patience.

Patience is something I’ve never been especially good at. Which is strange that my chosen profession involves quite a bit of patience.

Propagating SeedsBowery Beach Farm |© Kelly Orzel Photography

But each time I am rewarded with these little green seedlings I feel like a master of the universe (did you just pick up on one of my guilty-pleasures 80’s movie reference?)

Bowery Beach Farm Greenhouse in April |© Kelly Orzel Photography

I’m amazed that we started sowing in January and even though we have lots to show for it, but there is still so much to do. We’ll be sowing every week until July. And once we reach May it will be time to add outdoor and hoop house garden tasks.

Prepping the garden beds. Laying drip tape. Laying landscape fabric. Transplanting.

Watering (of course). Thinning. Pinching-back. And Harvesting. (I’m getting tired just thinking about it).

Bowery Beach Farm Greenhouse in April |© Kelly Orzel Photography

And in between all the seeding, I keep cutting back my scented geraniums. Making new baby scented geraniums. Now that is true magic! One day you just have this sad small leaf, and in 6 weeks you’re amazed it’s grown so much. I think that must be how parents feel when when dropping their babies off to kindergarden.

And that’s why I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I get to do what I love!

By |April 9th, 2015|Bowery Beach Farm|