Categories
Garden Local Food

Onion Experiments

Onions planted in soil blocks.

Growing large storage onions has been challenging. I yearn to grow large onions and use them throughout the year.

Spring onions? No problem. Larger red, yellow or white, the kind we most use in the kitchen, have eluded me.

I’m determined this year will be different. Toward that end I’ve launched some experiments to see how I can do better.

Friday, Feb. 7, I planted Talon Yellow and Red Burgundy onions at home from seed. After six weeks the yellow germinated, the red did not. After chatting on line with another grower, they pointed out fresh onion seed is important. The Talon Yellow seeds were this year’s crop from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Red Burgundy were end of season discards at the home, farm and auto supply store. Lesson learned: get fresh onion seeds.

That same day I split my Matador shallot seeds with the farm. They are growing their half in the same environment as the rest of their onions, I started mine in a tray at home. Mine don’t look that healthy although they germinated. If the targeted planting time is mid-April, there is time for them to grow and hopefully survive transplant. I’m looking forward to comparing results.

I bought red, yellow and white onions starts from the home, farm and auto supply store. These are the same variety I bought every year since working there. I divided them roughly in half and planted some in soil blocks to give them a head start, and reserved the rest to plant in the ground as soon as it is tillable.

This year I ordered some onion plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are to be shipped in a couple of weeks and then direct planted in the soil. The varieties are Ailsa Craig, Patterson and Redwing. While more expensive than seed at about 30 cents for each plant, I’m hoping to find something that works in trying it. I would much rather grow everything from seed yet I want other options as back up.

Finally, this morning, I planted six 3 x 3 containers with White Lisbon Bunching Onions from Ferry-Morse (60-110 days). I mixed both pelleted and non-pelleted seeds and broadcast them in the pots. If they germinate and grow, I’ll transplant the entire pots as groups of spring onions. It is a month behind where they should have been started, so we’ll see what happens.

The last part of my experiment is twofold. I am researching types of soil nutrients which support onion growth. My normal process is to hand till composted chicken manure into the soil before planting. If the several garden books in my library suggest another approach, I may try it as long as it is not a commercial, chemical fertilizer. This year I bought a small tiller which will break up the soil more thoroughly than handwork.

I am also planning a disciplined approach to watering and weeding the crop once it is in the ground. Because of our climate, I plan to mulch the crop to retain moisture in the soil. Weeding and regular watering has proven to be challenging, partly because weeding gets away from me and partly because my approach to watering is sparing. With a framework of “experimentation” perhaps I can do better.

I know growing storage onions is possible as I get them from the farms each year. With effort, maybe I can grow my own.

Categories
Garden

Last Day of Winter and Garlic is Up

Garlic planted last fall.

Garlic plants emerged in the garden.

It was a mild winter so I expected they would. The actuality of it is what we crave.

The rows were mulched in autumn, although they could use more. Next time I head into town I’ll pick up a couple of bales of straw. I don’t know when that will be.

In the early morning of a normal work day I weighed whether to work my shift. The managers at the home, farm and auto supply store are the main reason I’m still there. They treat me fairly and have been flexible with my schedule. As coronavirus spreads in our county I don’t want to be exposed. In the morning huddle last week the store manager echoed the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health in saying if I’m sick, I shouldn’t go to work. Except for a couple of sneezes this morning, I’m not that sick. There’s more to it than that.

I’m more worried about exposure to coronavirus in a public place than in spreading my germs. My age puts me in an at-risk group to contract COVID-19. Likewise, I’m fighting diabetes with which I was diagnosed last year — another risk group. Most deaths from COVID-19 are in people over age 60. No one in my family is encouraging me to work my shift. At this point I was waiting for the early crew to arrive at the store so I can call off.

During this pandemic it’s hard to know what to do. The number of cases statewide is low at 29 as of yesterday. Of those, 18 are in our county. The number could quickly escalate, so the CDC guidance to stay home if we can makes sense for the 15 day recommended period.

The federal government is flailing. They throw hundreds of millions of dollar proposals around like we have it. The current national debt is over $23,475,000,000 with a budget deficit over a trillion dollars. We’ll have to borrow the money, most likely from China. All the jiggering of the economy seems likely to put money in the hands of people who need it least rather than address the pandemic.

As my garlic grows the tumult of national discourse seems remote. I don’t want to die from coronavirus and am doing my best to manage the risks. When I was at Fort Benning a radio station in Alabama would to play a Merle Haggard song in the wee hours of morning. It explains how I feel as well as anything:

I’m only human. I’m just a man.
Help me to believe in what I could be and all that I am.
Show me the stairway that I have to climb.
Lord for my sake, teach me to take, one day at a time.

One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from you.
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine,
So for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time.

Categories
Garden

Seeding During the Pandemic

Kale and Broccoli Seedlings at Two Weeks.

Most of the usual seeders were absent from the greenhouse as I made blocks for 3,840 seedlings. Those who did work tried to stay at least six feet away from each other, although it was hard given the confined space.

“You may be the vector,” I said to one.

“No, you are the vector,” they replied.

It was in fun, but a serious note rang heavy in the atmosphere. None of us wants to die from the coronavirus.

I worked mostly alone as the farmers tended sheep in the barn. There are now 45 lambs and they are not ready to be outside all the time. Before she left I reviewed my planting plan with the farmer, made adjustments, and planted the following for my garden:

Early White Vienna Kohlrabi, Ferry-Morse, 55 days.
Swiss Chard, Mixed Colors, Ferry-Morse, 30-60 days.
Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard, Ferry-Morse, 60 days.
Florida Broad Leaf Mustard, Ferry-Morse, 48 days.
Southern Giant Curled Mustard India, Ferry-Morse, 56 days.
Bibb Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 57 days.
Buttercrunch Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 65-70 days.
Parris Island Cos Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 68 days.

I noticed the kale and broccoli planted March 1 germinated with a high rate. Some of the seeds planted last week have already sprouted, although it will take celery a couple weeks.

19,920 seedling blocks made during the first five weeks. The crew will begin transplanting to the high tunnel maybe this week.

Categories
Garden

Refilling the Seed Gaps

Onions Drying

One batch of onion seeds germinated poorly so I seeded the failed blocks with Cilantro, Parsley and Dill.

Cilantro, Ferry-Morse, 28 days.
Parsley, Ferry-Morse, 70-90 days.
Dill, Ferry-Morse, 70 days.

This is my first attempt to grow onions at home and there’s a lot to learn. Once the seeds germinated, I moved them upstairs into sunlight. They grew long and spindly, laying down over each other in the tray. Carefully, I trimmed the tops to about two inches and they sprung up. The expectation is they will start to right themselves and grow more vertically.  The backup plan is to buy and beg some onion starts in case these don’t mature. For the time being I’m not giving up on them.

Categories
Garden

Celery – In!

Spring Plants from Indiana

It was another busy day at the farm for seeding session #4.

I planted one tray of

Conquistador Celery, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 80 days.

and one tray with

Georgia Southern Collard, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.
Pak Choy Toy Choy, Ferry-Morse, 30 days.
Teton Hybrid Spinach, Ferry-Morse, 45 days.
Cilantro, Ferry-Morse, 28 days.

Space is beginning to fill with trays.

I delivered a box of flower seeds for the farm’s coming garden class at a local food pantry.

We talked, a lot, about everything. We were chatty.

I enjoy my time with eight people talking and seeding trays of soil mix. I don’t say a lot, just do my work and bask in the sounds of another day on the farm.

The lamb count is now 40 and there are five new goats.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Belgian Lettuce 2020

Belgian lettuce patch with arugula

Today I planted Belgian lettuce. There is nothing particularly “Belgian” about the seeds. According to my maternal grandmother it is called Belgian lettuce because it is planted March 2. It’s the tradition and that’s that.

I planted arugula as well because when everything is mixed together in a salad it will taste great. I planted:

Lettuce

Mesclun Mix of Seven Varieties, Ferry-Morse, 40-80 days.

Arugula

Arugula/Roquette Heirloom Variety, Ferry-Morse, 40 days.
Rocket Salad Coltivata Da Orto, Ferry-Morse, 60 days.

The ground was still frozen about an inch below the surface, so no other planting today. This morning’s activities signal the beginning of the garden.

Categories
Garden

Kale Planting 2020

Kale March 1, 2020

Kale is a money crop in my garden. By that I mean I learned how to grow it and have had success most years since. I distribute a lot of free kale to friends and neighbors. Today was the day to plant it along with broccoli. The varieties are:

Kale

Redbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days.
Winterbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Red Russian, Ferry-Morse, 50 days.

Broccoli

Imperial, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 71 days.
Calabrese, Ferry-Morse, 70-90 days.

Something was weird about the Calabrese seeds from Ferry-Morse. It appeared broccoli seeds were mixed with another kind, rendering the packet pretty useless for predictability. I planted some of each as the main broccoli crop will be Imperial anyway. We’ll see what happens.

Sundays in the greenhouse have become a day to which I look forward. The goats are due to drop kids any day, and of course we are well into lambing season. Our crew of five or six people works well together. I enjoy the conversation with twenty-somethings, although some of them will soon turn thirty.

I’m not sure the onions planted previously will make it. Some of them are tall and spindly. Others haven’t come up. The soil is damp so we’ll see how they come out. At this point if they fail I can get starts elsewhere.

My small, portable greenhouse arrived this week. Instead of keeping flats of seedlings on a short stack of pallets near the garage door and moving them inside at night, I’ll keep them here. I’m not sure how exactly it works, but look forward to learning.

The weather has made this year’s start better than 2019. Let’s hope it continues.

Categories
Garden Home Life

First Big Grove Garden Plot

First Garden Plot, Feb. 24, 2020.

I planted our first Big Grove Township garden in Spring 1994. What I grew is lost in memory.

Yesterday the original plot looked a wreck with desiccated weeds and a hodge-podge of sunken containers, fencing, two composters, a wheel barrow, an old wash tub, six-inch pieces of drainage tile resting on a couple of pallets, and a locust tree. The locust tree was intended for transplant but it got away from me.

I don’t know if the locust tree will recover from last winter’s extremely cold temperatures. The tips of branches in the crown did not leaf out last spring. If it doesn’t recover I’ll take the tree out even though the shade it provides protects plants and conserves moisture during our increasingly hot, dry summers. The plot was not meant to be a permanent residence for trees.

A friend in Cedar County gave me black plastic tubs in which feed for their animals was delivered. I cut large holes in the bottom for drainage and buried them to grow potatoes, radishes, lettuce, basil and sundry root crops. Mostly it was for potatoes which when planted in the ground fed small rodents who thrive with us in the garden. The containers worked to keep them away from the roots.

Composters are necessary for a garden to turn organic matter into fertilizer. One is an open air composter made from pallets retrieved from the home, farm and auto supply store. Garden waste goes in there. The other is a sealed, black plastic container for organic household waste such as peelings, fruit cores, and other fruit and vegetable matter generated from the kitchen. That is, it used to be sealed. Over the years something got inside and has been pushing stuff out of the entry point chewed into the plastic. I should fix or replace it. Until I do it remains a place to dump the kitchen compost bucket and produces some usable compost. The next time I move it there will be compost.

If I had a garden shed I would not use the plot for storage. I continue to think about building a shed, but that’s as far as it has gotten. It won’t be this year, or probably next.

Despite all the useful clutter, the plot continues to be productive. Last year I grew broccoli, eggplant, radishes, basil and beets there. The year before I grew cucumbers. The containers are always busy with multiple crops each year. As I plan this year’s garden I see better utilization of this plot.

Ideas about 2020 in plot #1: Belgian lettuce on or about March 2; potatoes in containers on Good Friday; radishes in a container; a crop of something, cucumbers, eggplant, or maybe hot peppers to change from cruciferous vegetables planted here last year. These are ideas, and the beginning of planning. We’ll see how it unfolds, although Belgian lettuce seems certain a week ahead of the date.

I remember digging this plot in 1994, measuring the distance from the property line, a memory of nothing growing in the yard except grasses and a mulberry tree in the Northeast corner. I barely knew how to garden then. In the interim, my views of how to garden have changed for the better.

Based on the 15-day weather forecast, winter is finished. As temperatures climb and the remaining snow melts we had just better accept it we won’t have had much of a winter. It is time to lean into the growing season as soon as Mother Natures enables us. Soon it will be Spring.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Leeks

Starting Leeks

I planted leeks in soil blocks at home today. They were,

King Richard, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days. One row of ten.

Megaton, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 90 days. Three rows of ten.

American Flag, Ferry-Morse, 150 days. One row of ten.

This is a further experiment in starting plants at home. In the past I hadn’t paid attention to different leek growing times but American Flag is double that of King Richard. I double seeded King Richard and American Flag because they are from previous seasons. If both seeds sprout in each cell I’ll thin them.

Categories
Farming Garden

False Spring

Pulling plastic at Wild Woods Farm, Feb. 23, 2020.

Sunday a group of us gathered at Wild Woods Farm to pull plastic over the new greenhouse.

Pulling plastic takes a couple of experienced team leaders and a crew that can follow directions. The idea is to make the plastic covering as taught as possible then secure it with wiggle wire for years of use. The work proceeded as planned on a warm, clear and calm day.

It’s pruning time for grape vines, fruit trees, and any kind of tree. This weekend people were pruning in t-shirts because it was so warm. The concern is sap begins to flow before the cuts heal, creating an entry point for disease. Fingers crossed I got mine pruned in time. Folks are preparing to tap maple tree sap for syrup so we are at the in between time for finishing pruning.

My onions and shallots have sprouted and I moved them to the landing to get more light. They seem feeble at this stage. I’m not sure what else I can do but make sure they have moisture and light. This is the second year I tried starting them myself. The first didn’t produce usable onion sets. This year’s experiment is for the crew at Sundog Farm to start some of my shallot seeds as well to compare results. Eventually I’ll get this right, hopefully this year.

While garden and yard work beckons it is still winter. Piles of snow remain on the ground. Snow is forecast this week. There is hope for spring, but it is a false hope. It’s best to use the time to catch up on indoors work so when true spring arrives we are ready.