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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Additional Seeds Ordered

Amish Paste Tomato
I was looking at my tomato varieties and I noticed that the Juliet and Olivade tomatoes, which I purchased for "sauce making" are rather small.  In fact, the Juliet's are "grape" tomatoes weighing at only about 1oz each.  The Olivade apparently are 3-4oz each, which should be more tolerable for making sauce.  I may or may not grow the Juliet variety, as I've already got "Sun Gold" for my small tomatoes.  I have purchased a packet of "Amish Paste" heirloom tomato, which are supposed to be 8-12oz each and very meaty.  I could make a batch of sauce with only 4-5 of these!  The less peeling I have to do, the better!

In addition to the new tomatoes, I also ordered packets of the following:

  • Mexican Mint Marigold - an herb that can be substituted for French Tarragon, but I'm planting it for its insect repellant properties.  It allegedly repels aphids.  And it's pretty!
  • Big Smile Dwarf Sunflower - Adrienne doesn't like sunflowers.  I don't care.  These are short (12-24") so they shouldn't be too obnoxious.
  • Champion Pumpkin - large pumpkins.  I may not have space to grow this but I'm gonna try!!
  • Morning Glory - Flying Saucers Mix - a vigorous vine to clime up on my bench.
  • Cardinal Climber - another vigorous vine for the bench.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday's Yard Work

Sunny and 65 degrees in January is a recipe for yard work!  First thing I did this morning was head out in the truck and go get a load of "Compost Blend Garden Soil" from my supplier.  I needed this to complete my new raised bed garden (which I actually finished last night with some rebar stakes and some screws.  Unfortunately, I dramatically overestimated the amount of soil I would need to finish it up, and it only took 3 or 4 wheelbarrow loads!  The picture to the right is the finished product.

Now, since I had a half a truckload of soil left, that meant I had more work to do.  That meant working on the sidewalk area out front.  This is an area of our yard that gets complete full hot sun all summer along, is hard to water, and has the poorest quality soil.  It used to have grass but we gave up on that years ago and mulched it.  It contained some ornamental grasses and a creeping phlox groundcover, none of which did very well due to the heat and poor quality of the soil and my indifferent to watering them.  So I dug those up and moved them to a location in the side yard, and then proceeded to till the whole area.  I then removed all of the tilled earth - bringing the ground level down to an inch or so below the sidewalk and curb.  It had mounded up quite high with several years of mulching.  I moved all this dirt into a part of the side yard in the wild area, probably 30 square feet and and a foot deep.  Seriously, I moved a LOT of dirt.  I then dumped the remainder of my compost blend soil along with a few wheelbarrow loads of leftover compost, and tilled all that in. Here is the finished product:

Newly prepared sidewalk area.

Creeping Phlox and ornamental grasses moved from the sidewalk area.

New mound of dirt to contain...?
In the sidewalk area we are going to plant a 5' tall Catawba, which is a beautiful purple, and it should enjoy the hot sun.  My man Russ will be taking care of that in a couple of weeks.  We're going to sod the rest with a nice warm season southern grass like bermuda - something that will require a lot less water and won't mind the summer heat.  The amended soil should help a lot too.  Of course we can't lay down bermuda until mid-April at the earliest, so I guess this area is going to sit empty for 3 months.  That's what I get for getting overzealous!

I might actually keep a strip in the middle and plant perrenial evergreen herbs - rosemary, oregano, thyme, etc.

So, now I just need it to be spring.

And my arms are sore.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seed Starting Has Commenced!

I planted 53 "Creeping Thyme" plants this morning using my heat pad and Jiffy 7 peat pellets.  I suppose technically I planted 150-200 ... the seeds are so tiny.  Germination rate according to the package is 78% so we'll see.  14-21 days for germination, so I should have some plants in a couple weeks!

This is on my desk at work under a pair of fairly standard flourescent lights.  Suitable for seed starting at least.  Worked great last year for my peppers!

This is, by the way, one case where I chose to buy 1/8th of an ounce of seeds instead of one packet.  A packet included about 200 seeds, while an eight of an ounce included around 18,000 seeds.  I probably used 200 seeds to plant these 53 pellets because the seeds are so tiny.  Hard to drop just one or two at a time.  This way, I'll have plenty of seeds left if I don't get enough germination, and plenty of seeds that I can share with others who might want some thyme.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Zoning in - your USDA Hardiness Zone may have changed!

The United States National Arboretum has updated its USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for 2012.  This is the first official update since 1990, and more than 80 million potential gardeners have moved a half-zone warmer.

If you're not familiar, here's the low down:

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.

Although the map doesn't let you zoom very far in when you click on the state, and the color variations are a bit hard on my eyes, it appears that Wake County (where I live, home to the state capitol of Raleigh) is still in Zone 7b, but most of eastern north carolina has moved into Zone 8a - including the county just east of Wake County (Johnston County), and the one just south of Wake County (Harnett County).  I live maybe 15 miles from Harnett County.

So, your zone may have changed.

Don't let this fool you into thinking you can plant any earlier.  If you looked up your average last frost date last year, it's not gonna be any different.  Do NOT use USDA Zones to determine last frost date.  I know, some of you are saying "Who would do that?"  Well, I give you

The USDA Hardiness Zone Maps only predict low temperatures.  Some of us think "Wow you're in Zone 9, that must  be hot!".  Nope.  It's not hot in North Bend, Oregon (Zone 9a).  Well, I mean it's certainly nice there, maybe a little rainy.

My point is, that the Hardiness Zone Maps don't predict weather, climate, or heat.  They ONLY predict cold so you know what to plant and what not to plant.

Zone 7b has a minimum temperature of 5-10 degrees.  The web site is a bit misleading as it refers to the "average annual minimum winter temperature".  Don't confuse this with the "average low", which for January in Raleigh is around 30 degrees.  I don't actually know how they come up with 5-10.  I've lived here since 1998 and I haven't seen it get below 10 even once.  It's only been below 15 a couple of times.  But the State Climatology Office informed me yesterday that the all time record low recorded at RDU International Airport was -9 degrees back in 1985.


So here's the deal.  If something is hardy to Zone 7 (not specifically Zone 7b), it should be able to handle 0 degrees but it might not be able to handle -9 degrees, and the plant could thereby die and NOT come back - or be heavily damaged by the freeze.

The zone maps are not a guarantee.  You can plant Zone 8 plants in Zone 7 if you want and they might survive a "normal" cold winter, but they probably won't survive an extreme cold winter like that.  You are just taking a bit of a risk.

On a side note, some plants can't survive the low temps, but some plants NEED them too.  The Blue Spruce, commonly referred to as the christmas tree in my home state of Michigan, is hardy only to Zone 8b.  Frosts are rare in zone 9 I guess and these trees need a little freeze in the winter (they're also not very tolerant of it being 100 degrees).

So whatever you do, plant accordingly.  Check your zone - it's possibly you've moved into a zone where you can more easily plant Palm Trees or perhaps a zone where Rosemary is a perrenial shrub (this is you, if you've moved from 6b to 7a!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seed Ordering Complete!

Having ordered my pepper seeds the other day from the New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute, I hit the web site for Johnny's Selected Seeds last night and ordered the rest of my seeds.  Last year, I got most of my seeds from Home Depot, and grew a fair number of things from starts purchased at the Farmers market.  Home Depot, which limits my varieties to whatever I see on the shelf.  By purchasing my seeds from a seed company online, I have access to a much greater variety.

Some things I grew last year I won't be growing again.  I won't be growing cowpeas (aka black eyed peas), nor will I grow any Serrano peppers.  I won't grow any "grape" tomatoes, and I won't be using the Topsy Turvy again.

Creeping Thyme
I will be growing a LOT more herbs this year.  My purchases of herb seeds this year include:

  • Purple Basil "Amethyst Improved"
  • Italian Large Leaf Basil
  • Catnip
  • Purly Chives
  • "Calypso" Cilantro/Coriander
  • Superdukat Dill
  • Creeping Thyme
I actually bought a large amount of creepign thyme as I'm going to try to use it as a groundcover for one section of my yard.  It's cold hardy and evergreen!  I ordered 1/8 ounce, which is apparently like 18,000 seeds.  Hah.

Valencia Heirloom Tomato
I'm choosing a few different varieties of tomatoes this year too.
  • Sun Gold - yellow/orange cherry tomatoes that are vigorous and extremely flavorful.
  • Juliet - a meaty plum tomato for sauce
  • Olivade - another meaty plum tomato for sauce
  • Big Beef - The only returning variety from last year, this makes nice big slicing tomatoes good for sandwiches and caprese salad!
  • New Girl - According to Johnny's Selected Seeds, this variety is "better tasting and more disease resistant than Early Girl" - which I grew last year with good success.
  • Valencia (heirloom) - "Round, smooth fruits average 8-10 oz. Their meaty interiors have few seeds. This midseason tomato is among the best for flavor and texture."  Honestly, I wasn't real happy with the other heirlooms I grew last year (Prudens Purple and German Johnson).
Zucchini - Goldy
And, for the non-tomato non-herb stuff ...
  • Pole Beans, Fortex
  • Eggplant, Nadia (Large Dark Purple)
  • Ornamental Gourds, Small Mixed
  • Carrots, Nelson
  • Flowers, Foxglove, Camelot Mix (pelleted)
  • Zucchini, Cashflow (green)
  • Zucchini, Goldy (yellow)
The only thing I plan to grow that I did NOT buy is cucumbers.  I had great success and enjoyed the flavor of the "Straight 8" variety of slicing cukes that I grew 2 years ago and was not as impressed with whatever it was I grew last year.  So I will find the Straight 8 seeds at Home Depot I guess.

Of course, I won't likely have more than 1 or 2 of each item in my gardens.  Makes buying seeds less cost effective since I paid around $3.50 a packet.  Seedlings would be cheaper =)

If you live near me and want some seeds, feel free to ask!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Just ordered my pepper seeds

I've just ordered all of my pepper seeds from the New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute, and here's what I'm getting:

  • NuMex Conquistador - this is a mild pepper similar to the Anaheim Chili's that I grew last year.
  • Cayenne - standard hot cayenne pepper.
  • Jupiter - large bell pepper.  I just haven't had much luck with the California Wonder so I'm trying something different.
  • Poblano - Thought I'd try this so I can make a nice spicy stuffed peppers dish.
  • NuMex Vaquero - This is a hot jalapeno variety.
  • Orange Habanero - Hot habanero peppers but more orange than the red ones I grew last year.
Also, one of my wife's co-workers provided me with some seeds labeled "Asian Sweet Pepper".  I don't really know what these are, but I'll give them a try.

Peppers are slow to start so just like last year, I'll start 72 plants in my office using a Jiffy heat pad, probably in the small jiffy pellets.  They'll stay on the heat pad for a week or so.  When they are ready I'll transplant the healhier plants into 3" square pots.  They will remain on my desk under a pair of fairly standard florescent lights.  I have a timer set to turn the lights on at 6am and turn them off at 10pm.  these aren't grow lights but they seemed to suffice last year.  After 6-7 weeks I'll start rolling them outside every day for some actual sunshine.  They'll get 3-4 hours of direct sunlight each day and by the time I'm ready to transplant, they'll be nice and sturdy!  

We can plant or transplant peppers outdoors starting May 1st here, so I will probably start these seeds the week of February 20th or February 27th.  that'll give me 8-10 weeks to really get them going.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Starting my Winter Garden

Here in Raleigh, North Carolina, there are a variety of things we can plant in the cold winter that don't mind the frosts and freezes of Zone 7b this time of year.  Some of them can be planted in January, like peas and onions.  In February, we can plant quite a few more things, including spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and potatoes.  It's only January 16th, but I want to get some things started a little early.

So, I built myself a "Cold Frame" of sorts.  Basically, I spent about $15 at home depot to buy five 10' lengths of 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe, along with six 90 degree elbow joints, 3 T joints, and a 9'x12' 2 mil plastic drop cloth from the paint section.  I'm not going to go into detail here, but here is a picture of the finished project.

I divided the bed into 4 quadrants and planted bunching green onions, sweet spanish yellow onions, romaine lettuce, and spinach.  Of course, prior to planting I prepped the bed by weeding it, dumping in a load of compost from my compost tumbler, and turning it all as well as I could.  And, leftover from last year, there is some very healthy "Garlic Chives" that don't seem to mind the cold at all.

I also decided to plant some sweet peas in a neighboring bed.  Sweet Peas don't need protection so these are planted out in the open.

Still happy in this bed is (from top to bottom), Rosemary, cilantro, and oregano.  The cilantro actually came back as it did not enjoy the summer heat at all.  I knew the Rosemary would survive as it's very hardy and is sometimes used for landscaping around here.  I thought the oregano would die like the basil upon first frost, but it seems to be doing quite nicely.

For my own records... I'm adding the specific varieties here.  All Ferry-Morse seeds...

  • Onion, Sweet Spanish Yellow Utah Jumbo
  • Onion, Evergreen Bunching
  • Lettuce, Parris Island (Romaine)
  • Spinach, Bloomsdale (Long Standing)
  • Peas, Alaska (Wilt Resistant)