Monday, April 27, 2015

Presprouting seeds

There are no true shortcuts when it comes to seed starting. Seeds will sprout (or not) on their own schedule, but we can take steps to make conditions as favorable as possible to help with germination. For some reason this spring I had difficulty getting peppers, eggplants, squash and cucumbers to germinate in seed trays, the way I do it every season. I haven't figured out what the issue this year was conpared to other years, but I knew I had to try something different than what I was doing if I wanted the plants in my garden for 2015. It's always been a habit of mine to presprout my peas to prevent the seeds getting eaten before they sprout or to keep them rotting in the ground during particularly wet weather. 

By presprouting I mean to say getting the seeds to sprout before planting them in any kind of growing medium. I do this by placing the seeds in a damp paper towel of cotton cloth and putting it in a zipper baggy then placing that in a sunny, warm location. 

I figured it works for peas, why not try it with other seeds? I started with the peppers and eggplants and within a few days I had sprouts that were ready for planting in seed trays. Next up were the squash and cucumbers. They took a little longer to germinate, but I had an excellent germination rate (around 90%) after about a week and a half.

As always when it comes to gardening, if something doesn't work out, there is always something else to try. If a particular method doesn't work for you, try a new one, if a certain plant variety fails or produces poorly, do a little research and try a different one. Everyone has a green thumb if they are willing to be open to fresh ideas and new information. 

Keep at it and you will eventually succeed beyond your expectations!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February Dreaming

The second round of seed-started is complete. This weekend Swiss chard, beets, zinnias, sunflowers, parsley, sweet marjoram, butterfly weed, sweet basil, and ground cherries got their start. The ground cherries were a last minute decision and weren't included in my garden plans, so I will have to figure out where I will plant them at some point. From the seeds started last weekend, the kohlrabi, cabbages, and kale are up and growing nicely. The Black Krim tomatoes were just beginning to sprout this morning, so I expect the other tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to follow soon.

The weather has been exceptionally cold this month and it's hard to believe that this isn't all happening a little early, but I keep reminding myself that this is how it happens every year, and every year it works out. February always seems so brutal that it's extra nice to see green things sprouting, even if it is in trays under lights.

Planning is part of the fun of gardening, so for now, I will just enjoy dreaming and preparing, and patiently waiting for spring.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Fresh Start

Valentine's Day, 2015... seed starting begins for this year's garden. I completed my garden layout in mid-January and have been itching to get the seeds started since. It was a real trial to make it until mid-February, but here we are... finally.

I decided to invest in some new high-output growing lights, I hope that investment will pay off. Last year, my seedlings got a bit lanky from reaching for the light, so along with the new high-output lights, I lined the aquarium set-up with silver, reflective paper. You really can't have too much light.

New varieties that I am trying this year include Topepo Rosso Peppers, Red Cheese Peppers, Little Marvel Peas, Baby Blue Hubbard Squash, and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash. Also on the list is a red cabbage that I planted in my 2014 Fall garden, Red Express. I found it to be extremely sweet and tasty, grew very quickly, and handled the Autumn temperature fluctuations that we experience in SW PA very well. I'm hoping it does as well for a spring planting.

At this point I have only started the seeds for the slow growers, and cold lovers. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and petunias that my husband likes are among the slower growers, while cabbage, kohlrabi, and kale make up the cold lovers. Swiss chard is on the list for the next round of seeds to start, along with some beets. The cucurbits develop much faster and it's still far too early to start seeds for those, and the peas, lettuce, and spinach will be direct sown when the soil warms enough.

Vegetable Garden list for 2015:

Red Cheese
Topepo Rosso

India Paint

Snack Jack

Early Purple Vienna

Red Express

Honey Rock
Golden Midget
Blacktail Watermelon

Little Marvel

Black Krim
Polish Linguisa

Marketmore '76

Early Wonder

Squash - Winter:
Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
Baby Blue Hubbard

Squash - Summer
Ronde Nice

Vates Blue Dwarf Scottish


Devil's Ear
Tennis Ball

Merlo Nero
Bloomsdale Long Standing
Monstrueux de Viroflay

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring is in Swing...

My tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants have made the giant step from indoor grow lights to greenhouse. I felt they were strong enough to be transplanted into larger pots and to take on actual sunlight and the less regulated temperatures of the greenhouse. There was a little drooping on the afternoon that they made the transition, but when I checked on them early the next morning, they were perky and doing great. Of course, you can't be too careful, so I made them a little safety tent with bird netting, to keep out little buggers like chipmunks and mice, and frost cloth, to keep out the night time chill and diffuse the sunlight. I moved the brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kohlrabi) to the greenhouse last weekend and they are getting bigger and stronger everyday. They could be ready for the garden as early as next week!

The zinnias and snapdragons were ready for new pots and a semi-protected life in the greenhouse too. This year I planted Pink SeƱorita Zinnias and Apple Blossom Snapdragons. I guess I was in the mood for peaches and pinks when I purchased my seeds. 

The Dwarf Scottish Kale, Merlo Nero Spinach, and Extra Dwarf Pak Choi are doing well and have not been molested by any pests yet. I can hardly wait until i can make my first harvest. Fresh, home-grown greens in the spring is such a welcome taste. 

The cherry blossoms have started to pop open and look magnificent. The hellebores are in full flower, daffodils are creating a beautiful display, the checker lilies are slowly darkening to reveal their deep purple checks and the grape hyacinth are the most stunning shade of lavender-blue. Leaves are popping out on every tree and shrub. I really feels like spring now!

My next step will be to plant Cucumbers, Melons, Watermelons, String Beans and Squash under the grow lights and Beets and Peas directly in the garden. I am going to try soaking my peas in wet paper towels to get them to spout before I plant them. I haven't used that technique before, and am excited to see how it works out. I have had failures with planting peas directly in the past, so hopefully this will be the solution to my problem.

Things are happening fast now and it's so much fun. There's lots of work to do! See ya later...

PS: for more photos, check out

Toad Shade

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Despite the freezing temperatures and lack of sunny days this March, the Merlo Nero Spinach and Dwarf Blue Scottish Kale that I planted in containers in the greenhouse have sprouted and are growing nicely. I am particularly excited about the Kale because this is my first attempt at growing it. As I do with most of my vegetable plant varieties, I chose the dwarf variety because of my limited gardening space. I also decided to start some more Extra Dwarf Pak Choi over the weekend since the chipmunks managed to get in and raid what I had planted earlier. I now take my cat Paulie to the greenhouse to make daily rounds and check for mice or chipmunks. I haven’t had anymore visitors of that sort since.

The weather is taking a lot longer to break than usual and I am starting to worry that my tomato plants will get too large under the grow lights before it is warm enough to move them out to the greenhouse to toughen up a bit.

The dark puple crocuses are blooming now and the daffodils are loaded with flower buds. I am so anxious for it to actually feel and look like spring. This has been a particularly dreary and consistent winter with very few breaks of mild weather and I am ready to see it go. Still, I suppose it’s better than having a false start to spring to coax all the trees to leaf out and flowers to bud just to be frozen off in a nasty cold snap. Slow and steady is best I suppose. 

Bring on April!

Monday, March 11, 2013

March.... A Beautiful Break in the Winter Gloom

Spring has arrived in gloomy Pittsburgh! (or at least it paid us a visit for a weekend) We took advantage of the beautiful weather at our house by taking care of some outdoor projects that we have been planning all winter, including transplanting our coral bark maple. I expanded my vegetable garden bed, and cleaned out my greenhouse for spring, while my husband worked on the hardscaping.

Now that the days are getting longer, I decided it was a great time to start some more Merlo Nero Spinach and Dwarf Scotch Kale in large containers in the greenhouse. I still have lettuce going strong from my September planting, but chipmunks and mice managed to get in and raid the remainder of the Swiss Chard from fall. 

My crocuses are blooming and look gorgeous in white, gold and purple. They have definitely multiplied since last spring. The Witch Hazel is in bloom as well with it’s stunning spidery copper flowers. At the end of the front walk, the winter aconite (eranthis) is all sunny with bright yellow blossoms. 

I’m getting a jump on my seed planting by using old, large aquariums that we had, just collecting dust, for seed starting in the basement. Aquarium hoods with fluorescent bulbs make great grow lights and the aquarium makes a great protected and climate controlled mini-greenhouse. I have Bleu de Solaise Leeks, Charlotte Chard, Snowball Self-Blanching Cauliflower, and Waltham 29’ Broccoli and Purple Vienna Kohlrabi seedlings, that I started at the beginning of February, growing under the lights. Last weekend I started Black Krim, Persimmon, Riesentraube, Marmonde, Chocolate Cherry, and Polish Linguisa Tomatoes, along with India Paint Eggplant and Sweet Yellow Stuffing Peppers. The tomatoes are already sprouting! It makes me so excited for this year’s growing season. And this weekend I started Apple Blossom Snapdragons and Pink Senorita Zinnias. 

I’ll continue starting seeds as the spring progresses based on the time it takes for the plants to mature, curcurbits mature very quickly and won’t need to be started until much closer to planting time, and some veggie seeds will need to be planted directly in the soil once the soil temperature is warmer.

Every year my aim is to have a better garden than the year before, so here’s to having my best garden ever! Cheers!