Sunday, July 21, 2013

Garden Update- Tomatillos, Eggplants, Peppers, etc.

Whoa- this has been a fun but slow growing season for me.  My lasagna garden method is working and there is very little weeds.  The soil is very nutritious and lots of gigantic worms are tilling my soil for me everyday.  Here is an update on some of my favorite veggies.

We've had some above 90 degrees weather the last few days so my tomatoes are still green. My research shows that tomatoes will only produce lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato turn red, between the temperatures of 50F and 85F. If it is any cooler that 50F, those tomatoes will stay a stubborn green. Any warmer than 85F and the process that produces lycopene and carotene comes to a screeching halt.
So big yet so green. Looks yummy though.

My eggplants are doing good though. For a while, the blossoms were turning brown then drying up and I was starting to worry. They call this blossom drop. Then I read up on it and the blossom is supposed to turn brown and dry up when pollinated. I also noticed some flowers were just straight up falling off when purple so I read that it was either lack of water or lack of pollination. I decided to water deeply first. I soaked each plant for about 2-3 minutes. That worked because now my eggplants are flowering and have less blossom drop. Below are two photos of my eggplants:
You can see the purple eggplant blossoms are growing well.
Each flower will be pollinated and become a yummy thai eggplant.
A teeny tiny eggplant can seen toward the bottom of the photo.

Here's a close up of a budding thai eggplant. So cute huh?

My thai basil and dill is coming along great. I picked some thai basil last night for chicken curry. It was so fresh.

I actually need to harvest my dill asap and dry it before it starts to seed. Harvesting instructions tell me to cut and dry the plants when seedheads begin to turn brown and before the seeds fall. I might leave a few seedheads to fall back on to the soil so my dill will just grow back next spring without me sowing them. I'm looking forward to using the dill when I pickle my cucumbers.

This dill dressing recipe for salmon also sounds delish:

Dill Dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons French dressing
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

My peppers are taking forever to grow. I grew some Japanese Hot Peppers- Yatsufusas type in container. At first, I added way too much garden fertilizer and the nitrogen caused a ton of green foliage but no blossoms. I kept watering my container every day to flush out the nitrogen and the soil is finally starting to normalize. Tiny white blossoms are showing up everywhere. My plant looks like this:

My plant hopefully will look like this in a month:


I have lots of updates but I cannot forget my tomatillos. I learned that tomatillos cannot self pollinate- meaning that the flowers of single plant cannot pollinate each other. Individual tomatillo plants are either female or male. So you need at least two tomatillo plants to grow fruit. Thankfully I had sown a bunch of tomatillos indoors and had four successful seedlings to plant out. The plants are about five feet tall and I support them with a cheap three-ring tomato cage. There are a ton of yellow blossoms. I keep going out to see if there are any fruit.  The little balloon-lantern looking cover of the tomatillo is so small but I stare and stare at it and it looks like a tiny fruit is inside.  Who knows?- a watched pot never boils.  It looks like the plants pollinated and fruit is growing. I have some close photos below.

Do these look healthy to anyone?  Meaning, do these look like tomatillos will actually grow? I read that tomatillos have a long growing season so I am just hoping the plant is taking a while to mature.
Tomatillo Plant: See all the little lantern things?
Tomatillo Plant

Overall, my garden is doing great. I get up as soon as the sun rises to go check on my plants. I water deeply 1-2 times a week so it takes me about 20 minutes to get to everything. I think if I expand my garden next spring, I will have to come up with a better irrigation system. I've been harvesting lots of garden beans- french filet and kitchen king. My dogs love the beans as a snack and they gobble them up like it's doggy treats. I'll be sure to update my blog regarding the tomatillos and eggplants. Happy gardening!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seedling Update

My seedlings are getting hugantic so I had to transfer a few last weekend to larger pots- these include my garden bean, peppers, and cucumbers.

Seedlings transferred to larger  containers: peppers, tomatos and cucumbers.

Garden bean seedling transferred to larger container.

I feel like my seedlings are also germinating way quicker.  Here are some squash seeds I just started on April 1st.  Look how bit they are already.  It's like the plants are smiling at me.

I like how the plant to the left front there still has the seed on it's leaf- like a little hat!

Since it's been getting warmer and the day is longer, I took the plastic cover off my mini greenhouse.  The plants seem to be doing fine.

Mini Greenhouse with plastic cover off.

Plants on the top shelf of my mini greenhouse.  I have to thin them- I know!
But I am sad to do so because I feel like each one has worked so hard.
Cucumbers, brussel sprouts, peppers, spinach, etc.

I even started some more seedlings again under my grow lights.  I bought some new pepper seeds and zinnia seeds.  I will have lots of seedlings but I figure I can always give away to friends and co-workers.  Happy Gardening!

Lasagna Gardening!!!

I finally started my outside garden stuff a couple weeks ago.  I am attempting the "lasagna garden" method which involves no tilling, few weeds, and lots of composting.  Here's a link to a you tube video on lasagna gardening:

Basically, the idea is to create "raised beds" without having to till your own soil. The raised beds are made from layers of carbon and nitrogen items such as compost, mulch, manure, hay, grass clippings, leaves, etc. Below are pics of how I did lasagna gardening:

Wet newspaper on top of grass

I laid 8-10 sheets of wet newspapers on top of the grass.  You can do lasagna gardening on any ground- even concrete since you don't need the ground soil at all.  I didn't even mow the lawn since my lawn was dormant anyhow due to the winter.  But if you start this in the fall and have lots of grass, you'll want to mow the lawn first so the newspaper lay flat and properly kill the grass and weeds below.  I did this after a rainstorm so the grass was wet.  It made my newspaper stick easier without blowing away.  You'll want to wet the newspaper anyways so it stays put when you lay it down.

I then got some compost from my compost bin and laid the compost on top of the newspaper.  You want to layer like this with various items to create a rich combination of nitrogen and carbon (two essential things plants need to grow well plus light from the sun).

Here's me taking compost from my compost bin (on right).

Here's the fine layer of compost on top of the wet newspaper.  

It started getting dark and cold outside so I stopped with the compost layer for now. My next step will be to add some leaf mulch and llama manure.  Here's a pic of the other half of my lasagna garden that I started a few weeks ago.  It started out as a foot but I let rain fall on it to continually keep it wet so it has shrunk to about half.

Lasagna Garden pile with leaf mulch, some shrub debris, and llama manure.
At night I keep the piles covered with a plastic tarp so it stays moist.  When I think it's gonna rain, I run outside and lift the tarp so the rain can soak my pile.  I did this last night at midnight when I heard thunderstorms were rolling through Madison.  It's important to keep you pile wet so it can slowly compost.  It's nice that I can use the rain rather than hosing it down.  This is why people recommend starting lasagna garden in fall so you can let it sit over winter and just decompose naturally with the snow, rain, etc.  But since I had a late start, I am having to sort of expedite the process a bit.   Here's a pic of my whole lasagna garden patch right now.  The right side covered with tarp is the pile I started a few weeks ago and the pile on the left is what I worked on tonight.  You can spend a whole day and do the whole things but I've been working piecemeal due to time.

Since it's been a bit windy at night, I also make sure to lay stuff on top of the tarp to keep the piles from blowing away.  Since I am starting my lasagna garden now, I don't have the time and access to resources like free leaves and hay from autumn decorations.   So, my next step will include me having to purchase compost and mulch to lay on top of my lasagna garden piles.  At least these items are readily available at my county compost facility for super cheap.  I will place this stuff on top of the remaining leaf mulch and compost I do have.  Finishing off these layers will be the awesome llama manure I got for FREE from a super cool lady in a nearby town and some coffee grounds I got for free from Starbucks.  I am excited about my lasagna garden and can't wait to show you the whole thing when it's finished.
My lasagna garden plot is about 24 x 6 feet right now.
I plan to make a 24 x 14 plot so I'll be adding some more rows to the right there.
Happy gardening.   I'll post next on my llama manure or llama beans!  So excited about those.  Plus the llamas were very cute and curious.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Garden Beans and Tomatos

OMG!  It is still freezing outside here in grow zone 5.  Well, at least it's been sunny so my plants in the indoor mini greenhouse is getting lots of warmth.  I went to Texas for spring break and had to have friends come to my house each day to water my plants.  My plants look so healthy and loved.  I started these seedlings on February 22, 2013 and look how big they are:

Garden Beans- started seeds on 2/22/13

Tomatos- started seeds on 2/22/13

I am so proud of all my seedlings but since I started quite early, I am afraid some of them will have to be transplanted soon to larger containers or they'll get too big for their teeny pots.  That will be one of my projects this weekend.

Also, since the snow is melting, I am going to lay down my lasagna garden this weekend too.  I hava bunch of newspapers that I picked up for free from someone on Craigslist.  I also have compost from my compost bin that I didn't use from last fall and I have coffee grounds I got from Starbucks.  I am hoping to get some free straw and manure from a friend who raises steer.  This should allow me to start my bed for at least a month before the frost goes away.  It's going to be a busy month but I am so excited.  I started some new hot pepper and tomato seedlings yesterday.  They're currently germinating on my fridge since my mini greenhouse is packed.

Get ready to garden!  Have fun.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Broccoli (top of fridge vs. mini greenhouse) and other Plant Updates

Every time I start a seed now, I try to experiment with what works best.  I planted two types of broccoli on 3/8/13.  I placed one plant on top of the fridge and one in the mini greenhouse.  The picture to the left are the seedlings I started in the mini greenhouse along with all my other growing seedlings- uncovered.   The one on the right in the plastic pot (6 for $1.00 at Dollar Tree) was left to germinate on top of the refrigerator.  For the fridge seedlings, I covered the pot with one of those overhead projector plastic sheets.  The fridge one definitely grew taller but doesn't seem as strong.  The mini greenhouse grew more slowly.  The seeds were also for different types of broccoli- the left one in the greenhouse is a more expensive seed from Ferry Morse- Broccoli De Cicco and the plant on the right left to germinate on top of the fridge was a much cheaper seed called Broccoli Calabrese Heirloom (19 cents a pack) from Valley Green.  What a difference huh?  I don't know what to make of this little experiment.  The refrigerator seed definitely germinated faster but I wonder if when sown, each plant will grow the same or different and how much each plant will yield in produce.  Keep posted for that information!

Left: Broccoli De Cicco (germinated in mini greenhouse) and
Right: Broccoli Calabrese Heirloom (germinated on top of refrigerator)
Here is a picture of my cilantro now- kinda overgrown but still growing.  Remember when I thought it was dying?  Well, it seems like it is actually coming back alive since it's been in my mini greenhouse.

Cilantro- started 2/13/13

This Pea Alaska plant is the tallest in my mini greenhouse right now.  I had to stake it with my bamboo skewers.  In case you're wondering, I placed decorative paper cranes at the tip of the bamboo skewer.  The pea tips are growing taller than it's stakes so I will have to find longer stakes soon.

Pea Alaska

I am loving my plants.  Everyday, I open the curtains and unzip the plastic door of my mini greenhouse to let the seedlings catch sun and get warm.  Every night, I close the curtains to keep out drafty cold air and I zip up the greenhouse doors.  Every night, I also turn each plant so that in the morning, the plants have to reach back the other way to get sun.  This way, they have to exercise and hopefully, don't get too spindly.

On a side note, my two dogs have been great with my plants.  I sometimes spray them with the plant's water bottle and they run from me.  They probably think I am weird because I speak to my plants and encourage them to grow strong.  I tell my plants I am proud of them and lightly place my hand over them.  Here are my two dogs who love me despite my craziness.  Happy planting in grow zone 5a!

Fur Babies

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Garden Adventure

Hello!  Welcome to Grow Zone 5a.  What is a "grow zone" you ask?  North America is divided into 11 separate grow zones.  Grow zones help gardeners know what their garden climate is so they know when to grow which plant and which plants will tolerate their climate.  Madison, WI falls in grow zone 5a- meaning that plants grown in my zone can tolerate a minimum temperature of -29.  Thus the name of my blog.  So scientific right?

I  have always enjoyed gardening.  As a child, I often picked vegetables at my parent's little farm. They were Hmong immigrants and had rented a few acres of land from local farmers. We grew vegetables and flowers and made the farmer's market circuit throughout the Greater Sacramento area. Now that I have my own home with a good size yard, I've decided to start my own garden.

My backyard is all grass, trees and nothing else.  There are some very big and old tress to the right so I plan to start my garden to the left there- behind the garage next to the fence.

Backyard, March 7, 2013

We just had a big snow storm here in Zone 5a so it's definitely not ready to grow anything outdoors yet. But I was so anxious to see green that I started some seedlings in mid-February in my basement. I was fully aware that these seedlings would likely not survive until sowing season but so far, they're all doing good. This is mostly because I kept them warm under fluorescent lights in my basement and now, they are in my dining room in a mini greenhouse.

For my birthday, I received this awesome 4-tier greenhouse from Menards.  It has four metal shelves and a plastic covering with front zippers that covers the whole thing.  It took me only 30 minutes to put together and no tools were required.   I looked at the Menard's price online and it is $24.98.   Such a super cool little thing.

4 Tier Greenhouse from Menard's

Here's my greenhouse during the day.  It's zipped up and you can see the moisture inside keeping my plants very warm.  I don't have a thermostat inside it so I don't know how warm it is.  This picture window in my dining room gets so much sun so I hope it doesn't get too warm inside the greenhouse.  But I have the back of the greenhouse in front of a vent so it gets a little air flow also.
Greenhouse zipped up

Below is a picture of some of the seedlings on the top shelf of my mini greenhouse.  That plant in the top left corner is one of my first seedlings that I started on 2/13/13- cilantro.  It sorta collapsed - probably due to that darn dampening off disease.  It's a condition where your seedling die before or after germination due to cool or too moist situations.  I also think because I left it out in front of my window one weekend, the plant reached too much for the sun and also got spindly so it was more susceptible to dampening off.  Anyhow, I tasted a leaf last night and it tasted like cilantro.  I am trying to revive it but it probably won't survive.  No worry- I've learned my lesson and have already researched how to grow my next batch of cilantro.

Seedlings in my greenhouse

In this blog, I hope to give you a weekly/monthly update on my gardening from seed to produce. I am also a huge nerd so I am always researching better and smarter ways to garden. I will definitely be posting information on my chosen method of gardening- lasagna gardening and just provide tips on what's worked for me. Seeing my seeds sprout into strong little plants is so magical. Even if they don't produce, just seeing them come up from a tiny seed is so satisfying. I hope you'll continue to read this blog and join me in my gardening adventure!