Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Week I Will Plant Seeds

How does my raised garden bed grow.
(Photo: RC)
 Growing Food
What better week to plant seeds and get this summer’s crop underway than the week we celebrate Earth Day. Even if the weather is still cold, April has the exciting feeling of spring and new starts. Many plants are blooming where I live and the hills are still green from the winter rain. It’s just beautiful! Unfortunately, my backyard isn’t quite so beautiful, but I’m working on it. I have a vision of what it will be in a couple of months and right now I’m still optimistic. I actually started many of my vegetables in March, so I will be planting a combination of seeds and seedlings. I’m curious to see how the seeds I plant outside compare to what I’ve started indoors. I also already planted cold weather vegetable seeds in my raised bed, which was new for me. Well underway are radishes, turnips and snap peas. I hope we get some good eating from the box, but even if we never get a bite, it looks fantastic. And this week, I’ll keep working on my garden and I will plant soy bean, zucchini and lima bean seeds.
Basil in a Jiffy pot. (Photo: RC)

My garden doesn’t have much of a layout. If there is a spot I can dig and gets some sun, I’m sticking things in the ground. I’ve sprinkled marigold and cilantro seeds (Or was that basil? Oh well, I’ll find out later.) in clay pots, dug a hill to help with drainage for winter squash and mixed great quantities of compost into my heavy clay soil for the tomatoes. This is the first year my son will actually dig a hole where I want it, and he’s been happily digging perfect circles all week. I find I’m moving a lot of soil around to level areas, add amendments and build hills and ditches. It’s really been very good exercise.


Marigolds in peat pots. (Photo: RC)

If your soil isn’t workable yet, just remember that in the summer my dense clay will be so hard you can’t tell dirt clods from rocks. I have to work on it now while I can and you probably have plenty of time. Check the frost dates for your area and seed package instructions to know what to start indoors and what to start outside and when. Many regions will be starting seeds indoors now. It’s also a good idea to decide what plants you want to add to your garden as natural pest deterrents. I always plant marigolds around my veggies to help keep the insects away. This year I learned that planting basil with tomatoes is also effective, so I’m trying that as well.  

The Basics
For indoor use, I use a variety of pots to start my seeds, but my favorites are the ones I make myself. These are just empty yogurt containers with a few holes drilled in the bottom. I stack them to drill and they’re done in seconds. They’re very sturdy and can be reused and recycled. I also like jiffy pellets, which are super easy – and fun to expand. Peat pots and paper cups are okay, but not my personal favorites. They tend to get too soggy to handle easily. Any good potting soil will do – I get what’s on sale. And any non-leaky tray(s) works to put the filled pots on. I saved up clear plastic food containers to use as mini greenhouses. Even soda and milk containers with the tops cut off were great for containing the pots. I never buy more plastic (pots and trays) for gardening anymore.

Then just fill pots with moistened soil. Poke a hole to the depth given by the seed instructions and drop in 2-3 seeds. Push the dirt back into the hole or sprinkle some extra soil to cover the seeds. Water gently and well.

An unused terrarium makes a
great greenhouse. (Photo: RC)

Set all the filled pots into tray(s) to contain drips. Now, you can either set the trays aside and wait, making sure the soil is always moist, or cover with plastic to create a greenhouse. Again, there’s no need to use plastics just for this purpose and throw it away. I used a combination of used dry-cleaner bags on their way to the trash and trash can liners that will be used in garbage cans afterwards.

As soon as sprouts appear, move seedlings to a sunny spot.
Squash seedlings in a milk
container. (Photo: RC)

When seedlings get their first true leaves, use a scissor to cut away all but the strongest seedling in each pot.

After that, it’s pretty much up to you and the weather when you start bringing them outside a few hours a day (hardening off the seedlings)
and transplanting them in your garden.

Above all, have fun. Seeds want to grow. Precision and special equipment are totally unnecessary. And sometimes a little adversity creates the strongest seedlings.

What to plant when

A few seed sources
and, of course, local retail stores

Lots about companion crops

Find Master Gardeners by you – and lots of help, too

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.
I was so happy to see this visitor while
digging in the garden. (Photo: RC)

Monday, April 18, 2011

This Week I Will Participate In An Earth Day Event

A couple of months ago I was asked to develop an activity to demonstrate the benefits of being a locavore for my city’s local Earth Day event. This was pretty exciting to me, especially since it’s only been a half a year since I decided I really needed to do something about climate change other than worry and started this blog. Since this was to be a family event, my plan was to motivate kids to eat local foods – and maybe inspire a few grown ups along the way, too. The original plan was to show a side-by-side comparison of local versus imported cherry tomatoes. I would show the environmental costs of buying Chilean tomatoes, buying farmer’s market tomatoes and tomatoes grown at home to create a concrete example of what we save by eating locally. However, while I really liked this idea and so did the city’s sustainability manager, I ended up helping at the sustainability manager’s booth - which turned out to be a great opportunity for a newbie advocate like myself. (Though, if anyone wants to do the cherry tomato math, I promise to use the data!)

The Family Earth Festival was Saturday. And what a gorgeous day it was, just the kind of day that brings people to northern California. And makes us want to preserve what we love about where we live. A perfect day for an Earth festival. It was really informative to me because I got to be on both sides of the booth. I got to tell people about how to be more environmentally conscious and I got to walk around hear what others could teach me. It was also really interesting to me to see who came to the festival and where they were as far as climate change issues.

We asked people to make one commitment toward sustainability and we heard every thing from “I’ll recycle my cans” to “I’m planning to go 100% solar”. Most people were more like me and committed to riding bikes more, not use throw-away bottles, buy more local food. Surprisingly, young children often said they would clean up litter. I guess they’re being taught to make the planet cleaner by picking up trash. We told them that’s great as long as trash goes in the right containers so it can be recycled and gave them 100% reclaimed materials wrist bands. There were many teens around, too. They surprised me in a different way. Many of the teens at the Earth Festival were part of their high school environmental clubs. They had already made so many positive changes it was hard for them to come up with a new sustainability commitment. This was so reassuring!

When I left my booth and walked around to other booths I learned many things from the gardeners, environmentalists, naturalists and even utility representatives. A few of the tidbits that got my attention were:

  • That a worm bin doesn’t have to stink. The one the worm farmer brought actually smelled pretty earthy and good. However, you probably will get a lot of fruit flies, which he told me are harmless to your garden.

  • That depending on the variety, you can grow an oak tree 30 feet in only ten years. Gardeners were giving away three varieties of young oaks that grow well in my area.

  • That the water department gives out little tablets to drop in your toilet tank to see if it leaks (into the bowl) – which is apparently a huge source of wasted fresh water. The also had attractive drought tolerant plants on display to show your yard doesn’t have to look like a desert, even in this arid region.

  • That the City of Pleasanton, where I live, has a program in which trained 15-22 year-olds come to your home and do a sustainability and energy assessment – for free. They also do simple jobs like replacing all your incandescent bulbs and installing a retractable clothesline and they make recommendations for bigger projects you can choose to do.

I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in this event. I strongly urge you to take advantage of the Earth Day activities offered by your city. You never know what you might find there!

Earth Day is this Friday, April 22nd

Earth Day Info

Earth Day events and activities through the Nature Conservancy

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.