Hardening off Seedlings

I have been hardening off my seedlings for about five days now, last night was the first night they spent outside. The nights are now consistently above 50 degrees, so I am planning to transplant them into the plot next weekend.

I have a ton of seedlings: 12 tomato seedlings (one each Striped Roman, Paul Robson, Valencia, Black Krim [all of those are from the Neighborhood Farm], 1 Break O’Day; 2 each Beaker Family Heirloom, Poll Robson Angolan (according to Sand Hill Preservation Center it is not entirely clear what variety this is, but I grew it last year and it was not a true Paul Robson) and 3 Green Zebra). I also have 3 peppers (one each Early Jalapeno, Thai and Chico Invite), 3 eggplants (2 Fairy Tale and 1 Ping Tung), 2 each Butternut Squash and Honeyboat Delicata, 3 each Tokiwa cucumber, Dekah cucumber (a pickling cucumber), National Pickling cucumber, 3 watermelon, 1 Lakota winter squash (a gift from a neighbor) and 1 Zucchini (all cukes, squash and melons have three plants per cell), 2 Thai Basil, 3 Genovese basil, 1 cilantro. I also started new head lettuce for succession planting.

On my porch, I will plant two peppers (Early Jalapeno and Thai), 1 eggplant (Fairy Tale), 1 tomato (either Green Zebra or Poll Robson Angolan) and maybe 1 cucumber (likely National Pickling or Dekah). Also the basil, Thai basil, cilantro. The rest of the seedlings will go in the plot and I will give some away.

Seedlings Update

Cucumber seedlings

I lost a few seedlings yesterday: lettuce, all Zinnias, all Genovese basil, all cilantro, all but one Thai basil, all Dr. Wyche’s Yellow tomatoes (my favorites, sigh) and one Break O’Day tomato.

Currently, my seedlings are either under the grow lights (2 butternut quash, 2 Delicata squash, 3 Pickling cucumbers, 3 Dekah cucumbers, 3 Tokiwa cucumbers, 3 watermelon, 1 lettuce, 1 mystery pepper, 1 Thai basil, and some very mangled cilantro) or are in bigger pots and grow next to the window or under regular table lights in the evening (1 Darkibor kale, 2 Fairy Tale eggplant, 1 Ping Tung eggplant, 1 Thai basil, 1 parsley, 3 Green Zebra tomatoes, 1 Break O’Day tomato, 2 Paul Robson (?) tomatoes and 2 Baker’s Creek Family Heirloom tomatoes).

I will supplement the loss with seedlings from the Neighborhood Farm and/or the Trustees. I will get basil, cilantro, flowers and a couple of heirloom tomatoes. Lettuce is growing on the back porch, so I will just transplant a few of the larger heads into the garden.

Tomato seedlings

More Sowing

Today, I sowed five types of tomatoes (three each) and lettuce. The tomato varieties are: Green Zebra, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Paul Robson (I think), Break o’ Day, and Baker Family Heirloom. Two of them are mid-season tomatoes (Green Zebra, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow) and the other three are late. All tomato seeds were from 2019. The lettuce was Salad Bowl (from Sand Hill Preservation Center) for 2021.

Some of my seedlings (eggplant, basil, cilantro) today

Seeds

I took inventory of my seeds today and placed an order with Sand Hill Preservation Center. There is a country-wide COVID-related seed shortage this season. Johnny’s for example is only selling to farmers at this moment and not to home gardeners like me. I should have enough seeds saved from previous years and should be fine with this order, fingers crossed. And I am counting on the Neighborhood Farm to provide me with seedlings this spring should I need them.

2020 in Review

Plot September 8

Time for another gardening year review and for laying out the plans for the next year. This year was like no other, as COVID-19 changed life as we know it for everyone. Thankfully, our family made it through the year healthy, though my high school senior/now college freshmen daughter and my now high school sophomore son had a hard time with remote learning and with missed milestones and cancelled school sport seasons. For our community garden, the pandemic meant that for a long time we did not know whether the gardens would open at all. Finally, at the end of May, we got the green light and our water was turned on, so I got a very late start in the garden. As the garden coordinator, I put rules and measures in place to keep our gardeners safe. Everyone had to wear a mask inside the garden as long as other people were around and wear gloves at all times. Also, everyone had to disinfect the garden gate before entering and the shed lock and the water spigot and nozzle before use. I put a bunch of cloth rags (that I took home to wash after use) and disinfectant in the shed so gardeners could disinfect tools and supplies. All gardeners adhered to the rules and our season went smoothly. The plots looked the best they ever have, with tons of veggies and very few weeds, in part thanks to the pandemic, because almost everyone worked from home and had to socially distance and therefore had extra time on their hands.

We had a very cold and wet spring, so the growing season was delayed in general. The spring rains were a blessing for our gardeners who had planted spring crops. Again, I had been cautious and apart from sowing radishes, carrots and peas, I did not plant anything in the spring.

Eggplant, August 25

Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Cucumbers. It was a good year for tomatoes, but unfortunately I did not keep a good record of the varieties I grew. I started with four different types from seed (Break O’Day, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Eva Purple Ball) and bought a couple more plants from the Neighborhood Farm in June (Green Zebra and two other varieties). I lost a couple of plants, not sure which ones. Dr. Wychee and Green Zebra plus some other “red ones” did well in the plot. For peppers, I only grew Thai hot peppers, and they did well, both in the plot and on my back porch. Eggplants did well in my plot, for the first time. I grew both Ping Tung and also a regular variety (gifted by another gardener) and while they had a late start they did well. The eggplant on the porch (Ping Tung) remained very small-fruited, so I am not sure I will repeat this next year. The two cucumber plants (one pickling, the other one a slicer) had a stellar start but then quickly wilted, I am not sure what happened.

Carrots and radishes, November 6

Root vegetables. The porch radishes were amazing; the radishes grown in the plot had some “damage”. They clearly were eaten by something. The carrots were delicious, but it took a few rounds of sowing before they came up successfully. As usual, the fall crop did much better than the spring crop. Beets did well, in particular the Chiogga beets – I planted two rounds of seedlings (one gifted, one bought). The ones I grew from seed (golden beets) did not do very well. They were small when I transplanted them and most of them were eaten by something. I did not plant potatoes this year.

Baby butternut framed by kale and Swiss chard, August 16

Summer and Winter squash. First time planting zucchini. Because I grew them from seed (late) and planted them late, I had a late harvest (August through October) but it was a great one. I really enjoyed harvesting zucchini this late in the season. The butternut squash did alright, I harvested three pretty big ones, the Delicata squash sadly died along the way. Somehow the stem was cut/chewed. Anyway, I love them and will definitely plant both summer and winter squash next year.

Pole beans”, August 13

Legumes. A disaster. Both peas (I sowed three rounds) and pole beans (also three rounds) never made it past the tiny seedling stage before the resident rabbit got the better of them. The porch peas did well, but it wasn’t a big amount, just a small bowl for snacking.

Lettuces, June 23

Greens. The lettuces did amazing this year. I planted a lot of lettuce in the spring (grown from seed and transplanted) and then fall greens (direct-sowed in August), which I harvested well into December as baby greens. The Swiss chard had a stellar year as well. I could hardly keep up with harvesting. They did have some leaf miner damage, but it was manageable.

Garlic harvest, July 18

Alliums. Great year for garlic (51 heads)! Some of those heads were humongous. The leeks did well too, I left an entire row for overwintering. And I have those Egyptian walking onions that show up all over my plot. They always do well and are delicious, shallot-type onions.

Kale, December 6

Brassicas. The only brassica I grew this year was kale. I started with three varieties: curly, Tuscan and Red Russian. I pulled the Red Russian because it was infested with flea beetles but the other ones did well. I only had one plant each in my plot, which was enough for my family’s needs as with my daughter now in college I am the only kale eater. There were some aphids, but very manageable. The Tuscan kale on my back porch stayed very small, I guess it need a bigger pot.

Porch herbs, May 24

Herbs. I had basil and parsley (and borage) in my plot. The parsley turned yellow after a while and died. This is the second year in a row this happened and I really want to know why. Another community gardener had the same experience. The porch herbs did great as usual, I had a ton of parsley and all the other common herbs. In late fall, I moved the two rosemary plants and the thyme inside to my kitchen and I still use them in my cooking.

Rhubarb, April 12

Perennials. There are only two: asparagus and rhubarb. I have only a tiny asparagus patch but it did well. The rhubarb was very anemic and I did not dare to harvest any. I am not sure what is happening.

Baby Ping Tung eggplant, July 25

Porch. This year, as in previous years, I grew a lot of herbs on my porch. It is so nice to have your culinary herbs just a few steps away when you make dinner. I grew parsley (underplanted in two big pots growing tomatoes and peppers), sage, thyme oregano, rosemary, nasturtium (did not use them in cooking though), mint, chives. I also had radishes (which were amazing), lettuces (good), kale (not so great), hot peppers (great), eggplant (meh), Swiss chard (meh), tomatoes (meh). Next year, I will focus on herbs, greens, hot peppers and flowers.

(Mutant?) dahlia and asparagus greens, September 6

Flowers. Dahlias, cosmos, nasturtiums, marigolds in the garden; some dianthus and nasturtium on the porch. The dahlias were really late this year, so I was not able to enjoy them as long as in previous years. I will definitely plant more flowers next year.

October 30

Plans for 2021. I had a total of 8 tomato plants and that was a great number. I picked the varieties so they were fruiting at different times and that seemed to have worked well. I do need to amend the soil as some of the plants only had a few fruit. I will definitely plant more hot peppers next year, maybe some shishitos as well. Definitely Thai and jalapeno and perhaps some other varieties. I love eggplant, and I will have another two to four plants in the garden next year, maybe two Asian and two Mediterranean varieties. Definitely will be planting cucumber again, one slicing variety and one or two pickling (those pickles were delicious!). Definitely carrots and radishes next year. The porch radishes were great, so I will do those again, maybe more and in a bigger container. For carrots, definitely rainbow. One zucchini plant was enough, so that is what will happen next year, plus two or three winter squash. I love sugar snap peas and pole beans, so I will try them again next year. Fingers crossed the resident rabbit has moved on. Lettuces from seed and transplanting them worked well, I should try to stagger them better so I have a constant supply. One row of Swiss chard is plenty. The garlic is in the ground, the Egyptian walking onions are doing their thing. So, I will plant one or two rows of leeks in the spring, from purchased seedlings. Two or three kale plants are enough. I will likely not grow any other brassicas because of the aphid problem, but maybe I will change my mind. I will have the usual assortment of herbs on the porch, but would really love to have more parsley in the garden. I will research the yellowing issue and hopefully find a solution. Also, as always, tons of basil in the plot, and this year I will make pesto again. I am hoping, the rhubarb will recover but I think it has to do with my pill bug infestation. They just are having a feast eating all the roots. I am not mulching with straw this year and over the winter and hopefully that will make them go away. The asparagus will just give me a few handful of spears as every year and that will be fine. On the porch, I will have culinary herbs, hot peppers, flowers and lettuces. That just seems to be the best use of the space and my pot sizes. As for flowers, there will be more dahlias in the plot, I will try sunflowers again and cosmos (maybe zinnias?), and of course nasturtium and marigold.

Seedlings up close

Tomato seedling stem

It is snowing today. A cold and wet day in the middle of spring. The forsythia bloom is almost over as are the daffodils. My seedlings are doing well under the grow lights and with the heat mat underneath. I currently have going: 4 tomato varieties (2 each), 2 basil, 2 parsley, a dozen or so head lettuces in different stages (half of them sown two weeks ago, the other half four weeks ago with the majority of the seedlings), 5 Tuscan kale, 2 hot Thai peppers, 1 eggplant (reseeded two weeks ago, only one of those plants came up and there may be a second one just poking out).

Tomato babies
Thai peppers
Tomatoes, basil, lettuce

Adjusting to Coronavirus

It is close to the end of March and I am starting to plan the gardening season. We had frost last night and will have more tonight and I am planning to get my peas in the ground in two days when it is a bit warmer again. I also started seedlings yesterday with my daughter. So far, so normal. However, the schools here in Boston have been closed for a week now because of Covid-19. The governor declared a state of emergency five days ago, restaurants are closed or do take-out only, people are encouraged to work from home, grocery stores now only allow a certain number of shoppers inside. The world is a very different place than just a week ago. Everyone is asked to stay home, which is hard for my two teenagers. My 17 year-old daughter copes with exercising, reading and asking me to teach her how to bake bread and how to grow your own food (she never showed much interest in gardening), and become more self-sufficient. So, we started by sowing seeds. For now, we started two types of lettuce (Bronze Beauty and Kagran Summer), eggplant (Ping Tung), Thai hot pepper (should have started those about a month ago, but alas), flat parsley (should also have been started earlier), basil, four types of tomato (Break O’ Day, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Eva Purple Ball). We set them up under grow lights and with a heat mat in my bedroom.

We will need to adjust our community garden season as well. We will of course not have our annual spring meeting or our spring work day this year. We will need to think about disinfecting shared gardening tools and other surfaces.

So far, gardening has not been restricted by the city or the state, but should there be a “shelter in place” order in the future, we will likely not be able to tend to our plots. On the other hand, growing some of your own food will be more important this year than ever. The borders are shutting down, and migrant workers who pick most of our produce will not be able to enter the country and we will likely experience some sort of food shortage.

I will try to move as much as I can to container gardening at home, as this seems a feasible and safe option. For now, I am planning to grow herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, chard, eggplant, hot peppers.