We -- human and plant alike -- enjoyed the glorious sunshine yesterday. The seedlings soaked up some warmth, and we got exercise lugging them all outside. Some of the multitude of swiftly-growing tomatoes were transplanted, and when we get more soil we'll transplant the rest.
Meanwhile, it's just about time to start transplanting our cool-weather seedlings into the garden! The early direct-seeded lettuce and radishes hung on through the last snow and are now emerging. Such a happy sight.
And there's more exciting news: we're getting four new raised beds to expand our planting area by 50%! We look forward to a season with more variety, more beauty, and more food (for us and to share). The Green Chillis and I spent some time marking off approximately where the new beds will be, which was a good exercise in applied mathematics (and showed that my math muscles have been atrophying. Sigh.).
For the past month or so, we've been tending seedlings, which are sprouting happily on most of the library's windowsills. Two weeks ago, we planted our first seeds outside: peas! Six kinds! Then came cold, windy, dry weather. Though it's milder now, we have yet to see any pea-shoots, but we're still hoping.
Today, the last remnants of Sunday's big snowfall glistened on the ground as we seeded lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, and parsnips in the garden. After covering the newly planted beds with floating row cover to preserve moisture, protect from wind, and ward off curious and hungry wildlife, we had a snowball fight! What larks.
Following a few gorgeous days of snowfall, the Green Chillis met today to check the progress of the seeds we started (quite a few up now!), discuss plant propagation (we made cuttings of spider plants and Tahitian bridal veil), and remove the seeds from the dried sunflower heads we saved from last season. Then came the most important task of the day: taking advantage of the snow by going out and playing in it! Our first attempt at a giant snowman quickly morphed into a giant snow ant, because the snowballs were so huge and heavy we couldn't get one on top of another. Then we made a snowcreature/bug to stand guard over the garden (it has six arms, four eyes, two antennae, and a proboscis, and stands about seven feet tall. Classify that if you will). What fun!
Below: riding the giant ant.
I recently enjoyed this thoughtful piece on sustainability
by Booklist editor Keir Graff. He makes some good points, and following the article is Booklist's top ten list of books on sustainability from 2013. While you wait for your seeds to sprout, why not take a look?
Cabbage seedlings a couple weeks after sowing.
Snow is on the ground (finally!), but on the windowsills of the Chillicothe Public Library seedlings are pushing their way up through soil and reaching their little green hands (or, more accurately, cotyledons) to the light.
The Green Chillis kicked off our third growing season last week, spreading some green love on Valentine's Day by planting a multitude of seeds, which we hope will grow into sturdy plants that will provide food and beauty for many months to come. The first sprouts popped up this week - our cabbage leading the way, and now joined by tiny calendula, thyme, marigolds, bachelor's buttons, and more! Stop by and take a look at our babies.
The seeds we are planting this year are from generous donations we received in 2011 from Picket Fence in Chillicothe, the Herman's Garden program through the Seed Savers Exchange, and the America the Beautiful Fund. We will also be growing some plants from seeds we saved last year!
Well, I've fallen behind in my garden reports. But we've been keeping busy learning about plant classification, the parts of plants we eat, and the way a seed works, not to mention our work outside planting seeds, thinning, and quite a bit of watering (made necessary by a rather dry spring so far). Yesterday, two Chillis and I spread manure and sowed wildflower seeds in the corner made by a brick wall on the northwest corner of the library property, and could only hope it would get a good dousing from Mother Nature. Lo! it is raining as I write – a good, steady, gentle, drenching rain.
There are a lot of reasons why rainwater is best for the garden. Here are a few:
- It's free!
- It’s better for the plants and the soil (and all those helpful microorganisms living in the soil). According to Urban Garden Solutions
, rainwater is free of the chlorine, fluoride, and other minerals often added to municipal water – things that can harm the life in the soil. Also, rainwater normally contains a lot of oxygen and has a slightly acidic pH, helping plants absorb nutrients more easily.
- Using rainwater reduces demand on our limited supply of groundwater.
- Catching rainwater reduces runoff that (due in part to our love of concrete and mono-cropping, which deplete the earth’s capacity to absorb and filter water) can cause flooding and erosion, as well as wash contaminants and pollutants into our watersheds.
So, how to take advantage of this watery gift? It’s easier than you might think. There are several different approaches to harvesting and storing rainwater for use in the garden, but one popular and feasible method is using a rain barrel in conjunction with the gutter system already in place on your house. Commercial rain barrels are available for purchase, or you can make your own (and save some $) by reusing large plastic barrels (most often they come in the 55 gallon size, which will fill up quickly in a downpour). You can frequently find barrels for sale on Craigslist or similar sites. Make sure you know what was previously stored in them (nothing toxic), and clean them out well before using them.
There are many ways to convert a barrel into a rainwater receptacle, and plenty of tutorials are available online. Here are some pictures of barrels constructed by Chillicothe’s own Mike Contratto, who combined his engineering skills and gardening know-how to do a demonstration at the library last summer.
The warm weather we've been having has sent the garlic into full gear, as can be seen in the photo at left. Also, as of today, there are a variety of seeds in the ground! Last week we prepared the soil by working in some horse manure. Today I was afraid planting would be prohibited by the rain, but the soil was still quite dry. So, between light showers, we went out and planted lettuce, carrots, peas, and other early crops. Here's hoping for a good, soaking rain that actually wets the soil and helps our seeds sprout! (Stay away, bunnies!)
We also talked about plant classification and learned to identify monocots and dicots based on the seed or leaf of a plant: monocots have a one-part seed and parallel veined leaves (corn and other grasses, onions, etc.), while dicot seeds have two parts and their leaves have netted veins (beans, oaks, dandelions, etc.). Here you can see the Green Chillis working on their classification charts.
Final update for the day: the seeds we started inside over the past couple of weeks have started to spring up beautifully! For example, here are three vivacious moonflower seedlings.
After a couple planning sessions, the Green Chillis have (more-or-less) figured out what they want to plant in their respective plots. Yesterday, with the generous donation of seed-starting mix from Kelly Seed & Hardware Co.
in Peoria (many thanks to the lovely folks there!), we finally got down to the business of planting. Each Chilli got a flat in which they planted those varieties that need to be started this early. If they had extra cells, they planted seedlings that will be given out to the community once they’re big enough.
This is always an exciting season, as we hold our breaths to see if our carefully sown seeds will sprout, persevere through the dismal threats of damping off and fungus gnats, and finally become the luscious tomatoes and cheerful flowers we’ve been dreaming of all winter. With a little water, sunshine, and love, chances are they will. So here’s to gardeners everywhere whose sunny windows are full of soil-filled flats – may those seedlings give you joy as they pop up and flourish, and may the fruit of your labors be bountiful!
Today was far too beautiful to spend inside. On a last-minute inspiration, I expanded the outdoor portion of my plan for this afternoon and introduced the Great Green Chilli Garden Search! This consisted of a romp in the spring air, discovering the garlic shooting up in ranks (looks like just about everything I planted in the fall is back!), finding seeds, feeling and smelling the soil (the adjectives used were quite varied, but for me there's few things that feel or smell better than dirt in the spring), and identifying plants that survived the winter. As to the latter, it was a pretty long list, due in part to the mild winter: we found kohlrabi, collard greens, cabbage, grass (I don't think that stuff can die), brussels sprouts, thyme, chives, oregano, hyssop, and lavender. Some critters were also out and about, and the Chillis identified spiders, an asian beatle, and a centipede.
When we finally pulled ourselves back inside, the Chillis imagined and drew what they thought a hamburger plant might look like. We discussed how most (if not all) our food -- including burgers -- depend on plant-based sources: the grass grows, the cow eats the grass, we eat the cow.
For more on this "grass-roots" subject and its implications, check out Polyface, Inc.
, self-described as a "family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley."