East Sac Edible


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Taking Over Other Gardens

I always have my eye on other people’s garden space so when my brother and sister-in-law decided not to use their garden beds this year since they were expecting a baby, I jumped on the opportunity to double my growing space. They have seven raised beds in total and told me I could use five. The other two are full of strawberries and asparagus.

This is what the beds look liked before: DSC_1225 DSC_1226 DSC_1227

At the end of April, a friend, my daughter and I spend a day (or two) weeding, digging up the beds and amending with soil. The beds were extremely dry and difficult to work. Also the soil level had reduced significantly from previous growing seasons so we hauled in about 25 cubic feet of Soil Booster from Green Acres Nursery and 5 cubic feet of Earthworm Castings. A flurry of seed starting happened immediately when I knew I was getting the space. Because I will not be there every day to harvest, my plan was to plant things that don’t need constant attention.

Here is what the beds look like after weeding and new soil (and only 1 broken sprinkler pipe!):

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I drew up a garden plan of what I wanted in the garden. Since I started everything from seeds my plan changed based on what survived sprouting, up-potting and transplantation.DSC_1606 DSC_1607

This is everything I planted:

Bed #1: (farthest right bed)

– Delicata Squash

– Waltham Butternut Squash

– Detroit Red Beets

– Scarlet Nantes Carrots

– Blue Lake Bush Beans

– Cosmos

Bed #2:

– Lacinato Kale (6)

– Acorn squash

– Blue lake beans growing on bamboo trellis

– Zinnias (4)

– Mikado Turnips

Bed #3:

– Lemon Cucumber

– Space Master Cucumber

-Thyme

– Basil

– Tomato (Varieties: Big Boy, Sungold, Better Bush, John Baer, Moon Glow, Striped German, Hillbilly Potato Leaf & Fox Cherry)

– Zinnia (California Giant and Cool Canyon)

Bed #4:

– Green Raven Zucchini

– Black Beauty Zucchini

– Early Jalapeño Peppers (2)

– Sweet Banana Peppers (3)

– Celosia

– Bachelor’s Buttons

Bed #5:

– Tomato (Varieties: Nebraska Wedding, Moon Glow, John Baer, Sungold, Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Persimmon, Striped German, Big Boy)

– Borage

– Basil

– Giant Sunflowers

Sounds impressive huh? I am pretty impressed with myself too! I can’t believe I was able to start all of these plants from seed and able to fill a huge amount of space that otherwise would have been unproductive. I’m still waiting for some small basil plants to get a bit bigger before I transplant them and I think I will tuck in a few herbs here and there. Otherwise, this garden is ready to go!

Here are a few pictures from June 4th of what the garden looks like and a picture of our first harvest:

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Seedling and Garden Updates

DSC_0725 DSC_0726DSC_0732 DSC_0733 DSC_0734A few weeks ago, my seed starting operation was in full swing and I was at a tipping point of having too many seedlings and nowhere to put them! I have a heat mat which can hold four trays of seeds. Each tray can hold 8 six-packs of seeds although I only use space for 7 for easier watering access. I start fast growing things such as lettuces, spinach, kales in six-packs. I start bigger plants in larger containers mainly because I want to do as little up-potting as I can before the plants go out in the ground.

At the beginning of March, my problem was that I have three trays on my grow light system and it was filled to the max. This means I had to do a lot of shuffling around when my newly sprouted seeds come indoors to the grow lights. My top tray is for seedlings in their first week of life and as the plants grow bigger they get kicked down to the medium tray and finally to the bottom tray. I have rigged the lights on each level at various heights. Now the problem lies with the lowest tray which has the tallest plants. These plants look big enough to be transplanted outside but one always worries about the impending last frost (that may or may not happen). So a few plants are now bravely outside.

DSC_0735Last weekend, I finally got out and added some plants into the ground. I first sifted my large compost pile and dug big holes into the ground. I put in a huge bucketful of my compost into each hole, added egg shell powder and some E.B. Stone Tomato and Vegetable Food into each hole. DSC_0723DSC_0740DSC_0741DSC_0742DSC_0743DSC_0744DSC_0745DSC_0746

After preparing the soil, I planted some tomatoes. My front yard has a little strip of land between my driveway and my neighbor’s. This would normally would be non-productive grass but I converted the space to be one of my main tomato beds. Amongst the lavender and fruit trees I planted 5 tomato plants. I used one of my raised beds in my backyard for the rest of the tomatoes.

Here are the varieties of tomatoes I have in the ground so far:

  • Hillbilly
  • Fox Cherry
  • John Baer
  • Better Bush
  • Moonglow
  • Persimmon (2)
  • Big Boy
  • German Pink
  • beefsteak
  • Black Krim

I interplanted tomatoes with basil, borage and nasturtiums. I am really hopeful that this year is my year for tomatoes since last year was so pathetic. I’ll keep you all posted on the progress. Wish me luck!

Here are a few photos from my garden today:

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I haven’t been good about my garden tally lately but February was a one-veggie-harvest. All I harvested was kale! I have been eating about 4 cups of kale a day in my delicious kale caesar salad which has completely stripped my Lacinato plant bare. I had to give it a rest and let it grow a bit so it was the first month I actually had to BUY kale. All to feed my kale habit. March added lettuces and strawberries to the harvest. I’m looking forward to my upcoming harvests!

 

 


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Starting Seeds

DSC_0612 DSC_0613I always like to start some seeds in January to give my seedlings a good healthy start before I set them out. Last week I cleared off my work bench in the garage to make room for my heat mat. I started many varieties of lettuce, kale, pepper, basil and tomato. As the seeds germinate I move them indoors under my grow lights. Once the seeds have germinated I make sure to remove them from the heat because the heat can damage the young roots and the plants will not thrive. Heat really only aids in speeding up the germination process and then after that the seedlings need light. I move the plants indoors because my garage is just too cold for the young plants.

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This is my second year using the heat mat and grow lights system. The year before I tried to start seeds indoors and just put them by the window but they got very poor light. Last year the grow light system really gave them the boost they needed so they didn’t become spindly plants. Since the lights are on a pulley system, I am able to move the lights close to the plants and retract the lights as the plants grow taller.

I keep track of everything I start with dates of when I sow seeds, when they germinate and when I transfer them outside. I also keep notes on how well the plants do during the season so I can keep track of whether I am starting seeds too early or transplanting them too early. I especially like to keep track of what worked well (rather than what failed) so I can repeat the same timing from the year before. This also helps in succession planting because I always try to have something in the ground. For example, I noticed planting turnips before tomatoes works great because turnips are quick and out of the ground before the tomatoes are big enough to go in.DSC_0615 DSC_0617

Last week I also started some seeds directly outside. After amending the beds, I planted Green Arrow Peas, carrots, various turnips (Purple top, Shogoin, and Mikado), and beets (Red Baron, Early Wonder, and Detroit Red). I had put a layer of leaf mulch on top of my raised beds a few months ago and while the bottom layer was pretty well decomposed, the top layer was still a visible layer of leaves. I just dug these into the soil so I am a little worried about them tying up the nitrogen as they decompose. Hopefully it wont affect the growing seedlings!

 


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Seeds, seeds, and more seeds!

Well January is one of my favorite months because of seed catalogues! Do I need to buy more seeds? The answer to that is definitely, “NO!” but am I going to buy them anyway? The answer to that question is definitely, “Yes!”

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Here is how I currently store my seeds. DSC_0604 DSC_0606I have a lot of seeds. So I don’t know why I feel the need to buy more but the other day these seeds came in the mail…
DSC_0609In my defense, most of them are going to According to Ai and Seed Sowing Mama so I am not the only one with the problem!

 


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Saving Seed: Onion

About a month ago I pulled up my onions some of which went to seed. Below is an onion flower head in May…
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and this is what the same flower head looks like today. DSC_2514

I left the flower head on the patio table to dry out and honestly forgot about it. The other day I walked by and noticed lots of little onion seeds scattered on the ground letting me know I needed to take care of this. To collect the onion seed I brought the flower head inside and put it in a brown paper bag…
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I shook the bag vigorously and was left with this: DSC_2519

The seeds easily popped out and I have collected another season’s worth of onion seed. I still need to collect a few more flower heads and do the same collecting process so I get some diversity of seed.DSC_2520

I also cleaned up some of the onions that had dried up to put away for storage. I think a few of them are not going to store so well so I am going to have to use them up sooner rather than later. I was very pleased with this set of onions so I am glad I have some of the seed saved. These onions did really well in poor soil and with irregular watering!DSC_2521


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Today’s Harvest: First Basil of the Season!

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DSC_2203 DSC_2201It’s finally here! Basil season! It took a little longer this year and I don’t think I am going to get as much basil as I did last year but I am so excited my kitchen counters are full of basil drying after their first rinsing. Basil is probably my most favorite plant to grow. It’s easy to grow from seed. I start basil seed under grow lights starting in February and keep sowing periodically month after month to ensure succession planting. I also broadcast some seed directly in the ground when the soil warms but my preferred method is to start basil seeds indoors.

When harvesting basil I keep a few things in mind. First of all basil is a cut and come again plant which means it will be producing all summer. The basil plant will have a main shoot up the middle and several side shoots. To create a bushier plant and encourage more growth, try to cut each growth back keeping one to two leave sets on each branch. In other words, cut the top off just above the second set of leaves from the ground. This will encourage new shoots which will give you more basil over time. I also try not to take more than a third of the plant at a time. Harvesting basil is important so do it often! Basil is quick to form flower heads so you really want to harvest often to discourage the flower heads from forming. When you return the next week to harvest more basil, your plant will be healthier and even bushier than before!

Last year I probably had about 25 basil plants around my property. This yielded me 21.01 pounds of basil. That’s a lot of basil people! What do you do with that much basil? I make pesto and freeze it in quart bags. Frozen pesto was pretty much taking over my freezer which is great considering we (and my extended family) eat it by the spoonful. I was able to harvest basil from May through November of last year so this year I am definitely getting a late start. Most of the basil plants that I put in early didn’t thrive and are already woody and flowering. The plants I put in later seem to be doing fine though so I am hoping to catch up on my pesto production. Yum!


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Garden Wedding Gift

DSC_1688 My good friends got married in June and I wanted to give them a special handmade gift. On their registry they had mentioned wanting a herb and flower garden and to bring a plant to contribute to their future garden. However, I knew they were going to be moving soon and thought seeds would be a better contribution to their new garden since seeds can travel anywhere and recently I have been talking a lot about saving seeds (here, here and here). I found the smallest 4 oz. jam jars that were perfect in which to put seeds. I figure after they are done with the seeds they can always use the jam jars for something else. I love reusable gifts that keep on giving!DSC_1692

To dress up the jars I decided to make labels. I wanted to do something special so I got inspiration from the couple’s wedding invitations. Their invitations were handmade by a printing press and they found the perfect plate of California poppies to go behind their initials. I drew a mock up to include both of their initials and left room on the side to write what seed was in the jar and the year the seed was saved. DSC_1693Once I had a mock up that I liked, I traced the label onto small pieces of paper. This proved a bit difficult because the paper I used was thick watercolor paper through which it was hard to see. I ended up holding the paper up to the window and had to trace mid-air using a plastic box top to let in the light. Then I colored in the poppy and lastly I outlined the letters in black. I did this last because otherwise the color would smear into the black ink and I didn’t get a clean look.

I taped the labels to the front of the jars and then filled the jars with my saved seed. I thought it would be cute to make tiny seed directions to include inside with the seeds. This way when the couple opens up the seed jars they find a little surprise inside as well!

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I found the perfect gardening harvest basket to put the seeds inside (you always need a handy basket when you start harvesting, flowers and herbs!) and lined the basket with straw which they can use as mulch in their new garden! I also added some herb labels and two tea towels to wrap their freshly picked herbs. Here’s to the happy couple!

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Want to make your own wedding seed gift? Here are the materials you will need:

  • 4 oz Ball Jam Jars
  • Thick watercolor or drawing paper
  • Double sided tape
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Nice pens (I used Color Petel Fine Point pens, Stabilo Point 88 Mini pens, and Uni-ball Vision Exact Black pen)
  • See through board to trace on, or light table
  • Seeds

 


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Saving Seed: Pink Surprise Calendula

Wow, lots of saving seed posts lately! It seems like lately every time I go into my garden there is another seed waiting to be saved. Yesterday I was working in my front yard raised bed and I noticed that my calendula flowers looked rather tired and slumped over. I looked closer and noticed that some of the flower heads were dry and the seeds ready to be harvested. This variety of calendula was called Pink Surprise… but the pink never surprised me. The flowers were all orange so I am not sure where the pink came into play. DSC_1683 DSC_1684 DSC_1686

The seeds are super easy to collect. This is my first time growing calendula and my first time saving the seed. It was pretty self explanatory! I just picked off the flower heads and broke them apart revealing the seeds inside. The seeds were a brownish gray and are curled up. I think the calendula seed looks like mini armadillos curled up. They even have spiny backs! DSC_1687

Calendula is self seeding which means next year I probably will have it pop up on its own again. This is great because I really tend to focus on edibles first and flowers second (or not at all!). I am trying to make an effort to integrate more flowers into my garden and this will definitely be a gardening goal for next year. However I am saving seed so that I can either give it away or plant it myself if the calendula fails to self seed.  DSC_1693


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Saving Seed: Garlic Chives

I planted these garlic chives last year and they have been doing great in my herb bed. They are getting a bit crowded so I may have to split them at some point. I’ve never reproduced garlic chives by the division of clump method but it is suppose to help the plant live longer and more vigorously. Plus you get two plants for one! DSC_1624DSC_1626DSC_1630

As you can see, some of the flower heads have dried out and the seeds are threatening to burst out. I picked a few of the flower heads that were dry to save the seed. I noticed on the flower heads where the stem had completely dried there were not as many seeds compared with flowers that were mostly dry but the stems were still green. I wasn’t sure if I had to wait for the stems to be completely dry but it seems that a lot of seeds popped out already. Maybe I need to tie a bag around the flowers since my timing wasn’t perfect. After I pinched off the flowers, I put them into a bowl. Some of the seed easily popped out and some I had to rub the flowers between my fingers to release the seeds. DSC_1634

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Seed Saving: Lacinato Kale Part 2

I went into the garden this evening to do a few things here and there… add a bucket of compost in some of the beds here… train up my cucumber on the trellis over there. Sometimes there are things in the garden that you just keep putting off. You really should get to it but you just can’t get around to it. Well awhile ago I posted about saving my Lacinato Kale seed but the thing is I only did a little seed saving and I left the monster plant with thousands of seeds in the garden. The other day when I was in the garden I noticed small seeds all over my path so I knew I needed to tackle the rest of this task. Well today was the day and after an hour in the garden the monster is gone! DSC_1658 DSC_1660

First I started by pulling up the plant. Then I cut smaller branches off so it would fit into a 5 gallon bucket. In the bucket I scrunched up the seed pods with my hands, releasing the seeds into the bottom of the bucket. I took the bigger pieces of seed pods and put those into the compost. Then I grabbed a small pan and my compost sifter. DSC_1661

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The first pass through the compost sifter really helped separate the bigger remnants of the seed pods but the holes in the compost sifter were still too large. I passed the seeds through the compost sifter one more time before using a mesh with smaller holes. I then folded my mesh in half to make even smaller holes for the seeds to pass. I hope I can make some screens in the future to help me with the winnowing process! DSC_1665 DSC_1667 DSC_1668 DSC_1669

Almost all the bigger pieces were sifted out of the seeds. The rest of the debris I separated by a combination of blowing, using a fan and gravity to separate the seeds and chaff. We don’t have electric fan which would have made this job much easier so we used the low tech method. DSC_1671 DSC_1672

I wasn’t able to get all of the debris away from the seeds but it still was pretty good. Look at how many seeds I saved! That is a half pint jam jar almost full of seeds! I have so many that I will have to give a lot away! DSC_1677 DSC_1680