Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What To Do Wednesday - Start Your Seedlings!!!

With winter pretty much done (yes, Phoenix style - rain, chill, frost, warm...) it's now time to start thinking, plotting, and planning for spring.  Before you know it, spring weekend will appear and then it'  So, as winter begins to warm and hover in the 60's and 70's, conditions will be ripe for sowing seeds.
(starter cells with broccoli, pak choi, kale, and chard)

I generally start seeds on a monthly cycle, that way I've always got something going (or trying to get going).  Using recycled nursery planting cells, I fill them up with fine, sifted compost soil.  I set 1-2 seeds in each cell, top with soil, then pack gently.  For simple record (since I've given up on maintaining a garden journal), I lay  out my seed packets, make a date marker, and take a picture.  I can later print this out and just tape it into my garden journal (so there).

(Loads of baby veggies soaking up some sun after the rain)

So far from my december tinkerings, I have a beavy of lettuce, kale, chard and choi.  I'll later thin them out (and attempt to transplant) once they're about 1"-2" inches tall, at approximately 30 days growth.  I use a pump sprayer and water these guys 2-3 times a day when it's sunny.

I'm even doing some daring stuff with warm season crops like cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes.  Hopefully, the early start will give me some breathing room when spring season really warms up and EVERYTHING has to be done.
(Heirloom and organic tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos)

In addition to my edible seeds, I'm also working on perennial and wildflower seeds such as cosmos, echenacea, rudebekia, delphenium, hollyhock, salvia, and penstemon.  I even managed to start some camomile  (whoo-hooo!  Finally after years of trying!)
(Here comes camomile!)
The great thing about starting seeds is the cost payoff - if I get at least 50% yeild from a seed packet, that could easily result in $50-$100 of savings.  Granted, I do have to invest time and labor, but what kind of a gardener would I be if I didn't?  (Now, where am I going to plant all this stuff???)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Grow it, Cook it - Sweet Potato

One of my favorite foods to cook with is the potato.  It's where french fries come from!   Realistically speaking, I haven't had much luck with russet/white potatoes in the garden, but sweet potatoes are a cinch.  Which is not a bad thing since sweet potatoes are much more nutritious.  
I discovered growing sweet potatoes on a couple of different occasions by accident.  The first was when I dropped a hanging basket brimming with ipomea blackie potato vine.  It exploded when it hit the ground, to find very little soil in the pot, but a cluster of root-bound tubers - potatoes!   
(sweet potato growing in reclaimed chimney flue)
The other time I was turning compost and unearthed a healthy albino potato vine struggling for sunlight, coming from a wedge of sweet potato cast out of the kitchen months ago.
In my case, it took a few seasons (otherwise a really nice sunny location) to produce a handful of small potatoes just using slips (chunks of potato that started growing eyes).  But over time, they should produce better with each season.
Here is one of my easy recipes, "sweet rosemary medallions".  What you'll need:

- 2 med/lg sweet potatoes (slice to medallions)
- 3-6 stems of rosemary (finely chopped)
- olive oil (spray)
- sea salt
- pepper
(ready for the oven)
I lay out the potato slices, lightly spray with oil, sprinkle the rosemary on them, and salt and pepper.  Flip them over and do the same.  
Stick them in the oven on 350* degrees and bake for about 15minutes or until they brown nicely.  
 (roasted chicken breast, baked beans, and rosemary sweet medallions)
I serve them with just about anything from broccoli to brussel sprouts, chicken or fish.  They even work as a cold snack (especially for those late night trips to the kitchen).  

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy New Winter!

Happy New Year to all!
Here in Phoenix we didn't expect a white Christmas, but I certainly experienced a 'white' New Year's eve.
(snow - Xericopia style)
The garden beds here at Xericopia were blanketed with...well, blankets.  It got cold here! I know, it sounds wussy just being a mere low of 33* degrees.  But for our heat loving gardens, that can really ruin the festive spirit.  Especially the edibles!  

I covered a few garden beds but some areas I left open.  Partly, because I know certain plants can withstand major cold (and some things I just wanted to test).  I also had a lot of plants I just had to move onto the patio or indoors for assured safety.
(cucumber seedlings and hibiscus hiding from the cold!)
I'm aware of which areas of the garden trap cold air, and which areas prevent the frost from settling in.  How do I know this?
(thermometer on ground next to garden bed)

Every year I place a few thermometers in spots to check just how cold it gets.  I set them on the ground too, that way I know what the plants are experiencing (ground level and eye level can vary 3-5* degrees).  My garden - ground level - got down to 28* degrees (five straight days below 30*) and all of the birdbaths and rain buckets froze over solid. 

The frost covers trap in soil warmth from the day, which slowly releases through the night. It also prevents tiny frost particles from collecting on top of plants. You can even leave the frost covers on through the day creating a greenhouse effect for plants.  Some plants may still experience minor leaf damage but the plant won't die.
(twinkle twinkle happy plants!)
Some plants may still experience minor leaf damage but the plant won't die.  For super protection, I some of my extra christmas lights and dress them around my specialty plants, then cover them up.  It also makes for a charming garden display at night.