30 March 2009


Like I wrote before, I wanted to grow everything from seed - and that included onions. From what I had read, one had more choice/variety when onions were grown from seed. As much variety you were likely to find with onion sets was red or white, I also read. Friends tried to discourage me - they said sets were the easiest way, but I wanted to grow from seed - I also knew that if things didn't work out, I could still plant sets.

I digress: I experimented with onion sets last year. I knew I had planted them too late, but I wanted to see what would happen. By the time the tops fell over and died (with a little help from some aggressive squash!), they were about the size of a quarter. I pulled them out we ate them anyway.

So, I ordered various onion seeds from a catalog, choosing various kinds that sounded cool, like Walla Walla Sweet, Super Star, Yellow Sweet Spanish and Greek Salad and I planted them. But while those seeds were sprouting, I learned something important about onions. There are two different types - long day and short day - and I didn't understand the difference until recently. I was under the impression that since the South has longer days, we would grow long day onions . Not so - Onions are a cool season crop so they grow during cooler weather. In the North, that can be during summer when the days are longer, but in the South, onions are grown late winter/early spring or late fall/early winter during cooler weather, when the days are shorter.

So I went to Lowes and bought onion sets. There were a few different varieties - I don't remember what red onions there were, but the white onions they had were Yellow Granex Hybrid(like Vidalia onions) and Texas Sweet. I bought the Yellow Granex and planted half of the 64 that came in a bundle and they seem to be doing fine. I'll keep you posted.

On a similar note, there are some other onions I'm curious about. One is the Egyptian walking onion. Instead of small sets, you plant one large onion bulb and it produces baby onions on a stalk. When the stalk dies and falls over, the small onions form another plant where they land, hence the "walking". There are other onions that are small and cluster, that are possibilities. When I know more I'll let you know.

26 March 2009

Seed Starting

I thought I would get a head start this year if I grew my own vegetables and flowers from seed. Boy, was I wrong! I don't think I anticipated how early I should have been starting various seeds. I started seeds in January and February for cool season crops like lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and onions. They took their time germinating - some didn't at all. (I know that some of them were last year's seeds, but still.)

I thought I was making progress, but I didn't have anything to compare it to...until I went to Lowes. Nothing will make you less inclined to grow from seed than visiting Lowes in mid February. I am exaggerating...a little. I did buy a few things there, but I was determined to see this growing from seed thing through. I bought onion sets - it seems the seeds I started were the wrong kind for my area. (More on onions another time) I bought heading lettuce - it was so much larger than what I had grown up to that point. I also bought broccoli - my seeds hadn't germinated. I will be buying tomatoes as well - you get the picture.

My successes? I consider the sweet corn I transplanted to the garden Wednesday a success. Ditto on the sunflower seedlings I put in the front yard at the same time. Also I have a fair amount of Black Eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers and a few Hibiscuses that I will be transplanting soon.

On a related note, last year my mother-in-law gave me a grow-your-own-kitchen-herbs kit that she bought at Goodwill. I had no expectations of getting any plants out of it, not knowing how old it was. So I wasn't surprised when nothing happened. She gave me another one this year, maybe for Xmas, and I waited until a week or two ago to start the seeds. To my surprise, most of the seeds germinated - Basil, Parsley and Corriander, but not the Thyme. I'll keep you posted on those.

25 March 2009

Winter Sowing

I found out about winter sowing around New Year's, when there doesn't seem to be much to do in the way of gardening. Then I found out about winter sowing. According to various websites, it seems simple enough - put soil and seeds in a milk jug or like container, keep moist, put outside and the seeds will germinate when they're supposed to. I am simplifying here, but not much.

I spent a little time in January and February experimenting with different variations and decided on an under-the-bed storage container for my winter sowing. I tried milk cartons - they were fine, but I never had enough of them. Then I didn't like having to prick the seedlings out to plant in individual pots - more on this another time. So I decided I wanted to use seed flats and I wanted a large container to put them in. On trash day I ran across an under-the-bed storage container that someone was throwing out. I took it home, drilled some holes in the top and bottom to collect rainwater and for drainage and it became my winter sowing container. We had a colder winter than usual and I'm very pleased with how well it protected my seedlings. Everything did well except some Black Eyed Susans I was trying to get an early start on. Now that I have a more permanent container, I will definitely winter sow again next winter.

Rain Barrels

I've been wanting rain barrels almost as long as we've owned our house - it'll be 3 years in August. When I first priced them online I was shocked that some people wanted $100 or more for one - and I have eight downspouts, including the garage! Then I found out you can make your own - all you need is a 55-gallon food-grade barrel.

The hardest part for me was locating a local source for these things. A friend who gives rain barrel workshops at the Sustainability Institute gave me the name of a local supplier who sells them for $40. We're not exactly rich here, so the price kept me away for a little while longer. Finally, I started a garden fund and had accumulated a little cash - my wife saw an ad in the paper selling food-grade barrels for $20. I jumped at the opportunity and bought two of them - mine must have contained lemon juice! That was in early February - the barrels sat in the yard for at least a month until I made time for them. - did I mention I'm landscaping and vegetable gardening?

There are many different ways to create these rain barrels, but they are all very similar. Over the last few months I've been watching "how to make a rain barrel" videos on the internet, trying to get an idea of the way I wanted to make mine. In general, I decided I like the Paul James video the best. I diagrammed the parts I would need and when I got to Lowe's I discovered that the specific parts that were used in the video were not necessarily the most common parts in their inventory. So I had to improvise again. I find that any makeshift plumbing project I undertake always includes improvisation when I get to Lowes!

Once I got home, I found I needed additional tools and the drill needed to be charged. I finished over a couple of days and also had a lot of site preparation to do. I had to cut the downspout to fit the barrel and I put down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing around it - the less I have to use the weedeater the better. I had to make sure the ground was level so it won't tip over when it's full. All of that is done - I just have to finish landscaping around it and hope I did everything right. Now on to the next one.

PS - improvising as I did, I think it took me longer than it would have, but the next one should go a lot smoother, now that I have all the tools and have done this once already.

Spring is here - time to blog?

This seemed so contrary to me at first. The weather is warm. Time for planting. Let's blog about it! It did cross my mind. I've wanted to blog, probably because everyone else blogs, but I didn't feel like I had anything to say. I keep a garden journal. It's pretty minimal - when I planted which seeds, how other plants are doing and anything I can do differently next time. We've also begun landscaping our yard. We have a master plan, but we're doing it a little at a time and I wanted to chart our progress. So last night while walking one of the dogs I decided that I would start a blog about what we're doing around our suburban homestead. This will include everything from our vegetable garden and water garden to landscaping and conservation - even our goal of having chickens before the end of 2009.