Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekend in the Garden: Tomato and Pepper Seed Starting

pepper & tomato seeds 2, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.
pepper & tomato seeds 1

Sunday was absolutely gorgeous here in northern VA. We opened the windows to let fresh air in, and my cat came out on the deck to enjoy the sunshine and keep me company while I started some seeds.

These are leftover seeds from last year, and I didn't have as many as I thought. I put bell pepper seeds in the green containers and tomato seeds in the purple containers. The bell peppers were part of a variety pack. They could be any color, but I'm really hoping for purple peppers, since none of the ones I planted last year were purple. The tomatoes I planted are determinate and good for containers.

It's not yet warm enough to leave these outside, so I brought them in and set them near one of the heating vents on the floor of the kitchen. They are covered with plastic wrap to keep heat and moisture in. This worked well with a hot pepper plant I started indoors two years ago, and that plant is still going strong. Fingers crossed that I get seedlings out of all these little pots!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

There's No Food Wasting in Gardening

I recently moved to a different floor at work. While in the coffee room the other day, I saw that someone had tacked this article from the L.A. Times on the bulletin board. It's several months old (November 2010) and it's about how you can help the planet by simply not wasting food. In other words, don't buy more than what you can cook, eat your leftovers, etc.

The article resonated with me for several reasons. Lately I've been thinking about food waste in terms of my garden. I have many leftover seeds from last year and the year before, and I want to plant them. It means that I may not have many new varieties in the garden this year, but I  don't want to not use these seeds. I don't know anyone else who is interested in gardening, or who has the space, etc., so there's no one to give them to. Plus I really want to use them, especially since last year was so hot that many plants didn't really survive. They need a second chance! Some plants that did make it last year didn't have nice looking fruit. But we cut off the damaged parts and were able to save a portion of the cucumbers or peppers and still eat them.

The first year we grew our own veggies, we were totally green and didn't stagger our seed planting well. So we'd have a ton of veggies get ripe all at once, and then nothing. We gave a lot of food away that year, but some things did rot. Very bad. We planned better last year and had a fairly steady stream of vegetables. We made sauces and froze things. We're still using bell peppers that we froze 6 months ago! It feels so good to know you're eating something that you grew, and it tastes almost as fresh as if it had just been picked, and we have saved a lot of money.

Over the last few months I've made an effort to eat better, more healthful foods and to cut processed foods and many animal products out of my diet (there are still some things I just can't seem to give up though, but that's a story for another post). This type of diet will require better menu planning, and since I'm a horrible/lazy cook, I see the potential for food waste. I'm hoping that by typing this out, I will be able to hold myself accountable to more conscientious food habits.

I wish I could send this food waste message to the critters in my garden, namely the squirrels and birds. If you're going to eat my crops, please just take the whole thing. Don't leave half of a strawberry on the deck, or a bunch of blueberry carcasses, or half a tomato. There are humans who would love to have a whole strawberry, you know.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Food for Thought

Warning: personal reflections ahead. My mood as I type this is "confused."

This will be the third year that I plant vegetables for my edible backyard garden. I have A LOT of leftover seeds from last year. I don't like waste--whether it's resources, time, energy, food, seeds, whatever. That's why I'm going to see if my year-old seeds will live past the expiration date on the package. I'm going to start some of them indoors this week and see what happens.

My garden is small, my crops mainly grow in containers, and I still feel a little clumsy and unsure of myself sometimes. When I moved to a place that had room for a container garden, I was so excited to go out and buy seeds to plant. I got some for free at a nursery. It was so late in the season that the cashier gave me some for free after I purchased a couple of potted plants! I stocked up on supplies at Home Depot, and bought some seeds there. They carry burpee brand. I also bought supplies and seeds at Target and from smaller nurseries around the area. Because I felt very much like I was experimenting, I did not want to invest a lot of money in a project that could be a total failure, so I mainly purchased pots, soil, and other supplies from the big stores that carry a lot of stuff at lower prices than a nursery. I'll buy seed packets from anywhere, even the grocery store, since the cost doesn't seem that different--not enough to make me drive out of my way to avoid a nursery just to buy a cheaper pack of seeds from a hardware store. I even bought soil and vegetable plant seedlings from a high school that was selling garden stuff as a fundraiser (note to self: all those plants died, and the soil seemed contaminated with something, so I won't be doing that again. Sorry high school! I'll still buy your flowers!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spring Fever

Yesterday (Monday) was such a spring tease! Although it was extremely windy, the temps were near 70 and the sun was shining. It felt so good to be outside!

I got a cyclamen plant for Valentine's Day, which I thought was a nice alternative to a bouquet of flowers. I like the unusual petals, almost like they're upside down.
cyclamen petals

I like the hot pink color, it's very retro '80s. I also like that it's a plant--I can move it into my garden or into a bigger pot and keep for longer than a few days, as flower bouquets tend to wither and die in my house quickly. My research says that these plants can bloom through April? I'll see if I can keep it alive that long. I've done OK at figuring out how to grow vegetables, but plants and flowers are still a challenge to me. I've only really invested in some fairly inexpensive annuals to rotate out in the big flower pots in the front yard. I thought maybe this year I would like to try different flowers. I thought about all of this as I sat outside yesterday, soaking in the sunshine. It was such a treat! My yard and deck are small, but I thought about how I would like to make these spots not just spaces for growing my own vegetables, but for being a peaceful retreat from some of the stresses in my life that seem to be piling up. I wonder how to do that well in a small space.

I'll think about this a bit more over the next few weeks. Right now I am so anxious for spring! There aren't many living things in my yard right now (just a little pine tree and a very cute kitten)...