Saturday, March 17, 2012

My first outdoor plantings of the year!

Radish and Lettuce seeds in containers
Our garden has not yet been tilled for the season, but with the nice weather, I just couldn't resist planting something!  I found two sturdy containers in the garage and sowed some radish and lettuce seeds.  The Chinese Red Meat Radish, Merveille des Quatre Saisons Lettuce, and Tennis Ball Lettuce all stipulated on the package that they grow best in cool weather, so hopefully they will be fine even if we get a cold snap.  I only hope that I can keep the bunnies away!

Good luck on all your early spring plantings!

Plus, another Rhubarb emerges, because I am Rhubarb obsessed right now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is Right Around the Corner

I think that by the beginning of March, most of us who live in cold-winter states are over it.  The last snow, flurry, and ice of the season is often met with great frustration, especially in years when that last cold snap is preceded by a few warm days.  Every year, by the beginning of March, I am itching to get out into the garden.  I've become bored with my favorite indoor activities, and long to open the windows, lounge on the back patio, and pick some of my favorite garden blooms.  Yep, I've definitely got spring fever.  Good thing my yard is coming back to life after its long winter slumber.
This weekend, inspired by the unseasonably warm weather, I took a tour around my garden.  Everything is so different from a few short weeks ago when I donned my long winter coat, boots, hat, and gloves to take a look around the yard.  My garden has sprung to life!  Crocus are in full bloom, and my daffodils are on the cusp.  Hyacinth are not far behind.  Even my tulips have begun to gingerly peek out above ground. 

A new addition to this year's garden is garlic, which I planted in November.  I am learning as I go with this crop, although I'm starting to think that it would be a good idea to find an article and read up on what to expect.  I just learned what a garlic scape is, and am now eagerly awaiting my first one.  Luckily, garlic seems to be a crop that doesn't need a whole lot of babysitting.  Without any intervention on my part, I happily found sprouts 8 inches tall. 

Best of all, my rhubarb is beginning to shrug off months of dormancy!  I am especially excited because after two years of waiting, I will be able to harvest some stalks from the rhubarb I planted in 2010.  Last year, I planted an additional 4 rhubarb, but I will most likely have to wait another year to harvest those.  I just love watching the plants return to life each spring.  The first tiny reddish-colored leaves that emerge from the ground are so cute and crinkly that it is hard to imagine that by mid-May, the rhubarb will turn into monstrous stalks.
Hooray for the return of spring!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Starting Pepper Seeds

There's nothing filled with more hope and promise than the germination of a singular seed.  Spring is just a few short weeks away, and I am entrenched in the process of seed starting.  For a week now, my pepper seeds have been safely nestled in peat pots, as I anxiously await any sign that the seed is about to burst open with new life. 

I have tried a variety of seed starting methods over the past few years and by far, my favorite home for tiny seedlings is the Jiffy Seed Starting Peat Pellet.  I'll admit that part of my fancy with these pellets lies in my fascination as they balloon up to full-sized "pots" from a tiny, thin pellet.  So cool!  These pellets are practical, too.  I can very easily bottom water to keep them moist without disturbing the growing seedlings.  Now, it is necessary to obtain a container to set the wet pellets in, lest they drip water everywhere.  I have found that Styrofoam egg cartons are most efficient.  Not only do they cradle the pellets, preventing them from tipping or bumping one another, but they resist mold growth (unlike their cardboard brethren).  When I need to water my pellets, I soak them in an old 9x9 baking pan. 

This year, I am starting 12 each of Bull Nose and Lipstick peppers.  Last year I had terrible germination rates, so my expectations are low.  I will be thrilled if six of each kind produce tiny seedlings.  Last year, I hovered over my trays of seedlings for 15 days, searching for any sign that tiny life would be imminently emerging from the dormant seed.  Not one pepper from that batch germinated.  I started another small set in late March and got around 60 percent germination, but the peppers grew slowly and did not get as big as I had hoped before it was time to set them out in the garden.  I had to surround them with stakes to prevent the wind from carrying them away.
So here I am, starting week 2, and anxiously awaiting signs of germination...

Peppers, or Should I say "Capsicum?"

The Bull Nose Pepper, from Burr, p. 234
Peppers are native to the Americas, but have been cultivated worldwide since the Columbian Exchange.  Peppers more correctly should be called "Capsicum," but were given the nickname by Christopher Columbus and it stuck.  Archaeologists surmise that the first peppers were domesticated in South America about 6000 years ago.  Peppers are thought to be one of the earliest cultivated crops in the region.
This year, I will be growing two heirloom peppers -- Bull Nose and Lipstick. 

Bull Nose peppers are another wonderful selection cultivated by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.  A sweet pepper with crisp and tender flesh, these were popular throughout the 1800s.  The Bull Nose was the original Bell Pepper, sporting its stocky, rectangular shape.  In his 1866 book, Garden Vegetables & How to Cultivate Them, Fearing Burr noted that the Bull Nose was the "best and most wholesome of all pickles" (p. 234).  I find this statement intriguing because I have never considered peppers as a viable vegetable to pickle.  But now, I think I have to try one.
I am also growing a Lipstick pepper this summer.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds markets this variety as an heirloom, but I was not able to find any specific information regarding its origins.  Lipstick is a small red pimento-style pepper, elongated and very sweet.  Several seed catalogs suggest stuffing them, and I think that would be really tasty.