Friday, February 11, 2005

Garden notes

This part of the gardener’s year I find my record keeping to be more meticulous than in late spring or summer. Every year I hope this will change and I will keep records of bloom and yield as carefully as I now note seeding, germination and transplanting. I know how valuable these early spring notes are and I believe that later notes would prove equally helpful.

My plots and records have evolved. I recently happened across a plot of a garden from several years ago. At the time I took special delight in the “illumination” of the plot. Dotted with colorful little blobs meant to represent lettuce or tomatoes, these plot plans were fun, though not so accurate, and lacking much real information to help me the following year.

So many tools are available now to the garden record keeper. Cook’s Garden has, in past years, offered a five year garden journal. Though it is already out of stock this year, I recommend this format if you take small notes. One page per day is divided into five sections, enabling you to see what you were up to in past years.Seeds of Change offers their beautiful Garden Cycle, a weekly format journal that has a special place to record weather information. The journal is also available at Pinetree. And the kind folks at Seeds of Change also offer an electronic version of the Garden Cycle, free at their site with registration.

And speaking of weather information, Weather Underground provides weather data summaries for local data. Each day’s actual and average minimum and maximum temperatures and precipitation are shown in a printable monthly calendar format. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, Agrimet provides extensive historical weather information which includes what appears to be every measurable weather phenomenon known to man! This is provided in a space delimited format, ready to copy into Excel, convert to columns and sort in whatever way suits your needs.

Ah, Excel. I use this program to track seed orders, seeding, germination and weather. Kathy, at Cold Climate Gardens, suggests using a spreadsheet for the catalog comparison shopping ritual, finding the best price, factoring in shipping etc. Excel is also useful for drawing up a plot plan, though some creativity is required for irregularly shaped plots.

If one is not inclined to use a spreadsheet many garden planning programs are available with a range of prices. Garden Manager, Garden Organizer Deluxe and My Garden Journal are a few. Though I have not used these the descriptions are very tempting.

The variety of resources available for garden planning gives the gardener more choices than a few years ago. Good record keeping makes for a better garden and finding a way that suits your particular style makes the task easier and maybe even fun!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Spring tonic

The classic spring tonic is a collection of bitter greens and herbs selected for their purifying characteristics. Stewed together, the unappetizing result is reputed to cleanse and invigorate the blood, supposedly thick and flaccid after months of inactivity.

Whatever. To my mind planting greens is the ultimate tonic. Five lettuces, two cresses and two mâches; these are the first seeds I’m planting this late winter and they will provide seedlings for my early spring garden. The very act of planting provides a wakeup call after a long winter’s nap.

The routine in itself is therapeutic. I sterilize all the containers in chlorine bleach solution and lay them out to dry. I then turn my attention to the seedling mix. In past years I used peat moss in this mix. But last year I became a coir dust devotee. Coir dust, often referred to as simply coir, is far superior to peat in all respects. It is renewable, pH neutral and is readily wetted. Peat always seemed almost hydrophobic, a bad quality in a seed starting mix! A coir brick magically absorbs water and turns into a fluffy planting medium.

Coir is a byproduct obtained from the processing of coconut shells to extract coir fiber. Once considered a problem to dispose of, the coir dust is now used in many agricultural applications, including peat substitutes and coir pots.

My starting mix is roughly equal amounts of coir, vermiculite and perlite. This is a sterile non-nutritive mix, light enough to allow tiny germinating seedlings to push through and free of soil contaminants.

After planting I put some kind of clear plastic dome on the flats and place on a heat mat. The dome serves to retain heat and keep humidity high. This little microenvironment is conducive to germination but must be watched carefully. As soon as seedlings appear I remove the dome to increase air circulation and discourage damping off.

Once I’ve planted I begin my annual waiting dance. Each morning I check for germination. Never mind that the seeds were planted only one day earlier. I have even resorted to using a hand lens to spot germination still not visible to the naked eye. I only hope no one comes into the greenhouse to find me in the middle of this microscopic examination.

But I really can’t help myself. Germination is a small miracle. I never tire of watching the annual affirmation. It renews me and gives me a little nudge toward resuming garden activities. My spring tonic indeed. And it works every time.

My greens roll call:

Red Sails Lettuce
Simpson Elite Lettuce
Redina Lettuce
Green Ice Lettuce
New Red Fire Lettuce
Upland Cress
Broadleaf Cress
Bistro Mâche
Piedmont Mâche