Purchasing Seeds for Container Gardening

Another beautiful Saturday and we couldn’t stand to stay inside. We also happened to run out of coffee so instead of just going to the store to buy new beans, we went out for breakfast. Yay!

Since we were already out and since we hadn’t purchased any seeds yet, we decided to visit the coolest hardware store on the planet, Blackhawk Hardware (I didn’t get paid to say that, I just love the store). It’s probably not the cheapest place, but at least it’s locally owned with friendly, helpful workers who can point lost puppies in the right direction. Plus, they carry lots of heirloom varieties and no GMO seeds.

Upon reaching the seed aisle, after the fast-panting and tail-wagging subsided, we looked at all the vegetable seeds and chose the ones that would work best for us. I really wanted to buy the weirdest stuff like kohlrabi, amaranth, bok choy, and multi-colored beans but I was convinced to stick with what we actually eat the most often. Sigh, it’s good advice but not nearly as fun.

Here’s what we ended up with:

PEPPER chile, Early Jalapeno, Capsicum annuum
We buy jalapenos all the time for use in soups, salsa, and guacamole and we always have to buy too many at Trader Joe’s. We’ll probably just have one plant and use the leftovers to make hot pepper jelly to eat with cheese and crackers. Mmm.

TOMATO bush, Better Bush, Lycopersicon lycopersicum (hybrid)
This was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that tomatoes from the store are just gross. They’ve been genetically modified to withstand long bumpy rides across the country and to be the same size (huge) and same color (orangey red). I’ll probably sneak back to the store and buy three more varieties because I like tomatoes so much.

RADISH, Easter Egg Blend, Raphanus sativus
Totally succumbed to the drawing of purple, white, pink and red radishes on the packet. Radishes with a little bit of salt are like heaven to me. These will be eaten as a snack at work every day that they are available.

PEPPER bell, Jewel-Toned Bell Peppers
Bell peppers cost $4 each at Harris Teeter. Nuff said.

LETTUCE leaf, Salad Bowl Blend, Lactuca sativa
The lettuce we buy always gets slimy before we have a chance to eat it all. I hope this will particular mix will work as a cut and come again plant so we have lettuce all season long!

CARROT, Carnival Blend, Daucus carota sativus
Again, the yellow, pink, white, purple and orange carrots on the packet made me do it. I’m not sure how well these will do in a container but I’m willing to give it a whirl for pink and purple carrots.

CUCUMBER, Spacemaster, Cucumis sativus
“Spacemaster is the solution!” I will keep my cukes in their own container so they don’t overrun my garden and harvest small guys to make pickles and eat the others raw with my radish snack.

SQUASH Summer, Black Beauty Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo
I wasn’t originally going to get zucchinis but the packet said, “this highly productive bush type plant takes up little garden space” and I’m a trusting person.

PARSNIP, All American, Pastinaca sativa
I think parsnips are underrated. I like them best in chicken soup with carrots, but I also plan to mash or fry them up with other root vegetables like rutabagas, beets, and potatoes. Why not?

BRUSSELS SPROUTS, Long Island Improved, Brassica oleracea (Gemmifera group)
I couldn’t resist! I don’t even know if this is possible. I just love brussels sprouts so much that I had to try it. If I can get one stalk with a handful of little sprouts I’ll have succeeded. I want everyone in the world to love brussels sprouts as much as I do and I am on a mini-mission to convince the world that brussels are the best. That should be a bumper sticker.

One question remains: did we bite off more than we can chew? I haven’t even started planning the herb/edible flower portion of the garden. Eek.

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Frugal Gardening Tips: Recycled Containers, Water Conservation, & Natural Insect Repellant

I’ve been doing a lot of aggressive reading lately. Reading becomes a sport when you check out too many books at once from the library. Trigger happy and manic, I reserved all these gardening books in about 2 minutes, not bothering to think, “Alex, is there really enough time to read all these books before they start costing you a precious $0.25/day/book?”

Now, faced with a looming deadline, I can’t afford to waste any time leisurely meandering my way through my stack of pretty books. If I put as much energy into exercising as I do into reading, I might be a really good athlete instead of someone who is overly educated on very specific topics like how to make your own worm poop. But believe you me, that information is going to come in handy soon and the ability to run for longer than a minute–well, that could be handy too… Moving on!

I did finish You Grow Girl and it’s as I feared: I love it. I love everything about it. If I were to write a book on gardening, it would be this book. If I could live inside a gardening book, I would nestle between the section on growing edible flowers and the entire chapter on how to combat evil, nasty bugs and diseases. And although it is clearly written for the female audience, I do believe men would find it helpful too. Jordan may want to skip the chapter on sewing a gardening tool belt, but otherwise it’s got amazing bits of information on every single page.

Here are some things I learned that I never knew before:

  • You can use pretty much anything as a container for seed starting and growing.
    When I first started this project, I thought I would need to buy lots and lots of expensive containers and gardening gear. That is not true! I have begun to collect pretty much anything that can have holes drilled into it. My seeds will be started in toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, yogurt cups, butter containers; tin cans, plastic buckets, trash cans, old tupperware–all kinds of junk will be repurposed into suitable housing for my veggies and herbs!
  • You don’t have to buy an expensive rain barrel to conserve and collect water.
    You can buy a rain barrel if you want to, or you can make your own. However, there are lots of ways to collect water throughout the day. We can save the water from our showers and sinks that runs while we wait for it to warm up, rain water can be collected in buckets placed on the porch, we can reuse our pasta, leftover tea, and laundry water. Who says our water bill has to be high this summer? I laugh in the face of the water company!
  • You can combat insects and woodland creatures naturally without expensive and/or environmentally harmful sprays.
    You can use companion planting, i.e. planting something that attracts good bugs that will eat bad bugs next to a plant that attracts bad bugs, to go on the offense for you; you can lay down copper pennies to keep slugs and snails at bay (I feel slightly bad about this one because the copper shocks the poor guys); and burning frankincense, yes the stuff that the wise men brought to baby Jesus, discourages birds, squirrels, and cats from taking up residence in the garden.

FYI, I am not looking forward to plotting ways to murder the bad insects that will inevitably invade my sweet garden. I already know that I will be a ruthless killer. And isn’t gardening supposed to be peaceful?

Plant Zones Moving North, Charlotte NC Just Barely Remains in Zone 7b

One of my first steps before planning my garden is to determine my city’s plant/gardening zone so I know what plants and vegetables are mostly likely to survive on my deck. Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture website and zone map doesn’t take into account my likely irresponsibility, whining, and fear of bugs–this is strictly a map of temperatures.

The big news is that the gardening map was redrawn for the first time since 1990 and on the new map many areas are now in warmer zones reflecting warmer average lows and earlier springs. Charlotte, NC is still in zone 7b (low 5-10°F) but it is right on the border of zone 8a (10-15°F) and this winter the Queen City has been masquerading as a 10a (30-35°F). Not that I’m complaining about the warm winter, but just choose a zone and stay in it already.

An aside: All this talk of winter makes me remember summer. I really don’t know how I will survive gardening in the middle of the summer. I might die. I really might.

The other interesting part of this map is that it actually factors in global climate change (obviously), pollution sources and plant stressors like acid rain, and all the advances in plant technology, of which I am ill-informed.

You can find your gardening zone and the gardening zones of your friends by visiting this link:
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

I suggest spending some time learning about the various zones and then using your obscure knowledge to greet your long-distance friends and family with, “Wow, yeah, the weather’s been brutal in zone 6a this winter, you must really be wishing you live in zone 10b right about now.” Or, “You know, it’s been pretty mild in zone 7b until our zone decided to act like a 4b. Yuck.”