Budding Vegetables & Gardening Zen

You can only read so many books and web articles about vegetable gardening before you just have to sack up and do whatever is that you have been reading about. By reading and reading and reading, we ended up putting off transplanting for a really long time. Luckily, it hasn’t done any lasting harm to our plants. Check out the buds on the tomato, jalapeno, and bell pepper plants. I am woman! I make vegetable!

What’s that you say? You can’t see the buds? Well, they’re really small, OK?

Annnnnnyway, some form of procrastination leaked into the rest of our original planting schedule and temporarily poisoned our will to plant. I don’t know why we kept putting it off, but eventually we were reading packets that said to plant “2 to 4 weeks after temps reach 65 degrees” or some degree indicative of early springtime. It is so not early springtime anymore. But who cares, I say! I laugh in the face of seed packets! I am woman! I make–you get the point.

So last night when I got home from work, feeling a little tired, a little discouraged, a little envious of other organizations’ websites, whatever, I decided June 12 seemed like a perfect time to plant my early spring vegetables. You know, I just went for it. Who cares if it’s not radish season anymore according to some packet? It’s always radish season in my heart. So I got Jordan to drill some holes in some buckets, and we planted. Radishes. Lettuce. Zucchini. Cucumbers. Carrots. Just like that.

And I felt connected to Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest, as predicted in my cost benefit analysis of vegetable gardening. And I went inside feeling calm–respite gleaned by burying treasures and digging in dirt.

Vegetable Growing Tracking Chart

Having planted our first set of seeds two weeks ago, we have seen lots of growth from all three plants we started. I’m feeling a bit like Mother Earth right now when I see the little shoots folded over and busting out of the soil. We were just minding our own business last weekend and all of a sudden the seeds just popped up and started to exist, just like that! One of the tomato seedlings in each of the two cups at the bottom of the picture have already started to grow “true leaves.” Proud mama!

I think there are only two seeds that haven’t emerged out of the 15 we planted so our success rate so far is 86%. That’s a B in seed starting. Not too shabby for beginners. Holla.

I’ve also started tracking the process in an excel spreadsheet because I need all the information from the seed packets in one place. I can’t just expect to remember what I’m supposed to be doing for each individual plant on my own at this point. So I’ve divided the process into phases that seem to make sense.

Phase one is Planting and Germination. The planting columns include information about soil depth and planting date and a place to record when we actually planted the seeds. The germination section includes when to expect green shoots busting out of the soil, how many days it actually took to happen, and the actual date for future reference. So far, making this tracking chart has been one of the more fun tasks for me. That’s kind of sad. Moving on!

The next logical phase is Thinning and Transplanting. I’ve read conflicting accounts about thinning and transplanting and I have to say I’m a bit confused about this part of the process. I don’t think any of the seedlings are ready to be thinned or transplanted so I’m just not going to worry about it for now.

I think phase 3 will be Care which will include watering, fertilizing, and mulching rules. It might also need to include ways to kill bugs or a record of what went wrong if all of our plants die because they are attacked by evil bugs or diseases. Each plant deserves individualized attention in order for it to succeed in producing its fruit.

The next phase will be Harvest and the phase after that will probably be Preparing for Winter.

I bet there is a template somewhere out in gardening blog world and I need not have spent my entire morning building this spreadsheet. But what’s done is done! Does anyone out there have a notebook or spreadsheet filled with notes in order to track growth and organize information?

SproutRobot / AlexRobot

A friend recently told me about a new website that promises to help gardeners schedule when to plant plants based on zip codes/zones. Just like Ouch Pouch toe pads and Cubism, someone has gone and invented my invention before I had a chance to do it myself. Part of my overall plans in starting this blog, including but not limited to world domination, has been usurped by a website cleverly named SproutRobot.com.

Visit the website, put in your zip code, and the robot will populate a planting schedule based on your zone. Now, you can do this yourself by buying seeds, reading the packet’s directions and then organizing the seeds in order of their planting dates. But if that is two too many steps for you, Sprout Robot may be your answer. Once you create an account, you can check the vegetables that you are planning on growing and the robot will customize your planting schedule for you.

With every website (or really anything) that promises to solve all of your problems, there are always drawbacks. Some problems to start:

  1. I am pretty certain that the Robot promised to email me when I was supposed to start my tomatoes and bell peppers but I don’t have an email. (Come on, Robot! Automatic reminders that I don’t have to put in my calendar? Don’t fail me there!)
  2. The Robot doesn’t know about every single herb that I want to plant so I’ll still have to supplement my Robot generated schedule with my own herb planting schedule.

Besides the little issues listed above, I think it’s a helpful site and hopefully will only get better as time goes on. According to the site it is time to plant my tomatoes and bell peppers indoors! We’ll see how Jordan and I do with planting seeds–it can’t be that hard, right?

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.”

Vegetable Container Gardening 101

I woke up this morning and realized in a panic that I haven’t planned our container gardening schedule. And we have no supplies. And we can’t find a good online source to tell us exactly how and when to plant exactly what we want to eat. Now, it’s still January so I think we have plenty of time to get it together, but I fear that we should already be germinating little bean seeds in homemade egg carton planters. Sigh. Often I doubt Jordan’s and my ability to successfully grow a bounty of veggies and herbs based on several factors:

1) Neither of us really enjoy getting dirty. (Very early in our relationship Jordan remarked sincerely, “I’m so glad you aren’t outdoorsy!”)
2) We are both currently obsessed with other things, see About for more information.
3) We are both really bad at killing bugs.

However, we vow to conquer our fears of the dirt and creepy crawly things and to chronicle our successes and failures so that other sustainable lifestyle seekers can learn too!

My brother Chris is a green thumb and oh-so-generously gifted me two fruit plants for Christmas. I don’t think they will bear fruit any time soon but they truly represent the beginning of my food growing mission. Note the plant on the left with the droopy leaf. I believe it’s droopy because of 1) lack of water and 2) these tiny weird bugs that are happily thriving all around the leaves.

In an effort to destroy said bugs, I passionately sprayed them with some homemade household cleaner. They are still happily alive today. After examining the plant, I backed away and whined to Jordan, “Honey, will you throw away this plant for me?”

And so begins our adventure in vegetable container gardening.