Try a Class at Craftsy; Free Giveaway!

If you haven’t yet taken a classinstructorbadge at Craftsy.com, now is your chance. It’s the perfect time to learn some new gardening techniques. And, I am collaborating with them on a free class giveaway!

Here’s the video trailer for my class, “The Extended Harvest: Vegetables for Every Season.” We’ll be giving a free class to one lucky entrant who checks out Craftsy between now and Friday, March 13.

To enter the contest, follow the link to my Craftsy class and create a free account. That’s all you need to do to be entered. While you’re on the site, browse around. You’ll find a number of short, free classes that will give you a great idea of how to use Craftsy.

I appreciated the professional, thorough approach the Craftsy folks took in helping me create this class.

Shoot1

Shooting a scene for my Craftsy class, “The Extended Harvest.”

We went through an extensive process to plan and organize the class material. Then, a producer, videographer and other staff came to film in my garden — three intense days of work that produced more than 30 hours of video!

They edited it down to 7 lesson, each about 20 minutes, for a total class that’s just over two hours.

Chopping compost

Chopping compost for the Craftsy class lesson on soil fertility.

You can watch one lesson at a time, or just parts of each, picking up where you left off. Re-watch any or all of it, as many times as you want. You can take notes, ask questions, and share with the class your own gardening projects. It’s easy and interactive.

There’s a gardening blog, and you can find lots of other resources too, like this free guide to container gardening.

I’ve become a fan of other classes, too, learning new gardening tips from other instructors, delving into a photography class, and trying an art class on drawing. There are many other topics, too, from knitting to cake decorating — a wide array of crafts and skills.

These online classes at Craftsy help you keep learning for life and mastering new skills. That certainly sounds like a formula for a healthy mind and a great garden!

Pak Choi: Winter Joy

Finally, the pak choi is ready to harvest.

Pak choi heads

Three heads of pak choi make a generous side dish with mushrooms in the wok.

With a sharp knife, I quickly cut the loose head of green leaves with their snowy white stems. I will leave the base of the stem and the root in place inside the cold frame. They often sprout new leaves when cut this time of year.

Pak choi (aka bok choy, or Chinese cabbage) is an amazingly simple plant, and yet it’s a bit elusive to grow. If started in the wrong season, or exposed to a bout of unseasonable weather, it will bolt (go to seed) almost immediately, providing you with only a tiny, if still edible, plant. It’s shallow-rooted, so if you cultivate around it too much, or let the weeds get too close, it will perform badly.

But when it is happy, the gardener is happy. The spoon-shaped leaves seem to double in size overnight as the late winter weather improves. An impressive volume of small leaves sprout from its center.

bok choy

There are a number of chois, and I seem to have better luck with the loose-headed, white stemmed variety. The cupped leaves grow to 8 inches long and half as wide. They fan out to give space to the tender new shoots. Their white stalks take on the shape and manner of celery, although not as thick. When cut, the leaves are tender and the stalks are crisp. Everything — including the flower head, if it happens to send one up before you get to it — is edible.

Yesterday I harvested the first full heads (we’d been swiping leaves for salad). Some had made it into the ground as doubles, with two seedlings close together, so I took pains to leave behind the second, smaller plant when cutting the larger one.

bok choy in November

The pak choi was a modest row behind the lettuce in the cold frame in late November, when we had our first snow. The lettuce became a Thanksgiving salad. The pak choi wasn’t bothered by the cold, but didn’t start gaining size until mid-January.

Three plants were enough for a succulent side dish with shiitake mushrooms in the wok. The pliable, earthy mushrooms were a wonderful counterpoint to the crisp, juicy pak choi stems and the mildly bitter, mustardy leaves.

Bok choy in February

A large head of pak choi has been cut away from the smaller plant on the left, which will mature quickly. Another pair of chois are in the center of the row. The lettuce in front has begun to grow back from its roots, which were left in the ground when cutting salad for Thanksgiving dinner.

February is the perfect time to harvest this overwintered vegetable. It is also a great time to plant another crop. With consistent weather conditions and water, a crop planted now will yield more stir-fry dishes in 6 to 8 weeks, and be out of the garden by May. It’s a good crop to put into the tomato bed before the tomatoes.

Grow & Build Ideas, Steampunk: Garden Show Images

Crowds will pack the convention center in downtown Seattle this weekend for the final two days of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

I spent the day there yesterday, and was inspired by reuse of old stuff, some interesting new ways to grow plants, a “steampunk” inspired show garden, and seeing old friends.

Here are some images from my visit.

Very nice design for a key season extension device from the local builders at Cedar Cold Frames.

Very nice design for a key season extension device from the local builders at Cedar Cold Frames.

Edible Seattle

The Edible Seattle folks are handing out scads of free magazines. And it happens to be the Nov/Dec issue, which has my article on seed saving!

GPP Wild Ginger

One of the Great Plant Picks, um, picks this year is Splendid Wild Ginger. Get it.

Reuse Bench

Got a shipping pallet sitting around? Ballard Reuse could show you how to turn it into a cool bench.

Blue bike

An old bike painted a bright color with plants added in strategic places would make a whimsical piece of garden art.

White Bike

And another bike/planter.

Foody

This is the Foody Garden Tower, which is how we will all grow veggies in the garden of the future.

David Hutchison in his element, at the Flora & Fauna Books booth. Lots of unusual finds there.

David Hutchison in his element, at the Flora & Fauna Books booth. Lots of unusual finds there.

Steampunk garden

The “Romance of Steampunk” show garden evoked another era.

Windows

Old windows repurposed into a shed — probably the easiest way to build a cold frame.

Reuse Ladder

This herb ladder from Ballard Reuse demonstrates an easy project with some old wood.

 

Five Tips for Successful Indoor Seed Starting

Now is the time to start early vegetable crops indoors as we wait for more soil warmth and longer days. I’ve been tinkering with my seeds and equipment in the basement, and am starting on my second tray of seedlings.

Here are five tips to help get better seed-starting success indoors:

1. Use fresh seed. This year I did a test. Cleaning out my seed boxes, I found some Little Gem romaine lettuce seed from 2011. It’s seed from my own plants, and I’ve been growing it each year. But lettuce seed is delicate, and often lasts only 1 to 2 years.

I am storing it in the dark, in glass jars with a desiccant pack, in my basement, which keeps a pretty consistent temperature in the mid-50s F. Still, it’s old enough that I should probably toss it into the compost.

But I also had some Little Gem seeds from last year. I decided to plant some from each batch in starter cells in my indoor seed-starting station. My approach is to pinch 5 or 6 seeds from the packet for each cell, then thin them if too many come up.

New and old seed
Here’s an example of new and old seed. Lettuce from 2011 in front did not come up nearly as
thickly as the 2014 lettuce in back.

As you can see in the photo, the 2011 seeds in front germinated at a much lower rate than the new seeds in back. Another thing that happens with old seed is that it is not as vigorous as new seed, so the plants themselves might not be as large or robust.

Time for me to say goodbye to that 2011 seed.

Some seeds, like beans, have a high germination rate even after many years. It does depend on how you store them. You can do a germination test to see if seeds are still viable.

2. Use bottom heat. Some seeds, like lettuce, will sprout in 40 degree F. soil. But that’s not the optimum sprouting temperature. For lettuce, that’s closer to 60. The soil in indoor seed trays will be cooler than the room they’re in. So bringing the soil temp up will cause faster, more robust sprouting.

You do that with a germination heat mat. The electric mat is set up to be water-resistant, so careful watering won’t damage it or cause electrical problems. It will generally heat the soil to about 10 degrees above the ambient room temperature.

To control the soil temperature even more, plug the heat mat into a thermostat. The heat-mat thermostat comes with a soil probe that tells it what the soil temperature is. When you set the thermostat for a particular temperature, like 68, it will monitor the soil and keep the heat mat working to maintain that temp.

3. Use supplemental light. Our Seattle days are getting longer, but still pretty short, and sometimes a dim grey when there’s heavy cloud cover and rain. Supplemental light will give your seedlings another good start.

You don’t need light until the seeds pop out of the ground. Once they’re up, they can be moved off the heat mat and put under light. The light should be 4-6 inches from the plants, and moved up as they grow. Use a cool light, like fluorescent, to not add heat to the plants. Heat from lights can burn or dry out the tender young plants, or at the very least dry out the soil too fast.

I use regular fluorescents, but there are “grow light” types that are much more expensive but will boost plant growth.

4. Keep a close watch. When seeds are sprouting, the soil needs to be kept evenly moist, but not wet. Once the seedlings are up, they need to be thinned, the plastic cover removed as they get tall enough to hit it, and the lights set in the proper position. And regular water is essential.

That means a visit at least once a day to your seed-starting station in order to maximize the process.

5. Don’t over do it. Too many starts too quickly will overwhelm your seed-starting system, and also your available time.

I often start one tray of salad greens in mid-January and grow them to 2 sets of true leaves, then sprout my second tray of them 3-4 weeks later (mid-February), and throw in some brassicas (kale, broccoli, etc.). I will be setting out the first tray of greens into a cold frame or cloche by the time the second one needs the light.

In another 3-4 weeks after that (early March), I’ll sprout a tray of warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers.

Starting seeds indoors gives my garden an early start. It also scratches the itch I get as the days start to get warmer and longer early in the year.

Seed starting station

Here is my seed-starting station: lights on a timer, seedlings on top shelf, sprouting seed tray on heat mat (with thermostat) on the lower shelf. All electrical plugged into a power strip.

Cultivate Community: Share Seeds

Handling garden seeds always fertilizes my mind. The crops virtually spring up, even before they’ve been sown. And it’s almost as energizing to pass a handful of seeds to another gardener.

So this weekend I expect sprouts to come out of my ears and roots to grow from my fingertips as I help to host “Seed Swap!” It’s the second annual open trading day sponsored by the King County Seed Lending Library.KCSLLlogo

We’ll be sharing seeds and cultivating community on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1-4 p.m. at the Phinney Center in Northwest Seattle. The free event is in conjunction with National Seed Swap Day.

For me, it’s just an extension of a practice we’ve been doing for years with a group of gardening friends.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we thumb the seed catalogs, share our own seeds, and decide what to order and grow this year.

We return to our own gardens with the wisdom of our friends’ results, along with a few of their shared seeds. And when we collectively order a new variety, it comes with the feeling that we’re plowing a new furrow together, each in our own garden, but somehow with everyone’s hands on the hoe.

Go Hawks!Our event will inaugurate the newest branch of the seed library: the Phinney Neighborhood Association! The PNA has agreed to host the seed collection in its popular Tool Library. Starting in February, seeds can be “checked out” during the Tool Library’s regular hours.

Workshops will offer tips on saving and cleaning seeds. Speakers include KCSLL Co-director and Urban Food Warrior Caitlin Moore, author and educator Lisa Taylor (Your Farm in the City, Maritime Northwest Garden Guide), and me. There will be a tour of the tool and seed library, and tables with greening groups there to visit.

So this Saturday, come up to Phinney Ridge and bring your seeds and empty seed packets. If you don’t have seeds, just bring an open mind about trying something new. Someone’s sure to inspire you with a smattering of seeds.

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