Sweet Promises from Fruit in My Edible Yard

Vegetables aren’t the only edibles in my yard. I enjoy growing a variety of fruit, from berries to rhizomatous perennials to fruit trees. Their cheery buds and flowers fill my garden with sweet promises of desserts, jams, ciders and fruit salads to come. Here are more images from the first days of spring.

Sigerrabe grape bud

The Siegerrebe wine grape is breaking bud.

Strawberries in flower

Strawberries are forming flowers and new leaves close to the crown.

Blueberry buds

Buds on the blueberry bushes, with spring ephemeral flowers behind.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is sending out curly new leaves and showing bright red on its fast-growing stalks.

Bartlett Pear

Bartlett pear in flower.

Pear buds

Abundant buds on the Liberty apple tree.

Pear floweres

Exuberant flowers on a pear tree.

pineapple guava

New growth on the pineapple guava, which last year produced two bushels of its tart fruit!

Raspberries

Lush new leaf growth on the raspberry canes.

Plum flowers

Delicate flowers on the Italian plum tree.

Breaking Bud at Spring Equinox

I took a photo break from gardening on yesterday’s sunny Saturday afternoon, the first full day of spring. Here are images from my garden.

Broad Windsor fava flower

Broad Windsor fava beans are just a foot tall, but starting to flower.

Kosmic Kale

A new perennial kale, called Kosmic, was recently introduced by Oregon’s Log House Plants. I like its variegated leaves.

Chablis carrot

Overwintered Chablis carrots are finally starting to sprout some new leaves.

Lacinato kale in flower

Lacinato kale is in full flower. Leave have turned bitter, but I’ll let it stand to feed the early pollinators.

Mustard sprouts

The mustards Ruby Streak and Green Wave sprouted thickly.

Sprouts in the cloche

The spring cloche, planted two weeks ago, shows crammed rows of sprouts, and a couple of bare spots where the seed (probably too old) did not germinate. That’s an opportunity for a second wave of planting.

Bok choy starts

Newly planted bok choy seedlings are being protected under a grid of green fiberglass hoops covered in floating row cover.

Open cold frame

The last of the winter lettuce heads are ready to cut. This cold frame, which has a swiveling front panel, is wide-open for the warm weather.

Lettuce lineup

More mature lettuce from winter. This lineup includes, l-r, Red Velvet, Little Gem, Bronze Arrowhead and Simpson.

Giant Winter Spinach

Giant Winter spinach, also a holdover from the cloche, is ready for cutting, along with its arugula neighbor.

Garlic

Garlic always stands so cheerily above its mulch this time of year.

Champion collard in flower.

Champion collard in flower.

A new asparagus crown is sending up its slender, second-year shoots.

A new asparagus crown is sending up its slender, second-year shoots.

Osaka Purple Mustard

Osaka Purple mustard has been spicing up our salads all spring. Now the leaves are almost too hot.

Purple Sprouting broccoli

It is indeed sprouting season, and the shoots of overwintered Purple Sprouting broccoli is on our table nearly every day.

Sugar Ann snap peas

Sugar Ann snap peas on compact, overwintered vines are still in the cold frame, and already producing.

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!

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.

Plan and Prep: 5 Thoughts for Saturday’s Talk

Getting started on an edible year is so simple, really. Here are five key thoughts from my upcoming talk this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Swansons Nursery, “Plan and Prep for Your Edible Garden.” Hope you can join me!

Begin to dream

Get outdoors

Protect your babiesGrow through seven seasonseat great food

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