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Archive for the ‘container garden research’ Category

On Saturday morning, I attended the small-space gardening class at Prairie Gardens.  It was interesting, though having done a lot of reading/research on the subject of container gardening, and having done it for 2 years, not a lot of the information was brand new to me.  But it’s always good to have your facts reinforced.

After the class, I thought I’d ask the instructor about my non-sprouting seeds.  Basically he said that because the seeds were a year old, the germination rate wasn’t going to be as high.  He suggested starting with new seeds (bought this year), telling me that it wasn’t too late to start them, even the tomatoes.

So later that afternoon, Husband and I went and did a little shopping and he helped me pick out some new seeds.  I got a 20 cent package of cucumber seeds (Muncher variety– isn’t that a great name?!) and two envelopes of Burpee tomato seeds.  We decided to try the Red Lightning (stripy skin) and the Fourth of July (very early fruit) varieties.  When I was considering an heirloom rainbow packet, Husband wisely pointed out that given our growing conditions, we might have better luck with hybrid varieties.  So both of the ones we got are hybrids.  And keeping with container-gardening recommendations, the fruits are smaller than your big beefsteak varieties.  I am rebelling against the rule of using determinate plants, though!  I like my tomatoes to keep coming!

Also very exciting, I decided to try nasturtiums.  I am fascinated by the idea of edible flowers, and I got a packet of seeds for just 20 cents.  Not a big investment for an experiment!  Those seeds are *huge*!  Almost the size of peas!  They look like little light brown bugs all curled up.

So yesterday, I spent some time in Husband’s office doing some re-seeding.  I re-used the plastic cups from before, and stirred up the soil before planting my new seeds.  I highly doubt that any of the previous seeds will up and sprout after so long.  I planted 3 cups (with three seeds each) for each of the tomatoes and cucumbers, and I planted 3 cups (with 2 seeds each) for the nasturtiums.

In other sprout news, I have 2 basil sprouts, 2 chive sprouts, and 1 parsley sprout.  I hope they survive!!  The Early Girl sprout is looking happy and cheerful and is getting its true leaves.  Very exciting.

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If you’re local, I’m going to be heading to the container gardening seminar that is offered (for free!) at Prairie Gardens.  I’ve pasted the information from their website below…  Let me know if you’ll go, too!  Registration is online at their website.  

Saturday, March 14
Small Space Vegetable Gardening
With Judie Fair & Jim Wuersch

Not a lot of space for a garden? Prefer to garden in containers? Judie and Jim will give you suggestions for gardening in a limited space. They will advise you on the best varieties for container gardening, talk about soil preparation, fertilization, and other topics in this seminar.

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I’m not very good at following through with planning ahead for the garden.  I get really excited about it all, but I don’t do any planting research enough ahead of time and when I get to the planting part, there are things I find out that I would have liked to have done.  This year, I’m trying to change that.

So, in years past, after planting my peppers (the first year) and tomatoes (the first and second years) I found out that calcium is a good fertilizer for them, and an easy way to boost the calcium content in the soil is to add crushed eggshells to the planting hole.  So after New Year’s, when we got back from visiting family for the holidays, I started collecting the shells of all the eggs I use.

eggshells_small-1

I couldn’t tell you how many there are right now, but every time I crack some eggs for baking or some other yumminess, I rinse out the shells and put them into an empty ice cream bucket we had on hand.  It also saves me from having to wonder whether I should be putting the shells down the garbage disposal or into the trashcan 😉

So when it comes time to plant, I will crush all the dried eggshells and sprinkle them in the bottom of each of my tomato plants’ holes before I stick the seedlings in.

I found out about the eggshell thing originally on pg. 138 of my copy of The Bountiful Container (see the Reference Books tab for more info), and I also found a couple useful articles when I googled “eggshells as fertilizer”, including this one:

http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/nyerges44.html

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Last year, for some reason, I had trouble finding this information.  But this year I found a handy-dandy map:

http://www.isws.illinois.edu/atmos/statecli/Frost/last_spring_frost.htm

I’m looking forward to getting home to start calculating when to plant my seeds!

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Well, we cut our last cucumber last night.  It may have had some time left on the vine still, but it needed to get cut…  The second (and last) cucumber plant contracted something nasty…  I’m pretty sure that it had powdery mildew* and then last night I noticed something else:

I have *no idea* what this might be.  It looks like little mold spores or something like that.  So I decided that the cucumbers needed to get cut down before this started to spread to my other plants.  If anyone knows what this is (is it just a later stage of powdery mildew??), please leave a comment.  One other thing that I wonder is whether this has contaminated the soil in the pot.  Can I use it later or should I throw it out?

 

I set aside time this morning to do some work on the balcony.  First I chopped down all of the cucumber vines and bagged them up.  While I was out there, I trimmed any suckers that were growing on the tomato plants– and discovered that some of my tomatoes were suffering from blossom-end rot:

::sigh::  I cut four tomatoes that had this problem and hopefully I can prevent it in the future.  According to the two reference books I have (see the new tab above), blossom-end rot can be prevented by even watering: making sure that the soil never gets completely dry between waterings.  It is thought to be caused by calcium deficiency, so next spring I am going to try to remember to put some crushed eggshells in the bottom of my planting holes…  

 

There were still chive plants in the pot where the first cucumber formerly grew (no black things on this plant before it bit the dust).  I decided to try transplanting them to smaller pots just in case I try to use the big pot again (I’d like to replant lettuce and/or peas when the weather gets cooler in the fall!)

 

*Before I found the nasty black things last night, I was going to try to treat the powdery mildew according to the directions I found in The Bountiful Container (pg. 76):

“Cut off the most severely affected leaves, and spray the rest with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of water.  You may have to repeat sprayings every few days to keep the problem from spreading.”

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or, “A brief photo tutorial on hand-pollinating cucumbers.”

A bit of introduction:

Last year, I was having problems with getting cucumbers to grow. I’d see the flowers, I’d see the baby cucumbers (which I later learned were female flowers, more about that below), and then the baby cucumbers would shrivel. I posted about it in the “Shriveling cucumbers” post, which has consistently been the top-viewed post on this blog. Between the suggestions of a friend of mine and people commenting on that post, I learned that my cucumbers weren’t being pollinated properly. This is probably because my garden is about 4 stories above ground where bees are unlikely to fly (why fly 4 stories up when there are all kinds of nice flowers right near the ground? 🙂 ) People with traditional in-ground gardens or container gardens at ground level are much less likely to have problems with their cucumbers remaining unpollinated. I had some success with hand-pollination last year (and got all organized with red and blue strips of t-shirt fabric!), but I never actually described my technique. For the sake of completeness, I decided to write this post.

First, you need to know the difference between a male flower and a female flower on the cucumber vines.

Male flowers look just like little yellow flowers with pollen-holders in their centers:

side-view of a male cucumber flower

“center” view of a male cucumber flower

Female flowers are also yellow, but are easily distinguished from male flowers by the mini-cucumber that is right behind the base of the petals. The center of a female flower is also different from the male flowers. Instead of containing pollen-holders, the female flower has a pollen-receptor.

side view of a female cucumber flower. note the miniature “pre-cucumber” just behind the base of the petals.

“center” view of a female cucumber flower

I use a small, soft paintbrush to pollinate my cucumbers. I gently grasp a male flower at its (his?) base and swirl the paintbrush around to collect pollen.

collecting pollen from male flower on soft paintbrush

If you’ve done it right, you’ll see a dusting of yellow pollen on the bristles of the paintbrush. To deliver the pollen to the female flower, gently grasp at its (her?) base and brush the pollen into the center of the female flower.

delivering pollen to female cucumber flower

It’s also worth re-posting some of the links that were given to me in comments of the “Shriveling cucumbers” post, because they were really helpful:

http://ask.metafilter.com/65155/Cucumber-woes

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/story.php?S_No=991&storyType=garden

I found another method for hand-pollination on this blog:

http://gardeningwithwilson.com/2008/02/23/pollinating-cucumber-flowers/

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I’ve been thinking about the strawberry flowers recently and wondering how the flower turns into the fruit.  Tomatoes are self-pollinating.  With my cucumbers, I had to pollinate the female flowers with pollen from the male flowers by hand (see here and here and especially the comments here).  So I started to wonder about the strawberries.  I’m pretty desperate for them to be a success, since I’m not so convinced of the success of some of the other plants out there.

This morning I Googled “strawberry pollination” and got quite a few hits.  One I especially liked was this site,  which talks about how strawberries are basically self-pollinating, but need help doing it.  This other site discusses growing strawberries in a greenhouse, and how they have found bumblebees to be the best solution to their pollination needs.

Now I love being on the 3rd floor (fourth if you consider that the garage is really the ground level) of my building– no rabbits, no squirrels, no mice, etc.  However, it seems that we’re too high for most insects that do any sort of substantial pollination work.  We have plenty of mosquitoes and spiders to catch them, and occasionally we have wasps, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bee this high.  And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work to buy some bumblebees to keep out on our tiny balcony 😉  So back to hand-pollination it is!  I went out with a paint brush this morning and just sort of swiped around each flower to disturb the pollen and get it on the pistils (I hope I used that botany terminology correctly!).  The nice thing is that I don’t have to worry about male and female flowers with strawberries.

I’ll update about how the hand-pollination works!

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It’s been a while since I gave the tomatoes the spotlight… I meant to post earlier this week, but it’s been a crazy one, and so I’ll post my pictures from Monday today.

They’re growing well, it seems. Tiny Tim is the smallest… I was a little surprised at how obviously smaller the sprout is than its fellow sproutlings. I know that the full-grown plant is supposed to be pretty small, but I guess I didn’t connect the fact that the sprout would also be much smaller.

The Early Girls are tall and straight. But for a while now they’ve had their first set of true leaves but haven’t done much about a second. I hope that they’ll grow soon… I’m starting to think that they’re getting big enough to plant outside.

Yellow Pear is a crazy beast! It already has two nice big sets of true leaves, and beginnings of a third. (This isn’t a great picture, unfortunately, but it’s what I’ve got.)  I think that this one will have to get planted in the big pot soon.  The really long stem bothers me a bit; I don’t want leggy plants!  I do remember reading that when I replant my seedlings, I should bury one or two sets of leaves to force the roots to be stronger/deeper.  So maybe it will still be okay!

We’ll probably bring the sprouts home next week and I’ll try to start hardening them off…  Or maybe I’ll just bring the Yellow Pear, and leave the others to grow more in the sunny window.  Any advice?

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted, considering it’s spring and things are growing in my garden!  Here’s a list of things I plan to do in the near future:

  • photo update of the garden & tomato seedlings
  • write a “Strawberries” page (tab)
  • write a “Peas” page (tab)
  • start looking into thinning the lettuce sprouts
The cucumber seeds haven’t sprouted as of this morning, and neither have the chives :-/  Hopefully they’ll sprout soon!!
and oh yeah, the polka dot dress is coming along.  I got it all put together by the 17th of this month, and when my mom came, she helped me alter it a bit (I was getting hip wings! but I think they’re gone now) and mark where the snaps will go.  I still have a lot of hand work to do before it’s finished:  sewing the snaps on, then the buttons; finishing the hem; finding a belt…  

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Last night my husband and I went to Prairie Gardens and bought seeds!
seeds_31March2008
We also got me an early birthday present of a trowel and gardening gloves. 🙂 I’m so excited! The photo is probably too small for anyone to actually make out the varieties, so I’ll describe our choices below.
Tomatoes:
I decided to actually try my hand at starting seeds for the tomatoes this year. I probably should have started them earlier, but springs are pretty chilly here, so I think that it’ll still be okay. I chose Yellow Pear (second from right), Tiny Tim (third from right), and Early Girl (second from left) varieties. We grew Early Girl last year from transplants (from Prairie Gardens) and were really pleased with the results. We’ll have two pots of those, and one pot of the Yellow Pear tomatoes, which are cherry-tomato- or grape-tomato-sized. I got the Tiny Tim variety as sort of an experiment. Apparently the plants grow to only about a foot to a foot and a half in height, so I’m going to try them in a smaller pot.
Lettuces:
I chose some Black Seeded Simpson (far left) because it came fairly highly recommended by The Bountiful Container. I also chose a Mesclun mix (third from left) of Arugula, Red Russian, Endive, Chervil, Raddichio, Red Romaine, Bibb, and Salad Bowl Green. I’m going to direct-sow these seeds around the edges of the pots where the tomatoes will eventually be planted. Since lettuces are cool-weather growers, they’ll probably be finishing when the tomatoes actually take off. I plan to try a late summer sowing of lettuce so that I have fall lettuce, too.
Peas:
We decided to try the Green Arrow (far right) variety of peas this year. I can’t remember now exactly how we chose this variety, but I think it had something to do with the fact that it is a dwarf variety, so better for pots. I will direct-sow some pea seeds in an outdoor container.
I still plan to grow cucumbers (I’m going to try to have 2 pots of them this year, and plant fewer vines in each pot — 2 each?). And I’m definitely going to have chives!! I’m not sure whether we’ll have parsley and basil again. I would like to, but I’m not sure we have the pot-space. We did think about starting the cucumbers from seed, but decided that it’s an adventure enough to try the tomatoes this year, so we’ll try that another year. We’re planning to use my husband’s office window for starting seeds (I’ll be able to look in on them there every day), and he wasn’t too keen on having a gazillion little plants everywhere, which is another reason we’ll hold of on cukes from seed.
The plan is to try to plant the seeds tonight! 🙂

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