Category Archives: Seeds & Seed Starting

2020 Garden All In!

2020 Garden

Homemade wind breaks

You are looking at a wind break born of a desperate attempt to save my beautiful, raised-from-seed, plants!

My 2020 gardening season did not start off well. In fact, in looking at this scene, you might be asking what my husband asked when he saw it.

“When did the gypsies get here?”

Droll as that is, and ugly as it is, this hand made wind break, billowing like a sail, has saved 17 tomato plants from early death! And these breaks were free, made from materials I already had on hand and had been using for years.

Wind break saves tomatoes

Tomato wind break in action.

Here’s what happened.

The day after I finally put all my overgrown tomatoes in the ground, Mother Nature treated us to constant wind velocities of 17 to 20 Miles Per Hour (MPH).

The next day was the same and I was watching the leaves on every single tomato dry up, burn  and drop off, a death sentence for any plant.

Early the next morning, in desperation, my “gypsy wind break” was installed.

It’s made of the queen sized sheets I sewed together to protect my blueberries from the birds. (Once you catch and kill a bird in netting, you probably won’t use it again.)

Okay so this wind break is not pretty but it does the job!

Wind break for tomatoes

Gypsy wind break saving my tomatoes

It would have looked a bit better if I could have attached it directly to the tomato trellis but the clips and clothespins were too small. So, I used the bamboo poles I’ve had for 25 years and attached the sheets to them. Eureka! A wind break was born.

But I didn’t stop there!

WIndow frames as wind breaks

Old window frames as wind breaks

I found a new use for the old window frames that I use to cover plants if we get a late frost. They too were employed to break the wind and keep it off of 8 pepper plants and 5 eggplants.

These frames were free; I just stapled old sheer curtains to them to protect my plants.

Cukes under window frames

Window frames protecting cukes

Two of the window frames were tilted down over my 9 cucumber plants, again, to stop the killer wind.

You can just see the plants nestled under the frames and mulched with straw. They must be happy because they set their 3rd set of leaves, already.

Although the garden looks like a bit of a hodgepodge, all of the plants, including the tomatoes, have recovered and are starting to look like they may survive!

Amish Paste tomatoes

Amish paste tomatoes nestled in

But, because my hand-raised tomatoes got such a rough start, I cheated and went to Maple Shade Nursery. I bought 6 Amish Paste tomatoes and put them in the ground yesterday, in the rain.

Checking on them today, they all seem very happy, no wilting, no burned leaves.

I also sneaked in 6 yellow squash plants and tucked them into my blueberry patch..

Today, it’s warm, it’s moist and I think my garden will actually survive!

 

For all of you who are just beginning to garden, enjoy! It can be tricky but it’s also so rewarding.

Lettuce & Spinach

Lettuce & spinach ready to harvest.

Walking in my bare feet, in the dirt and on the straw and the clover is my idea of heaven and…you get to eat what you grow, like this glorious lettuce and spinach!

FYI, the windbreak stays up until the second week of June….

Defending My Garden!

Dill growing in with tomatoes

2019 garden in progress

My garden feeds 4 families, every year. It feeds my soul every day.

It is a place of refuge for me, the birds and yes, even the rabbits. 

Recently, the husband of a dear friend of mine described my garden as a, “Junkyard.”

He will remain nameless (as his worth dictates) but I must defend the space that I call my garden.

 

Yes, I have 2 truck beds in my garden. And I love them. Anyone who gardens knows how expensive raised beds are to buy…especially the 3 foot high beds! Well, one of these truck beds was free; the other cost $100.

raised beds from truck beds

Truck beds for raised beds

Both warm up earlier than the ground does so I can plant early. Both keep my crops safe from rabbits and gophers. Both provide a windbreak for transplants which is very important on our property as we are on a hill. Both save my back from bending over to plant, water, pick or bug bust.

See the chain link fence bent in half in the left hand truck bed? I salvaged it from the side of the road and use it as a trellis for crops like cucumbers to grow along.

Found items for the garden

Free barriers

Baskets that were given to me by a friend cover baby plants when it’s cold out. I also use them to keep rabbits from eating tender new leaves on plants or shrubs.

See the yogurt containers on the right? I cut the bottoms out of them (in the foreground) and slide them over vulnerable plants like baby green beans or beets. They are free and they make great collars to keep rabbits and slugs off young plants.

An old screen from the sliding doors we finally had to replace (after 25 years) also provides protection from rabbits, groundhogs and yes, my two West Highland White terriers.

Screen door in the garden

A screen protects beans

Wherever and whenever I can I find and reuse items in my garden and I love being able to do that. I also follow Ruth Stout’s age old advice and use straw to mulch everything from the garden beds and soil to the blueberries, blackberries and herbs.

My garden is not regimented.  Okay, let’s be frank, I am pretty laissez faire when it comes to where some plants show up in my garden.  For example, when my lettuce and spinach start to bolt, I let them grow up and flower. I have 2 ulterior motives – I want the seeds and I want the bees!

Flowers seed themselves

Flowers seed themselves

Borage, dill and bachelor buttons grow together in clumps. Sunflowers grace the back fence. And dill is everywhere! I don’t use dill but it grows where ever its seed landed and I let it grow up and flower.  Why? I want the bees!

 

Volunteer tomato

Tomato volunteers in the sweet potato bed

If you look closely at this picture, you will see a volunteer tomato growing in the sweet potato bed with…yep, some dill.

Volunteer potatoes are growing around the zucchini which I tucked into blueberry patch along with summer squash.

Will this garden of mine win any awards? Probably not. But I love it and I love the food it puts on so many people’s tables.

I love the joy of just wandering early in the morning, the sweet sound of birds singing from morning til night and the beauty that surrounds me every time I step into my garden.

Fresh beets

Fresh beets

First tiny tomatoes

First tomatoes of 2019

Tiny cucumber

First, tiny cucumber of the 2019 season

Spring @ Chez Mucci

Step outside, feel the sun.

Spring at Chez Mucci.

Guess how I know it’s Spring?

Nope, not trees starting to leaf out. Not daffodils or robins or even dandelions. And it’s not the darkling skies of an approaching thunderstorm or the rich scent of dark earth being turned by my fingers, either.

Spring arrives every year when I first inhale the rich, pungent smell of fish emulsion!  The scent is on my hands. Even after washing them I can still smell the perfume of fish wafting in the air. My springtime eau de cologne is from Neptune Harvest. Egg shells and fish emulsion are the only supplements I feed my plants. It’s all they ever get and they thrive on them.

I also know it’s Spring by the state of my basement…actually plant nursery. There are 44 tomato babies in the nursery right now.

Tomato babies in basement

Tomato seedlings

Growing and changing almost daily, these tomato babies will be shared with 3 friends who love getting heirloom, hand raised tomato plants that are non GMO, too.

Beet & lettuce seedlings

Beets & lettuce

My final hint that Spring is here? Baby beets peeking up out of soil, butterhead and oak leaf lettuce enjoying cool evenings and moderate days. Tatsoi shares a bed with the lettuce I seeded in and kale is growing strong and beautiful in one of my truck bed gardens.

This Spring, I also got a new garden friend who is yet another harbinger of one of my favorite seasons.  His name is Maurice AKA Mo.

A birthday present from my funny, sweet husband, Mo is a 77 inch high, metal rooster (I’ve wanted on ever since I read Jenny Lawson’s,  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened). Maurice greets me every single morning as we welcome another Spring day to my backyard garden.

 

Maurice in my backyard

Maurice meets Linus!

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

It’s moving day for my tomato seedlings — their first moving day, actually.

Tomatoes ready for transplant

Tomatoes ready for transplant

My seedlings move a total of 3 times after they emerge, first into 3 inch pots then, into 5 inch pots and finally, into the garden.

This year I am growing four different varieties but two of my favorites – Atomic Grape and Fox Cherry  are indeterminate so they need to be transplanted before the other two varieties.

Tomato seedlings in cells

Tomato seedlings

Starting my seeds in the grow trays has advantages. I can get the soil warm, quickly and I can keep it consistently moist. Heat and moisture help speed up the process of sprouting for tomato seeds.  The one disadvantage is that indeterminate tomato seedlings outgrow the cells very rapidly.

At the age of 3 weeks and 3 days, these babies are ready for new digs. I start all my seeds in an organic soil specifically created for seed starting. It gives them an edge at the beginning of their lives and makes my life a bit easier too. But when it comes time to transplant, I add a little something something to make the soil lighter – coir.

Coir is coconut husk and it really adds value to the growing process. It improves soil structure by aerating it which is good for baby roots. And coir manages water – regulating water by holding it or dissipating it as needed.

I start by putting a spoon of my soil mix in the bottom of each 3 inch peat pot.

Soil and egg shells in peat pots

Soil & eggshells in peat pots

I also sprinkle just a bit of chopped egg shell on top of that for slow release feeding of the baby plants.

As I take each tomato seedling up out of its cell, I strip off the bottom two leaves and lay the plant at the bottom of the peat pot.

 

Then, I slowly pack soil around its stem until I fill the peat pot to the top. Sinking the seedling to the bottom of the pot lets the stem put out more roots and ground the tomato plant into the pot.

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Once in pots, I water in each baby tomato to ensure there are no air pockets around the tiny roots of each plant. Then I move them onto trays and over to my plant stand.

They will look a bit battered for a day or two but recover quickly and start to grow into their new homes.

About a week after transplant, I will give them a feeding of very dilute fish emulsion and water. By the 3rd week of April, I will be transplanting all of them, again.

Tomatoes last transplant

Tomatoes’ last pot before the garden

This time, they go into 5 inch wide, 6 inch deep plastic pots (reusable) following the same process – small amount of soil and egg shells, strip off leaves, pack into the new container, water in, rest and a bit of fish emulsion in a week.

Currently I have 44 tomato plants humming along in my basement – that’s about 20 more than I have ever planted but, every year, I give the extra away. My sister-in-law, my niece and 2 gardening friends get 4 or 5 hand-raised, heirloom, organic, non GMO tomato plants to play with.

I love the process of growing tomatoes and I think I love sharing them almost as much!

FYI, I’m also hardening off the tatsoi, kale and lettuce I started in my basement in February.

Kale, spinach and tatsoi

Kale, spinach and tatsoi transitioning to the garden.

It will go in the ground just as April begins. Here’s hoping that the worst of the winter weather is behind us!

Seed Starting Made Easy

My palms are itching. My toes are tapping. My heart is beating faster! It’s time to start the seedlings.  Not all of them, you understand but it’s  enough for me to start the cool weather babies — lettuce, kale, tatsoi and spinach.

Starting seeds indoors is easyIt’s still very cold outside but I am heading to the basement and pulling out my trays, my seed starting soil and my seeds.

Seed starting is really easy as long as you pay attention to a few basics including the right seed, the right starter and the right planters.

Buy the right seed. Now what in the world does that mean? Seed is seed, right? Not in today’s world. Unless it’s certified organic, you could be buying seeds infused with herbicides and pesticides. And guess what? The herbicide and pesticide actually grow right into your plants and right into your produce.

So, only buy 100% certified organic seeds. Where? My favorite outlets for healthy and happy seeds are:

  1. Seeds of Change
  2. Seed Savers Exchange
  3. High Mowing Seeds
  4. Hudson Valley Seeds
  5. Territorial Seeds

These folks have healthy seeds that ensure you grow healthy plants and healthy produce. And they have ideas, tips and equipment for getting started. NOTE: you do NOT have to buy a whole lot of “stuff” to start gardening.

Start your seeds in the right dirt. I know, dirt is dirt. But is it?

Seedlings get a good start in healthy dirt.

Healthy dirt means healthy seedlings.

And what difference does dirt make to growing healthy, happy plants and healthful food? Dirt is everything.

This is one thing I buy every year. Why? Because dirt for starting seeds has to be organic. I get mine from Gardener’s Supply – employee owned and US-based, their seed starting mix has stood the test of time for more than 25 years!

Have the right equipment and tools. Most of my gardening stuff was used when I started. It still is. My favorite seed starting tool are my seed starting kits.

Grow trays are best seed starting tools.

Grow trays are perfect for starting seeds.

I bought these 25 years ago and they are still working great!  The small cell of dirt heats up fast. The base and mat ensure the seedlings never dry out but they also never get too wet or damp off.

If you’re just starting out, don’t invest too much before you start growing. Look around. Use stuff you already have . Check Craigslist to pick up gardening equipment for a song!

I found most of my tools and you can too so don’t let the cost of tools scare you off. (The post on finding tools was written 5 years ago but it still stands as does its companion post on garden tools that are nice to have.)

Getting started is so easy. I hope you take a chance. Grow your favorite vegetable on your patio, in a pot on the back porch or in a plot in the back yard.

Green and organic garden in summer.

My garden in July, 2016.

Give it a shot and just 5 months from now, you could be looking at gorgeous, healthy veggies growing on your very own plants!

Looking for more tips on seed starting? Margaret Roach, one of my most favorite gardening gurus, offers her own seed starting wisdom, too.

Join in. Get your hands dirty. And start growing your own food. It’s fun and it really is easy!!

Happy Spring (almost) everyone!

July Garden Update!

Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.

Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.

Onions in May

Onions in May

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest

 

Asparagus crowns need trenches

Asparagus trenches-April

Asparagus Growing-July

Asparagus Growing-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-June

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

Consueleto tomato-June

Consueleto Genovese ripens

Ripening Consueleto-July

2018 Garden Underwater, Again

Normally, mid-May into mid-June are the weeks where you grab a tall, cool glass of Kombucha and sit down in your comfy deck chair and watch things grow…normally.

2018 garden underwater

My garden in the mist

This year, 2018, what I am frequently doing is sighing, drying off my dogs and hoping that the cold (low 50’s right now), wet weather doesn’t finish off all the plants I raised from seed.

This is my garden, in the mist. It looks pretty good, from a distance.

But my tomato plants are really starting to show the wear of 4 weeks of wet weather. The yellowing and spotting on the leaves is spreading and, because of the persistent wet growing conditions, I don’t think I will be able to stop the destruction.

What my tomatoes have is called Septoria Leaf Spot.   

Septoria fungus

Septoria on my tomato babies.

Septoria is a fungal disease. In normal weather conditions, you can usually prevent or at least slow it down by following good gardening practices like:

  • removing diseased leaves quickly
  • watering with soaker hoses,
  • never watering at night,
  • spacing your plants so each one catches the breezes and dries out,
  • rotating where you put tomato plants from year to year.

But I’m not experiencing normal weather conditions. And this fungal disease loves it when it’s wet out.

According to Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), my back yard is the perfect storm for Septoria, “When conditions are wet, spores are exuded from the Septoria fruiting bodies present on the infected tomato leaves. Once the spores land on a healthy leaf, spotting can appear in five days if weather conditions are ideal.”

Septoria will affect my 2019 garden

Septoria will affect 2019 garden, too

Worse than experiencing Septoria, this year, is the fact that the spores shed by the fungus live on in the ground cover and even in the soil. So, even if I remove the infected foliage, even if I rotate my plants, the chances of recurrence in 2019 are high.

I certainly have ideal conditions for this fungal invader!

I will fight back this year by using an organic fungicide called Serenade. I don’t like resorting to this solution but it is non-toxic to birds, bees, beneficial insects, fish, and wildlife.

As an organic gardener, I hate introducing this into my eco-system but I know the long-term damage Septoria can cause and I have to take necessary measures to reduce or eliminate this “perennial” from my garden.

And I will soldier on with the rest of my plants because that’s what gardeners do and because there are other plants growing quietly, albeit slowly, in my garden that need tending to. Here are some photos of these brave, green soldiers.