Fall Project: Garlic Planting 101

Sometimes garlic is just garlic. And sometimes it is more. This fall, learning more about this wonder crop has been a fantastic distraction from the current political situation. Whenever I find myself despondent after further breaking news, I go where I always go to regroup--the garden.  
While the rest of the garden is dying back, brittle from the winds of autumn and blackened from the first frosts, garlic is just getting started. Plus, this fall it has the added bonus of staving off vampires, or perhaps certain presidential candidates....

Garlic is a reminder that we are stronger together. One small clove planted this fall will turn into a coven come spring. Tightly packed little "witches" of an underground secret society, plotting an uprising.

Photography & Words By  Amanda Eastvold

Photography & Words By Amanda Eastvold

TIMING
Like most bulbs, garlic is planted in the fall.  Mid-October is the optimal time here in zone 4.  I always know it's time to plant garlic around MEA (if you're from Minnesota you know what I'm talking about). For all things frost related check our post, What the Frost?

PREPARE THY SOIL
Prepare the soil by tilling it, or loosening it with a hoe, shovel or a hand tool.  Add compost if you have it, or purchase organic compost or well-rotted manure.  

Garlic needs well-drained soil, it will rot if the soil is too wet.  

Adding compost and organic matter will help with drainage, but will not help enough if planted where the soil stays saturated.  

Don't forget to rotate your garlic rows if you've grown it in the past season.  You should not plant anything in the allium family  (onions, shallots, leeks or garlic) in an area used for these crops last year.  


PREPARE THY "SEED"
Use only quality "seed garlic."  Garlic "seeds" are just individual cloves of garlic.  Do not use garlic from the grocery store for planting.  High quality "seed garlic" but can be purchased online or at local organic nurseries.  

Each garlic bulb contains 5-8 individual cloves.  Each clove is planted separately and will produce a full bulb or "head" of garlic.

If you are into saving seeds, you will save the biggest garlic heads from your harvest and plant only the healthiest and robust cloves.  They say that this is ideal as garlic "learns" about your unique soil and conditions and adjusts accordingly.

The garlic bulb should be broken apart by hand, don't use tools such as knives as you risk damaging the cloves.  

Leave the peels intact, as it protects the clove in the ground.  I think of it as it's winter coat, so don't plant "naked" garlic.


PLANT
Garlic should be planted in rows 12 inches apart.  

Use string to create your rows or step it off with one "foot" length between each row.  Make a 2-3 inch deep furrow with a hoe or hand tool along the string line.  

Each clove should be planted 6 inches apart in the row. 

Plant the blunt end of the clove down (this is called the growth plate, where the roots emerge downward), pointy end up, approximately 2-3 inches deep.

Cover with soil and tap down firmly.

COVER
Cover all the rows heavily with straw or a mixture of compost and leaves about 6 inches high.  Do not skimp!  I find that leaves tend to blow away so I first lay down a layer of leaves, then straw.
Mulch will compact over winter and keep the garlic from freezing.  The mulch will also hold in moisture, keep cloves from heaving out of the ground during frost/thaw and keep weeds down next spring and summer.

WATER
Although I said garlic does not like to be wet, it does need some moisture to start the rooting process.  I usually water on top of the mulch just after planting it.  You will not see any growth above ground in the fall, but it will be developing roots, so don't forget to water weekly if there is no rainfall before full frost.  

VARIETIES
There are many varieties of garlic out there, and there really is no right or wrong here.  It is best to plant at least 2 varieties in case one variety doesn't do well.  Pests usually don't bother garlic, however, there are various diseases that can effect garlic crops.  

how do you plant garlic?
How to Plant Garlic

Onions & Shallots: From Harvest to Storing

When to Pick Pick onions and shallots once all of their leaves have fallen over naturally. Lift carefully from soil and let dry for about a week in a warm dry place. This may be done in your garden bed, but should only been done when the weather is dry and mild. Leave in the ground a few onions or shallots to winter over and come back in the spring.

Drying You’ll know the onions are done drying when they have the papery brittle outer skins, like the store bought onions, but you didn’t grow em! The roots will be dry, and the tops will be completely dried out.

Storing Brush off excess dirt and you are ready to braid! Cut three pieces of twine about 3 feet long and tie them together at one end. Then braid twine and onion tops together, until within 6 inches of the of the twine. Wrap one piece of twine fast around the onions stems, then tie to the other two and hang in a dark, dry, cool place. This same practice can be done with harvested and dried garlic to keep for many months.

Pest Management: What Killed Your Squash Plant

THE PEST: Squash Vine Borer aka Squash Bug aka your worst nightmare if you are trying to grow anything from the Cucurbitaceae family, this includes squash, watermelon, zucchinis or pumpkins. 

Squash Vine Borers (Melittia satyriniformis) drop eggs onto thick vine type crops that hatch into grubby white caterpillar and will take down your entire plant.

Squash Vine Borers (Melittia satyriniformis) drop eggs onto thick vine type crops that hatch into grubby white caterpillar and will take down your entire plant.

INFESTATION SYMPTOMS: A couple of WTFs are usually one of the early signs a squash bug has been spotted in your growing space. Once referred to around my house as that crazy alien bird beetle that's hovering (yes hovering) over my pumpkin patch. These guys can take down an entire plant within a few days. Infestations are usually spotted too late, but your leafs will start to wilt and the plant will begin to collapse and then die. The vines will also become mushy and rotten.

These guys are really a location based problem. The vine borer can spot Cucurbitaceae from miles away and will keep coming back year after year to your pumpkin patch. Nothing really helps so put your wallet away and plan to pull eggs from your plant daily for about two weeks out of the year sometime between July and August.. So worth it, because who doesn't want to grow their own squash?! If you have been overwhelmed year after year by Vine Borer infestations try planting butternut squash only, rumor has it they are resistant to the vine borer take down. 

 

 

Check the underside of leafs and the base of your plant for brown small poppyseed like eggs. Remove the eggs with your fingernail or a dull knife. Once you've discovered a few eggs check back daily until egg laying has stopped.

The Vine Borer will only lay eggs for about two weeks out of the season.

Good luck! Happy Vine Borer Hunting!!

Seed Starting Part 3: Transplanting Seedlings

SEEDLINGS
Ok, let's be real here. 
You read our article, you meant to plant your own seeds but life happened and seed-starting didn't. Or maybe you started the seeds but they didn't make it, despite your best efforts.  Even I suffered a few casualties this year, including these coveted Icelandic Poppies.  Rest in peace poppies. I'm here to say, guilt not! 

Get over yourself and just go buy some of your favorite veggies, herbs and flowers and join us for some planting! It's not cheating, we all do it. 

These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

SUPPLIES
Shovel
Measuring tool
Stakes and string (optional)
Watering can
Compost
Seedlings

GARDEN DESIGN & LAYOUT

If you haven't already, it helps to sketch your garden before planting. This will give you a general feel for what you have room for and how your garden will look. If this is your first time planting a garden, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by this step.  You might think you have "no idea what you're doing," but trust me, you know more than you think you do.  If you've planted a garden in the past, don't forget about rotation.  If you've been growing the same things in your garden, in the same place year after year it's time to change it up.  As different plants take and release different things into the soil, it's important to rotate your vegetables around the garden.  You can really geek out more on crop rotation here!  And of course, don't forget to include space for pathways in your garden as you'll need room to harvest your amazing veggies!

 

TIMING
Many seedlings should not be planted out before the last frost date has passed.  In Zone 4, the average last frost date is May 15th, but wouldn't ya know it, we saw frost warnings all over the state last weekend!  It really does pay to be patient.  Once your seedlings have been sufficiently 'hardened off' (see step 7) and the danger of frost has passed, your baby seedlings are finally ready to go in the ground!  If you're purchasing plants from a garden center and they are outside, it's safe to say they have been hardened off and are ready to plant, but it never hurts to ask.
 

PREPARING THE AREA
If you haven't cleared your garden from last year, remove large plant material from the roots and compost them (except any tomato plants that have been infected by blight, they will infect the compost and should always be removed immediately in the fall).  Any smaller weeds can be pulled or dug up and worked into the soil as this green material serves to add organic matter.  If you have a small area, you can "turn over" the soil with a shovel.  This simply means to dig in your shovel and turn the soil over bit by bit until the entire area has been loosened.  This aerates the soil, mixes nutrients in, and allows new plant roots to take hold.

TO COMPOST OR NOT TO COMPOST?
Adding compost to your garden is not required, but is highly recommended as it helps build up the health of your soil and will benefit your plants in the long run.  Many back yard city plots have terrible soil quality, just ask my friend Chanda!  My backyard soil has taken 12 years to build up to nice loamy garden soil, so don't expect this to happen overnight.  But, adding the right things to your soil now will give you better results this season, guaranteed!  I'm not talking about adding black dirt here--I'm talking compost, compost (broken down organic matter which adds all kinds of yummy microbes to improve your soil quality).  Compost not only adds "food" for your plants, but also improves water retention and drainage.  You can add your own compost if you have it or purchase bag or bulk compost. Once the area has been cleared, the soil turned and amended, you can rake it smooth and prepare for planting!  Yay!

*If you want to start your own compost pile, tune in here for upcoming articles on how to start composting your kitchen and garden waste!  

I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

SPACING & DEPTH

Decide what you have room for by determining which plants need the most space and which plants require :staking, trellises or cages.

This is where a measuring tape or tool comes in handy.  I have this handy stick that has been pre-marked with various spacing requirements (6", 12", 18", 24"...).  Once you have a general idea of what you are going to plant, and where they will go, bring your seedlings over to the area and assess the space in person.  

Each seed packet should give you spacing and depth requirements.  For example, tomatoes like 24-36" of growing space and need to be caged or staked.  Peppers are more upright and only need 12-18".  While broccoli and brussels sprouts require more like 18"-24".  Melons, pumpkins, and squash are sprawlers, so they will need lots of real estate, up to 3-6 feet!  Make sure you reference your seed packet (or good ol' Google) to find out about varieties that you are growing.  

Before digging your holes, lay out the seedlings, starting with one crop.  If you plan to use rows, two stakes with a string in between can serve as a nice straight line, or you can eye ball it.  With your seedlings, lay out and measure between plants, stand back and assess.  If you need to adjust them slightly do so but don't skimp on spacing.  Remember they may seem small now, but they have 3 months of intense growth ahead!  Many plants need room for air circulation and for light to reach the lower leaves, not to mention room to maneuver in for weeding and harvesting.

DIGGING IN
With adequate spacing and a pleasing layout, you can now dig your seedlings in. Move the seedlings off to the side and dig a hole twice the size of your seedling, usually this is one nice shovel full.  This is a good rule of thumb, but please reference your specific varieties for depth requirements. I prefer a spade to a hand shovel, but use whatever feels comfortable. I usually back fill the hole with loosened soil.  If you haven't yet, pinch off any extra sprouts, leaving only the healthiest one.  Very gently work the seedling out of it's container, never pull it by the stem as it can pull out without it's root ball intact. You can gently pinch the bottom of the pot, if its flexible, or tip it on its side and work the entire root ball out.  If you are planting in peat (fiber pots) I still recommend removing the seedling before planting.  

Once the seedling is out of the pot, gently loosen the root ball, breaking up any that are extremely "root bound."  Seedlings that are very leggy can be planted slightly deeper to leave a shorter exposed stem, in fact, tomatoes like to be planted very deep and grow roots along any portion of the buried stem.

 

WATERING IN
I learned this "watering in" technique from some wonderful farmers I worked with a dozen or so years ago and it works beautifully.  Place the seedling in the hole and gently fill the hole half way with water, allowing it to soak the seedling and soil completely.  Then, fill in the hole around the seedling with soil, breaking up any large clumps.  Press the soil down gently around the stem.  Water generously the first few days after planting, and during dry spells.  

*Tip:  Any leaves planted under ground will become roots, so it's ok to plant them down a ways on the stem.]

Ok, there you have it folks, almost everything you need to know about planting your garden.  As always, we are here for YOU! Send us a note and we will try and answer any of your planting questions or share in your success!  Tag us in your garden pics this weekend or use the hashtag #tootieanddotes and we might just send you a Tootie & Dotes market tote. Good luck we hope this is your best year yet! 

Germination, what the what?

Germination is sweeping the nation!

But what the f is germination anyway?  It’s pretty simple really.  It’s two parts science (which I don’t get), and three parts magic (which I TOTALLY get).  Ok, there are more than five parts to germination, but basically all you need to know is that germination is the seed’s process of sprouting from a dormant embryo into a baby seedling--it’s crazy voodoo magic.  

The nitty-gritty:

illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

illustration by Rachel Rolseth

The type of germination we are talking about is when a seed sprouts into a plant, such as your common garden veggie (pollen germination and spore germination are all together different, but equally magical).  All seeds contain an embryo and reserve "food" inside of them or in their seed coat.  When given the right conditions; soil, warmth, water and oxygen, seeds sprout into seedlings and eventually become mature plants, which produce off-spring of their own.  

A seed needs soil along with warmth and moisture to germinate.  Most common vegetables have optimal germination temperatures between 75-90 F degrees.  Some crops such as radishes or spinach can and actually prefer much lower temperatures to germinate, as low as 40 F degrees.  

Water is the most crucial part of germination, without it, the seed would lay dormant.  Water is absorbed into the seed coat, which then swells and breaks open.  Once this  happens, the magic occurs and the plant embryo can grow.

Once the seed coat has cracked open, the plant sends down an embryonic root (radicle) to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and simultaneously sends up an embryonic shoot (plumule) through the soil to absorb sunlight and turn the sunlight into food through photosynthesis.  

The first leaves you see on most vegetables are actually not the true leaves, but cotyledon, which have stored food for the embryo's journey.  Once the first true leaves have developed, germination is complete, although the plant will need more time to finish its life cycle, usually ending on your plate. 
 

The fluff:

The word germination has been used to describe ideas coming into being and is synonymous with these  awesome words and phrases:  Appear, arise, be born, bud, come forth, come into existence, come out, commence, crop up, dawn, derive from, emanate, emerge, enter, get going, get show on the road, get under way, grow out of, happen, issue forth, kick off, occur, originate, proceed from, result from, rise, sail, send off, set, spring, sprout, start, and take off.  source


Hands On:

We hope you have started your seeds  and they are taking off!  Show us you germination folks!  #growtootieanddotes

Six Essential Gardening Tools

Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

After a few years of gardening, you start to get a feel for the tools that you can't live without, and the gadgets that looked cool at the garden store but you never really use...

To help you decide on what tools might be right for you, we asked the knowledgable ladies at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply to give us their must have gardening tool picks. For a few of us this might just be the first time you realize that the small shovel thing is really called a 'trowel'. 

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

When deciding on what to buy, a big consideration is how much to spend. You want your tools to be reliable, but that doesn't mean they need to be the BEST EVER the first time you buy them.

Chances are you'll make some adjustments as you go. Luckily Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply has you covered for a range of options. From wood to metal, beginner to expert, they have a wide price range of quality tools to choose from. 

GARDEN TOOL ESSENTIALS | WHAT TO SPEND

Shovel: price range, $15-30
Great for moving earth and digging holes, breaking ground on a new plot, planting shrubs or small trees. 
Trowel: price range, $8 to $15
Great for moving smaller amounts of earth, planting and weeding. A must have multifunctional tool for ever gardener. Some even have measurements on the side for plant depth, a handy lil feature. 
Pruner: $15 to $75
Great for trimming woody perennials, trees, shrubs, thicker stocked plants, etc. Also great multifunctional tool for cutting twine, vines, opening packages, etc.
Pro-tip - Keep em sharp and dry when not in use (otherwise they'll rust easier) 
Hoe (hand hoe or long handle): $15 to $75
Great for turning over soil, quick weeding in a large area or for edging. These come in both long and short handle options so find the one best suited for you. 
Gloves: nitrile, range, $5 to $10
Great for keeping hands (somewhat) clean, protecting against thorns and other unpleasant pokey or itchy things, and for general use around the yard. 
Pro-tip - get a few pairs, keep them dry between use (so they don't smell) and buy leather or canvas ones if you're dealing with roses, thinner gloves won't do it
Watering Can: $10 - $40
Great for gently watering your plants, pots and container gardens. This method can take a little longer than a hose or sprinkler but you have more control over the water flow and can use that extra time observing your plants

For more information, call or stop by Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply. They have everything you need to get started this season, including the most adorable chickens you've ever seen.

Happy Gardening!

Seed Starting Part 2: Instructions

ARE YOU READY TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY? 

Photography by    Anne Ingman

Photography by Anne Ingman

LET'S REVIEW THE SUPPLY LIST:

Containers: Seed trays or pots and covers
Labels
Squirt bottle or small nozzled watering can
Sunny window (south or southwest facing)
Soil: Seed Starting Mix (do not attempt to use soil from your garden)
Seeds!

CONTAINERS
There are lots of choices here. If you're a first timer, keep it simple and use individual pots. You can use round plastic pots or peat pots (the fiber-looking ones). Peat pots are great for all types of seeds and are planted out directly into the ground so you don't have to worry about disturbing the root system. While some people might steer you towards them, do not use egg cartons. These are too shallow for healthy root growth and wick moisture away from the soil rapidly. Peat pots can come individually or in 6 packs, either work nicely. I suggest placing any pots you use into a seed tray to allow drainage that won’t damage your surface.

If you'd like to plant more seeds per surface area, or you have limited space indoors, you might consider getting seed trays.  These are long, flat, black plastic trays that can be fitted with clear plastic covers. In a seed tray you can plant many more seeds. I find it easier to work with trays because they take up less space, I can keep the soil more evenly moist and I use less soil overall. The only drawback is that you may have to repot the seedlings into bigger pots as they grow.  

If you're using the tray method, a soil blocker can be a good investment. This compacts and shapes the planting medium into nice square cubes, allowing you to plant seeds individually into each block. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about this step. If you are interested in learning more about using a soil blocker, check this out. If you don't have a soil blocker, a small spatula can help you "cut" the soil into cubes or blocks.  

No matter what type of container you choose, make sure they are clean. If you are reusing old plastic pots or seed trays, make sure to clean them with warm soapy water, then disinfect them with a water and bleach solution to get rid of any bacteria that could infect the seed or soil.   

While you don't technically need them, clear plastic seed tray covers trap heat and moisture so the seedlings stay warmer and dry out less quickly.  I recommend these. Saran wrap can also be used, but if you’re purchasing seed trays just go ahead and get the covers too. The plastic covers also serve to keep tiny hands from looking for treasures in the soil (that has happened more times than I can count). Once the seedlings start to emerge you will remove the cover.

SOIL / PLANTING MEDIA
Make sure to get seed starting mix, and DO NOT use soil from your garden! Seed starting mix doesn’t have any actual "soil" in it at all. It is usually a mix of vermiculite and peat, and can contain other organic matter such as worm castings. Buy organic whenever possible. Commercial seed starting mix is sterile and is finer and lighter than regular potting soil and will hold moisture longer.  

LABELS
You can use any method to mark your seeds that works for you.  I use computer sticker labels on seed trays and specify the number of seeds I’ve planted (remember all tomato and pepper varieties look the same so if you’re planting several varieties label them).  Sticker labels will work on individual plastic pots too.  For peat pots, you will need to use popsicle sticks or some other label that goes into the soil.  
wait..why am I doing this again?


INSTRUCTIONS
Step 1: Prepare your Potting Mix
Mix the seed starting mixture with water in a large plastic tub. This gets the “soil” evenly moist and you won’t have to worry about it settling in the pots.  Mixture should be moist and can be shaped easily into a ball, however, it should not be saturated. You should not be able to squeeze excess water out of the ball. If you’ve added too much water, simply add more potting mix and vice versa.  

 

Step 2: Fill Pots or Trays
Fill your pots and/or trays with this mixture. Tap the pots or tray on the table or floor as you fill it to help the mixture settle.  You can press it gently with your hands, but do not pack it super tight, you just don’t want air pockets in the soil. If you are using a tray and don’t have a soil blocker, you can use a tool to “cut” the soil into cubes to hold individual seeds. These cubes will basically be their own self-contained pot. This is a good test to see if your soil is moist enough. The cubes should not crumble when cut.  If they do, dump it back in the bin and add more water.  



Step 3:  Add Seeds
I use a pencil to make a small hole for the seed to go in. They do not have to be very deep; if the pencil is sharpened I poke it down to where the yellow begins. Plant 2-3 seeds per hole.  Just know that once the seeds have germinated and formed their first true leaves, you will pinch off any extra seedlings. Some people find it easiest to pour the seeds onto a small plate first. I usually pour them into my palm and lick my finger and “pick up seeds” on my fingertip. Cover the hole with a tiny pinch of wet soil.   

 

Step 4:  Cover Seeds and Place in a Warm Location
Use a clear plastic cover or saran wrap to cover the seeds to retain heat and moisture. Seeds need warmth to germinate and this will trap the heat and also retain moisture. Usually a south or southwest facing window will provide enough light and warmth if you use a tray cover. Some people put the seed trays on the top of their refrigerators to get them to germinate.  They don’t need light to germinate, just warmth.  Don’t place them on a radiator, that heat is too intense for little seeds.  

Step 5:  Watering
It is very important to check the seeds daily and to water only when they appear "dry" (the soil will be lighter) or if it is dry to touch. Water pots around the edges, and if you have cut your soil into blocks or used a soil blocker, only water in the “trough” between the blocks. Never water directly on top of the seed. This could wash away tiny seeds and can cause mold to grow on the soil and cause the seedling to rot, a condition called “damping off.” Soil should remain moist, but not saturated.  
Be diligent with your checking but don't over water. There should never be standing water in the tray.  If this happens, poke a hole in the tray and let it drain fully, then reduce your watering.  

Step 6:  Seedling care
Once your seeds have germinated (poked their little green heads up) remove the plastic cover and place in a sunny south or southwest facing window.  Now that your seeds are up, they have used all of their internal energy and need the sun to make energy now.  Just like human babies, they need lots of attention and care. Check your seedlings often and if you’re weird, talk to them.  Better yet, sing to them. Seedlings can get get soft, pale and "leggy" (long and spindly) if they are not getting enough light. If this is the case, you may have to move the seeds around in your space to give them more light. (I have successfully grown seeds in a south window without grow lights for many seasons.)  It is also important to turn the trays or pots as the seedlings “reach” toward the light so they grow more evenly.

Step 7: “Hardening Off”

The last and maybe most important thing you need to know about starting seeds indoors is that these tender plants will need to be "hardened off" before transplanting to your garden. Hardening off simply means you give your young plants daily doses of the great outdoors for about a week before planting.  Find a place out of the wind and direct sunlight to put your seedlings and leave them outside for about two hours the first day. You will continue to bring your seedlings into the house at night. Gradually increase the direct sunlight they get by a few hours each day, so they can slowly get used to being outdoors.  (Yes, plants can get sunburned just like us!  Watch out for white spots on the leaves.  If you see them, move your seedlings to a more shaded area or dappled light).  In addition, if heavy rain is expected, keep the seedlings inside as they will be damaged by pounding rain. You will need to be careful to keep them moist as they will dry out more quickly in direct light.  There is nothing worse than tending to your sweet little seedlings only to see them shrivel up and get scorched right at the end due to improper hardening off.  Brassicas can be planted out as early as April if they are ready and have been hardened off, as they can withstand a light frost and cooler temps.  Tender plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants should not be transplanted into the garden before the last possible frost date. This step can be the most tedious of all, some gardeners call it the “spring shuffle”.  But don’t fret, it won’t be long before you’re putting these babes into the soil once and for all.  

I hope this helps boost your growing confidence and gives you that “I’VE GOT THIS” feeling. Check back with us to get some more hands on advice on transplanting your seedlings, and of course to get ideas for using your bounty in the kitchen!  

Download + Print Instructions

I have my grandmother’s book “Growing Your Own Vegetables” Information Bulletin from the US Dept. of Agriculture, 1975 that I still refer to and I will tell you that starting seeds hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years.  Seeds have been doing their thing for millions of years.  The only thing that has changed are the outfits and the haircuts.

I have my grandmother’s book “Growing Your Own Vegetables” Information Bulletin from the US Dept. of Agriculture, 1975 that I still refer to and I will tell you that starting seeds hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years.  Seeds have been doing their thing for millions of years.  The only thing that has changed are the outfits and the haircuts.

 

 

 

Seed Starting Part 1: Why should I start Seeds?

Photography by   Anne Ingman

Photography by Anne Ingman

It's March here in the Northland, but don't let this warm weather fool you. The temperatures can and WILL fluctuate and nightly freezing is still happening throughout most of the state. (It's actually snowing as I write this). While we northern gardeners are busy dreaming of dirt, gathering supplies and planning our plots, we are mostly just waiting. Waiting and waiting.  Waiting for our seeds to arrive in the mail and waiting for the ground to thaw.

The good news is, you don't have to wait any longer to get your garden on! The end of March and beginning of April is the perfect time to start your seeds indoors. No matter how many times I start seeds, I never tire of this yearly ritual. It pleases me to no end to transform my kitchen into a mini-greenhouse for an afternoon and then watch my little babies growing happily on a sunny shelf.  I just love to get my hands dirty once again and to smell that soil and to... oh, I'm sorry, where was I?!?!   Oh right!  If you’d like to try your hand at starting seeds, or have tried it before with less than stellar results, I'm here to tell you: YOU CAN DO IT.  

It can be a real drag to live in Zone 4 but we love our home state and I won't trash talk her. Here in Minnesota we straddle Zones 3 and 4 according the plant hardiness zone map . This means, our growing season extends from mid May (last frost date) to mid September (first frost date). That means, we need to give tender plants and plants that require a longer growing season a head start.  But let's get right down to it. 

Save Money
It is way more economical to purchase your seeds, a few trays and soil than it is to purchase plants that have been grown in a greenhouse.  You can get an entire seed packet for the same price as a single tomato plant at the market.

Plant Variety
If you look at any seed catalogue, or even the seed stands at coops or nursery's, you have much more choice in what you plant. Cherokee purple tomatoes? Velour green beans? Hansel and Gretel eggplants? Hello?

Organic Veggies
If you're into organic gardening (and I know you ARE), then it makes sense to know that the veggies and herbs you'll be planting have been planted in organic material and come from organic seed.

Don't worry.  You don't have to start all your seeds indoors. Many plants can be direct seeded into the garden. Greens, such as spinach, lettuces, sorrel, and arugula; root veggies such as turnips, radishes, beets, and carrots, (their roots do not like to be disturbed); snap peas; green beans; and herbs can be direct seeded when the ground warms up. 

The veggies we northerners are wise to start indoors are those heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and plants that simply need a head start indoors because they require a longer time to mature. These include the brassica family: brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower. This is not an exhaustive list so if you're unsure, check the back of the seed packet for detailed seeding information.

With that in mind, think about what it is that YOU actually want to grow. My advice: Don't bite off more than you can chew--literally.  I am notorious for planting way more seeds than I have space for!  Think about the things that you would really like to have in your garden.  What do you like to eat? What does your family/ partner/ roommate (if you like them) like to eat?  What things tastes better fresh from the garden? What do you have space for? If you have access to a seed catalogue, page through it and mark the things you’d like to try.

I strive for variety in my garden, so I purchase several varieties of tomatoes and peppers and make notes about which ones my family likes best. My goal is to have a tomato tasting party this year because it is my personal belief that one can never have too many tomatoes. They can be eaten fresh, canned, salsafied, roasted, frozen, and sauced (if you need me in August you know where to find me). We pickle jalapenos every year, so I know I need at least six jalapeno plants. For most people, one or two of these is enough. My boys eat broccoli like it’s candy, so I make sure I have enough of these too. This is very subjective and personal, so I won’t tell you WHAT to plant, but I will tell you HOW.   

Once you have your list, it's time to get some seeds. Most seed vendors can be found online and once you order from them, you will likely be on their mailing list and receive future catalogues.

These online sources are great places to find seeds: 
Botanical Interests
Fedco Seeds
Johnny Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Seeds of Change
Rare Seeds 

Choose high quality seeds and organic when available. It is possible to reuse seeds from year to year if they are stored properly.  I have had excellent luck reusing seeds over from previous years. Here is a quick reference guide for how long you can expect seeds to last. Again, don't order more than you know you can use, or plan a planting day with friends and share seed packets!  

Now that you have your seeds, get your supplies together and we will see you next week to walk you through each step.
 

SUPPLY LIST
Containers: Seed trays or pots and covers
Labels
Squirt bottle or small nozzled watering can
Sunny window (south or southwest facing)
Soil: Seed Starting Mix (do not attempt to use soil from your garden)

Seeds!

You can find everything you need to start seeds, including a large variety of seeds at   Eggplant Urban Farm Supply  .

You can find everything you need to start seeds, including a large variety of seeds at  Eggplant Urban Farm Supply.

 

Welcome Amanda Eastvold to Tootie & Dotes! We scooped this babe up after some light stalking per our first introduction at last year's Champagne & Chandeliers event. 
Amanda know's gardening and homesteading (probably better than most of us) and previously worked with Humble Pie Flower Farm making flower arrangements. Get to know her more in our latest round of Lady Briefs

Winter is Coming: Fall Gardening Projects

Your vegetable garden will continue to produce through a hard frost, which for us in the Midwest usually means November. Maintain your gardens until then by watering and covering fragile plants such as Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants on cold nights (below 40°F).

Do Now   Winterizing your vegetable garden can begin as early as the first Pumpkin Spice Latte is served up. Start by cutting back plants and planting soil enriching ground cover seeds that will prevent erosion, protect soil microbes, outcompete cool-season weeds, and build up the soil fertility. These cover crops are sometimes called Green Manure and should only go in spent vegetable beds. They are legumes, grains or grasses. Some of our favorites are bachelor’s buttons, field pea, and crimson clover, which can be picked up locally at Mother Earth Garden Center. Continue to water up until a late hard frost, a hard frost is a period of at least four consecutive hours of air temperatures that are below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.


Do Soon   After the first frost cut down and compost spent vegetables and plants. Cut back to 6-9inches (still visible) faded or dead foliage on perennials after the first hard frost, and compost. Avoid composting diseased or pest-infested plants.

Do later   You can harvest some root vegetables like carrots until the soil is no longer workable. Hardy plants like collard greens and kale even like a little frost and will get sweeter as the weather gets cold.
Pile leaves or straw around your dormant perennials and throughout the veggie garden after the first hard frost. Make sure and wait this step out until a true hard frost or your plants may rot prematurely with too much moisture.  

Winter is Coming: How to Plant Garlic

One of your last fall gardening projects should be planting Garlic. This should be done a week or two after the first hard frost, aka late October. The garlic cloves will then take a long winter nap before emerging in the spring. 

Garlic seed cloves can be purchased online through Seed Savers and are also available locally at Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply and Mother Earth Gardens. Do not attempt to plant cloves from the grocery store. 

Instructions Select a sunny, well drained area with plenty of organic matter (compost) in the soil. Do not plant garlic where other onion crops have been grown the past two or three years. This area should be large enough to plant two rows of garlic 15 inches apart. 

Break apart the cloves from the bulb but keep the papery sheath on each individual clove. Plant the bigger and healthier individual cloves 4-6 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the pointed end of the clove facing up. Cover cloves with compost rich soil and/or a three to four-inch layer of weed seed-free straw mulch. Garlic shoots will emerge from the ground in late March or early April. 

Check out our Growing 101 on, Picking, Drying and Storing Garlic & Onions.  

Speaking Tomato: What Your Plant is Trying to Tell You

It's around August each year that our tomato plants start developing all kinds of interesting looking spots and defects. 

Use our diagram to identify what your plant is trying to tell you about its current state. We explain solutions and tips to solve these common Tomato Plant problems.

In many instances, if your plant is to far gone pull the plant but DO NOT compost, you could be spreading the disease to your compost bin, no bueno. With that said, many of these issues can be avoided next year by rotating your plants locations, mulching thoroughly and avoiding overhead water (keep those leafs dry!). 

Illustration by  Ashley Barlow Art.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow Art.

VIRUSES
Do you have a sad tiny plant that isn't producing much fruit and has misshapen odd leafs unlike any of your other tomato plants? There are more than 20 common viruses that can impact your plants health and harvest. The sad fact is you should really pull and destroy these plants immediately to prevent the virus from spreading. Chin up, there's always next year!
 

LEAF WILT
Avoid over-watering tomato plants; just because a plant is wilted doesn't mean it needs more water. Check the soil; if the soil is dry (does not stick to your finger) then water your plant concentrating the water at the base of the plant, not overhead. 

 

PESTS (Caterpillars + Whitefly + Greenflly + Blackflly + Slugs)
Inspect your plant's leafs every few days for holes, bumps or bugs. Plant spearmint (in pots to prevent spreading), clover or daisies in proximity to your tomato plants to attract paper wasps, a natural predator of the horned caterpillar that rarely have stingers (next year to do list, check!). Feel free to manually remove pests at the end of a rough day with a big squish between your fingers (hey it's also organic). If you think you have slugs apply a thin layer of Diatomaceos Earth dust around the base of each tomato plant. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help fend off pests. 

 

RED SPIDER MITES
Look for thin spiderwebs all over the plant or for the spider and eggs themselves on the underside of the leafs. Spray plants with a fine mist of water, twice daily, as the spider mite can only thrive in hot dry conditions. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help but should be sprayed every week.


GREENBACK
You may start spotting the green unripened areas around the stem of the plant. Because this problem is caused by high heat and too much sun you really can only prevent this from happening by providing some shade for the plant (eg. a trellis, other taller plants or trees, we like giant sun flowers). Tomatoes with greenback are still edible, just cut the green sections off or allow them to ripen more in doors in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

 

SUN SCORCH
This will first begin to appear as a white or yellow spotted area on the upper side of tomato that faces the sun. It's not really dangerous to the plant but long bouts of high heat can cause the fruit to blister then you might get fungal problems. Cages can help and a little extra nitrogen in the soil but rethink next year's planting spot. Give the plants a little shade provided by a fence or taller plants. If you know your growing space is susceptible to Sun Scorch plant tomato varieties that naturally have larger heavier foliage


TOMATO BLIGHT
Early tomato blight forms spots on the leaves, which then turn yellow and die. The spots may start out small and shrunken and as they get bigger they get longer. Spots which are on the stem near the ground can cause the stem to shrink.
Avoid overhead watering (do we sound like a broken record yet?) by watering at the base of the plant. Water your plants only in the mornings to give the leafs time to dry out. If you see anything that even remotely looks like blight, begin a spraying program of alternating organic copper spray, and Serenade biological fungicide, both of which are safe to use on edibles. If you have Late Blight (blue gray spots on the leafs and fruit that are turning brown) pull the effected plant immediately.
Real talk, I plant a few extra plants (spaced far apart to prevent overcrowding but also to prevent problems from spreading)  and if any of my plants show any sign of blight I pull the plant. The earlier the better to prevent it from spreading to other healthier plants. 


BLOSSEM END ROT
If you've spotted a dark, rotting spot on the bottom of your tomatoes the soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to free more calcium in the soil chemistry. Test results will indicate the amount of lime to add. Even better, lime also contains calcium. Work the lime into the top 12 inches of soil. Use a lime labeled “fast-acting,” which is better than ground limestone unless you have weeks to wait for the lime to react in the soil. If the pH is already correct, the soil test will recommend a different calcium source, such as gypsum.  Also, add crumbled egg shells to your compost or bury them in your garden over time to help maintain the calcium levels. 


FRUIT SPLITTING
This is almost unavoidable during the end of a growing season, unless you are in a green house. Water regularly and fertilize the soil often to keep the plant happy and the soil around it healthy. We like Dr.Earth on our tomatoes. 


 

Pest Management: Aphids 101

These are aphids... aka "plant lice"... Yummy!!

One type of aphid infestation.

One type of aphid infestation.

Aphids  come in a variety of colors and there are aprox 4,400 species known, but most are small just like these little green ones I had attacking my sage plants.

When I first noticed the tiny insects, I shook them off the plant but didn't think much of it (bad call).

What makes these little dudes so bad?

  • Aphid infestations can destroy an entire plant and if left untreated, they can spread to surrounding plants (source)
  • These pests suck out plant sap, damaging leaves, stems, and flowers in the process (source)
  • Heavy infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow and stunted plant growth and several species can transmit plant diseases, particularly viruses which they pass on during feeding (source)
  • As they feed, aphids secrete large amounts of a sticky fluid known as honeydew. This sweet goo drips onto plants, attracting ants and promoting a black sooty mold growth on leaves (source)
  • They reproduce extremely fast, like 80 new bugs a day fast..

After reading about different ways to approach the invasion naturally, I tried one out.

Aphids eating a sage plant

Aphids eating a sage plant

After inspecting all of the surrounding plants, the infestation seemed to be concentrated on the sage plants (thankfully) so I thoroughly inspected their leaves, stems and base.

Most of the aphids were towards the top so I squished them (yep) by pressing the sage leaves together firmly. This seemed to be fairly effective and although it's not the nicest way to get rid of them, it does ensures they won't spread  all over the of the garden if you were to just brush them off.

Squish!

Squish!

Paint with soapy mixture

Paint with soapy mixture

Then I made a soapy mixture using an organic plant based soap, got my paint brush out and gave the plant a little bath.

Check the back of leaves for bugs, worms, eggs, etc.

Check the back of leaves for bugs, worms, eggs, etc.

I checked the plants a few times a day for the first 2 days after that and did find a few new aphids but I just squished those too and after almost 2 weeks, this has totally worked.

More on this later I'm sure..

Happy insect wars!

Afraid to Ask? Annuals vs. Perennials

Annuals have one growing season and need to be replanted each spring. They include most vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, and flowers like Marigolds or Sunflowers.

Perennials are permanent residents in your garden and will return year after year.
Some examples include Asparagus and Strawberries. Plan ahead, because many perennials will spread year after year, but will also take a few years to establish roots and produce fruit. 

Mushroom 101: Grow Your Own

Illustration by  Ashley Barlow.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow.

MUSHROOM BREAKDOWN

First, let's set one thing straight. Mushrooms are not actually plants, but fungi. Fungi eat, or break down dead plants for fuel. Standard mushrooms can easily be identified by the dome or cap shape protruding from the stem. If you look under this smooth dome, you'll see thin gills. Those gills produce the mushroom's spores. Mature mushrooms proliferate in a similar fashion to plants, producing tiny spores that act as seeds and allow for the fungi to spread and grow.

 


START GROWING MUSHROOMS   

METHOD coffee+cardboard
This is one of the easiest ways to grow mushrooms at home. It's also a cool food science project that will require very little active time and is something you can do while you make breakfast and the morning cup of coffee. Simultaneously you are creating a high value compostable material from which the residual caffeine, a mildly toxic herbicide, is largely degraded by the fungus. 


SUPPLIES

  • 20% coffee grounds and 0.5 kg of spawn (we suggest starting with Oyster Mushrooms.) to produce about 1.25 kg of mushrooms.
  • Spent cardboard or paper products without glossy inks. 
  • Container or bucket with lose fitting lid.  
  • A warm and dark place to store your bag/container.
     

Step One  
Freshly brewed coffee grounds from a coffee maker or french press are effectively pasteurized by the brewing process so once it has cooled below -100F you can inoculate it directly with purchased grain/sawdust spawn or cuttings from fresh mushrooms.

Step Two
Cardboard or paper products can be shredded and boiled in water and once excess water is drained or pressed out this too can be inoculated with spawn or cuttings. 

Step Three
 It is best to start with a small amount of both growing media (coffee/paper) and some inoculum (spawn/cuttings). The mycelium is very often visible at the base of mushrooms and will readily "jump off" and begin to "run" into a new food source within its reach. Place these cuttings in direct contact with the cardboard to provide as many jumping off points as possible. Once you've got a half a five gallon bucket or so of colonized cardboard you can turn around and use this cardboard as spawn to inoculate a second bucket started with a few layers of new cardboard, some cardboard spawn, a fresh but cool coffee filters/well drained grounds, more spawn and another couple layers of new cardboard. 
 
Step Four
About three weeks later you should see some mycelium establish itself and the mixture should start to turn completely white. From here on out as you generate coffee waste you can add it to the top layer, add some fresh spawn from the first bucket, and add a little more new cardboard to seal in moisture above the spawn. Repeat until bucket is filled. 

Step Five
Once your mix is completely white move your growing container over to a spot with plenty of fresh air and a little light – a shaded windowsill or countertop is ideal. Drill 1/2'' holes near the top of the bucket for ventilation. Check every couple days to see if the top layer is drying out. If so you can mist it with de-chlorinated, or off-gassed tap water.

Step Six
About a week later you should start to see tiny little mushrooms bursting into life. Over the following 5-7 days they should double in size every day. It's time to harvest when the edges of the caps begin to turn upwards. Remove mushrooms by cutting at the base of the stems.

White mycelium running up onto un-colonized cardboard.

White mycelium running up onto un-colonized cardboard.


Thanks to amateur mycologist and educator Martin Gordon for your contributions to this post!