Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's a Sprout!

Every day I gaze at my trays of planted tomato seeds, hoping to see those first signs of life. I diligently water the soil, and keep the grow-lights on. Then one day, something different catches my eye. Could it be? A sprout? YES!

Within four days, the new green growths are appearing in "pot" after "pot" (each tray has eight sets of four "pot" sections).

Usually I start my seeds in tiny cell trays, and once they get their first true leaves, I transplant them to the larger cell "pots". This year I thought I'd save myself a step and planted directly into the larger pots. Unfortuntely, I tended to over plant each one - more than one seed (hey, you never know, some of those seeds might be duds). So, now I will still have to either weed out the extras, or fill up more pots and transplant the spares. I'll have plenty of tomatoes for surplus this year.

Do you want to try some interesting varieties? Then stop by in May and I will surplus some of my seedlings your way!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Getting Started

We've had some beautiful sunny and mild weather this month. In fact, today the temps are soaring upwards towards 60*F! The snow is melting away like fat on a hot skillet (we are down to about 7", with LOTS of bare spots). So, of course, one's thoughts turn to the garden, which, although still under snow and suffering from ground freeze, will "soon" be ready to dig and plant.

So, yesterday I purchased a new bucket/tub (the old one is frozen to the ground by the compost bins, and now sports several holes and cracks, thanks to my efforts to unstick it), and mixed up a batch of seed starting "soil."

Why do I make my own? In the long run, it is a lot cheaper. I used to order seed starter mix from one of my gardening catalogues, but when gas prices started to skyrocket, the shipping became more expensive than the bag of mix. So, now I purchase a bag of perlite, a bag of vermiculite and a bag of peat moss. Bring 'em all indoors to warm up (have towels ready for that peat moss, which will pee all over your kitchen floor as it thaws). Then, take your handy bucket/tub and mix up up with a 1:1:4 ration (perlite:vermiculite:peat moss). Stir it up well. Add water to make it uniformly moist. Then start filling your seed trays.

I've finally started to refine my seed starting. I've given up on onions, broccoli and cauliflower, so this year the only veg I needed to start by seed was tomatoes. Of course, I have several varieties, about 33 last count:

In the past I've planted about 10 of each type, but this year I only went with about 8, although some of the "pots" got more than one seed.

Why so many? Well, I can't resist the names! Orange banana. Orange Flesh Purple Smudge. Al-kuffa (a rare Middle Eastern variety). Dad's Sunset. Garden Peach. Let's hope that late blight doesn't show up again this year - I really want to see what the OFPS looks like!

And just to prove that the sun is out and warm, here's Idefix doing what he does most of the time: snoozing in a sunbeam:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring on a Farm

Nothing quite says "spring" as a farm when March and April roll around. In 1999-2000, I had the privelege of working at Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert, VT. It is located in the rolling hills just over the NY/VT border near Salem, NY. It's a private, non-profit that demonstrates sustainable forestry and agricultural practices. While I was there, they were well-known for their maple syrup and organic garlic and potatoes.

This morning I brought in some of my photo albums to see if I could find any photos that I could use for blogs (looking for spring topics). Flipping through my pages of slides from Merck, I just had to share some with my blogging friends. But how does one shares slides on a blog? I taped each one to a window with the sun shining off the snow, and used my macro lens to try and capture each image. Some came out better than others. Still, I hope you like this taste of Spring on the Farm in Vermont.

Maple sugaring is a traditional part of spring in the northeast. Many a farm and rural family run sugaring operations, sometimes on a commercial scale, and other times producing just enough for friends and family.

Merck had some wonderful sheep. Here is one of the flock, in early spring, before shearing season. Don't you just want to sink your hands into that thick woolly coat!?!

The pigs were not quite as cuddly, but they sure were hairy by the time spring rolled around. These pigs were a heritage breed, Gloustershire Old Spots, if I remember correctly. They got HUGE! I'm talking easily 5-6' long.

Spring is, of course, lambing season. Lambs can be born on beautiful spring mornings, but can also arrive in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard. Most lambs are born with little difficulty, but it is always good to have someone on lamb watch, for sometimes problems can arise and it is good to have someone on hand just in case.

Later in the spring - almost summer, the baby calves are born. These are Randall Blue Linebacks, another rare breed. These cattle are small, and were considered an all-around good farm animal. They produced good milk, good meat, and the steers made good oxen for pulling wagons and plows. While they were "good" in each of these categories, they didn't exceed in any of them. Eventually, breeds like Holsteins, which excell in milk production, replaced them.

Most folks in rural areas have likely seen the sight above: a killdeer in distress. This bird was doing the classic "broken wing" behavior. Why? Just look below:

Killdeer lay their clutches of spotted eggs right on the ground, often in rocky areas where they blend perfectly. This nest was in one of the garden plots. When a potential predator gets too close to the nest, the female dashes away and makes a big scene of being injured, all to draw the predator away from her precious eggs. Once she has succeeded in luring the danger far enough away, she takes wing and escapes, returning to her clutch a short time later. This ploy must work, for killdeer are not the only birds who do it. Still, I have watched in horror as family dogs have discovered killdeer nests on lawns and snacked on the eggs, ignoring the desparate antics of the nearby mother. I'm sure many a fox, raccoon, weasel and coyote have filled their bellies with similar meals.

What is spring without an ice storm? Such meteorlogical events can wreak havoc on our lives, but you've got to admit, they can also be quite beautiful when the morning sun rises.

Spring means babies on the farm, but it also means wildflowers in the woods. We had some guest speakers come in with samples of spring wildflowers to help visitors learn how to identify them. Merck Forest is the only place I have seen Dutchman's Breeches - in the woods, not just in a pot, as seen here.

One of my all-time favorite signs of spring: the trout lily. Even when snow is still visible on the ground, the mottled leaves of this wonderful flower push through the ground and briefly they bright yellow flowers dot the ground. Around here, start looking for them in late April and early May.

And speaking of seeds, it's time for some
Shameless Advertising:

This Saturday (13 March), we are hosting a Seed Exchange from 1:00 PM until 3:00 PM. Lorraine Miga, our local master gardener, will be on hand with seeds she's saved from her gardens. Visitors are encouraged to bring their seeds and swap them for something new or different. Heirloom varieties are sure to be available.

Other gardening programs we are hosting (by "we" I mean the Visitor Interpretive Center in Newcomb, NY) include:

Seed Starting with Lorraine Miga on 17 April from 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM. Lorraine will demonstrate how to start seeds indoors, and discuss planning your garden and the importance of crop rotation.

What's Eating Your Garden, 10 - Noon on 19 June will be a program (Emily Selleck, from Cornell's Cooperative Extension, will be standing in for Lorraine) about garden pests, how to identify and deal with them.

So, mark your calendars and come out to visit us. While you won't get to see sheep and chickens, you will be entertained by Lorraine and her gardening wit.