Friday, April 4, 2008

Catching Up

Aack! Where has the time gone? I’ve been dealing with death, doctors, and debt. If that scenario isn’t familiar to you yet, count yourself lucky…

[1] I have lots of seedlings now, but it seems like there should be so many more (mostly herbs and flowers…) The low tunnel has served (and is serving) very well for seedling storage. But I could use two or three more… No, the greenhouse never got built… but it will.

I found that the low tunnel was heated surprisingly well by burying small hot compost piles, one every few weeks to replace the heat of the older one as it cools. These are called “hotbeds,” if you recall. I made them 4’x4’ (or slightly smaller) and covered them with the topsoil that I first removed. As the tunnel is 4’x20’, one could easily place 5 such hotbeds, but three was sufficient in this case. These were a mixture of chicken litter/straw and goat manure, about 1 wheelbarrow of each per hotbed - not the traditional horse manure, but it works.

Even without them, I suspect the thermal mass of the water-filled 2 liter bottles lining the tunnel would have been sufficient for cold hardy seedlings. They certainly moderate the temperature swings and extremes. But as I’m running out of room in the house, I’m starting to move some not-so-cold hardy plants out there – cherry tomatoes, in fact.

I placed weed barrier cloth between the seedlings and the ground. This serves a few functions, but isn’t really essential. Of course it bars weeds… but also I feel it prevents mud from being splashed onto the seedlings during rains when the tunnel is open on warm days, which might spread an infection of some soil-borne disease. The black color surely helps absorb even more heat. And it just looks a little neater…

All in all, this is an extremely effective low-tech method for starting lots of seedlings without a greenhouse!

[2] I have gone crazy with tomatoes, again. The problem is, I really don’t have the space this year, since I’ll be growing out a corn breeding experiment compliments of Alan Bishop (gene-mixer extraordinaire!) This is an early generation of a multi-colored sweet corn experiment. There were nearly twenty colored Indian corns as the parents, most of which are considered sweet corn. It will take a few more years of ‘unnatural selection’ before this line develops into an OP (open-pollinated) corn, an heirloom-to-be.

But back to tomatoes… I have around 144 cherry tomato plants, and around 300 ‘regular’ ones. They are almost all heirlooms. I hope to sell some of them, and I intend to donate the lion’s share to The Heirloom Seed Shop to sell on Pioneer Day in Norfork, AR in May. I would like to come up with 3” pots that are as cheap as newspaper pots yet more attractive (not asking for much, right?) I see a lot of potting-up in my future.

I also have some peppers – not quite so many as I had hoped. It took some of my year-old Emerald Giant bell pepper seeds literally a month to sprout. I suspect that problem would have been avoided by having warmer temperature to germinate by, but the others were up much sooner under the same conditions.

One of the other peppers, in fact the most successful germinators of the bunch, was Trinidad Perfume. I had been trying to germinate Trinidad Seasoning Pepper for years with no luck, so I thought I’d try these instead. So far, so good! They look like habaneros, but without the heat, and should be very flavorful.

I am sad to say, I lost all the celery and some of the asparagus. It had been raining for days, so I didn’t think to check the low tunnel. I thought it was surely wet enough to wick up inside the raised bed on which it rests. I was wrong. It was as dry as burnt toast, and the celery had the shallowest soil mix to grow in - close call for the others. But I ended up with 10 Precoce asparagus seedlings, which I transplanted to the garden the day before yesterday, and I’m happy for that.

The artichokes and cardoon did well (not too surprisingly since they are very nearly weeds…) They are transplanted now and growing happily in the cool spring floods.

Back at the beginning of the year, I reported on sowing poppy seeds and transplanting Jerusalem Artichokes. I was really afraid that the record rainfall for March washed the tiny seeds away, even with my careful planning for such events, but they are up and running! And the JA’s are just now coming up, too.

Leeks… oh my, what will I do with all these leeks?! I sowed two flats thickly, and I believe every single one sprouted – there must be thousands! I gave one flat away to a garden visitor (who I mentioned in an earlier post about meeting gardeners,) so half of my problem is solved. I planted out a 20’ row of them on roughly 3” centers, and that was only a small pinch out of the corner of the flat! I really need an apprentice (who requires lots of practice) to help me and my bad back plant them all! My father told me he saw leeks in the grocery store selling for $2.50 each, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise? For what it’s worth, this variety is American Flag leeks.

I have planted about 100’ of Sugar Snap peas – my absolute favorite for eating raw! It was a bargain I couldn’t pass up…

I recently got some potato seeds sowed (not seed potatoes) from 50-year breeder Tom Wagner. They will be a colorful blend, and I’m really excited about it!

And so on and so forth…

[3] I gave my speech to the Baxter County Master Gardeners (about heirloom vegetables, on behalf of The Heirloom Seed Shop) last month. I had prepared a lengthy bit, but at the last moment I found out that I could borrow a slideshow from Seed Savers Exchange (membership does have its benefits.) A picture is worth a thousand words, after all…

I think it went well, although I only had 45 minutes to cover an enormous subject. The slideshow took up the majority of the time, but I believe it stitched time as well. I had some difficulty working in the themes I had planned, but the main purposes were to get a rather large group of locally influential gardeners interested in heirloom vegetables, and hopefully get them to contribute to the Heirloom Seed Shop, and I believe that was accomplished.

There is no better way to make people happy and get their attention than 'freebies.' Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was generous enough to donate a pack of heirloom seeds for each member present at the meeting, which was a considerable number. I encouraged them to share and swap seeds after the meeting (there were multiple packs of 20 different varieties.) I had to leave early, but I am told there was a lot of swapping going on! That means another of my goals was achieved. Sharing and swapping seeds is a great thing.

Now to see if they will save seeds... that's the real test. I encouraged them to read 'Seed to Seed' by Suzanne Ashworth. That book explains all the ins and outs of saving heirloom seeds. I also provided a 3 page handout that, amongst other things, explains some seed-saving methods and materials.

As I think I mentioned before, I am terrified of public speaking. But this time (my second) I think I could be described as only shy, not so much terrified. So that’s another good thing that came of it on a personal level!


Anonymous said...

Post again soon! How is the garden in the waning days of summer?


Anonymous said...

Humanities and World Cultures Institute

Semi-Annual Faculty Colloquium

Featuring Dr. Brian Campbell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

November 7, 2008

3:00-4:00 pm

BBA 205

Please come hear Dr. Brian Campbell discuss his research,

“Beyond Purity: Ozark Seed Saving Traditions and Agricultural Biodiversity”

In the recent past, when many Ozarkers engaged in subsistence farming and foraging, the saving, trading, and passing on of local varieties of cultivars was commonplace. Today, the only locals still engaging in such agrarian traditions are elders in remote Ozark hollers, and they lament the loss of these traditions. Youth only one or two generations removed, who might be interested in preserving agrarian knowledge, have lost connection to their roots. Local NGOs, environmental activists, and advocates of civic agriculture express a great deal of interest, but are non-kin outsiders, excluded in many cases from local knowledge transmission. This article discusses the (re)introduction of “seed swaps” to the Ozark region and their potential for both connecting diverse Ozark inhabitants and conserving and generating agricultural biodiversity. I conclude with a discussion of the need to move practically and conceptually beyond rigid ex situ strategies for agrobiodiversity conservation.

Refreshments will be served.

For more information, contact Dr. Jim Deitrick, Director, Humanities and World Cultures Institute (; 501-450-5592).

Bishops Homegrown said...

Hey Johno,

Time for another "catching up" segment buddy! Let's get this blog rolling, I want to read about my buddy's gardening adventures!