Rogue gardening, seeds: round 2

The other night, in describing our gardening endeavors to some of our friends, I found myself admitting that, when it comes to our garden and as between Ken and I, I’ve “gone rogue.”  Ken, who built our planters for us based on a mutual understanding of how many plants we would have and what would be sowed where, is not happy that my penchant for late-night online seed purchasing and inability to self-limit has resulted in a whole second wave of baby plants… started from seed inside, and expecting a home out in our yard very soon.

All this aside, I’ll note that this second crop of seeds seems to be heartier and having more success.  I think it’s because we used our own soil and not the little soil pods that came with our seed-starting kit.  That stuff that came with the kit seemed stale and weird, and not as nutrient rich… and how do they get dirt to behave like a shrinky-dink anyway?  That can’t be good.

Depicted below are the baby plants a couple of weeks ago:  Mustard greens, Wrinkled Crinkled Cress (it’s actually called that… I’m not just being Seussian),  gooseberries, Ali Baba melons, kale!, more Brandywine tomatoes, radishes, leeks, red and yellow wild strawberries, two kinds of marigolds (they allegedly repel mosquitoes), and a flower called Butterfly gaura (to attract pollenators to the yard).  That’s it, I think.


I noticed that the slowest to sprout – and by a big margin – were the berries, the gooseberries and the strawberries.  It doesn’t appear to be a characteristic of fruit as compared to vegetables, because the melon sprouts came up pretty quickly.  The leeks also took a while, but my plan was to move them into the garden into the late fall… so I’m not eve sure why I started some of them from seed now.  Ken wouldn’t like to hear this.  “You mean there is absolutely no reasoned approach to any of this?!?”  And then I”d say something annoying and hippified like “My spirit needs to be free in order to successfully garden.”  …   I’m kidding, I’d never say that.

We haven’t put any of this second crop into the ground yet.  But, as you can see, the Ali Baba melons have gotten pretty big:


I’m probably most excited for kale.  The kale is doing great.  Pretty much every seed has turned into a baby plant – and they are all about the same size and lookin good.  The plan is to keep the kale in pots (as opposed to squeezing them into the raised beds – where we finally put our tomatoes last weekend!), so it looks like we’re gonna need a lot more pots… Ken.

We have our first infiltrator

One  of these days, we’ll have to write a blog about our composting project.  That’s more Ken’s thing – so I’ll leave it to him.  For the purposes of this post, I just wanted to note that a) we compost and b) we have been adding some of the compost to our window boxes/pots/raised beds, as we plant seeds and transplant our seedlings.  We’ve also collected some of our compost “tea” and used it to water the plants after we first transplant them.  I can’t say if it’s done any good – but it certainly hasn’t done any harm.  Our indoor compost gets a lot of eggshells and vegetable waste… but I think we generally try to avoid any seeds.  That being said, I noticed this dude in our window box (which houses dill and sage) today:

It looks like the seed is growing straight out of one of the compost eggshells… so it’s definitely something we ate and threw away.  To me, it looks like a squash – similar to the squash plants we’re growing indoors right now – but I don’t think we’ve eaten squash in months.  So, I’m at a loss.  Eggplant??  I’m excited to find out.  I love that there’s a little mystery in our garden.

These were our squash plants a couple of weeks ago.  See the similarity?

The Roster

I ordered a few more seed packets online today, thinking that we didn’t have an eclectic enough mix of things to eat and look at.  Now that there are so many plants in the mix, I think it’s a good idea to catalog them, while noting some tips on spacing and size.  This will help us make sure that when we plant our baby plants outside in the next week or two, that we put them all in a place that makes sense and where they will fit as they continue to grow.  For example, I hadn’t quite appreciated that the tall telephone garden peas can grow up to 6 feet tall!  Clearly they are going to need something to climb (I haven’t yet decided if I want to use a pole or some kind of netting) and should probably be separated from the tomatoes, which are also going to be imposing.

Corn Salad / Mache-verte D’Etampes – (So excited about this one!)  Will yield rosettes of 4-8″ in diameter, and should be planted in rows about 10″ apart.  How close the plants are kept to each other will, to some extent, determine the size of the rosette.

Garden Pea (Tall Telephone) – Can grow up to about 6′ tall (though I read some reviews on the site I purchase seeds from, and people reported their vines growing even taller) – will require a structure for them to climb.

Spinach Monstrueux de Viroflay – space 6- 12″ apart, in rows 18 – 24″ apart.  These leaves can grow up to 10″ – but if snipped with scissors, so as not to disturb the heart of the plant, they should produce for a while.  Spinach loves nitrogen and will require a rich fertilizer.

Oriental Greens Ching Chang Bok Choy –  This is a baby bok choy, so it will only grow about 5″ tall.  Space 6-12″ apart, in rows 18- 24″ apart.  Harvest at 5″ tall.  And they produce early, so be prepared.

French Breakfast Radish – Thin to 2″ apart once the seedlings are established, and they prefer cool weather (so sow the seeds as soon as the ground is workable).  The other interesting thing I learned is that they shouldn’t be planted where lettuce/cabbage was planted the prior year, or they will be more susceptible to root-eating, nasty insects.

Onion, Noordhollandse Bloedrode – These survived the winter, so we don’t have to re-sow.  I did, however, just learn that they are ready to harvest when the plant is about the thickness of a pencil and falls over at soil level.

Summer Squash (Greyzini Zucchini) – Sow seeds about 36″ apart.  Our one viable seedling was accidentally squished, so we are going to put some of the remaining seeds right into the ground this weekend and hope they take.  These grow quite large, and what I’m reading recommends planting them about 24″+ apart.  That seems like a lot of space for squash… so we might have to move these to outside of the raised beds.

Basil – 6- 12″ apart, and thin the plants when they are about 2″ tall.  Basil doesn’t love the cold and won’t come back next year.  But the most important thing to note is that once a stem flowers, it will stop producing leaves.  So flowering stems should be pinched off to encourage more leaf growth.

Cilantro – These were started in a window box, and though they recommend that they stay about 6″ apart, I planted them slightly closer (probably about 4″ apart), with a row of Chamomile running parallel.  We’ll see how it goes. In cooler climates the cilantro will be productive only for about 6 weeks, and should be sown every 2-3 weeks to increase the length of the crop time.  The taller the plants get, the fewer usable leaves they produce.  It actually sounds like cilantro can be a tricky one to cultivate, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we are successful because I LOVE cilantro.  (I just read on another blog that cilantro seeds are used to “flavor European pastries and breads, liqueurs, gin, and middle-eastern coffee” – so we will definitely have to try this re: liqueurs/gin, coffee, and bread (now that we make our own bread… sometimes).)

Chamomile – Full disclosure: I bought chamomile because it’s pretty, I have no idea what we are going to do with it.  The plants prefer the sun, don’t require a lot of fertilizer, and would do well with a 12″ pot all to themselves (so I’ve definitely squished them in too closely in the window box I started them in; but it’s not a big deal and I’ve noticed them sprouting today, so I’ll just plan on transplanting them.)

Thyme – 5 seeds every 10″ and thin them when they become about 1″ tall.  The thinning isn’t really an issue for us, since we started them indoors and have already selected the heartier ones and transplanted them to larger containers.  Full sun/minimal fertilizer, and plan to harvest this herb around mid-summer.

Reisentraube Tomato –  These will grow to about 4-6′ tall.  (And it’s name means “Giant bunch of Grapes”!) If planted in a pot, include only one plant per container.  We were planning on putting them in one of the raised beds, so we’ll probably select the heartiest plant and do it that way.

Black Krim Tomato – These should be ready to harvest early summer, and will require 3-5′ of space.  I also just read that they have a naturally salty taste and so do not require salting when eating – hmmmmm.

Brandywine Tomato – Same shizz as with other tomatoes.  Tomatoes, in general, shouldn’t be the first plants to transplant outside (if started indoors) – they are on the delicate end of the plant spectrum.  The Brandywines, it seems, can grow anywhere from 3 to NINE feet tall.

Hot Pepper – These are warm weather plants and should be planted about 12-18″ inches apart.  I don’t like spicy food much, so I’m kinda secretly hoping these pepper seedlings we have wind up kicking the bucket.  They’ll be pretty, but I don’t want them popping up in my tomato sauce.

AND, as of today, the following seeds are on their way (from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, cuz they rule):

Blue Curled Scotch Kale (this is supposed to be one of the smaller kales, so I’m hoping we can squeeze it in one of the raised beds – if not, I’m envisioning some larger pots with a few kinds of veggies inside, which will be pretty and very hodge-podge in the style of British gardens.)

Southern Giant Curled Mustard Greens (Ken is gonna kill me, as these grow to be like 2′ tall – but this variety won some kind of farmer’s award once and will undoubtedly be lush and delicious.)

Yellow Wonder & Red Wonder Wild Strawberry (These are going directly into window boxes that we are going to hang on the bars across our back window.  They’ll be tasty and pretty and won’t mess with the valuable and sparse real estate left in our raised beds.)

Bleu de Solaise Leeks (I actually got these not to plant now, but to fill space in the beds later in the season because they’re really hearty and can be harvested almost into winter.)

Wrinkled Crinkled Cress (Despite the nursery rhyme name, I think cress is great and we will be glad we have it. It’s a spicier-flavored green.  And I am planning on putting this one in a pot all its own.)

Giant Cape Gooseberry (This is actually going to be an experiment.  I’m toying with the idea of moving one of our rose bushes (one of the smaller ones) to a large pot by our front door (could work?!) and growing a gooseberry bush in its place.  I don’t know a lot about them.  They sound neat and I’m a sucker for things that remind me of and/or are directly named after animals.  If it works, they are tangy and taste vaguely of pineapple – and that would be rad.)

Ali Baba Watermelon (We, in fact, have nowhere to put this guy, but I couldn’t help myself.  Plus, in trying to learn more about it, it came up on a list of “Three Great Watermelon Varieties To Plant Before You Die“… come ONnnnnnn, I couldn’t say no to that.)

Garden 2.0 (2012)

What’s most exciting about this year’s garden is starting from scratch, starting to make it ours, and learning as we go.  It was great last year to have inherited a fixer-upper, and to have reaped some extra veggies as a result.  But, this year, I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do on our own.

Some of it requires some vision and planning (and charting), but there’s definitely a significant dose of “plant some stuff and see what happens.”  For example, we are keeping these charts of our seedlings, so that we know in which sections we planted them and when:

We bought a seed-starting kit, and if you’re reading this I also recommend saving any tiny plastic containers you can (they’re all great for seed-starting).  I, for one, eat a lot of raspberries and blackberries and we’ve found those plastic containers – which happen to come pre-perforated at the bottom- perfect for starting seeds.

One of the two seed starting kits we used was from Burpee (and a lot of people I’ve spoken to you have used this, with success, as well.)  And we purchased a different, but similar one, at Sprout Home Brooklyn (the best place on earth if you like to garden or just like plants, in general.)

We’ve also learned (quaint and a fun DIY) that you can start your seeds in eggshells and newspaper (though I’ve read about both being less-than-ideal, so we stuck with what we bought at the store and what plastic containers we recycled from home.)

Here’s the rundown of the new plants we are growing from seed or have already sown in the yard.

Sunflower

Black-eyed Susan vine

Nasturtium

Chamomile

Cilantro

Thyme

Chives

Basil

Dill

Onion

Radish

Hot Pepper

Summer Squash

Tomato (Black Krim, Reisentraube, and Brandywine)

Bok Choy

Spinach

Mache-verte D’Etampes (Corn Salad)

Garden Pea

Rosemary

And, though I’ll write more about our process for growing seeds indoors later, here is what some of our baby plants look like after having been transplated from the seed starting kit to larger containers – but before being transplanted to the beds outside.

We’ve also seen reappearances of three different kinds of mint and our lavender!  It’s an herb-heavy garden, and I’m hoping to get (maybe) some Kale in there, at least, and some strawberries in a window box.  The other secret dream is a berry bush – but having failed at cultivating a blueberry bush in high school, I know how tricky those can be.

We also have two seed mixes that we plan to strategically place in the yard.  First, there’s a wildflower shade mix that I’ve already spread around the back perimeter of the yard (where it’s mostly shady all summer on account of the cherry tree & wisteria – and thus normally a mud pit).  Second, and my favorite, are two vials of “Colorado Wild Flowers” that were gifts to all of the wedding guests at a wedding we attended near Aspen this fall.  These were gorgeous but, I recall, sun-loving, so we are going to try to grown them in pots – which will hopefully appear haphazard, rustic, and charming 🙂

The veggies

When we moved in late July, there were tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, and zucchini more-or-less making the best of a bad situation in our new backyard.

As testament to the possibility that we may be living on radioactive, toxic, mutant Gowanus soil, we plucked this freak zucchini out of our yard in August:

The corn we ultimately uprooted and discarded.  While it was kind of pretty and immediately evocative of a sort of Americana nostalgia (or, in the alternative, horror film creepiness) – it was also big and floppy (in a bad way) and the corn cobs that it produced were atrophied and not really worth the yard space:

The tomatoes, on the other hand, were plentiful and healthy and of many varieties.  It was such a pleasant surprise to find some interesting heirloom varieties (which I’ve tried to recreate in this year’s garden).

Last year’s heirloom:

I think we sliced up the above tomato (and those like him) and ate them for what they were.  But we had quite a few tomatoes last year, and so we wound up making a lot of delicious, spicy tomato sauces.

Some of our other tomatoes:

This year, we’ve stared our tomatoes from seed (ripping the old ones out of the ground once the season ended – as you’re supposed to.)  We are looking forward to:

Reisentraube Tomato

This old German heirloom was offered in Philadelphia by the mid-1800’s. The sweet red 1-oz fruit grow in large clusters, and the name means “Giant Bunch of Grapes” in German. It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today’s cherry types. Large plants produce massive yields.  (Can be ordered here)

Brandywine Tomato

Brandywine, which dates back to 1885, is the heirloom tomato standard. One taste and you’ll be enchanted by its superb flavor and luscious shade of red-pink. The large, beefsteak-shaped fruits grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. The fruits set one or two per cluster and ripen late—and are worth the wait. Brandywine’s qualities really shine when it develops an incredible fine, sweet flavor.  (Can be ordered here)

Black Krim Tomato

Originally from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union. This rare, and outstanding tomato yields 3-4″ slightly flattened dark-red (mahogany-colored) slightly maroon, beefsteak tomatoes with deep green shoulders. Green gel around seeds. Fantastic, intense, slightly salty taste (which is great for those not wanting to add salt to their tomatoes).  Black Krim is one of my best black tomatoes. Also suitable for container/patio garden. Perfect choice for slicing, salads and cooking.  (Can be ordered here)  Isn’t there something pomegranate-like about them and their dark seed spaces?

And I haven’t fully excluded the possibility of growing another variety in a pot out front 🙂  But I eat at least 1-2 tomatoes a day, on average – so there’s definitely a demand in our home that would support such a supply.

The fig

One of the first plants I bought last year when we moved in was a fig tree.  A tiny one.  Why?  Because figs are amazing and I would eat them all day, every day if I could find them anywhere other than Whole Foods and affordably.

I have no idea how many years it takes for a fig of this size to grow into a full-on fig-producing tree.  Probably a while.  I can report that it’s back this year, with buds and new growth, but not demonstrably larger (so far).