Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Squash update

After a few days of worrying that only one of the squash seeds would come to fruition, I finally see a second seedling breaking through the soil. Click on the picture below to get a better view of the second seedling located just above and to the right of the larger one. This is great news as squash is my favorite of the vegetables I planted and would love it if this plants yields a good amount of squash in time for fall.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Week 2

After two full weeks since being planted, there is much to report on the thyme, basil, chard and squash.

When the thyme first started sprouting I was amazed by how quickly the seedlings started shooting up from the soil. The same is true of the basil. However, after what appeared to be quick progress in the first days of sprouting, both the thyme and basil seem to have stalled. Below is a picture of the thyme. Not much has changed in the last couple days.

The same holds true for the basil. The rapid growth in the first few days of germination led me to believe that the seedlings would develop into thicker and sturdier plants in a matter of days. This certainly has not been the case as you can see from the picture below:

One thing I'm quickly learning is that seedlings are very delicate and much care must be taken when watering. Initially, I was using a spray bottle to water all my plants but that quickly became ineffective as my plant's watering needs increased. I thus switched to a watering can, which is more effective because it allows you to water your plants more rapidly with it's more powerful streams of water. The downside is that if you're not careful, you run the risk of crushing your seedlings with the powerful stream of water. I learned this the hard way. Both the basil and thyme seeds were flattened the first time I watered them with the can. Luckily, they proved to be quite resilient and bounced right back the following morning. The swiss chard however, may not have been so lucky. As you can see below, many of the seedlings remain flattened. My guess is that watering with the can may have damaged the stems.

When the chard seedlings first began to wilt I assumed that like the herbs they would eventually perk up. However, it has now been three days and most of them continue to lifelessly lay sideways. I have been very careful when watering them, making sure not to use too much water yet things have not improved. They don't necessarily look like they're dead or dying, but I am also not quite sure this is totally normal. Hopefully the next few days will provide some answers.

The squash has been puzzling me as well the last few days. Up to this point, only one seedling has sprouted. When the other plants first started sprouting at least a few seeds of each sprouted within days of the first one, yet for the squash it has now been three days since the first seedling sprouted and there is no sign that any of the others will follow suit. I am wondering whether it has anything to do with the fact that this is a larger seed and thus a larger plant. Perhaps the pot is not big enough to hatch multiple seedlings?

On a side note, only one week after being planted, the snow peas are really starting to sprout. If you click on the picture below, you can see quite a few little green sprouts. I am surprised by how many are popping up at once. This is one of the plants where I used the second type of soil, so i'm wondering whether that has anything to do with the rapid growth or whether it's just the nature of this type of seed. Either way I am quite pleased with the results thus far.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 9

Nine days after being planted, the first of the squash seeds has sprouted! Up to this point there had been no sign of life coming from this planter, but overnight this seedling popped up from the soil and is already about two inches long. Unlike the other plants, where multiple seedlings sprouted at the same time there is only one squash seedling at the moment. However, I'm hoping that the rest will soon follow.

As you can see below, at nine days, the swiss chard really seems to be taking off. There are multiple seedlings that have sprouted. It's a bit difficult to see from the picture but the swiss chard seedlings are quite colorful; red, purple and yellow are among the colors. As the seedlings continue to grow and develop into full leaves I suspect this plants will provide a nice splash of color on my balcony.

As for the thyme and basil, there is very little change from the previous pictures I posted. The newly planted seeds have been in the soil for only a couple days so there is no growth, but I am hopeful that in a few more days I will start to see some signs of sprouting. For the newly planted seeds I continue watering twice a day, morning and night. The squash, chard, basil and thyme I've been watering less frequently. I have been monitoring each of these plants to make sure the soil is moist and only watering them as needed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Round 2

The trip to the nursery was a success, not only did I purchase an additional sack of potting soil, but after looking through the large selection of seeds Ryan talked me into trying a different type of plant: flowers! When the idea of a garden first crossed my mind flowers never played a part in the plan. I automatically assumed growing flowers from the seed should be left to professionals. The delicate nature of these plants sets them aside from simple herbs such as basil or thyme. However, seeing the progress my garden had made in just a week emboldened me, so I decided to give flowers a try.

When I got home I immediately went to work on cleaning out the remaining pots.

Once I cleaned out and refilled the pots with fresh soil I was ready to start planting the next round of seeds. (On a side note, when I got home I realized that the sack of potting soil I purchased was different from the first sack. I wasn't sure if this mattered so I read the label on the back of each of the bags and compared the two. I found that the ingredients in the two types of soil were different. I'm not sure whether it will make a huge difference but this is something I will definitely research as my garden progresses. In the meantime, I'll just assume one type of soil is as good as the next.)

I decide to start by planting the flowers. After perusing the various types of seeds at the nursery (and reading the instruction labels on the back), Ryan helped me decide on the Powderpuff Aster: these sounded like the easiest to grow and maintain.

The seeds are interesting in appearance; they look like something a bird might eat. The instructions on the back of the seed packet call for planting in a well drained container, so I am using one with two large holes at the bottom for proper draining. The container is 12 inches in height and 12 inches in diameter. Ryan is most excited about this plant and encourages me to plant more seeds than the instruction call for, so I take about 12 seeds and scatter them throughout the pot.

After scattering the seeds I sprinkle fresh soil on top of the seeds, but I'm being careless and probably add too much soil. I don't know whether to try and dig out the seeds and replant them, instead i just add a few extra seeds closer to the surface.

Next is spinach, which is not only one of my favorite leafy vegetables but is also one of the most nutrient-rich foods around. As some of you might remember, not too long ago the USDA announced a major recall of spinach contaminated by salmonella. Ever since, I've been a little weary of store-bought spinach, so the thought of growing my own is very exciting.

For the spinach, I used a pot that is 12inches in height and 13 inches in diameter. I took ten seeds total and distributed them throughout, leaving about two inches in space between the seeds.

Finally, I have a packet of snow pea seeds that I will plant in the largest of the remaining pots; this one is 16 inches deep and 17 inches in diameter. Like the squash, this is a larger seed, making it very easy to plant. I planted ten seeds approximately one inch deep and making sure to keep them at least two inches apart.

After planting all the seeds I am left with one extra pot. I considered using the pot to plant extra thyme and basil, but I decided I already had my hands full and instead will hold off on using this final pot until further progress.

One week later

After six days of being planted, the basil seeds are really starting to take off. There are many more seedlings sprouting; as you can see from the picture below.

On the seventh day there is even more progress from the basil. There is visible growth from one day to the next, which is very encouraging. At this rate, I feel that my plant may yield edible leaves in just a few short weeks.

As for my other plants, the thyme has also started sprouting and is now growing at about the same rate as the basil. Unfortunately, the pictures I took of the other plants were inadvertently erased. The swiss chard has also been coming along quite nicely. There are about eight multi-colored sprouts that have come through the soil. The squash is not faring as well. At the moment there seems to be only one seedling in the very early stages of sprouting. Looks like this seed is slower to sprout so I am not too worried just yet.

After watering my plants this morning, Ryan and I decided to take a quick trip to another nursery to buy more potting soil and perhaps some more seeds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's alive!

Four nights after I planted the first round of seeds I had a dream that my plants began sprouting. As you can imagine, as soon as I got out of bed the following morning I eagerly made my way to the balcony to check on my plants. Upon inspecting the various pots I made an exciting discovery! The Italian basil had begun to germinate! I counted about 12 tiny green sprouts in the very early stages of breaking through the soil. You can almost see the tiny green dots in the picture below.

Ok, so maybe this isn't the best picture, but it's very early on, so it's quite difficult to see the sprouts. One thing that worries me though is the number of sprouts and their close proximity to each other. I'm afraid that overcrowding will lead to problems further down the road . Luckily it'll be a few weeks before I need to worry about this as it will take at least that long for the plants to mature. In the meantime I'll keep an eye on the plants and maybe do some research to see what can be done to prevent any problems. At this point there are no signs of life from the other three pots.

On a side note, up to this stage I had been lightly watering the plants twice a day: in the morning and at night. My aim has been to keep the soil slightly moist but making sure not to soak the seeds and risk over-watering.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sowing my first seeds

After a few weeks of preparation (and lots of procrastination) I am finally ready to plant my first seed. I have everything I'll need; pots, soil, seeds and a nifty gardening kit Ryan was nice enough to buy for me.

Before I dig in and start planting seeds I decide I should probably do a little research... and by research I of course mean Google. I decide to start with the English Thyme seeds I bought on a quick trip to the nursery at Anawalt Lumber http://www.anawaltlumber.com (unfortunately I didn't take pictures of the nursery).

I do a quick Google search for "planting thyme seeds." I click on the first search result, which tells me I should plant my seeds in march; it is July. Doh! I click through a few more websites but I start to find contradictory information. For example, one website tells me thyme requires little to no attention and is very easy to grow. However, I click on another site and I find two full pages of instructions and suggestions. I am only a few minutes into my "research" and I am already annoyed and bored. I decide I'm going to try the trial by error approach and just go for it. I'll plant the seeds first and ask questions later.

I make sure to completely empty out the pot I'll be using and then I begin to fill it with fresh potting soil. As you can see, She-ra is already making life difficult. She is curious by nature and insists on sticking her face in the dirt...this does not bode well for my garden.

The pot I am using is seven inches in height by eight inches in diameter, I fill it with soil to about three inches from the top. On the label in back of the seed packet it tells me to plant the seeds at about 1/8 inch in depth and to use about 4-5 seeds per inch.

This seems easy enough, however, when i open the packet and sprinkle the seeds into my palm they are practically microscopic.

I do my best to try and separate five seeds in the palm of my hand but my stubby fingers make it nearly impossible to do so. I figure I am already winging this whole operation so decide I'm just going to take pinches of seeds and sprinkle them throughout the pot approximately one inch apart from each other. I finish by sprinkling soil on top of the seeds until they are more or less 1/8 of an inch under the layer of soil.

I look at my first seeded pot and wonder whether any of the seeds will ever sprout. After all my initial concerns, when I break it down, the process seemed quite easy. In fact, it almost seemed too easy, which convinces me I must have done something wrong. At this point there is no going back though, so I figure I should just keep going.

I move on to one of the larger pots, which I decide to use for the Jumbo Pink Banana Squash.

The pot I use for the squash is approximately 15 inches deep and 16 inches in diameter. I fill this pot with soil to about five inches from the top. I have no real reason for leaving this much space, but I figure it might be good for the plants once they begin to grow. On the back of the packet it says to plant the seeds at an inch in depth leaving six inches between each seed. As you can see, these larger seeds are much more manageable and I am able to plant them individually. While I am trying to plant the seeds, She-ra continues sticking her nose into the pots and trying to eat some of the dirt.

Figuring she needs to get used to the idea of sharing the balcony with other living things I decide not to put her inside while I'm doing this. My plan is to use reverse psychology, so I let her be involved in this process in the hopes that she becomes uninterested in what I'm doing. So far, it's not working, but I continue. I plant a total of 10 seeds, but they are definitely not six inches apart from each other. I figure that if crowding occurs I can always transfer some of the plants to another pot.

Next up is the Bright Lights Swiss Chard. For this I use a pot 10 inches in depth by 13 in diameter. These are an interesting looking seeds, they are small and look like cloves. They are so dry and dead looking I once again wonder how anything can grow from this, but proceed planting them anyway.

The directions call for 1/2 inch in depth and 18 inches in in row space. Hmm. I am puzzled as the pot is only 13 inches in diameter. I figure I'll go ahead and plant 14 seeds anyway and disperse them as best as possible throughout the pot. I'm hoping I didn't use too many seeds.

At this point, I am pretty much out of soil and will only have enough for one more pot, so I decide to use the Italian Basil seeds.

Like the thyme, these seeds are tiny and nearly impossible to get a hold of individually, so once again I turn to sprinkling pinches in the pot. I use the same type of pot I used for the thyme and disperse the clusters of seeds leaving about an inch of space in between. Unlike the thyme, the basil seeds call for a 1/4 inch in depth so I do my best to estimate how much this is by sprinkling dirt over the seeds.

While I am doing this I turn around to find She-ra digging up the freshly planted Swiss chard seeds on the other side of the balcony. I yell and run over to get her to stop and she scurries into the apartment like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Ryan closes the door and keeps her inside while I survey damage; luckily it's not much. I re-plant what she's uncovered and add a little more soil to the top.

Having almost run out of soil I decide to save the snow peas and spinach for the next round. Now, it's time to water my seeds. Again, I am at a loss. How much water? My guess is that each type of plant has different watering needs, but not wanting to go back to Google for answers I decide I'll just wing it. I take a spray bottle and decide to spray each pot until it seems there is enough moisture to seep a couple inches deep.

After I am done spraying all the seedlings I make sure the pots are out of of She-ra's reach (this must be what it's like having a child). Satisfied with my work, I clean up my workspace and start the countdown. If all goes according to plan, in about five days the basil should begin to sprout and I should have some colorful Swiss chard in as little as 35 days. Here's hoping for a successful garden!

Monday, July 5, 2010

My First Trip to the Nursery

Now that I know what I have to work with, it is time to make my first trip to the nursery. I don't know much about nurseries, so I figure each is just as good as the next. I decide to hit up the closest one to me. It is called Xotx-Tropico and it is only a few blocks from my apartment.

The place is small and cramped, I walk to the back but have no idea what i'm doing so I decide it's probably best to go into the "store," which is really just an old shack about the size of a bathroom.

The man behind the counter is not what you expect to find working at a nursery. He is in his mid to late 50's medium-length gray hair and is wearing a blue baseball cap and dark sunglasses. He's got a war-vet turned biker look with a stern appearance and at first I'm a little hesitant about approaching him for help. Although his steely demeanor is unchanged, once I engage him with questions he turns out to be quite knowledgeable and eager to help. I explain my blog to him and ask for suggestions. First, he tells me, I'll need some potting soil, which he points to but has no intention of helping me carry to the register for check out. I decide I'll just leave it there and I tell him I'll grab it on my way out to my car.

Next, he tells me I need seeds (duh, even I knew this much). He gets up and walks around to my side of the counter. His gait is indicative of someone with a bad leg or knee injury (perhaps why he made no effort to help me with the soil?). I ask him what he recommend I start with. He points to the wall, and a disappointingly limited variety of seeds, and tells me that they are all good choices for beginners. We discuss the number and sizes of pots I have to work with and together we decide on Swiss Chard, Squash, Spinach and Snow Peas to get me started. I want some herbs as well, but he says he expects a big shipment of seeds in the next few days and suggests I come back when he has a better selection of herb seeds. Fair enough. I chat with him a few more minutes and he gives me some planting tips. At this point, I am tempted to ask if I can take his picture for my blog. I take a look around the place once more and decide I probably won't be coming back here so I nix the photo idea. He rings up my first gardening purchase: $27.86. Hmm, seems high for a sack of potting soil and four packets of seeds. Figuring I could have purchased a week's worth of produce at Ralphs with this money, I immediately start to question whether my new hobby is fiscally sound. For a split second, I consider calling this whole thing off but then I tell myself that these are probably just start-up costs, you know, like starting a business. I hand over my credit card. He wishes me luck and I tell him I'll see him soon (I know I won't). I take my purchases and head to my car.

On the drive home I gave the cost of my first purchase some further thought and decide it was definitely too expensive. After all, I was just buying seeds and soil, both of which are freely found in nature. I realize there are costs associated with packaging and distributing these goods, but this seemed excessive. This then got me thinking about food production in general. The average person is so disconnected from food production that we take it for granted. When we walk down to our local supermarket, we simply expect the products we need to be sitting there, waiting for us to purchase them. The convenience of supermarkets is a luxury made possible by the industrial revolution and globalization, but in my opinion, this also resulted in an unfortunate consequence: it has left most of us clueless with regards to the the most basic and universal need for human survival: the ability and knowledge to grow food. With the pace of modern life, our demanding jobs and our obligations to friends and family most people living in cities simply don’t have the time nor desire to consider something as archaic as growing their own food, and I am certainly not suggesting that everyone should grow their own food. However, what I do suggest is that the know-how and ability to grow food (if we choose to do so), should not be completely absent in urban populations. There is an inherent importance and power that comes from self-subsistence that most people don't stop to consider, I certainly didn't until I started this blog. I hope my readers (if any remain after this rant) will come to share this view as they follow me through this learning process. Going back to my initial thought as to whether my first purchase was expensive, I guess that will depend on the success of my garden. If I miraculously manage to teach myself to grow food on my balcony then I think that knowledge alone is worth the $27.86 I spent.