Friday, August 27, 2010

Good News/Bad News

First the bad news. After getting of to a great , spinach seedlings have all withered and died. The unusually cool summer had helped them grow at first but the increased heat of the past couple weeks was too much for the fragile seedlings.

The above picture is from two weeks ago. It's a little difficult to tell but the seedlings are already showing signs of trouble. With each passing day they seemed to become more and more shriveled. One week after the above picture was taken almost all of the seedlings were gone as seen in the picture below:

A couple days after the above picture was taken the pot was completely empty. All the seedlings disappeared, it was almost as if they had evaporated.

Although the snow peas are not completely gone, these too have been greatly affected by the heat. A few weeks ago the seedlings were growing very rapidly and appeared green, sturdy and quite healthy. That has all changed. They are now slowly withering and many of the leaves are shriveling up and dying. I tried cutting the sickly looking leaves but that didn't seem to help much. In the picture below the seedlings look much healthier than they look up close in person.

After speaking to various people as well as some online research, it appears there is a very simple explanation for the failure of these seedlings: the weather. The lesson learned here is DO NOT GROW SPINACH OR SNOW PEAS IN THE SUMMER. Actually, do not grow any leafy vegetable in the summer is what I took away from my research.

On to the good news. The wooden box where i planted the sweet william flowers, oregano and the powderpuff asters (again) has come alive with activity the last couple days. To be honest, I do not recall which side of the box i planted what in, but judging by what has sprouted, I can take a good guess. On the left side of the box is where the seedlings sprouted first. I believe these must be the sweet william flowers. The middle has a good amount of seedlings as well; these are the oregano seeds. The right side of the box...well...nothing is really happening, which leads me to believe is where i sowed those pesky powderpuffs.

For some reason, whenever I try photographing any of the pots where the seedlings are in the early stages of sprouting the picture ends up blurry and out of focus. I've tried changing the camera settings but nothing seems to help. So if you can't really make out what you're seeing in the pictures above, you'll just have to take my word that there are quite a number of seedlings growing in the wooden box. I do not want to get too excited as the seedlings are still quite young, but it's looking as if I may be able to grow some flowers after all.

I have not had time to post much the last couple weeks and there is a lot to report on. For now though, this mini-post will have to do and hopefully by the weekend I'll have a longer post with additional updates and pictures.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Unless you're living under a rock, I'm sure that by now you've heard about the massive egg recall taking place across more than a dozen states throughout the country. But just in case you are in fact living under a rock ; ) here is a link to the story:

This story gives me a chance to slightly deviate from my usual content to discuss one of the reasons for starting my garden in the first place. As some of you might recall in my early posts, I mentioned the fact that most of us are so disconnected from our food sources that we have no idea where our food comes from. We simply walk to the grocery store, buy our food and rarely think twice about what we're eating, where it came from and whether it's even safe to eat. We just assume that if it's in the store, then it's edible. I'm not suggesting next time you're checking out at the supermarket to eye the contents of your cart suspiciously. Instead, I'm merely pointing out the fact that despite the many benefits of our modern food production system there also exist many potentially dangerous consequences that we rarely stop to consider. Upon reading this story a few troubling things really jumped out at me.

The first is that people started getting sick as early as June, yet the recall of the eggs did not commence until August 13th. That means, that for at least two months, potentially harmful eggs contaminated with salmonella sat in grocery stores and sold to millions of people across the country. Chances are you may have consumed some of these tainted eggs on more than one occasion.

Second, the affected eggs were not limited to just one or two brands of eggs but at least THIRTEEN different brands. Why is this disturbing? Because among them, are brands that claim to be "organic" and "free range" eggs. That means those who pay a little more money for eggs that are are supposedly coming from safer and cleaner conditions are no better off than those who pay for generic brand eggs. In reality, you really don't know where exactly your eggs are coming from and what conditions they are exposed to before they reach your plate and ultimately your stomach.

Finally, the recall began last week with a few million eggs, but as of now that figure has grown to over 380 million eggs. That is a huge number and there is a likelihood that it could continue to grow. So even if the eggs currently sitting in your fridge aren't on the recall list (which by the way can be found here: ), there is a possibility that tomorrow they will be. So what is a consumer to do?

The fact of the matter is that we are a very large country (world in fact) and the sheer number of people needed to be fed requires food production on a scale so massive that situations such as this are sometimes unavoidable. When you are concentrating the processing of hundreds of millions of eggs to just a few facilities it's impossible to keep things running smoothly and safely 100% of the time. When a part of the massive food production system gets infected (in this case, the egg processing plants), chances are that contamination will spread to a large portion of the food coming from this location. The scary part is that it may takes days, weeks or even months before the damage is assessed and the public is warned. In the meantime we continue consuming the tainted product.

Trust me, I am not about to start raising chickens on my balcony to ensure the eggs I eat are safe. Again, I merely want to point to the fact that perhaps localized food production is not such a bad idea and that eventually, it might be nice if people living in cities had the knowledge and ability to grow even a portion of their food. This is what my garden is about. Hopefully I am able to show myself and others that it is possible to grow some of your food if you ever wanted or needed to.

Now go straight to you fridge and make sure your eggs are safe to eat : )

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not giving up on flowers...

This past Sunday I made a trip to home depot to put my gift card to use. I purchased a great little wooden basket that I will use to plant a mix of flowers and herbs. I tried finding a garden table for the basket, but nothing captured my attention. I considered buying material to build my own table, but on second thought I decided to stick with learning to garden before moving on to carpentry. In addition to the basket, I also purchased more seeds. I told myself I wouldn't let the failure of my powderpuffs deter me from growing flowers so I decided on the Heirloom Sweet William seeds, which appear to be a mixture of various flowers. Other than the artistic rendering of what the flowers will allegedly look like once grown, I don't really know much about this variety of flowers. One thing, however, immediately sold me on these seeds: the words 'GUARANTEED TO GROW' right there on the label. I'm sure that what they really mean is, "guaranteed to grow....if you know what you're doing" but I'll take my chances.

In addition to the flowers, I also picked up a packet of oregano seeds to use in the wooden basket. I figured I've had good luck with herbs so far, and if I can't get the flowers to grow I can at least have some oregano plants and their cool looking purple flowers in my wooden basket.

When I returned home, I immediately went to work on planting my new seeds. I used the wooden basket to plant the sweet william flower mix, the oregano AND I am giving the powderpuff asters another shot. Perhaps the smaller container will help the seeds germinate this time around. I should also note that before filling the basket with potting mix, I lined it with plastic bags to prevent the wood from rotting (a tip from my friendly neighbor).

In addition to my new basket, I planted 3 squash seeds in the container I originally used for the powderpuffs. First though, I mixed in some fresh soil and this time I added enough potting mix to bring it to about half inch from the top. (This is a tip I received from a member at the Blossom Swap forum). The thinking behind this is that when the seeds are closer to the surface they receive more direct sunlight and water which should facilitate germination. I used this same technique in the wooden basket. Below is a picture of basket, the newly planted squash seeds, spinach and the basil and thyme.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Flowers.... or lack thereof

It's been over three weeks now and the powderpuff seeds still have not sprouted. I am ready to accept defeat. The question now is, do I try again? I think my garden definitely needs at least one flower pot in the mix so yes, I will try again. This weekend calls for a trip to the nursery for some additional supplies and hopefully some free advice from the friendly employees.

This past week was my birthday and some very thoughtful friends gifted me three great gardening books and a gift card to home depot. I intend to use the gift card for some added supplies and the books for some much needed research.

In addition to the books, I have found a great online forum ( where a wide variety of people with gardens connect to share advice and tips. My favorite part of the forum is that people are extremely friendly and eager help answer questions and to provide advice. Already between the books and the online forum I've learned some valuable information that would have been very helpful at the start of this project. I say better late than never when it comes to acquiring new knowledge. I will certainly be better prepared for the next round of seeding.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One Months Update

Entering into the second month of this project, I am a little surprised by how fast things moved the first few weeks. With work and other obligations it has been very difficult keeping up with the blogging and reporting on the progress of my garden, I feel like to this point I've always been a few days behind with my posts. Moving forward, I will do my post more frequently and to stay current with my updates. Having said that, this is a good time to check in with each of the seven types of seeds I've planted thus far.

Lets start off with the bad news and get that out of the way. As you might recall a few posts back, Ryan convinced me to grow flowers from seed. At the time I was feeling quite confident with my early successes so I decided to give it a try. Two weeks since planting the powderpuff asters my fears have been realized. Flowers really are a whole other ball game. Except for the tiny spider that's made it its home this pot is devoid of life. According to some of my research, the seeds should have germinated by 10 days, however, its now been 14 days and nothing is happening.

Some further research revealed that I should have kept the seeds moist by placing them in between two wet paper towels and not transferring them to a large pot until the seeds germinated. I guess it's too late for that, so I will continue to wait one more week and see if anything sprouts. If it doesn't then I will move on and try a different type of seed.

The swiss chard and the spinach are more successful than the flowers only in that they've at least managed to sprout some seedlings. However, I am not terribly impressed with either one's progress just yet. As mentioned in a previous posts, I was having problems with the swiss chard. After I started using the watering can the chard seemed to go flat.

Above is the watering can I've been using and yes that is She-ra once again sneaking into the picture (more on her later). There has been some improvement on the chard, but many of the seedlings remain flat despite my careful efforts when watering. They don't appear dead though, so that's a good sign, but at three weeks since seeding I was expecting more progress.

Although it's only been two weeks, the same holds true for the spinach. So far, the few seedlings look very unimpressive. I'm not quite sure what happened to the seeds I planted in the middle of the pot as the only ones that sprouted are on the outside part of the pot closer to the edge. Did I forget to add seeds in the middle? It's possible. I'm still hopeful this produces a good amount of spinach.

After an initial burst of activity, both the the thyme and basil continue to make slow but steady progress. Here is a picture of the thyme, which seems to finally be filling in a bit.

The same is true of the basil plant. I don't have a stand alone picture of the basil, but here is a good side by side comparison of the two herb plants. The thyme is on the left and the basil on the right.

After some initial worrying about the squash, the two seedlings that sprouted have really been growing strong. Each is now about 4 inches in height and seem quite sturdy and strong. I'm still not sure what happened to the rest of the seeds, but I have high hopes that these two will end up producing a good crop of squash.

I used my best photography skills (which isn't saying much) to try and get a shot that captures their size:

I saved the best for last. Although it's only been two weeks since I planted the snow peas, I am simply blown away by how quickly and fully these seeds are sprouting and growing. I was certain I had planted only 10 seeds, however at present moment I can count 15 large seedlings (although, at this point I'm not sure if I can still call them that) neatly growing at what appear to be equal distances in between each of them.

As you can see, this is by far the fastest growing plant in my garden and despite being a week younger, they have surpassed the squash in height. Here are a couple more pictures that better display the quick progress.

Watching my garden grow has been very exciting. As you can see, some of the plants have made much quicker progress than others. The snow peas in particular really caught me by surprise as I was not expecting these results in such a short amount of time. I'm realizing that every plant is vastly different from each other and that some require more attention, water and sun than others. Up to this point I've been keeping all the big pots huddled together in the corner, safely protected from She-ra with a doggy gate wrapped around the pots.

This weekend I decided to try something a little different. If I expect my plants to grow and develop I need to allow them more freedom around my balcony as well as more individual attention. Despite my fears they would fall victims to an attack by a sneaky shiba inu, I went ahead and removed the doggy gate and positioned the pots throughout the balcony moving them around throughout the day to ensure I maximized their exposure to direct sunlight. This quickly brought She-ra out to the balcony to explore. I wasn't sure how she would react so I cautiously watched over her as she approached the thyme.

Turns out she was only interested in sticking her nose in the pots and sniffing the plants. I was very relieved to see that eating or destroying the plants were not in her agenda. The more I allowed her space to roam around the balcony sniffing all the plants the more fascinated and bolder she became. The sniffing became more intense and although she did nibble on the chard for a quick second for the most part she behaved herself. I am however not yet convinced she can be wholly trusted around the plants without my or Ryan's supervision so after a few hours I put the gate back up. Before doing so however, I took this adorable picture of Ryan and She-ra hanging out next to the squash.