Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moving Seedlings Outdoors to Harden Off

With warm weather on the way, I decided it was time to bring out my seedlings that have been growing under lights in our garage and introduce them to some real light. No sense in throwing them into the ground without proper conditioning, right?

I usually start with taking the trays outside for a couple of hours when it is either slightly overcast or earlier/later in the day when the sun's rays are not as strong. This gives the plants just a taste of that stronger sun.

The next day I might do so again but during a period of time when the sunlight is more intense. I always make sure that the soil is plenty moist during this transition period. They would dry to a crisp without adequate water.

By about the third day, they're ready to be outside all day as long as it's not an unusually warm day. I bring them in for the night if needed as our temperatures can still drop down into the 40s and it can be quite a shock for them.

Day four has them outside all day and into the cool of the evening. Depending on the temperatures, they may stay outside all night. They're are going to have to get accustomed to it sooner or later.

After having a couple of complete days and nights outside, my little seedlings are ready to start their life in the garden. By helping them adjust to temperature fluctuations and more intense sunlight, they shouldn't suffer any setbacks once they're in the ground.

Now the countdown can begin to the first ripe tomato.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Seedlings are Growing Like Weeds

Remember those pepper plants in the last post that needed potting up a size? Well, due to a bout with a nasty flu and upper respiratory virus, they had to wait a little longer. I did get them moved up this weekend along with the tomatoes and basil. Just too far behind in life to actually get a photo to go along with this, but I'm telling you...some new soil and room for the roots to stretch out along with their weekly watered down fertilizer has made them take off. Mind you I only re potted them on Saturday, but by Monday, those tomatoes were scorching their leaves on the grow lights. I'm sure they put on at least an inch growth. It has helped too that we've had temperatures in the 80s to get them going. The peppers haven't put on much height but have definitely experienced an increase in leaf size.

In this climate, I usually don't set out my tomatoes unprotected until Memorial Day which is creeping up close this year. As I don't have any immediate means to protect them, I'm thinking of waiting a week or two more. Since they haven't stalled out their growth, I think it's safe to expect them to stay in their pots and under lights for a little longer.

Our field pumpkins got potted up as well and are growing fantastically. I don't have a place ready for them and am a little hesitant to keep them in pots indefinitely. My DD7, H-Bob, would like a sunflower house this year. Our plan was to plant our sunflower seeds in a U shape with the opening being a door to her 'fort'. The pumpkins will grow along the perimeter and will be encouraged to grow away from the house hopefully. But as we just figured out how to keep the family dog from marauding the garden and gated the chickens so they no longer leave ornaments all over the front porch and driveway, I'm not sure when we'll get to figuring out how to secure an area safe from their scratching feet. Will have to be soon though.

I can hear the rain outside tonight, so that tells me I won't need to spend time watering. I'm hoping that little bit of saved time will allow me to tackle some of the weeds that are in the process of taking over the raspberries and the new blueberry bushes.

Oh for more time in the garden....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Starting Seeds Indoors

We live in the Pacific Northwest which can be damp, cold, and raining through May and possibly June. Direct seeding all of our garden vegetables can be risky and generally not very rewarding. Hence the reason many years ago, I slowly armed myself with tools to start seeds indoors successfully.

Here's a brief rundown of how I go about it:

* Using nine-cell starting pots, I fill the cells with a seed starting medium. You can purchase it already prepared, or some years I mix together my own using 2 parts bagged potting soil to 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite. The cells are placed in a tray which is filled about half full with warm water in order for the dry soil to absorb the moisture necessary for germination.

Seed starting medium

Growing trays filled with nine-cell pots ready for seeding.

* I love purchasing seeds through the Territorial Seed Company. In absence of purchasing their very reliable and region-specific seeds, I settle for other seeds produced by companies in the northwest such as Ed Hume Seeds. Using popsicle sticks for labels, I plant the seeds - usually just one variety per nine-cell pot - and cover them with a fine layer of vermiculite.

My collection of vegetable seeds from Territorial Seeds.

* I attribute much of my seed starting success to a growing mat which releases gentle heat underneath the tray and warms the soil to an ideal temperature for germination. Our laundry room where I start the seeds is rarely over 65 degrees, so this insures warmth for the seeds. The trays are either loosely covered with a layer of plastic wrap or with a plastic dome cover designed to enhance moisture retention.

Warming mats are so helpful in successful germination in cold climates.

* The minute I see growth from the seeds, they are promptly put under my growing lights. I happen to have a two-tier plant stand designed just for this with two rows of fluorescent lights suspended over each layer. Each tier of lights is supplied with a warm and a cool toned bulb to provide a full spectrum of light for growth. And just to make life easier on me, I use a timer to turn my grow lights on and off after a 12-14 hour light cycle each day.

Two-tier grow light system

Simple timer to control lights.

* After the first set of true leaves appear - those that have the characteristic of the plant itself - I carefully remove the plant from its cell and transplant it into a four-cell pot using more of the same seed starting medium. This allows the roots room to grow and spread. When they begin to outgrow this container and if the weather is still too cool to set them outside, they are moved up into individual 2" pots.

Basil seedlings ready to be potted up into four-cell pots.

These pepper plants should have been potted up earlier. A little too much growth for these pots.

Tomato starts in their four-cell pots.

2" pots for transplanting

* About once a week they are watered with a diluted root and bloom type of liquid fertilizer to develop a healthy root system.

There are always exceptions to the rules and sometimes I do take the chance of skipping steps that are beneficial for the plants. The seedlings should gradually be introduced to the outdoor temperatures before being set out. The seedlings may become a little root-bound and may need to skip the four-cell pots and move up into their own individual pot. But usually the varieties I'm growing are all forgiving of my lack of observation or time. Starting with nine plants of the variety you wish to grow usually insures that you'll have plenty of plants to set out and give away to friends as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Raised Bed Box Gardening and the Square Foot Method - Box 1

Today was a great day...I was able to set out the first transplants of the season and direct seed some vegetables into my new box gardens.

As you can tell from my prior post Getting the Garden Ready for Spring there wasn't anything spectacular about my garden area this past spring. I had debated on whether to go back to box gardening and the square foot method in particular. My most successful gardens at other houses we have lived in were box gardens. Sometimes they were difficult to till as the dirt would spill onto the pathways and there was never the option to change the layout of the garden. Because of that, I have hestiated for the past seven years to put in box gardens here. There was also the part of me that thought a rural home needed traditional row gardens, but since I'm over that now, I'm finally ready to get serious about maximizing my space with these new beds.

I also had a hard time considering growing your own vegetables to be frugal minded if one had to go out and purchase frames and dirt for the beds. My husband likes to create things for posterity - including garden beds - but I was able to convince him to just purchase cheap boards and call it good. With the four-way garden soil purchased at a local landscape supply and the wood from Home Depot, each of my four 4' x 4' raised garden beds cost a total of $12 each. These frames should last several years and are not so large that if I got a hankering to move and rearrange them that I could. Based on the amount of produce that I intend to get out of them, they seemed to be a good way to go.

I have some of my warm season vegetables - tomatoes, peppers, squash, and the like - growing under flourescent lights in my garage. I also tend to start my peas in 9-cell starting containers as I seem to have better success that way. So today my pea starts went along a fence line, some cilantro and parsley went in about four of the squares, broccoli and cabbage starts took up eight more, and in the last four I direct seeded green onions in one, mesculin mix in two, and spinach in the last.

I have three more boxes to start working in next. The basil will stay indoors under lights for quite awhile more as will the pumpkins and zucchinni. I'll probably plant radishes, carrots and beets in this next bed, as they'll do well in our still cool and wet weather conditions.

We have room for many more boxes but didn't see the need to try to build and fill them all in the same weekend. I'm also anxious to bring my gardening to a new level by trying out which allows you to create, track, and view production results on line. Their 45-day trial offer will let me figure out whether I will benefit from this or not.

Check back soon to see our progress, and leave me a comment. I'd love to know what you think of raised garden beds versus traditional row gardening and if you've had experience with the Square Foot gardening method.

Next figure out howto keep our free-range chickens out of the garden...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

4H PreFair Show

Several weeks ago we participated in our first official event of the 4H Horse Project season...our annual PreFair Horse Show. But let me first preface things by saying that we love 4H. Our children have been involved in 4H one way or another for the past ten years. Our entire 4H experience actually grew out of a Little House on the Prairie sewing club that stemmed from some home educator mothers whose children participated in a local children's choir proving that you never know where life will take you! From Foods and Nutrition and other home-ec type projects to livestock, we've sampled quite a few project areas.

All bathed and ready to show

Our DD13, Goat Princess, joined a new club this past 4H year and was excited to once again try participating in 4H's Horse PreFair. While in her first year of the project, she took her P.O.A. gelding Chester to PreFair but had a disappointing experience due to her lack of knowing what to expect and her horse's opinion that he did not like being separated from his herd buddy, Gus. There were tears aplenty and vows to never participate again. But this year everyone had a more enjoyable time.

Red ribbon Showmanship

A basic requirement in our county is to participate in Showmanship which gives the member a chance to show their ground-handling skills of their project horse. Basic maneuvers such as leading, trotting, backing and stopping are worked into a pattern that they memorize the morning of the show as well as forehand or haunch turns. As well they need to exhibit the proper handling of a horse and the "quarter system" of allowing the judge to examine your ability to groom your horse to its best potential. They are also asked to "set up" the horse for inspection. Goat Princess did a great job considering Chester became a little nervous at the pigeons flying in and out of our county's fair building where the show arena was set up. The judge's comments reflected that she appreciated the great job she did considering her horse's nerves.

Memorizing the pattern

At PreFair they are also able to participate in a Trail Class in which they ride through ten different obstacles. This year's course included retrieving mail, riding over a bridge and a set of raised poles as well as backing between barrels and opening a gate. Goat Princess and Chester did a fantastic job and received a red ribbon. Couldn't have asked for better considering that Chester got a little frustrated at the mail box.

Waiting for Trail Class

The last class of the day, and in this case it was literally almost the last class, was Equitation. Goat Princess chose to ride in a walk-trot class and came away with a blue ribbon. We were all thrilled. Their pattern was perfect and Chester behaved both on the rail and standing in line. Perhaps the day had worn him down a little, and I believe Goat Princess relaxed a little herself.

Blue ribbon Equitation Class

Kids learn so much through 4H: responsibility for what they do and do not do before they exhibit their skills; organizational skills in packing what they will need for the day; communication skills with their parents, leaders, club members and their horses!; and a ton of patience to just keep smiling.

Hopefully everyone who has experienced 4H has had the positive impact on their lives that we have. Although the Horse Project is a biggie to be involved in, it has made a great difference in our children's lives. Are you involved in 4H? What do your children think of it? We'd love to hear your experiences as well!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Daily Harvest Here at Abernethy Creek Farm 2009


goat's milk
dozen and half eggs
2 quarts Nickel fillet green bush beans
6 very large golden beets
1 small Stupice tomato
3 pints everbearing raspberries
2 pints wild blackberries
2 average zucchini
more cucumbers as well as a few slicing cucumbers
2 very large heads Broccoli


goat's milk


more cucumbers - too many to keep track of any more
small handful of first green pole beans
3 small tomatoes
more wild blackberries - just enough for milkshakes


goat's milk


goat's milk
1 pints raspberries - fall crop coming on strong
1 cup of final marionberries
3 small Stupice tomatoes - all that's been ready yet
8 Orient Express cucumbers
3 good sized zucchini but still manageable


goat's milk
pint of wild blackberries
picked final batch of Santa Rosa plums


goat's milk
dozen eggs or so
small bunch golden beets
large batch green bush beans - a little big - should've been picked before we returned from trip
basket of Santa Rosa plums


goats milk
large bunch basil for making pesto
2 lbs. red raspberries
2 small heads bok choi
1 bunch spinach
2 lbs. Marionberries
radishes and bok choi that had gone to seed were pulled and composted
armfuls of zucchini that had escaped my daughter's eye while we were out of town
20 or so Orient Express burpless cucumbers
6 slicing cucumbers

Due to extended vacation, there are no postings in this date range. Our daughter picked far more zuch's and cucumbers than she could use however.


goat milk
4 cucumbers
3 zucchini


1 1/2 lbs red raspberries
3 lbs. marionberries
goat milk


dozen eggs
goat milk
4 side shoots of broccoli
9 cucumbers
5 zucchini
bunch radishes
cinnamon, sweet, thai, and lime basil
3 head pac choi chinese greens
4 lbs. red raspberries
3 1/2 lbs. marionberries


3 1/2 lbs. marionberries
1 1/2 lbs. raspberries
1 head Romain lettuce
goat milk


4 cucumbers
1 zuchinni
2 gallons goat milk


2 stalks broccoli from side shoots
3 lbs. mixed raspberries, black cap raspberries, marionberries
1 head bibb lettuce
1 head cabbage
2 gallons goat milk


1 zuchinni
3 cucumbers
2 gallons goat milk
3 lbs. marionberries
2 lbs. red everbearing raspberries
4 lbs. Montmorency pie cherries


2 gallons goat milk
3 lbs. marionberries
1 1/2 lbs. blueberries
2 zuchinni
3 cucumbers
1 bunch radishes


2 gallons goat milk
2 lbs. red everbearing raspberries
small basket snow peas


basket of first ripe marrionberries
6 lbs. Montmorency pie cherries
2 gallons goat milk


1 head broccoli
2 cups black cap raspberries
2 quarts red everbearing raspberries
1 bunch radishes
5 burpless cucumbers
1 zucchini
2 cups snap peas - pretty much last of harvest
dozen eggs
5 quarts goat milk - now milking additional does since all kids now weaned


too busy with family to do hardly more than get watering done
3 quarts goat milk


1 zucchini
1 head broccoli
2 burpless cucumbers - 'Orient Express'
3 lbs. Montmorency pie cherries
3 lbs. Rainier sweet cherries
3 quarts goat milk


no harvest
3 quarts goat milk


3 quarts goat milk
4 heads Chinese cabbage - nice large ones
4 head Bibb lettuce - just about ready to bolt in heat
5 lbs. Montmorency sour cherries
10 lbs. Rainer sweet cherries


3 quarts goat milk
1 pt early raspberries
large bowl snow peas
8 bunches spinach - just about ready to bolt in heat


3 quarts goat milk
gathered dozen eggs

plenty to harvest - but alas, no time toay. check daily journal for today and you'll see why.


9 lbs. Montmorency pie cherries
3 lbs. Rainier sweet cherries
1 bunch red and yellow beets
3 quarts goat milk


3 cups sour Montmorency pie cherries
1 zucchini
2 heads Bibb lettuce
1 head Romain lettuce
spinach leaf thinnings
3 quarts goat milk
Blog Widget by LinkWithin