Monday, April 29, 2013


A little over a week ago, I finally made it to the garden center to see what I needed to add to my soil based on the test results I'd received.  The entire collection cost about $30.
The big one is peat moss, the smaller packages are Urea and Sulfur.  Coffee cup is optional.
Unfortunately, the only day that I could do this was pretty dry and windy.  Which meant rock hard soil and peat moss everywhere.  I followed the directions based on the size of our garden plot - 16 feet x 16 feet.  I scattered all 3 on top of the soil and then did my best to rake them into the top 1-2 inches.
The brown is peat moss, the Urea is yellow-ish flakes, and the sulfur is little white beads
This project took a little longer than expected.  I did one side at a time.  Here's the halfway point:
Makes the gray clay soil look downright sad, doesn't it?
It was so windy that when I finished I felt like I needed to water the whole thing down just so all my hard work didn't blow away.  The result:
Notice the garlic growing down the center! And the owl back at his post.
 So now I guess we just sit back and wait for a totally successful growing season?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Seeds, week 3

Looking good!  Every single little pot has something green in it - better than I had expected!  Because I put two seeds into each pot I've had to thin several that had 2 plants growing. 

Family and friends, there's a really good chance I'll have some seedlings to give away!

And of course my assistant continues to keep a watchful eye (although in this shot was just about to attack an inanimate object... short attention span)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The amazing flourless cracker

Fresh herbs are one of the easiest and tastiest things to grow, but many people forget they can also be dried and enjoyed year-round. 

99% of the time, I used my dried herbs (mainly oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil) in some form of tomato sauce or soup, but occasionally something else catches my eye.  Last week I concocted the following snack, which is an adaptation of a recipe I found online.  These have been pretty popular in my house, by which I mean I ate a few and my husband happily devoured the rest of the batch over the course of a few days.  They are great dipped in hummus.

Flourless Flax Crackers*
(this version packs a pretty strong Italian flavor.  Feel free to reduce the amount of any of the seasonings)

2 cups raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp dried basil

1.  Preheat over to lowest temperature (mine is 170 degrees)
2.  Combine flax seeds with 1/2 cup water in a bowl and allow to soak for 1 hour (until you have a weird gooey mass.)
3.  Place sunflower seeds and all seasonings in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
4.  Add gooey flax mess to sunflower mixture, and pulse until combined.

5.  Line a baking sheet (for me this just about filled a sheet pan) with parchment.
6.  Spread mixture in a thin layer onto parchment.
7.  Bake in the lowest temperature your oven has to offer for 3-4 hours.
8.  Once they have baked for a while the crackers solidify into one big sheet.  Lift this with a spatula and check to see if the crackers are crisp.  If you seek adventure, try to flip this over.
9.  Bake for another hour or so.
10.  Turn off oven and allow crackers to stay in it overnight, continuing to dry.
11.  When cool, break into pieces and enjoy! (I tried to cut these into neat squares but ended up just breaking it all into shards)

*Cooking times will obviously vary depending on your oven and how low it can go.  If you happen to have a food dehydrator, follow the link to the original recipe above.

Friday, April 19, 2013

New additions

Because I hadn't yet filled every single square inch of room in my seed trays, and because I had bought enough seeds for a 12-acre farm, I decided to start a few more in my makeshift greenhouse.
In this picture you can see all the essential tools of a home gardener, including the Sharpie marker and kitchen spoon.  I used the same seed starting mix and method as in the other pots, and planted 4 of fennel and 4 of basil.  These are 2 crops I have only ever planted right into the soil, but we'll see how they do indoors.  You can see that the cucumbers, planted too long before their time, continue to grow rapidly (upper right).  Too bad they're likely to outgrow these little pots before it's warm enough to plant them outside.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Seeds, week 2

Okay, okay, it's not like there are actual tomatoes.  But see those little green flecks in the peat pots above?  They're gonna grow up to be German Greens and Cherokee Purples!  I was feeling discouraged, what with the fact that for some reason Northeast Ohio resolutely wants to keep being stuck in winter and that I hadn't seen any marked seed activity since last week.  Then.... voila!  Here they are.

The front porch greenhouse system does seem to be working.  The windows face West, so they get plenty of late-day sun.  And even when it is not toasty warm outside, there's a pretty nice greenhouse-like environment going on in those trays.

Plus, the seedlings receive a lot of attention.

Monday, April 15, 2013

the results are in!

...okay actually, it's been a few weeks since I received a thin envelope from Penn State with my soil test results.  You don't have to be a scientist to see that things are a little off...

My plan is to simply take this paper to the garden center and see what we need to get. 

Do I earn some points for guessing correctly about the pH? (even though my reasoning was a little off?)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Adventures in seed care

Here is something cute and funny for your Friday morning.  Fernando meets the watering can!  Nothing shy about this guy, he stuck his face right in, got a little surprised when it moved, and backed up about 2 inches.  He's keeping his eye on that thing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The seeds I planted last week seem to be doing okay.  This photo is from this morning, about 10 days in.  You can see that the cucumber seeds, which I planted a solid month too early, have all started to sprout.  Elsewhere, there is no action.
My gardening assistant Fernando enjoys helping me check on the seeds in the early morning.  This poorly-executed action shot is from just before he began drinking out of the glass.

Up until today, the seeds really did not need to be watered... the "greenhouse effect" when the plastic covers on has been keeping things moist.  But, because it has not been very sunny the past few days I turned a lamp on (no, not the fluorescent kind, which is something I need to purchase) yesterday.  That really did seem to suck a lot of moisture from the plants.  The cucumber seeds do make me feel like my system is working overall, though, despite some not-so-sunny days and chilly nights. 

Remember: it's not too late to start your own seeds!  Do it in the next week or so and you will be able to transplant them mid-late May!  And if you want to do cucumbers or other squash, you can wait until the end of April.

Monday, April 8, 2013

frost free

Although at times it seems nearly impossible that warm weather will arrive and stay (that's the key... and stay), there is a date on the horizon that I am looking forward to: May 15.  This is the "frost free" date for the region in which I live, an incredibly important milestone when you are planting warm-weather crops outside.  It means that, theoretically, there will be no frost after that date.  But a lifetime in Northeast Ohio has taught me that literally anything is possible!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wanna be startin' something...

...and that something is seeds! 

This year I decided I'm going to try and start as many of my plants as possible from seeds.  Last weekend was quite busy, with plenty of assistance from one of my favorite helpers...

The catnip seeds have since been moved to a secure location.
The supplies for this project included those little peat pots you see in the background (I bought 100, which should actually be enough for next year too), a bag of "seed starting mix," and, of course, the seeds.  I chose these little pots because they are actually biodegradable and you can plant them right in the ground (or, alternatively, just lift the seedlings out... but at least you have the option of either).

Seed starting mix is a very lightweight topsoil - it is not expensive (I think my bag cost $3.99) but has the right nutrient mix for starting seeds.

In terms of seeds, I have to say I have no regard for what brand I purchased - I just chose varieties that looked interesting.

I planted 6 pots of each (except for the San Marzano tomatoes, which I planted 10 of, because they are my favorite), with two seeds in each pot.  I'd really like to make sure I have 2-3 viable seedlings of each.  And if I have too many - well, I am sure my friends and family wouldn't mind the castoffs (or, they will find a home in the compost pile!).  But better to be safe than sorry.

These seedlings will live on our enclosed porch where there is a lot of sun.  Last year I was able to grow some seedlings (not this many) out there with no added light.  Hopefully it will also work this year, and if not I can add a fluorescent light (but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it).

I did this year buy those clear lids to put over the trays - to create more of a greenhouse effect, especially when they are first starting to germinate.

One positive is that our porch isn't heated - which means the air will not be super dry.  One negative is that our porch is not heated - which means it may not be all that warm, especially on days when there's not a lot of sun.  You can sort of see in this picture in the left tray that I put a small glass of water in the middle - to provide a tiny bit of humidity.  I can also add a space heater when needed.

Another negative is that someone is really interested in this project.
He occasionally tries to be stealthy about it.
Some of Fernando's favorite things include: the porch, jumping on windowsills, looking out windows, and glasses of water.  A real recipe for disaster, but fortunately he hasn't learned to unlock doors yet.

PS: I need to make the addition here that I discovered after the fact that it is way too early to start cucumber seeds.  They only need 2-3 weeks of growing indoors before you put them outside in the ground, and they can only go into the ground when it is warm!  So... we'll see what happens.  I have plenty of seeds left and will just need to remember to plant a few new pots in late April/early May.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We found compost!

So it turns out that under the mountain in our backyard there is, in fact, compost!  We unearthed some this weekend.

As well as a collection of other items that would please any archaeologist (see the pile at the base of the tree below)
We spread just a small amount over one corner of our garden plot, but you can already see the difference in the soil below (this picture was taken post-raking and compost-adding, but we did not water it, despite how dark it looks).

Monday, April 1, 2013


Yay!  This past weekend we were finally without snow and blessed with weather in the 50s.  The perfect time to finally plant one of my favorites, peas.  

Given the issues I had last year with these plants ending up much larger than expected, I decided to go with a trellis/lattice (I don't actually know the difference between the two...) system.  It will certainly be better than the tiny little bamboo stakes I used last year:

The gnome did not do a very good job of keeping these peas in line

Anyway, our new system is based on wooden stakes and twine.  I learned about this in the gardening class I took, and am hoping to apply it to tomatoes and cucumbers as well.  It seems like a way to keep things neat and linear.

The stakes are sturdy - they are hammered about 2 feet into the ground.  I placed the lower "rungs" of twine closer together, and then spaced them out more towards the top.  I can easily add in more if needed.

I planted one pea seed (sorry, I did not take any pictures of them... but picture a dry, shriveled-looking pea) a few inches in front of each stake about one inch deep, and one in the middle... for a total of 7.  I put two seeds in each hole, hoping at least one will germinate.

I also planted some spinach and salad mix in one of our raised beds... but it's not really anything to look at just yet.