Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day--Transplants

When Beo and I were shopping for seed trays recently, I found myself going all "Ooh, shiny!" over a little wooden "Pot Maker". The Richter PotMaker is basically a wooden pestle and shallow mortar, which you wrap strips of newspaper around, fold over the bottom of the pestle, and then press shut with the pestle. I went ahead and picked it up for $12.95, fully knowing that it might not actually replace the strips of peat jiffy pots we were buying for $17.95. It was too nifty not to give it a shot. In past years, we've used peat pots minimally, trying instead to reuse plastic seed trays, but the transplant shock sets us so far behind that we're converting more. I figured Earth Day was a good day to give it a go (particularly because with how busy we've been we're getting behind schedule to get transplants started!). We don't get the newspaper, but Beo had asked a local restaurant for their old newspaper, and I stopped by the library for theirs. Lo and behold, the thing really works. You cut strips of newspaper about an inch wider than the bottom part of the pestle, and the width of one page of newspaper, give or take. I tried using double and single thickness--both worked fine. Roll it up, tuck the ends under, smash it, and voila--a little transplant pot! It took me less than 10 minutes to make 20 of them and get them seeded with pepper seeds. The kids helped me after school and we made some more--20 Wisconsin Lake Peppers and 16 Buran Peppers will be testing out these first batches of pots. (Those 36 fit well in a standard seed tray.) It doesn't take much newspaper at all to make them. Happily, the little it does use keeps that newspaper from having to be recycled, and saves us from having to use manufactured peat pots. If these work well as the seedlings get bigger, I will definitely do more of them next year. Just a little way to remember that we can celebrate Earth Day every day, in little ways. Keep on keepin' on.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Early Garden Days--Propagation

Spring seems to have finally won over Winter, just in time for Ostara. A few warm days have finally lured me out of the shelter of the house and into the garden. Our crocuses are finishing their show, which was better than ever this year. Our hyacinths didn't do much of anything this year, and our daffodils are a bit behind, but our early blooming daffs are just about ready to burst. The peonies, iris and allium are up, and I've seen peeking leaves from the columbine, bergamot, bleeding heart, and a few others. I took clippers to the perennial beds today to take most everything to ground level--we leave almost everything up in the winter to provide food and/or shelter for the critters. I also began this year's battle with the quack grass, which apparently got a better foothold than I'd realized last year. As I was trimming the false indigo, the lure of the crackling pods finally got the better of me. I harvested the pods that hadn't yet split open, and set them aside for planting. One of the things I most enjoy about gardening is propagation. To me, that's a huge part of the magic--taking just one plant and seeing it become many more. For years, that's been a necessity for us as we build beds faster than we can afford to fill them with new stock. So I've gotten pretty good at splitting and dividing plants and letting them fill in where they will. In the past I've toyed with the idea of propagating more seriously. Now we're finally at a point where our beds have filled in nicely and we can turn our efforts in another direction. Last year I had a small nursery bed where I kept plants leftover from garden installations and "volunteer" plants from our more controlled prairie beds. We were able to use a few of them for more installations and to fill in to other beds. This year I'm hoping to do much more. I started all of the indigo seeds I could find in some peat pots, and rounded up some red milkweed seeds from the rain garden to try as well. I also dug into the dwarf iris in our larger rain garden, to split some for professional propagation, and move a few. I'll do most of the splitting for our own garden in the Fall. I'm confident that I'll be able to stock up on a good number of Purple Coneflower, Cupplant, and a few of other frequent volunteers before the season gets too far. I'm hoping that if I can succeed in expanding our collection of native nursery plants, I can supplement our stock that we need to order for garden installations as well as give us something to sell at the Farmer's Market when all of our produce is going to our restaurants and regular customers. Last year we didn't make it to market once, because our produce sold so quickly.