Monday, January 30, 2017

Seed Starting, Part the First

In the past few years that I’ve lived up here, each year I’ve grown a garden (my Louisiana gardening was a bit more sporadic). I don’t buy plants usually, because the varieties I’m interested in aren’t available in a small town of 500 people, and because I’m not a fan of spending that much money anyway. Seeds are much cheaper, and it’s fun watching them grow from the very beginning. This is the first year, however, that I’ve actually started seeds at the *correct* time. Weird, right? I’m usually a few weeks late at best, and completely miss my chance at worst.

With the giant ice storm that came through the other week, we were out of power for 5 days, meaning we had a bit of technology-free time on our hands. My parents helped me make paper pots to start seeds in (with this awesome PotMaker), and a large portion of those were used up this weekend. I love the little paper pot maker – the pots are convenient, they can be planted straight into the ground with minimal root disturbance, and they use up old paper. The paper used to make this year’s pots actually came from the 2015 Seed Savers Exchange yearbook. We just tear or cut the pages in half, you end up with strips about 4" x 11", and that works great. If you don't have old newsprint seed catalogues lying around, you can always use newspapers or something similar. This is the fifth year I've used this pot maker, and it's still going strong. If you don't want to buy one, though, you can make your own "southern engineered" version. Wrap the paper around a tomato paste can, and press it down inside of an empty green chile can - similar effect as the PotMaker, just slightly more annoying.

I put down a plastic tablecloth, then thumbtack it to the wall behind the counter. Then meat trays work great for holding the pots. It's a second use for them before they get tossed to the trash, and it's another layer between the moisture of the seedlings and your counter or table. 

I like growing plants from heirloom/open-pollinated seeds when I can. I started saving tomato seeds a few years ago, just to cut down on my gardening costs. The cost of the initial seeds goes down every year that you save seeds and plant them again. This either means you can save a lot of money, or justify buying random other heirloom seeds – don’t judge me because I tend to fall in the latter category.

Sometimes, though, you just can’t justify NOT buying seeds, whether you know if they’re open-pollinated or not…a few years ago, the dollar store in the town where I worked was clearing out all of their gardening stuff at the end of the season. Seed packets that were normally $0.25 or $0.50 were marked down to $0.02! Needless to say, I bought just about everything that was left – carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkins, birdhouse gourds, zinnias and marigolds. While I was doing that, my parents came across a similar sale at one of those open box/bargain center stores. They came home with seeds for tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuces, spinach, zucchini, yellow squash and more marigolds. Not all of these were open-pollinated varieties, but for that price, I’ll sure enough try growing them.
Aaaannnd the illustrious ginger pot. :) The back row is all Abused Plants, hopefully some will survive.

This weekend, Mom and I started seeds. I’m still unsure how well certain things will grow up here, but I’m trying them anyway since I had the seeds. Some of the seeds that I’m starting indoors are normally supposed to be direct seeded, whereas I’m starting them in paper pots. With the sandy soil, heavy winds and inconsistent rainfall we have up here, by the time seeds should be germinating, they’ve usually been blown or washed away from here to kingdom come. If this year’s plan of transplanting works, cool. If it turns out to be a lot of wasted work for nothing, I’ll survive, and try something different next time around. 

So without further ado, here’s what all I played with.

Another quick tip - if you need a watering can that doesn't rust and has decent aim, take a plastic Coke bottle or a gallon Arizona Tea jug and remove the cap. Grab a hammer and a nail, and put some holes in the lid. Don't overdo the holes, or the cap will start to crack. Whatever kind of bottle or jug you use, make sure that it's not so stiff that you can't squeeze the sides (don't use something like Vitamin Water or Powerade, or you'll just get a trickle of water). Also, make sure the cap screws on, don't use a snap on kind - that tends to result in a large mess rather quickly...

Here's a few links that are really helpful for planting at the right times.

Seeds For Generations Garden Planning Calculator. You just put in your last or first frost date (depening on fall or spring planting) and it will give you dates for just about anything you could wish for.

OSU Extension Fact Sheets - Living in Oklahoma, these are the sheets put out by the extension office that are relevant to me. Just Google your state name and "Extension Fact Sheets" and you'll end up with some for your state. They're not all related to gardening, so you may have a lot to sift through, but it's worth it.

USDA Hardiness Zone Finder - This is another helpful tool if you're just starting. Type in your zip code, and it gives you the hardiness zone for your area. There's also some pretty cool maps to check out, as well.

Old Farmer's Almanac Frost Dates - Put in your zip code or city and state, and this page will return your average first and last frost dates.

Pretty neat, huh?

Shared on: Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Homestead Blog Hop

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hello World! Love, Baby Sister

Greetings, outside/real world! Welcome, one and all, please take a seat and stay a while. My name is Elizabeth, and I am “Baby Sister.” While I’m originally from southeast Louisiana, on December 26, 2013, I moved to northwest Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a homesteader. It’s been a bit of a change, for multiple reasons. For a gardener who grew up planting things in a swampy zone 9A, moving to a bone-dry zone 6A presents a few challenges – did you know it SNOWS up here in winter? At the current moment, I’m living with my family on their 160 acre homestead out in the middle of nowhere, though my dream is to have my own little place in the next year (or so). We’re becoming more self-sufficient, one step at a time. Much of what I post here will chronicle that journey: cooking, canning, dehydrating, gardening, raising and butchering animals, making soaps and lotions, herbal salves and teas, and my current endeavor – doing it all without a “normal/straight” day job. I went to college to become a music teacher, and became disenchanted with our school systems. I spent almost 3 years killing myself working for an oilfield trucking company, and realized that I was tired of stressing out over somebody else’s money. So as of December 2, 2016, I’m a free woman. Here, I will include my journey to make a living from farmers markets, craft shows and other additional income sources. The worst that happens is I have to get a “real” job again, right?

Arya, mother of Nymeria, playing in the ice.
Dear reader, you may at this point be asking, “Why Baby Sister?” In all honesty, I really do have a genetic older brother (and a bunch of male friends that act like older brothers), so that’s half the reason right there. The rest of the logic, though, is a bit more Orwellian…I’m not a fan of Big Brother (as you will come to learn if you continue to read this blog). There are a lot of things that are regulated that just don’t sit right with me – but that’s neither here nor there. Many of the canning recipes (water bath and pressure) I use are not Big Brother/federal government approved. I will put notes on any recipes that are my own, and why I feel safe in canning them, even though Big Brother tells me not to. Like anything else, a little logic and research goes a long way.

Continuing in the vein of disclosure on where my canning recipes come from, I intend to source the information I give to you. In this modern age of information, the internet can be an amazing tool. It can also kick you in the butt if you’re not careful. Gone are the days where one could easily trust the published word – today, any nut job can have a blog or publish a book (see yours truly for reference), and there is little consideration given to the validity of information. Apologies to my high school English teacher, Coach Walther if it’s not 100% perfect. The point here is to allow people to see where my information is coming from, not to pass your bibliography-writing tests.

So without further eloquence, I welcome you, intrepid reader, to enter my world. Tread lightly, as the terrain tends to be a bit rocky.
Nymeria, our new baby.