on resolutions

Happy New Year!

There’s something about January that brings a sense of new beginnings. Maybe it’s the breath of fresh air after the hubbub of the holidays, or the fact that we flip a new year on the calendar that makes us feel like we can press the reset button and start anew. In 2013, I set some goals for myself – concrete things like “run a half marathon” and not just “run more.” I met most of those goals, and exceeded some of them. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to open my goals document every so often and check to see that I’ve made progress. 

So I’m setting my resolutions for 2014 and will keep myself accountable for progress on them during the year. They’re all reachable, but will be a challenge in one way or another. I don’t like to go overboard, since I know that my work and my commute take up a huge portion of my week and my attention during my waking hours. Plus, I don’t like setting myself up for failure. I’d rather succeed at a few small things and be content with that.

With that, here are my goals for 2014 in three categories: mind, body and home.

Read 75 books.
I read 70 books in 2013, and I’m going to up the ante by just a bit in 2014. Within those 75 books, I have a goal of reading one of what I call the Russian doorstop novels that I haven’t read before, as well as finishing up the rest of Margaret Atwood’s canon. I use Good Reads to help me keep track of what I’m reading when.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have no shortage of things that outrage me, and I know that battles about GMO labeling, Ag-Gag laws and farm bills will keep me occupied with this one.

Run a marathon.
Yes, I’m putting it out there. I’m not going to beat myself up if I work on the training and my body doesn’t cooperate (I’m looking at you, knees!), but I’m going to try. I know in my heart I will always regret it if I don’t try, and that’s reason enough for me to start. I will begin training in February, with the goal of working up to a marathon by the fall. I’d also like to do several halfs this year, and to travel to at least one race outside of my area. The goal for the full marathon is just to finish, and my goal for a half marathon in 2014 is to get a PR, which I think is doable. 

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Rather than set a goal for weight loss, I’m focusing on health and fitness this year. Water is a big one for me – I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I’m properly hydrated. It also helps me with my running to be hydrated at all times, so I’m going to dedicate myself to hydration.

Start my home brew kombucha.
Mark gave me the tools to make kombucha for my birthday last year and I have yet to start, out of fear that I’ll mess it up. I did stop buying kombucha in the store, like I promised myself, but I haven’t taken the leap. 2014 is the time.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
I have my grandma’s sewing machine, and I’m going to put it to good use this year. I’m not particularly gifted in this area, so I’m starting easy and hoping to make Mark a quilt from a pile of old, beloved t-shirts.

Can one new thing.
I want to branch out this year and can something we’ve never canned before. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but I’d like to try something new and different.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I want to do some research on bee-friendly plants and make the flower beds along our garage an all you can drink nectar buffet for bees. (Can you tell that Vanishing of the Bees inspired me?)

Make the chickens some treats.
I want to be more actively involved in the chickens’ care and I really want to make them some treats to give them a diversion.

Organize the basement.
I did a great job of simplifying and downsizing our house this past fall, but the largest work to be done is our basement, which is a mess of boxes and disorganization and junk that is just begging to be a functional space. If the only house related thing we get done at all this year is to organize the basement, I would count it a success.

I’m going to check in monthly here to keep myself accountable to these goals, and hopefully share some how-tos when I have some success! 

What are your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments – I’d love to know what you’re doing to make 2014 the best year it can be! 

Mother Earth News Fair recap

For the third year in a row, we headed to Seven Springs for the Mother Earth News Fair (MENF). The best way I can describe it is a giant convention and vendor fair for sustainable living. Vendors showcase everything from farming equipment to handmade soaps and workshops are offered for just about all things under the sun – from classes about livestock to home fermentation.

We have found something new to learn and discover each year, and the fair gets bigger and bigger. This year, I went to workshops on chickens in gardens (and how they can peacefully co-exist), home fermentation, building a real foods pantry and foraging for wild foods. A wicked storm moved in on Saturday and when we were soaked and freezing, we skipped an afternoon of workshops to get dry and warm. But otherwise? Awesome.

In particular, the class on lactofermentation inspired me to finally get off my duff and get my kombucha (fermented tea) going at home. Mark had given me all the tools to get started for a gift one year – including a SCOBY – so I don’t know what’s been holding me back from starting. Someone at one of the workshops mentioned that you can’t be afraid to be a beginner. I think it’s given me enough push to get started!

Mark and I laugh that we both leave the MENF each year and want to quit our jobs and move off grid into a cabin in the woods and raise some goats. While that’s not in our immediate future, it’s nice to come away refreshed and with new ideas on how to live more sustainably.

One of my favorite parts of the fair is the presence of all manner of animals. If you follow me on Instagram (@nextgenhouse), you might have seen these guys.

Seven Springs doesn’t offer much in the way of good food options for this fair, which is the only down-side. Particularly at a conference about sustainability, I don’t want to eat commercially raised meat or rock-hard, out of season vegetables. Thankfully there were a few vendors that had some good snack options – and one local food truck in particular that had good meal options – Randita’s Grill.

It’s no secret that we aren’t vegans by any stretch of the imagination, so I was a bit hesitant to try out a vegan food truck. I guess in my head I was expecting creepy textured vegetable protein, but I ended up having a great chili and a fantastic salad that was fresh and delicious (with figs! so yum!), a sharp contrast to the processed commercial offerings at the main food area. (The main food area had a mashed potato martini bar. I mean, seriously. Ew.) I was impressed by the food from Randita’s – and also how the people in the truck kept their cool despite a ridiculously long line and pouring rain. I’m adding their restaurant in Saxonburg to my list of places to try!

Really, we actually end up learning a lot from the vendors we meet. Here are some of my favorites:

Snack Taxi – I bought two reusable snack bags for my lunch and thus far they’ve been working out fantastically. I am working on reducing consumption of plastic bags, so my two Snack Taxi bags have already saved me almost 20 bags! Plus it looks cute too.

St. Lynn’s Press – Pittsburgh publisher of some great gardening books, including some by local authors. We picked up Good Bug, Bad Bug to help us with pest ID. They’ll be publishing The Steel City Garden: creating a one-of-a-kind garden in black and gold by Doug Oster in the fall, which looks to be awesomely Burghy! Might be an idea for our front yard flower area. 

Gourmet Grassfed – I had my first ever beef jerky from Gourmet Grassfed and holy cow (no pun intended), was I surprised at how delicious it was. We bought some jerky and beef sticks – they’ll be perfect for Mark to take out in the woods when he’s hunting all day.

Farm Fromage – Fantastic raw milk cheese from PA farms. I had a mushroom and leek jack cheese which was amazingly bizarre but delicious.

CeCe Caldwell’s Paints – non-toxic, eco-friendly paints, including one called Pittsburgh Gray, which is highly appropriate

Singer Farm Naturals – producer of some delicious cherry juice concentrate. We picked some up to mix with soda water as a yummy drink, but I’m also interested in its use as a recovery drink for running after seeing a blurb about it in an issue of Runners World.

garden update: late september

In September, the garden completely got away from me. We didn’t have a normal “harvest time” because everything was ready at different times, and some things didn’t survive at all.

Here’s what the garden looks like now, waiting to be cleaned out for some fall plantings of cold weather crops.

Believe it or not, this is our tomato patch. Yikes. 

We had a few lessons learned with this patch this year. Our plants were too close together and crowded in. We also didn’t properly stake them – the cages we used were too large and as the plants grew and grew, they couldn’t support the weight of the fruit. Some of the vines died because they snapped under the weight. So then you have this mess.

It also feels like it happened over night. One day they were all fine the next, they were a jumble. Oh, and at one point, one of the hens made this her secret nesting box for 8 days as evidenced by this:

We also were falling prey to a bit of late blight that arrived in western Pennsylvania. All things considered, as far as harvest, we managed to get a decent amount of tomatoes. Many of them had to come off the vines early, but they ripened pretty well indoors and are part of many freezer batches of Mark’s tomato sauce as well as salsa. 

One bumper crop we did have this year was the Beam’s Yellow Pear Tomatoes. Holy buckets, we have been drowning in these. The photo below is the last round of tomatoes we brought in. A couple of fat greeny-red ones and a ton of yellows.

The corn plant managed to give us 6 ears this year, which is definitely a success. We’re going to use the dried plants as decorations for our front porch for fall. (Now I just need some mums!)

One of the basils went to seed really quickly and spilled over the side of its bed. We let it be, but it was nice to see bees around it constantly.

The bed where the basil was also housed peppers and broccoli. The broccoli got enormous, but didn’t produce anything. I don’t think we planted it at the right time. The peppers produced well, and we got tons of jalapenos, which were used in salsa or strung up to dry.

I got a few random wildflowers from the mix I planted in a container. I happened to catch a bee having a little nip on one of the flowers.

Besides the basil, the only herb that really produced was sage. We got a lot of herbs from our CSA though, so we were never without. 

Here’s a really great shot of what happens when you have random empty pots of previously used soil on your back patio. And then what happens when you don’t do anything with them all year. Weed explosion.

The cucumbers did okay – at least better than last year. In particular, the Boothby’s Blonde ones produced pretty well and we got to eat them on salads for a few weeks earlier this year. We had planted nasturtiums near them to help with natural pest control. Once the cucumbers were dead and gone, the flowers took over and we just let them do their thing.

The dragon beans produced well this year – much more than last year. We had enough to have a whole meal of lubieh with just our beans! Maybe it was the pentunias that helped keep the pests away (though they mostly escaped out the side of the bed)!

Sadly, there’s nothing left to see of the squash/pumpkin/melon patch. We lost most of them to pests – squash bugs in particular. We did get two small kikuza squash – one of which we could eat – and it was tasty. We got a few emerald gem melons too, which are small but adequate. No pumpkins or other melons to speak of though. Mark opened up the netting around the patch and let the chickens go to town. You would have thought they won the lottery with the feast of bugs before them.

Now nothing’s left but dirt!

Once all the beds are cleaned out, Mark will be sowing some lettuce that’s cold hardy in the bed that housed the peppers and broccoli. The other beds will be mulched with straw to preserve the soil and overwinter. 

Are you planting anything for the fall?

garden update: early august

There’s a lot happening in our backyard right now (and a lot that’s NOT happening, but we’ll get to that in a moment). First, we have some new wildflowers from the crazy seed mix I tried this year that had come free in the mail with some donation request. I wish I could identify these. I’d like to sound more intelligent when I describe them, since “tiny! blue!” isn’t cutting it.

Purple basil is doing really well in its container. I put some of this in an arrabbiata sauce the other night and it was delicious! It’s also pretty to look at, with its different shades of purple.

We’ve got lots of peppers coming in. Hopefully they will hang in there until it’s time for salsa canning!

Another great success is the amount of dragon beans we’re getting. Enough to have lubieh for dinner this week and more on the way!

Perhaps the most exciting thing that took off this year was the one single sweet corn plant. Check out those ears!

And here’s where it turns meh. Our squash/melon area got huge and overgrown, but hasn’t produced much, and it seems like some of it is succumbing to powdery mildew and some vine rot. But we’ve got one melon going, at least.

Finally, we have this insane forest of tomatoes.

It seems like every plant we have is just LOADED with tomatoes, but not a single one has ripened yet. So if they do decide to just have at it and turn red, we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in all sorts of varieties. I’ve read that a lot of people are having trouble in our area getting their tomatoes to ripen. Perhaps it’s the weather we’ve had this season. But either way, I’m hoping they start turning red soon. Otherwise we’ll have to pick them all green and start layering them in boxes with newspaper like Mark’s 78-year-old aunt has suggested we do.

Also going on in our backyard? This monstrosity.

The large tree you can see in the background next to the garage had some low hanging branches that were damaging our fence and blocking the pathway to the alley, so one day when I came home from a run, I walked into the backyard and saw this. Mark had cut them down, but as yet we haven’t had time to cut it all down. So it sits. Scenic, right?

Even the chickens are all, “get this crap off our lawn.”

At least when it comes to landscaping, there’s one bright spot. In the spring, our front yard was looking good. We had lots of blooming flowers and it looked nice from the road. Then in June, it looked like this.

And I meant to get to it. I really did. And then we got to August and it was so bad it had extended onto the sidewalk and we looked like we had abandoned our home and let the weeds rule the premises. Our cat Maggie couldn’t even see out the bay window to the street. Those prickly weeds even had giant fluffy heads – and they were taller me. No joke. I was starting to think our neighbors were just really patient souls for not reporting us to the borough. 

Then on Sunday, I came home from grocery shopping to find Mark had worked a miracle and let himself get stabbed by jaggers for hours to give us this.

We will probably have to battle those horrid jagger weeds (that’s my scientific name for them) again, but I vow this time to keep up with it before we become the condemned house on our block. Sheesh. And also it’s my turn to deal with it next because he already served his time in the front landscaping trenches. (Thanks, Mark. Again.)

garden update: late july

We’ve had some insane weather in July. A week of heavy rain and bad storms and flooding followed by crazy heat with humidity that put the heat index over 100. Then a slight cool off, and today more rain. I didn’t get outside this weekend to get sunny photos, so I settled for afternoon break-in-the-rain photos. 

My how the garden has grown. The assortment of wildflower seeds I randomly planted as an experiment have come up strong, though no blooms yet.

Lovely little purple basil, small but strong!

Sage seems to barely be holding on, but it’s still there.

Here is some proof I haven’t moved these containers in a little bit. Rainy spider web!

The sweet corn plant is getting high and has some growth. Still waiting to see if this experiment will produce an ear of corn. Even if it doesn’t, it’s been fun to watch it grow.

The bean patch is pretty much ready to burst out of its confines. Still no real beans, but I’m holding out for a miracle. They are dragon beans, after all.

Mark has been waging a war against cucumber beetles all summer, and he seems to have won thus far. No cukes yet, but the plants have not succumbed to the little buggers. 

Now, this is the melon/squash/pumpkin mound area. I think we have a few plants that are plotting to take over Carnegie. (While the chickens hang out in the compost.)

I just love these little curls coming off the plant. Looks like gift wrap ribbon!

I see you, squash blossoms! Might need to eat you on salad this week!

Hey, ladies. 

We’re starting to get some bell peppers, as well as a few hot ones. I like how you can see the marigolds in the background. They seem to be working as a pest deterrent.

A ridiculous basil plant, one of way too many we have in the yard. Fragrant, though!

Perhaps my favorite is what I’m going to refer to as the tomato forest. From seedlings we weren’t sure would survive to this…

Definitely some tomatoes coming, slowly but surely.

These ones are elegant, with their curls and globe shape.

I swear every time I go out to take photos, I stumble upon something new that has sprung up in our backyard. This trellis was left by the previous owners, and it’s attached to the garage, so I have never removed it. I pulled the dead plants out of it earlier this season, and suddenly, we have this. Gardens never cease to surprise and/or amaze me!

Hopefully I’ll have some photos to share soon of actual vegetables that we produced. I shared the first peppers on Instagram this weekend. Follow me there and on Twitter at @nextgenhouse.

garden update: june

June has brought some beautiful weather to western Pennsylvania and a lot of much-needed sunshine to our garden after a cloudy spring. 

The mystery wildflower seeds I planted are starting to grow. No idea what’s going to come up, but that’s half the fun of it.

The other flower I had planted was Night Phlox. (I’m going to choose to believe the flower was somehow named after Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise because that is a way to bring geek in my garden.) It’s perked up and seems to be doing well in its pot. No flowers yet, but I’m patient.

Herbs aren’t doing so great so far, but thankfully we get a lot of those in our CSA to dry out, so we never end up going without.

This year we’re also experimenting with natural pest control by planting flowers and extra basil plants in and around the other vegetables. We’ve got marigolds in with the tomatoes and petunias in with the dragon beans.

Considering how weak the seedlings were this year, the tomatoes and dragon beans are doing great.

Mark also decided to pick up one sweet corn plant. We’re not expecting much, but it’s fun to be able to say we are growing corn in our back yard.

The mound plants – cucumbers and melons, pumpkins and squash – are coming along nicely too, particularly since like the others, the seedlings were weak. 

 With the cucumbers, we added nasturtiums for natural pest control. 

We also realized that the vine that is creeping over from the neighboring property and grabbing my rose bush is probably a grape vine, though we haven’t seen any fruit. (The property holds an old church and a storage building that someone uses to store auto parts. Relatively scenic from our back yard because the buildings are rustic, but from the street on the other side, they are a mess. Including the crazy overgrown plants. That come over the fence to choke my rose.)

Sometimes I see people who have these amazing gardens bursting with fruit and vegetables early, where everything looks picturesque and lush, and I get garden envy. But we’re learning by trial and error, trying to use only natural methods of pest control and no synthetic fertilizer (and buying no Monstanto or Scott products EVER, for anything). We also don’t have sunny springs, but each year we try to work with what we have and find ways to do it better than we did the previous year.

It’s also a lesson in patience. When you work full time and have a significant commute, there aren’t unlimited daylight hours to spend outside in the garden. We do what we can with what we have, and if we’re patient and tend the plants to the best of our abilities, by the end of the summer, we’ll have a lot to show for it. I can’t wait until we can have dinner on the patio and look out in the yard and see the garden bursting with tomatoes. Then the waiting and the trial and error will all be worth it.

garden update: late May/early June

Gardening has been a lot of trial and error for us over the few seasons that we’ve been in this house. This is our third year to have a garden, and each year we have expanded our plans, trying new things to see what works. We made a commitment to not use any artificial fertilizers or pesticides on anything we grow, so we’ve had to adapt our methods to accommodate that, and we’ve also lost plants to pests. 

We added a third raised bed this year. A local drywall company had pallets they were throwing out, so Mark salvaged those and ripped them apart to create not only our compost bins, but two of the three raised beds we have. We line the insides with the appropriate garden paper in case any chemicals could leech off the wood, and we haven’t had problems growing in the beds at all. 

The reason we added another bed this year when we already have two, plus a subscription to a produce CSA, is so we could grow extra food to donate to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank through its Community Harvest program. We’re hoping that with the addition of this third bed, we can have a larger amount and more diverse types of produce to share. 

We also use smaller container gardening for herbs, and this year I’m trying flowers – a few from seed. I’m notoriously bad at keeping flowers alive. (I was really happy the first year we moved in to hang some baskets of flowers on our back porch and they died.) We’re going to use some of the flowers, such as marigolds, as natural pest control. 

I’m also experimenting with some seeds I received in one of those random fundraising mailings. The wildflower mix has a lot of interesting seeds in it – I can’t wait to see what comes up. 

We use seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We start the appropriate ones indoors, in Jiffy pots. But we live in Pittsburgh. Good sun is sort of a luxury around here, and we often don’t have much of a spring. We go from cold winter to hot, muggy summer in a span of a few weeks. We do our best to grow them inside with sunlight in windowsills and sometimes grow lights, and they definitely germinate, but they don’t really take off too well. Last year the same thing happened, though, and once they got outside, they took off. So we’re not too worried about the weak seedlings.

Here’s what we’re growing this year:

  • Beam’s Yellow Pear Tomatoes
  • Earliana Tomatoes
  • Amish Paste Tomatoes
  • Black From Tula Tomatoes
  • Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomatoes
  • Cherry Roma Tomatoes
  • Romanesco Broccoli
  • Diamond Eggplant
  • Chocolate Beauty Peppers
  • Garden Sunshine Peppers
  • Candlelight Peppers
  • Dragon’s Tongue Beans
  • Boothby’s Blonde Cucumbers
  • Double-yield Cucumbers
  • Orangeglo Melon
  • Eden’s Gem Melon
  • Emerald Gem Melon
  • Kikuza Squash
  • Cheyenne Bush Pumpkin
  • Green Culinary Sage
  • Thyme
  • Purple Dark Opal Basil
  • Oregano
  • Sweet Marjoram
  • Cilantro

Our first year of gardening we made the mistake of growing zucchini and yellow squash. Sure, we were elbow deep in squash all summer, but the plants took up so much space that could have been devoted to other items, we decided to just buy our zucchini from local farmers who have the room for the things.

This year was also complicated by the fact that we were still having overnight frosts a few weeks past the average last date of frost for our region. Mark worked really hard to get the beds ready and a plan together so that when we finally had the right combination of weather and time, we could get everything outside. (While I am 100% convinced that having a garden is worth it, it is definitely a time commitment, particularly when you work full time and commute in a city center. If I could take my commute hours alone and devote them to the garden, I’d be a green thumb in no time!)

Something else we added this year was some fencing around the beds. We have a fenced-in yard which keeps away a lot of your usual predators (except for the rabbits that come from under the old buildings that border our property). But the chickens are another story – last year we made the mistake of letting them out with the gardens exposed, and they ate or dug up a lot of what we had planted. This year, they aren’t going to get the opportunity to dust bathe among our tomatoes and peppers.

We also made mounds for melons, squash and cucumbers, and are guarding their spots momentarily with tomato cages. These mounds were also fenced in after these photos were taken.

You can tell we don’t have a ton of respect for our “lawn.” It’s enough for the chickens to be able to run around as they please, but we have no real use for grass space that only has to be mowed. We’d rather grow food on it! We do have a cement patio as well as an uncovered deck, so there’s still space to enjoy the outdoors. We also have plans to build a canopy over our patio table this summer, with planter boxes surrounding it.

What are your summer garden plans? Is your garden “in” for the season?

nature’s surprises

We’ve lived in our house for 2 full years now, and we’re starting our third summer here. You’d think I’d know what plants we inherited from the previous owners already, but I was surprised yesterday to find this growing behind our compost bin/tub area. Peonies!

I knew that area had wild strawberries and that the chickens ate up any berries that ever surfaced, so I never bothered to go back there and mess around. Mark deals with almost all the composting in our house, so this was a big surprise.

Also a surprise was the resurrection of my rose bush. My best friend gave me a rose bush as a house warming gift when we moved in. It did really well the first year, but last year wasn’t so great and I thought it died completely over the winter. I watched a video online about trimming and pruning rose bushes and tried to do my best to salvage it, thinking there wasn’t any hope. Then yesterday, this:

A bud! One large bud and lots of other smaller ones. Not really sure what’s up with the few leaves that look blighted. But the new growth is exciting. It’s like a zombie plant. I think I’ll call it the Undead Rose.

I was even more excited this morning to discover the bud had turned to a bloom.

Perhaps there’s hope for my flower gardening after all!

Book review: Second Nature by Michael Pollan

Having established himself as a titan in the world of food writing, Michael Pollan’s most famous works are about the food we eat: where it comes from, why it matters. But Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan focuses on gardening – as art, as sustenance, as culture.

I was interested in this book on gardening in particular because I wasn’t the primary gardener in our house for the two summers we’ve lived here. I helped primarily in the cooking and preservation steps. But this year, I want to get my hands dirty and actually learn more about how to nurture and take care of the food we grow. (Also, we want to add another raised bed to grow food specifically for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which will accept produce donations this summer.)

The book goes back to Pollan’s childhood experience with gardening – both on his own and in the shadow of his grandfather, who was a dedicated and prolific gardener. It follows him through the establishment of his own gardens (flowers and vegetables, as well as trees) on his own property. 

One of the most fascinating topics he covers is that of the American obsession with lawns. In many places, HOAs and city officials can fine you if you don’t mow your grass according to their standards, and people across the country have been fined or cited for turning front lawns into vegetable or flower gardens. We don’t have much of a front lawn, and being in the city if we grew veggies in our front yard, people would swipe tomatoes as they walk by. But our back yard is sizeable for the area in which we live, and we have no shame in covering grass with compost bins, chicken coops and raised beds. We have no use for large swaths of grass where we just have to burn gas mowing it all summer. I wondered as I listened to this section whether or not I’d have the guts to fight an HOA that would try to tell me what to do with my lawn. (Probably not, which is why I refuse to live anywhere with HOA oversight.)

I was happy that composting was featured in the book as well. We have two compost areas in our yard in addition to several bins. Getting the chickens last year has helped the compost area become more robust, since they are prodigious waste producers. It’s hard to think of compost as a “way to give back what we have taken,” as Pollan describes it, when you mostly see a pile of pine shavings and chicken waste, but on the microorganism level, it is definitely true. 

The statement in the book that resonated most with me was that “improving the land strengthens one’s claim to it.” As of this weekend, we have lived in our house for two years. We’ve started gradually turning it into a homestead – which to me is that exact feeling: this is my land and my home, so I will work to be a good steward of it and the resources it provides.

This is not a book that will give you step by step guides to gardening. Rather, it’s a pleasant and almost lyrical philosophical examination (interspersed with lots of interesting facts) of gardening that if nothing else makes you want to go out and put your hands in the dirt.

seed starting

I wanted to have more of an active role in our house’s gardening this spring and summer. It wasn’t really planned, but over the two gardening seasons we have had in this house, Mark has migrated to outdoor chores and I’ve taken care of the inside. But this year I wanted to feel like the gardens were just as much mine as his. 

So on Sunday, we got seeds started for indoor growth on our upstairs window seat. We set aside the direct planting seeds to wait until we get past the danger of frost, and took the remaining seeds (primarily herbs, peppers and tomatoes) and planted them in the biodegradable Jiffy pots that Mark picked up last year. (The first round of seeds we started last year were in toilet paper rolls that we painstakingly saved over the winter. They worked okay, but not as well as the biodegradable pots.)

We used an organic seed starting mix for the soil. (The first year we had a small garden, we bought seedlings. Last year as novices at seed starting, we used top soil. Not the greatest for promoting germination.  But nature worked its magic and we still got a lot of veggies by the end of the summer.)

Once the soil was in the cups, I moistened it with warm water. 

We debated which seeds to use from last year, considering how well they grew last year and which ones tasted the best. Our tomatoes were unbelievably successful last year, and we are eager for them to take off again. (Picking a tomato off the vine in the heat of August and eating it 15 minutes later is a uniquely wonderful experience.)

Last year the ground cherries were not successful, but we’re giving them another go. Ground cherries are similar to cherry tomatoes, and grow in a papery husk.

Also new this year is my attempt to grow flowers from seed for deck boxes on our front porch. I’ve never been able to keep flowers alive and well for long, but I got these seeds at the Mother Earth News Fair last September from Seed Savers Exchange, where we are members and where we get all our seeds. So I thought I’d give it a try!

Once in pots and planted appropriately, we labeled them with popsicle sticks. The photo below is from the herb section – purple basil is probably the most exciting to me! I really want to make purple pesto this year because I think it would freak people out to eat purple pasta sauce.

We are trying a variety of pepper called Candlelight, which grow in clumps that are colorful and look like clusters of Christmas bulbs. Can’t wait to put those puppies in fajitas and salsa. In addition to the herbs, tomatoes, peppers and ground cherries, we’re trying broccoli again and eggplants. (Also other veggies like pumpkins, lettuces and greens, cucumbers, etc., but those are direct seed and won’t get started until it gets warm.)

I didn’t manage to get a photo of the window set up before the sun set and the decent light was gone, but they are set up and waiting for this nasty weather to go away and for the sun to come out.