Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Less Squash and More Melons

Last year was the first time growing several varieties winter squash. They have held up very well stored in our basement. We still have a couple delicata, a butternut, and a spaghetti squash left. 

The freezer is also full of pureed pumpkin ready to be turned into pies, breads, or soup. As it turns out, we don't really eat a lot of winter squash. Unless it is in pie form, K doesn't really like winter squash and I can be satisfied with a small serving every now and then. 

After thinking it over, I decided to reduce the amount of winter squash grown in the garden this year. I am keeping delicata because I love it's sweet flavor, small size, and ease of preparation. The other squashes are plentiful at farmers markets if I have an urge for one.

Instead I can utilize the garden space for more melons, which we can all enjoy. Melons are tricky in my garden but can be grown with great success. I have to consider quick maturing varieties, utilize black solar mulch to keep things hot, and start seedlings inside for best results. Then hope Mother Nature provides us with some heat.

I am considering Yellow Petite Watermelon because of its smaller size and quick maturity (65-80 days). I tried this variety last year grown on a trellis, but didn't have much success. I think it will be happier sprawling out over the solar mulch. 

This year will see the return of the Fastbreak muskmelon. We loved Fastbreak because of its fast maturity (65 days), sweet flavor, and the fact that it lets us know when it is ripe by slipping off the vine. It is an F1 hybrid that has proven itself in our garden by producing numerous fruit.

I am really looking forward to growing Banana Melon, a recent Seeds of the Month Club surprise. The unique shape and promise of sweet, salmon flesh have me intrigued. I think I am pushing it though with the 90-day maturity but it will all depend on the weather this summer.

Fastbreak Melon Harvest from 2010

So it's back to the garden plan for a bit of modification. I also need to shuffle some things around to accommodate extra items that I started under the lights this spring.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Update on the Seedlings

I wanted to begin hardening off the early spring seedlings last week, but the temperatures have been too warm so I decided to hold off until things return to normal. It didn't take long. Next week temps are going to be 40s during the day and 20s at night, which is average for this time of the year, but a bit harsh after our little experience with 70-80 temperatures.

The Kale, Swiss Chard, Pak Choi, Onions, Leeks, and Spinach are ready to be hardened off and planted in the garden under protection. I will begin this process next week and see how it goes. Lettuce too is coming along.


Pak Choi

I began pre-sprouting some pepper seeds. It is a little early for me, but I had germination problems last year and I want to be sure to have the peppers I need by planting time.

Pre-sprouting Pepper Seeds

Each cell is layered with a piece of wet paper towel and labeled. I check it each day for germination and to make sure the towel stays damp. Once these sprout, they will be carefully transferred into waiting soil blocks and placed under the lights.

Speaking of peppers, I was gifted some dried Chile de árbol for cooking. I tossed a bunch of seeds from these into a container with a wet paper towel on the bottom. Almost every seed sprouted:

I don't know if these peppers have a chance to mature in my area, but thought it would be fun to try. Now I have to find space for them in the garden.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Cleanup and Garden Preparation

Warm and sunny days are always welcomed after a long Maine winter, however the recent stretch of warm 70˚F temperatures in March is just not normal. In fact, last year around this time we were snow blowing almost 2 feet of snow from the garden paths and shoveling off the raised beds. The temperature was in the 40s that day. This crazy warm weather is expected to continue the rest of the week.

Not surprisingly, the snow pictured earlier in the month melted quickly over the weekend. The soil in the raised Square Foot Garden (SFG) beds drained and dried out quicker than the in-ground gardens and was ready to be worked. The minor garden renovation for 2012 has begun. 

The first step was moving the two middle 4x4 SFG beds to their new location. Then compost was added to all the SFG beds, worked in, and the beds leveled off.

The next step to the renovation is to dig up the grassy paths between the remaining SFGs to use as an in-ground gardening space. So from left to right will be a 4x4 SFG, a 9-foot in-ground garden bed, then another 4x4 SFG. 

As the snow melted, the fallen leaves from last fall were revealed reminding us that an early snowstorm and a family member's illness kept us from our normal cleanup and leaf gathering. The garden too suffered from neglect at the end of last year. Tomato cages used to protect fall broccoli along with various pots, gardening gloves were left where they stood soon to be covered with snow. Even mounds of soil were not smoothed out after digging potatoes.

There is a lot to do and the weather is prompting me to hurry, hurry, hurry.

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Storage Onions are Done

I walked down to the basement to tend to my seedlings recently and my nostrils were filled with the smell of onion. A quick check on the storage onions revealed that they were indeed finished:

Luckily, not all of these onions went to waste. I brought them upstairs, donned rubber gloves, and salvaged what I could. The rest were tossed into the compost pile.

I planted way too many onions last year. The onion seeds were old and I assumed many would not be viable, so I planted them thickly. The seeds germinated better than expected and I ended up rearranging my garden to accommodate the extra onion seedlings. The results were a substantial onion harvest.

Most of the onion harvest were chopped and frozen but some were left loose in a mesh bag and stored down in the cool basement. These stored for seven months.

The last several years, I have grown Patterson and Copra because they are known for their long storage abilities. However, I have found that chopping and freezing onions is more convenient than storing them. It is easy to open a freezer bag, grab a handful of onions, and throw them into soups, stews, roasting pan, or frying pan.

This year, I am reducing the amount of onions in the garden. I always grow a bunching scallion such as Evergreen or White Lisbon. I also plant some Red Barron onion sets, but this year I am trying White Sweet Spanish onions for the first time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Signs of Spring and New Beginnings

Like many this year, we had a very mild winter with very little snowfall here in Maine. The snow is receding little by little from the garden revealing a fresh slate...a new beginning to the garden season.

The onion, leek, and herb seedlings are growing well under the lights and we have been enjoying the trimmings on pizza:

Onion and Leek Seedlings



Lettuce, arugula, and spinach seeds were started this weekend and we are eager to have fresh salads once again. Some of the lettuce seeds are old, so I am pre-sprouting these like I did with my tomatoes and peppers last year. Once sprouted, the seeds will be moved to waiting soil blocks.

Pre-sprouting Lettuce, Spinach, and Arugula

Arugula Sprouted in Less Than 24 Hours!

I have also been busy planting seeds of another sort: marketing myself as an Independent Graphic Designer.

It has been a rough ride at the place where I have been employed for 10 years as a Graphic Designer. The poor economy has taken its toll and layoffs have occurred frequently over the past couple years. About a year ago, my workweek was reduced as business continued to decline. As of two weeks ago, my status has been changed from an employee to a contractor.

I knew that times were tough and did what I could to prepare for the inevitable. My choices were to try to find employment elsewhere or stay the course until something happened. I decided to stay the course and began working as a freelance Graphic Designer nights, weekends, and on my day off from my regular job. 

Luckily, I have gained some ongoing quality clients that are benefiting from my services and provide ongoing work. Now I can add my former employer as a client. I am thankful for the clients I have, but will need more to feel more financially secure. 

I wish my former employer the best and hope that business improves. The sales people who have survived the layoffs are all very strong individuals and are fighting very hard for success right now.

Working as in Independent Graphic Designer or Freelancing has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have always been a hard worker who will work hours necessary to meet deadlines for my employer. The idea of doing so directly for my clients and myself seems much more rewarding. 

Will the dream become a reality? Only time will tell. Wish me luck.