Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This Year's Kale Varieties

Baby Kales 
This is my first year planting kale however did have one variety (red russian) in the garden when I moved into the house last summer and it seemed to grow well. The previous owners of the house did not thin out the rows so they were pretty tightly packed. I'll be giving them much more room to grow. Kale is one of the chickens favorite treats and I eat a lot of it too so it will be nice when the kale is big enough to harvest so that will be one less thing for me to purchase at the grocery.

I love having different varieties and who knew there were so many varieties of kale to choose from and so many names for the same variety. There are only a few that I've seen at the grocery store (dinosaur, red russian and curly). Baker Creek, where I got most of my seeds from this year, has 9 different varieties to choose from while Territorial Seed had 16! I narrowed my selections for this year down to 6. One of the seed packets I received was a "Wild Garden Mix" which I originally thought was a single variety but as the starts grew I realized it was actually a mix of three varieties. The varieties are not listed on the seed packet but I think I've figured out what they are (blue curled, dinosaur and red russian).
  1. Premier (Early Hanover) - This is a newer variety I received from Mike the Gardener's seeds of the month club. It has large, smooth, dark green leaves up to a foot long and grows 12-15" tall and 12" wide. This variety is cold hardy. 55-65 days to maturity. 
  2. Vates Blue Curled -  I got these seeds on sale at the end of last season from Seattle Seed Co. The blue-green leaves are curly and more rigid than other varieties and grows to 15" tall and up to 24" wide. Best used as a garnish or in soups and stir fries. 50-60 days to maturity.
  3. Tronchuda (Portuguese & Sea Kale) - This variety came from Baker Creek which I found on sale at a local nursery for 50% off. This variety is more heat tolerant than other varieties and can also take a freeze. The leaves are very large (up to 24"), flat and round, similar to collards but with white veins. This variety tastes more like cabbage and was previously called Tronchuda Cabbage, a non-heading cabbage variety. Grows 12-24" tall and 24-36" wide. 50-60 days to maturity.
  4. Scarlet - I received this variety through a local seed exchange but Baker Creek was the original source for the seeds. This is probably the most beautiful of the kales. The tightly curled leaves are dark green/purple. It grows 24-36" tall and 24" wide. 60 days to maturity.
  5. Red Russian (Siberian & Ragged Jack) - This one came from the Wild Garden Mix from Seattle Seed Co. This variety is cold and heat hardy with tender oak looking blue-green leaves with purple veins. It grows 2-3' tall and 12" wide. 50-60 days to maturity.
  6. Dinosaur (Lacinato & Tuscan) - This is one of the most common varieties and is the other variety I chose to plant from the Wild Garden Mix from Seattle Seed Co. The rigid dark blue-green blistered/bumpy leaves are long and narrow and curl in at the sides. It is cold and heat hardy and grows to 2' tall and 2' wide. 60 days to maturity.
I started the Premier, Vates Blue Curled and Wild Garden varieties in early March and transplanted them in the garden a little over one month later. The Tronchuda and Scarlet was started in early March and will be ready for the garden in another couple of weeks. I've decided to put 4 of each variety in the garden so should have a steady supply of kale soon for salads, soups, stir fries, smoothies and chicken treats.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Year's Tomato Varieties


Going from a teenie garden to a big one has made me go a little overboard on planting stuff. Even after adding two additional beds to the six I already had, it seems I don't have enough room for all I want to plant. I used to plant typically 2 tomato plants in a container but this year is a little different. I'll be planting 14 different tomato varieties in my garden this year that I've already started from seed. I got my seeds from saved seeds, seed exchanges and seed catalogs. I started all of them between 3/6-9 and had a pretty decent germination. I did have one pkg of seeds from 2006 that took longer to germinate than the others but it eventually came up and they are all sitting under lights and will get transplanted into bigger pots in a few weeks. I plan on only planting one of each variety in the garden but started 3 of each just in case. If I have any left over I hope to sell or trade them.  I'll be planting 4 of the determinates in the greenhouse, 2 in a container and the indeterminates in garden beds.
  1. Black Cherry - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 65-75 days - Indeterminate
  2. Bradley - Seeds of the Month Club - 75 days - Determinate
  3. Casady's Folly - Duvall Seed Exchange - 75 days - Determinate
  4. Costoluto Genovese - Baker Creek 2015 - 80 days - Indeterminate
  5. Dester - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 70-80 - Indeterminate
  6. Green Zebra - Halfdimehomestead Seed Exchange - 80 days - Determinate
  7. Latah - Saved seed - 55-60 days - Determinate
  8. Purple Bumblebee - Baker Creek 2015 - 60-70 days - Indeterminate
  9. Red Pear - Seattle Seed Co 2014 - 70 days - Indeterminate
  10. Roma - Sarah Seed Exchange 2015 - 75 days - Determinate
  11. Washington Cherry - Sarah Seed Exchange - 60 days - Determinate
  12. White Cherry - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 70 days - Indeterminate
  13. Yellow Gooseberry - Baker Creek 2015 - 75 days - Indeterminate
  14. Yellow Pear - Ed Hume 2006 - 75 days - Indeterminate

    Added one more variety from a tomato start received from a neighbor who insisted I try it.
  15. Gold Nugget - Neighbor - 60 days - Determinate

Here's a few minute video on how I grew these from seed for the first month:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meet my Chickens

I currently have 9 hens in my flock of chickens and each one of them has their own personality so I wanted to introduce them and provide a little bit of info about each one. I have four different breeds. The buff orpington and production reds came with the house I bought last summer and were already laying eggs when I moved in. I raised the black copper marans and easter eggers from 1 day old chicks from Baxter Barn.
  • Buff Orpingtons: Orpingtons have a gentle personality and extremely fluffy butts and are commonly broody which makes them a good mother. They lay a light brown egg.
  • Production Reds: A hybrid of Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red and sometimes Leghorn. They are not as gentle of a breed and are known for their high egg production. They lay darker shades of brown eggs.
  • Black Copper Marans: They are a large feather legged bird that lays a dark chocolate brown colored egg.
  • Easter Eggers: Some also call them Americanas, in various spellings. They are a smaller bird with puffy cheeks and a beard and come in a wide variety of colors and lay a blue, green or pink colored egg.

Bailey 


Queen Bailey is a fluffy buff orpington and is the boss lady but the nicest boss you'll ever meet. She doesn't pick on and chase others just for fun like Lucy. She will win any staring contest though and will give a little head bop to get her favorite treats to herself. She likes to sleep up high and look down on everyone provided she can jump high enough. (My buff orpington's aren't the highest of jumpers.) Her favorite hobby is kicking wood chips into the grass and not putting them back where she found them.

Buffy


Buffy is my other Buff Orpington. When I had 3, it was always difficult to tell them all apart. The only way I can tell the 2 I have now apart is by their combs. Buffy's comb has a twist at the back of it and the points are a little further apart. Orps are a large bird and have the fluffiest of butts. It's hilarious to watch her run and shake that booty. Don't let her size fool you. She's the sweetest girl and doesn't pick on anyone. Her favorite activity is searching for worms. She sleeps on the floor of the coop instead of up high in the nesting boxes or roost. She took a break from egg laying over the winter and is just starting to lay again.

Cinnamon


Cinnamon is a production red that came with the purchase of my house. My mom named her Cinnamon because she was the darkest of the 3 reds. She appears to have been moved down to the bottom of the adult's pecking order after a hard molt this winter. She frequently eats from the younger girls' food dish to avoid conflict with the other girls. She is the most skittish of them all but is improving a little now that her molt is over and she has started laying again. She lays the smallest and darkest eggs and has been laying nearly every day since her molt. Her new feathers have some black lacing that does not appear on any of the others and her comb is the shortest so it's easy to tell her apart from the others. Her favorite activity is searching for worms in the compost bin.

 Lucy


This is naked neck Lucy the bully, a production red. She is the meanest of them all though surprisingly not at the top of the pecking order but she wishes she was. She was the only one to pick on the new girls when they joined the flock and continues to chase and peck them every chance she gets. They go running the other way anytime she is near but now that the girls are laying they will sometimes do the squat and Lucy takes full advantage of them and will sit right on top of them. She has the biggest comb and the biggest voice. She gets very upset anytime someone is in her nesting box and doesn't like to share. Her neck is missing feathers but I have not figured out if it's her plucking them out or someone else. I hope one day she will welcome the new girls and not be such a meanie. If she doesn't change her ways I may need to put her in chicken jail for a couple of days.

Sarah


Sarah is another production red, named by my mom during her visit last summer. I'm not sure where she came up with the name but it seemed fitting. I call her "Silly Sarah" because she is a funny girl. She is the friendliest of my reds and rarely picks on the younger girls. She likes to be by my side and helps me when I'm working in the garden. She loves to pick at your shoes and your pants when you are standing still. She is a great layer and gave me eggs all through winter though she likes to take her time in the nesting box and sings after she lays her eggs. She lets me hold her and doesn't make a fuss like the other reds.

Molly


Miss Molly Marans is a very mossy coppery black copper marans and looks nothing like her nearly all black sister. Some say she may even be an Olive egger (marans x blue egg layer) but she does in fact lay a dark brown egg. She is my little poser and beauty queen, the easiest of all my girls to photograph. She's the adventurer/ranger of my youngsters, always being the first one to scope out new places to make sure it's safe. Her favorite spot is sitting in the doorway of the coop to keep a lookout for trouble. When rats were getting into their house, she would sleep in front of the food dish instead of roosting with the others so the rats would have to go through her first. She is so brave.

Mary


This is Miss Mary Marans. She's a black copper marans but has no copper to speak of. She had a little twist in her comb when she was younger but as she aged it straightened out. She used to have a few white wing feathers but they've grown out and she's all black except for a little white dot on the back of her head. Her feathers are the softest chicken feathers I've ever felt and they shimmer a green hue in the sunlight. She was the first of my little ones to get her wattles. When she was younger her favorite resting spot was on my shoulder and loved to peck at my ears. Now she loves to eat my hair if it's in reach. She's usually the last one to the food dish but first to the hand fed treats.

Ali


Little Ali Bug is a less common colored Easter Egger breed. She seems to get picked on the most by Lucy, the bully. She's a master escape artist and can run the fastest and jump and fly the highest. She likes to jump on the other girls when they least expect it. She loves attention and picking things up and running around with it just to get others to chase her. She's the smallest of the 4 younger girls. She started laying her pretty blue eggs just a couple of days after Mary and Molly.

Ari 


This is Ari, an Easter Egger, and is the baby of the bunch. She seemed to be the last to stop chirping and the last to lay an egg. She likes to cuddle up under a wing, not her own, when she sleeps.  She was always the most difficult to pick up because she would just flap her wings so hard and it was hard to keep hold of her. She loves to fly and roost on the highest of places.  She likes to eat grass and sometimes gets too preoccupied and next thing she knows her family is across the yard. She squawks, runs and flaps her wings until she catches up with them. She likes to jump on Mark and his camo jacket when ever he is around because she thinks he looks like a walking tree. Ari just laid her first egg this week and it is blue just like Ali's.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Backyard Garden

Back Yard
This is my first year planning and planting a garden that is big enough to actually require detailed planning. I gotta say it's kind of fun. My parents always had a garden in the backyard but the majority of it was filled with tomatoes and peppers and not much greens of any kind.  I also remember them growing peas which I did not care for and still don't to this day. It is one of the few things I will not be planting in my garden.

An afternoon harvest last year
Before moving last summer, my garden consisted of a bed of blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs and I planted the same thing in the same place every year. With the exception of tomatoes, I did experiment with different varieties every year and also tried growing different herbs once in a while. So, my garden was pretty boring compared to the one at the new house which includes a greenhouse. It did not however include any compost bins so that was one of the first things we built. When I moved in at the end of the summer, there were many things growing and ready for harvesting: chard, kale, carrots, beans, tomatoes, peppers raspberries and eggplant. The backyard also has mature apple, pear and plum trees. I was sad not to see an herb bed but there was half a bed dedicated to mint and another half dedicated to chives. Why anyone needs that many chives I will never know. They ended up getting dug up and only saved a few which I re-planted in a different location and I will probably be making the bed of mint a little smaller to make room for more tomatoes.

You would think 6 large beds and a greenhouse would be enough garden space for someone used to having such a tiny garden but I found the more garden planning I did the more I wanted to plant but didn't have the room. We ended up adding a smaller bed dedicated for herbs and another bed on the other end of the backyard between the compost bins and the chicken run for miscellaneous items like squash that take up a lot of space.

Originally I had created a garden plan in Excel which worked ok but then I started looking into some online apps that make planning your garden a lot easier and decided to go that route. There are a few free ones and a few paid subscription ones. The one I settled on using is called GrowVeg and may be the most popular but there is a $25/year fee and a 30 day free trial, which I find very reasonable. I found it really easy to use and the plans just look nice and are very customizable. Here are a few of my favorite features of GrowVeg:
  • exensive database of plants and varieties of each
  • ability to add varieties that are not built into the database
  • database includes spacing requirements for each plant
  • easy drag and drop interface
  • charts recommending planting times (indoor and outdoor) for your growing zone
  • email reminds when it's time to plant something that is in your plan
  • crop rotation: saves previous years plans and shows where not to plant certain plants based on where you planted it and others like it the previous year
  • ability to make your garden plan public 
current plan for 2015
So far the plan includes the following fruits and vegetables:

Asparagus
Basil
Bay
Beans (6 varieties)
Beets (2 varieties)
Bok Choy
Borage
Brussels Sprouts
Burnet Salad
Cabbage (2 varieties)
Carrots (3 varieties)
Celery
Camomille
Chili Peppers (2 varieties)
Cilantro
Cucumber (3 varieties)
Dill (2 varieties)
Endive
Escarole
Garlic
Kale (4 varieties)
Lettuce (4 varieties)
Marjoram
Mustard (3 varieties)
Onions (5 varieties)
Oregano
Parsley
Parsnip
Peppers
Potatoes (2 varieties)
Radish (2 varieties)
Rhubarb
Sage (2 varieties)
Shallots
Spinach (2 varieties)
Squash (4 varieties)
Chard (2 varieties)
Tarragon
Thyme
Tomatoes (13 varieties)

You can see my full plan including plant list and varieties on MotherEarthNews. I'll be sharing more here about my garden's successes, failures and some of the methods I used.

Monday, March 02, 2015

2015 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

It's been a few years since we've been to the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center in Seattle and decided we were due for a visit. We ended up parking on the street with a 2 hour limit which meant we had to spend our time at the show wisely. We started by running through all the vendor areas, taking photos and samples along the way and finishing up with all the garden displays.

The only thing I ended up purchasing at the show was a bag of coir. I use coir for the Worm Factory 360 that I got for Christmas. It makes for great worm bedding and also works great as a seed starting mix too. I compared the price to Amazon and just couldn't beat the price at the show and was thinking we should have bought more than just one.

The coir isn't the only thing we came home with though. There were a lot of vendors giving things away. I picked up two packets of gourmet lettuce seeds from Cedar Grove, Dr Earth fertilizer, chicken treats from Urban Chickens and a bag of Groco compost made with Loop. My chickens enjoyed the treat and I used some of the Groco compost on my seed starts.

We also spotted Ciscoe Morris doing his radio show but it was so loud that we couldn't really hear what the questions and answers were so we just walked by.

Below are a few of my favorite booths and displays.

 vinegar tasting fungi mulch gravel Gardening with Ciscoe pot pourri flower arrangements plants Shrrom For Rent Cozy Outdoor Room water feature Beekeeper House