Singing in the Rain!!

There has been lull in the gardening around here.  Once everything got planted, t-tape set up and timers on I have been on to other things– mainly sewing in the cool house and hiding from the sun.  But this weekend the rain finally came!! Two days in a row and the world was changed!!  Finally braving the outdoors again, I am greeted with abundance of Beets, Chard, Cota, Calendula, Carrots, Basil, Kale, Lettuce…just to name a few!!

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Gardening with friends has been my greatest blessing this week.  Rejoicing in the bounty together, gabbing all the way.  Folding Cota together in the rain while our sons and husbands play around us.

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Here in the desert the rains bring us so many gifts, not just much needed water, but relief, reprive, revitalization of our sometimes hot, heavy hearts.  I often feel like the rains bring the new year, a place to start again, the reset button as a friend likes to call it.  The rains wash us of all we are carrying, allow us to set everything down to go out into the desert and call up to the clouds, “Thank you! Welcome! We have been waiting & waiting & waiting for you and now you have answered our prayers!!”Image

In thanks for the rains that fall and the garden that grows, these simple miracles remind me new life is always sprouting up around and in us–

Happy Rainy season, may it linger long and abundant this year!

Seeds Starting Recap

Last Saturday I gave a public class on Seed Starting at Earth Care community garden.  It went well and was well attended but made me realize a few things…..One was that a little re-cap may be useful,  as people tend to have the same questions and quandaries about starting seeds indoors.

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Seed Selection– Save your own, Trade, Share, Swap…If you are to buy seed go for heirlooms, locally appropriate and organic.  If you would like to start your own seed saving collection, open pollinated varieties are what you need.  Avoid hybrids (for seed saving) and GMOs at all cost! Sources I recommend:

Seed Savers Exchange

Native Seed Search

Fedco

High Mowing

Peaceful Valley

to name a few

Containers and Soil– There are of course so many choices, so I encourage you to use what you have and find what you like.  My favorite are wooden flats so here is a link to making your own out of old pallets or new wood.  I also prefer to make my own soil, so here is  link to that, but of course find your method of ease a pleasure.  Just remember for seedlings fluffy and light soil is best- high in peat moss or Coconut fiber.  Once the seedlings the bigger they will need more nutrient rich mix or a rich garden bed and I will write more on that later.

Temperature–  Seedlings need different soil temperatures to germinate.  For example some lettuces can germinate in soil that is 50 degrees and Tomatoes often need 70 degree soil.  Here is a great Vegetable Planting Chart form High Mowing Seeds blog that has great info on soil temp, germination times, spacing and more.   If you are starting your seedlings inside, the soil is probably stable at the temperatures of your house, but if not they are in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, it is probably much colder.   I simple Soil thermometer, purchase at any nursery, should help you see what your soil temps really are.

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Check it morning and evening to see how it changes.  Also check your seed packet to see if it tells you ideal soil temperatures for germination, so you know if you are waiting long enough before starting over.  Remember if you seedlings haven’t come up yet, they are just waiting for the right chemistry, so don’t give up.  Just keep working the elements of warmth, light and water till you see those sprouts.  If you need to you can buy seedling heating mats here.

Light- This seems to be the most tricky for home growers.  Many windows simply don’t get enough DIRECT sunlight.  Choose a south-facing window that gets direct sun ALL day, that is at least 8-10 hours a day.  The more the better.  If your seeds sprouts but then get really long and leggy and look like the are desperately seeking the sun, you probably need to supplement with electric lights.  So many people know so much more about that so google that.

Water- Seeds really only need the right temperatures and moisture to germinate, that is sprouting before photosynthesis.  Once you sow seeds (in a moist sowing mix) you MUST keep them moist at ALL times.  Yep, Always!!!! that means watering many times a day if you need to, especially in a heated house in a south-facing window in the high desert!!!.  A helpful tool may be a spray bottle.  Set it on a fine mist and mist the soil.  If you have children helping this is a great job for them and really can’t be over done.  Once you see puddling on the surface of your soil, stop watering.  A watering can with a fine sprinkle really is necessary,  as big flows of water can wash the seed right out of the soil.  Because the seed is only in the first inch of soil, this is what need to be moist.  Once a plant grows the water needs to go deeper and the plants can be watered less frequently, but int he the beginning, moist always.

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Water quality has an effect too.  I use my precious rain water for seedlings and really have noticed a difference from the years I have used our hard well water.  Tap water is ok, but it is best to fill your watering can or a big bucket hours, or days before you water so that the chlorine in the water can evaporate and the water can come up to room temperature.  Cold water can shock plants and of course chlorine can harm them.

Seed Needs– Each seed of course has it’s own temperament.  Some like to be planted deep, some with no soil at all.  Some need fire, freeze or even scaring to crack their seed coats.  They say a generally to plant seeds twice as deep as they are wide.  Seed packets are great source of information, but if you don’t have packets, the High Mowing Vegetable Planting Guide works great to find out all the little special needs of each of your precious seeds.

So there you have it– If you seeds are warm, wet, sunned and in a good growing medium they should come up just fine.  Plants are more like us than we might think.  If you are cold, they probably are, too hot, the might be too.

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Now planning your sowing timing and taking care of the babies well so that they thrive and are ready to go outside when the times comes, oh and of course there is seed starting outdoors as well…..but I think I will write more on that later, for now this should get you started if you haven’t jumped in already.  Happy Seed Sowing!

Seed Starting Class

As you may have gleaned from my blog, I like to garden.  I like it so much that is mostly what I write about, and frankly do with most of my time.  I also teach gardening and have in lots of different places from the Children’s Museum, to Elementary Schools, then high schools, and now I even teach it at a college!!  This Saturday I will be teaching a class to the public hosted by Homegrown New Mexico and held at Earth Care Community Garden.IMG_0290

We will cover as much as we possibly can about seed selection, sowing mediums, containers, schedules, technique, and care in 2 hours.  It would be great so see some of you there!  RSVP here.

‘Work is Love Made Visable’

“Work is love made visible” these words of Kahlil Gibran were carved by hand onto a wooden sign that hung on the main lodge of my beloved Vermont summer camp, Farm & Wilderness.  This was a place where teens from all walks of East coast life would come together for 2 months to work the land, swim in the waters and learn to create community together.  As my dad reminded me yesterday, not only have those words been carved into my soul & life purpose, but also the community spirit.  In the years since summer camp I have found myself surrounded with similar earth loving angels actively loving the world & each other through their hands

.IMG_0312 They came smiling and laughing, eager to spend the day in the sunshine with me and my tomatoes.

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Not only did they work, but they sang, told stories and charmed the baby & us all while doing so.IMG_0327

There were parents, neighbors, old friends and new, this incredible little hard-working crew just breezed in with great blessings and warmed our little home until it sang right along.  In return dad cooked the burgers & freshly picked ‘Lovely Day Farm’ (on our street!!) Asparagus on the grill and we feed them well.  When I sent out the invite I mentioned that I would feed them all but ‘if any one wanted to ‘WOW’ us with desert or beverages they were welcome’ and WOW us they did! Handmade Mojitos and Fresh Pear Pie and Raspberry Tart and homemade yogurt on top!! OH MY!!!

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And now the greenhouse is at maximum capacity with 250 tomatoes, all in brand new little pots, the only question now is, where will I put everything else?  Plant sale anyone?

I almost felt guilty having them do all that work for me on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but then I remembered all the seeds I have sown, beds I have dug, weeds I have pulled out of other people’s gardens and like them, I sang too… so happy to have dirt to put my hands in and a hard task to put my strong body to real use.  As we were working Jaengy jumped in helping with sorting the pots after shying from the crowd for the first hour.

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I commented how he is happiest when he has a job to do.  Casey responded, “I think we all are!”  and I thought, ‘Well you are my kind of people!’  So Thank You garden angels with your kind and helpful hands, you have shown me that there should be no guilt in asking for help and that for many of us there is no greater gift than working together to complete the task at hand, to share the load and to enjoy being of use together.

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy

The Step by Step of Bed Prep

Ready to getting digging, to break a sweat and work out those winter kinks.  Well I know I am, and bed prep is a great way to get spring started.  Once you read this you may think– ‘Well that it a lot of WORK, do I really need to do all that!!’

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The answer is of course no, you can do whatever you and your garden deem fit…There is no-till, there is lasagna gardening, there is digging in cover crop, there are raised beds, and of course rototillers & tractors could to the hard tilling work for you… oh I could go on, but if you do have in-ground beds, and want to get digging….. it goes like this….

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First I raked off all the straw that was placed there to mulch the tomatoes that grew here last year.  I removed the tomatoes and left the straw covering the beds all winter– though this is in the hoop house I like to keep my beds covered– Reduces erosion, keeps the soil warmer so it can be worked earlier and keeps in the moisture.

*Before prepping a bed, checking the moisture level is really important– If it is too hard you will be digging rocks, if too wet you will be slopping in the mud, lifting HEAVY wet soil, working you back twice as hard and of course compacting the soil where ever you walk….So always check the moisture level before you start. It should feel cool to the touch, leaving dampness on your skin, but not water…It should crumble in your hand into chunks rather than into dust….If your moisture level is too high, dry it out of course, if too low water it well and plan on digging a couple of days later, even the worst looking soil can be transformed with a little water.

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Once the moisture level is just right and the is bed clear, you can get digging.  I began with my Spade to edge the beds, that is cut a line along the bed edge to make sure my bed is nice and straight by just sticking the spade in as far as it will go all the way down each side of the bed.  This gives you a nice border to work within.  Then I use my beloved digging fork, starting at one end and working backwards down the bed, flipping up the soil ad I go.  That way I dig where I step, not vis versa, so the bed is nice a fluffy when I am done.

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Next, I add my compost.  This was harvested from my backyard pile that had been resting since last summer.  I was delighted that I got 3 wheel burrows of compost from what looked like a pretty small pile.  It may not be enough for my whole garden, but it was good to note that with our food scraps, leaves and garden waste we can produce about 3 wheel burrows worth of compost per season.  I took my spade and sprinkled it on the bed, about 3/4 inch thick.  I used 1/2 the wheel burrow for a bed measuring 3X20 ft.Image

Once it was spread I went back with my spade in the same way I passed with my fork and dug and flipped and smacked, incorporating the compost and continuing to break up the chucks.  A big part of what I did that day was in fact break up chunks, but I have to say it felt good!!  I worked up quite a sweat in that hoop house, sure beats the gym!!!IMG_9576Now with smaller chucks I went back over, yes again, with a rake.  This is the zen part. There is still a little smacking of clumps but mostly just smoothing it all out.IMG_9577

The finer you go, the tilth better for your seeds.  And the more even you go the more consistently moistened when watered.  Now this stage seems to be the most appealing for toddlers to step right in the make their mark… So I baby trapped the bed by putting in a few stakes and wrapping with twine about a foot or two high.  This seems to work well for a person of 22 months– though past 2 years they can just hurdle it with ease– I guess I will cross that bridge when we come to it.IMG_9579  There is drip tape already in the hoop house so I just re-laid it.  It won’t be turned on for another month, but having it out gives me nice straight lines to plant along and a sure thing my babies will get the water they need as the season progresses.  Now we Plant!!IMG_9581These are cool season crops started in the greenhouse, ready to have more space!!  I divide them ever so carefully and placed them individually in the ground.IMG_9585

As I transplant I make sure to make holes deep enough for all the roots to rest in without being scrunched, I also make a little moat around each plant to ensure water pools around each and doesn’t run off.  IMG_9587Now we water & wait– though with the warmth in the hoop house it shouldn’t be long now!!

IMG_9513I had to go away for week before posting this– so here is what it looks like a week later!!  We should be eating in no time!!IMG_9517

Homemade Potting Soil

I make potting mix every year for my greenhouse seedlings.  I have written about it many times here & here, but every year I refine it, learn more, change things, or get my hands on something new.  This year I learned it is probably best to gather my ingredients in the fall, when it is warm and lovely and my compost is harvestable and not freezing as it is today.

Beacause I wanted potting soil in January and my compost was yes freezing, I bought compost this year.  It is Bio-dynamic compost made with Cow manure from Terra Flora and it looks pretty darn good.  The creator even sent me pictures of it’s microscopic crystals.

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Because I like to deepen my practice of gardening every year I plan to do trials with my seedling mix ingredients and watch and learn, that is once my compost thaws.  I plan to try a mix I got from Santa Fe Greenhouses (during their going out of business sale) a mix with the Terra Flora compost and a mix with my own.  I will of course let you know how it all goes.

So to make your own soil mix for your wooden planting trays (that is what I use and what I think this mix works best for) You must gather you materials–

Compost from your own pile (or another source if not is available)

Soil from your garden

Sand from your arroyo

Peat moss or Coco Peat from your Nursery…(unless of course you have homemade leaf mold composted and ready to go, by all means use that first!!)

I get all this stuff in advance and store it in bins so everything is ready to go when I need to mix.

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Plastic is gross, I know, wooden bins would be ideal, but for now this is what works for me.

Once I have everything gathered I get my wheel burrow, a 5 gallon bucket, my 1/4 shifter screen, a shovel and a hoe.IMG_8859IMG_8870IMG_8860IMG_8863

Here is my the recipe I use, from my Alma Matar, CASFS.

It is a parts recipe, but if you use a 5 gallon bucket as your measuring cup and follow this recipe you will get a full wheel burrow, which will be enough soil for 6 2x1ft seedling trays.

Pour into wheel burrow through a 1/4 screen

1.5 Buckets-Compost

1Bucket- Garden soil

1/2 Bucket-Sand

1 Bucket Peat Moss or Coco Peat

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Anything you shift off can be saved for potting soil for plants that will live only in pots, or can be added back to the garden or compost pile.

Mix everything well with a hoe and sprinkle occasionally with water.

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The moisture level is key, not only does it cut down yucky dust, but you want a nice moist mix in your flat before you seed.

If it is too dry it will actually repel water and you tiny seeds will float away in the run off.

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Give it a squeeze and release

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If it stays in a loose ball and breaks apart when you bounce it in your palm you have got it.  Now store it in a bin with a lid to keep that perfect moisture, or put it directly into you flats and sow away!

And that is that.  Once you have your flats made & potting mix made, now all you have to do is decide what and when to sow…..more on that soon.

Planting into pallets

Is there anything you can’t make out of an old pallet?  Yes, it does take more time and a bit more know-how to upcycle a pallet into a totally different and functional thing, but luckily I have an expert on my side.  Yep, Joel does it again.  This time he made me a new seed planting flat out of recycled pallet wood.

(Note: I do also do make these out new wood too, see here)

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Cool Huh?  Want to try? Here is how he did it.

First, he tore the pallet apart with a flat bar to get the the lumber in order. Image

Then he used the cross pieces which were 3.5inches wide and 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick.  There was mix of oak (harder, longer lasting, heavier) & pine (softer, easier to work with lighter)

 

Then he cut off the split tips with the nails in them- to have clean, split free ends and not to bother with pulling out the nails.Image

Then he cut 2 pieces at 1ft long and 6pieces at 2ft long

He nailed 2 of the 2footers & 2 of 1footers into a rectangular box.  The 2 footer edges over lapped the edges of the 1 footers.  Unfortunately he moved so fast I didn’t get to photograph every step… but I hope you follow.

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Then he nailed the remaining 4 2footers to the bottom of the box using 4d galvanized nails. These are rust resistant and small enough that they will keep the wood from splitting, but large enough to hold your box together when it is full of heavy, wet soil.  Because the wood was irregular enough he just pushed the bottom slats together and nailed…but it is important to note during this step to leave a little space between the slats for water to drain out, but not soil.  I usually stick a quarter between the slats which has always proven to be just right.

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And there you have it.  Here is one I made from Redwood and screws in 2010 (in front) and the new Pallet one (in back).  Image

Similar—-but there are few subtle differences.

*The new one is a bit wider than the other.  As far as size go, I pretty much try to maximize my table space.  If you table is a 3×6 (which many tables are) you can fit 9 2×1 flats on it.  That should be more than enough (much more in fact) for all your seedling needs.  Remembering, when you start seeds in wooden planting flats you will need to divide them or thin them before they reach the garden, so leave space in you table(s) for transplants.  This is basically bio-intensive gardening, but more on that later…here is the next step if you are eager.

*The other difference is that my new flat is mostly oak and the older one is Redwood.  Both have their pros and cons

Oak- Hard, Heavy, Durable,Rot Resistant, Brittle-(Available in Pallets)

Pine- Soft, Not Rot resistant, Light weight, Cheap or free-(Available in Pallets)

Redwood- Light weight, doesn’t spilt easily, VERY Rot Resistant-(Must buy)

Wooden Flats are a great thing to add to your garden shed if you find yourself starting seeds every year.  They are pretty simple to make, relatively cheap and last many years, not to mention they are NOT plastic.  They work beautifully to hold moisture and give ample space for those babies to grow.  Many farms use them, which is where I learned about them.  Here are a few I stumble across while ambling through a sleepy farm in Colorado last spring.

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Yes, I take pictures of other people’s planting flats, I told you I was a farm tourist.

Good Luck and I hope you help rescue one more lonely pallet from the back of your hardware store and put it to good use.

When you are ready here is a link to how to make potting soil for the flats and one on how to plant into them properly.  Let the sowing begin!!

Bring on the Bounty & pass it along

The Tomato basket weighs as much as my baby!!  (well almost!)

Oh the bounty of these days is so divine & delicious!! This must the best fruit year as long as I have lived here in the high desert and I am buying stock in the Ball Jar company right now! No, Not really, but I am stocking up as well as co-planning a local harvest swap with my Radical friend Kyce.  This is not a new idea, people have been swapping their bounty, well forever, and the new wave of happy homesteaders are doing this in cities all over the country, like here and here, with great success and tons of great resources like here.  As far as I have heard, this will be Santa Fe’s First Harvest Swap.

Gathered from the garden, and that’s just today

It is open to all – though you must register here to save your spot – (the room is only so big).  It surely will be a good time, just think a room full of canners, gardeners, seed savers, wild crafters, milk maids, foragers, and even a few hunters and their stashes!  It is such a wonderful way to celebrate the bounty of our abundant desert, share the fruits of our labors, and experience a truly fair version of Fair Trade. To me this feels like a way to bring our work, our livelihoods and our hearts together to eat, swap and be merry.

Better make room in the pantry for more jars, oh my!!

So here is the official invitation, Come join us!!

Dear Fellow Preservers of the Harvest,

You are cordially invited to a Delectable Harvest Swap in which the bounty of our gardens, barnyards, orchards, and wild lands will be celebrated and shared.

Consider this your advance notice to put up extra of whatever putting up you do. Bring that extra bit you know you can’t use, and let it be your currency to barter your way to a dream pantry while spending a morning amidst fabulous folk.

Wondering what to bring? 

Whatever you’ve canned (according to Dept. of Ag regulation specs, please!)—chutneys, jams, fruit butters, sauces, salsas, whole fruits, pickles, but also vinegars, condiments, fermented fare, dried fruits, cider, chiles, and garlic.

Not a big canner? How about baked goods, salves, tinctures, honey, soap, seeds, dried culinary or medicinal herbs…or whatever your homemade, homegrown, or wild harvested specialty is. Oh, and don’t forget pumpkins, cabbages, and other fresh fall crops.

Register here: Santa Fe Harvest Swap

Learn more about food swaps here: Food Swap Network

As you can see I am very excited to swap, meet and eat the bounty of our harvests together, in the meantime, I’ll be out picking!!

Glistening Choke Cherries, one of New Mexico’s Finest Wild Offerings

Planting the Fall Garden

This post is a little over due, that is if you are following my garden advice, but not to worry it is not too late to plant your fall crops.  The past couple of weeks have been busy around here and it seems any garden time I have is going to preserving rather than planting.  But in this high desert garden spring and fall are optimal time for planting and reaping.  The cool weather and rains that the ‘shoulder seasons’ provide are great for greens, roots and many herbs.  Come late July and early August I fill in all those nooks and crannies that have been opened up by summer harvests with all kinds of leafy goodies. For example the garlic bed dug in July is now sprouting with fall lettuce and the potato bed will soon follow with more salad greens.  Sometimes you can even plant among big shady things in the heat of the summer if you know they will be coming out soon enough to give over the light and nutrients to the little guys, this is what they call using a nurse crop.  I harvest my broccoli,  move the irrigation over just a couple of inches and plant spinach.  In a couple of weeks the spinach will have germinated, the brocoli be done and ready to pull out( I actually just cut it off at the base and leave the root as to not disturb the bed too much, when forking happens in spring they will all come out).  When using a bed continuously it does require some top-dressing of compost, but there really is no need to re-dig the whole bed.  Just scratching where you want to seeds and covering them with a light layer of compost should do the trick.

When choosing crops for fall just think of cool season crops and do a little math.  Any good seed packet will say ‘Days to Maturity’ for you crop and variety.  If you figure the last frost date in Santa Fe is October 15th– that is about 60 days from now…so most lettuces are 60-70days to maturity (keep in mind, many people eat lettuce as baby leaves & surely don’t wait 60 days)  Also keep in mind that even if you have some crops that aren’t big enough to eat when the first frost does come, covering crops with cold frames, hoops and row cover and even blankets for the night protects them well and will buy you soon time.  Here in the high desert it takes a while to really have consecutive killing frosts to take a crop down.  Many people, myself included have kale for Christmas (the cold air makes it sweeter!!)

You may also want to keep in mind soil temperature, as that matters more than air temperature for seed germination.  It is more crucial in the spring when the soil is simply too cold to get good germination, but I have also heard if the soil is too hot, cool seasons seeds can have a hard time germinating as well. (Though truthfully I haven’t run into that yet)

This chart was borrowed from CASFS where I studied Ecological Agriculture and they Adapted it from UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center’s Seed Germination Temperatures chart (http://vric.ucdavis.edu/veginfo/)
Vegetable   Optimal Soil Temp for Germination   Days to Germinate

Bean, snap                        75 – 80                                    7
Bean, lima                         85                                             7 – 10
Beet                                    75                                              7 – 14
Broccoli                             75                                              7
Cabbage, heading            68 – 75                                    5 – 10
Carrot                                 75                                             12 – 14
Cauliflower                        68 – 86                                   5 – 10
Celery                                 68 – 76                                   10 – 14
Collard                               68 – 76                                    4 – 10
Corn                                    70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Cucumber                          70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Eggplant                             70 – 86                                   10
Endive                                 68 –75                                    10 – 14
Kale                                      68 – 75                                   5 – 10
Leek                                     68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Lettuce                                68 –70                                     7 –10
Melon                                  80 –86                                    4 – 10
Mustard Greens                68 – 70                                    5 – 10
Onion                                  68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Onion, bunching               60 – 68                                   10 – 14
Parsley                                65 – 70                                     11 – 28
Parsnip                               68 – 70                                    14 – 21
Pea                                       65 – 70                                     7 –14
Pepper                                 75 – 85                                     10
Pumpkin                             68 –75                                      7 – 10
Radish                                 65 – 70                                     5 – 7
Spinach                               68 – 70                                     7 – 14
Squash, summer               70 – 85                                     7 – 14
Squash, winter                   70 – 85                                    7 – 14
Tomato                                75 – 80                                    7 – 14
Turnip                                  65 – 70                                     7 – 14

Now if you like charts there is a great one Eliot Coleman has in the back of his book, Four Season Harvest on when to sow fall plantings.

Which I believe they have at the library, which I guarantee if you read the whole thing you will need no advice from me!!

Wow that was a lot of information, but when it is all said and done you could just do what I do; scratch some dirt, throw in some cilantro, lettuce, spinach, dill, arugula, mache, carrot, turnip, beet, kale and chard, cover with compost and call it a day!! Don’t forget to leave a little open space for the October garlic planting, oh, and pray for more rain!!

Here are a few links if you would like to learn more

Home Grown New Mexico

Sow True

Mother Earth News

Organic Gardening

Ten Transplanting Tips

Little guys ready to go outside

So when I started gardening in Santa Fe the last frost date was May 15th….this year however it was more like April 15th!! Crazy….But I am still cautious of putting my little starts outside and if you too have waited, dotting over those tiny creatures in your window sill as I have, or worked hard to make money to buy those babies….you want to make sure they have a good strong transition into the great wide open wilderness of your garden from the climate controlled nest from which they are pushed.  So as you prepare for the final transplant, here are a few tips to help those babies along.

Just right

#1-SIZE DOES MATTER– Though it may be transplanting time, are your plants ready to transplant is a really good question to ask – Plants do have an optimum size for transplanting– if it is too big the root to shoot ratio will be way out of proportion and the roots will be circling in the bottom of the pot or the top growth toppling over, many more times higher than the depth of the pot.  In this case plant ASAP and you can also do a little root stimulation to break those pot bound roots out of their tangle, even trimming roots if necessary and prune back the top foliage.  If you haven’t purchased plants yet– please don’t buy things that seem top heavy, and though is pretty, NEVER buy something in flower or fruit stage.  If it is flowering in a pot it is probably stressed and will continue to be in your garden.  Most thing will tolerate a little pruning back, if it is an annual crop and few clean pinches with clean finger nails should do the trick.

Now If a plant is too small–If a plant is too small for transplanting it will not yet have it’s second set of true leaves and seem very tender.

This Basil is too small…It only has it’s Cotyledons (first growth) and one set of true leaves. Better to wait until it looks more like ….

These Basils are getting second sets of true leaves, much better time to transplant, the one my finger is on is too small, see the difference

Adequate ‘root knit’ is also a sign your plant is ready, meaning the roots hold the soil(at appropriate moisture, see below) when removed from the pot. Root to Shoot ratio means that the plants has equal root and vegetation growth.

This guy has good root knit- the roots hold in the soil when the soil is moist to the touch

Here is it’s foliage, in balance with the root growth inside the pot

#2-HARDENING OFF- is a process of transitioning your plants from inside to outside taking anywhere from 3-25 days.  You can begin bringing the plants out for a couple of hours each day in a nice shady, cool spot.  Then maybe a few more hours adding direct sunlight, even placing them where you might plant them.  Remember, plants in pots dry out quicker than those in the ground, so keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out.  Little by little, lengthen the days and then add few nights.  Once they have spent a few night outside their cell walls should be acclimated, and hardened enough to be planted in your garden. If you don’t have time to harden things off, see below for ways to protect them in harsh conditions after planting in TAKE COVER.

#3-MOISTURE LEVEL– You don’t want the soil in you pots to be dry and crumbly, nor just watered and thus muddy,  moist to the touch, but not wet.  The best bet is water well in the morning and plant in the evening.  Your roots should hold the soil together enough so that you are planting a soil mass and not bare roots.

Hard to tell moisture form a picture, but about like this

#4-SPACING-You will have in mind how far apart you plants should, be but sometimes you are so eager to get them in the ground you end up with a mess.  I like to mark out my rows with string, that way as I am planting I just plant along the string and measure with my trowel according the to space I want.

Strings strung to keep a straight line when digging trench and planting potatoes

You can also, as a school garden teacher passed on, measure and mark every spot with a popsicle stick, before you plant, that way you get to plant twice!  Exciting if you are a kid gardener.  You can of course plant here and there and everywhere, but keep in mind how big your plants will get when planting, they look little now but just wait till September!! Also irrigation lines, if you are adding them, are linear and can only bend so much, so laying the lines and then planting where the water drips out is a perfect way to get it right.

#5- TIME OF DAY-Think cool and crisp.  I like to transplant in the evening, so peaceful and lovely….some prefer early morning..Or during the day when the shade hits your garden..When ever you choose, try to make sure it is Cool, crisp and the plants will not be in direct sunlight very long.  These days we have had some clouds rolling in and that is perfect for transplanting.

#6- WIND PROTECTION– Spring winds can be fierce and take a toll on young plants, especially those that have never experienced it before inside.  You can’t always predict or work around the winds in spring, but you can protect your plants in a few ways.

Glass Cloche for sale in Italy

Homemade Cloches (glass covers for plants) work well.  Just cut a plastic bottles bottom off and place over the plant after transplanting.  You can leave it on for a week or so until you notice the plant has really taken hold and is showing new growth.

Bottle over a transplant creates a mini greenhouse

You can also add floating row cover for protection from wind, bird, bug, etc…This is basically making a mini hoop house over your bed with wire hoops and woven fabric.  I believe the Row cover is sold by the yard at Plants of the Southwest and the wire is 19 gauge wire you buy in rolls at the hardware store, I found mine at Lowe’s in the back of the garden section with the fencing supplies.  I fasten the cover to the hoops with clothes pins and pile dirt or rocks where it meets the ground.  If the wind gets underneath it, it will take off like a sail. Here is a video on Using Row Covers from Johnny’s Seed Co to get the full idea.

#7- WATER-Water well, really well- The soil into which you plant should be pre-moisten, not a mud hole, but moist.  I like to water the morning before transplanting, so the soil has a bit of time to absorb the water.  If you can’t do that go ahead and water first, then plant.  Once your plant is in the ground, water the plant daily, or twice daily, for about a week until you see it thriving, then you can taper off down your irrigation schedule.  If you are using a cloche, it does create a mini greenhouse so make sure the plant stays moist in there.

#8- DEPTH-Pretty intuitive, but do make sure you plant your plant at the same soil level as it was in the pot.  You can make a little moat around your plant too so that the water will pool around it and not runoff, but seep in slowly around the roots.

Little moat helps catch water

#9- FERTIGATE– Meaning add liquid fertilizer to a watering can, and give a little to each transplant.  This vitamin boost will help them along in the transition.  I use Super thrive and liquid seaweed or Kelp Extract.  Remember a little goes and long way!! (dilution recommendations are on the bottles)

ORGANIC Liquid fertilizers

#10-WHO TO TRANSPLANT— Every seed packet comes with a recommendation for your plants, but in the case that you inherited all home saved seed and don’t know where to begin.

GENERALLY (there are always exceptions)

I like to transplant ( Heat loving Crops)

Tomatoes, Basil, Peppers, Eggplant, Cabbage, Broccoli,

I like to direct seed ( Large Seeded Crops & Roots)

Large Seeded Crops:  Corn,Beans,Squash

Root Crops: Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabega, Kolrabi, Potato, Radish,

Hearty Crops: Dill, Kale, Chard, Arugula, Leeks

Things that don’t transplant well: Spinach, Cilantro, Peas

Exceptions: Onions (though onion sets are transplanted and do wonderfully here) Lettuce does well direct seeded, though I do transplant lettuce for early crops,

Summer Squash, Melons, and Cucumber are traditionally planted direct seed, but I have had great luck transplanting them.