Garden Party in the Pantry!

Store bought celery will sprout new stalks when set in shallow waterGrow Your Own – Everybody’s Doing It!

Grow Your Own – Everybody’s Doing it!

There really is no excuse to not grow at least some of your family’s own food. One of the best things about growing food is how little space it actually takes. If you have some containers and some empty space, you too can enjoy some home grown deliciousness! Not convinced? Here are some places I, personally, have successfully grown delicious food

  • In a bright sunny window
  • in a garage, without windows
  • in a garage with windows
  • in a cheap plastic covered “greenhouse” bought at Raley’s
  • In an unheated shed attached to the garage, with windows
  • In a shallow bowl from store bought cut produce (like the celery in the picture above)
  • in my pantry!

I am going to talk specifically about my pantry greenhouse today, because if I can grow food, in my pantry, then you can grow something where you live too! Be that an apartment, in the suburbs, in a sky-rise, it doesn’t matter! Get the idea of needing a ton of space and time and resources, etc. etc. to grow your own salad successfully out of your head. It’s just not true. I am currently growing;

  • Easter Egg radishes,
  • 4 varieties of lettuce
  • 4 varieties of carrots
  • 2 different herbs
  • and sprouting 5 different varieties of pepper seeds

All on a few shelves in my pantry!

STOP. Listening to what “everyone” says and START experimenting with what you have to work with. I think you will be surprised how much you can do in small unexpected places when you use all available space efficiently and creatively.

Let’s Get Started

Here’s the short list of what you need to get basic food items (lettuces, carrots, radishes, herbs) growing;

  • shop lights and hoods (about $12 at Lowes)
  • Thin chain
  • Small “S” hooks that will hook inside the chain
  • extension cord IF your spot is not close to an outlet
  • Hooks that you screw into a ceiling (make sure the chain is large enough to fit over the hook)

Not Required but might make your job easier

  • Drill for pre-drilling small holes to screw your hooks into

All of the above should cost less than $20 for one light set up. Of course, if you end up doing multiple lights, like I have, it will cost a bit more up front, but this is not an expensive set up! I do not use expensive grow lights for this get up. Shop. Lights. Don’t be wooed by the fancy plants and veggies on the grow light boxes, I have never found them to be necessary or worth the cost!

**I would like to add, however, that when I was planting less hardy crops, in a very cold garage space, I also used a basic heat light to make sure my veggies stayed warm on freezing cold night. But that’s not what this post is about so i will not be going into detail about heat lamps here

Putting it All Together

Let’s put everything together and get growing!

  1. There are small holes on either end of your shop light hood. Measure the distance between the two holes and that is roughly the distance you want to drill the holes for your hanging hooks to be screwed into the top of whatever shelf or space you will be using to grow.
  2. Pre-drill a hole smaller than the screw tip of your hanging hook. Then go ahead and just screw the hook in by hand, it should go pretty easily.
  3. Once your hooks are in place, slip one end of your small “S” hook into each hole on both sides of your light hood. Hook your chain through the other side and hang your light up on the hanging hooks you prepared
  4. Plug your lights in and turn them on…
  5. YOU’RE DONE!

Let’s Get Planting!

Now the fun part!! Pick some lettuce varieties that will not be overly tall (so skip the romaine for this one), unless you have a very tall space. I love May Queen, Tom Thumb, Red Sails, or any of the loose leaf lettuce varieties! There are thousands of seed catalogs and varieties out there! Of course, in a pinch, I’m sure your local garden center also has a few fun varieties that will work. I am a big believer in supporting the local businesses that I don’t want to close up shop, so I intentionally make purchases at my local garden center whenever I can. Of course, it would be impossible for them to carry every variety, so seed catalogs get a fair share of my business. There are thousands of seed companies out there! Just make sure the seeds you buy are Heirloom, organic, non gmo, etc. Here are a few of my fav’s (not necessarily in order, but pretty close!).

  1. MI Gardener (this will actually be my first year using these seeds, but I have followed his YouTube channel for years and trust they will be excellent…and they are ONLY ONE DOLLAR each!)
  2. Bakers Creek (have used their seeds for years and LOVE them!)
  3. Territorial Seed Company
  4. High Mowing Seeds
  5. West Coast Seeds

As far as planting medium goes, do not use dirt from your backyard, unless you have a proven, weed free, pest free compost pile. I always use organic bagged potting soil, from my local garden center, for my seedlings and have yet to regret it. You will be using only a small amount of soil and, remember, this will be food you and your family will be eating, so it’s worth the few bucks to buy a good organic potting soil.

Now, for the actual container to plant in. Basically anything that holds dirt and water will work. I never put holes in the bottom of my planting containers in the greenhouse. It just means I have to water them more often, and I tend to be lazy when it comes to water. Here are a few container ideas;

  • plastic cups
  • Milk Jugs cut in half
  • Empty Yogurt Containers
  • Cardboard Soup Boxes cut in half
  • Water Catchment Trays

For my pantry I moved to large indoor plant catchment basins (basically the plastic disc you put under your indoor houseplants to catch water). They are 4 inches tall and have a 12 inch diameter, so they are a decent depth and enough width to fit several plants in one container. For my full size carrots, I am using 14 inch cheap plastic pots. I definitely recommend using plastic for plants you plan on having in the container for a long period of time, in this case, all Winter. I will be experimenting with “Soil Blocks” this Spring to hopefully move away from starts in plastic cups and containers.

Get This Party Started

Now that you have your lights set up, your organic potting soil ready, and seeds purchased,  let’s get dirty!

Fill all of your containers with your soil, leaving about 1/2 inch of space around the rim. Wet the soil and mix it all up to make sure it is evenly damp, but not sopping wet.

Either follow the planting/spacing instructions for your seeds or start your seeds sprouting for transplanting later. You can read more about pre-sprouting your seeds here.

I direct seeded my lettuces with excellent germination success. It is extremely important that your soil stay moist while the seeds are germinating. This is one reason I like my soil nice and moist before I plant.

Here is a list of seeds I pre-sprouted to improve germination rates and how many days it took for them to sprout:

  • Carrots – 3-5 days
  • Radishes – 2-3 days
  • Herbs – 1-5 days (depending on the herb and variety)
  • Peppers – 5-10 days

As the seeds germinate, they are placed into their pots at the suggested spacing for that particular plant. I only put a very light dusting of soil on top of my seeds and then water them into the soil well. Remember, there are no holes in the bottom of your containers (unless you bought container with pre-made holes, like my larger carrot buckets) so don’t do crazy with the water. Just enough to keep the soil damp.

Check daily for new sprouts! Some of mine were up the  next day! Some didn’t come out for 3 days, it was equally exciting for me to see each new seed and variety pop up! Some things never get old.

Now that everything is planted and lights are set up…all you have to do is wait. And wait a little more….and waiting is my least favorite thing. Ha! But it’s always worth it. Below are a few things that are growing in my pantry, right now, in the beginning of January in zone 5. These would never be an option outside or in my unheated greenhouse!

I would love to hear if you used any of these ideas to grow something new in your own space…the more creative the better! Please share in the comments below – pictures are a bonus 🙂

Happy Growing!

 

 

 

 

 

Improve and Guarantee Your Seeds Germination!

The Rub

We’ve all been there. You painstakingly prepare your garden beds, add enough fertilizers, order the perfect seeds, and lovingly tuck them into the soil. Then you wait. And you watch. And you water.

And nothing ever happens.

 

Talk about a major let down! It’s enough to make you want to give up gardening all together. What went wrong? Well, the problem is that as soon as those seeds slip into the soil, it’s essentially impossible to know what happens to them. The most likely culprit is the seed never germinated to begin with.

So what is a gardener to do?

The Solution

The answer? Pre-germination! If you only put germinated seeds into the ground, you are much more likely to have a successful sprouted seed, which will grow into the beautiful plant you always knew it could be. Right? Yes.

Luckily for all of us, there is a simple method that all of us, no doubt, have done at some point in an Elementary Science class. Seeds actually need very little to germinate. The main element necessary is moisture. I live in the desert…guess how fast the top 1/4 inch of soil dries out here on a warm Spring day? I’ve never timed it, but I’m guessing less than an hour after I water my seedlings, that soil is on it’s way to drier than dry! Which means, dried out seeds, no germination, and no food for me. Fortunately, pre-sprouting your seeds saves a great number of disappointments in the gardening department of life.

Tools for the Pre-Sprouting Method

  • Paper Towels (I try to use recycled and non chemical paper towels)
  • Ziplock Plastic Baggie
  • Masking Tape
  • Sharpie
  • Seeds

Ready? This is going to be so easy and quick you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it your whole dag gone life.

  1. Soak paper towel and slightly ring out, so it’s not dripping everywhere but very wet
  2. Tap desired quantity of seeds onto wet paper towel
  3. Fold paper towel up into a square and tuck it inside of a ziplock bag
  4. Label the bag with the masking tape and sharpie
  5. Put the baggie in a warm place until germination
  6. REJOICE!

Make sure you check your sprouts every day. I like to open the towel up every few days to make sure none of the seeds are molding, which is rare but can happen.

Once you have sprouted seeds (congrats!) you can carefully unfold the wet paper towel and plant each sprouted seedling according to the packets direction (or just roughly 1 inch apart, if you don’t have a packet with directions).

Some seeds are very tiny and need to be handled more gently. For seeds like carrots and basil, you can either arrange the seeds at the spacing you want on the paper towel, and then plant the whole paper towel along with the seeds.

Or, you can use something like a pencil or scalpel to place each individual seed into it’s place. For example, the basil in the pictures below were so tiny I couldn’t grab them with my fingers, so I used a knife and pencil to place each one where I wanted it. A bit tedious, but again, a for sure germinated seedling!

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this handy gardening tip and use it to your advantage in all your garden adventures!

Happy Growing!

 

Kitchen Garden

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Initially I had the silly notion that I would not be doing a garden this year (hee! hee! ha! ha! ho! ho!). Luckily, my best friend suggested a kitchen garden. MIND BLOWN. Of course I needed a kitchen garden! Duh. After a little investigation, we found the perfect location right outside the kitchen window. Life is grand, isn’t it?

I got to work that weekend! I pulled out the ridiculous pine bushes and daffodils and decided on raised stone beds to match the existing walkway. I drove my happy self down to Lowes (do I own stock in that company yet? Cause…) and bought an entire pallet of my chosen brick (okay they were the cheapest ones there) and headed home. The kids tucked into bed and I started working. At 10:00. Ten at night. That’s when the work gets done around here folks. By midnight I had figured out the pattern for my raised beds and built about half the walls. Then the baby woke up and life halted until morning. If you have children, this should sound familiar. yep.

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I finished off the beds the next day and my hubby was nice enough to fill them with dirt for me. He’s a keeper.

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Because we have allthebunnies and allthedeer and this is going to be the location of many green, delicious, herbivore faves….I felt better knowing there was some kind of fencing around the area. I didn’t do anything too crazy, just a small basic deterrent, because the location is so close to the house, we figured the majority of the animals wouldn’t be inclined to come into the garden anyways, the fence is really just an extra precaution.

I simply used 1×1 placed into the ground about 8-12 inches deep, no cement (I wasn’t that serious). Once the posts and cross beams were assembled, I attached rabbit wire and called it good! See that fancy fence work there…where the posts meet? Yea, that was also done by huba huba.

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I originally planted herbs, lettuce greens, kales, mustard greens, micro greens, pansies, and chards in here….and have had a summer to see what did well and what did not. This area ended up being pretty much completely shaded all day, which was great for some things, not so great for others. Here’s the short list for you:

Sorrel – AWESOME! I reseeded the entire back back with sorrel for Fall and next Spring. This will be our main salad green for quick salads when I don’t want to go all the way out to the pasture garden.

Bee Balm – Doing great! Will be planting more for homemade tea’s!

Cilantro – surprising well though growing slow. Debating about putting this in the pasture garden due to so. much. sun. I’m thinking that it will bolt much more quickly there than in the kitchen garden with some shade. I will just start the seeds earlier in my greenhouse next year and see if more greenhouse growth helps growth once planted out in the garden.

Kale – Did well enough. I never got huge over grown kale, like I do when they are in full sun, but I did get enough to take weekly cuttings to sautee or blend in smoothies

Mint – Getting established this year but I think it will thrive in this area. I have it growing all the way around the kitchen garden because bunnies do not like it and we do not like bun buns in the garden!

Claytonia (Miners lettuce) – should do well in this area because it prefers shade. It never took this Summer and I’m not sure why. It may have already been too hot when I sowed the seeds. This is another great staple to add in with the sorrel because it reseeds well and does well in shade. Will re-try next Spring.

Mache – Did well here! Will reseed next Spring.

Lettuce Greens – These did not do well here, though it may have been because I over thinned. I am going to try them again next Spring here and also out in the pasture garden

Mustard Greens – Did amazing. Will be planting those here every year! We love these to spice up our Summer salads! “We” as in the hubs and I…too spicy for the littles. Same with arugula…more for us!

Micro Greens – Loved this area! Will be replanting in Spring.

Pansies – I loved having these in my kitchen garden! Did you know that pansies can be “candied” and put into salads? What a beautiful Summer treat!

Tarragon – not so much, needs more sun. Out to the pasture garden next Spring.

Thyme – It’s hanging in there but needs more sun. Will go out to the pasture garden next Spring.

So that’s the list I have for my kitchen garden next Spring. I think it will be just the right mix for quick salads and Summer Iced tea 🙂

Do you have a kitchen garden? What are you growing close to home that’s easy to snag for a quick healthy meal? If you have lots of sun, your list will look quite different from mine!