We had a great turnout for our 2012 plant sale last Saturday. Thanks to everyone that contributed plants and volunteered and a special thanks to Ginger for organizing the event. Also, thanks to Geo Growers for supplying soil. Here are a few photos….
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I missed seeing Earl’s garden in June but I caught back up with him last weekend. It’s been a rough summer in Austin for all gardeners, including Earl, but in spite of the heat and drought, his garden looks great. Earl’s still getting a few tomatoes, his okra looks good, and cream and purple hull peas are off to a nice start.
One piece of advice Earl remembers from his dad (a farmer in North Carolina) is to take advantage of your work – if you don’t, you can work hard without much to show for it. He put this advice to good use with his tomatoes. I mentioned this in the last post, but in the photo below you can see the dam he builds around each plant using 3 bags of compost. He said it’s a bargain compared to the price of a few organic tomatoes from the store.
|Earl is demonstrating his watering method of filling the “reservoir” with his watering wand and letting the water seep through the compost taking the nutrients to the plant roots. In this way, he can hand water his garden in about 30 minutes, getting water exactly where he needs it. As his dad pointed out, a little work on the front end, makes things much easier later on.|
Trying to grow fall tomatoes in Austin can be a real challenge – Earl uses row cover that he attaches to his cage system with twist ties to keep the hot summer sun off of his tender young plants. With the sides open, it still allows plenty of air circulation.
Earl has a good crop of okra going with 1 plant marked for saving seed. He won’t harvest any fruit from this one for the table.
Earl is experimenting this year with 3 different mulches for his okra. One third of the row is mulched with 100% coffee grounds, one third with 100% compost, and one third with a 50-50 mix. So far, the plants look about the same, but he feels like the 50-50 mix provides the most benefit with the acid from the coffee grounds helping to extract nutrients from the compost. I’ll keep you posted on how the experiment pans out.
Several of his 4×4 square foot beds are filled with peas – some cream and some Mississippi Purple Hull. Being one of my favorite crops from my East Texas connections, I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
|Last but not least, Earl pointed out the horseshoe that he found on his property. From the pit marks and nails, he believes it’s from the 1800s. He has it positioned on his garden gate pouring luck on all that enter.|
Earl Hall has been bringing samples from his garden to our club meetings for several years – samples include onion sets and turnips the size of softballs. I had the pleasure of visiting his garden recently to see how he does it. Earl manages to grow wonderful vegetables in spite of the rocky conditions west of Austin where he lives. He was raised on a farm in North Carolina where his parents were, as he said, “on the leading edge of self-sufficiency”.
Earl has a combination of 4×4 square foot beds as well as a sizeable area of native soil garden rows all enclosed inside a deer fence. He uses Mel’s mix in his raised beds referring to a soil recipe advocated by Mel Bartholomew founder of the square foot gardening method. He purchases components for his soil from local sources like Geo Growers, The Natural Gardener, and Callahan’s. With years of adding compost, the native soil is now fluffy and friable as well. Earl suggests using a variety of types of compost and generally mixes turkey and dairy.
At the time of my visit, Earl had a good crop of onions and spinach still going stong – both were started from seed. He has a good start on beans and tomatoes for spring and as you can see in the photos, he has considerable space between his tomatoes. He has empty boxes anchored next to each tomato plant to protect the young plants from the wind and mulches each with a 5 gallon bag of compost.
I’ll report back periodically as the season progresses and bring more of Earl’s tricks and tips.
We had another successful plant sale this year at the Zilker Garden Center. Thanks to everyone that helped make it happen and especially those that grew and donated transplants. Thanks also to Geo Growers for providing soil and Gabriel Valley Farms for the beautiful plants.
If you followed my saga of starting seeds – it didn’t have a happy ending. Remember that storm that hit Austin in February with 40 mile an hour winds? I learned 2 things – don’t have a full side of your pop-up greenhouse facing north, and be sure to use the tie downs and stakes they provide. The good thing about gardening is that there’s always next season. I’m just glad I was able to buy some plants at the sale!
If this is your first visit to my seed starting experience this Spring, you might want to start at the beginning. This is a quick progress report. I started cucumber and basil seeds on January 3rd and the cucumbers sprouted a few days later on the 7th. I started tomatoes and jalapeños on the 10th and they started sprouting a week later on the 17th. The cucs grew really well and could have been (read, should have been) transplanted into individual pots on the 15th or 16th once the 2nd set of leaves emerged. Being the lazy gardener I am, I transplanted them today. I’ll document the transplant procedure in a few days, but here’s a photo of how they looked a couple of days ago.
The cucumbers on the front right are getting pretty crowded in their little pot. The basil in the back right is growing pretty slow and the tomatoes on the back left have just started sprouting.
The first post spells out the basics for starting seeds. Now I’d to share a few pictures to show the process in action.
The pots are filled to about half an inch to an inch from the top with a moistened seed starting mix. Then I sprinkle seeds on top of the soil – about 20 can be started in a 4 in. pot.
Now cover the seeds with soil to the depth specified on the seed packet. Water gently until the soil is thoroughly moist.
This is my setup using a 5×5 plastic greenhouse available at several places around town. The seeds can be started just as easily indoors or in a garage, but the soil temperature has to be at least 70 degrees for most Spring veggies. Rubber seed starting mats can raise the soil temp 10 – 20 degrees above ambient. The lights need to hang 2 or 3 inches above the plants. One of our members puts the seed trays on the floor under his kitchen table and hangs the lights from the table.
Here’s the greenhouse from the outside. I don’t know why someone didn’t think of these sooner – they setup like a tent.
Here are the cucs sprouting a few days later.
Come back to follow the progress. These plants should be ready to move to individual pots in 2 to 3 weeks.
It’s a great time to start Spring vegetable seeds for our own gardens and for the annual AOG fundraiser plant sale. Transplants from seeds started now for Spring crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant will be ready for our plant sale in early March and planting in our gardens in mid-March after the average last frost date for central Texas. Start a flat of your favorite veggies, keep a few for yourself and donate the rest to the club.
Check back here for more details and updates over the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to provide a quick guide for getting started.
There’s a bunch of information in books and on the web for starting seeds and almost as many different methods. I’m not going to attempt to recreate all of that detail or say that this is the best method – this is just a diary of my experiences based on a method I learned from one of our long time club members.
Space is one thing to keep in mind from the start. Starting seeds in 4 in pots as we’re doing here doesn’t require much room, but you will need additional room when the plants are transplanted to individual pots. For example, 3, 4 in pots are needed to start seeds for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, but you’ll need space for 3 trays when you transplant them to individual pots in a few weeks. I’ll discuss options for handling this in future posts.
All you need to get started are:
- 4 inch pots
- Good planting medium
Optional equipment includes:
- Seed starting flats
- Seedling heat mats
The basic equipment is easy to find and relatively inexpensive. For lights, we use 3 or 4 ft hanging, florescent shop lights with 1 cool bulb and 1 warm bulb. For soil, I’ve had good luck with Lady Bug Seed Starting Mix. There are other good mixes from local suppliers like Geo Growers or The Natural Gardener. You can even mix your own based on recipes available on the web. 4 inch pots are generally available from local nurseries either to purchase new or free reuse of used pots.
Here are the steps:
- Fill a 4 inch pot to 1 inch from the top with a loose seed starting soil – it’s best if the soil is slightly moist. Tamp the pot lightly on a hard surface, but don’t pack the soil.
- Sprinkle seeds on the surface
- Top with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil depending on the planting instructions for your seeds
- Sprinkle with water
Moisten the soil daily to avoid letting it dry out. Light will be needed as soon as the seeds start sprouting – this is usually within a few day. The lights need to hang within 2-3 inches from the top of the plants and remain on for 12 hours/day.
The plants should be ready to transplant into individual 4 inch pots in about 3 weeks and then ready to go in the ground in mid-March. I hope this helps you get started and I’ll fill in more details in future posts.