Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gardentime 2012: Hardening Off

The last of my plants have arrived. For the second year in a row, I've ordered several pepper, tomato and herb plants from Lazy Ox Farm, a farm out in Missouri. Now, why would I order plants all the way from MO when I can just pop over to a local farm or the Lowes? It's about 50 percent impatience and 50 percent selection. I like to plan out my garden in February or March, well before it's time to put out tomato or pepper plants. Since I don't have the wherewithal to grow those plants from seed, my best option is to order them online. This year, I ordered in March and waited until May for the plants to ship and arrive. Yes, I could have waited until May to go to the local farm and get some plants, but there is no guarantee the local farm will have the varieties I want to grow.

So how does mail order for plants work? Surprising well. The folks at Lazy Ox package the plants well, so the dirt doesn't spill out. The leaves, stems and roots don't suffer much or any damage. The plants only spend about a day in the box, between leaving the farm and getting to my doorstep. It's all pretty impressive. In all, the plants from the farm are miles and away healthier than the plants you see at the hardware store.

This all brings us to hardening off. It sounds violent and scary, but it's very necessary for the plant's survival. And it's not violent at all. The plants have been in a box for a few days. If I were to plant them in their soil and leave them outdoors 24 hours a day, they would suffer a pretty great shock. The shock would stunt their growth and make them pretty unhappy. Plus, some plants, such as basil and peppers only like warm weather. At this point in time, there is still a slight risk for nighttime temperatures dipping into the 50-55 degree range.

So instead, they are hardened off. That means they get gradually exposed to the world outside and all that means - sunlight, wind, changes in temperatures, etc. You could get all scientific about it if you wanted, for example, bring them out in a shady area for an hour one day, then in a more sunny area for a few hours the next, and so on. But I'm not. I just extend the time they spend outdoors until I think it's time to plant. At this point, I feel they have a few more days to go before they are ready to move outside for good.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gardentime 2012: Spring Peas

Every year that I've had a garden, I've grown peas. Peas are a bit of a fun plant to grow, though they never have the yield that other plants do, unless you grow a lot of them. They have a quick growing season. Once the summer heat turns on, they wither up and kick it. Yet, despite the meager yields, I continue to make room in a container for them each season.

This year, I was able to get my hands on a packet of Tom Thumb peas. Tom Thumb is a dwarf variety. It maxes out at about 8 inches tall. You do not need to trellis it, since it's so short. It's also a great plant for containers. I grew a bunch (maybe 8 or 10?) in a wide container this season. Each plant has produced three to five pods so far. I think that may be it for this round, as we're nearing June and things are getting hot. Since the plants are pretty hardy, my plan is to do another round at the beginning of fall.

Peas are pretty simple to grow. I soak the seeds in water for several hours, or overnight, before planting. You can dip the seeds in a rhizome inoculant, which apparently improves their yields. I've never done that, mostly because I have never had the inoculant. After about a week or so, the pea shoots pop up. Since the plants are nitrogen fixers, you don't really need to worry about adding fertilizer (I use container mix, so fertilizing isn't a concern anyway).

It's possible to over water the peas, especially if it is a watery spring. Last year, for example, we got a lot of rain and the peas had some mildew problems. If that is a concern, there are powdery mildew resistant varieties available. Generally, I water the peas when the soil looks dry, but hasn't completely dried out yet.

Tom Thumb peas are the shelling variety, so the peas inside the pod grow plump. That's when it's time to harvest. Ideally, the peas in the pod should be evenly sized when the pods are ready to go. The other day, I got about a cup of pods as the harvest. I really think that will be it for now. I left a few pods on the plants, as they weren't quite ready yet.

To be honest, I usually hate the taste of peas. I have for my entire life. As a child, I developed clever ways to make it look like I had eaten the peas on my plate, when really I didn't. But peas fresh from the garden are fantastic. They taste grassy and like spring. I added my small pea harvest to this recipe for leek risotto, from Smitten Kitchen. I also left out the bacon and egg, since I don't eat those things. It was quite delicious.