Sunday, January 31, 2021

A Winter Garden

 We had a couple of pretty little snows last week, which were gone by the weekend when it rained all day. So the sun hasn't been out much for more than a week.

Yet it's bright inside here, where the amaryllis have put on quite a show.

They've already lasted a full week, although a few blossoms have faded. They will be around for most of this week, though.

We're also harvesting yummy greens during this gloomy time. Microgreens.

A few years ago I wrote two or three posts about microgreens, as I'd just started doing them. These were lengthy posts, first about how to grow microgreens, then how to deal with the fungus gnats and damping off that showed up. (I don't add the cinnamon anymore. No more damping off since I'm not reusing the soil. I still deal with fungus gnats, but not for long.)

While I was able to grow microgreens and get rid of the fungus gnats, my microgreen project wasn't perfect. I had trouble keeping them watered properly. When the little greens fell over because they wilted, they usually didn't stand completely tall after receiving water. My husband noticed that after being that way for several days some of the greens near the soil would get slimy. Not pleasant. I tried to be more diligent about keeping them watered, but it still didn't work quite right.

Red cabbage microgreens  about a week away from harvest.

I had been growing the microgreens in a solid bottomed flat and watering from above. But I learned that wasn't the best way to do it. (Obviously, because they were getting mushy.) Then True Leaf Market Seed Company, where I get some of my microgreen seeds and supplies, sent out its e-newsletter with a link to their microgreens growing guide. So, of course, I checked it out.

Aha! I should have put the soil in a flat with a slotted bottom, set inside a solid bottom flat. The soil needed to go into the flat dry -- I had been wetting it before putting it in the flat. After scattering the seeds on the soil and pressing them in, then it's time to wet the seeds and surface thoroughly with a spray bottle, cover the flats so they sprout in the dark. When they sprouts are half and inch or more tall (they'll be yellow green having sprouted in the dark) put half an inch of water in the solid bottom tray and set the tray with the soil in side, so the sprouts are bottom-watered and set them in the light. Then bottom water them from then on. I've found that once they get growing well I need to water them every other day. 

The growing guide I linked to above will give more detailed info. The first step on it is to soak the seeds, but you only need to do that with large seeds, like peas. I'm planting tiny seeds -- broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage -- so I don't soak them. I start new trays of microgreens as soon as I set the sprouted ones in light.

My husband is now much happier with the microgreens he eats every day. If you're craving fresh greens from the garden, try microgreens. It's a great gardening and fresh food hit, even in the middle of winter.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Flowers in January

The amaryllis are getting ready to bloom. The photo was taken a few days ago and now the stalks are much taller and the buds plumper. In a few more days the buds will show some color and by this time next week the large orange blossoms will trumpet their arrival. The larger amaryllis hasn't yet started sending up its flower stalk. It always blooms much later than the others.

I have had the amaryllis for at least 15 years. I started with two pots of them, obtained at different times. Through repotting and divisions those two have multiplied into five pots of amaryllis. It's pretty easy to get them to rebloom and their brilliant blossoms can take the gray right out of a winter's day.

Once they quit blooming, I'll cut off the flower stalks and keep them in the plant room, watering them regularly so the foliage remains healthy. When the weather warms and quits freezing this spring they will go out to their summer home on the north side of the house.There they will remain until the weather starts freezing again. A dim corner of the attached, unheated garage becomes their winter home and I all but forget about them. They need no light, no water. The foliage dries up and the bulbs go dormant. 

Six to eight weeks before I want them to bloom, I bring them back into the warmth and light and start watering them. You also can hold amaryllis bulbs in the cool, dry dark until the weather begins to warm in spring. Then you can take them outside to revive and set them among other flowers and herbs in the garden for a brilliant, tropical display. They prefer morning sun.

If you want them to bloom by the Solstice or Christmas, bring them in at least by early November. I had hoped to have blooms by New Year's Day, but for some reason didn't get around to bringing them in until almost mid-December. 

No worries, though. I am grateful to be able to look forward to the large bright blooms on this cold, blizzardy day. 

I also am looking forward to the arrival of the first shipment of seeds today. I am hoping that another one arrives soon, as some things, such as the onions, will need to be started before the end of this month. The leeks, too, but I already have the seed for those.

Some of the other seeds I am looking forward to won't be planted until August or September. Those include winter radishes. I covered them in my last post, but didn't talk much about different varieties, focusing on the purple daikons (because I still have lots of those in the refrigerator). I also had the long white daikons, as well as Sichuan Red Beauty, which is red clear through. I thought Baker Creek had stopped carrying the seed, but this year it is listed under simply "Red Beauty Radish." So, Yay. I've also got seed for watermelon radish, with pink flesh surround by a ring of white, and an outer ring of green. Quite stunning as a garnish or when used as a "chip." 

A radish I will plant for the first time this fall is the Shawo Fruit Radish. These roots supposedly are sweet enough to replace fruit during winter tea parties in Beijing. I am looking forward to testing this.

I also will try some other vegetables for the first time this year... or at least my son and his fiancee will. I ordered the seeds and will get the plants going for them. These are the Indigo Rose Tomato, a pretty little cherry type, and the California Reaper Pepper. The California Reaper is the hottest, edible pepper. The only one that is said to be hotter will kill you, so the grower says. For myself, I ordered the Atomic Grape Cherry tomato, a prettily striped oval shaped cherry type. Will it nudge out the Sun Gold? I will let you know.

P.S. At the time I wrote this, Baker Creek had closed their Web site so they could catch up with all of the orders they've received this year. Be patient. Other seed companies also are experiencing slow downs. The pandemic has spurred greater interest in home gardening so they are being overwhelmed with orders.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Radical Radishes


Purple daikon radishes sliced for dehydrating.

Here I am, in a new year. Let's see if I can keep the posts flowing in 2021. In this post I will try to "root" myself into a new habit of sharing with you all.

And so today I will write about roots.

Roots are amazing. Not that plants in general aren't completely awesome, but how many of you have really dug into the subject of roots?

The first thing to emerge from a seed is the tiny root, the radicle. Roots anchor plants into place. They absorb water and nutrients from the soil. They store water and nutrients for dormant times. They exchange nutrients with fungal mycelia. They set up symbiotic relationships with bacteria. Roots excrete substances into the soil that may benefit or harm other plants. Roots communicate with fungal mycelia and other plants. Roots sense things. At the very end of each growing tip roots possess sensory structures that guide the roots' grow away from harm or toward moisture, nutrients and beneficial relationships.

At least 50 percent of most plants' mass is in their roots, especially during the growing season when the plants send out hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny feeder roots, each tipped with a tiny "brain" directing growth. (Are you getting chills of delight? I am.)

Watermelon radishes on the left, spring/salad
radishes on the right.

I just thought you ought to know this before I started writing about a specific root -- radishes, especially winter radishes.

We pulled lots of winter radishes from the garden this fall/winter. Lots. Lots and lots. You can say we had a bumper bumper crop of fall-planted radishes.

You may wonder what we're going to do with all of those radishes.

As we've discovered, there's not much you can't do with winter radishes. 

We've got two crisper drawers of them for fresh eating. Using different colored the radishes allows us to create beautiful garnishes. Today I'm adding some to a stir-fry. We chunked, steamed and froze a lot of them. My husband likes to take steamed ones from the freezer, thaw, and mash with potatoes and seasonings. I baked slices and dehydrated them as crunchy snacks. A jar of fermented purple daikons sits in the fridge. I baked some smaller ones whole, oiling them, putting them in a casserole dish, covered and baked until done. They can also be roasted; sliced or chunked, oiled and spread on a cookie sheet to roast in the oven.

Radishes are very easy to grow, but give the larger ones a little space. I was instructed to space the purple daikons at three inches. Watermelon radishes, red beauty radishes and white daikons can also reach considerable girth, so space them well. Regular watering helps keep them crunchy. 

When the weather started getting cold, I mounded lots of hay over the radishes as they will stay fresh in the ground for quite a while. However, when I pulled the last purple daikons just before Christmas, some of them had obviously been frozen at the top. Usually they're still good, but if they've started to turn a little brown inside I discarded that bit. We had so many. I did not feel bad about composting some of them.

Winter radishes do not do well planted in spring. When the temperatures rise, they want to produce flowers and seeds instead of plumping up their roots.

One root fertilizer I learned about is made up of potato peels, banana peels and spent coffee grounds. Dehydrate the potato and banana peels and grind them (a food processor works better than a blender). Dry the coffee grounds and mix it all together. Scatter onto the soil before you plant your seeds. This homemade fertilizer provides potassium, nitrogen and other nutrients. If you have a lot, use it to fertilize other garden plants. We don't peel our potatoes, but get plenty of banana peels and coffee grounds, either of which can be used alone as fertilizer.

I posted about radishes a couple of years ago. There should be more information there.

I was curious about the difference between regular winter radishes and daikons (which are a type of winter radish), so I looked it up. Daikons tend to be a little larger and less "spicy" than other winter radishes. I can tell you that this is true. Winter radishes are much larger than and take longer to mature than spring/salad radishes. Spring radishes will mature in about 30 days, as a rule, so they can be planted about two weeks apart maybe three times starting in early spring. Plant the winter radishes in late August later. Some you can harvest small at 30 days, let them go longer for larger roots. They grow best in cooler weather. If you leave them in the ground too long, they will get pithy, although the last purple daikons, planted in August and pulled late December, were not pithy. Some of the red beauty radishes were (planted August and the last ones pulled early to mid-December).

This fall I don't think I'll plant quite so many winter radishes.

Then again, with all the ways we've discovered how to use them. Maybe I'll do it again.