This year’s blueberries are once again a bust, with flowers dropping and no actual berries forming as yet. That said, the currents are going crazy, and provided the birds stay away (as they did last year, fortunately) we’ll have 10X last year’s crop.
The weather forecast is suggesting highs in the mid 20s and lows around 10 degrees over the next week. After highs in the low teens and single digit lows this comes as welcome news, especially given the size of the seedlings that are still indoors.
Beginning yesterday we’ve been starting to harden off our pepper, tomato, squash and cucumber seedlings in anticipation of planting. In full transparency we’ve had issues with hardening off vegetables every year so far, but remain hopeful that each experience has provided learnings to limit risk going forward. Seedling hardening issues encountered include:
Unexpected high winds. Our growing space is on the roof of a multi-story building. While there are raised borders around the rooftop, they are only typical railing height and provide a windbreak for a few feet from the edge. In year one we positioned plants on a quiet morning, and winds picked up quickly, damaging the young plants before we realized the weather had turned.
Fix: Choose wind-protected areas on the roof, especially early on when transitioning seedlings. Over the days, slowly expose the young plants to increasing amounts of wind up to the levels expected through the summer.
Significant sun sensitivity. I read about the importance of not leaving young seedlings out in direct sun at the height of the day, but I didn’t appreciate just how sensitive some plants could be. This isn’t about leaving them in direct sunlight all day… it could be about leaving them in filtered sunlight all day, or direct sunlight for a full hour on day 1. These guys are sensitive.
Fix: In the first few days, be cautious about filtered light. Day 1 we’re using full shade for plants, moving to filtered light and only later to direct sunlight. Similarly, starting with very brief periods of exposure. It’s surprising how little exposure is required on day 1 before your seedlings start to show signs of stress.
Pests. First year we moved plants from the outdoors back into the room where they originally germinated. This didn’t affect the seedlings themselves, but transported pests into our home. Shortly after we started, we round ourselves with an aphid issue with our houseplants.
Fix: When not outside, plants being hardened are held in our building stairwell. Fortunately the stairwells in this building have sizeable east and west facing windows, so the plants aren’t in darkness.
That’s it. Take this info not as guidance, but as a one person’s experience and modify as appropriate for your situation. Good luck!
In my earlier post I noted that I was planning to try out grow bags for my peppers this year. The reasons for testing this route are as follows:
I would like to bring the healthiest of my peppers indoors to over-winter.
Our soil quality is very poor, and improving it too much over the years may prove problematic as on our roof we need to keep soil weight down. With grow bags I can focus application of manure and compost in a very constrained area and limit the long term addition of weight.
Once it’s clear which plants are strongest I can adjust placement to maximize light, heat etc to those that will best deliver against those inputs.
When I wrote the earlier post I was looking at Vivosun grow bags (Canadian grow bag link here), and specifically the 5 gallon size. After some additional reading I’ve changed direction, at least for my first purchase. Yesterday I received my shipment of 9 Bekith 3 gallon grow bags (Canadian link to the Belkin grow bags here). I chose to go slightly smaller as several sources suggested that 3 gallons would be sufficient for first year peppers, and to limit the expense to fill all the bags with quality potting soil, manure and compost (at least the compost’s free as we have 2 Worm Factory 360 composters on our roof (Canadian link to the Worm Factory 360 composter here).
While I haven’t yet filled the bags (I’ll do so when the peppers are ready to transplant directly into them) I can say that they appear to be of decent quality. I’m hoping to get 3 or 4 years out of them, and given thickness and apparent construction quality I can see that happening. I’ll be curious to see how water permeable they are, and as a result how much more frequently I may have to water them.
I can’t wait for temperatures to get a bit higher and more consistent so I can get this rolling.
Our mason bees have mostly emerged and unfortunately our rooftop is almost devoid of flowers. With the exception of a large rosemary plant, and some heather there is very little to keep the bees around right now. At ground level the cherry blossoms are out, so hopefully that vertical distance isn’t too much to prevent them from returning over the next little while.
On the upside, our berry bushes are showing leaves and FAR more flower buds than we saw over the past two years. Red currants, black currants, gooseberries and blueberries have started flowering over the past week and while the flowers aren’t the bright pinks and reds of some other plants, it looks like they’ll be available in abundance. If we’re lucky there are still enough mason bees around to pollinate them as we have yet to see any volume of honey bees or bumblebees.
Here’s hoping that the combination of warmer weather and more abundant berry blossoms will do the trick.
As written in earlier posts the “soil” in our rooftop garden is miserable, made up of sand, lava rock and who-knows-what else presumably to keep it light given the volume up there. I’ve had reasonable success growing in this medium with limited use of compost / worm castings and fertilizer, but my compost bin is limited and the soil volume is substantial.
This year I’m considering fabric grow pots / bags (Amazon Canada has Vivosun grow bags here) for some of the more demanding produce so I can supplement the soil more deliberately through the season, and recover that soil at year’s end rather than have to remember where supplementation occurred for the next year.
From what I’ve read, the 5 gallon fabric grow bags should do for my needs, in particular for use with some of my super hot peppers. I’ll continue to grow most of them in the main planters, but intend to use 3 or for grow bags for comparison this season. I’m assuming the 5 gallon size would suffice for tomatoes as well, and so I’ll likely consider a comparison there as well.
If anyone has any experience using these I’d love to hear about it. I’m particularly curious how well they stand up to weather… can you really expect to get 5 to 7 seasons out of a single bag?
So I’ve been away since the 15th and left my seedlings to fend for themselves under a full spectrum lamp, and a plastic cover. I have to admit, I was assuming I’d come home to dead peppers… but I’m pleasantly surprised. The pepper seedlings are a bit leggy, so I’ll have to work on correcting that, but they look pretty good given my shameless neglect. Here’s where we sit:
Perhaps not top of mind for most, but I’m wondering how things will play out for the local gardener.
Growing your own should be appealing in this time of social distancing, but with our relatively short growing season, starting from seed isn’t always the most reliable option. While I typically try seeds, I often find myself falling back to garden center purchased plant starts when hardening off fails, or crows take their toll.
Whether or not garden centres are open, their suppliers must surely be continuing to care for their various plants… So this weekend will be about locating sources of plants starts, and contacting them for timing and purchase process. If anything, this may provide a broader selection to choose from, and help keep us out of the stores (eventually) in order to add fresh food to our basics.
Just a quick update on the super-hot seeds planted recently. Frankly I’m surprised at how many have already sprouted given past experience. All were planted in seeding mix, on a heat mat. There is a single grow light over the seedlings as they sprout (and they are sitting at a south-facing window).
This might be a new one for many of you, but Seasoning Peppers (Tobago Seasoning Peppers, Granada Seasoning Peppers, Trinidad Pimento Peppers and other names) are peppers that look and smell very similar to Habanero Peppers and some of the super hots, sharing some taste, but don’t have the heat.
I’ve never tried growing these before, but I’ve used them in cooking anytime I can find them in Caribbean specialty shops (which isn’t often). I’ve been coming across more and more recipes calling for Trinidad Pimento peppers, so I figured it was time to give them a try. I found some seeds on eBay and planted them earlier today, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a) they germinate and grow and b) they’re actually Seasoning Peppers (I’ve had some surprises when purchasing pepper seeds on eBay). Stay tuned.
To hold you over, here are a couple videos I found on Youtube that discuss these unusual peppers.
2019 was my first year growing fennel. I grew both from starts (Orion I believe with the rounded bulb ), as well as from seed (Selma Fino from WestCoastSeeds). Initially I planted them out of curiosity as I do enjoy fennel in salads, and like the look of both fennel and dill plants. After year one, I recommend a fennel planting to anyone considering it, and will be planting several pockets of fennel again this year.
First, my fennel did very well, both those started from small pants and those started from seed. After a bit of a slow start, the seed fennel took off and by year’s end were massive.
Next, they were a very effective draw for pollinators and various types of wasps. Based on what I’ve read, I believe several of these were predatory wasps, which I was very happy to have around. The fennel flowers bloomed on immense heads and at any given point were covered by bees, wasps as well as ladybugs which really seemed to favor the plant.
If you’re planning to eat them, plant extras (so you can have the benefits of the ladybugs and wasps throughout the season) and don’t wait too long to harvest. If I could do it over, I would have pulled the bulbs earlier as the ones we ate were a bit woody. According to WestCoastSeeds you should harvest the fennel bulbs before the flowers form… in which case I wasn’t even close.
Think about how you might stake them. I planted my fennel fairly close to some of my pepper plants (to the north and east so as not to shade them) and later in the summer the fennel started to bend over top the peppers. I tied the longer stalks back, but it wasn’t very nice to look at. This year I’ll better plan how to keep the fennel stalks and flowers from shading the peppers, while still having them close enough for the wasps and ladybugs to wander by.
Don’t forget the seeds! At the end of the summer I saved a fair number of fennel seeds from one of the plants. After they’d try they served as a very nice snack over the next several months. That said, don’t leave the little ‘connector’ to the seed itself. Those things don’t fall off easily on their own, and dry into little gum-piercing spears. You’ve been warned.
Don’t plant too close to dill. I read this somewhere, but given that they’re closely related you want to keep them away from one another.
That’s it. I didn’t experience any real downsides to growing fennel in my garden, and observed several valuable benefits that will see fennel become a constant presence in my garden going forward.
One more thing. I didn’t fully clean out my fennel at the end of last year. On inspection this week I noticed that shoots were erupting from the older bulb / roots. I pulled the old plant and cut the base into several pieces, each with a new green shoot and placed them back in the garden bed. It’s been several days, and so far they’re showing no ill effects, so I may have found an easy way to get a head start on this year’s fennel patch.