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Soil Testing?

January 26th, 2011

I have a confession to make – I’ve never tested the soil in my garden *gasp*. Any time you read a gardening book they tell you to do a soil test first thing before you start gardening. I always wonder if I should but have never taken the time to do it. I do have a pH test kit that I purchased several years ago just for fun, which I have used a few times.

Knowing your soil pH is pretty easy to determine if you have hydrangeas. Pink your soil is sweet, blue and your soil is acidic. We have fairly acidic soil here in the garden of Chiot’s Run. My hydrangeas were deep blue when I first started gardening and as I’ve been adding more and more organic material to the soil they’ve been getting more pink so the soil is sweetening up a bit.

As I was looking through the catalog for my local organic farm supply store deciding how much greensand, gypsum, rock phosphate and lime I wanted to buy I came across their ad for soil testing and wondered if I should have one done.

I’ll have to do some research because I think my local extension office will do fairly extensive soil testing as well and they offer advice on how to deal with deficiencies or problems.

Have you ever had a soil test done? Was is beneficial?

The Edible 2011 Garden is Here

January 25th, 2011

On January 16 I started my first flats seeds for the 2011 edible gardening season. I started half a flat of each ‘Red Burgundy’ and ‘Borettana Cipollini’ onions. Onions like warm soil, so I put it on the 10″ x 20″ seedling heating mat my mom lent me. I covered the flat with a clear dome to keep in the warmth and the moisture and waiting, checking on them every day of course.

When I checked them in the morning on January 21 and I had germination! That’s pretty quick for onion seeds, they always seem to take a little extra time. Of course there were only a dozen or so tiny shoots on that day. Seeing those first little green shoots of the seed starting season is always an exciting thing!

Yesterday every soil block in the flat had at least one little green shoot and most of them had three. Looks like these onions will be ready to plant out in the garden come March. I can’t wait!

I also have other onions in the basement planted only 2 days later, but since they’re not on a heating mat they haven’t germinated yet. I ordered a 48″ x 20″ heating mat which will have enough room for four flats. I’m hoping it arrives soon so I can start 4 more flats of onions. If you’re planning on starting a lot of vegetables that like warm soil as onions, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, a heating mat is definitely a good investment. Especially if you happen to have your seeds starting area in a 55 degree basement like I do. At least it’s the perfect temp down there for spinach and lettuce seedlings, which I take full advantage of mid-summer when starting my fall greens.

Do you use heating mats in your seed starting efforts?

Edible or Ornamental +free seeds

January 24th, 2011

Last fall I won a photo contest over at Renee’s Garden and they sent me a gift certificate *awesome*. What’s better than winning a gift certificate to a fabulous seed catalog? (I decide to share my winnings, see below for your chance to win some free Renee’s Garden seeds)

I was looking through the on-line catalog trying to decide what I wanted to order and I noticed that I’m definitely drawn to edible things, mostly vegetables and herbs. I have a few annual plants I start, mostly alyssum and zinnias, but I’m definitely a perennial gardener when it comes to blooming plants (or things that self-seed readily without my help).

I’ll definitely be ordering ‘Catalina’ spinach as it has done beautifully in my garden, the ‘Italian Aromatic’ sage was fab in my Thanksgiving meal, and I’m really loving my pot of ‘Amsterdam’ seasoning celery for winter soups and stews. I was also very happy with the ‘Romanesco’ zucchini, isn’t it a beauty?

So far on my list of seed to order I have:
‘All-Season’ broccoli
‘Endeavor’ kirby pickle
‘Trieste’ bulbing fennel
‘Crispy Winter Salad’ greens
‘Summer Bouquet’ lettuce trio
‘Ruby and Emerald’ container lettuce
‘Merveille De Quatre Saisons’ heirloom lettuce
‘Jewel Tones’ peppers
‘Delicious Duo’ scallions
‘Summer Perfection’ spinach
and one of the shaker cans of California Poppies to try on my back hillside, which is plagued with terribly dry lean soil. I think I’ll buy a few flowering seeds, maybe the 3 different kinds of allysum they have and some nasturtiums (also edible) and those window box sweet peas are adorable, perhaps I’ll get those to dress up my garage window!

Of course I didn’t want to keep all these lovely seeds to myself, so I’ll be giving three packs of Renee’s Garden seeds of your choice to one lucky reader. For your chance to win, head over to Renee’s Garden and choose 3 varieties of vegetables, flowers or herbs that you’d like to grow and list them in the comments below. If you win I’ll order your choice of seeds along with my order, I’ll choose a winner on Friday. We have a WINNER!
Congratulations! Head on over to Morgan’s blog Grounded and read about things like: making your own seed balls, how to build a worm bin and what life is like in Southern California.

What do you grow most of, ornamental or edible?

For anyone interested Renee’s Garden if offering 10% off your entire order until Jan 31, 2011 with code: EARLYBIRD

Call to Action: Say NO to GM Alfalfa

January 23rd, 2011

“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”

~Thomas Jefferson, 1781

I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding the possible approval of Monsanto’s genetically modified Round-Up ready alfalfa. The approval of yet another GMO crop is very troublesome to me. I know a lot of people who own small organic farms and the approval of GM alfalfa will affect their way of life. They may no longer be able to find organic hay and may lose their organic certification because of gene pollution.

I’m pretty outspoken about my concerns with genetically modified crops both for health and environmental reasons. They don’t reduce the use of chemicals and have wide genetic pollution results and other environmental concerns. Here in Ohio we now have 6 superweeds thanks Monsanto’s Round-Up ready GMO crops, read this article and check the map to see how many super weeds are in your state. Click on the map below to go to the New York Times page where you can see the progression of superweeds in the country over the past 10 years. (image from

If you’re concerned about the approval of genetically modified alfalfa please contact Tom Vilsack or President Obama right away as the decision is supposed to be made in the next couple of days. You can head over to Food Democracy Now and send a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. You can also email the USDA about this issue at: and you can reach the White House at 202.456.1111. In addition I’d recommend that you encourage your Congressperson to contact House Agriculture to express support for Secretary Vilsack’s coexistence option. Find your Congressperson here (there’s a great letter in the comments here that you can copy and paste).

I have my doubts that this will do any good, since Vilsack seems to be on the side of BioTech. (why do I say this? ) As Iowa state governor, he originated the seed pre-emption bill, that blocked communities from regulating where GMO’s could be planted. He was the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the biggest biotech group. As part of the Iowa Values Fund he gave 9 million dollars and 6 million in tax relief to TransOva to help develop cloned dairy cows.

I have my doubts that writing him will make any difference, I personally don’t think that politicians (left or right) are on the side of the citizens but rather the corporations that pay for their campaigns and give them high-paying jobs when they leave office. At least sending a letter makes me feel like I did something, even though the outcome may not be the one I was hoping for. What else can I do? Besides of course not buying anything that contains GMO ingredients and supporting small local farms, especially organic ones. That’s really the best way, vote with your dollars!

Are you concerned about genetically modified crops?

Some Links for Further Reading:
Organic Consumers Association: Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto’s Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, for USDA Head Would be a Terrible Idea
Radio Iowa: TransOva given nine-million from Iowa Values Fund Iowa’s Vilsack Named BIO Governor of the Year
GM Watch: Supreme Court’s Ruling on Monsanto’s GE Alfalfa Supreme Court’s ruling on Monsanto’s GE alfalfa: Who won?
Co-Op Stronger Together: Background on the GE Alfalfa Issue
Reuters: Lawmakers ask USDA to deny Monsanto GMO alfalfa
Food & Water Watch: Food and Agriculture Biotechnology Industry Spends More than Half a Billion to Influence Congress
Denis Kucinich on GMO’s & food labeling
Stonyfield Farm: We Can’t Let GE Alfafa Ruin Organic Dairy

Quote of the Day: Lope de Vega

January 23rd, 2011

“With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.”
Lope de Vega

Gardening really does help cultivate the simple life, at least for me. I don’t think many things ground you as much as growing a few flowers and vegetables in a little bit of soil. I find I’d rather be out in the garden than doing just about anything else. It truly has helped me live without envy, I’m too busy gardening!

What has gardening helped cultivate in your life? patience? happiness? contentment?

Seeds and Sundries
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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.