Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our trick for getting Beans to sprout early

We got off to a good start this year, with our first plants actually making it into the ground in March.  Here in Colorado, while there are plenty of days for shorts and t-shirts we can still get a good snowstorm or a deep freeze in April.  This makes it difficult to plant things by seed because the soil temperature can vary quite a bit from year to year.

We were proud of getting some pole beans in the ground on April 4 of this year, and were looking forward to seeing vines in May.   The soil temperature was 58 degrees, which is a bit below the low end threshold of 60 degrees, but we thought "close enough".  It had been beautiful out for more than a week, and the forecast for the upcoming week was warm too - with lows in the 50s.  

Before planting, we soaked the beans (seeds that is) in water, and then rolled the beans in Inoculant.  This is a naturally occurring bacteria that aid growth of plants and add to the soil fertility.  Here's one on Amazon for beans.  I don't know much on the subject, but it certainly worked last year when we had 100% germination in both our purple and green pole beans.  We put some carrots in the foreground of the beans, and thought to ourselves that those should sprout no problem because they are a cold-weather plant for sure.

After a week, however, there were no signs of sprouts in either the carrots or the beans.  We thought that maybe it just wasn't quite there in temperature, but the upcoming week would produce.  At the end of that week, however, we started to wonder whether we were going to have to replant.  It's always a tough call to tell when you have waited too long.  Still, we are way earlier this season than in many of our other seasons.

But, I had this idea to help things along, just in case.  I speculated that by putting clear plastic down over the soil, we would send the water evaporating back down in the soil, and the plastic layer would also trap heat to warm the soil for germination.    It was pretty simple to lay out, and we used some old plant markers to pin it down.

Sure enough, within 7 days, most of the beans have sprouted.  We had to take the plastic off tonight before they all sprouted because we didn't want the weight of the plastic on the seedlings that have now come up, and were concerned about burning the first leaves with the heat trapped under the plastic.
 You can see the condensation under the plastic.

 The first beans poking out, with plastic lifted

I looked before posting to see if this was a common practice that I just stumbled into, or if this was a genuine discovery.  I didn't find any pages in my brief search, but you can post them in the comments section if you find them.  I did find lots of pages about starting seeds in plastic bags, so if you think about it, this isn't much different.  It certainly solved our dilemma.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Planting Early with Wall 'o Waters

It's the second season for The Octo Garden, and we are proud to have 16 Tomatoes in the ground by April 25th - one of our best starts in 10 years of gardening.  We already have dozen Peppers in the ground too, but the rains this afternoon kept us from increasing those numbers.

We planted our first 3 tomatoes on March 28th, and another 5 a week later.  They have all seen snow (deep snow), yet are thriving right now because they have been protected by a product called a Wall 'o Water or more easily - Wallowater.

The first tomatoes planted 3/28/10

The next 5 got their Wallowaters on 4/4/10

The wallowater was a product we found in 2002, and have been using ever since.  They are a series of tubes (no, not famous Ted Stevens Tubes that make up the internet), that hold water in a cylinder around a plant or group plants.  They allow us to make annual plants perennial, plant tomatoes and other veggies up to 2 months before last frost, and can extend the season 2 months after the last frost too.

They are very simple to use, in that you just fill up the tubes with water.   It only takes about 2-3 minutes to fill one up with a garden hose.  You have to be careful as you get close to filling each tube, however, because a high-pressure hose can end up squirting water back up - into your face.

Setting the wallowater up over the plant can be done by one person, but it's best done with two.  one person holds the weight of the filled wallowater , and the other pulls the sides apart to fit over the plant.  Then, once on the ground, you pull the base farther out to "teepee" the wallowater .  This effectively makes the wallowater a mini-greenhouse.

During the day, the water takes on UV heat which then keeps the inside of the wallowater from freezing at night.  This works even if the water freezes, as the heat from the earth below rises up into the enclosed area.  This is how you can put Tomatoes in the ground at higher elevation, northern latitudes, or anywhere that has an annual freeze up to 2 months before that last freeze.

An evening shot of the Wallowater-protected Octo Garden

The ones that are in the center planter above have been on the "perennial" plants.  We covered the Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Chives, Tarragon, Lavender, and Sage.  All of them survived one of the longest and coldest winters that many people in CO can remember except for the Sage.

The Tarragon did so well, we actually harvested 5 large sprigs for a Chicken/Wine dish that Deb has mastered, and this week, all of that plant material has regrown.  These things are just amazing.

The harvest for dinner

There was this much MORE left after Harvest #1

Although Thyme can survive a Colorado winter, it is probably best considered an annual.  We have had some survive several years in our first garden, but generally they had to be covered with leaves to really do well.  But, in a Wallowater, they thrive and are more like small bushes.

Silver and Lemon Thyme
English Thyme

The Rosemary did well, but is still working on getting up to thrive-mode.   There is still some brown stuff that will be covered up soon, and the plant is not as large as the others.

Two Rosemary are joined by a Dill and a few weeds.

The Chives had their wallowater removed in mid-April as they were filling the entire interior space, and they have natural resiliance to even snow.  They were partially buried in one April storm, but already look full and deep green before May.

The peppers have been snug in their wallowaters for 3 weeks, and while not as large as the tomatoes, they are full, green, and starting to show signs of flowers at their nodes.  These will be more than 2 months in the ground ahead of our earliest pepper last year - and we expect to have peppers that much sooner too!

Early Peppers

Pair of Peppers in Wallowater

It's amazing how many people still don't know about this great product, and don't take advantage of this inexpensive solution to having veggies earlier in the season, growing larger veggies, and for keeping herbs alive in early spring after a long winter.