Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Gatlinburg Trip & Farm Updates

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It appears that spring has finally sprung in Southwest Michigan! There’s still a cool nip in the windy air, but the sun is shining and temperatures are reaching up into the sixties at midday. It’s a welcome sight!

I’m so glad that things have warmed up around here because after returning from a trip to sunny, spring-has-sprung Tennessee, I don’t think my heart could have handled super-cold and snow. We had a fabulous time on our family vacation to Gatlinburg and the highlight was our time spent enjoying nature at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked a couple of relatively easy trails (with an eight-year-old and two-year-old in tow) to see some gorgeous waterfalls and scenic forests. I’ve been studying permaculture a lot lately so I couldn’t help but make observations about the climates and microclimates we encountered. (Did I just hear you snore? Hang in there, I’m not going to get too scientific on you!) It was a pleasure to be there just at the cusp of spring because we were able to watch buds and leaves and flowers unfold as the week went on.

I felt like I had a front-row seat to watching the mountains wake up from a winter nap. What a joy to watch the ground go from nothing but moss and leaves to a sea dotted with opening spring flowers. And to see trees transform from barren sticks to branches of blossoms and tiny green, budding leaves. The intermittent rain showers came at just the right time so as to avoid ruining our plans while simultaneously stocking up the mountain streams for fantastic, fast-flowing water shows. I loved it!

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Another thing I enjoyed was encountering familiar or edible plants in the wild. I guess it’s a nerdy gardener thing, but it was fun for me to find a plant and know just by looking at it that it must be related to a strawberry, or a carrot or a sweet violet. I wished I’d remembered to take pictures of all these sightings, but here are a couple I did manage to snap.

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What a bright, sunny dandelion growing amidst the rocks!
Did you know that all parts of the dandelion are edible?

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We saw lots of wild onions throughout the forest.

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These were some of the largest onions I saw. I hope my leeks can rival these!

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I don’t know if these are violets or if they are edible, but they were so beautiful and they reminded me of the sweet violets that should be popping up at our farm sometime soon!

We enjoyed several of the area attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, the shops in downtown Gatlinburg, Wild Bear Falls Waterpark, Forbidden Caverns and the Arts & Crafts District near Gatlinburg. Even with all there was to do in the area, one of our favorite experiences was simply relaxing at our very private cabin.

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Staying here was an enlightening experience for us. It inspired us to live more simply. To be more specific, we realized that we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves with minimal “stuff.” Packing a Toyota Camry with everything four people need for a week (including a toddler’s stroller, pack-n-play and other bulky items) meant being nominal and creative about what we brought along. Our cabin had everything we needed, plus a few extras (like board games). We didn’t and don’t need the gobs of “stuff” we have at our home. Maybe this seems strange or like a common sense revelation I should have had years ago, but it was liberating to not have to pick up mountains of toys or wash billions of dishes or sort bundles of magazines and papers. On our first full day back from the trip, we started purging. I can’t wait to share that journey with you as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

Despite our absence, the farm chugged along. Fortunately our micro-farm means micro-sized-farm-sitter-duties. I’m so thankful that Papa (my father-in-law) was able and willing to feed our chickens, gather eggs, care for our bunny, gather our maple sap, take care of our dogs and miscellaneous other things while we were gone.

Maple Syrup Update

By the time we returned, our maple sap count had risen to just under 60 gallons. That’s about half of what I was hoping for… apparently my hopes were set a bit high. That makes sense since 20 gallons per tree in a season is pushing the upper end of the scale and we only have four trees. With all of the tiny-thaw/long-freeze weather we had this March, there were very few days where sap was actually running at our house. Oh well… I may not have a ton of maple syrup, but I’m still pleased to be producing my own!

The current plan is to utilize Papa’s evaporator early this next week to process our liquid gold pronto. The weather is warming up and since sap can spoil at warm temperatures, I need to get to it as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have space to refrigerate 12 five-gallon buckets, so they’re hanging out in the shady, cool garage for now. Because I love a good experiment, and I want some insurance against spoiled sap, I am also considering an experiment: Freezing the sap. There’s a generally held principle that the water in sap freezes but the sugar content does not. When you freeze a container of sap, supposedly the ice can be discarded because it has no (or minimal) sugar content and would just have to be boiled off in the evaporation process anyway. If this is true, freezing sap, discarding the ice and then boiling what’s left should significantly reduce the amount of fuel and time needed to make syrup. I’m going to give it a whirl – but only with a portion of our supply. I love a good experiment, but I love maple syrup more!

Seedlings Update

While we were gone I also did a hands-off experiment. The moon-favorable time to plant many of our seeds (such as broccoli, kale, lettuce and chard) would have expired by the time we returned home from vacation. I didn’t want to wait a full month before starting these seeds so I started them the night before we left. Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate any way so I knew my seedlings would be very small by the time I returned, if they existed at all. I planted my seeds in trays of garden soil and made sure they were very (very) moist. Then in each tray I created a make-shift olla using a small clay pot. I placed the pot down into the soil and filled it with water. Because the soil around it was already saturated, the pot did not leak water from the hole or the sides. Like with real ollas, the idea here is that as the moisture level in the surrounding soil is reduced, the moisture inside the terra cotta pot (or through the hole in the bottom in this case) will be wicked out by the soil and used by the plants. I used ollas both for my newly-planted seedlings and for existing green babies that needed to survive a week without me.

I’m pleased to report that everything survived! A couple of newly planted seeds had not yet germinated by the time we arrived home. Hopefully they will emerge soon and are just slow (perhaps not enough warmth?) and not drowned.

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This tiny clay pot worked perfectly as a mini olla to keep our seedlings watered while we were on vacation.

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The mini-olla also worked to water emerging seedlings that were germinating while we were away.

I was also pleased to see that our gingerroot also decided to start sprouting while we were away!

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

The last little update I want to share with you has to do with our potato seeds. While we were away I laid the seed potatoes out in trays beneath a semi-sunny window. (I was fearful that if I left them in some of the sunniest locations the dogs would eat them. This window was in a closed bedroom.) The ideas behind chitting potatoes is that exposure to sunlight causes them to begin sprouting and that pre-planting sprouting results in a faster harvest. I had a good success with the process last year.

Here’s what he potatoes looked like when we left. (Pardon the poor lighting… it was very early in the morning).

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Here are our seed potatoes at the beginning of the chitting (sprouting) process.

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We left them near a sunny window while we were gone on vacation.

And here’s what they looked like when we returned.

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These are Desiree Red seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange.

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These red (new) potatoes didn’t sprout as much as I’d hoped, but they did better than the yellow potatoes.

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These German Butterball seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange hardly sprouted at all while we were gone!

They didn’t progress along as far as I was hoping, but this is still good. I gave them a couple more days of sunlight before planting them.

Now that we’re home and the weather is warm, I’m up to my eyeballs in chores and impending projects. There’s so much to share, but I’ve already blathered on enough for one post. Stay tuned – there’s more coming soon!

 
 

Seed Starting Resources

Those of us who live in cooler climates and who want to get a jump-start on the growing season have been thinking about seed-starting recently. Last winter I shared several informative posts about how and when to start seeds. This winter I thought it would be beneficial to present all of those resources to you in one easy-access post. So without further ado – here are some of my favorite resources for seed starting.

Arcadia Farms Seed Starting Plans

Here’s a peek into how we’ve put all of the advice below together to create our own seed starting plan.

2013 Seed Starting Plan

2014 Seed Starting Plan

Resources

soaking onion seeds in water

Seed Starting Spreadsheet Template

Instructions for how to use this spreadsheet are included on the first tab.

Seed Sources

Here are my favorite sources for seeds (heirloom and open-pollinated).

Soaking Seeds

Soaking seeds before planting speeds up germination by stirring up the process of the dormant baby plant inside the seed’s hull coming to life.

Optimum Transplant Age

Starting seeds indoors helps gardeners in cooler climates to get a jump start on the growing season. But how soon should you start your seeds? This chart provides guidelines for optimum transplant ages of select crops.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing

Here’s a cheat sheet chart to let you know how many plants to sow per square foot. It’s easy to read on your mobile device so that you can use it in the garden.

Planting by Moon Phases

Did you know that the gravitational pull of the moon actually impacts the success rate of seedlings? Check this article out to learn more about the phenomenon and how you can use it to your advantage in the garden.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Planting in Newspaper Pots

When you start seeds indoors, you need media – a substance to start your seeds in. I’m now using potting soil in plastic trays, but there are several options. Here’s an analysis of them all, along with details on how to make your own newspaper pots.

Keeping a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a tool you can use to keep track of important garden stats and observations. Being able to look back on this information will help you to plan for next year and will help you to identify patterns in your garden that you otherwise wouldn’t detect. In general, a garden journal allows you to record your successes and failures and details that may have impacted the outcome.

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

Here’s an easy way to prepare for your spring garden while the snow is still on the ground. Seed tape helps you evenly space your seeds for maximization of resources.

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed-Saving

Here is a fabulous webinar video by Seed Savers Exchange on how to design your garden for seed saving. The post includes my summary notes to highlight the key concepts for those of you who don’t have time to watch the whole thing.

Container Gardening Tips

Everyone can have a garden, including renters and apartment dwellers. Here are some tips on container gardening to make yours a success.

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

Chitting potatoes is the act of sprouting them before they are planted. It speeds up the maturity process and it’s super easy. This guide will show you how.

bean seedling

Planting Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. Here are tips for the best type of garlic for your garden, when to plant it and how to plant.

Garden Apps Wish List

For the technologically inclined among us, here are some apps that can streamline the gardening process.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

how to make seed tape

Seeds come in many shapes and sizes. The tiniest seeds – such as radishes, carrots and onions – can be difficult to sow with precision. One way to address this problem is to use seed tape. Fortunately seed tape is easy to make, store and use, both in traditional row gardens and Square Foot Gardening raised beds. Seed tape helps you conserve seeds, minimizes (or eliminates) the need to thin plants later in the season, and makes a great winter-time project to give you a jump start on spring. Also gardeners with back issues will find this method of sowing seeds much less painful than bending over a garden bed. Plus if you’re a neat freak, it will give you control over having a beautifully, perfectly spaced garden. Won’t the neighbors be jealous?

For pictures and all of the instructions for creating square foot garden seed tape, click here.

 
 

2014 Seed Starting Plan

free seed starting plan software

Earlier this month I shared the 2014 Main Garden Plan for Arcadia Farms (and you can see it by clicking here). I’m still working on plans for the Fenceline Garden because I’d like to transition it from a garden of annuals to a space for perennial fruit and herbs. (Here’s a picture of what it looked like last year.)

The seed catalogs have started pouring in and, just like last year, I’m looking to get a jump start on my spring garden by starting seeds indoors. Because last year’s garden was the source of my CSA produce, I needed to consider criteria such as yield (high), days to maturity (short) and uniqueness as I selected seeds. This year the Main Garden’s primary function is to feed our family although I will occasionally be selling excess produce or crops planted especially for our brokerage customer(s). That allows me to have different criteria, including:

  • Suiting our family’s tastes and needs
  • Limiting varieties to better facilitate seed saving (less chance of cross-pollination)
  • Timing for personal consumption (spread out) rather than commercial (large amounts maturing at once)

Fortunately I’ve assembled quite a collection of seeds over the last few years – including purchases and seeds from my own garden – so I have relatively few seeds that I need to buy. My plan is to save even more seeds from the garden this year and slowly reduce my dependence on outside sources.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including:

 
 

Planting Garlic

Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. With just a small amount of garden space you can enough garlic to be self-sufficient for the better part of a year.

If you’re like me, you’re destined to spend a decent amount of time this winter dreaming about what you’ll plant in the garden when spring arrives. But if you plan to incorporate a garlic harvest into next year’s season, you’ll need to act much sooner. Though you can plant at any time, for the best results, garlic should be planted in the fall. According to Lynn Byczynski, owner of Seeds from Italy, “Your goal should be to plant within two weeks of the first frost (32°F) so that the cloves develop roots but do not emerge above ground by the time of the first hard freeze (28°F).”

Since we experienced our first frost this week, I’m planning to have my garlic in the ground by the end of this weekend. Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind as I go (and that you’ll want to take note of as well) for a successful harvest next summer.

Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks

Garlic falls into two main categories: Hardneck and softneck. The Daily Green describes the difference like this:

Softnecks, the standard garlics of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.

Prepare Garlic Seed

Garlic is traditionally planted from cloves which are the smaller sections that can be separated from the larger bulb. It is recommended that you plant garlic from “seed garlic” rather than from a bulb of garlic purchased from the grocery store. However, you can certainly plant garlic from bulbs purchased at a farmer’s market or from the produce section. The risk here is that garlic from the grocery store may be an imported variety that is not well-suited for growing in your climate, or it may have been treated with chemicals that make it difficult to sprout/grow. I’m going to experiment with planting from three sources: Farmer’s market garlic, seed garlic (Chesnok Red Organic) and organic garlic purchased at the grocery store.

Start your planting process by pulling the cloves apart from the bulb. Be sure to leave the papery skin intact. As an optional step, Organic Gardening recommends soaking cloves in the following mixture for two hours prior to planting in order to “prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth”:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed

Avoid planting cloves that are tiny, dried out or that show signs of discoloration and mold.

Prepare the Soil

Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. Garlic does not do well in clay soils, which means you may need to amend with sand or vermiculite if you have predominantly clay soil. The soil should also be free of weeds.

Plant the Cloves

To plant your garlic cloves (“seeds”) first dig a 3-inch-deep furrow in the garden bed. Place the seeds with the flat root section down and the pointed section up. If the weather has been dry and you don’t expect rain any time soon, you may want to water the seeds before moving on to the next step.

For those of you with square foot gardens, you can plant either 4 (large varieties) or 9 (small varieties) per square foot. For those of you who garden by the row, 6-8 inches between cloves should be your guideline.

Garlic should be planted in full sun.

Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter

To make sure your garlic has a rich, fertile environment in which to grow, you’ll want to side-dress your seeds with organic matter. Suggested materials include composted manure, alfalfa meal, garden compost or other organic fertilizer. Personally, I plan to use rabbit manure.

Mulch Away

After you’ve planted your seed and added fertilizer, cover everything with 6-8 inches of straw mulch. I’ve also used grass clippings and mulched leaves. The mulch will help to keep weeds at bay but will also help to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. In the spring, carefully rake back the mulch to allow the green shoots to more easily emerge and soak up some sunshine.

 

That’s it! With these few simple steps you can easily grow all the garlic your family will need for the summer, perhaps even for a whole year. Later in the season I’ll share information with you about caring for, harvesting, curing and storing garlic. But for now you know all you need to make sure you don’t miss this perfect opportunity to get out there and plant your garlic before the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

Alternative Garlic Growing

An alternative way to grow garlic is by planting garlic bulbils. This is a method I discovered while preparing to write this post and is something I’ll spend more time studying this winter. I do love a good experiment so I hope to harvest some garlic bulbils and attempt to propagate more garlic this way in 2015. For more details, click here.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 

Potato Experiment Results

Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:

  1. Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. Planted (mostly) in hay.
  3. Planted outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Today I spent the better part of the evening digging up these experimental potatoes and I’m pleased to report that they are amazing! Even better than the potatoes planted from official ‘seed potatoes’ in the main garden!

Here’s a quick recap of what I did – along with thoughts on what worked well and what I’ll do differently next year.

First, I started with chitted potatoes – potatoes with eyes growing on them. (Click here to learn how and why to chit potatoes before planting.) Next I dug pits along the outside of the fence which were 10-12” deep. I put the potato pieces (with at least 2 eyes) in the pit and covered them with composted waste hay from the bunny. I didn’t go out of my way to water these at all – occasionally they would get some overspray from watering the garden and they definitely received their fair share of rain! When the plants grew about 6-12 inches above the hay, I added another layer to “hill” them. Unfortunately I ran out of hay before I had hilled them all so I added some compost to two of the sections.

That’s it! No fertilizer, no watering. And here’s what I received…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

Planting the potatoes in hay (or you could use straw) really did make it much easier to harvest them. (Trust me… I am WAY over digging for potatoes in the 100% compost bed!). Now that the hay has broken down, the soil in these areas looks quite rich. This should be a good way to add organic matter to the area surrounding the garden.

Also, I originally planted onions and garlic in between sections of potatoes to keep critters (especially deer) away. I’ve seen many deer tracks in that area, starting as early as the week I planted the potatoes. On the face of it, the garlic/onion strategy seems to have worked. However, a friend (who has much more gardening experience than I do) pointed out to me that deer won’t eat potatoes because they have a high amount of a certain acid in them. (I wish I could tell you the name of the acid…) Still, with anecdotal advice I received from the stories of other gardeners (both in the area and online) it seems that the real test of whether or not a deer will eat potato plants is whether or not his belly is full when he finds the potatoes. So whether the garlic kept them at bay, the potato plants are too acidic for their taste or they’ve been feasting elsewhere by the time they get to me, the deer have left my potato plants completely alone.

All things considered, this feels like a pretty successful way to grow my potatoes. The best part is that it frees up space in my raised garden beds (I only have so many!) and makes use of what would otherwise be unused space while still keeping things pretty central to the garden area. In fact, these potatoes are from just one side of the garden. There are two other sides which would be suitable for tater-growing. Giddy-up!

The only downside in this year’s potato-growing endeavor was this: Overgrowth. The pits I planted my potatoes in were simply dug with a shovel. In early spring, this fence-line row of garlic and potatoes looked quite neat. Meanwhile, piles of overturned sod created a bit of a berm to the west of the piles. I kept telling myself I’d “get to moving those piles eventually.” Well, I never did, save for one small section. Because the ground is freakishly uneven there, Ryan won’t mow it. Which means weeds and grass have taken over and are growing quite snuggly in with my potatoes. Next year I’ll till everything up properly and I’ll be sure to level the area so it can be mowed.

overgrown potatoes

Without proper tilling, the potatoes and garlic quickly became overgrown with grass and weeds. Next time I’ll be sure to clear the area and keep the ground level so we can mow.

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

Here’s a view of the west side of the garden where the potatoes and garlic were planted along the fence. There are more potatoes on the south side of the garden as well.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have plans for a new experiment next year. Along the West fence, I’ll plant potatoes just like I did this year. Here are some variations I’m planning for the other two fence lines.

  1. On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
  2. On the East Fence: Using waste hay, I’ll plant some potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, some from store-bought organic potatoes that have sprouted and some from ‘seed potatoes’ from my own garden.

So there you have it… I’m considering my experimental potatoes to be a smashing success! Anyone else harvesting potatoes? What other things are you harvesting right now?

 
 

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed Saving

A few posts ago I shared that one of the biggest challenges I face personally as a market-gardener is being disciplined to start seeds when I’m scheduled to start them. Life is full of distractions and shifting priorities which means that more than once I’ve gone to bed thinking “Crap! I was supposed to start seeds today!” Now that I’m trying to plant by the phases of the moon, the pressure has escalated.

So you can imagine the giant eye roll I gave to myself when I realized Thursday that I was supposed to start a ton of seeds on Wednesday. It looked a lot like this…


Add to that the fact that I was also supposed to start a ton of seeds on Thursday and you’ll understand why I spent a big chunk of the day folding newspaper pots and stayed up till nearly midnight planting seeds. (But I got done before midnight… technically still Thursday – YES!!)

While I was planting cherry tomatoes (Black Cherries and Tommy Toes), slicing tomatoes (Moneymaker), sweet basil, Golden zucchini, Fordhook zucchini, zinnias, Charleston Gray watermelon, and California Wonder peppers, I wanted something to listen to other than the pitter patter of rain. So I decided to catch up on something else I missed because my life got distracting: A webinar from Seed Savers Exchange on how to setup your garden for seed saving.

This webinar was a great way to multitask and make late-night seed-sowing that much more enjoyable. The information is very complete but straightforward and easy enough for a beginner (i.e., me) to understand. Please don’t think even for a moment that I am an expert on seeding saving, however, I thought I’d take the time to create a very simplified summary of the information provided in the webinar. If you don’t have time to watch the video, I promise these tips will help you… but you should make time to watch the video as well.

Basic Tips for a Seed-Saving Garden

  • You should learn the basics of pollination and specifically how the plants you’re growing are pollinated.
    • Some plants are self-pollinators with ‘perfect’ flowers (both male and female parts in the same flower). Examples include legumes (peas, beans) and tomatoes.
    • Some plants are out-crosses with both male and female flowers on the same plant such as squash plants.
    • Some plants are out-crosses where one plant is male and the other is female. Spinach falls into this category.
  • Know your plant’s genus and species because any plants in the same species can cross-pollinate. Cross pollination means that the fruit that comes from the seed you harvest won’t be true to its parent.
  • Keep in mind that just because plants are the same crop doesn’t mean that they are all of the same species. For example, there are four different species of squash. If you grow one plant from each of the four species, you won’t have to worry about cross-pollination. (For more detailed info on cross-pollination between squash species – and the teeny exception to the rule I just mentioned – click here.)
  • Know the weeds in your area because they may be of the same genus and species as the plants in your garden. For example, Queen Anne’s Lace is the same species as carrots. If this ‘weed’ cross-pollinates with your carrots, the carrots which come from your harvested seeds will turn out… weedy.
  • Preventing cross-pollination requires the use of isolation methods.
    • Complete Isolation: Grow only one variety of a crop (i.e., only one kind of tomato).
    • Isolation by Distance: Click here for information to help you determine how much distance you need to give you a better chance of avoiding cross-pollination.
    • Isolation by Timing: Plant varieties that will shed pollen at different times or strategically plant them to shed pollen at different times (i.e., planted a few weeks apart).
    • Isolation by Barrier: This involves use of tents and row covers. If you have two varieties of a certain species, you only need to use a barrier with one of them.
    • Hand Pollination: You can hand pollinate selected flowers and gather those fruits specifically for harvesting seeds. For more details on hand pollination, click here.
  • To fully represent your plant/fruit population, you’ll want to gather seeds from several plants and fruits. In general, the more inbred your seeds are (typically from self-pollinators) the smaller the population can be (because they are already used to limited diversity.) Out-crossing pollinators will need a larger population size.
  • To better control cross-pollination, you’ll want to know how your plants are pollinated. Do you have lots of bees and butterflies? Lots of wind? What are the other pollination sources in your area (i.e. neighboring gardens and weeds)? Know the plants you want to save seeds from – how far can its pollen travel?

Planning Your Garden for Seed Saving


Saving Seeds at Arcadia Farms {2013}

So as I was stuffing compost into newspaper pots I got to thinking – which plants should I select to save seeds from this year? Since this will be my first year (properly) saving seed, I decided to start with some of the easy self-pollinators. Fortunately I laid out the garden to provide some isolation between crops of the same species but different variety so the isolation by distance should help me out. I have lots of pollinators (especially bees) in my garden so, knowing that pollen could travel to my plants from neighboring gardens, I think starting with these self-pollinators (which typically have fully enclosed reproductive parts) is a good place to start. I’ll keep you posted on the nuts and bolts of actually harvesting and storing the seeds. Meanwhile, if you’re a visual person, here’s a map of our garden layout so you can see the distances between each variety. With all of these factors in mind, I’ve decided to keep seeds from the following plants:

  • White Tomesol Tomatoes
  • Black Cherry Tomatoes
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Dragon Tongue Bush Beans
  • Sugar Ann Sugar Snap Peas
  • Rat’s Tail Radishes
  • Charleston Gray Watermelon
  • Table King Acorn Squash
  • Sugar Pie Pumpkins
  • Quinoa (mostly for eating, though!)

Since my watermelons (Citrullus lanatu) are a different species than my acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo) the fact that they live next door to each other shouldn’t be an issue for cross-pollination. Likewise, all of the tomato plants in the main garden will be far enough apart to minimize my concerns for cross-pollination. Unfortunately the tomatoes I’m planting in the Fenceline Garden (Moneymaker slicing tomatoes and Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes) will be close enough that I’m not going to take my chances with saving their seeds this year. Next year I’ll rotate those varieties into the main garden so that I can save some seeds.

Do you save seeds from your garden? Any tips? Do you use any of the isolation methods discussed above and in the video? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally. 

 
 

Planting Herbs in Upcycled Tin Cans

This winter I shared with you that I want a beautiful, traditionally styled, super-sized tea garden full of straight-up tea plant (Camellia sinensis) hedges and oodles of herbs. Despite my grandest dreams, our micro-farm only has room for a micro tea garden. So instead of having something like this…

formal garden

{Image Credit}
www.dnalandscape.com

I’m going to have something like this…

tin can herbs

{Image Credit}
http://fotofraulein.blogspot.com

I’ll be growing herbs for tea in upcycled tin cans which will hang from the posts of our garden fence. I’m also hoping to add some herb containers closer to the house. This weekend I got started on planting my first herbs – stevia.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with stevia, it is a natural sweetening alternative to cane sugar. I’m going to use the leaves in tea but you can also use it in powder form for baking. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the aftertaste it leaves in baked goods.) I’m starting small with just five containers. Here’s what I did.

I’ve been collecting an assortment of tin cans all year. I grabbed five of them and used a drill to make holes in the bottom. Because stevia likes well-drained soil, I wanted to add a little something to the bottom of each can to create air pockets for drainage. What better to use than some of the myriad twigs lying around my yard? Cleans my yard up a smidge (ok, a very tiny smidge), makes good use of what would otherwise be yard waste and creates a mini-hugelkultur climate in my herb containers. Win win win!

holes in tin can planter for herbs

I started by drilling drainage holes in the bottoms of my tin cans.

tin can herb planters with twigs for drainage

Next I added a layer of fallen twigs. These will aid in drainage by creating air pockets and will also add a hugelkultur effect to these tiny planters.

planting stevia in tin can herb planters

I’m planting stevia from Seed Savers Exchange in these mini-planters.

I’ve never grown stevia before… can’t wait to see (and taste) what lies ahead! And I’m super excited about all the other tea-worthy herbs that are yet to come.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

Chitting (Sprouting) Seed Potatoes

bags of seed potatoes

Our seed potatoes came yesterday! I ordered certified organic Nicola and Desiree seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange and can’t wait to get them planted! (I also ordered sweet potatoes from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds and expect they’ll be coming soon as well.)

This year before I plant my potatoes I’m going to chit some of them. No, I didn’t just cuss at you. Chitting potatoes is the act of sprouting them before they are planted. This is my first year trying it out, but those who’ve done it before say you can harvest your taters up to three weeks early if you follow these steps. Here’s a quick tutorial.

Chitting Potatoes – A How-To Guide

  1. Start the process 3-4 weeks before you’re ready to plant the potatoes in the ground
  2. Place the potatoes in a bright location (sunny windowsill or under a florescent/grow lamp)
  3. Sprouts will emerge. Try to keep the potatoes stable so that these sprouts don’t get broken. Placing the potatoes in an open egg carton would do the trick.
  4. Plant the sprouted potatoes just like you would plant them without sprouts. Just like you plant regular potatoes withe eyes facing up, plant these with the sprouts facing up.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 

Planting Experimental Potatoes

Since it didn’t snow yesterday (yes!) I spent some time planting potatoes and lettuce in the main garden. Lettuce will go in under plastic row covers in some of our narrow beds (2' x 12'), along with spinach which overwintered and is already growing. I’m scheduled to plant lettuce in two additional narrow beds on the hugelkultur side of the garden… the problem is, they’ve not yet been built. (This past December we put in 4' x 12' hugelkultur beds but skipped the 2' x 12's since they were too narrow to dig with the bobcat.) I guess I better grab  my shovel and get on that…

Meanwhile, I cleared a blanket of leaves that have been keeping fall-planted onions sung over the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:

  1. I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. I’m planting them in hay.
  3. I’m planting them outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Planting from Potatoes that Sprout in the Cupboard

From everything I’ve read, the most reliable way to get great potatoes is by buying seed potatoes. That’s because some potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been sprayed with a chemical sprout inhibitor to keep them looking tip-top on the grocery shelf. Despite all of this sound advice, the potatoes we grew in our very first garden came from store-bought potatoes… and they were delicious! We typically buy organic potatoes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Fortunately twice now I’ve discovered forgotten potatoes in the pantry with some hefty eyes on them. In one case I was able to simply cut the eyes out, store them in a brown paper bag, and use the potatoes for dinner. The other time they were way too far gone to be eaten. This afternoon I planted those whole. No waste here!

Planting Potatoes in Hay

Ever heard of planting potatoes in hay? The benefit is that its easy to “mound” the potatoes with more soil (ok, hay really) and its super easy to dig the potatoes up when they are ready to harvest. The danger in planting with hay (or straw) is that you have to make sure the potatoes stay covered so that no light gets to them. Potatoes exposed to too much sun will go green and become toxic. (Don’t eat green potatoes!) I planted our “experimental” potatoes in 1 foot deep holes outside the Main Garden fence and piled on about 8-10" of composted waste hay from Nacho’s (the bunny) cage. Nacho’s hay (and poo) has been composting all winter in a special bin. I think the recent sunshine has kicked the process into overtime because a good deal of it has already turned into soil.

planting potato in hay

This potato started sprouting in our pantry. Now its growing underneath composted waste hay.

At any rate, here’s a video about how and why to plant potatoes in hay.

Keeping Taters Safe from Critters

I’ve done some research about what deer will and won’t eat. Turns out – during cold weather when plants are scarce – they’ll eat anything green they can get to. During more abundant seasons, there are some things they’ll avoid, including onions and garlic. I’m interested in growing lots of storage potatoes this year but just don’t have the kind of room I need in our raised beds. So I decided to do a little experiment and place a few potato plants between sections of garlic. So now on the west side of the Main Garden I have alternating plantings along the fence – about four feet of garlic (which is coming up beautifully already!) and about four feet of potato plants (1 per square foot).  I plan to direct seed a few scallions in with the potatoes for extra insurance. Here’s hoping these city deer won’t get too curious!

young spring garlic

Our garlic is coming up! It’s going to be a good spring.

Anyone out there have advice on how to best grow potatoes? Have you tried planting in hay or straw? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Early Spring 2013 Update

NOTE: Ooops! Somehow I managed to only save this as a draft and did not publish it. This was supposed to be posted on April 1 (no joke). Keep that in mind as you read my "today"s and "yesterday"s. - Farmer Katie


Today’s Headline: No snow… (yet)! Today’s forecast for southwest Michigan was snowy. To be sure, it is cold outside (hovering around 30 degrees as I write this) but the sun is shining brightly. After a sustained string of sunny days, it’s a little hard for me to stomach the idea of snow. The good news is that Wednesday should be sunny and relatively warm (40’s) and then if the Mr. Weatherman is right, there’s no looking back! Farewell, winter – I’m ready for spring!

Our First Hugelkultur Planting

With spring on our doorstep, I’ve been super busy starting seeds. On Good Friday I planted about half of our peas. The most exciting thing about these peas is that they are the very first thing planted in one of our hugelkultur beds! To recap, the beds are comprised of pits (about 3’ deep) filled with rotted logs, branches and fall leaves which have then been topped with the very earth that was removed to make the pits. (For in-depth info on why in the world we would bury logs in our garden – and why you should too – click here.) On Friday I made a mound about 8-10” high with more topsoil and topped that with 6 cubic feet of organic garden soil (purchased from Lowes). My plan was to create the mounded part of the beds with compost but I have not yet ordered the compost. (Just like last year we’ll get it in bulk from a local supplier.) Because I knew a cold snap was coming, I covered the bed with a plastic row cover using our PVC hoops. (I had a fabulous helper!)

hugelkultur bed

This hugel has 3 feet of logs and leave buried beneath it with a 8-10? mound of top soil on top.

hugelkultur bed

Owen is helping me put the hoops in place for our row cover.

hugelkultur bed

What a great little helper!

hugelkultur bed

Hoops are in place. A covering of organic garden soil (from Lowes) tops the bed. This is only 6 cubic feet… I wish I could have added more.

hugelkultur bed

The bed is ready for the row cover.

hugelkultur bed

I covered the bed with plastic held down by logs and large rocks. The let the bed warm for a day before planting the peas.

The row cover will also keep the deer and other critters from digging up my peas since there we do not yet have a fence around this part of the garden.

Seedlings

To date I’ve started onions, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rhubarb, chard, broccoli, stevia, lettuce, peas and tomatoes. Frankly, this is the part of the season that keeps me on edge. Starting hundreds of seeds at a time while the weather is still touch and go provides lots of challenges.

a pile of newspaper pots

My biggest issue is space. We live in a small house and have a very small greenhouse. Finding an out of the way place for so many seedlings that also has the warmth and light they need is difficult. Second of all, making sure I stick with my planned planting dates is hard for me. Life gets busy and despite the fact that I vowed not to do this again, I’ve already had a couple of days where I look at the calendar at 8:00 PM and think “Oh crap, I’m supposed to plant 200 seeds today!” Right now I’m way off schedule on planting chives, scallions and a few days off on lettuce, spinach and chamomile. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been diligent about making newspaper pots every day. The good news is I think I can go ahead later this week with direct seeding my chives and scallions (they are cool hardy) and I’m thinking of direct-seeding the lettuce and spinach under row covers. The only reason I was going to start chamomile this early is because it takes a while to mature and I wanted to give it a jump start. But since that is not a critical crop for our CSA, I think I will just direct seed it after the last frost date.

In further keeping-it-real news, my onions are not doing well. I planted about 450 seeds and I think about 30% of them are thriving. I think the culprit here is lack of light… they’ve been hanging out in my laundry room and there are so many that some are not in the best-lit places. Also my cauliflower and cabbage have not germinated well because they are in the greenhouse which drops down to about 50* at night despite my space-heater’s best efforts. I replanted cauliflower a couple of days ago and will be bringing those seedlings, along with the cabbage, inside to germinate. The good news is our kale is doing fabulously as well as our chard. Broccoli germinated just fine and the tomatoes are coming along. Once the night temperatures pick up (or I get my hands on a second space heater) we should have no problems.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Later this week I’m hoping to build shelves for the greenhouse to make better use of space (and get seedlings out of my dimly lit laundry room!)

The Garden Fence

Now that the direct-seed season has arrived (at least for my cool-hardy plants) we need a new fence ASAP. For those of you who are just starting to follow us, you might want to check out this post where I talked about expanding our garden. We’ve doubled the size of the Main Garden by adding 14 new beds – 10 of them are hugelkultur beds. The existing fence is still standing around last year’s garden. Besides needing to be expanded, it also needs to be improved. The posts are loose in several places and there are gaps (like, fawn-sized gaps) in the metal fabric in a couple of places.

Existing fence around main garden

Existing fence around main garden

DSC03841

fawn sized hole in existing main garden fence

Oh look – a fawn-sized hole in the fence… lovely…

Last fall I shared with our CSA members that we could use help in April with building the new fence. Several of them graciously said that they’d be willing to help when the time arrives. (Thank you!) We haven’t set a date yet but will soon. The fence will serve several purposes: Protect veggies from critters (like deer and rabbits), allow sun to reach our crops (by using welded wire fencing), provide a trellis to the north of the garden and create an attractive boundary for the garden. The attractive boundary is a driving force behind our need for some additional help, of the financial variety. Being good neighbors is important to us and since we’re a suburban farm, we want to create a fence that is as aesthetically pleasing (for our neighbors) as it is effective (for our crops). To make a prettier fence, we need a prettier penny. (And since we’re a start-up farm committed to operating debt-free, the budget is tight.)

The good news is that we’ve found a way to make a fence that is relatively low cost while still serving all the purposes listed above. And we’ll be able to make it modular so if we need to expand or move it in the future, all of the dollars invested in our project will not go to waste. All contributions (even $5) will bolster our ability to provide naturally-grown, locally-sold produce to our community. If you’re interested in investing in the naturally-grown, buy-local movement, here’s a great opportunity to make a tangible difference for just a few dollars! If you’d like to contribute, please email me at katie@arcadia-farms.net.  (P.S. We’re giving away some pretty cool rewards to contributors. More details coming within a few days on our very first www.kickstarter.com project!)

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we’ll be building.

prowell woodworks gate

{Image Credit}
www.prowellwoodworks.com

Garden-Fence-Designs

{Image Credit}
www.onhome.org

wire wood garden fence

{Image Credit}
http://mnkyimages.com

There you have it… a little peak into the world of what we’ve been up to lately. What have you been up to around your homestead? Have you started any seeds indoors? Outdoors? Any other gardening activity? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Planting in Newspaper Pots

DSC03606

Some of the 450-or-so onion seedlings I’ve sown already are starting to come up! They’re just tiny twigs of green but they remind me that spring will be here soon! In March I’ll really be into starting seeds as I shared in this post about planting by moon phases. In that same post I shared that even though I already had  a detailed seed-starting plan (including my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!) several things have made me reconsider. The first thing being a desire to try planting by moon phases and the second being second-guessing the medium in which I plant my seeds.

Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets. Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the cons. Here’s why.

Upcycled Yogurt Containers

Pros

  • They’re free!
  • Recycling them reduces waste.
  • I can plant multiple seedlings in each container (depending on seed/plant size)
  • They are sustainable. Once I have the containers, I never have to buy new ones.

Cons

  • Seedlings get rootbound in them.
  • They are hard to move from one place to another.
  • Their round shape means they don’t fit well into trays.
  • Because they don’t fit well in square spaces, they are not an efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.
Jiffy Pellets

Pros

  • They are a seedling-friendly medium (have the right ingredients)
  • They fit well into trays which makes them easy to transport from greenhouse to garden. (Or move to a new place in the greenhouse).
  • Because they fit well into trays, they are a more efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.

Cons

  • Seedlings outgrow them quickly.
  • Seedlings can get rootbound in them.
  • Though they are relatively cheap, buying enough to start as many seeds as I need to (3,000+) makes them expensive.

Comparing the Options

Aside from obviously wanting to provide a quality growing medium for my plants, my two main concerns are space and money. The right solution can’t cost a ton (taking Jiffy Pellets out of the running) and it has to be an efficient use of my tiny (6? x 6?) greenhouse (farewell yogurt containers). What’s a nerd girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!

That’s just what I did. I created a spreadsheet of reasonable seed starting mediums so I could compare their pros and cons to find the best one. Here are a few points to go with this analysis:

  1. Some of these seed starting mediums are things I’ve heard about but not actually tried. My assessment is based on my best guess.
  2. I did not include hydroponics in this assessment. For more info on hydroponics (which I know bupkiss about) click here.
  3. Soil blocks are… well… blocks made of soil. They’re somewhat like Jiffy pellets only they don’t have a netting around them, are (typically) larger and can be created from a soil mixture you create. Their most frequently touted advantage is that plants don’t get rootbound in them – when the roots meet air at the edge of the block, they simply stop growing. They can be planted directly into the garden.
  4. Newspaper cups are also similar to Jiffy pellets except that they are made from newspaper mulch. Because the newspaper is biodegradable, they can be planted directly into the ground. Black and white ink is no problem for natural growing because the ink is soy based. (Stay away from colored inks.)
  5. Newspaper pots are square-shaped, origami-like containers folded from newspaper. Like newspaper cups they are biodegradable and made from natural materials so they can be planted directly into the ground. They hold potting mix just like a plastic yogurt cup would.
  6. Potting soil in trays is my way of saying just spreading potting soil in a tray and planting seedlings like I would when I direct-seed them. To transplant them I’d have to dig them up, exposing the roots in the process.
  7. Paper cups can also be used for planting. These are the tiny dixie cups sometimes used in bathrooms. I’ve used these before and found that, even if you poke several holes in the bottom, moisture tends to close those holes back up and they don’t drain well. Also some have a waxy covering which may cause them to take longer to breakdown in soil.

To do the analysis I rated each medium in cost, sustainability, drainage, portability, space-saving and transplanting. Rates were poor (1), fair (2), good (3) and great (4). After rating each option I found the final score by averaging all of that medium’s rates.

Chart

The Results

After making all of my assessments, it turned out that soil blocks would be the best choice for my needs with newspaper pots as a close second. I gave newspaper pots a 2 for sustainability and here’s why: If our culture continues as it is right now, there will be plenty of free newspapers for me to use. However, if something changes, newspapers will not be a naturally recurring resource for me to utilize. I also gave them a 2 for drainage… that was before I noticed that a small hole can easily be made in the bottom during the folding process. When assessing cost, I considered the ongoing expense rather than the initial expense. Turns out that the startup expenses for soil blocks and newspaper pots are very similar: Potting soil and trays to hold them. Soil blocks require purchasing a soil block maker and newspaper pots require purchasing (or getting) newspapers. Since they have so many of the same benefits, I decided that this year I’d save the expense of buying a soil block maker and just go with newspaper pots. My sister-in-law is a couponing queen so I’ll have access to plenty of desinted-for-the-recyling-bin-anyway newspapers (FREE!). Not only that, but if I’m going to use soil blocks, I want to invest in one that makes lots of them at once. Those run upwards of $200, so before I make that kind of investment, I want to try soil blocks out first. You know, just to make sure they’re as wonderful as everyone says they are.

So there you have it. I’m going to be starting my seeds in newspaper pots this year. I’d give you a tutorial on how to make them, but Tina at Happy Hobby Habit (winner of our Reader Tip Contest) has already done a great job of making one for you! You can find it by clicking here.

Well. I’ve got lots of folding to do if I’m going to use 3,000 of these in the next few weeks.

 

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company

corn seed watermark

Seeds are a hot topic at Arcadia Farms these days. We just wrapped up an heirloom seed giveaway this past week. The week before that I shared a Seed Starting Spreadsheet with you that can help you determine when to plant seeds and approximately when your harvest will be ready. That same week I also shared a list of seed sources with you. It wasn’t until after I created that list of seed sources that I realized I had forgotten someone! I want to share information with you about a new heirloom seed company founded by some of our family friends. But first a little background…

Around the time I left my full-time job to become a suburban farmer, an article came out that discussed a movement of young people (20’s and 30’s) flocking to farming. The article cites several reasons why young entrepreneurs are turning to agriculture rather than corporate jobs. Some of the major reasons include the stifling nature of corporate America, a strong demand for local and organic foods, the opportunity to be self-employed and the intangible rewards of doing work you love. The article is endearing to me because I am part of that movement of entrepreneurs who’ve (passionately!) traded desks for dirt.

The Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company Story

Jarrod and Kendra Tishhouse are part of that movement as well as co-founders of Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company (located in Lancaster County, PA). I recently had an opportunity ask Jarrod some questions about Urban Farm HSC. If you’re interested in supporting creative entrepreneurs who are investing in the future of sustainable agriculture, you’ll want to read on to hear their story!

Q: What inspired you to start Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company?

A: Kendra (my wife) and I really feel called to sustainable living and we feel that one way to preserve sustainable living is in the preservation of heirloom seeds (non-hybridized non-genetically modified varieties of seeds that produce true-to-form generation after generation). In light of big agriculture and chemical companies stream-lining “perfect” tasteless vegetables, we want to make sure that people continue to have access to heirloom varieties of seeds, and also invest in their food future!

Q: Please share a little bit about how Kickstarter played a role in the startup of your company. [Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects.]

A: Kickstarter is an invaluable resource to us. Not only does it provide all the start-up costs for your business, it single-handedly proves that you have an idea worth selling and helps you access people out of your immediate circle who would be interested in your project. Heck, we sent seed capsules as far as Portugal, Taiwan, and Australia among others!

To visit Jarrod and Kendra’s Kickstarter page for Urban Farm HSC, click here.

Q: What surprised you most about the startup process?

A: It is definitely a lot of work getting all of your ducks in a row! You have to know all your costs from A-Z, and you have to connect with the people that you want to support your project – let them know that you’re a real person with a real beating heart who believes in what they are doing.

Q: Please tell us about the products you offer.

A: We currently offer seed “capsules” in a couple of different options – a standard Survival Capsule with everything you need to plant a well-rounded garden, and a completely Customized Capsule where you choose all 25 varieties. We also just launched a new, “Ready-to-Start” garden that comes unsealed and non-capsulated for those looking to get started right away at a cheaper price! Now’s a great time to get your garden kit for the Spring season, and all of our kits come with included planting-times and seed-saving instructions! We are also looking to the future with other sustainable garden capsules and new projects.

These capsules contain heirloom seeds sealed in mylar bags for safe-keeping!

These capsules contain heirloom seeds sealed in mylar bags for safe-keeping!

Q: Some of your products are designed for long-term storage. What measures do you take to keep seeds from becoming sterile over time?

A: There are three specific factors that harm a seed over time: Light, oxygen, and temperature. Our Urban Farm capsules aim to keep the first two intact, but unfortunately we have no control over the last. (We put a suggestion on all of our capsules to store them in a cool place). Our seeds are sealed in mylar bags which are then encapsulated. You can literally bury your capsule in the ground if you want to (we keep ours in the freezer)!

Q: What can customers do to help maintain the viability of their seeds?

A: You’ll want to keep your capsule in a cool place. I suggest a fridge or freezer, a cool basement or cellar, or just burying it straight in the ground. The mylar bag has a zip-lock enclosure, so you can re-seal your bag after you’ve opened it. (It comes heat-sealed, however, and once you do unseal it initially the oxygen absorber inside can be spent rather quickly if you leave it open).

Q: Why did you select the seed varieties that you offer?

A: We wanted to offer the standard varieties, but I really like fun varieties too. We are constantly going to be updating the different kinds of seeds available for our custom gardens. I’m a big fan of purple and red carrots, yellow lemon tomatoes, and banana melons! When we started on this journey, we had no idea how many varieties there are out there that you would NEVER find in a supermarket!

Q: What are some of your future plans for Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company?

A: I have been thinking about this since day one! The seed capsules and gardens are only a start for us. We are looking to the future for other sustainable methods that we can apply not only to our lives, but to those around us! Our next step is to start a full local CSA in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, transforming our yard-space into a literal “urban farm.” I am in the midst of planning out the details right now, and we are VERY excited about this! Look forward to a new Kickstarter project within the next week or two!

Q: What advice would you give to new gardeners?

A: I would suggest doing research. Organic gardening is the only gardening worth doing and many people frown at the amount of work they think is involved. I suggest Googling a film called “Back to Eden” as a good starting place, as that revolutionized the way my wife and I did our garden this year. Gardening can be far easier than people make it out to be, you just need the right resources at your fingertips!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like Arcadia Farms’ readers to know?

A: We are so grateful for people investing in a young company like ours! Many people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into running a personal business – it’s a lot of work with little pay, but for me it’s a labor of love. We enjoy what we do. Sure, gardening, canning, dehydrating, and all the other facets of sustainable living definitely are a lot of work, but I can tell you one thing for sure: Every night at dinner time I am SO glad we do what we do. Our food is fresh and delicious, not stale and filled with preservatives and chemicals. It’s an ongoing transformation, and Urban Farm HSC is just one way to help us live the way we do, while helping others too!

capsules watermark

Your Part of the Story

If you live in the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania and would like to join the Tishhouse’s CSA – or if you love what they’re doing and would like to support their newest endeavor through Kickstarter – check them out here:

Cinderblock Gardens CSA Kicstater Campaign

Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company Website

Another Annie’s Heirloom Seed Winner

Last week we ended a great giveaway for heirloom, non-GMO seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. Thanks again to everyone who entered! We had such great participation. Even though I was very happy for our winner, I wished I could do more for the rest of you. So I gave an open invitation for our readers to comment here on 1) What one thing they’d love to have from Annie’s catalog and 2) one garden tip. We planned to  pick our favorite reader tip and give the winner the seeds they desire courtesy of the farm! And that’s just what we did…

Everyone had great tips (and I wish I could have picked more than one “winner”)! But at the end of the day, Tina’s Folded Newspaper Pot Pictoral takes the cake seeds. Congrats, Tina! She’ll be receiving the purple Falstaff Brussels Sprouts she desires. Thanks to everyone for their tips!

 Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

2013 Seed Starting Plan

I’m getting giddy about spring now that I’ve purchased seeds for our 2013 gardens! I spent a lot of time looking through websites and catalogs last week to make my selections. I started my seed search having a general idea of what I wanted to grow (thanks to our members!) but I needed to explore all the available varieties for crops that have just the right qualities for our gardens. I considered things like:
  • Drought-tolerance (what if this year is like last year?)
  • Yield (plants with ‘heavy production’ sound like a winner for market gardening)
  • Days to maturity (how long it takes a crop to grow from seed to harvest time)
  • Uniqueness (it’s fun to have something special in the garden)

Once I found varieties I liked, I tried to find the best deal, which involved comparing price to the number of seeds per packet. My seed sources are listed in this blog post.

By the end of last week all of my selections were set and I was ready to order. Fortunately for me, a friend came over to swap seeds and I discovered that I had a whole heapin’ mess-o-seeds hiding out. I decided to be frugal (part of sustainability is using what you have to make the most of it) and incorporated the seeds I already owned. That meant I had to make the decision to forgo some of the more “Oh-that’s-cool!” crops I was going to buy in exchange for some of the “Well-these-are-nice…” seeds I already owned.

So now after all of that deliberation, the list of crops we’ll be growing for 2013 is complete. Click here if you’d like to see it. I won’t bore you by talking through each crop, but there are some I’m especially excited about and would like to highlight in a later post.

Starting and Transplanting Seeds

Now that it is ‘Garden Planning Season’ I’ve had many people ask me about when to start their seeds. Here’s the deal: I’m not an expert. Remember, the whole point of Arcadia Farms is to provide an opportunity for our family to develop a sustainable lifestyle and to share what we learn with others. So while I can’t pretend to offer you an authoritative answer to the “When do I start my seeds?” question, I am happy to share my thoughts and experience. (As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to talking with some other growers/farmers this week to get their advice on when and how they start their seeds. Look for that update soon!)

If you click here you’ll find a spreadsheet that shows when I plan to start all of my seeds. (Don’t hold me to it! I may make changes… especially if I find errors!) My start dates are based on a few different factors. First, I assessed which plants do best when they are sown directly into the garden and which plants can be transplanted.  Please note that there are some plants which can be transplanted that I am choosing to direct seed under row covers. (After a few years of gardening this is something I have a pretty firm handle on. If the concept is new to you, a quick Google search like “can radishes be transplanted” should yield the info you’re looking for.) For those that can be transplanted, I tried to find information on the best age for transplanting. Next, I determined which crops could be planted before the last frost date and which needed to wait until after. (The average last frost date is the projected date on which the last hard freeze is predicted to be on during the spring.  Cool-hardy plants can survive – sometimes thrive – through some frost, but more tender plants such as tomatoes will be damaged by extreme cold and need to be planted past any danger of frost.) This factor – before or after last frost date – will be fudged a little on my part because I intend to plant some crops under plastic row covers which will warm the air/soil and protect from frost, thus allowing me to plant earlier than recommended. And finally, I determined the days to maturity for each crop. This information is usually included on the seed packet and often can be found on the distributor’s website.

Using all of this information, I setup a spreadsheet that would allow me to enter the transplant date and days to maturity to find out both when I should start my seeds and approximately when I’d have a harvest.

Would you like to try a similar approach to starting seeds? If so, you can click on the image below to download a Seed Starting Plan template. Instructions are included on the first tab.

lettuce seedlings in seed starting medium

Click on the image above to download a spreadsheet that will help you determine when to start your seeds.

The average last frost date for the Kalamazoo/Portage area in 2013 is May 18 according to www.letsgrowveggies.com. To find the average last and first frost dates for your area, click here.

Companion Planting

I’ve also recently received questions about companion planting. What is companion planting? According to Wikipedia, companion planting is “The close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests.” Creation is pretty cool. All of the symbiotic relationships that exist in nature are astounding. The whole thing reminds me personally that God knew what he was doing when He made it and it emphasizes the value of interdependence in all creation (including humanity!). On a practical side, companion planting is very important for organic gardening. Done well, this method can help you to fight against plant disease and pests without the use of chemicals.

Again, I’m not expert in companion planting, but here are the resources I currently use:

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

thorns in the garden

Click the image above for a list of companion plants found at
http://en.wikipedia.org

Planning Your Garden

If you’re new to gardening or just have questions about how to plan yours, I would love to help (FREE)! I can help you select crops that will work well for your land, climate, family, etc. and to select a layout. Feel free to email me with any questions or garden-design requests: Katie@arcadia-farms.net.

Want Free Seeds?

Did you know that right now we’re in the process of giving away $25-worth of FREE heirloom, non-GMO seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds (a Michigan-based company)? Click here to enter – it only takes 1 minute! Giveaway ends on February 16, 2013.

 
 

Seed Sources

lettuce seedlings in seed starting mediumI did it!

After many hours of possibly making the process more complicated than it needed to be looking through seed options, I’ve selected plant varieties for Arcadia Farms’ 2013 season! This is an exciting time for a gardener – exploring the vast world of possibilities as you imagine what your upcoming garden could become, what it could yield. There are so many varieties and sometimes making a choice between what would be prettiest and what would be most productive is an agonizing trade off.

Deciding what to grow is made one step easier for me by our members. All of our CSA members provide us with a list of veggies they love, veggies they hate, and veggies they’re willing to try when they submit a completed Membership Application. Last week I spent quite a bit of time digesting (pardon the pun) those preferences to amend the original garden plant I presented to you in this blog post last fall.

Based on customer preferences, the Main Garden will now look like this and the Fenceline Garden will now look like this. (Click on the links in the previous sentence to see a visual representation of what the gardens will look like in spring. Keep in mind that you’ll need to zoom in quite a bit – like 400% – to see the details.) I also have some succession plans for replacing crops that will be fully harvested early in the season, such as lettuce or peas. More on that when the time is ripe. (Get it???) I’m eager to share info with you on all the varieties we’ll be growing, including information on where to buy the very same seeds we’ll be using. I’ll also talk about a seed-starting plan so you know what to plant, when to plant it and where to plant it (indoors or direct-seed). But alas, I’m not quite ready to share that info now. (I’ve been way to busy drooling over photos of heirloom tomatoes and plugging price-to-seed-count numbers into my what-should-I-buy spreadsheets!)

All the same, I recognize that if I’m thinking about what to plant this year, you probably are too. I’m not ready to spill the beans (get it???) on everything I’m planting, but I most certainly would like to help your search by sharing some tips on where to get seeds. So without further ado (and no more tasteless food-puns… did I say tasteless??…) here is a list of some of my favorite sources for seeds. You probably know of even more seed sources – we'd love to hear about them! Please stop by our website and share your thoughts, reviews and sources in the comments section!

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds is owned and operated by Scott and Julie as (in their own words) “a labor of love.” Their “about” page explains that they have “chosen to grow heirloom vegetables for a variety of reasons.  Better taste, better nutrition, disease-resistance, independence, and self-sufficiency all play a role.” However, the “heart” behind their operation is to honor the traditions and influence of their grandparents who passed gardening knowledge and passion on to this couple. Scott says “that connection with the past, more than anything else, is the reason we love heirloom vegetables.” Annie’s has a good selection (if you can find it with one of these other vendors, you can probably find it with Annie’s too) and I love that they are a Michigan-based company (Clarksville, MI). I’ll be doing business with Annie’s whenever I can.

 

Wedel’s Nursery, Florist and Garden Center

Wedel’s has a rich history of serving the horticultural needs of the greater Kalamazoo area. Founded in 1946, the business has evolved through many stages and locations to become the amazing garden center that stands today at 5020 Texas Drive. As a newbie gardener, I found the staff to be very helpful and approachable. In addition to seeds, Wedel’s sells many gardening supplies, including organic potting soil. Although you can buy online directly from any of the vendors I’ve listed in this post, you can also find many of them in person at Wedel’s (think: no shipping!). I’ve purchased Botanical Interests, Hart’s and Seed Savers Exchange seeds at Wedel’s. If you’re new to gardening, have questions, want to avoid shipping and want to support a local business, you should stop by Wedel’s.

Source: wedels.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Hart’s

My first garden consisted primarily of Hart’s seeds. I still find that they have some of the best germination rates of all the seeds I start and I’ve always been pleased with the resulting crop. I appreciate that Hart’s is committed to selling only non-GE (genetically engineered) seeds. You can be assured that all of their seeds are open-pollinated seeds. Their packaging isn’t nearly as appealing as some of the other vendors listed here, but don’t let that fool you about what’s inside!

 

Botanical Interests

I’ve grown many crops from these seeds. The packets provide lots of growing tips and usually include recipes on the inside! Lots of heirloom varieties and they also offer some organic seeds. I especially enjoyed their Easter Egg Radishes.

 

Victory Seeds

Victory seed places an emphasis on maintaining seed quality and providing quality customer service. They have packaging and growing procedures in place that help them meet and often exceed industry standards for quality. In their own words “our goal as an organization, is to provide you, our friends and customers, with the highest value for your money — a good selection, reasonable prices, high quality open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, and responsive customer support.” They seem to have a good selection, great prices, and helpful growing information on each crop which has helped me determine which seeds to purchase based on my needs.

 

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

I have not yet planted seeds from Baker Creek – 2013 is the first year I’m buying from them. So far, I’m impressed. Their selection is amazing and I appreciate the informative “blurbs” they provide about each plant. Gardener reviews are also great – several of them helped me decide what to purchase and what to pass over. Their website is beautiful and they offer additional products and services, including an Heirloom Gardener Magazine. Their “About” page says “We do not buy seed from Monsanto-owned Seminis. We boycott all gene-altering companies. We are not members of the pro-GMO American Seed Trade Organization! We work with a network of about 150 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available! Many of our varieties we sell were collected by us on our travels abroad.”

 

Seed Savers Exchange

Maybe this is childish, but one of the reasons I like buying from Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is that their website and catalogs have such amazing photos! But there are more grown-up reasons to buy from SSE, like the fact that they are dedicated to preserving America’s gardening heritage by “saving and sharing heirloom seeds.” This non-profit organization is all about preservation of heirloom, unique seeds so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. In addition to seeds they offer cooking beans, books, workshops and seed-saver gatherings.

 

Burpee Organic Seeds

Burpee seeds are everywhere. Meijer. Wal-Mart. Walgreens. Everywhere. They have a good variety of selections and are usually very economical to buy. I personally don’t like the fact that it’s sometimes hard for me to tell by their packaging if seeds are genetically engineered or not. However, I have purchased and grown some non-GE, organic seeds from Burpee and have been satisfied with the results.

Source: burpee.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 
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