Wednesday, September 30

Harvest Basket / Garden Hod Project

For several years, I've seen advertisements for the "Original Maine Garden Hod", which is a harvest basket with wooden ends and wire mesh bottom and sides. The ads state that this is a design adapted from clam hods, allowing to rinse the contents of the basket without removing them from the basket itself. In essence, this is a large-scale strainer for garden produce.

Searching various supply houses, the cheapest I could find these baskets is $30 (not including shipping), and many companies are selling them for $50. With all due respect to the sellers, these look like wonderful baskets, but I'm not able to part with $30-$50. Additionally, I know several gardeners who would rejoice in receiving a gift of a harvest basket, but again, my budget does not have room for the price.

I'd like to make my own version of the hod, so I started a little search online and came up with a fellow blogger's instructions. I like her dimensions, but her design doesn't fit my needs very well. For starters, I need to be able to carry it with one hand, so we need to add a handle. I also like the coated wire mesh of the original version, and I'd prefer to have cedar or redwood for the ends, since it's likely to be very wet.

The Farmchick blog has some clever features - using small feet on the bottom to keep the mesh off of other surfaces, 1x2 side rails for strength and attaching the mesh, and a good overall dimension.

Searching for other plans online, I came across a generic tool caddy project at Lowes online. I think the two plans will serve as a good starting point for my new garden hod.

Essentially, I need to take the ends and handle of the Lowes caddy, and round off the bottom corners. Then I'll add side rails, coated hardware cloth, and feet, as instructed by the Farmchick blog.
Rough dimensions I'm using are 5" high x 9" wide x 16" long for the 'basket' part, (the handle will be 8" high overall). Ends will be cut from cedar or redwood lumber, and sanded to round off edges. The mesh will be 5/8" hardware cloth coated with PVC or Vinyl and stapled in place (If you want to get fancy, you could route a nice channel in the end pieces for the wire to fit into.) The handle will be a 1x2, as will the side rails.

I made a mock-up in cardboard, to get a feel for the size... keep in mind the sides will be almost an inch thick and there will be a handle on top (1x2, not the 3/4" round as drawn on the cardboard.)

Since I'm all for "saving the earth" (and, I'm cheap), I'll be searching craigslist, for sale classifieds, and the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to find scrap cedar, redwood, etc. Photos of the project will follow as I build them...
Update 1/21/2010...
The completed project can be found here.

Seed tapes

Some people swear by seed tapes - biodegradable tape with specific (usually tiny or difficult to handle) seeds embedded at regular intervals to eliminate the need for thinning the sprouts. Commercial seed tapes can be expensive compared to loose seed, and are limited in varieties available - usually the most popular hybrids. Fortunately, seed tapes are easy to make.

Start by cutting strips of paper - we recycle grocery bags, food packaging, and other food-safe scraps. I like to keep the tapes narrow (1/2" to 1" wide), but you can make them any size you wish.

Mix a little flour and water to make a basic flour paste and dab the paste every so often along the tape. Set a ruler on your work surface for easy reference. Use the seed package "thin to xxx" measurement for the spacing of the seeds.

Place a seed on every spot of paste - if you keep the flour dots the same size as the seeds, you can save time by dusting the tape with seed and shaking off the excess for the next tape. Lightly press the seeds into the paste to ensure adhesion.

Allow the paste to dry, label, roll and store the seed tapes as you would other seed. At planting time, dig a furrow in the soil, unroll the tape (cutting to length if it is longer than your row) and cover with soil at the desired depth. Water well. The paper will rot away over time, and the seeds will sprout at the correct spacing.

What seeds are the best candidates for seed tapes?
  • row crops
  • small seeds
  • expensive seeds or those in limited quantity
  • direct-sow crops
How else can you use this technique?
  • Pre-set border plantings
  • Intersperse two types of lettuce or carrots for the same row to facilitate succession planting
  • Save time planting in spring - make tapes in the winter, then unroll, bury, and grow
  • Create a pattern or design of plants on a larger scale using the entire grocery bag or newspapers (avoid newsprint for food crops)
  • 'Plant-able' tags and cards for gifts or party favors
  • Paper flower bouquets that will grow
  • Container planting disks for herb collections
  • Garden gifts for children with colorful paper cutouts of vegetables to identify the seed
  • Allow persons with limited dexterity to plant seeds that are otherwise unmanageably small
I'll post more photos of the alternate projects as I get them done.

Monday, September 28

Saving Tomato Seeds

Tomato seeds from open-pollinated varieties can be saved from year to year. Pick some of the best fruit from the most productive vines, scoop out the seeds and slime from the cavities and put it into a jar. Let the jar sit outside for a few days until there is a layer of mold growing on top (it will stink!), then rinse the seeds off in a sieve, picking out all the mold and scum that is mixed in. Finally, let the seeds dry (use something non-porus, or you'll never get the seeds separated from the surface).

I use canning jars, and let the mold grow with a little scrap of paper towel tied over the top to keep bugs out of the jar.

When the seeds are drying, I mix in a couple drops of food color so I can identify one variety vs another next spring. The photo shows blue-dyed seeds from Oxheart tomatoes. After they air-dry, I'll put some silica gel into the container and let them dry out for a week that way (this will reduce the moisture content to ~5%-8% and prevent mold growth over time). Then, transfer the dry seeds to a sealed container without the silica gel, as I don't want them to dry out too much). The seeds should last many years, some sources say up to 10 years.

Filberts - in spite of the wildlife

In spite of the critters who beat me to the nuts, I managed to harvest a handful of filberts (Hazelnuts, if you prefer). Not many, but the bushes are filling in nicely and we should have a thick hedge in a few years. (I couldn't find my nut cracker immediately, so I brought out the next best thing)

The crop would probably have been better harvested a week ago or even two weeks ago, but I had completely forgotten about them until mowing the lawn when I spied a few ripe nuts on the grass near the shrubs.

Hazelnuts are a favorite of lots of animals - deer will eat both the young branches and the nuts. Squirrels and ground squirrels will devour the nuts. I've seen some bluejays in the bushes, perhaps they like the nuts as well? The plant is native to this area, which helps with the low maintenance and hardiness. They'll grow to be about 10 feet tall, and fill in as wide as we let them (new suckers show up every year, even through landscape fabric).

We have two plantings of American hazelnut - one large group back in the thicket towards the far corner of the property (planted the DNR seedlings a couple years ago, many survived) and another group of three along the side of the property, eventually screening us from the neighbors. The hope is that the large planting will attract most of the critters and the small planting will be saved for the humans.

Saturday, September 26

The finished cakes

By popular request.... the finished cakes.

Someone had commented that the purple carrot cake looked like dirt, so I frosted it as a little 'grassy knoll' with chocolate flowers and bug birthday candles. As you can see, the orange batter displaced the purple, creating a center core of orange - weird, but tasty!

And, of course, the Lego minifig - I think the colors came out pretty accurate, actually. I can see this guy being dressed up for many occasions throughout the year.

Yes, this is all cream cheese icing, the glossy effect was achieved by dipping a butter knife in warm water and smoothing out the frosting.

Friday, September 25

What happens when you bake purple carrots?

The pressing question on everyone's mind tonight is whether purple carrots revert to orange when cooked. purple beans turn green, so the color change is a valid hypothesis.

For the experiment, four Purple Rain carrots were shredded & added to 1/3 of the carrot cake batter (I was too lazy to pick enough for two full batches & needed a 'control' cake of orange carrots, anyways. The batter was divided prior to adding carrots, so as to eliminate cross-contamination.

One cake was made using the control batter (Lego Minifig, for fans of the building blocks). he purple batter was poured into a pyrex casserole, since the muffin pan was still in the dishwasher.

Remaining orange batter was layered onto the purple in the pyrex, creating a two-toned effect in the cake. The trimmed piece from the bottom of the round pyrex cake illustrates both orange and purple batter - the purple carrots leeched color into the surrounding batter and the end result is a muddy, deep blue color that looks rather awful in the photo.

The two-tone cake - this is the cutoff from the 'top' to level the cake. I hate to say it, but the purple carrots make it look moldy. After I finish the frosting tomorrow, I'll post a photo of a slice of the cake. Haven't decided upon a color for the frosting.

The Lego minifig turned out quite nicely - I'm getting to be a fan of these silicone cake molds, now that I've learned how to use them a little better & don't get the batter stuck in them as often. This guy will be frosted tomorrow and brought to a friend's party, because you can never have enough Lego, right?!

Tuesday, September 22

Pepper abuse

Interesting note I found in the margins of Keeping the Harvest (p 143):
Give pepper plants a warm soil (they'll only sit and shiver in temperatures under 55F), a lot of moisture, a good compost base, and a mulch only when the soil is well warmed, but go light on the lime - and hold the nitrogen. Peppers thrive when they are crowded and placed in your poorest soil.

If this is true, then the neglect of this year is precisely why I have a good crop of peppers. I'll have to remember this in the future, and plant twice as many pepper plants in the same space.


Wednesday, September 16

Mid - September ... time to start saving seeds again

This past March, I purchased 15 pelleted "Explorer Blue" Petunia seeds from Johnny's for $3.95. I started 15 seeds (even had a few bonus seeds in the packet), and with minimal effort, had 5 plants sprout. A germination rate of 30% are remarkably good for me, considering how poorly I treat my seedlings, letting them dry out half the time, and that Petunias are 'new-to-me' plants.
Now, the blooms are still going strong, but the older blooms have begun to fade and dry up. It is time to collect the swollen seed pods, harvest the seeds, and store them for next spring. The seed pods are teardrop-shaped buds that are left after the flowers fade and the petals fall off. Once the pods are dry, pinch them off. Some, like the pod on the right, below, will begin to crack open and release the seeds (the tiny black specks, below). At this point, the seeds should be ripe and ready to harvest.

'Explorer Blue' is a hybrid petunia, so the seeds may or may not germinate, and may or may not be blue, but it's worth the effort. I'll run a germination test on some of the seeds over the next few weeks to see if they're sterile (some hybrids do not produce viable seeds), and if something sprouts, we'll try it out next season. If not, no big loss. Mesh wedding favor bags from a craft store are perfect for saving seeds - they have drawstring closures that hold snugly around stems, a fine mesh that keeps even the tiniest of seeds contained, and synthetic material that won't soak and retain moisture, preventing rot. The bags are inexpensive (less than $1 each for 3"x4" size), and come in many colors if you wish to color code your seed collections.

If you want to be lazy, tie a large bag around a stem and just wait for the whole stem to ripen fully, then break it off and collect the seeds - remember any flowers that need insects to pollinate won't be accessible once the bag is tied shut. If you don't like the look of a bag tied around your flowers while you still have summer visitors in the garden, just collect several seed pods by hand, dropping them into the bag, or shaking the stems over the open bag to collect seeds that fall out.

Seeds collected today:
  • Explorer Blue Petunia
  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Blackeyed Susan