With yet another snowstorm yesterday that left a couple inches on the ground (yay! moisture!) and a strong wind blowing today, no gardening was happening outside. Yesterday I caught up on paperwork and paid bills, so today I got to have some fun. The younger kids completed their schoolwork before lunch, so headed to town with Cary this afternoon for a load of lumber (he called and said they barely made it on the icy/slushy roads) and to collect the geese and turkeys being given to us by our wonderful friend Dana. They tried this same errand yesterday and never made it up the drive with all the mud we had. While they were gone, I headed out to the greenhouse for at least one gardening chore, before those adults birds arrived to call it their new home. It will be a bit more difficult to work in peace and quiet with those geese!
In early March, I set out netted peat pots into a variety of mini-greenhouse trays that I had saved from earlier years, and also black plastic food containers with clear lids. (see above) They made perfect seedling starters sitting on a table in front of our living room window. The seeds germinated within a week to 10 days, and then I removed the clear plastic lids to let them keep growing beyond the tray tops. I watered every few days when the soil felt dry to touch. We also had some eggshells as seed starts too; it was a 4-H project we did at our club meeting this month. The shells hold water well, and you can directly plant them in the soil. Just crack the bottom of the shell so the roots can find the soil below; the shell also prevents cutworms from eating the seedlings. The seedlings were all getting a bit leggy, and need to be in larger pots, so I'll do that this week in the greenhouse, as they can't go outside for another month.
I decided to first transplant my tomato seedlings - about half of them - into larger pots. Each year when I transplant them outside, they are so shocked by the wind (even with plastic jugs protecting them) that they lose growth the first two weeks just trying to recover. I had saved the deep black plastic potting trays from the conifer conservation trees, and decided those would work perfect as I could set the tomato plants down inside and cover their 'naked necks' of the stems with more soil to increase rooting - tomatoes do that - grow more roots if you sink the stems into the soil. Hopefully this will produce stockier growth on them that will help them weather the final transplant to an outside garden.
First, I scattered a bit of soil in the bottom of the 5" deep tray cells - 5 x 10 holes. Then I watered the soil in the cells - they were only about 1" full at that point. Next, I took each variety of tomato as a group, and one at a time, split the root balls of the seedling pots and set them down in the holes, with a label stick in each row. While holding each stem tenderly, I grabbed handfuls of the good soil I had raked up in the greenhouse the other day, and gently topped the cells with it. The tomato seedlings went from 5" tall out of their net peat pots, to barely sticking up an inch in the new tray cells. Finally, I watered each one to settle the soil. The seedlings still looked a bit droopy, but I think by tomorrow they'll perk up - all plants suffer transplant shock as they prefer to not be touched or moved.
While I was working, the one turkey and 2 guineas we currently have in the greenhouse, came around and were alternately peeping with curiosity, or shrieking to warn each other of danger. The chicken wire/plastic mesh set-up seems to be keeping them out of the 4 garden beds and seedling tray shelves, for which I am very relieved. The upper chicken wire panels were very easy to lift off and set aside allowing me to work at the shelves; it was simple to put them back up when I was finished. We'll see if 6 more turkeys and 2 geese will settle in tonight without creating territorial fighting and destruction. If all is okay, I'll bring out the pepper, eggplant, herb, and flower seedlings to transplant into larger pots during the next few days. It is so warm in the greenhouse they should all do really well, even with another snow forecast for Monday.
The other little project I finished today was to propagate some herbs, and seed kale into aquaponic 'rafts' in 2 fish aquariums we have set-up in the living room. This is a demonstration of 'small scale aquaponics' versus the large system we will install in the greenhouse in late May. In a small home or apartment with little to no gardening space, you can still grow things inside, in a symbiotic relationship with fish. The fish waste provides the nutrients for the plants while the plant rafts float on top of the water. The raft just has to be a bit shorter than the aquarium so there is a clear water surface to feed the fish.
We had the aquariums stashed in storage - from garage sale finds or free pickings somewhere, and I had filled them with water a couple of weeks ago. I purchased 2 rectangular pieces of green floral foam from Wal-Mart (which proves anyone can do this!) earlier in the week. Last month I had ordered plastic net pots and rock wool potting medium from Greenhouse Supply. Zane cut holes in the foam for me (I could have done it myself but he does a better job and it saved me time). I set the cage pots in the holes and put rock wool in the foam for the larger tank, and put fabric netted peat pots in the smaller foam raft.
I had purchased living herbs on sale at Sprouts on Sunday (FYI - WM has them too sometimes). I cut the usable leaves off of the herbs for cooking, leaving a few leaves on the lower stems/root sections for propagating. I divided the clumps and put a single stem in the rock wool of each pot, then set the raft onto the top of the water in the larger aquarium. The bottom of the raft absorbed just enough water to sink it down slightly so the bottom of the pots could soak up what was needed for the propagated plant cuttings.
For the kale raft, I put seeds in the peat pots, and set that raft in the smaller aquarium. Again it sunk down into the water just enough to wet the peat pots. In 4 weeks when we host our FAMILY HOMESTEAD DAY, these ought to be a good example of aquaponics for a home gardener. We'll get the fish bubbler set-up this weekend, and add goldfish or some other easy growing fish into the tank after the next trip to Wal-Mart.
As a busy mom, I encourage others to keep their gardening chores to about 1 hour a day per person, so as to not get overwhelmed, and to keep it enjoyable. Both of these chores to less than an hour. I could have had helpers to make it go quicker (or slower depending on the helper!), but for today it was just the right amount of time in-between my other duties.
Tomorrow I will look forward to a warmer day to garden outside a bit, and to release into the rabbitry and the alleyway compost pile my 5000 earthworms that came in the mail today! What fun! I always was a bit of a tomboy, enjoying playing in the dirt. And for the record, I was the only on of my dad's 4 daughters who would willingly bait a fishing hook with a live worm.
Everyday is something new around here, and it is fun to research ideas, try them out, and share our successes, and occasional failures with other interested families. Life is an ongoing learning experience for those who want to keep growing in wisdom and knowledge of the good Lord's awesome creation. Gotta go learn something about food now, so I can figure out about dinner....
PS: The turkeys just arrived with a surprise - eggs! Two nests at Dana's had quite a few that were loaded into two separate buckets w/ hay for transporting. We moved them into two of the large nest boxes and covered them with accompanying hay. Since there is a big beautiful Royal Palm tom with the hens, hopefully they are fertilized. If so, and the hens will set on them in their new quarters, they might hatch out! Thankfully, Dana's husband decided to keep the geese, so we'll have a lot more peace in the greenhouse with just the 2 guineas, and now 7 turkeys. Thanks a million, Mark! (Sorry, the photo is sideways and I can't figure out how to turn it around - my over 50 technology challenged brain - but you get the egg/nest idea!)