Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is this what I think it is??

It looks like this seasons FIRST tomato! This plant was sprouted in the windowsill (thus ending the debate over which would produce first - under lights, in the windowsill, or winter sown), but it lost it's label at some point in it's journey, so I don't know what kind of tomato it is.

Sorry for the blurriness, but I was excited and only had my cell phone handy to snap this.

As for the stuff behind it, that would be groceries (in the purple Chico Bag and the white plastic (eek) grocery bag), a bucket I picked up at the grocery store (the only one they had - boo), and a Sterlite container that's serving as a mini greenhouse right now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Has Sprung!

Slowly but surely, the weather is helping my little veggies along. Here's a quick tour around the garden-in-progress.

Romaine lettuce and spinach in containers. (That blue stuff is tulle, to keep the birds and the squirrels away.)

The lettuce seeds in the hugelkultur beds finally sprouted. Hugelkultur is a german gardening technique, where you build a raised bed on top of rotting wood. Supposedly, the wood provides lots of nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, and also helps to aerate things, since it's not compacted down. So, I took some of the tops of the Rubbermaid containers from making self-watering containers, and decided to make mini hugelkultur raised beds with them. The celery in the corner had been growing in a pot, so I moved the seedlings to the corners of the hugelkultur beds, and spread lettuce seeds in the middle. We'll see how well things grow.

Here's the swiss chard, getting bigger. It's in a prefab self-watering window box. And now that the weather is warming up, it seems to be much happier. I still haven't figured out where it's permanent home is going to be, since my front yard is a big mess of stuff right now, which is why it is halfway on the driveway, and halfway on the weeds that I call my lawn.

Blueberries are flowering! These are some of my food stamp blueberry bushes, that my four year old has decorated with one of her Easter necklaces.

And the strawberries are flowering more and more...

I know that the rule is to direct-seed cucumber, but I'm a big fan of starting seedlings in little pots before moving them to their permanent home. I don't know why, but that's just how I like to do things. And it's early enough on that if these die, I can always direct seed some new ones. In the pink container are Japanese Long Cucumbers, and in the containers next to that are luffa seeds that I pre-sprouted using the paper towel in a plastic bag method. You can barely see it, but there is a clear Sterlite container in the lower left hand corner, and that is propped over this little grouping to provide a greenhouse effect in our unpredictable spring weather.

Last but not least, the orange bell pepper, much happier now that he's settled into his new home. To the left, under that juice bottle "cloche" is a jalapeno.

Do you see all that mess in the background? That's mostly tomato plants that need to find permanent homes.
I had some issue in my worm bin, and couldn't figure out why I was having such a massive die off. I still don't know what the problem was. These guys seem happy with these apples that stayed in our house for a little bit too long.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Get My Hands In Some Dirt" Syndrome

I know I'm not the only one who is excited by this just-warm-enough-to-get-my-hands-in-some-dirt weather!

I moved my sad orange bell pepper into his permanent home for the season, a self-watering container made out of icing buckets from the local grocery store. Doesn't he look sad?

Hopefully he'll perk up soon. The weather is probably still too unpredictable to have him outside permanently, but he's too much of a monster to fit in the makeshift poly tunnel anymore, and it's colder inside than it is outside most of the time, so outside he will stay.

I also got the first tomatoes out in their permanent homes, self-watering containers made from Home Depot buckets. (This was before I learned that I could get buckets for free. Live and learn.) They're stylish, aren't they? Bonny Best on the right, and an unknown on the left. The wind was blowing pretty hard today, they aren't leaning like that "just because". Guess I should get to work figuring out how I'm planning to stake all of these things this year!

Finally, happiness that Spring REALLY is here. The first strawberry blossom of the season!

These strawberry plants are in a self-watering container (of the Rubbermaid variety) that they were grown in last year. I let them overwinter, and they've come back like gangbusters. Hopefully by the end of this year, I'll give them a permanent home in the ground.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Use Your Food Stamps to GROW Your Food

As a single mom, with two kids in daycare and zero child support, I'm not afraid to confess that we receive food stamps. I paid into the system when I was working full time, I'm paying into the system now that I'm working part-time, and I'd be happy to work full-time again if I could find a decent job in this junky economy. I'm not at all ashamed to take the help where I can get it.

For whatever reason, the state thinks that my kids and I need to eat like rabid wolves, because we get a LOT more money in food stamps than we can use. But, they just keep piling up. I find bargain shopping to be a fun hobby (you know you're a domestic goddess when you think combining coupons with a buy one get one free sale is considered an exciting hobby), and very rarely buy anything unless it's on sale (except at the health food store, where nothing I want is ever on sale). So that adds to the food stamp surplus.

Somewhere along the line, someone from a parenting message board told me that food stamps can be used to purchase seeds for fruits and vegetables, as well as any fruit or vegetable plant. I pick on the state and their "services" a lot (I spend a lot more time than I'd like jumping through their hoops to be able to receive the help that we do get, the workers resent the fact that I can do basic math, and many of the workers I have encountered border on lazy and/or less-than-intelligent, and, overall, it's stressful and exhausting, but that's another post for another day.) But whoever decided that these items would be approved for purchase with food stamps is a Godsend.

Now, of course, they have to be used at a store that accepts food stamps, so home improvement stores and gardening stores/nurseries are out, at least in my area. That means grocery stores and mass retailers (Wal-mart and K-mart in my area), and that's it. Still, that's plenty.

So, while I do much prefer heirloom/open pollinated seed, it is expensive, and I'm slowly building my seed collection. But, I have yet to be able to save seed from spinach or lettuce, or any herbs, so all of those seeds were purchased at a retail store, since it's cheap. I've also bought four blueberry bushes, and will likely go back and get more, if I can remember to before they completely run out. And when I discovered luffa seeds at Target, technically luffa is a vegetable, and it qualified to be paid for with food stamps.

If you don't grow things like tomatoes and peppers and whatnot from seed, the seedlings/small plants are also covered by food stamps.

I keep toying with the idea of getting an apple tree, but I kind of like the fact that my entire front yard ISN'T shaded, so I can actually grow stuff there, and if I go and buy an apple tree, it's going to have to go in the front yard, and it's just going to make me angry.

Most cashiers I have encountered either don't know that food stamps can be used for seed/fruiting plant purposes at all, or they like to spout off misinformation. (The last time I was at Wal-mart, a cashier happily informed me that my blueberry bush was covered by food stamps, and food stamps cover all plants, but not seeds. Wrong. She didn't believe me when I said she was wrong, and I told her to ask her manager later, because she was definitely wrong. I felt bad, because she was actually giving out the information that SOMETHING could be purchased with food stamps, but it helps to give out completely accurate information.) I've had others tell me that ONLY seeds for food-related plants count.

So, if you are one of the bajillion Americans who receive food stamps/EBT benefits, and you are a gardener, or you know someone who does, take advantage of the gardening enabling (or pass the word along.) Instead of spending $2 on a bag of potato chips that are horribly bad for you and will only last a week, if that, spend $2 on a couple of packages of seed that will grow healthy things to last you much, much longer, and give you the priceless benefit of time in fresh air, communing with Mother Earth. (Oh man, that's my hippie side coming out. It sneaks up on you from time to time.)

Now if only food stamps covered dirt to grow the seeds in...then it would be a perfect program.