I keep hearing that fancy, mega-expensive containers are one of the current trends in gardening this year. To which I reply with a big fat WHATEVER. You can keep your fancy-schmancy urns and leave all of that quality junk for me.
I found this discarded orange crate while walking through one of Toronto’s “nicer” neighbourhoods. Crates are just tall enough to accomodate leafy greens or herbs with shallow root systems. I decided to fill this one up with a crop of mache. Mache is the de rigour green of the uppercrust and a good choice if growing lettuce feels like a waste of time and space. The succulent leaves make a delicious salad (especially good with figs and blue cheese) but fetches a hefty sum at your typical Whole Foods.
Little work is required to prep your crate for growing. The bottom of mine had large spaces between slats and required some kind of coverage to hold soil in. Alternatively, crates with solid bottoms will require drainage holes to let water out. I laid an average-sized plastic shopping bag inside the crate and cut a bunch of small holes with a pair of scissors to make drainage. The key here is making a vessel that will hold soil, but adding drainage back so your seedlings aren’t swimming during a heavy rainfall.
Next, I filled up the crate with good quality container soil. A cheap container plus cheap soil, equals too much cheap! When it comes to container soil you get what you pay for. Your best bet is usually with the mid-ranged priced soils. Avoid the Miracle Grow stuff if you can. Fill your container to the top and tamp it in with your hands. You want to remove the air pockets and make a respectably flat surface. Don’t go crazy with it — a level is not required.
Once you’ve got your soil in place, cut around the edges with the scissors to remove the excess plastic bag. Pour a handful of seed into your hand and spread it thinly, and evenly across the soil surface. Don’t worry if you have too many seeds as you can remove excess plants later. Add another 1/4″ of soil on top of the seeds and water everything in well.
Leafy greens prefer cool weather and shadier spots. Plants will bolt in hot weather which means that they quickly go to seed and become bitter. How much sun is too much depends on your conditions and the time of year. Mine are currently placed in a sunny spot on my rooftop deck because the daytime temperatures are in the light sweater to spring jacket plus long sleeve shirt range. I will move it to a shady spot when the heat picks up. Water your container everyday. Soon you will see little tiny plants emerging. Here are what mine looked like today 15 days after sowing. Mache can take as much as 20 days to emerge from below the soil so don’t give up if yours take their sweet time. Be patient!
Other suggestions for your crate:
- Rouge d’hiver lettuce
- Red orach
- Kale (grown as baby kale only)
- Thyme – lemon, lavender, orange, silver…
While they are probably meant for kids, these paper model projects featuring assorted plants, insects, and organisms are fun projects for any age. Models include your standard garden fare; lady bugs, and butterflies but take learning about the ecosystem of the garden to another level with nematodes, bacteria, and more.
Projects come with simple and advanced models, which means you can adapt them to your skill level. New designs are added regularly — if you’re creative (or nerdy) enough you can keep building and eventually create your own 3-D paper garden diorama.
I hate to be so Toronto-centric but there are a number of local and very good plant sales coming up that ya’ll should know about. They’re more bang for your buck, the experience is fun, and often times the haul is of better quality than your typical garden super centre.
FoodShare’s Plant Sale
When: Saturday, May 13th 10 am to 1 pm (plant sale); noon to 1 pm (Annual General Meeting) 1 to 2 pm (Lunch by the Field to Table Kitchen)
Where: FoodShare’s Field to Table Centre 200 Eastern Ave.
What: ORGANIC seedlings grown by FoodShare in their rooftop greenhouse.
Parkdale Horticultural Society Plant Sale
When: Saturday, May 13th 11 am to 3 pm
Where: Community Centre at the corner of Lansdowne and Seaforth
What: Annuals, herbs, perennials, bushes, etc starting at $1 and going up to about $10. You can also purchase tickets to their Garden Tour or praying mantis egg cases for your garden. They also have a second room of local vendors.
Swansea Horticultural Society Plant Sale
When:Saturday, May 13th 9 am to 1 pm
Where:Swansea Town Hall 95 Lavinia Avenue
What: No idea. I’ve never been to this one.
Note that all three events are happening on the same day. You may be able to hit them all with the right strategy in place. That said, I leave you with a few Plant Sale Tips young grasshopper:
- Arrive on time – In fact, arrive BEFORE the start time. A gym or church basement filled with plants can clean out within an hour. Tardy people are left with chives, catnip, and orange daylilies if they’re lucky.
- Do Not Hesitate – Hesitation is for losers. Choose now, decide later. You can always put something back, but you can’t get something that is gone.
- Get Crazy – Follow the example of hoards of screaming mothers during the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid mania. I’m kidding. I just wanted to make that Cabbage Patch Kids comparison. Did I mention how some of us didn’t get one and how all the popular kids brought theirs to school the first day after the holidays and sat them on their desks and swung them on the swings at recess, and how some of us were completely left out from that right-of-passage because they didn’t have mothers willing to go all the way and do what it took to acquire that stupid, ugly doll? Until their understanding aunts stepped up to the plate and ordered one sight-unseen but it was the ugliest kind with the most bizarro name and how the whole ordeal haunts them to this day? Think of the children.
- Bring a Cart – One flat is the most an average person can hold while still leaving one hand free to pick and choose plants. Get yourself a wagon or a cart and be hands free.
- Bring an Assistant – Girlfriends, boyfriends, and siblings are easily guilted into this role. They can hold extra plants, a water bottle, and a towel with which to dab your sweaty forehead. You think I’m kidding.
- Bring Enough Money – These events are cash only. Estimate the amount you will need and then double it. You don’t want to regret putting that $2 raspberry bush back.
- Make a List – And then burn it because frankly there is no way to know what they will have and that list will be thrown out the window five seconds into the sale. These sales are about adaptability. Rise to the challenge. People who stick to rigid plans and lists tend to come out empty-handed.
Feel free to add your favourite, local up and coming plant sale to the comments.
Guest post by Christina Radisauskas
I work at a university that has finally decided to develop a “sustainability initiative.” Because I am a librarian, I was asked to create a bibliography of resources to enhance our faculty’s understanding of the concept and how they might incorporate it into their departments’ curricula. While I worked on this project, it was difficult for me to keep from looking at all of the gardening-related sites that I kept finding. Of course, there are zillions, but one that I really liked, and have gone back to from time to time, is gardensimply.com. There is plenty to look at there, and it is written with the layperson in mind. The books section is lacking, unfortunately, but overall, I think it is a fun site with a lot of practical advice about things like building compost and worm bins, preparing a new garden, identifying your soil type, etc. My favorite page on this site has got to be the what-to-do-when-in-your-zone. Now, if only I could get myself to remind myself to look at it in time…
While I’m at it, here’s another few sites for wanna-be environmentalists. Ideal Bite is a down-to-earth site containing tips for “greener” living – from shampooing your rugs to using natural lubricants (shhh…) I get their Daily Tips in my email, and quite often I learn something new.
Eartheasy is another site that has tons of suggestions about where to buy natural clothing, how to conserve energy in the kitchen, how to give environmentally friendly gifts, etc. In case you are interested in digging a bit deeper, their suggested reading list is pretty good, too.
Taking the EcoFoot quiz to get an idea of how your lifestyle relates to the natural resources available is eye-opening. I’m embarrassed to say that according to my results, if everybody lived the way I do, we would need 4 earths to sustain us. Eek! I am a gluttonous pig!
Guest post by Maggie Wang
Calculate seed sowing and planting dates in seconds with this even handier version of the Handy Seed Starting Chart.
- Download the seed starting chart file. If you don’t have excel, you can download a free open-source office suite with a spreadsheet application at openoffice.org or Google Docs.
- Enter the “Frost Free Date” for your region in the yellow box at the top. See almanac.com
- Before you can say, “Presto chango” the spreadsheet will quickly calculate all sowing and planting dates and place them in the appropriate fields.
- Print your chart and hang near your seed starting set-up or tape it into your garden journal. It is that easy!
You can also download a do-your-own-math PDF Seed Starting Chart for the mathematically inclined.
Maggie Wang is a full-time video game developer and part-time illustrator fascinated by numbers, cats, computers, fitness, karaoke, growing stuff, and cooking healthy foods that don’t taste like sawdust.