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  1. Organic Gardening: #4 – How to Thin Seedlings

    May 1, 2013 by Jocelyn

    Despite doing my best to ignore the never ending winter we’ve been having, I still can’t help but feel that summer is really far away! I suppose that’s what happens when it’s May and there’s still snow in the forecast.  

    So while I continue ignoring our terrible weather, I bring to you Part 4 of my Organic Gardening Series: How to Thin Seedlings. Below you can see a photo of my little tomato seedlings, which are doing quite well. I have cabbage and onion seedlings that should technically be outside already, but I’m waiting another week or so for that.

    Thinning Seedlings

    Why You Should Thin Seedlings

    When you live in a cold climate where the growing season is short, it’s very likely that you’ll be starting seeds indoors up to 10 weeks before planting them outside. That’s a long time, and your little plants will need a lot of room to grow before being transplanted. If seedlings are not thinned down to 1 plant per potting cell, there won’t be enough room for all of the roots to grow and none of the plants will thrive.

    I Know It Hurts

    As much as it pains me to snip the little guys down, I’ve come to realize that it’s something that needs to be done. It’s so hard when seeing the first little sprouts come up give you such joy, and then you have to go through and take a bunch of them out. I’ve gotten better about thinning my seedlings over the years, and my plants have been stronger for it. My recommendation for those of you that have a hard time with this is to take your little seedlings and put them right into the compost bin. This way their sacrifice isn’t going to waste!

    When to Thin Them
    I generally start 3-4 seeds per pot, and thin down to the strongest one as soon as the leaves start touching each other. At this point, they’re usually between 2 and 3 inches tall.

    How to Thin Them

    The easiest and least invasive way to thin your seedlings is to use a pair of scissors and snip them off at the base. If you’re careful and your seedlings are still small, you may be able to gently pull them out of the soil without disturbing the roots of the other seedlings.

    Before:
    Thinning Seedlings

    After:
    Thin Seedlings

    Voila! Once thinned out, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the remaining seedlings seem to grow! Next time, I’ll be talking about transitioning your seedlings to the outdoors, and getting your garden planting started. Hopefully after our record-breaking snow amounts in April, May will quickly turn around and warm things up for us. Here’s hoping!

    Thanks for reading, folks!


  2. Organic Gardening: Part 3 – Starting Seeds

    April 11, 2013 by Jocelyn

    This is Part 3 of my Organic Gardening Series: Starting Seeds. The series of images below is a really fast and basic guide to seed starting if you’re already familiar with some of the details. For those that are very new to gardening, I’ve elaborated on each step in the process below. If you still have any questions, please comment here and I’ll get back to you!

    Seed Starting Steps

    Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

    You will need the following:

      Seed trays with plastic containers and clear lids
      A spray bottle full of water
      Seed starting soil (quality is important)
      Paper and pencil
      Grow lights

    Step 2: The Dirt

    Fill your containers with your soil, and spray it really well so the top layer is nice and damp. A good seed starting soil will be loose and fine, not dense. After they’ve sprouted, your seedlings will require a lot of nutrients to grow as quickly as they do. This is why I use Fox Farm soil; it’s fine enough for seeds to easily germinate in, but it also has the nutrients they need to grow big and strong! I also don’t have to worry about manually fertilizing the seedlings this way, which is much easier in my opinion! If you want more information about choosing a seed starting medium, check out my previous post: The Importance of Dirt.

    Since I only sprayed the top of my soil, I add some water to the bottom of the tray so the soil can wick moisture up to the seeds as well.

    Step 3: Planting the Seeds

    I’m a lazy seed planter, I’ll admit. I don’t read the seed packets for every variety to see what their planting depth should be. I just sprinkle some seeds on the dirt, very lightly tamp it down, and then sprinkle a little more dirt over the top of the seeds. A good rule of thumb is to have your seeds at a depth that is approximately 3 times that of the seed’s diameter.

    For really small seeds like Petunias or Snapdragons, I just sprinkle them on top of the soil, tamp it down lightly and call it good.

    Step 4: The Lighting

    Without at least 12-16 hours of bright light every day, your seedlings will get tall, stringy, and likely fall over after a few weeks. We want strong, sturdy little seedlings that will be healthy enough to withstand their eventual transition outdoors! For this reason, I recommend getting some good grow lights, and connecting them to a timer. If you’re on a budget, these are great bulbs. It’s best to keep the lights between 2-4 inches away from the tops of your seedlings.

    Lastly: Ongoing Care

    Once planted, water, light, and air are the three things your seedlings will need to thrive.

    Water

    If you watered your seed trays from the bottom as well as spraying the top, you probably won’t have to water much for the first week or two, since the seedlings won’t have any developed root systems yet. If the top of the soil looks dry, just give them a good misting.

    Once sprouted, your seedlings will need a fairly steady supply of water. It’s just as important to make sure that they aren’t too wet, either. If you’re unsure of how much water to give your seedlings, I would recommend watering less. If you water too much, you risk mold, which means you could lose all of your seedlings. If you don’t give them enough water, you’ll likely notice their leaves getting a little wilted, and they should respond well to a good drink of water.

    Light

    As we discussed above, your seedlings will want at least 12-16 hours of light each day. They will also want a period of darkness to rest. This is why having your lights on a timer works so well. If you don’t have an automatic timer, just make sure to turn the lights off at night.

    Air

    Air circulation is important for two reasons. First, it is a preventive measure against mold and mildews. Second, it will help strengthen your seedlings so they will better be able to withstand outdoor winds when being transitioned outside. I like to put a fan near my seedlings once they’ve sprouted; it should be on the lowest power. If it still seems as though it’s creating too much of a breeze for your seedlings, then I just move it a little further away.

    Finally, it’s important to note that a little attentiveness can go a long way when starting plants from seed. I check my seedlings every day, sometimes every two if I’m busy. It’s definitely more important to watch them closely when they’re just sprouting. Once they’ve grown a bit, then you don’t have to worry about them as much.

    Well, that’s it folks. Thanks for reading! I hope all of you are enjoying nice spring weather! In the meantime, I’m wishing I could stay snuggled up at home right now.
    Spring Weather?
    PS – Stay tuned for Part 4, when I’ll talk about pruning and hardening off your seedlings!


  3. Vacation Photos: Tulum, Mexico!

    April 8, 2013 by Jocelyn

    Well, the boyfriend and I just got back from our first real vacation in about 7 years.  We went to Mexico for a week, spending  time in the cities of Tulum, Akumal, and Cancun.  The warm weather and sunshine was much needed, and now we’re back in Minnesota and very ready for spring!

    While on vacation we toured around a bit, and I got to check an item off my bucket list!  On our third day, we traveled up the coast to Akumal beach. Once there, we rented snorkel equipment and began exploring the ocean.  Sure enough, just a few minutes out we saw a few sea turtles eating sea grass. This one was only a foot or two away from me; he was swimming to the surface for air.

    Sea Turtle

    If you ask my close friends, any of them could probably tell you that my favorite animal is the turtle. I was so excited to see these guys up close, and just floated above them for quite a while. It was really incredible, and I’m so thankful that I got to have the experience.

    Fern Leaves

    Two Hibiscus Flowers

    Obviously there was a huge variety of flora everywhere we went. Many of the plants that were growing wild in Mexico can only be grown indoors, and with a great amount of care, in Minnesota. It was refreshing to see so many flowers in bloom, and got me excited to start my garden at home.

    Early Waves

    Flowered Archway

    These last two photos were taken in Cancun, the night before we flew back to Minnesota. IF you’d like to see some of my other photos from the trip, just head on over to my Flickr page.

    Overall, we had a great trip! It was a much needed break from our cold and snowy Minnesota weather. Now that I’m back, I’m ready to dig in the dirt! I’ll be posting my Seed Starting guide in a couple days, so check back soon! Thanks for reading!


  4. Organic Gardening: Part 2 – Garden Planning

    March 18, 2013 by Jocelyn

    This is Part 2 of my Organic Gardening Series, Garden Planning.

    I’ve included a link to my garden plan, as well as a nifty seed starting timeline for folks in my hardiness zone!

    Today I’ll go over my earliest phases of garden planning, which I do before I even start my seeds. The level of planning that you do can vary, but after a few years of winging it, I’ve decided to try planning things out a bit more.

    I’ve got my seeds, and I’ll be ready to start some of them this week. As you can see, I have a good mix of flowers, fruits and veggies. Now that I’m going to be getting a CSA share, I’m planting fewer fruits and veggies, but more flowers.

    Heirloom Seeds

    It’s always difficult to get an exact estimate of how many seeds to start. Last year I went a little crazy with seed starting, and my seedlings did really well; there were a LOT of extra plants. I crammed more transplants into my garden than I had planned for, and even then, I still had leftovers. But after the flood, many of my community garden friends needed to replace some of their tomatoes and other vegetables, so I was able to give all of my extras away.

    Garden Planning 101: Things to consider:

    • How much food do you have space for? Not just in your garden, but in your home as well.
    • How many people are you trying to feed?
    • What will you eat or use the most (try to be realistic).


    Space
    First, you should calculate the square footage of your garden. I have 175 square feet of garden space. Then I like to get an idea of how much will fit into my garden. If you’re like me, and tend to plant things fairly close together, you could refer to a Square Foot Gardening resource. You can also choose to focus on a few important plants, and give them lots of room to grow.

    Next, take a quick survey of your pantry and/or freezer at home. If you have a lot of space, and aren’t afraid to jump into a canning, dehydrating, or freezing project, then by all means- plant as much as you can! If you’re like me, and have a limited amount of space and experience with canning, then you need to put a bit more thought into your plan.

    People
    Second, think about how many people you will be feeding with your garden. Also, what do they like to eat?  If only one person really likes beets, it’s probably not a good idea to plant a lot of them.

    Reality Check
    Lastly, be realistic. Think about the vegetables you want to plant, and how much of each you’re likely to use. I like to try out new and interesting vegetables, but if it’s your first time growing something it’s probably best to only plant a few. Remember that harvest time is usually pretty busy, and you will likely have a huge amount of veggies to put up all around the same time (this is especially true in Minnesota where we have such a short growing season). I grew Quinoa last year, and I was really excited about it at first. Then I didn’t have time for threshing and winnowing the grain.  Oops.

    My Plan
    I used the Mother Earth News Garden Planner to get an idea of how much I can fit into my garden. It’s a great piece of software, and anyone can sign up for a free 30 day trial. Here’s my plan, complete with a list of my vegetables and a handy timeline for when to start, transplant, and harvest each thing! Awesome, right?

    Keep in mind, this is NOT my final garden plan. I still have to take companion planting and crop rotation into account. I will probably do this in a few weeks, once it’s closer to the time I will be starting to plant cool weather crops in my garden.

    Most cold climate gardeners are gearing up to start their seeds, so I’ve attached a handy Seed Starting Timeline that I created for anyone living in between zones 3b to 4b. The dates were calculated using an average last frost date around May 31st.

    Free Printable Seed Starting Guide

    Free Printable Guide for Seed Starting

    We’ll get down to the nitty gritty of seed starting next time! I recommend reading some of my previous posts to get ready! You can order your seeds if you haven’t done so already, and find some quality seed starting soil. Both are very important to having healthy seedlings to put in your garden!

    Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


  5. DIY Friday: Make Vanilla Extract

    March 1, 2013 by Jocelyn

    If you want to learn how to make vanilla extract at home, but are intimidated by the process, it’s your lucky day! Let me be the first to tell you that not only is it very easy to make, but it’s much cheaper than store bought pure vanilla extract, and only requires a few ingredients. Overall, it ranks pretty highly on the awesomeness scale.
    Completed Homemade Vanilla Extract
    Making vanilla extract yourself is not only incredibly simple, but it also yields absolutely delicious results. Honestly, I can’t believe that I ever even considered purchasing disgusting imitation vanilla extract. I’m ashamed even thinking about it. It’s just that I thought that the “pure vanilla extract” was so expensive for such a tiny bottle. Well let me tell you, I’m never going to run out. Ever.

    Where to Get Vanilla Beans

    Most people don’t realize that vanilla beans are really easy to find (cheaply) online. They are likely very expensive at your local grocery store, so I recommend getting them from Amazon. I purchased mine from them, after a recommendation by one of my girlfriends. So without further ado, below are the links to the exact beans that I got, and they come in many different quantities. (They’ve got great reviews, and even better, they all qualify for free shipping!)

    You will need at least 3-4 beans per cup of vanilla extract that you intend to make.
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 16 beans – $11.49
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 1/4 lb. – Approx. 27 beans – $15.95
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 1 lb. – Approx. 108 beans – $44.95

    I should warn you that the smell of vanilla beans is to die for; it really is intoxicating. If you’re still not sure you want to make vanilla extract yourself, I say you should do it just to smell the delicious aroma of freshly cut vanilla beans. Aah. I’m glad that I have a few left over so that I can just open the bag and smell them occasionally.

    The Recipe: Make Vanilla Extract

    This will make 4 cups of extract.
    12-16 Vanilla beans
    4 cups of vodka- the higher the quality, the better
    A little patience

    Supplies
    Knife
    Measuring cup
    Clean and dry glass jars
    Supplies to make vanilla extract

    Vanilla beans

    When you’re ready, leave the ends of the beans in tact, and cut a slit through the center of each one. Then turn the bean one quarter rotation, and slice through it again. This will help the flavors to infuse really well. Once you’ve sliced all of your vanilla beans, put them into your clean glass jars and add 1 cup of vodka for every 3-4 beans. Voila! You now have vanilla extract. Once you’ve completed this process, the only thing left to do is be patient.

    Your vanilla must sit for 2 months before it’s ready. Gently shake them once every week or two. It will get darker as time goes on. Once it’s ready to be used, you can simply add more vodka to replenish your supply!

    If you’d like, you can even print out cute labels for your jars, like this one!

    These are especially great for when you give some of your vanilla extract as a gift, or share it with friends. I put them on my jars too, just because I think they’re so darn cute! Now, time to get baking!

    Thanks for reading!