Growing Update

Yesterday, I started a flat of broccoli. On Sunday after everyone left for Chicago, I spent the day planting seeds and transplanting seedlings. Now we have tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, lots of other tomatoes, lots of peppers (hot and sweet), sage, lemon balm, cilantro, basil, pumpkins, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and parsley going.

The cactus bloomed just in time for B & E’s arrival. We spent the weekend circling around the flower, enjoying its opening and closing at dawn and dusk. The geranium is in full flower.



Thinning seedlings is very difficult for me because I feel like I’m snuffing tiny babies. Nonetheless, one has to do it. With herbs, it’s a little easier because I can toss the seedlings in a salad and feel like it was meant to be. This is the first real leaf on the cilantro; note the difference from the proto-leaves.

DSCN2120I had completely given up on the hot orange peppers I got from the Breslins. Three weeks after the yellow ones sprouted, they finally popped up! I was on the verge of planting something else in the cells. Only eight out of eighteen have come up.


We’ve been having snow, rain, and generally cold, overcast days and my seedlings are suffering. Today I found mold! I’m going to start a fire to try to dry out and warm up the air.



Rain Collection

Spring rain will be coming soon, and we need to collect water or else deal with erosion. Holly Young told me about IBCs (intermediate bulk containers), which she uses on her homestead for collecting water. They’re available through Craigslist for about $75, and they hold five times the water of a 55-gallon drum. Ugly, no doubt, but with enough flowers and tall grasses planted around them, they wouldn’t be so bad. Here’s a plan for putting it all together.


If the committee nixes the IBC, there are other options. Wikihow offers a clear plan which uses 55-gal drums, available in plastic or metal at Rural King for under $20.

Setting Up the Bee Yard

I’ve sited the bee yard, now that we have laid out the orchard. The next step is building a hive stand for the two hives.

This plan for two Langstroth hives looks simple and effective.

We are planning to plant a lime tree, but we need to be careful which one we choose because they can be toxic to bees, and they are susceptible to Japanese beetles, which we have in abundance. Tilia cordata and platyphyllos are both fine for bees. One study finds that June Bride is a good cultivar of tilia cordata. This study suggests tilia platyphyllos ‘Parade’ is a good choice. Sterling and Legend look fine, as well. Where to buy such trees remains a mystery.

Spring Sprouts

When the peppers started sprouting six days ago, I found myself suddenly needing plant labels for the seeds. I scoured the house and found two empty tofu containers in the recycle box. Perfect for labels!

Plant Tags

The Breslin Yellow Hot Pepper is still the precocious leader of our spring sprouts. They’re on the right, leaning toward the sun. I rotated the box to give them some exercise. The basil is a close second with  most of the seeds sprouted after just eight days. I shouldn’t have planted them so close together, but I was thinking only a few of the seeds would sprout. It’s still hard for me to believe that seeds will actually GROW. Next time I’ll make sure there’s more room between each seed, but for now I’ll just snip out the smaller seedlings and leave the biggest one in each receptacle. The parsley isn’t doing anything yet, and neither are the other herbs. So far, I’ve planted parsley, sage, cilantro, lemon balm, catnip, lots of peppers, lots of tomatoes, and since I couldn’t keep my hands out of the dirt, some flowers: purple coneflower and Black-eyed Susan.


We’re seeing other signs of spring throughout the house. When I visited our daughter, Zazil, in Tucson two years ago, I brought home this little cactus for Elliot. It hasn’t done much until now, but it seems to be flowering and, perhaps, making a new branch.

Cactus Bud

This geranium has been my constant companion for two years, ever since I moved from Chicago to be closer to the farm. It loves the southern sun and has sprung into action. We’ll have flowers in days.

Geranium Bud

Planting an Orchard

We’re trying to learn as we go without falling into our perennial problem of all research, no action, but as the Mexican proverb states, “El flojo y el mezquino dos veces andan el mismo camino,” which means the lazy person and the perfectionist both have to do things twice. We don’t want to have to plant our orchard twice.

Permaculturists recommend planting bare root trees with good care but no babying. In other words, don’t give them a wonderfully fertilized little hole that they have to leave as they grow. Good advice for parents, too!

Colorado Master Gardener program gives the most up-to-date science on planting bare root trees. The website includes clear pictures and information.

On the other hand, this info from my mom: “Our county agent and the NMSU orchardist caution that the hole for planting a tree should be straight sided, straight down. For awhile there it was all the rage to dig a bowl-shaped hole.  It has been discovered that the roots follow the bowl upward and grow out of the ground rather than outward and downward.  Ultimately, death on trees.” Stark recommends a 2′ X 2′ X 2′ hole for bare roots. To keep our warrantee on our trees, we’ll probably have to follow the planting instructions included. Since we ordered from Raintree and Stark, we may get two different sets of instructions.

Phil Williams offers excellent advice, with no compost or fertilizer.

Burlington Permaculture gives information about watering and pruning.

One writer (Walden Effect), quoting The Holistic Orchard, says to remove vegetation for four to six feet in diameter for each tree and mulching with wood chips. This wood keep any remaining grass down and understory plants could be placed in the mulch.

This article offers extensive information about cover crops.

The Philadelphia Orchard Project looks fascinating and has great resources for companion planting.

Deep Green Permaculture gives detailed instructions for pruning fruit trees from bare root onwards.

Starting Seeds and Planting Seedlings!!

After a little searching, I found a fabulous resource from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’s a planting calendar based on one’s zip code and lunar phases. I punched in our zip code and got this calendar.

Best Planting Dates for Seeds

Our safe(ish) last frost date is May 5, according to the Illinois Extension. Freezing can occur into mid-May, but Cinco de Mayo is easy to remember and fairly safe. They also recommend getting broccoli started early because it likes colder weather and can withstand a little frost. I’ll start some today.

So, I walk by the stove and can’t help but inspect the pepper seeds. One bag looked a little funny, like maybe mold was growing on the seeds. It’s only been 48 hours since I started them, so I didn’t expect any action on the seeds. I opened it up, and look what I found! The Breslin Yellow Hot Peppers are the champion germinators.


I planted them and popped some basil seed into the other 18 cells. Now they’re next to the stove for incubation, since we don’t have any sun today.


Starting Seeds

We’re almost ready to start our seedlings. We don’t want them to get too leggy, but we also want to get a jump on the season. Peaceful Valley has a good video about starting seedlings indoors. Peaceful Valley conducted a tomato taste test in 2014, and they provide a narrative description of how they grew the plants from seed to harvest. The last frost in Grass Valley, CA is only a week or so after ours, so the timing of their planting is similar to us here in northern Illinois.

After reading about starting seeds, I learned that peppers do best if allowed to sit between moistened paper towels in a warm place. Even with our southern sun, we have few places that stay “warm” (70 degrees) in our house. I rigged an incubation surface next to the wood stove, which should be warm most of the time.

Pep Germ

The following picture of our osage tree was taken at about 5:15 pm. The days are getting longer, which means more sunlight for our seedlings.