One of the crazy results of a 2 year lockdown from the pandemic plus raising inflation is a huge increase in new gardeners in the last 3 years. Many many people are digging up their lawns, filling raised beds or simply planting into bags of compost, all in an effort to increase food security for themselves and their families and lower their food bills.

The result is that seed companies have been overwhelmed with orders, selling out popular varieties quickly. They have coped in various ways. Earlier release of seed catalogues, specific dates for new ordering, increased prices, higher shipping costs, limiting the number of packets of one variety anyone can order…

I’ve felt for these companies, used to going along in a routine yearly cycle, and then suddenly having orders increase dramatically right at the time when Covid lockdowns limited numbers of employees in warehouses, number of people available to work and all kinds of increase costs.

But the even uglier side of all of this increased interest? Terrible quality control.

For the record, I’ve been starting seeds for 20 years and have sold plant starts for the last 10. I have very strong systems in place to keep track of what is planted where.

Here are my examples:

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When I first started to grow produce for sale and not just for my own use, one of the hardest parts was figuring out how to preserve what I had grown so that it would last not only through a Saturday farmers market, but maybe to the next Wednesday market as well. (Side note: it’s a myth that farmers get up and harvest hundreds of pounds of produce the morning of a farmers market – they don’t. It takes too long to process produce to do it the morning of, and then also pack it and get it to market. Most things are harvested the day before).

During my research on how to handle produce for optimum holding, I ran across a phrase that was new to me: Field Heat. Field heat is the temperature the produce is at when its picked and how active the plants metabolism is at the time of harvest. REMOVING the field heat as soon as possible after picking is critical for making produce last longer. Turns out, this is also true for your own garden vegetables.

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This spring, as many new gardeners started plants from seed for the first time, I’ve noticed a trend in terms of failures. Someone on a group will post asking if they should replant, as its been 3 weeks and their seeds haven’t emerged, or their plants have been in a pot for over a month and still basically look like they did when they were a few days old.

If this happens to you, here are the components you need to review. Moisture. Temperature. Light. Soil.

Have you heard of Samin Nosrat’s wildly popular cookbook Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat? Those four words are a great checklist if you cook a meal and it tastes not quite right. You ask yourself, is there enough salt? Does it need a squirt of citrus or vinegar? Maybe a pat of butter? How about a few chili flakes?

Your version of this for seed starting is: Moisture, Temperature, Light, Soil.

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Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

When I was new to starting seeds, I ran across advice on the importance of sterilizing both your seed starting mix and the containers into which it went, in order to kill off any pathogens that might be in your mix. This, ostensibly, was to prevent the dreaded damping off. Damping off causes young seedling to rot right at the soil line. The plant simply falls over at the weak point in the stem and dies. Once the plant is infected, there is nothing you can do to save them.

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Finished mustard. Rustic and delicious.

I’m a fan of making your own mustard. It’s honestly one of the easiest condiments to make, it’s very safe, because mustard, on its own, is so naturally antimicrobial, and the variations are practically endless. I have more background on making your own mustard, along with a beer mustard recipe here.

I use Dijon mustard in various recipes that call for it, and as an emulsifier in salad dressings. Many years ago now, I went looking for a DIY Dijon mustard recipe. Traditional Dijon (named for its city of origin in France) is made with verjuice, the acidic juice from unripe grapes. (Verjuice has been on my list to make for a while now). This is NOT that recipe.

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Being involved in food system work, not to mention making toiletries and soaps for close to 20 years, I’ve been part in a lot of online forums and groups over the years, learning and also teaching as my own knowledge grew.

A LOT of people start to garden or make their own toiletry products because they don’t trust what is in the store. They don’t feel that what’s in the stores is “safe”. And once they grow their own carrot or make their own soap, they start looking around at other stuff in their life and ask, “How can I make THIS product myself too” or “What can I buy that’s safer than what I’m using now”.

This includes things like deodorant, shampoo, laundry soap, dish soap, toothpaste, hand soap and food of all kinds. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a “I’m looking for something with NO CHEMICALS” comment.

I think, based on years of seeing these posts, that what most people mean by “natural” is ingredients that are unaltered or minimally processed and could be found in nature in its existing form. Things like essential oils that are simply distilled by pressing or steam, or an egg from a chicken that was running around outside on grass.

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Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

If you were to draw a venn diagram of my interests and the more crunchy granola all natural crowd, there would be a lot of overlap. We both care deeply about taking care of our planet, each other, and ourselves, including what we put in and on our bodies. Targeted online advertising recognizes this, and shows me things that sometimes make my eyes roll. Because while all of the above is true, I’m also have a degree in biology and a deep belief in science and data.

So when I see claims like, “Beeswax candles clean the air,” well, it I get a little bit twitchy. Clean the air how? It makes it sound like the candle is somehow removing something found in the air, therefore leaving the air more pure.

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It’s been a minute since I’ve added to my deep dive into garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas, the nightshades, the alliums and the parsley family (the series is listed under “gardening” on the DIY Homesteading tab above).

It’s time to talk about one of my hands down favorite plant families, Fabaceae, also known collectively as the legumes, aka beans, peas and their kin. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I have a deep love affair with most dried beans. One that isn’t showing any signs of abating since my early childhood bowls of ham hock and beans and my love of refried beans at a Mexican restaurant (truly, its how I benchmark the restaurant – if you can’t get this simple staple right, everything else falls short).

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It’s not a looker, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying weeknight supper.

Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit environmental education organization. The first time I had this dish, the founder of the organization, who was vegetarian and a force of nature, brought it to a potluck. I’m not normally a tofu lover (and I’ve even gone so far as to make it from scratch from ground soy beans) but I loved it in this dish and asked her for the recipe. Here are her original directions:

  • Cooked rice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (flavored)
  • 1 package baked tofu (Italian or other flavored)
  • 1/2 pack feta cheese
  • Artichoke bottoms
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 package raw spinach
  • Garlic powder
  • Jack or other cheese, shredded

Mix all ingredients and place in a baking pan. Add water/bouillon if seems too dry. Bake at 350 until hot and crispy.

Ha. Not a lot to go on, but honestly, you don’t need much to go on. This recipe is infinitely variable and hard to mess up.

Here’s my more fleshed out version.

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Main broccoli head harvest mid June. These heads ranged from just over a pound to up to two pounds each.

I keep a seed inventory spreadsheet that goes back to 2003. On that 2003 list? Waltham 29 Broccoli. Broccoli and I go back a long time. It was one of the first vegetables I learned to love. I even ate it back in high school, when the list of vegetables I would eat was very short. I preferred it smothered in packaged cheese sauce back then. We mostly eat it in a stir fry now, but I’ve also made broccoli soup a time or two, and it often just shows up as a sauteed veggie side with whatever dinner we’re having. It’s a kitchen workhorse, and I freeze some of my crop every year.

Every year I start broccoli in my greenhouse, and ever year I have a few extra seedlings to sell. And every year most of them languish and don’t end up in a garden. I never understood this, until this year when I joined several online beginning gardening groups. I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have a hard time growing broccoli. They try it once, have a bad experience, and so never grow it again. So I thought I’d write up a few tips.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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