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January 30, 2012

Growing Small Grains in Florida

A little while ago I performed a germination test of barley and flax seed. The test was successful, so I decided to seed some barley and flax in the garden. Right now it is a perfect time to try these grains in the garden: the weather is not hot yet, and we have about three to four months of relatively nice weather, and that's all these grains need, ninety to hundred and twenty days to harvest. That brings me to late May, at the latest, to harvest these small grains.

I seeded about sixteen square feet each, flax and barley straight onto the soil:

I just broadcast the seeds like you would throw fertilizer, and then sprinkled with soil. I read that you need to seed about forty seeds per square foot each, flax and barley. I kept the ground moist at all times, watering twice a day. I also stretched a bit of deer netting over the seeded area to keep the birds out. The seeds came up about two days later than they did in a germination test, all in all, very nicely.

Here's flax:

And barley:

It is difficult to find any information on growing small grains in Florida, possibly because it is not done commercially. But on a backyard gardener scale, I think it is a feasible project. I did it to try to grow my own low-gluten grains, as well as possible chicken feed, and of course, flax is a wondrous Omega-3 rich product. Even in the event if this project fails, it would still provide plenty of compost material for the garden, so it is a win-win situation no matter how you slice it.

January 28, 2012

Last of sweet potato harvest

I have to admit, I slacked off. Sweet potatoes were supposed to be harvested in October, or at least before the frost. But I covered them well with mulch and they survived the one and only frost we had so far. Yesterday I decided it was time to prepare the bed for new plantings, so I dug all of them out. That was over fifteen pounds (I weighted them) of fresh organic sweet potatoes:

Now, that's not the whole harvest, I took quite a bit of potatoes out of the ground prior to that. What's amazing, this abundance came from mere six or so slips grown from store-bought sweet potatoes. The bad thing, if you look at it this way, once you have them, you will always have them - sweet potatoes, peanuts, and horseradish. Beware if you plant. I already have sweet potato leaves breaking from the ground where least expected.

I am going to start the new slips shortly to be planted in April or so and harvested again in October.

January 24, 2012

Growing tomatoes year round

Well, here it is, end of January in Florida, and I am having the best crop of tomatoes, ever.

It was my goal, and a dream, to learn how to have tomatoes all year long. Last winter I had a greenhouse, but it was not heated, so I lost all my tomatoes. It was devastating. But this winter I retrofitted the greenhouse with a heat lamp (red lamp, 250 watts) and a space heater with a fan, and my beautiful tomatoes survived the frost. I have been harvesting them, little by little, for about a month now, and have plenty of tomatoes ripening.

Judging by the number of green tomatoes on the vine, and the flowers, I should have a continuous harvest till at least April, which is when regular tomatoes should start fruiting. I am very happy with my experiment. Now, the next challenge is summer heat, which I plan on combating with shade cloth.

January 17, 2012

Seed germination rate - updated

Well, only three days passed, and seeds all have germinated. The test was very successful.

Here's the barley seeds:

And flax seeds:

Germination was nearly a hundred percent on flax and a complete hundred percent on barley. So now, I can use these numbers to determine how many seeds to plant. Flax needs to be seeded at 40 seeds per square foot, and barley about thirty seeds per square foot.

Barley can be used to make artisan bread, as well as beer, and chicken feed. Flax seed is high in omega-3, can be added to any food, especially salads, and chicken feed as well. Both are sustainable small grains. Their stalks provide nice bulk for the compost. I will try about a hundred square foot each this spring, as soon as I finish preparing the beds.

January 15, 2012

Seed germination test

I decided to plant some flax seed and some barley I got from the health food store. But I have no idea whether these seeds would germinate, and if so, at what rate. That's where the seed germination test is helpful. I had some flax seed and barley seed for quite a while:

To be scientific, we need to count the seeds in the multiples of ten. If we had ten seeds, and eight germinated, we would have germination ratio of eighty percent. This figure is important to figure out how many seeds to plant. I did not count the seeds, I just poured them in. I wanted to see if they germinated at all, since these were not the planting seeds, but food:

Put the seeds on the coffee filters, then fold the filters into the cones and place into the zip-lock bags, or similar, with some water added to moist the filter and the seeds.

Keep these bags on a counter where you could check their progress daily. I would expect both to germinate within a week, we shall see. And that's all to it. If the seeds do not germinate, let's say, after a month, I would deem these seeds not viable for planting. Otherwise, go ahead, prepare the garden bed and plant them.

January 6, 2012

What can we grow in January in Florida

Let me start with the assumption that Floridians love their peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. And with some care, these vegetables could be grown practically non-stop throughout the year. I usually plant a few of these in containers to keep growing throughout the winter, as well as keeping some peppers and tomatoes in my cheap green house, that served me well for two seasons now. Granted, it does not protect the plants from freezing on its own, but with the addition of a heat lamp and a space heater, it keeps my tomatoes, eggplant and peppers fruiting all winter.

Being an un-trusting individual, I still keep a few containers of these warm weather vegetables aside from the green house, and bring them inside on frost nights.

A combination of a green house and containers keeps my family in tomatoes and peppers all winter long. The yields are reduced, compared to spring or fall, restricted by the number of containers and green house space.

But let's go back to planting, or should I say planning. First two weeks of January are a must seeding time for peppers. They take about four months to start fruiting, so we need to seed them now. The problem is, the temperature inside the house is about 65 to 70 degrees in January, at least here, in Central Florida. Peppers need at a minimum of 75 to preferably 85 degrees soil temperature to germinate. The top of the refrigerator and water heater, a familiar advise,  do not produce enough heat to germinate peppers. You could purchase a seedling mat and be well served by that. I use a "free" solution, a crock pot. In my crock pot, on WARM, two minutes bring the temperature to 90 degrees. That's all we need - turn the crock pot on warm, for about two minutes, twice per day, then wrap it with a baby blankets or towels, to keep it warm.

Peppers should germinate within 7 to 10 days this way. Immediately after germinating, put them under the light - in the green house, on the window sill, under the grow lights - wherever you have the space to keep them reasonably warm and in full sun.

Last two weeks of January we should use the same process to germinate tomatoes and eggplant.

Outside of these, you can still seed greens, such as lettuce and herbs, as well as radish, all throughout the winter, until late March.

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