Onions are here!

We’re a week or two before I normally plant onions here in the Tri Cities, and once again I have onion plants for sale from Dixondale Farms.  These healthy starts have worked very well for me in previous years, which is why I offer them to you.

As last year, they are $2 for a bunch of 30, or $3 for a bunch of 60.  I have lots of the Walla Walla sweets, of course, but I also have a few others that have been recommended to me.

Walla Walla sweet onions in July

Ailsa Craig

Said to be one of the largest growing varieties available, this is an open pollinated sweet onion.

Copra

Hybrid yellow storage onion.  Not as sweet as a sweet onion, but sweeter than most storage onions.

Red Zeppelin

Hybrid, full flavored red storage onion. These were early and very good quality in my garden last year.

Redwing

Sharp red storage onion, highly recommended, but new to me.

Walla Walla

Large, open pollinated sweet onion.  This one needs no introduction.

Email at onions@midcolumbiagardens.com to request delivery in Richland (Friday afternoon or Saturday evening this week) or to arrange to pick them up in South Richland.  Or, you may call (509) 713-2010 and leave a message.

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Seeds

The first wave of 850 seeds for the new year were sown yesterday.  Many exciting things coming.  Here’s how things are shaping up:

  • Dwarf Varieties AvailableI’m planting the indeterminate dwarf tomatoes early this year in order to sell them at a more mature size.  I was very impressed by these little plants last year, which do well in pots, standard tomato cages, or square foot gardens.  Unlike determinate tomato plants which remain small and deliver all of their crop at once, these continue to produce tomatoes all season, while remaining small and manageable.  I have all of the varieties released by the Cross Hemisphere Dwarf Project that I could get my hands on, plus a few heirlooms like New Big Dwarf, Dwarf Champion Improved, and the diminutive, determinate cherry Tiny Tim, which has been a regular customer favorite.
  • I’m also planting the peppers earlier and growing them hotter to give them more size than the puny things I grew last year.  I’m changing the tagging, using red tags for hot peppers and green tags for sweet.  Hopefully that will clear up some of the confusion.  I have
    • red, orange, and yellow bells
    • a sweet cherry pepper
    • Giant Aconcagua, which is one of my children’s favorites
    • Jimmy Nardello, a very sweet frying pepper
    • Jalapeño M, a very mild, though not heatless jalapeño.
    • Aji Dulce, a very mild habanero that ripens red
    • Habanero, the classic orange flamethrower
    • Bhut Jolokia, the Ghost Chile, currently the Guiness record holder for heat.
    • a beautiful, variegated Fish pepper plant, often planted as an ornamental, though edible (and hot).

Red Zeppelin onion culls, excellent in salads early in the season.

  • I’ve committed to providing the following onions, starting March 3rd until sold out.  As last year, $2/30 and $3/60.  The bundles were very generously packed last year, with up to 80 plants in a 60 plant bundle.
    • Walla Walla Sweet, of course
    • Ailsa Craig, a very large sweet heirloom
    • Copra, which was quite popular last year
    • Red Zeppelin, a big sweet red
    • Redwing, totally new to me
  • There are 120 varieties of tomato on the grow list this year, which I’ll publish as soon as it’s finalized.  With a new hoophouse to provide better spring weather protection, and several process improvements, we’re on track to have over 3000 plants for sale at the end of April, with a final production wave showing up mid-May.  Larger, stronger, healthier plants than last year is the goal.  And everything tagged and separated ahead of time, thanks to a change in the transplant process.  Still no chemicals, no pesticides, no substances that are not organic.
  • More exciting announcements to come!  Stay tuned, and let me know if you have any feedback from last year, or there’s anything you’re looking for.  I’m paul@midcolumbiagardens.com.
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Preparing for 2012

December is the month of seed preparation and orders.  I’ve reviewed the information I collected in 2011 on which varieties did well and what kind of feedback I got from people who grew them out.  Despite the bad weather and poor condition of some of my inventory, there were some good success stories:

Kosovo was the most productive variety in the gardens of many people that I spoke to.  It had beautiful, large, flavorful tomatoes and really made a place for itself in my standard lineup.  I was very impressed by this large heart shaped pink.

Opalka continues to impress.  I also grew several other paste tomatoes, including Heidi and Sarnowski Polish Plum, but Opalka was the one I heard about from new customers.  All three of these will be in the standard varieties again for 2012.

Sungold is always a winner for cherry tomatoes.  Nothing beats this unique, fruity, sweet sensation.  Everyone ought to try this one.  It will convert even non-tomato lovers.

Dwarf Tomatoes from the Cross-Hemisphere Dwarf breeding project proved to be very robust.  Tasmanian Chocolate, Rosella Purple, and Dwarf Beryl Beauty were strong growers that produced large sized tomatoes in containers, with a little support.  I’ve pulled in seed from all of the new dwarf releases from the project for 2012 and hope to do some comparison.

Peppers, especially the sweet ones, were very popular with customers, despite the small size of the plants I had available.  For 2012 I will have more varieties of sweets, but more importantly I will be starting them earlier, with more heat, to hopefully get better size on them.  Although I’ve been growing large numbers of tomato plants for over ten years, I had never grown so many pepper plants, and 2011 was a terrible year to start with its record cold spring.  I’ll also be back with more Bhut Jolokia Ghost Chiles, for the most adventurous heat loving fools (like me).

Onions, which I brought in on a whim, flew out the door so fast they were mostly spoken for on the day I announced them!  I can get them in again, at $3-4/bunch of 50, but I need to get a quantity order in soon.  Most of the varieties performed great for me, but I’d like to hear more from those who bought them.  I’m also going to take another run at seeding onions, on the advice of a couple local growers I spoke to.

Was there anything that did particularly well for you, or that you’d like to see me offer this year?  Let me know, here in the comments, or at feedback@midcolumbiagardens.com.  I’m looking forward to a great garden in 2012!

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Winter heating

Last night was the coldest we’ve had this year, and it tripped my greenhouse temperature alarm. I run about 5000 BTU/h of electric heat in the geodesic greenhouse during the winter. Together with about 2000 BTU/h added to the water tanks, that suffices for most nights and all but the coldest days in our climate. This year I had to strip away the inner plastic lining because it was deteriorating, which has left me with less insulation that normal, so I expect to be using supplemental heating more. Not the most economical way to run it, I’m afraid, but sometimes I don’t have a choice.

I haven’t set up the water heating yet this year, and that is hurting things as well. So last night I fired up the supplemental propane heater. It’s capable of 18,000 BTU/h in three segments, and each segment adds about ~10F differential to the temperature inside the greenhouse versus outside, normally. With less insulation this year I expect it to be less effective, but still hoping it can pull me through our coldest nights. I checked all of the fuel line connections and the venting and fired up each segment for a good, long burn to make sure they burned safely and completely after its long time shutdown since last winter.

Unlike the electric, which is all thermostatically controlled, the supplemental heating is all manual. And that suits me fine. I’m a pessimist when it comes to automated systems. I expect water pumps to clog and cut out, fans to die, and auto shutoff mechanisms to fail. And I don’t trust the propane completely in a location with no one present to monitor it, so I feel better when I have complete control over it. I’d rather forget to handle something and have the greenhouse freeze over, than have it burn down because I wasn’t forced to go out there every time it turned on, off, or fired up another burner.

After the test I walked around inside a bit. The Angel’s Trumpets are still blooming like crazy. Fuschias and some runaway nasturtiums add dashes of bright color here and there. I’ve overwintered the habanero family peppers (heatless, full heat, and ghost chiles) to see how they do through the winter and how they perform in their second year. Everywhere the greenhouse is crammed full of plants, arranged for maximum light exposure while still allowing air circulation and access for watering. It’s a bit of a mess, really, arranged for plants rather than people. And I love it.

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Update – New stuff

Up to date as of 4 June 2011.  Sold outs marked in line, additions immediately below, tomato list at right updated with current inventory.

  • Purple Tomatillo $1
  • Red Rubin Basil $2/4 pack
  • Icebox watermelon $1
  • Cantaloupe $1
  • Petunia Dolcissima Amaretto $1
  • Red Nasturtiums, $2/4 pack
  • Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet) assorted sizes $5-$40
  • elephant ears in gallon pots, assorted, $5

 

I have the following varieties of peppers, $1 each: 

  • Chocolate bell pepper (sweet) Sold Out!
  • Red Cherry (sweet)
  • Giant Aconcagua (huge peppers, sweet)
  • Fooled You (heatless jalepeno) Sold Out!
  • Trinidad Perfume (mild habanero)
  • Habanero (very hot)
  • Bhut Jolokia, Ghost Chile (hottest known pepper)
 

All of the following are in one gallon pots, $5 each:

Alstroemeria - Pink

Alstroemeria - Purple

Third year from seed, the Alstroemeria are blooming now, and will have additional blooms through the year. They are a tender perennial which will require mulching in a protected spot if you wish to overwinter them in the ground.  Most of these are either pink or purple.  They like sun, but prefer cool roots, so do well with an eastern exposure.  Some people grow them in pots and bring them indoors during winter.

Red Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’) is an ornamental banana often grown as an annual.  It grows very fast and large, becoming a dramatic, tropical specimen in the landscape.  These were started last year and have a strong root system.  They love water and respond well to compost and fertilizer, but are tolerant of a wide range of conditions.  They also have more limited root systems than other bananas and can be more easily grown in large pots. 

Sold Out!

Variegated iris (I. pallida variegata) has striking white-lined leaves and beautiful blue flowers.  The other portion of the leaf changes through the year from soft blue to green.  These divisions are well rooted and many of them are about to bloom.  This variety of iris is very forgiving and can be transplanted any time of year.  I have grown it in both sandy and boggy soil, making it much more versatile than bearded varieties.  It rarely gets taller than 12″ or so.  Very hardy.

 

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The price of growing your own food

For the last several years I have offered tomato plants for $1 each, which is easy to track and covers most of my expenses and overhead.  This year I considered whether to raise the price a bit to give me more slack in the budget, but I think I’m going to leave it at $1.

Understand that I have to pay tax out of this as well, so it’s really the best deal you’ll ever see on tomato plants.  I started this business to fill a need for heirloom plants, under-appreciated varieties, and local knowledge of growing requirements.  Price falls under the hope of making them as accessible as possible to people.  I want people to feel free to try new things and experiment.  I don’t want anything to get in the way of people being able to grow their own food.

I have great plans for this enterprise, dreams of an organization for providing plants and assistance, rather than making money.  I’m exploring organizational options, continued expansion, improved processes, and diversified products.  With your support, there’s a lot more to come.

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Tomatoes available April 16th

It is still to early to put out unprotected tomatoes in our area–we had a good freeze just this morning.  But for those brave souls who are willing and able to protect their plants from freeze for a couple of weeks, I will have the following varieties of tomato available, as of Saturday, April 16th:

  • Aunt Ginny’s Purple
  • Beauty King
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Green Doctors
  • Green Giant
  • Harbinger
  • Kosovo
  • Lucky Cross
  • Opalka
  • Persimmon
  • Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye
  • Sioux
  • Sungold (Hybrid)
  • White Queen

I will post updates as more varieties become available, with the majority being ready at the beginning of May.  Several special order varieties will become available in mid May.

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Onion starts now available

It is onion planting time in the Tri Cities and I have onion plants for sale from Dixondale Farms.  They produce great starts, but all of this wet weather is making it challenging for me to keep them in good shape, so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep them in stock.

They are $2 for a bunch of 30, or $3 for a bunch of 60.  I have lots of the Walla Walla sweets, of course, but I also have a few others that have been recommended to me.

Walla Walla sweet onions in July

Ailsa Craig   Sold Out!

Said to be one of the largest growing varieties available, this is an open pollinated sweet onion.

Copra Sold Out!

Hybrid yellow storage onion.  Not as sweet as a sweet onion, but sweeter than most storage onions.

Mars Sold Out!

Mild flavored hybrid red onion.  This is a classic, but may be discontinued next year (one of the strongest arguments against depending on hybrid varieties of any plant–the company can discontinue seed at any time).

Red Zeppelin   Sold Out!

Hybrid, full flavored red storage onion.

Walla Walla

Large, open pollinated sweet onion.  This one needs no introduction.

Email at onions@midcolumbiagardens.com to request delivery in Richland (through Saturday, April 2nd, only) or to arrange to pick them up in South Richland.  Or, you may call (509) 713-2010 and leave a message.

 

 

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Spring Garden Day

Today I attended the WSU Benton County Extension Spring Garden Day.  There was a good turn out and I think everyone there came away with new knowledge and a greater appreciation for gardening.

I gave a presentation on tomatoes, which I think went well, though I regret not having been able to get to everyone’s questions.  I covered maybe half the material I had prepared, but given the time we spent in questions I hope it was the half everyone was looking for.  If you have questions about the presentation, or are just looking for more information on growing tomatoes in our area, please feel free to comment below, or write me at tomatoes@midcolumbiagardens.com.  (That would also be the address for tomato plant preorders and questions.)

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the the County Extension for having me as their guest.

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2011 Season

I’m now finalizing plans for the 2011 grow out. In addition the varieties available for special order until March 15th, here is the preliminary list of tomatoes that will be available for sale, starting April 15th:

  • Beauty King
  • Black Cherry
  • Bloody Butcher
  • Chadwick Cherry
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Gardener’s Peach
  • Green Giant
  • Ildi
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast
  • Marianna’s Peace
  • Opalka
  • Persimmon
  • Sioux
  • Sungold
  • Tiny Tim
  • White Queen

This list is not complete.  I’m still working on the list of peppers, flowers, and other plants that will be ready at that time.

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