Break out the lights, mix that potting soil and get those pepper seeds in the ground. It’s time to start gardening, becoming nearly a year-round career for The Root Sellers farm. Here are a couple of get growing videos from my YouTube channel -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8tySO5oBoU&t=13s and my website videos at https://www.therootsellers.com/videos.html.
It’s not easy being green. Kermit the Frog has been fighting for green for many years now. It’s hard to imagine green on President’s Day as we are experiencing snow and cold, and I love it.
Yep, if you are a gardener, you appreciate all moisture the area receives leading up to the big day – planting outdoors.
However, if you have gardening friends, you will know by now they are chomping at the bit to get those seeds in some soil. And this is the week.
How do I know? I keep a garden diary. It isn’t a complete record of what I do in the garden because work begins in earnest once we move to the outdoors. In the meantime, on Monday, I dashed out to the greenhouse to load up some small trays, plugged in my heat mat and dug out all the lights from storage in the basement.
It’s essential to know a few things about getting those seedlings off to a good start. First, you need sterile soil, trays, water and seeds – and a notebook. I use a Rite in Rain mechanical pencil and notebook. When I was in biology in high school, Mr. Dinkins told us to keep our notebooks in pencil because if we ever dropped a book in the water or wet grass, it won’t run like a ballpoint pen. So, I have been doing that for years.
Always record dates, temp, weather and whether you liked the fruit from those seeds in the prior harvest year. It helps to create a drawing of your garden and note where you planted crops for rotation purposes. We can talk about that later. Last year, we planted some heirloom tomatoes that ended up being the tiniest tomatoes ever. My spouse and I agreed they were a waste of our time, and we did not harvest more than a handful. Too bad we may not have pulled out the plants in time to prevent them from germinating in the high tunnel this season. Opps.
Next, you need STERILE potting soil. If you do not choose the correct soil, your plants will experience damping-off and other diseases. I mix my own. Use sterile soil – but do not use anything that has those water retention beads and fertilizer in – this is very important. Sometimes that soil is the least expensive brand. Seeds are God’s perfect packages. They have everything they need to get going in this world, including the will to live. Mix a bucket in these parts – one-half soil, one-quarter vermiculite and one-quarter peat moss. This recipe is ideal for starting all your plants and potted flowers later in the summer.
Fill your little pots. If you aren’t seeding 100 peppers, you can use a milk jug, pop bottle, whatever WATER-proof container you have, remembering that overwatering is a sin. It’s something that new gardeners often do. WARM up the containers and the soil in the sunshine on a windowsill and then plant those seeds. Cover your container with plastic wrap creating a mini greenhouse to keep them moist until they pop out of the ground. Then you wait. It takes a long time for peppers to germinate, so keep an eye on the moisture in the container. You don’t want it to be sopping wet, and you don’t want it to dry out completely. If possible, it’s important to have drainage holes in the bottom of the container. But you want to put a tray underneath that to catch the drips. Here’s a slight hint – if you take a coffee filter and put it over the holes in the bottom of a planter or container, the water will filter out, and the soil will stay in the pot.
Tiny seedlings are tender so keep these final thoughts in mind.
1. Don’t overwater.
2. Use a spray bottle to avoid washing those new plants out of the soil.
3. Do not fertilize until much later.
4. When transplanting to a larger pot, do not handle the stem, move them using the leaves and don’t transplant until plants have at least four leaves.
5. Keep those containers in a warm space, but do not put them in your oven and forget to remove them before using the oven. Yes, the oven light provides ample heat for germination.
6. LIGHT THEM UP. A common mistake is not having enough light for those young seedlings to get a good start in the world. Use one cool and one warm fluorescent light instead of investing in an expensive grow light. You can get those fixtures for $20 or less at Menards.
7. Have fun. Gardeners are supposed to be the healthiest people on the planet. And, the rewards are good local food from your backyard.
PS: if you haven’t ordered seed yet, you can check out my favorite LOCAL seed house at www.prairieroadorganic.co. The Podall family breeds seed that thrives in our zone leading to a great first-time experience in the garden. There is online ordering and fast shipping, so you still have plenty of time. So get growing.
ND ROOTS January 31, 2022
You have heard it before. “It’s not if it happens, it’ when.” That’s right, I got a virus, and I am still downloading the effects of stuffy sinuses. We all know the most significant part of having a mid-winter cold is how good it feels to feel good again. And, taste. Oh, how good food smells and tastes after a week of being ill.
Naturally, after having some chicken tomato rice soup on Sunday, I had this incredible urge to make cookies. After all, I had been sleeping for nearly as long as Rip Van Winkle, mainly on the couch. With the nice weekend weather, I took a walk Sunday afternoon during halftime of the first football playoff game. Both games preceding the Super Bowl were exciting if you like that sort of thing.
Sometime at the start of game two, I headed for the kitchen, forced some butter to room temperature and dug out my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. Unlike the Toll-House recipe, this cookie was crisper and had pretty cracks running through it if adequately baked. It was never my favorite as a child, but we had little choice.
My children weren’t very fond of them either. They called them kitchen sink cookies because I usually added whatever we had in the house by way of chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, coconut and oatmeal. This recipe is a proper “dunker” cookie.
It had been a while since I baked for our household. My usual fare is bread for the farmers market and, recently, breakfast pastries for a church retreat. I’m grateful I have a way to spread my oven-lovin’ around the community, so we don’t have to eat all the baked goods I make in a month.
Oh, these cookies were fabulous. I hit the nail on the head with the correct amount of flour, the perfect scoop of dough on the cookie sheet and the proper amount of time in the oven. Instead of raisins, I used craisins but no coconut. I loaded that dough with dark chocolate chocolate chips and plenty of chopped walnuts (even if I had to take a loan from my local bank to purchase them). I hope my mom was watching from heaven with a smile on her face.
Rather than wait, we had to try one hot out of the oven. The chocolate was still soft and gooey. It was okay. The second cookie was cooler and absolutely divine. I know it’s difficult to wait until bread and cookies cool off before indulging, but I have found over the years the flavors develop if you allow them to cool first. That, and you won’t burn your fingers grabbing them off the cookie sheet. Just an FYI, bread needs to cool thoroughly to bake entirely and is so much easier to slice if you give it a few hours on the rack. If you cut it right away, you are sacrificing the rest of the loaf for that one heel, dripping with butter. Yep, I do it all the time, mostly because I can.
I know the next question you ask is, “can I have the recipe?” Yes. I think my mother would be greatly disappointed if I didn’t share, so here it is. ENJOY.
Here is a heart-shaped Valentine's Day box my mother had hidden in her dresser drawer for as long as I remember. When we cleaned out her house, I put this precious box, most likely from the early 1950s, filled with letters from Korea written by my dad in my dresser draw. I decided not to read the notes until my father was reunited with my mom. (He is 95 and living in Ave Marie in Jamestown.)
A bit of Valentine's Day history
If you are looking for an excuse to eat chocolate, Monday, Feb. 14, is your day. Who needs a reason, right? After all, the latest scientific information says dark chocolate is good for you. It is my favorite of all chocolates.
Valentine's Day, however, is one of those days I could take or leave. After many years, it loses some of its significance. My interest has renewed a bit since I have grandchildren, and I am delighted to spend my Valentine's Day budget on them.
According to legend, St. Valentine was more than one person, and the stories around the two "Valentines" fluctuated between a priest that defied Emperor Claudius II's ban on marriage or a Christian martyr that signed his letters from prison "from your Valentine."
Of course, like many of our holidays, Valentine's Day has its roots in an ancient Pagan festival called "Lupercalia," celebrated on Feb. 15 in ancient Rome. This festival was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and, believe it or not, celebrated by sacrificing animals and smacking women with animal hides; this was done to encourage fertility. YIKES.
Our Valentine's Day did not grow roots until the end of the 5th Century, when Pope Gelasius officially made Feb. 14 Valentine's Day. In the Middle Ages, people began to associate love and romance to that day because the French and English thought birds began mating on that day. It's not yet Feb. 14, but I did hear some new bird songs this past weekend.
Not being a bird, how does Cupid fit in? Well, he is the god of love, Eros. Let's hope he didn't look like the little boy in a diaper with a bow and arrow.
The first Valentine exchanged between lovers, according to History.com, came from a duke named Charles to his wife. He wrote, "I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine." You guessed it; he wrote this from prison at 21, so all he had was his imagination.
From there, people began purchasing mass-produced valentines in the middle 1840s. This custom started with Esther A. Howland, the mother of the American valentine. Like my sister-in-law, she made fancy crafty cards with lace, ribbons and floral relief elements.
As far as giving flowers, there are traditional roses, red ones at that. Roses are not in season this time of year, making them expensive to give to your loved one. Sometimes, when we are young, we are worth it. Otherwise, I would rather have a plant or seeds that last longer.
That brings us to today. I was blown away by the amount of cash spent on love for this one day of the year. According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent more than $20 billion on Valentine's Day gifts in 2019 and were estimated to spend a record-breaking $27.4 billion for 2020 — including $2.4 billion on candy alone. That's what I'm talking about. Men spend around $291 compared to women spending $106. With the price of today's elaborate Valentine's Day cards, exchanged to the tune of 145 million cards (not counting the ones' put into those imaginative valentine boxes in school rooms), Hallmark has come a long way from its first Valentine's Day card sold in 1913.
I would never give my pet a card or gift on Valentine's Day, however in 2020, around 27.6 million American households gave Valentine's Day presents to their pet dogs, and more than 17.1 million picked up gifts for their cats. All in all, American families spent an estimated $751.3 million on gifts for their pets on Valentine's Day.
Okay, now about that heart-shaped box. If you are familiar with the Cadbury Easter egg, Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates in 1861. Boxes are still a popular gift. An estimated 36 million boxes of chocolate, and 58 million pounds of chocolate, are sold in fancy boxes each year. I'm banking on it. Happy Valentine's Day.
My friend Larry said to me, “why would you spend time crocheting a scarf when you could buy one for a few dollars at the store?”
It was Christmas, and I was home from college. Larry had rented a little house just a few blocks from my parent’s home, and I walked over to see him, the gift in hand. I realize it’s not that he didn’t appreciate the scarf, but out of curiosity could not comprehend why anyone would spend time “making things” they could easily purchase. Many people feel the same way.
I have been crocheting since I was in grade school. Mostly it keeps my hands busy, and I learn new techniques all the time. I’m still learning today. Even though I have been weaving since the early 80s, I’m currently learning tapestry techniques. The time it takes to weave a miniature work of art is incredible, and there is no way I could sell any of these for adequate compensation. So why do we do these things?
It’s one of my gifts. I take nothing and make something out of it. A juror at a Fargo art show said I have spirit and imagination. He loved my woven clothing so much they had to pull him out of my booth. At that time of my life, I felt like I was doing exactly what God put me on earth to do. Create and sell my art. But I had two children. And there came a time I had to put them first, so I did.
As you know, I didn’t have the heart to throw out any of my art supplies during my January cleaning phase but instead made a list of all the things I could make. Now that I am retiring from the workforce at the end of March, I can’t stop thinking about all the beautiful days I can spend making things. Of course, it’s almost time to start my seedlings, and that will take precedence over any artistic endeavors. Gardening falls right into this line of thinking.
Do you have items in your homemade by hand? If you have an artist’s ceramic mug for your coffee, do you think of the person that made it every time you use it?
I am currently reading a book in which the author mentions gifting instead of buying things. If we knew who made things in our house and grew our food, would we not appreciate these things more? Instead of filling our homes with tons of stuff made by people we will never meet, we would own fewer cherished items. If we accepted these handmade goods as gifts in exchange for money to keep artists in business, would we all appreciate each other more as well?
It’s a little far-fetched, I know, an economy that thrives on local, but it has been done before. I guess if we readjust our thinking a little to acknowledge the hands of everyone who makes, bakes, grows, stocks shelves, work cash registers and brews our designer coffees, would we be more appreciative of what we have. If we look to everything as a “gift” and we reciprocate with gratitude and see the people behind those things, would we not all be a bit more grateful and thoughtful about our purchases?
Ah, just strolling down memory lane as I recover from a bit of a cold. I remembered the small communities that held everything we needed for day-to-day life. No more, no less. A time never to return, except in our hearts and minds. Or maybe?
Long ago and not so far away, people in North Dakota relied on their instincts regarding winter weather. Sure, there were weather reports, but rural folks became familiar with the land they farm, microclimates, and, most importantly, the sky. I am a "sky watcher."
To this day, I still get teased about my watchful weather eye relying on folklore and my eyesight to determine the weather. My husband is one of those nonbelievers.
My first job out of college was a year or so, at Dierk's Printing in Moorhead, Minn. Art Dierk Sr. used to greet me in the morning singing, "Oh, the hens in Gackle will cackle tonight." (That should give you some indication of where I graduated from high school.)
Then, he would ask me about the weather having the utmost respect for my instincts, whether right or wrong. If you took today's weather reports and matched them to mine, I would say I was correct more often than they.
Of course, weather reports back then did not necessarily predict the weather days in advance. I prefer that to the long-winded usually never happens weather reports of today. Don't get me started on things like wind chill and naming blizzards. Sometimes it is best not to know these things keeping in mind you must dress for winter when it's winter and use some common sense.
This story happened before the age of cell phones. That's correct; if you were stranded in the middle of winter, alone, in a car, without proper clothing, you were most certainly in trouble. So, like the boy scouts when I traveled for my on-the-road art job, I always carried "a winter survival kit."
Adam traveled to many places as my sidekick in his middle school years. When planning one such journey, my son became concerned about my well-being in the winter. He was a great traveler that required only a Subway sandwich once a day to remain content. Before I left, he put a brown-colored Gourmet Supreme Folger's coffee can in my van. PLEASE NOTE, youngsters, that not only did we not have cell phones back then, but Folger's came in metal cans requiring a can opener. There was a plastic lid included to keep those grounds fresh after opening. Oh, the best part of waking up.
Inside this can were several mini-Snickers bars, stick matches, small pieces of notepaper, pencils, two candles and a note. If you read this column regularly, you guessed it – I still have that note. I also have that can with its contents.
The note reads (in middle-school cursive pencil): "Mom, I hope you survive. I "heart" you a lot. Draw me a picture."
The note, the can, the candles all form memories for a mom-turned-grandmother. My days of traveling as an artist, the young children I raised during quiet trips without cell phones, and the superb winter storms of my youth are lovely memories. My "heart" aches for those days.
Yes, we still have winter weather, and people continue to venture out when they shouldn't drive on icy roads with wind chills well below zero, but not as often I remember.
Maybe I should not have tried to drive that week to my appointed destination. But a commitment is a commitment, and I have faith that my precious can with that "heart" warming note would have saved my life. Stay safe out there. The January thaw more than likely ends this weekend.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.