Memphis Backyard Farmer

Lessons Learned 2 – I Have Seen The Light!
February 25, 2011, 1:56 am
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This is the second post in a series of “lessons learned” from last year’s garden. Lesson 1 can be found here.

Images under florescent lightWe’ll be on the topic of seedlings for a while, because – first of all – it’s where my mind is at this time of February, and also because last year was the first year I tried my hand at starting all my own plants from seed. And, as expected, I made quite a few mistakes.

I start my seedlings in the attic. As it turns out, the blower for my furnace is located right inside an attic door. February in Memphis still has a chill, so my heater is still working, at least at night. The surface of that blower makes a terrific place to start seeds, because it heats up the soil in my starter pots nicely.

But light is hard to come by in an attic. Fortunately, there is a light fixture near the furnace. I was smart enough to know that incandescent lights didn’t put off the necessary light for growing plants, so I replaced my incandescent with a compact fluorescent (CF) bulb. However, the bulb was located above my head, and the seedlings were located below my waist. One CF bulb four feed away from seedlings is simply not enough light for strong seedlings. The stems were weak, the seedlings were leggy, and the leaves had very little dark-green color.

This year I’ve installed a full sized fluorescent shop light in my attic, mounted just inches above my seedlings. The fixture is on adjustable chains (much longer than the 6 inches of chain they ship with the light). I’m using full-spectrum bulbs, which technically aren’t “grow lights”, but are a more complete light source than standard fluorescents.

My greens have only been up for 2 weeks, but I can already tell a huge difference in their color. Plus, my normal houseplants are getting regular doses and love it as well.

How do you light your seedlings?

Lessons Learned 1 – Plant Seedlings Early
February 19, 2011, 5:12 am
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This week as I start counting the days until plants go in the ground, I’m remembering the things I did wrong in my garden last year. Overall, last year went pretty well, but there were some little things I could have done better, or differently, that would have had a big impact on my harvest. So starting today, I’ll let you in on the mistakes I made last year as I make the corrections.

Lesson 1 is – plant seedlings earlier.

Last year I didn’t plant my seedlings indoors until mid-march. In addition, I didn’t start everything indoors that I could have. I started members of the Solanacae family – tomatoes, potatoes, peppers – indoors (did you know those were all related to the same plant family?). But I didn’t start any greens (broccoli, cabbage, turnips). If you look on the back of your seed packets, a lot of greens tell you to plant them directly in the garden, and you can generally do this early here in the south since they’re cool weather plants that can take some stress. But if you want to get a kick start on your greens before the moths come after them, you can start them indoors as seedlings, and get a quicker harvest.

What I ended up with is a constant flight with caterpillars, and small, leggy tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes that got beat up by harsh spring rain and eaten by slugs.

This year, though – it’s mid-February and I’ve got seedlings!

Starting From Seed
February 10, 2011, 10:28 am
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Image from University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural ResourcesAs I mentioned in this post a few days ago, I’ve been testing seed to decide what we’ll be planting this year. I’ve also been ordering seed, and it arrived last week. I order from High Mowing Seeds, an organic seed producer in Vermont. Here’s a brief rundown of my order this year.

Summer Crop

  • Light Red Kidney Dry Beans
  • Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans
  • Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash
  • Spaghetti Winter Squash
  • Amish Paste Tomato
  • Red Cored Chantenay (Carrots)
  • Brandywine Tomato
  • Anton Basil
  • Marketmore 76 Cucumbers
  • King Crimson Sweet Bell Pepper
  • Costata Romanesco Zucchini

Spring Greens

  • Corvair F1 Hybrid Spinach
  • Green Arrow Shell Pea
  • Primax Cabbage
  • Ripbor F1 Kale

All of the above are from High Mowing. I have a few seeds from various sources – hardware stores, gardening stores, gifts – that include various lettuce and mesclun mixes, broccoli, and turnip greens, along with various spices. I also saved quite a bit of pumpkin, tomato, beans, and squash seed from last year. But not sure how much I’ll use.

As much as possible, I like to use organic, open pollinated, heirloom varieties. I like the option of saving seeds without any surprise hybrid offspring, and organic seed tends to be hardier than seed from plants that have been blasted with insecticides, fungicides, etc., etc.

So…what are you planting?

Memphis Farm To Table Conference
February 2, 2011, 8:44 pm
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Memphis Urban FarmFrom the Memphis Urban Farm:

On Monday, February 7, 2011, the Urban Farms will host the Farm to Table Conference for Mid-South Producers at 2505 Poplar. This conference will feature sessions on marketing to diverse outlets, technology, social media, production practices, and health department rules and regulations. The conference will also provide space for farmers, producers, market managers, chefs, food advocates, and other local food policy stakeholders to learn from each other and access new markets through peer-led sessions.

The Farm to Table Conference for Mid-South producers will take place from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and will feature concurrent breakout sessions.

If you would like to attend, sponsor, or volunteer at this event, please contact Mary Phillips, Urban Farms manager, at 901-417-1593 or

You can also book tickets via via this link.

I’ll be there – hope to see YOU.