Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: winter

Seed Starting: New and Improved!

seedling trays under grow lightsWe’ve upgraded our seed-starting operation for this year. From our homemade grow light fixtures, we’ve graduated to four fluorescent shop lights hung on a 6′ x 3′ metal shelving unit. Right now we have about 1,000 seedlings under these lights in our basement; last year our set-up only allowed us to start about 300 at a time. 

2013_02_05_123It all started when we acquired this metal shelving unit and all the light fixtures from Eric’s grandfather, who passed away last year. He was a talented craftsman, and his resourcefulness inspired us to create this set up.

We hung each fluorescent light fixture to the underside of the shelves using chain and wire to suspend them. This will allow us to raise and lower the lights as needed. We also lined the back with foil to reflect light.

2013_02_16_126 2013_02_16_125

We started our seeds on February 9. We use the Jiffy seedling trays, which contain 72 cells for individual seedlings and come with greenhouse lids to help with germination. We’ve reused ours year after year. We speed up germination by putting some of the trays on heating pads made specifically for growing seedlings. We only have two of these pads, so we got creative. In the left photo, we put a milk crate upside down over a register and placed a seedling tray on top. The right photo shows a small side table with a wicker bottom shelf we placed over a register, which housed two full trays.

seedlingsThe majority of the tomatoes germinated within 1 week. We removed the lids and put the trays under lights once germinated. This photo was taken February 16.

2013_03_02_233For our onions this year, we planted our seeds in a tray without cells. Half of the tray is planted with red onion, the other half is green onion. We’ll buy slips for white or yellow onions, depending on what we can find locally.

2013_03_02_235These are some of our pepper seedlings. This year we’re growing jalapeno, banana peppers, an heirloom variety from Baker Creek called lipstick, Marconi, and chocolate bell. The peppers take a little longer to germinate than tomatoes.

2013_03_02_236We planted an entire tray with one of our favorite varieties of tomatoes from last year- Costoluto Genovese. If you look toward the right side of the photo, you can see a seedling that shot up faster and taller than its fellow seedlings; we’ll be documenting this plant’s progress throughout the year, and if it lives up to its explosive beginnings, we’ll make sure to save seeds for next year!

2013_03_02_241A sea of tomatoes… we planted a tray of Arkansas Travelers and a bush variety we’ve been saving seeds from for years. We also have two full trays of cherry tomato varieties, including our favorite yellow, as well as some sungold, purple, and red. In smaller quantities, we started heirloom varieties Millionaire and Pierce’s Pride from Baker Creek (given to us free last year), Black Giant, Black Pineapple, and White Wonder.

We plan to plant about 100 tomato and 50 pepper plants this season. We’ll be selling the rest in the St. Louis area. We’ll be up-potting these soon and will continue to document the progress!


Slow Time of Year for a Garden Blog…

We haven’t posted in a while… it’s winter here so there isn’t much growing, but there’s still a lot going on.  We’ve gotten a lot done since our last post on November 1. Here are some of the highlights: 2012_12_02_221Eric spotted some wild oyster mushrooms living on an oak tree in early December. We harvested about 4 pounds of them, leaving some behind. 2012_12_02_228We used the Missouri Department of Conservation’s book Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms to make sure we identified the mushrooms correctly. Just for fun we also made a spore print by placing a mushroom gills-down on a piece of paper (we did one black and one white sheet of paper) and letting it sit overnight. The spores are naturally released and create a colored print on the paper below; matching the color of the spores lets you positively identify your mushroom. The oyster’s spores were a milky lavender hue. 2012_12_02_229We ate our fill of mushrooms, shared them with friends and family, and still had about 2 pounds extra, which we sold. They were some of the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, so much meatier and nuttier than cultivated oysters, and absolutely delicious raw. mushroom logsMeanwhile, our inoculated mushroom logs are showing signs of mycelium growth- the logs are being colonized. We’ll have our own mushrooms this spring! black beansWe harvested a late crop of dried beans from our Iowa Ave. garden in early November. This was our first year growing varieties of  beans that are meant to be dried, and we didn’t devote too much space to it. We were pleased to have enough of these black beans to save some for seed and we cooked the ones pictured above for burritos. gingerThis fall we also dug up the ginger we had planted. Another great experiment! We used some for cooking but are saving some to replant next year.

Our other big experiment this year was growing peanuts. We finally dug up our crop and ended up with a nice harvest. Definitely something to try on a larger scale someday.

Also not pictured is our sweet potato harvest from Iowa Ave and our newer garden space. Both harvests went well, and we’ve got a big box of ’em stashed away in our basement for use this winter. half hoop houseIn preparation for cold weather, we also re-covered our half hoop house in the side yard, with the same plastic sheeting we used last year. It hasn’t gotten terribly cold yet, but it’ll be useful this spring to house our tomato seedlings. mulched garlic bedIn Sunset Hills, we mulched our new garlic bed in mid-November, before it got too cold. 2012_12_19_318 We’ve also been keeping busy (and paying the bills) with some landscaping projects. We custom-designed this for a neighbor who loved our original herb spiral, and included a large paver patio, whimsical reclaimed brick pathway, and free city mulch. This spring we’ll plant the herb spiral and landscape the surrounding area with native perennials and whatever else she might want. 2012_11_15_090aIn our free time we’ve also been doing a lot of crafting, including these wooden gnome doors. Before the holidays we exhibited at some local craft fairs, and we started our own Etsy shop. When we’re stuck inside over the winter we like having a creative outlet, and the extra income doesn’t hurt.


I’ve also made a bunch of miniature morel mushrooms to accessorize our gnome doors, as well as jewelry and wallets made out of discarded bike tubes.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been staying busy! And now seed catalogs are pouring in… can’t wait to get back into the soil in 2013!

Winter Reading: Made by Hand

This is not a step-by-step guide to living a more sustainable life, a la Possum Living  or Surviving the Apocalypse in the SuburbsInstead, it’s the story of Mark Frauenfelder’s  journey into a more do-it-yourself (DIY) lifestyle. The book starts off with Mark and his wife deciding to move to a remote tropical island to escape the money and stress of their lives in California. I liked where this was going…

However, Mark and his family realize that the island life isn’t for them. They move back to California and Mark finds himself on a new path after collaborating to create and edit the DIY magazine, Make. With inspiration and motivation from other DIYers in his life and online, Mark starts a garden, converts a shack into a chicken coop (and sets up an automatic door to let the chickens out every morning!), collects and keeps a native bee population, and even creates his own musical instruments. Throughout the book he describes the processes he follows, sharing his accomplishments and defeats with grace and humor.

Sallie gave us this book not knowing if it would apply to us or if we’d like it- she was right on the money! Now we’ll have to figure out how to make our own automatic door for the chicken coop!

P.S. While we’re talking about “made by hand,” Eric got me a fantastic novel last year called World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that describes a town learning to live off the land and off each other in the face of violent gangs and corrupt politicians. Definitely worth a read.

Winter Leek Harvest


We’re still harvesting leeks that we planted last summer. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow so we pulled these up. We’ll keep warm with some hearty potato leek soup!

Edit: Figured we’d share the end result!


We wanted to incorporate some broccoli shoots from the garden, so we decided to try this recipe. It came out thin, but kept it that way instead of thickening it.  Overall a very earthy and delicious soup, perfect for a snow day.

broccoli potato leek soup

Chickens’ First Winter

As we’d recently mentioned, winter weather in St. Louis had been wonderfully mild. We took advantage of it, and so did the chickens.

Chickens eating a pumpking

They even got to peck at a pumpkin we rescued from the trash- quite an autumn-like treat!

The weather was particularly kind to the ladies who molted, who didn’t have to face freezing temperatures without a full coat. We stopped getting eggs when they molted and as the hours of daylight diminished. A few days ago, Eric had a dream about finding an egg in the ladies’ nesting boxes. Unbelievably, after more than a month with no eggs, there was an egg waiting for us!

winter egg

And we got another egg the next day, too.

Yesterday, winter hit suddenly. We got our first snow, and the daytime temperature plummeted from the balmy 50°F  we’d enjoyed the day before to a frigid high around 20°.

huddling for warmth

The ladies huddled together for warmth and protection from the wind.

Some chicken owners provide a heat lamp in the coop for their birds, to keep them comfortable and encourage egg production. Our coop is too small to safely provide a heat lamp, and even so the ladies would still have to go outside of the coop to access food and water, which would be a shock to their system. We decided that it’s best to let the ladies acclimate to the weather, even if it means no eggs. However, we have taken measures to help keep them comfortable in the new winter weather.

heated chicken waterer

We had already set up an electric chicken waterer to keep thawed water available at all times.

wind stop

In the snowstorm yesterday, we quickly hung a tarp around one of the corners of the pen to act as a wind stop.

An Assortment of Native Artifacts

The weather’s been so beautiful in St. Louis this winter, we’ve been able to enjoy the outdoors more than we expected. We found a new creek in the area and discovered the above arrowheads and native stone tools in one afternoon. We’re looking forward to exploring the creek system further and hope to find more artifacts.  When winter finally hits, we’ll have time to research and learn more about our archaeological  findings.

The Craftiest Time of the Year

Eric’s family decided to give homemade gifts this year. We were all impressed with what we came up with and agreed that exchanging homemade gifts is more gratifying than the traditional consumerist approach.

Eric and I gave paintings, home brewed hard cider, and jewelry made from shells from a family vacation:

For Grandpa
For Cinda
For Amy & Cinda
In return, we received these wonderful gifts:  

Display trays made from records

"All purpose cups" from mason jars and candle sticks

A literal "book bag," made from a book

Hand made stationery with envelopes

Chalkboard wine glasses & cork board

Peace wreath made with sticks and twine

And a Mardi Gras wreath

Cold Frame, Hoop House Style

We enclosed one of our beds at Dave’s Place this week in preparation for winter. We’ll hopefully be able to extend the growing season of our mixed salad greens so we can enjoy fresh salads all year long.

Here’s how you can build your own hinged cold frame hoop house around a raised bed using non-treated 2x4s, hinges & screws, PVC conduit piping, PVC U-brackets, PVC snap clamps (made specifically for greenhouses, we buy ours online here), polyethylene plastic sheeting, staples, a drill, and duct tape.

First, we made a frame out of 2x4s the same size as the bed and placed the new frame on top.

Then we attached two hinges along the back, so the cold frame can open like this:

Then we attached the PVC pipes to the hinged frame. We used 1/2″ PVC conduit pipes and attached them by screwing the 1/2″ U-brackets (like this one) on either side, making sure to attach the brackets to the hinged frame so it will open.

The next step was to cover the cold frame with plastic sheeting. You can find rolls of plastic at hardware stores, online at garden supply websites, or scrounge it up at garage sales like we did. We draped a long rectangular piece of plastic over the length of the cold frame. We pulled taut and stapled the plastic to the hinged wooden frame using furring strips we made by folding over duct tape. The duct tape prevents the staples from ripping the plastic and makes it easy to remove all the staples at once in the spring when we dismantle the hoop house.

We then covered the short ends of the cold frame with separate plastic pieces, stapling the bottom of the sheet to the hinged frame, and connecting it to the top using PVC snap clamps.

Note: we tucked the plastic sheeting on the short ends underneath the sheeting on top to keep the elements out.

And there you go! A hinged hoop house-style cold frame, hopefully able to keep our salad greens growing all winter.

Winter Update

Winter is a slow time of year for us. Our world is blanketed in snow, and though we have the hoop house and the semi-hoop house still standing, there is little to do garden-wise. We’re preparing for our new venture in chicken ownership, organizing our seed collection and garden plots for the spring, and assembling light fixtures for indoor seed starting.

Overall, we’re making sure we slow down and enjoy our time together before we immerse ourselves in our very busy spring season. We’ve spent our winter sledding with the dogs, hiking when the weather permits, spending time with family and friends, and trying new recipes and restaurants… check out the pictures below!

New Year, new fish

The year started off with fishing on the White River in Arkansas

"Frisbee" is their favorite word

Maggie & Rosco loving their frisbee sessions in the snow!

Inside the half-hoop house

Throughout the winter bonsai and herbs are stored in the side yard hoop house

Lettuce mix and spinach harvested from the community garden hoop house, January 30, 2011 (the carrots in our banner were harvested the same day)

A trip to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (no, we're not the canoers)