Do you save seeds?

Which ones?

I try and save seeds when I can. I read a few books on seed saving. I read a few articles, blogs, and pamphlets on seed saving. The verdict? Holy cow, are there a lot of “rules” for seed saving!

As much as I am a fan of rules sometimes (logic is fun!) other times, I’m perfectly content to find my bliss outside the lines.

Some seeds are super easy to save. Lettuce is one of them. I often lose track of my lettuce. I’ll eat it, and eat it, and it’ll grow back again and again. Until at some point I either need a break from lettuce wraps and salads, or the elements conspire for lettuce growth, and before I know it, my lettuce has bolted a few feet in the air. At that point, I know (from experience) that it won’t taste that good. Pull it up? Make room for something else? Sometimes.

This year, having lucked out with acquiring 400 square feet of allotment in a community area, I’m experimenting with a long time goal of mine – a volunteer garden. Last fall, a few lettuce varieties volunteered in my lawn. I transplanted them into the garden after taking down the tomato forest. They reached about five feet tall before the flowers began to appear. About two minutes, a paper bag, and a pair of clippers results in more romaine seeds than I will possibly need.

Wild flower seeds are also super easy to save!

The “bouquet” in the back is made of the seed heads left behind by spent Blanketflowers. The jar on the left has Cone Flower Heads drying slowly. The center jar has the interesting pods left behind by Love in A Mist. On the right? Cilantro seeds, aka coriander.

Sometimes, “seed saving” is more of a harvest for our bellies than it is for the purpose of growing more plants. For instance – beans!

This is the main harvest of soup beans for the spring beds. Half Tiger Beans, and half Yin Yang Beans. It’s so nice to sit inside on a hot afternoon, grabbing some lunch and shelling beans. The dried bean casings make for good “brown stuff” for the compost, too!

I do save beans for the next season’s plantings as well, and I don’t save any old beans either – I start to play with the genes in the most simple way possible.

If a single plant has a lot more beans than the others, I’ll save a pod or two off that plant to hopefully encourage per plant production. If a single pod has five beans inside instead of four or fewer, I’ll save those beans as well to try and encourage more beans per pod. Occasionally I’ll remember to also save some of the first beans of the year (encouraging early production) and some of the last beans of the year (encouraging heat survival.)

For instance, Yin Yang Beans most commonly have 3-4 beans per pod. This guy got to have his seeds saved for planting (instead of for eating.)

Not all seed saving attempts are successful. Most recently I tried to save seeds from a Farmer’s Market Patty Pan Squash. I scooped out the seeds, soaked them in water for a day or two, strained the goo from the seeds, and spread them on a paper towel to dry. When they had dried completely, it was clear that none of the seeds had had a chance to mature properly in the flesh, and wouldn’t be viable. I bought three more of the same patty pan squash this morning at the market to try my luck again. If I strike out a second time, I’ll simply break down and purchase the seeds I want. Then, when they’re growing in my garden, I’ll leave a squash on each plant to over-ripen so the seeds have a chance next year.

Other reasons not all seed saving ventures work out? Those “rules” the books and articles talk about. Beans are easy because they mostly self-pollinate. Other plants are friendlier with other varieties of the same type of plant. If you saved the seeds of cantaloupes planted next to cucumbers, you may not like what grows the next year! So the rules can be important, if you’re picky about the offspring being true to type, or if you want to make sure your snozzberries taste like snozzberries (which is important to do sometimes!)

Tomatoes gone wild!

I meant to stake these tomatoes ages ago…I meant to plant them about two weeks before I had a chance to do so, and then to stake them I was about…oh, six weeks later.

Life getting in the way of gardening.

Better late than never! Stakes in the ground, thanks to DH and a post-driving-contraption of his father’s.

Things I learned are good to have for this process:

  • Ear plugs! Driving metal T-posts in with a metal T-post contraption is loud.
  • T-posts > U-posts. U posts are broader and have troublesome hooks on them that have to be hammered down before the post can fit in the contraption.
  • T-post drivers are handy. Much easier (and safer) than giant hammers, and much faster than regular-sized hammers.

Stakes need string! I had intended to trellis these posts akin to a vineyard, and use stretchy green tomato tape to attach the tomatoes to the trellising…perhaps next year. So this year – more string it is.

These tomatoes are fairly well behaved, considering that they’re overgrown as they are.

These other tomatoes…well, they can’t all behave can they?

But, they’re all behaving well in the fruit-setting realm!

I expect these guys to come out yellow/orange in the end. I saved them from a farmer’s market “candy basket” last  year that I’m hoping to recreate. It had mini purple tomatoes the size of fat peas or small grapes, pear-shaped yellow-orange tomatoes, cherry-sized green stripies, and red-orange little gum drops. When they ripen, I’ll share photos in case anyone knows their names!

And my now trusty standby: Cherry Chadwicks!

Structure.

I like to play with structure. Build forts. Rope ladders. Tree houses. Box caves. I think so many wondrous things fall by the wayside on the wander into adulthood that sometimes as adults we may be just as boring as our childselves would say we were.

I find that there a few tried-and-true cures for such mature doldrums:

  • Sprinklers (even more so with four footed friends or the squeals of toddlers that belong to someone else.)
  • The consequent mud from said sprinklers.
  • Wrapping paper tubes (fort supports, light sabers, ski poles, I could go on…)
  • The ever sought and ever rare refrigerator box.
  • Sticks.

Perhaps by chance, or perhaps through purpose, my garden time tends to incorporate a lot of the same material. Sprinklers are a given. Mud – also a given. Wrapping paper tubes? I’ve heard that if you cut them (or toilet paper or paper towel tubes) into one inch rings and place them around seedlings, they help combat pests. (I have yet to confirm this, how about you?)

The fridge box: I’m not a cardboard composter or mulcher, but others are.

Sticks! Sticks are great for small tomato stakes, pea trellising, pole beans, and likely many other things.

I’ve known for a bit that I needed some kind of structure for my tiger beans. They’ll survive, and produce, decently without structure. With structure, I’ll get to more of the beans before the bugs do, and I haven’t tested the theory but would almost swear they make more beans while climbing. The issue? I planted them in a row in the middle of a long bed. Oops. I hadn’t planned it that way. I had it drawn up differently. When the day came to sow the seeds, my mind left me so much that I neglected to even reference the plan I’d carefully graphed, and simply sowed away. So it goes.

So what was I to do? Perhaps, I postulated, I could put a forked stick at either end of the bean patch, run a cross stick from end to end, and drop lines down from the beam. Except I was fresh out of forked sticks. Teepees? I’ve never had luck with teepees.

And then I realized that at some point I had also hoped to enclose the bed. A neighbor down at the garden plots warned of the possibility of large, wandering, hungry wild game (in the form of humans) who would help themselves to the literal fruits of your literal labors. I would like to think this wouldn’t really happen, but apparently it has in the past.

DH and I tossed some ideas around. The bed at home has a nice structure that is flexible to the needs of the plants within. We didn’t really want to invest that much lumber into a top structure that would be anchored to a weak (and in places rotting) base structure provided by the community garden maintenance crew. I knew I wanted a shade cloth option, and he convinced me that we could do double duty if we hatched a plan to replace shade cloth with plastic in the winter.

And then it struck. We were wandering Home Depot, as we are known to do, halfway through a list of soil sulfur, air filters, and rope for a cat scratching post, when we found ourselves on the plumbing aisle. We were caught in a stare. We both knew at once. And we both started talking at once: “What if we did this for the garden!”

Supplies for a 20′ x 10′ bed:

  • Twelve pieces of 3/8″ thick, 12″ long (or longer), rebar ($9.00 – we would have liked to have longer rebar, but with $0.75 each for 12″ jumping to $3 each for 24″, we made do.)
  • Seven lengths of 20′ x 3/4″ PVC ($30)
  • Four pieces of twine about 18″ long (Free after using it to tie the PVC into the truck on the way home.)
  • Hammer (we already had one, so free for us. A rock would also work.)
  • Something to stand on. (We borrowed a neighboring gardener’s lawn chair.)
  • Duct tape (we already had this as well. More twine (still free) would also work.)

How:

  1. Split the length of the bed into four foot sections, starting in a corner.
  2. Dig out a small hole (maybe four inches deep) and push a piece of rebar into the soil.
  3. Hammer the rebar into the soil so the end of it is just below the edge of the bed. (About 8″ underground, 4″ above ground.)
  4. Thread the PVC end over the rebar (this gets wiggly, as it it is twenty feet long and bendy. Feel free to laugh, we did.)
  5. Bend the PVC down to thread the other end over the rebar on the opposite edge of the bed. You just made your first “rib”
  6. Like this: 
  7. Tie the PVC to the corner posts to help anchor. 
  8. Continue on down the bed, threading PVC onto the rebar that you spaced every four feet.
  9. Your “ribs” are up! 
  10. Like DH is doing on the left of this picture, press each side of each rib down into the earth to help anchor it. The bowing of the pipe should create pressure against the side boards of the bed, but pushing the tubing into the ground helps prevent lift-off.
  11. Set the chair up under the first rib, and with the seventh length of pipe running under the ribs, lash the “spine” to the “ribs” with duct tape (or twine) just enough to tack it up.
  12. Proceed down the length of the structure, tacking each rib to the spine.
  13. When you reach the other end, lash it securely, and then work your way back up the bed. This time, tighten the meeting of the two pipes and tape in a cross-cross pattern.
  14. Ta da! 

Why “ribs” and “spine”? Well, aside from looking a bit like a giant rib cage, PVC and tape were what we used to construct a whale in third grade to put on a showing of The Old Man and the Sea. That, and you knew exactly what I meant, didn’t you?

I do plan to do similarly with the Right Bed now that I see our idea in real life (and love it!) But first, we need to trellis-up those tomatoes! (Another day.) And drop lines for the beans (maybe tomorrow…)

Stringing string beans with string.

There are a lot of ways to grow green beans. Bush beans are the compact varieties that purport to not need supports. Pole beans need a decently tall support system.

I’ve seen people use beautiful trellises. I’ve seen 1″x1″ sticks whipped into a teepee. I’ve seen wire cages and a myriad of other contraptions. When I first started growing beans in 2007, they were in a pot on a balcony.

That pot wasn’t going to hold a trellis. I didn’t have the budget for a wire cage either. I thought about using the balcony railing itself, but with afternoon sun hitting this balcony straight on, I wanted it mobile in case my learning curve required movement. I looked around my small space, and found a bamboo stick. I had some string left from a tied quilt. A longtime fan of building forts with what’s on hand, I thought to build a climbing “fort” for my beans.

Things I learned from this project:

  • Bamboo stakes, in a pot, will lean.
  • Bamboo stakes, in the earth, will rot, break down, and snap off.
  • Beans want to grow UP, not around. In this arrangement, I ended up with multiple stalks climbing up the bamboo stakes themselves, not around the string as I’d hoped.

And so adjustments were made. For the last four years, and again this year, I’ve used the same simple system. I ditched the bamboo stakes all together. I kept using the same string, and from last year to this one – I’m actually using the exact same pieces of string.

See? I did mow and edge! But really, last year DH helped edge this bed in planks, and also helped dig in six posts and screw in cross beams to create a top structure that mimicked the rectangular shape of the bed. From there, he screwed in anchor screws every 3″ for me where the beans would be, and strung wire across the width of the bed. From those wires, I tied off falls of string, which met with the beans on the earth.

At the end of the season, I carefully saved the strings so as to not let them knot, and here they are again! In my crop rotation, the beans are under sections that lack the cross-wires. Because I wanted to get this done in the snatch of evening light I had available, I didn’t ask DH to add more wires. Instead, I ran a cross-string from one wire to another, and tied my drop lines from it.

Now the beans are set. When each one buds its climbing vine, the string is ready. I learned (and finally remembered!) to string the beans before the climbing vine appears. Once it does, it will grab onto whatever it can…other beans, tomatoes, onions, weeds… and getting it to gracefully retreat to take to the string as you want can damage it, or whatever it’s attached to.

But what about bush beans? Don’t those stay compact and not need a structure?

Yes, and no.

Bush beans definitely won’t grow 10 feet tall, it’s not in them to do so. They will on occasion, depending on variety and environment, grow tall enough to fall over. When that happens, the beans you were hoping to nurse onto your plate, or into your saved-seeds, will be devoured by the hungry critters on the ground. Or mold. Or mildew. Or otherwise allow diseases to enter into the plant more easily, creating an issue.

So, I give them a hand. They don’t necessarily get strung on strings (unless I have extra strings) but they may get some good mulching, or string, or a random trellis I acquired. Anything to give them just that little boost to stay off the soil can help.

Last year, I gave the Tiger beans a little string, and left the Yin Yang and Soleil beans alone. The Yin Yang beans didn’t mind, but the Soleil were a little iffy. So this year, the Tiger will get their structure – perhaps a trellis akin to a vineyard? We’ll see. The Soleil, unfortunately, are being demolished by a mystery pest.

The near ones are the Yin Yang, the middle are the Tiger, and the back ones, that are small when they’re not eaten, are the Soleil.

Any ideas on the pests? All I’ve seen are rolly-pollies. The damage looks like caterpillars to me, but I haven’t seen a single one.

The things to which we grow accustomed.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the US. I grew up in grey drizzly falls, cold wet winters, and misty meadow spring times. Summers in the PNW are a magical time. Days that seem to last for weeks full of gorgeous sunshine, emboldened life all around, and crisp cool nights full of hoodies and jeans after the sun goes down.

I’ve been in Texas for more than eight years now. Today is our second or third day of drizzle. Cold (for Texas) and days (instead of minutes, or hours) of rain. I honestly forgot what it was like to live someplace where outdoor activities were restricted by the wet and the soggy. In the PNW, there is no such thing as “too hot.” I loved the 105 degree August days. On the rare occasions where the thermometer in the vineyard would break 110, I would bask in the heat. Literally. Over the last few years, Texas has inculcated my flesh and understanding of “too hot.” I’ve acclimated. Anything under 70 degrees and I wear a hoodie. (Hoodies used to be reserved for anything 25-50 degrees, and coats were only used for particularly hard rains, or extending periods of playing in the snow.) In contrast, jeans and long sleeves in the 70s feels fine. I am not a true Texan, who will still wear jeans and long sleeves comfortably when the mercury has added a third digit to the scale.

I digress.

Today I found myself in an odd place. I had forgotten what to do when it rained for days. Last night, I baked. Today, we went shopping. (Shopping! I never go shopping.) Hoping the winds blustering about would carry the rains west to the desert, to the peach farmers, to the wild flower fields, and give me a sunny gap of an afternoon. It was not to be.

What to do?

Well, there were those 8-10 pounds of apples we’d been hanging onto for worringly-possibly too long…

DH, months ago, took it upon himself to buy some organic apples (I forget if they were Braeburn, Fuji, or Gala, or a mixture), peel them, and blend them with some blackberries and honey into an applesauce. I was ecstatic. It was delicious. And it was portion-sized out in the freezer such that if I caught it just-so in the thawing process, I had the most delicious fruit slush snack.

About six weeks ago, organic Fuji apples went on sale again. $0.83/pound. We bought as many as we thought we would peel, which ended up to be about 8-10 pounds. And promptly forgot about them. Work ate me, school and work combined to swallow DH whole, and here we are.

Apples – peeled, cored, and roughly chopped. (You don’t have to peel them if you don’t want to. Apple peels tend to upset my stomach, we we compost them.)

Honey – a spoonful per blenderful is all you need.

Blackberries (or other flavoring) – about a handful per blenderful.

Or, if you’re a visual person:

Blend, and pour.

Stack ’em up, and freeze all but the one you want to eat first (in this case, the glass one will stay in the fridge.)

We ran out of blackberries (or so we thought, before we checked the deep freezer) and DH did what he does best – gets a crazy idea, that just might work, that turns out deliciously. In this case? A ‘Rita Ringo Sauce. (Fun fact of the day: Ringo is Japanese for apple.)

Lime juice (from two limes), honey, and apples. After a quick taste test, I wonder if I shouldn’t add a splash of tequila, freeze some in a Popsicle tray, and wait for summer!

And, because I couldn’t help myself…

Texas’s state flower is the Bluebonnet. Something I recently learned, is that blue is the dominant gene for the flower, but not the only one. I actually saw these lovely flowers for sale last spring at the grocery store. Last spring I had yet to install my garden bed, and every pot already had a tenant. Last spring, I passed on bringing these home. This year, I had so many places I could put it, that I succumbed to the desire. I did only buy one pot, currently on my kitchen counter, but may just have to go back and get 2-4 more to round out the native bed I started.

What do you do when rain comes during your garden time?

It’s dark out.

I find myself with enough energy and time in the evenings to put in some good garden time, but by this time it’s already dark out. DH is studying, and if I don’t find something else to do, I’ll end up logging some more hours with work.

So tonight, I think I’ll do a little history.

Once upon a time, there was a girl in an apartment. The apartment had a little balcony, maybe 5’x10′, that was south-facing. It was a second floor balcony, with an upstairs neighbor of the bamboo mat/wind chime variety, and a downstairs neighbor that rotated through from friendly drug dealer that kept to himself, to unfortunate alcoholic couple that started out loving us and ended up leaving us with a few sad stories, to a couple of newly weds who fought a fair bit (although less often and less vocally than the previous neighbors.)

Below the balcony was a small plot of land that used to house some grass and a tree. The grass had long since been shaded into packed dirt, and the tree left only a stump for some interesting fungus to feed upon. Across the strip of bare earth was a fence, and behind the fence – wilderness. Well, as wild of a wilderness as you can find in a suburb. Enough wilderness to get birds in the trees, squirrels digging around for acorns, and the occasional raccoon. Our first spring there revealed a lovely surprise – blub, burgle, bubble, gush.

There was a waterfall through the trees, just outside our bedroom window! When it rained, the water would rush over the small fall and make the most beautiful serenade to the spring days. We could walk out of our building, through the fence, and be at the waterfall in less than a minute. Sometimes you could even hear children laughing as they made their way to the pool at the bottom to wade.

This unexpected gift gave the girl a longing for nature like she hadn’t known in years. She and her DH would wander down the creek path and take pictures, hold hands, and talk of the future. The future that would hopefully include a home-home, as they called it, on land, with a large kitchen garden and an orchard surrounded by a low-slung stone wall with a gate.

Over the years, she’d carted along on her many moves a few green things. There was the cactus, Napoleon. There was Heidi, the Hydrangea, too.

Heidi had been in the “family” for nearly five years at this point. Never having blossomed, she earned her keep on hope alone.

She tried her hand at some edible plants for the first time as well. Rarely one to take the easy route as first choice, she started with seeds.

Tomatoes!

Who were split and transplanted into a strawberry pot…

Where they HATED it…and so were moved again larger pots…

Where they got a little busy with the bees…

And then the sun worked its magic…

And that, dear readers, is the story of DH’s first balcony tomato! And just part of the beginning of the story that has gotten us here. This is also my first experience with Cherry Chadwick tomatoes. Just wait to read about what these tomatoes ended up accomplishing in their short lives.

Oh, and all I could find so far for a picture of Napoleon, has him in the bottom of this frame, poking up.

You can also see, on the right, that Heidi finally bloomed! She left the world after that bloom, but it got rather pink and lovely before she went.

Things I learned in those days: 

  • I honestly don’t know what would like to grow in a Strawberry Pot. The tomatoes hated it. Herbs hated it. Maybe strawberries would actually like it? Although I doubt it for how much water they seem to want.
  • Peat pots, are not my favorite. The roots struggle to bust out, and no matter what the label said, I never witnessed the netting composting naturally in the transplanted pot.
  • Balconies never yielded enough food to replace any store shopping, but there still isn’t any comparison to be made between a tomato still ripe from the sun.

Lamos (Spanish for Limes) aka Bill

Note: Lamos is not actually Spanish for limes. This is an inside joke. The Spanish word for lime is actually lima.

Christmas of 2009 I got DH a lime tree. Someday, he’d like to have an orchard. He dreams of a place where plums and citrus, apples and almonds, avocados and olives all live in happy harmony with the climate. Until we discover such a place, his orchard (currently of the potted variety) must enjoy our Central Texan Climate.

Enter Bill.

Bill, the lime tree, hails from Lake Jackson, Texas. I found John Panzarella online, gave DH a coupon for Christmas for one trip to Lake Jackson to pick out a tree, and that January we were on our way. If you live anywhere near Lake Jackson, and have any interest in purchasing a citrus tree – you need to visit this man. He makes trees that grow lemons that taste like oranges, oranges that look like limes, limes without acid, pummelos, kumquats, and has an avocado tree larger than I knew they could possibly grow. He had fruit that I hadn’t heard of before, and have since forgotten the names of. All of it growing in his well-tended, greatly-loved, suburban backyard.

The first year with Bill, we got about five limes. He got a little spindly looking, so in an attempt to encourage branch development and leaf production, last January when he started to bud, we knocked off his flowers. He didn’t make a single lime last year. He did, however, grow a few new branches with a lot of leaves.

This year? He seems to be making up for it.

This photo hardly shows all of the blossoms visible from this angle – nevermind that this is only half the tree!

I wish we could put him out side again already. The honeybees adore the sweet blossoms (which smell like limes) and could likely use the nourishment this time of year. Unfortunately for the bees, we’re not yet into our frost-free time and so they must wait a few more weeks.

The buds start out small, round, and green. As they grow, they blanch into little popcorn-looking buds. Finally, they open into flowers only to have the petals fall away and a baby lime with a yellow nose appear.

I do think that this year, for the first time, we may end up with more limes than we know what to do with. Lime sorbet, perhaps? Lime juice ice cubes for drinks throughout the summer? I’ll have to look up some more ideas.

Right now, Bill is in a sizable plastic pot. This is his third pot while in our care, and it keeps him at about five feet tall from pot bottom to tree top. While we would love it if we could plant Bill out and let him grow ever larger, there are occasional freezes here that would put an end to Bill all together, so he must stay small enough to be carried indoors for 3-4 months of the year.

DH does want to see if we can prune him short, but allow him to gain some strength and heft, by increasing his pot size once again. To that end, DH put together a quick project.

Step 1: Buy a barrel cut in half.

These are from the Jack Daniels distillery in Eugene, Oregon. Having lived in Eugene previously, I wondered upon discovering this fact if they were any cheaper directly from the source. After factoring in travel, I was actually kind of surprised (and glad) they were priced at $30 each and not higher.

Step 2: Drill drainage holes.

This will prevent root rot for larger plants planted in the planter.

Step 3:

Set the barrel on its side, brace it so it doesn’t roll away, and drill handle holes.

The pot Bill currently lives in has no handles. When full of a tree and the soil necessary for the tree, nevermind if that soil happens to be moist – the pot gets heavy enough to bend the plastic when being carried from spot to spot. Thus the need for handles on an even larger, heavier, pot.

Step 4:

Buy some strong, thick rope. Cut to length. Thread through the handle holes, and knot off.

When cutting the rope to length, remember to add some length for the knots, as well as enough rope that when you lift the handle your knuckles don’t bump against the barrel.

I had originally thought two handles per barrel half would be perfect. Each person has a handle with which to carry the pot. DH had a better idea.

Things I learned that day: Two people, four hands, four handles.

The plan was to move Bill from his current pot into one of these when he made the move back outside. However, with the level of joy Bill is showing off through flower and fruit production in his current pot, we won’t be rocking the boat. So until next fall when we do swap pots, these will likely house some flowers, a few herbs, and hang out by the grill on the patio.

Brain-free days.

Some days, it would seem that my brain takes the day off. I’m sure most folks have these days. Days where you almost lock your keys in the car after almost forgetting to lock the front door. Days where you walk into a screen door? Days where you just aren’t functioning at your usual level. Maybe you had a sleepless child keep you up the night before. Maybe you have the flu. For whatever reason, on days like these, I do my best to limit my exposure to mistake-making situations.

Today was one of those days for me, so instead of planning how to rearrange my planting plans to accommodate the extra 400 sq ft of garden space I recently acquired (community garden plots are a FANTASTIC use of under-power-line space!) I did simple maintenance tasks outdoors.

I watered our newly planted Mexican White Oak, and my potted things including this fern that volunteered itself in the pot of a rosemary that didn’t survive the summer.

These have been volunteering for months now along the sidewalk as well. I sowed them late last spring, a few tried their might against the heat, but it came on too soon and too strong and they were no match for the sweltering Texas sun. Apparently the more cautious among them remained dormant through the summer and our unexpected November showers brought them out of hiding.

I hear they’re edible – is that true? If they are from my seeds, they’re Fiddleneck ferns. I only hesitate to say they are, because so far they have not behaved like any Fiddleneck I saw in the forests of my childhood. And if it is true, do you saute them? Steam them? Put them in salads? All of the above?

I gazed about the space to find something simple to do. The dandelions smiled up at me. My eyes moved from the unmade bed where the chainlink had come down, the vines had come out, but the short wall had yet to be built. There was no way I was up for building a wall today. I let my gaze wander to the patio. DH has been wanting to build troughs along the perimeter for more herbs and peppers to have nearby while he grills. I measured the patio edges. That was easy. It was also too quick.

Oh, right! Dandelions!

I retrieved my Hori Hori and quickly had it strangled in clay.

It proved to be the simplest of tools for removing dandelions. Easier than a trowel, spade, or hoe (all previously used dandelion-removal-tools by yours truly.) Simply slide into the earth, tilt, hear the root pop, and lift. Dandelions (and thistles) will let loose at ground level if you try to pull them up by their greens. They send down a deep tap root that, if left untouched, will simply sprout another fan of leaves in a matter of days. It’s messier and takes a bit more effort (and tool clean-up) but in the end is less work to get them from underneath.

After filling the bucket twice and emptying it into the trash bin for the weekly collection, I had made a dent in the dandelion population as well as my outdoor time.

I have never been one to mind not having a perfect lawn. Perfect lawns are how some people find their peace. I find my peace in other gardening endeavors. I do, however, notice the weed population in my lawn, and will diligently remove weeds from my lawn before they go to seed. Keeping the lawn at least tidy helps prevent weed seeds from drifting into my vegetable bed. Anything I can do to keep my weeding time down is something that can bump my other gardening time higher, and that makes more time for peace.

Not by any means out of dandelions (I may very well have four more buckets left to remove), my back was done with that business for the day and I set about for something else to do.

That’s when I saw them. Perfect, cheerful, and for no known reason – seeming childlike – my first peas!

I hadn’t grown peas before this winter, and grew them more for the fact that I had received some seeds as a gift than because I was particularly interested in growing peas. Let’s just say my feelings on the matter have changed.

And of course, some things make perfect sense after you see them, but you never thought about them before that moment. I had wondered if peas grew from inside the flower cap, from behind it (holding the flower on the end of the pea), or some other way. I learned today just exactly how the pod emerges from the blossom.

As you may be able to tell from these last two shots, the light was fading fast. It was time to duck inside for dinner. DH had prepared two of my earlier Farmer’s Market finds for a feast of Wild Hog patties from Countryside Farms‘ ground feral hog and baby Brussels Sprouts from Engel Farms sauteed in butter and sea salt, with a crack of pepper and hint of garlic. (Engel Farms is also where I purchased the “Rainbow” tomato basket that I saved seeds from.)

After speaking with my dad today, I’m tempted to find some of the younger dandelions, wash them off, and saute them in much the same manner. Apparently you can also make thistle tea? I am still searching for a tea I enjoy…

Transplanting

I did some transplanting today!

It was time for the tomatoes and peppers to give up their stake in the seed tray for more root room.

Something I’ve forgotten to do before is keep track of varieties after I transplant. I did well enough this year documenting where I planted what in the seed tray. Now to attempt to do well enough tracking the varieties into their new cups.

Things you can use for transplant pots:

  • Cups! I dislike that our recycle service will take #6 plastic, but not #6 styrofoam. This year, I saved up our Sonic cups with the intention of driving them to Ecology Action. Lucky me that I kept forgetting and now had plenty of cups!
  • Bottles. Water bottles, soda bottles, other plastic bottles. Simply cut off the tops, poke holes in the bottom, and voila!
  • Actual pots. I save the little plastic nursery pots that plants come home in sometimes. Occasionally they break, and then they go in the recycle, but otherwise they’re saved and reused.
  • What else do you use for seedlings when you don’t have pots?

So, how to track the varieties through the move? Well, we need to start with the schematic of the seed tray:

Whatever little shorthand codes you come up with to suit your process is fine. I put a dot for each seed planted, and circle the dot if that seed sprouted. This helps me keep track of which seed varieties have a good germination rate. I use that info to either assess my seed-saving techniques to improve, or take my seed-buying-dollars to the best performing seed-saving companies. Interestingly, my Cherry Chadwick, “Newport” purple heirloom, and “Rainbow” tomatoes all had 100% germination rate from saved seeds. The “Rainbow” seedlings didn’t last. I’m trying them again in a new seed tray, one color per row (purple, red, orange, and yellow.) My saved Czechoslovakian Black Pepper Seeds? 25%. Trying those again as well.

Cherry Chadwick as the main stars, “Newport” in the foreground, pre-transplant.

So I took my Sonic cups, counted up my seedlings, and began labeling each cup. I took over the shoe bucket in our foyer, filled it with the cups, and headed outside. Each cup was filled by thirds. The bottom third of each cup I filled with regular clay soil from the yard, the middle third I filled with manure, and the top third received a fresh topping of seed starter. Then, cup by cup, I looked at what was labeled on the side, and matched the seedling in the tray to the label on the cup.

A serendipitous factor of using Sonic cups? You can write on the side!

But how do you label things that you can’t write on easily?

These peppers get an acorn label. I used three other pots just like this with labels of red rock, a white pumice stone, and the cap of this acorn. If you scroll back up, you can see that noted on my schematic. As adorable as I find the row labels, especially the metal ones, I find it a fun (and free!) challenge to find other ways to label pots.

So that’s it? All the seedlings are transplanted?

Well, no. I have a bunch of little lettuces, some marigolds, basil, cumin, and lemon balm. They’re hanging out in a too-shallow (Trial & Error will result in errors!) tray awaiting their turn. Now, to decide where to put them before they strangle one another…

 

Growing from seeds – Tomatoes and Peppers

I try to grow my garden from seeds as much as possible. My first garden (and second, and third…) watched sprouts appear through the glass, but never held the plants in their soil. Why? For one reason or another, it took multiple rounds of trial and error to succeed in getting seeds to sprout, those sprouts to thrive, and those seedlings to harden off properly and make it to harvest outdoors.

Last year, I solved the Great Pepper Secret.
1) Sow seeds indoors weeks before final frost: check.
2) Use seed starter mix*, or your own mix of lighter soil particles: check.
3) Keep seed bed evenly moist**: check.
4) Place in sunny window***: check.

I waited. I misted. I kept it humid. I waited some more. I checked the expected time for germination on the first seed packet, and the second. “First sprouts to appear in 7-10 days.” “Days to germinate: 10-14 days.” I was two weeks in and then some. Nothing. I checked my books. I read forums online. Finally, I reread the seed packets.

And there it was. The missing piece. “Soil temperature for germination: 75-85 degrees F.”

Well, didn’t I feel a fool. It was January. My house was lucky to hit 70 with the heat on. I needed to warm up the seeds without killing the heating bill. Online digging lead me to “seed tray mats.” Funny. Those look like big heating pads. I had a heating pad. Free and less-stuff-friendly!

I remove the fabric sleeve to avoid any stains it may acquire, set it.on.medium, and voila!

image

Due to the added warmth, I mist it at least once a day, and check it twice a day to make sure it’s not too dry.

Last spring was a proud season for me. Each plant in my garden bed was grown from seeds in my entryway. (My lovely Other Half quietly and patiently awaits the day in March when the entryway is Obstacle-Free.)

This year I have some new seeds to try for the first time,
– Melons
– Winter squash
– Ground cherries
– Beets

or for the n-th time (so far without successfully reaching harvest.)
– Onions

Any experience with the above? Any tips to share?

*My first seed attempts involved regular soil. Results were less than exciting.
** My next mistake was to water as often as a houseplants, which is to say, not nearly often enough and with much too much water.
*** Indirect morning sun is not sufficient. Lesson learned 2009.