{ Archive for the ‘seeds’ Category }

Springtime gift giving

I’m kind of excited about this little surprise I’ve got ready for my sister’s birthday next week, and I thought I’d show it off as maybe you would like to do something similar. Although that pretty much means the end of the surprise. Happy Birthday, Jenni!

Step one: choose a pretty bowl or vase.  I found one with a cable-knit design, because Jenni’s an extraordinary knitter. If you’re thinking Easter, a cute flower bowl such as one of these might do nicely.

Step two: fill it with goodies! I know what you’re thinking: chocolate! But we are gardeners, and of course, we are not swayed by such mundane things as chocolate. Goodies equals seeds!

Be sure to match your seed choices with the right person. Not everyone wants to baby a finicky flower; a seasoned veteran might welcome the challenge. I’ve got a bunch of seed that’s been harvested by myself or friends which I wanted to share with my sister, but you could just as easily use packets of commercial seed. Bonus for that route: instructions included! I’m not worried about Jenni having instructions; a landscape design/arbourculture degree, her, and Google make a pretty good team.

But instructions or no, go for making things pretty. Find some cool paper (keep it lightweight for easy folding),scissors, and some ribbon, stickers, decorative tape, or twine. Fancy pens optional.

I’m recycling my paper from an old printer’s sample book and a desk calendar. If you are packaging saved seed, make sure to fold each side over a few times to keep the seeds from escaping. If you feel like getting right into it, try making decorative envelopes like these – just be sure all edges are sealed. If you’re using prepackaged, all they need is a pretty wrapper.

 

Here's one way to do it -- I folded the long sides in first.

Then tuck all your little packets of goodness into the bowl, with a couple of other little trinkets that suit the season or the recipient: pussy willows, a notebook…

Oh, all right, you might as well throw some really good chocolate in there while you’re at it. If you must.

 

Who cares about soil temperature?

The snow is melting, the cows are calving, and the calendar looks right, but for me, I know it’s really spring because I can smell it. I hope you know what I mean: that earthy, damp scent that’s starting to waft around when the sun is bright. So exciting! Time to grow things! Whip out those seed packets and let’s start digging, right?
Unfortunately, no. At least not outside. Not yet.
I had to learn to curb my enthusiasm the hard way: losing more than a few seeds. Some years I was sure it was frost. Other years it was obvious they had been rotted out from too much rain. Or maybe I’d planted some old or bad seed to begin with. But the main culprit went unidentified until I started hanging out with farmers.
When growing things is not just a hobby but your livelihood, you pay extra attention to some details an average gardener may be clueless about. Such as soil temperature.
You may have heard people talking about the soil “warming up,” maybe referring to how raised beds warm up quicker, allowing earlier planting. They aren’t just talking about the dirt “thawing,” as any farmer can tell you: there are ideal temperatures for the germination of different crops, and if the soil is too cool, you end up with uneven growth or damaged seed, and those depressing blank spots in your rows.
When I learned this, I looked back and realized this was why some years I could get away with planting earlier–the mild spring had fast forwarded the soil warming–and some years even mid-May plantings were sluggish in the cool damp.
So as much as you’d like to dig in, don’t be in too much of a rush. This time of year, you’re probably just wasting your time. Better to use your enthusiasm indoors.

Celebrate Plant a Flower Day

Did you know that today is Plant a Flower Day? I’d like to celebrate by sending these pretty plantable gift tags.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Tis the season for Seedy Saturdays

This past weekend, I headed to St. Catharines with my husband to attend Niagara Seedy Saturday. The event was bustling. I could barely get near some of the seed tables at certain points, the seminar I attended about composting was standing room only, and the fresh roast beef lunch and pie served by the church where the event was held was evidently really popular. Read the rest of this entry »

Wintermission withdrawal

We are buried, once again, in several inches of snow today (Ontario and the Maritimes also, I hear) and I’ve got the blues.

It’s Canada, and it’s winter. There will be snow and cold. I get that. But during the last few weeks, we have had a good share of pleasant weather in Southwestern Alberta, what we like to call a ‘wintermission’. The kids were walking around without coats, let alone gloves, and the pussy willow catkins have come out. That last is a little disturbing, I know, but you take the lack of mittens and the abundance of fuzzy-tipped twigs, and add seed catalogue season to the mix, and you have a recipe for spring fever. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall seeding in the sandbox

Late this summer, my friend Halli led me through her fading garden collecting flower seeds for me to bring back from my visit. Many of the plants she showed me were planted by her grandmother, self seeding annuals that have thrived for years outside the family home. There were nasturtiums, poppies, blanket flowers, sweet peas, and bellflowers. Some were familiar, some were new, and all got me excited about adding them to my own garden.

 

Then I got home and life took over.

I took the seeds out of the plastic I brought them home in, but the plate where I spread them to dry got knocked over, and the little slip of paper where I had noted the description and identity of each seed went missing. I moved the seeds to a safer location, and forgot all about them.

Now, here we are, the beginning of November, and I’m feeling guilty. I can’t waste this gift, but we’ve already had a couple of snow falls. The ground is starting to freeze. Should I hang on to them until next year, and hope they are still viable? Shall I give them an artificial winter in the fridge?

To the rescue: what I call my “sandbox” (an idea I think I gleaned from Marjorie Harris)–a little spot of ground specifically left empty for playing, experimenting, and housing the random plants that jump into your hands at the greenhouse. Mine is in a little corner of the front flower bed, out of immediate view, but close enough to where the action is that it doesn’t get forgotten. I think it will make the perfect way station for Halli’s seeds. Loosely sown on the soil surface, scratched in just a little, they should ride out the winter in the way they were meant to, and in the spring (hopefully) I will have a riot of new faces to sort through.

Replacing the leaves that naturally gather in this corner will add some winter protection.

Quick seed-saving tip

I’m really, really trying to get into saving my own seeds but with all there is to do in the garden (let alone life!) my timing is sometimes off. Either I’m over eager and lop off the seed heads before they have fully matured, or find them too late, after their seeds have already dropped.

I don’t remember who taught me this little trick to avoid disappointment, but it’s a good one.

Get your hands on a bunch of little mesh gift or favour bags. Dollar stores are a good bet, or attend a lot of fancy weddings and beg them from everyone who has finished their candy. When you notice the seeds forming on plants, pop a bag over the head and tighten the ties snuggly around the stem. The bag will keep the seeds contained until you get around to harvesting them, and allow air and light to circulate in the meantime. They also dry very quickly if they get wet.

I got my parsley all bundled up. Works great for many types of flowers and vegetables.

Why thinning?

That time has arrived for my earliest crops: they need thinning. I sigh, as I am wont to do over this task, and mumble once again, “Isn’t there some way to avoid this fiddly, tedious, extra task?”

Come on, admit it, doesn’t it seem like a make-work project to plant a bunch of seeds, and then, after a few weeks, take a bunch of them back out?

Why not just plant them all at the right spacing to begin with and be done with it, right?

Every year I think this, and every year I talk myself back into doing it the long way. Here’s some of the reasons why.

1. Bad germination. Sometimes only some of what you plant will actually sprout. I hate to break it to you, but there’s a lot that can go wrong before those little plants are even born.Could be heavy spring rains washing out or rotting seeds, dry weather frying them, critters stealing them, less than ideal soil temperature, or just plain bad seed. So you over-plant, improving the odds that you will have enough germinate for your needs, and insuring yourself against empty gaps in your rows or squares (along with the resulting urge to re-seed).

2. Plant strength. Not every seed is absolutely, one-hundred-percent identical. Each might respond differently to the exact micro-climate you place it in. By planting thickly, you can choose those plants that seem the strongest to focus your resources on, discarding those that are weaker– and you do this when they are quite young to give the survivors the best chance and the most room.

3. Nature of the beast. No matter how far apart you plant some seeds, you will always need to thin because the “seed” is actually a seed pod, containing a group of seeds. Beets are a good example. In these cases, just resign yourself to the necessity.

My biggest problem with thinning is this horrid feeling that I am killing tiny bits of life. All that potential! How can I toss it at the compost heap? But the truth is, by sacrificing those little guys, you really are improving the production of the rest. I had two big squares of carrots last year. One I thinned early, the other got pushed to the bottom of the list until well into July. You would not believe the difference in the harvest in those two squares (both seeded and germinated evenly): the first gave me pounds of medium to large sized carrots, the second had lots of tiny ones, the kind that are just annoying to try to clean and prepare.

‘Nuf said.

So away I go, with some good sharp scissors, and weigh my little seedlings in the balance. Those found wanting get a snip right at the soil line (yanking them up is more likely to disturb roots on the keepers).

There is the odd time you might find three really strong, healthy looking specimens grouped too close together. I have been known to dig some up and move them to a more suitable spot, but be warned: only try this on plants that don’t mind root disturbance.

Though I haven’t quit my grumbling about one of my least favourite garden chores, I try to keep as my mantra a little piece of wisdom I heard someone say somewhere, sometime: “I would rather grow a few plants really well, than an acre-full badly.”

Seeds: how old is too old?

When my grandpa died, my mom found all kinds of things in the basement and the garage, including quite an impressive collection of garden seeds. Some were at least ten years old, others could have been older. Not being one to waste, my mom planted a couple of the packets of tomato seeds, thinking she’d be lucky if a few germinated.

Well, you guessed it, dang near all of them sprouted. She was giving away tomato seedlings left and right. I guess Grandpa had them stored right (cool, dry, dark, with some air circulation).

Oh, the possibilities!

This week, a recently widowed friend offered me a similar collection of outdated seed that her husband had stored. With my mom’s story in mind, how could I resist giving them a chance? This couple being avid gardeners, there’s some cool stuff in here: there’s standards like kale and corn, but also gooseberries, huckleberries, an indoor cactus mix, rhubarb…

I feel vaguely like I’ve been given a lottery ticket: kind of hopeful, but not wanting to get too excited in case nothing comes of it.

I can’t bring myself to toss them, that’s for sure. It may be a waste of time, or, I guess I may have my own turn at giving away a lot of seedlings.

 

A heartwarming seed booth at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto

Yesterday I toured around the spring One of a Kind Show & Sale not once, but twice. I was there in the morning for the media preview and then I returned that evening with my husband (and some money). We brought home a few goodies (edible, wearable and for the house), including a wildflower seed kit from Kluane’s Creations. I had a fantastic chat with the woman looking after the booth. She explained how these little kits are put together. Various community groups of men and women with intellectual disabilities (and their assistants) work on different aspects of the product, from the kiln-dried markers to the little seed pucks. The materials used to put the kits together is organic, biodegradable or made from recycled materials.

I love the spirit and whimsy of the product, as well as the fact that the company is providing meaningful jobs to people in its community. I can’t wait to plant my wildflowers!

The One of a Kind Show continues throughout the weekend, until Sunday at 6 p.m.

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