Easy Gardening, sprouting new seeds

Grow Your Own Salad: It’s Easier Than You Think!

If you have a complete set of salad bowls and they all say Kool Whip on the side, you might be a redneck. –Jeff Foxworthy

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again. Even if you think you have an ordinary beige thumb and are destined to kill every plant that comes into your possession, there are some things even you can grow! If you would like to give gardening a try, this is a simple place to start. If you are already a seasoned gardener who invests a great deal of effort every spring and you are aching to get started, this will tie you over until the weather warms. I’m going to show you how to plant a salad box!

This grow box with the very large reservoir is what I like to use for tomatoes and peppers but since I’m between seasons, I’d like to do something with it. Recently this box had a harvest of hot and spicy Jalapeños but alas the plants became leggy and anemic looking as the weather changed and they were spent. Sometimes you can cut the stems, leave them there, and watch them regrow later (in mild climates you can do that); but I would rather start seeds in my windows and have fresh plants in the spring because they will likely be more fruitful. I was reading about crop rotation and there is a more thorough way to do it but for my purposes I’m going to have a short rotation to refresh my soil. If I simply replant peppers in this box over and over, any soil born disease or pests that have begun to take up residence will be encouraged to stay. If, however, I place in this box plants that are from a different plant family, these pests may become disinterested and find another place to go. In India, farmers plant a wide variety of crops close together and they don’t use pesticides. As a result, their plants are not pest free, but the pests don’t have opportunity to have a stronghold. This is what I want. I also get a little bored. So, this why I planted salad ingredients.

By the way, if you don’t have a grow box, don’t let that stop you. You could plant any of these items with a little soil and a container that says Kool Whip on the side! 😉 Just poke holes in the bottom of the container and you’re set; it’s really that easy! But seriously, the grow box does make gardening very easy (http://www.agardenpatch.com/)

DSC05017 DSC05018 DSC05019 DSC05020

I planted five different things in rows within this grow box. One row of green onions, one row of garlic cloves, one row of Mesclun seeds, one row of Simpsons Elite lettuce seeds, and one row of Arugula seeds. I planted everything about a week and a half ago and here is what it looks like today.

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The Green Onions and Garlic Cloves from my kitchen scraps grew very fast! They are some of the easiest plants I’ve ever grown.
DSC05112
The Arugula was faster at sprouting than the other two but I see I few tiny sprouts in there.

How to:

The Green Onions were originally bought at the store and we used almost all of the green leaves in our cooking leaving behind just some of the end with the roots. I poked them into the dirt in a row and I was done. I broke off a few cloves from a head of garlic and poked them into the soil in a row with the pointy ends facing up and I was done. For each set of seeds I sprinkled them in a row directly into the soil on the pot and lightly brushed them around that row in the dirt and I was done. The seeds don’t even need to be completely buried because they are so tiny. The furthest you would plant them into the soil would be ¼ of an inch so really no digging is required.

In this chilly but sometimes warm and sunny weather, lettuce grows easily. It’s not hot and it’s not freezing but we still get a little sun so the seeds will sprout quickly and the lettuce won’t get scorched. Just water when the soil looks dry. Usually in cooler weather, the soil stays moist longer so you won’t have to water as often. Another great thing about the lettuce is that you don’t have to wait for it to grow into a head in order to harvest it; baby leaves taste great! The Onions and Garlic should deter spider mites and aphids plus they grow easily and compatibly with the salad greens. The green leaves that sprout above the garlic cloves are also edible and have a mild garlicky taste the way chives have a mild oniony taste. Part of the fun with growing salad is that you can grow varieties that you don’t get at the store. I also find that I’m more likely to eat it when I grow it. It’s much fresher tasting when it comes from my balcony than it is from my fridge. If I forget to water the plant and it dies, it will still have lasted longer than the lettuce in my fridge. Finally, there is no guilt if the plant dies in a few weeks because you know it’s a short growing season and you were able to enjoy a harvest in no time at all. It’s a win, win, win scenario if you ask me!

My final tip? Watch for skinny stems and tiny flowers that may sprout from the plants (lettuce, onions, and garlic). If you want to extend the life of the plant, cut those stems off before the flowers dry. If you want to collect seeds to plant again someday, watch those cute flowers turn into seed heads and gather the seeds before they blow away!

Have you tried growing any salad greens? What have you learned? Do you have any great recipes you’d like to share or feedback on my salad box strategy? Please leave me comments and share your experiences or questions!

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gardening, gardening and inspiration, sprouting new seeds

How to become an Heirloom Gardener (Lesson in seed collection)

Do  not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is  left of the old.
-Winston Churchill

How do you save these seeds? This was the question I was asked after I posted a reflective blog entry called, “I am an Heirloom Gardener on Foreign Soil”. My husband was the first to tell me, “When I read that blog, the first thing that came to my mind was “How?”. You have written about the “Why?” and should give your readers the “How?”. So now I will heed his advise and share with you some of the things I have learned about seed saving.

First, lets discuss a basic question. “What makes your seeds heirlooms?” To me, the answer is simple. If your grandmother gave your mother a piece of beautiful jewelry, then your mother gave you that jewelry, it is an Heirloom. The same is true for seeds. You extract the seed from a parent plant, sow it into the soil, watch it grow, then produce its own seeds which you then gather for the next generation of plants. So why then are red tomatoes just called tomatoes and purple or orange tomatoes called Heirlooms? To put it simply, these unusual varieties would disappear if gardeners did not save the seeds. Red Tomatoes can be heirlooms too, it’s just more popular to call rare varieties heirlooms. Make sense? Many mainstream varieties of vegetables have actually been genetically modified or developed to have longer shelf lives, which is what you normally see at your local grocery. This isn’t to say “everything” on the shelves is modified, but you get the idea. In a nutshell, heirlooms are about trying to grow particular varieties.

Here are my Seven Steps for Heirloom Seed Saving:

1. Determine where the seeds of your desired plant come from.
As you are all aware, many fruits and vegetables have seeds within them while others do not. Some seeds come from other parts of the original plant. If you have a fruit or vegetable with seeds, go ahead and dig them out and move to step two.

If the plant you are trying to derive seeds from doesn’t have a core of seeds, you may need to do a little research. I’ll give you a few examples. If you want seeds from a potato, garlic, onions, or ginger, you will need to let sprouts develop on the veggie itself. You can then pluck those sprouts off and plant them in soil. A new root crop will develop and the cycle will repeat. Often times, the plant that grows on the surface from those sprouts–root crops included–will put off a flower head that will eventually dry up on the plant and produce a seed head. Then you will be able to get seeds from that dried up flower.

DSC03404 [Spuds sprouting from potato and ginger]

Many ornamental flowers (flowers can also be heirlooms) will produce seeds from the dried flowers as well but some will create seed pods. For example, the Petunia will bloom for several days and then suddenly the bloom will droop and fall off the plant. The spot on the plant where the flower fell will grow a small pod. When the pod is mature, it will dry, crack open, and release its teeny tiny seeds. The same is true for many herbs such as Basil. Flowers such as Marigold dry and the seeds are actually attached to their petals. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Marigold seeds actually look like little match sticks.

DSC03405 [Basil Seed Pods, most are already dry]

DSC03406 [Marigold Seed Heads]

2. Clean the “messy” seeds if necessary.
What if the seeds are gooey and wet? You must find a way to dry so that they will not end up molding. For tomatoes, some heirloom gardeners will put them in water, blend them, and let them ferment for a couple of days so that the seeds will actually separate cleanly and able to be dried. Personally, that’s not how I do it. I am too concerned that I would leave them too long. I actually place the seeds with the sticky pulp into a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water thoroughly. Often times I can’t get all of the excess pulp off but I get as much out as possible and then I prop the strainer over a bowl for a couple of days to dry. The remaining pulp will dry and flake away from the seeds after that. Other “messy seeds” that aren’t so gooey will be okay with a simple rinse and air dry. You can actually lay them out on a piece of butcher or news paper. I like to write on the paper so that I can keep track of the days they are laid out.DSC03237[Gooey Dragon Fruit Seeds]

DSC03233 [Shikuwasa Seeds; messy, but not as messy]

3. Let them dry, TOTALLY!
This step is very important. The slightest amount of moisture can cause mold when you try to save the seeds. Usually the magic number is three days. So set the seeds out for three days and let them dry. If you extract seeds from seed pods, they may already be quite dry. Let them sit in a paper bag or cheese cloth so that they can drop out easily when they are ready.

DSC03232 [Moist Okra Seeds left out to dry]

4. Protect them from the elements.
Some seeds lose their germination capabilities when they are left out in the air or too much light for too long. When leaving the seeds out to dry, place them in a darkish spot in the house where they are undisturbed. Once they have dried completely, place them in a sealed jar or plastic bag then in a dark place. I usually go with one plastic bag and one envelope for each set of seeds so that they are air tight and placed in the dark. I used to only use plastic bags and often that still worked but this year I found that many of my Jalepenos refused to sprout. I learned then that pepper seeds are more “light-sensitive” than most seeds. So, I’m using envelopes from now on.

DSC03342 [Plastic bags for the seeds then to be placed in a dark spot]

5. Be a master Labeler.
Seeds do last a while; many of them for years. But they don’t last forever. Different seeds have different life expectancies. So, that’s a good reason to label by date. A few years down the road when you’re sifting through your collection, you can determine which seeds will stay, which ones will go, and which ones need to be used up ASAP. I like to label mine with the name, dates, and place of origin (as best as I know).

DSC03384 [Inside the seeds are sealed in plastic bags then placed in labeled envelopes]

6. Plant in season if know the season. If you don’t, fret not trial and error then take notes.
Many fruits, vegetables, and herbs grow as annuals. There is no guarantee that they will be productive in the winter if they are meant to be a summer crop and vice versa. Lettuce crops grow well in moderate to cool weather, tomatoes grow well in warm weather, and hot peppers grow well in blazing hot weather. A little planning goes a long way. If you’ve saved seeds from a vegetable you have limited information on, don’t be afraid to test them out. You can always try again a couple of months later or the following year. Be sure to take notes about your results or lack there of and you’ll get it.

7. Research early, relax and enjoy later.
In addition to knowing about your crop’s seasons, find out about potential bug pests and diseases that affect the particular plant you are trying to grow. Find out about water and light needs. Get to know all that you can so that you can plan accordingly. Use labels so that you don’t have to keep it all memorized in your head and get overwhelmed. My system for container garden watering is as follows: I find out if the plant needs consistent moisture or drying in between watering. I place the dry plants in clay pots and the wet plants in self watering containers like “Plant Spa.” It takes the guess-work out of it for me and I can avoid under/over watering. If you know a certain bug likes to attack your selected crop, find out what plants repel that pest and apply a little companion planting. This is a lot of research and work at the beginning of each growing season, but hard and purposeful work in the beginning saves you a lot of trouble later on. It’s worth the effort.

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With these steps, you can begin saving your favorite varieties as you come across them in your local market or travels. It’s not very hard, it just takes a little time, planning, and organization. I hope this article helped. Please feel free to ask me questions or share your Heirloom Garden Experiences!

gardening, sprouting new seeds

The Mango Experiment Part 2

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
C. S. Lewis

A few weeks ago, July 12 to be exact, I showed you part one of the Mango experiment.

20130803-091017.jpgWell I checked its progress a few days later and found no progress except for the deterioration of the paper bag. I exchanged it for a wet paper towel and returned it to the window.

Today I checked the seed again and found the slightest sign of a sprout. I reasoned that the paper towel was getting old and thought it best to replace it. 20130803-092748.jpgLet’s see how it progresses now. If the sprout grows some more, I will be placing it in soil. The next part of the experiment will include researching soil, potential pests, sun needs, and water requirements.

Stay tuned for more on this Mango seed’s progress. In upcoming entries you will also learn how I have been saving seeds (I gave you the ‘why’ in my article titled “I am an Heirloom Gardener on foreign soil”) from store bought produce, as well as how to sprout a Pineapple (I’ve been doing it wrong for years!).

Keep going, keep growing, and thank you again to my faithful readers who have been keeping up with me and my urban garden. Comments are always welcomed. Thank you!

Marissa