Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seed to Seed Challenge


Every time I visit Daphne's Dandelions - a great blog on growing veggies and more - I see her icon to the Seed to Seed Challenge. Finally, my curiosity overtook me and I followed it to One Green Generation which at first perusal looks interesting. The seed to seed challenge asks gardeners to grow a something, that they have never grown before, to seed for growing out again the following year.

I would like to match and 'raise' this challenge to say that this year:

"I am going to grow all the vegetables that I can feasibly grow given space constraints to seed which includes biennials that I have overwintered."

I normally try to do this on a small scale, and I always do this with easy to save seed such as most legumes and tomatoes, but this year, I'm going to include members of the brassica (cabbage, broccoli etc...) family, and root crops, including saving some of my self seeding greens for other people to enjoy.


Seed Saving Resources?

If you are new to seed saving then welcome aboard. Not so new but would like to learn more then may I suggest such great resources as The New Seed Starters Handbook by Bubel (Thanks to a lucky birthday present, I have two copies so if you know me then feel free to borrow one) and Seed to Seed by Ashworth. An old hat at seed saving then you might enjoy (if you haven't already read it) Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Deppe.

The easiest beginner seed to save are: Beans, Peas, and Tomatoes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Best Veggies for Small Spaces

I am delighted to discover that more and more urbanites are interested in growing their own produce, but you may be wondering while skimming through sumptuous seed catalogues (or seed trader lists) what are the worthiest candidates to grow, especially in a small space.

Space saving techniques:

Purple podded peas on a trellis, growing alongside a young grape.

You may not have much horizontal ground but I bet you have a fair amount of vertical space. Grow up! Often, it is suggested that you grow bush squash or hanging pot tomatoes and if you are confined to containers, then this might be your best bet as your 'root space' is limited but if you can use large pots or you have some ground then it makes more sense to trellis your squash upwards. This is also true of beans and peas, both of which come in 'pole' varieties.

Remaining red lettuce going to seed, interplanted with red cabbage.

Interplant your vegetables: Plant short rows of quick maturing crops such as loose leaf lettuce and baby greens in between vegetables that take longer to mature such as parsnip or eggplant. The classic combo is heading lettuce and cabbage though both of these are space heavy vegetables. You can actually plant cabbage very close together, down to 10 inches, and get small, family sized heads.

Think not just of space but space through time: Spring and fall are two times of year that gardens have a lot of bare spaces so let's fill those spots. Choose frost hardy, quick growing plants such as spinach or peas. I have had success growing a row of shelling peas in the middle of where I planned on putting my potatoes. If you always have some seedlings on the go, you can fill the empty spot left over from garlic with a fall maturing kale or a even a second crop of peas.

Plant on the slant: If you have a south facing wall, you can use the hypotenuse. Create a slight slope to increase your growing space. A southern slope will also warm more quickly in the spring. Or you could be really creative and create a sloped planting surface or wall filled with pots. You could, for example, get a hay barrel, hollow it out some, fill the space with compost or aged manure, then stick some pumpkin seeds on top, the pumpkin vines would sprawl down and around the 'planter' rather than along the ground. In the meantime, plant some greens to grow out from the sides of your planter. I've never tried to do this but the idea sounds fun.

Hot peppers like their hot pots.

Plant in a pot: Convert a gardenless part of your yard such as an unused parking spot or a balcony to a grower's paradise by using large containers like child's swimming pools, or large storage containers. Make sure these containers have adequate drainage holes. You could even put an inch or so of coarse gravel on the bottom. Mulch the top afterwards to help preserve water.

Rhubarb hanging out with columbine.

Decorate with vegetables: Don't be afraid to add those edibles to your perrenial beds. A lot of edible plants are attractive and besides, you'll be saying to your neighbours that you are proud to grow some of what you eat.

Space saver vegetables

Peas - climbing varieties such as tall telephone pole
Beans - pole beans, many varieties
Summer Squash - trombocino, also matures to a butternut variety
Winter Squash - most varieties. The small fruited ones are easy to trellis
Many greens - great cache crops and season extenders
Most root crops including turnips, carrots, beets
Garlic and onions are both harvested early allowing for a fall planting to follow

What's your favourite space saving vegetable?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gardening Meme - from Double Danger

I've not been on this blog - Double Danger - before but I generally like humble people so here goes, my answers to the 'Lame' Gardening Meme:

1. Describe your gardening style? Fast and efficient 'cause I don't have time for anything else. Other people might describe it as half *ssed on occasion but that's because they were not there when all I had within a foot radius of me to prop up the plant was the broken fence post and a flexible twig.

2. What was the last plant you bought? It's been awhile but I guess it was a Rosemary shrub to replace the one I neglected last summer.

3. What were the last seeds you bought? I feel liberated with this one. I have became connected with several seed networks that are outrageously generous so I have received a lot seed lately that was either free or that I traded for. Next year, I am going to 'try' to grow out as much seed as I reasonably can. Ha ha ha ha! I am no longer tempted by you seed companies (though I do really like the local, organic ones).

4. When was the last time you had to pick dirt from under your fingernails? Yesterday, I planted up some sprouted pepper seeds, which reminds me, I have more to do today.

5. Any big plans in the garden this year? Always. What are they? Not telling, you'll see. Why's it such a secret? It's not, I just have other things to do today so I can't write a loooong response. You really have other things to do? Yes, why do you ask?

6. What was your biggest gardening mistake ever? Planting Chinese Lantern because I was nostalgic for my garden in the UK. Or at least that's the one I can think of at the moment.

7. Biggest success? Growing stuff. It's fun.

8. If you could do anything right now in regards to gardeing what would it be? Garden OUTSIDE.

Thanks for letting me do your lame meme!

Hello little guys

My baby plants are growing. I've started some dwarf tomatoes to try as windowsill - patio - windowsill plants. As many of you may know, tomatoes are perennials. I am not sure how long lived our cultivated (and wild) varieties are but I intend to find out.

Little leek babies - first portrait.

I've also started some really cool looking leeks called Saint Victors, from another generous Homegrown Goodness guy who was getting some seeds from the Long Island Seed Project (LISP). May I recommend a browse of their seed selections if you are interesting in plant breeding. What is really neat about this leek is that they have selected to improve its tendancy to turn bright purple in the fall.

My hot peppers that I pre-sprouted* are started to root and the Pasilla, Fish, Small decorative pointed (collected this one at a park - ssshhh, don't tell - so I'm not sure what it was - I promise I only picked up some from the ground, really), and Jalapenos are now potted up.

Speaking of peppers, my overwintered peppers are picking up. Here is the Long Red Cayenne which in early January I figured was a goner because I thought I saw spots on it. Turns out that it overcame whatever was the problem after being exiled to the laundry room for a week.

Long red cayenne in its third overwinter. Happy birthday - you're four!

How are your plants overwintering? Started any yet?

Extra! Extra!

* Pre-sprouting or chitting: This refers to starting your plants out of the soil. People often green-sprout or chit potatoes. It is a useful technique for seeds that are hard to germinate too, either because they are hard to keep evenly moist during germination or because they require a lot of heat or some other reason. It is also a good way to check the germination rate of old seeds.

How I pre-sprout is that I moisten a paper towel, not dripping, put seeds on it and then fold it carefully and place in a labelled plastic bag. I place the plastic bags in a warm place and check daily. This is by no means the only technqiue and I Wet My Plants uses the more resilant coffee filter. As I'm writing this, I'm wondering if you could also use something re-usable like soft tightly woven cloth? I'll have to give it a try. One potential problem are the roots growing into the weave which occasionally happens when you forget to check daily. Then with the paper towel, you can carefully pull it apart to extract the trapped seedling. If a bit of paper towel remains, it's not generally a problem as it breaks down in the soil.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ottawa Gardener and her typos

Forgive my bad spalling and omitted .

I am making a February resolution to occasionally proofread!

Planting dates for Ottawa?

Intrepid gardener from I Wet My Plants blog came by my house with her seeds the other day. I only took 3 seeds, really, I was good. In fact, she had come round to pick up some hot pepper seeds that I offered her on Ottawa Plantcycle. While I was browing her seed boxes, we were discussing the best times to start different veggies in the Ottawa area and like always there was contraversy. Different sources will tell you different things. I figure it is because some are more optimistic than others. Also weather varies from year to year and garden microclimates vary from yard to yard BUT...

... here is a rough guide to when I start common vegetables.
P.S. I am on the optimistic side.

Anytime from November to February - wintersow perennials, plants that need stratification or cold hardy vegetables

February 1st to 14th:

- start inside anything that says 10-12 weeks before last frost
- start inside anything that you plan on tricking into thinking it's two years old like globe artichokes
- most kinds of alliums like onions and leeks

March 1st:

- start inside anything that should be started about 6-8 weeks before last frost but is sloooow to germinate like peppers.
- stuff that is supposed to be started 6 weeks before last frost but that I am planning on protecting under a polytunnel or growing in pots and taking indoors at night.

March 14th:

- Tomatoes
- Remaining peppers
- Ground cherries, sunberries and the like
- Early plantings of brassicas like chinese cabbage and broccoli, and long season brassicas like cabbage

April 1st (or as soon as the ground can be worked):

- Peas
- Spinach, cold hardy greens
- Parsnips
- Radish
- harden off leeks and brassica transplants during the day if nice weather

April 14th (when warmer days start but ground is still moist)

- Carrots
- Beets
- Lettuce
- Transplant leeks, and brassicas under cloche, coldframe or row cover
- Start hardening off frost tender plants like tomatoes during good weather

May 1st

- mulch soil in plastic for soil warming purposes
- plant potatoes
- start corn and melon transplants (if transplanting)
- seed more short rows of greens

May 14 (usually frost free after this but varies)

- Direct seed vining crops like pumpkins, cucumbers etc... May need row cover
- Direct seed beans
- Transplant tomatoes if weather looks promising. Be prepared to cover if late frost threatens
- can seed short rows of greens

June 1st

- All solanums should now be in the ground including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and okra.
- Transplant sweet potatoes in plastic mulched soil.
- Sometimes I start another patch of peas
- Start brussel sprouts, kale can be started now too.

July 1st

- start fall crops like florence fennel, many brassicas, lettuce, greens
- start second crop of carrots, beets and turnips

August 1st

- quick growing greens for maturation in cool weather

September 1st

- start watching weather for early frost
- plant up peppers if they will be overwintered but keep outside, watch for pests

September 14th

- take cuttings of sweet potato and other plants for overwintering
- generally potatoes, sweet poatoes, and winter squash have all be harvested

October 1st

- set up polytunnels, and coldframes around fall crops for longer harvest
- all overwintered plants are inside at night and outside during good weather

October 14th - November 1st

- after a few frosts start digging up all roots for storage
- plant garlic

November 14th - December 1st

- start mulching chicory or other crops that you wish to overwinter for seed production etc...

December 14th - February 1st

- wintersow
- remove snow from coldframes and polytunnel

I'm sure there is more and I'm sure other gardeners do it differently with great results. I'd love to hear your experiences! If I forgot to add a vegetable, let me know and I'll include it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Seed: from the grocery store? - updated -

Oh happy Hallmark day.

Now, back to seeds...

updated with links

Every since I got into gardening, I have noticed that some of the produce that I buy at grocery stores and farmer's markets has seeds in it. I could not help but to try and grow some of these seeds and more often than not, I have positive results. I commonly save squash seed even though I know it might come from a hybrid source. This 'butternut' captured my attention because it's not what I would call a butternut. A C. moschata yes, but it doesn't have the normal squat flat bottomed shape of a butternut. After a bit of searching, I would call it a 'neck pumpkin' similar to the famous vining Trombocino that is used a summer squash. I still haven't decided if I will grow some of its seed though I did save some Acorn Squash for seed. I figure in a big farm, they probably have enough plants for genetic vigour. Right?

What I think is a neck pumpking beside a couple of Waltham's butternut squash from our garden.

Not only do I find myself separating out seed from fruit but sometimes they just sell you straight up seed! You know flax, mustard and countless legumes. I have had nearly universal success tossing these spice and bulk food purchases on my garden. This year, I picked up some black soy beans and a couple varieties of lentils from a local organic store to sow.

It's not just the seeds though, but anything with a root still on it or that can be propogated by vegetative means has crossed my mind as a candidate for inclusion in the experimental grocery store plot (okay I don't really have a separate plot but it would be neat if I did). Green onions will happily grow again and leeks may set flower. My horseradish and Jeruselum artichokes came from different produce sellers. All my garlic originally came from the garlic festival in Carp. In fact, the best way to get good varieties is to go to your local, organic farmer's market and casually ask, "Is this from hybrid seed?" Ignore any strange looks you get.

My youngest and a seedling we grew from a clementine. She asks nearly daily when we'll get oranges from it. I told her that it will make a lovely houseplant but I'm not sure about the oranges.

As I have gotten leek to flower for me after replanting it, I am going to try with some other biennials this year including beets, carrots, parsnips and daikon radishes just for the heck of it. They might (haven't checked) require a stratification period (some cold) so I'll plant as soon as the ground can be worked.

I'd love to know your grocery store gardening experiments!

--- speaking of which ---

I forgot to mention that I decided to write this post because I've bumped into various other posts recently that have inspired me. Found the other link

Mostly Gardening and Pepper Seeds
Gardening Fool and green onions

Friday, February 13, 2009

'The seed man' visits

My buddy from Homegrown Goodness (an edible plant, homesteading, and plant breeding forum) came round my house with his seeds.


He looks as surprised as I was as we brought in box after box of rare and interesting seeds. A great deal of them were from different genetic databases. He is trialing melons for the suitability for our northern growing conditions and one box was devoted to melon varieties alone. Not only am I heartened by his gardening enthusiasm but am a bit amazed at how much energy he must have to work his fields. We should get together a melon picking posse for him - yum.

At any rate, I felt like a kid in a Candy store as he said and I quote "My seeds are your seeds."

I do believe my response was "Oh no, don't say that."

You should see my seed cabinet. What with the tomato trades, my interest in trialing ornamental and perennial vegetables and my general impulsiveness with seeds, I have a fair number.

Not a table full like 'The Seed Man,' but more than I have room to grow.

Now I have even more as he was my source of many types of perrenial allium, some cool looking beans including Soisson - a huge bean, and so on!

Seed Man - Thank you

I promise to take a better picture of you next time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A couple great new resources

Frank, a garden hero of mine, has put up an edible plant resource called The Vegetable Garden. It is filled with all sorts of edibles including a fair number of perennials. Check out the perennial brassica section! Not only is he generally knowlegeable about plant life, but he also has experience with lots of rare tubers including Oca, Yacon, Apios, and others.

Talking about perennial brassicas, another fellow gardener from Homegrown Goodness, has set up a blog called Perennial Platter and the first post details perrenial 'kale' Chou Daubenton. I've been looking forward to this as a resource for those interested in permaculture.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Coldframe roll call

Snow on the spiral garden (and everywhere else for that matter).

This year has been a real winter. It has been the kind of winter that old timers say is how 'it was when I was a kid.' We're not just talking a lot of snow either but bone shattering, teeth clattering, skin freezing cold. The wind chills have been dipping below - 35.

Commercial 'coldframes' made of aluminum and plastic covered by a low tunnel.

Today is relatively mild so I was willing to go outside and do a little coldframe roll call. Will anything be alive in there? Wilted leaves and the smell of rotting vegetation greeted me along with a bit of green.

Mache / Corn Salad

Corn salad has the small spoon like leaves.

Normally, corn salad laughs at the cold and is edible all winter. The fact that the outer leaves are frost bitten, I think is testament to how cold it has been.

Bietina / Perpetual Spinach


A form of Swiss Chard with thin petioles and green leaves, it has proven hardy enough to have survived. It may have helped that the deadened outer leaves sheltered the growing heart in the middle. The regular swiss chard 'Forkhook' was not so lucky.

Radicchio and Bunching Onion


Both were still alive though the outer leaves of the radicchio were frost bitten.



After hearing tales of the tasty spring leaves of scorzonera as a substitute for lettuce, I was very excited to try them. They seem to be alive and well so far.

Earth chestnut


A bit of an experiment, I decided to try the perennial Bunium bulbocastaneum which has edible tubers. The seeds can also be used as a cumin substitute and the leaves are similar to parsley. It is proving to be quite hardy.



I may have mentioned before that my nickname for italian flat leaf parsley is 'polar bear.' Seriously, this herb is a survivor. Not only does shrug off heat but cold as well. It also self seeds reliably in my garden. One year, I was soft hearted in my thinning and had so much parsley that I was giving it away to my neighbours.

Tatsoi and broccoli


This tatsoi is one of the few survivors. It was located in the middle of the coldframe so it was more insulated from the unrelenting cold. The broccoli plants still seem to be alive as well though their leaves are frost singed. We'll see if they start regrowing now that the light levels are increasing.

The weeds


And finally, here is a weed whose name is escaping me. Anyone? It, along with ox-eye daisy meerily growing away.

What did not make it?

The kale and mustard seedlings were eaten by slugs, I think. Rapini bit the dust with the first really cold weather as did the florence fennel. I think I'll have to try heavy mulch for the florence fennel next year. It survived at least until -15 celcius I think in the coldframe, just repeated bouts of -25 were too much for it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Aboretum America - great book.

Unnecessary Preamble

-- sorry folks, had to edit --

Woohoo! I get to post again. The husband has been working so I can't play on the computer as much as usual. Darn the capitalist system. No worries, while cut off from my auxillary brain, I have had more time to read and found a great book for gardeners. Generally, I go to the gardening section of the library and think 'Read it, read it, won't read it, read it a long time ago so might read it again,' so I was surprised when after I had left my foray into the garden section and was passing through what may have been the 'ecology' section that a book called to me. I lifted it from its neighbours and read the title which suggested a tree book. 'Get it,' my mind said to me (yes, we talk). 'Why?' I asked, 'I don't feel like reading a book categorizing the many trees of the continent and I don't want to go traipsing through the forest on a voyage of discovery of some lost species, or at least not today.' My mind's reply: 'You'll regret that you didn't.' So of course I got the book and boy was I right!

Aboretum America
A Philosophy of the Forest
by Dianea Beresford-Kroeger

Do you remember standing in a forest for the first time? You started by looking forward at the sentries of the tree trunks. As you entered, you looked down to ensure that you did not trip and for a while you may have been captivated by the small details: the skeletal remains of old leaves, the mushrooms decorating rotten logs, or the rustle of a startled animal, but eventually you stopped and looked up. It is at this moment, that regardless of your size, you feel small. The wind stilled. The heat was subdued and you were surrounded by one of Earth's most important residents - the trees.

Every time I enter a forest, I am reminded of the magic of this first moment of smallness.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a self described 'renegade scientist' and naturalist, has written a book about the magic of 20 North American trees and emplores us to propogate them as medicine against world's woes. This poetic book is written with the passion of a gardener and the understanding of a scientist but there is something else. Vibrating from the words is a urgency that if we do not act to save the world's forests, we will endanger not only the health of the Earth but also our health.

Medicine is used in a way I read most commonly in aboriginal works though I have a hard time defining the difference, it implies the capricious use of source materials like leaves, bark and berries rather than the laboratory refined pills that most of us pop. It refers to the birch - a source of salicylic acid - not the aspirin.

Each of the 20 trees she has chosen to profile from the maple (Aceracea) to elm (Ulmaceae) is described in beautiful detail. She starts with our historical relationship with this tree in the global garden, where it will best grow and how to propogate it to ensure that the best specimens will go on to produce strong stands. She then describes how to care for it organically in the different climatic zones of North America with occasional reference to growing in other countries such as the UK. It is in the next sections where this book departs from the usual 'symphany of trees' book. She tells of the tree's medicine referring both to the chemical components in words that would make a chemist feel comfortable and to the common physical ailments that all of us can relate to. Drawing on the connectivity of the forest, she describes how the tree carves its ecological niche. It both provides habitat and acts as a food source, such as through the superior protein of the walnut, as well as protecting itself with such devilish tactics as the honey locus producing a girdle of thorns on its trunk to prevent feasters from getting to its leaf canopy.

You may find yourself falling in love with these trees not just for their usefulness but for the personalities we cannot help but impose upon them - the walnut's antisocial production of jugalone or the sugar maple's party of autumn colour before the long dormancy of winter. Now that you are in love with these trees, she will tell you how to incorporate them as part of a 'bioplan' pointing out which ones are low in pollen for urban areas and which ones may have useful agricultural applications such as high sugar cultivars of the honey locus as a forage crop. If that is not enough, she ends each section with details on designing with these trees and a list of choice cultivars and companion plants.

This book is beautifully written but there is a sense of desperation as she presses every big issue button in her arsenal to push the trees back into the ground. Commonly when talking about the use of these trees, she mentions 'climate change' and 'cancer' - two modern nightmares. Sometimes in her attempt to appeal to those in power such as city planners and agriculture, there is a sense that she is throwing out as many buzz words as possible: untapped cure for cancer, potential biofuel etc... without a more measured look at the problems of some of these products. However, I applaud her effort at getting trees back into the agricultural system.

Despite the desperation, and maybe a little bit because I too feel the uncoming environmental crisis, this is an captivating and informative read. You might find yourself lamenting your lack of space or dreaming of a rejuvenated forest in your own backyard.