Tuesday, February 26, 2013

OH performs seed surgery

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I started the day saying, I think I'll scarify those seeds. Shouldn't take long (common intro to foreshadowing). From top left: Prunus sinensis, Canna indica edulis, Smyrnium olusatrum, Hibiscus palustris, Tinantia erecta and Callirhoe involcrata. P.S. I'd wager that remembering how to spell botanical latin is better than cross words for the old noggin.

Most of the seeds grown in the average salad garden* grow without much coaxing, so much so that gardeners are often perplexed when seeds show low or erratic germination. Others make you work a bit harder to see the fruits of your labor.

Some have hard seed coats that must be broken down essentially by weathering whether that be from freeze-thaw, soil organisms or more. To speed up the process, you can carefully scarify.

Here is a selection of pre-conditioning I did on seeds today.

Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum may not be hardy here but that rarely stops me from trying especially if I am sent some seed. Heck, optimism is the gardener's middle name, right? It had the simplest instructions: rub off black husk:

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Alexanders emitted an lovely aromatic odour while being pre-conditioned for germination.

Next came various 'mallows' including roselle, Hibiscus sabdarilla, and Rose Mallow, Hibiscus palustris. I'll complain about poppy mallow in a moment. They were nipped them with nail clippers.

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Another blogger that I came across calls these love bites. I can't find her/his blog now but when I do, I'll ref. See the instrument in the background?

Widow's tears, Tinantia erecta, were a bit harder to hold so I tried scratching them on an emery board. We'll see if that does the trick. 

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Me thinks these knobbly seeds were insufficiently scratched and should just be wintersown. We'll see.

Prunus sinensis came with instructions to crack the seed coat with a vice. Done:

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Done after crushing the first two in pliers, then flinging one down the stairs as I headed for the garage and another somewhere on the garage floor as it was poorly placed in the vice. Finally I got success.

Then I had to pop off the outer seed coat from Callihroe involcrata. This picture does not really give you a sense of how small and hard those *&^* were. I was supposed to follow this up by scarify the itty bitty inner coat which indeed was very hard. I tried with itty bitty nail clippers then had to go and do something else. I do have a life beyond nicking seeds you know.

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There must be a simpler way. So far, my luck with poppy mallow has been to lose most of them to slugs or earwigs once I finally did get them germinated...

Some of them now sit in pots or baggies to await the hard won germination. Others are imbibing water on my window sill.

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Drink seeds drink.

I"ll report back on the results. 

P.S. Hardy species seeds could just be sown in a propagation bed to allow for nature to do the work for you however long that takes. I suggest labels. 

* Salad gardens are those that mostly contain tomatoes, cucumbers and greens for use during the growing season. They are among the most beloved of back (and front) yard growers. Most of the common annual veg will readily spring to life though some herbs may require a bit more attention. The most common issue with veg starting is that they are sown at the right soil temperatures, at the right time (similar yes), in a bed that is kept moist until establishment and with the hope that seed/ling predators say away. 

Some other methods of scarification Apparently you can freeze then drop in boiling water. Yikes. Perhaps this should be called seed torture techniques. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Book by a Great Gardener

Breaking News!

Stephen Barstow is one of my favourite people and his gardening style is very aligned with my own so of course I was excited that he was writing a book. Looks like a good one too:

Around the World in 80 Plants

Here is an interview from this blog with the author.

Braving the first Edible Gardens Ottawa Group

In deference for the internet photo-phobes and in light of my lack of own photo-beauty, I didn't take any pictures but I'd just like to start off and thank everyone that made it out despite the driving conditions that included a snow-ice storm, a bomb threat on one road and a game clogging up another. I'd also like to thank the beautiful display at the Ottawa Library (guess I should have taken a picture of it).

At exactly 6:29 there was NO ONE there so I thought, well fine be that way and then at 6:30 the room started to fill. It was packed by 6:40pm. Yay, friends! I proceeded to puzzle people with a rapid discussion of seeds, dormancy and pre-conditioning. The experts in this group may have been nodding off but I worry that I made it seem all a bit more complicated then necessary for the beginners. So for the latter group, really it's easy. Stick seed in soil, water, give light, grow. Tada!

But if you were really interested, the important bits were wintersownbaggie method, Norman Deno's awesome book Seed Germination Theory and Practice and JD Hudson's expose on Giberillic Acid*, available from Gardens North. As I start a heck of lot of weird seeds or at least a whole lot more than cukes, coaxing seeds to go radicle is a preoccupation of mine.

Hank also kindly came to talk about the Allbirch Pollinator Garden and has offered to return and talk about nut trees in the area. Something I'm very interested in.

It looks like people want to get together once a month!! I know that there was enough interest and tentative 'I'm goings' before the weather went all treacherous that we would easily overflow the Hazeldean's room so I'm looking for suggestions for other rooms, along with preferences for times and days though that'll probably depend on the location.

Thanks for a fun time guys!

Oh we have our very own Facebook group now

* Here's something kind of hilarious, I never noticed that JD Hudson, Rob's Plants both mention Norman Deno's book before. In fact, I found a circle binder photocopy of his book at the Carp library. As soon as I cracked it open, I knew it was something special. How come in all my other perusals of those sites, had I not noticed it? You know what they say about time and teachers revealing themselves and unicorns and stuff right? Anyhow, great book but you can't take it out until I'm done with it 'k or you could download it off the web.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

This one's a keeper

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Red seeded citron melon about a year and a half after harvest.

A long storage keeper that is.

It all started in 2010 when I traded for two types of citron  - that's rind watermelon not the lemon - at the first Perth Seedy Saturday. From luxuriant vines in 2011 came two types of fruit: a huge splotchy oblong type with green seed (I believe)* and a more compact stripy type with red seeds. Somewhat puzzled as to what to do with them, I stuck them in our cool but not very humid basement cellar. I had heard that they were used to "make candied watermelon rind," "the best christmas cake ever," and "mock apple pie."

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I have this really great picture of a harvest basket overflowing with citrons: both the round and the oblong but I fear it's on the computer that is no more though I may be able to resurrect it from a talk I gave last year. To tide you over, here is the green seeded giant variety held by daughters in summer 2011.

We had more apples than you could shake a stick at** that year so Suzy the Apple Peeler*** and me processed those instead.

In the spring of 2012, they had gone from rock hard green balls to rock hard yellow balls. I wondered if that meant they were ripe now. Figuring they'd go off soon, I vowed to check on them to see how long exactly they would last. The good folk at One Thing Leads to Another came round and I handed them over one of the behemoths. In fact, I offered them to anyone who had the fool idea of visiting. They responded with the same half curious, half puzzled 'huh' as me.

Fall 2012, I hauled them all upstairs deciding that they were going to go off soon so I'd just toss them on the old compost pile. They survived a couple freezes on the front step (and my younger daughter just informed me they were excellent chairs) before I put a few in the garden for a self seeding experiment and brought one inside intending on cutting it open just to see.

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Citron proving that it is food by rotting.

Yesterday in mid-winter 2013, my eyes lit upon the citron. I really have to blog about that, I thought turning it over in my hands. "What's this," I say to myself, "a rot spot?" Forced by its imminent demise, I brought it upstairs with thoughts of how such a long keeper probably had skin requiring an axe to slice. Turns out that it was easier than some squash to peel though this could be because it was well aged.

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Note the rot, the red seeds and rind.

The inside was no longer crisp and white but mellow yellow and soft around the seeds. Some had sprouted but most were sound. The bottom half was rotten but the top was fine tasting like a mild cucumber. I diced up the rind and boiled it in sugar and lemon then dehydrated it as per a recipe that I stumbled upon.

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According to my youngest daughter, these look like french fries. They are in fact, citron rind ready for processing.

Verdict: This one's a keeper. Assuming the seeds oblige me with viability, I'll grow them out again next year. They may have crossed with the behemoth green variety so we'll see what we get. I assume it will be something with a steel skin, a suspiciously long shelf life and mysterious innards requiring preparations techniques gleamed from historical text.

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Here's a curio: these seeds were conjoined.

* That's right, I'm not sure. You may have noticed that I was somewhat neglectful of the citron melon. I did open one early on hoping that the giant watermelon was a giant sweet watermelon and being disappointed to see it was a citron meaning none of my neglected sweet watermelon had germinated just all that citrons proving that it is also quite an independent grower. I didn't take note of the seed colour. The other giant ones were either composted or given away so unless a recipient can confirm, I can only assume they were green seeded as the small ones were red seeded. Unless of course there was something more complex happening.
** While writing this, I wondered where does this expression come from. I asked Dr. Google who answered that s/he didn't know or rather, it might be these things.
*** Suzy the Apple Peeler, or just the green apple peeler that I got at Lee Valley, is a wonderful  time saver that both peels and cores apples. Together we make shorter work of bushels of wormy, irregularly shaped apples.



Eat the Weeds posts on Citron Melons and Abandoned Preserves

Karen's Kitchen and Citron Preserves

Culinary Historians of Canada and Citron Melon

A Gardener's Table gets creative with Citron

Thundercat's Kitchen watermelon rind pie recipe