31 January 2012

winter chard

A few of the Chard stumps I neglected to yank out of the ground in the fall
are now growing fresh new little leaves.
I cut some the other day to put in an omelette with mushrooms. It wasn't even enough chard to taste, but perhaps we got some nutrients anyway!

rose seed

I'm trying to start rose seed. These are from the hips I picked off roadside several weeks ago.
Today I saw more on the same bush and came home with another handful. These hips each had two or more seeds, so I ended up with about forty seeds total.
Getting rose seed to grow is very tricky, I find from my reading. (Which is why usually they're grown from cuttings). The seeds have to go through a lengthy period of stratification- sitting in the cold. Several months worth. They also have to be kept dark and partly moist, so I followed the method read on another site and layered a babyfood jar with vermiculite.

I've never worked with this stuff before. I like it better than perlite, which floats about too much- but this stuff the color of oatmeal is kinda weird. You get it wet and it soaks up the water but still feels gritty.
Put a layer of it in the jar, with a layer of seeds, then another layer of vermiculite and so on until the little jar was full (three levels of seeds in there).
Then seal it up and stash in a corner until the date I've marked on my calendar, to take them out and see if any seeds will sprout once put in soil...
It's not very promising. I read too much about it online. Rose is very susceptible to fungus, so you have to soak the seeds first in a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide, or weak bleach. The mixture you store them in must be very sterile, too. Only the seeds that sink when you soak them are likely to germinate- but I didn't get any, mine were all floaters. Four sunk when first put in the bath, but they were all floating when I came back six hours later to store them in the jar. Then you have to wait forever, and there's always the probability the seeds that do grow won't be true to the parent, but look different.

Why am I doing this crazy thing? Well, it only took about fifteen minutes to prepare the seeds and put them in the jar. Not really difficult. There's just the patience required with small hope of actual roses at the end.

I guess I just like to see what I can get to grow. The challenge is my idea of fun.

30 January 2012

Started Peas today. They'd soaked overnight. My daughter picked out a dozen peas to soak for her garden plot; I'm planting about forty. Yes, that sounds like a lot for my little garden, but I want to have enough peas beyond eating them fresh, to freeze some for our year-round use.
Here they are just getting poked into the soil of their starting trays.
Shelling peas, this year.

seedlings up!

I have four baby Cilantro!
and a dozen teensy Broccoli plants

29 January 2012

new packaging

I discovered (thanks to Chris again) how easy it is to find seed-packet templates online, and decided to make nicer packets to hold my saved seed. I've been keeping them just in folded bits of scrap paper, seamed with tape. They're not very nice-looking, and some tiny seeds always end up stuck on the tape, and I have to cut them open...

Well, I found this template at Content in a Cottage. I really like her design, but I wanted more space for a picture, and less lines for writing on, so I altered it a little bit (I hope she doesn't mind!) I wanted the packets to be tougher than regular copy paper (because they get jammed into my very full seed jars) but didn't have any cardstock in the house, so I just cut up a few manila file folders and ran them through the printer.
Then it's easy- you cut them out, fold the little flaps, glue it together. I found that enlargening the template by 115% makes it just a bit bigger, to use for the larger seeds like green beans. I decorated mine by cutting out pictures from old seed catalogs. The only one I couldn't find a photo of was Cilantro, so I drew a quick little picture of the herb on that one.
It felt nice to repackage all my seeds. My husband saw my work and said "are you going to sell those, or just swap them?" ha ha. Nope, just keeping. I just like them to look pretty and hold together better. It was fun to do, too. Also nice to sort through my seeds again. I was surprised- I have far more saved seed than I'd thought (about twice what's pictured here). And maybe this is silly, but I love the sound of the seeds- I just sat shaking packets after they were all done and sealed up, before storing them away in the back of the fridge again. It was so lovely.

(Next time I make more packets, I'll use a paper in between. Regular copy paper is too light, but cardstock is too heavy- it makes the packets quite thick and they didn't fit easily back in my jars. Something in between, the weight of construction paper, would be best I think.)

new dish

I've been trying to find new uses for my dried garden herbs, but admittedly my repertoire here is pretty scanty. I put oregano into eggs and sauteed mushrooms, and beef dishes. Thyme goes in a maple sauce for pork chops (yum). Parsley gets used liberally in spanish rice and chicken pie. The sage went in my thanksgiving stuffing, and that's it. I've found I really like rosemary bread with honey on it so I tried making an herb quick bread last week, but nobody else cared for it. I've made lavender scones (with the same reaction), but can't think of what else to put lavender in... Basil get sprinkled on pizza. And today I found a new use for it: poached salmon!
not (for once) my photo- credit here

I looked at a few recipes, then just came up with this dish by combining different elements of each (to use what I had on hand). It worked- and best of all, both my husband and kid loved it. Definitely something we'll make again. Thought I'd share if anyone else wants a simple way to make salmon delicious.

2 or 3 salmon cuts
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons dried basil
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a pan on the stovetop. Whisk in the flour and milk. Stir on med-low heat until the milk scalds. Lay the fish pieces in the pan, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the crushed basil. Simmer gently, spooning the sauce over the fish or turning it frequently, until it flakes easily with a fork. Done! Serve with lemon or lime juice, and pour remaining sauce over the fish.

I'm planning on growing dill this year, so will try that in this dish next time.

28 January 2012


I don't know why it is so hard to resist watering plants when they don't need it. I've had this dracanea almost two years now, and just finally started giving it the treatment it needed.
No longer is it terribly droopy, leaves dropping off, burnt ends.

I finally figured it out: the plant likes to be dry. As in, the soil looks like a desert. You stick your finger in and it feels like sand. It took me forever to realize I simply have to leave it alone. I only water it once a week, or once every two weeks, even. And it doesn't like tapwater- only melted snow, rainwater or water that's been standing at least twenty-four hours.

Why is this so hard to do? I guess I always want to be doing something for my plants, and when the others need water I think of giving this one a drink, too. I'm trying to get myself into the habit now of walking around with a mister instead, or just wiping the foliage clean of dust, when I feel like the dragon tree needs some attention. And not only is it healthy now, it's growing quickly! Soon I'm going to have to lower it to the floor (its on a stand right now) as its leaves are about to hit the young spider plant it's sitting under.

So. Dry, dry dry equals happy dragon tree. You can finally see the beautiful red edges here too.

27 January 2012

seed packets!

I have a bunch of new seed packets, and I'm really tickled pink about it. First off, I've found my new favorite seed company, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They're local, grow plants here in the mid-Atlantic region and ship them from right here in Virginia! They have lots of open-pollinated, organic and heirloom varieties. And their website is wonderful, it has all kinds of helpful garden instructions and growing tips, also tells you how to save seed for yourself! I went there just intending to buy more broccoli seed, but it was all too tempting. So now I have:
de Cicco Broccoli
Kentucky Wonder Beans
jewel mix Nasturtiums
Evergreen Hardy White Bunching Onions
French Marigolds
Summer Savory
Sweet Marjoram
and Long Island Mammoth Dill

I also got my seed-swap packet from Chris today! What deliciousness to open that up and spread out the assorted packets. This is what he sent me:
Italian Heirloom Tomatoes
Brandywine red Tomatoes
two kinds of Okra- burgundy and green
pie Pumpkins
Ancho Peppers
Sugar Baby Watermelon
B Contender Bush Beans
Wheat Grass
Paragon Rhubarb
purple-top Turnips
a winter squash mix that (from the picture) contains Butternut Squash and Acorn Squash- two of my favorites!

Wow. I certainly won't be able to plant all these this year, but aim to give them all a try by next year at least. Quite a few of these will be new for me. I've never really cared for turnips, but only eaten them a few ways, maybe growing them will inspire me to do something different. I've never liked okra either but the plants are so pretty (and the flowers gorgeous!) I wanted to grow them anyways. I never heard of anyone growing rhubarb from seed, but why not try? Borage is an herb that will attract pollinators to the garden, and the wheat grass I plan to grow for my cats.

I feel so rich!


One little Cilantro seed is sprouting in the tray! but so small I can't get a decent picture. I started more seed today: de Cicco Broccoli, jewel color mix Nasturtiums, and green Onions (called bunching onions on the packet).

26 January 2012


I did it! I built myself a coldframe! You have no idea how thrilled I'm feeling right now.

I wasn't sure I could actually do it. I'm not very handy. When we moved into our house, we had to fix a few things. I patched some holes in the wall and put some drywall up where there was nothing (floor to ceiling) and it wasn't a very good job. A year later a carpenter came to do some repairs for us and he noticed my patching job and remarked how terrible it was, said "somebody didn't know what they were doing." Yep. Me. I was too embarrassed to admit it was my work.

Anyhow, I didn't really know what I was doing here, either, but figured I'd try. I had plenty of scrap wood, an old window, a hammer and a wood saw. A ruler and pencil. I bought some nails. That's it.
First I cut the wood into pieces to make the sides.
The hardest part was cutting the slope for the top short sides, so that the glass would sit at an angle. Then some little pieces to go inside in the corners to hold it together vertically, and a backstop.
Took it outside (while the baby had a fortuitous long nap) and nailed it all together.
Put the glass on top. Voila! A coldframe!
The little nails in front sticking up hold the glass from sliding down when it's closed, and the backstop holds it in place when it's propped open.
And now my first group of little seedlings has a comfy home!
It's not perfect. My edges are not sawn even (I never could slice bread evenly, either) my corners aren't quite square, there are splinters. I measured a bit wrong so it's about an inch wider and a half inch narrower than I'd like. But surprisingly, there aren't any big gaps, and it all held together. Would be better with screws, but I'm scared of power tools. I plan to paint at least the inside white, so it reflects more light.

I'm already thinking of making another one, since I have another old window in the shed. I want to make it with a deeper slope, though, so can fit more tall seedlings... And now I don't have to haul and restack bricks when I want to move it. What a relief.

baby broccoli

I have some Broccoli seedlings! A few days old. I only had three seeds left in the packet, but amazingly they all sprouted. Have ordered some more.

25 January 2012

hosta seed

Why I get so tickled about collecting seeds I have no idea.

The other day tromping through the half-muddy backyard saw this seed stalk standing where my blue Hostas are sleeping under the earth.
I pulled the flag out, brought it inside, and found some little black specks (which I assume are the seed) clinging to the opened pods. Most had already fallen out; I'm curious to see if any baby hosta will grow by themselves in that spot. I put these in an envelope in the fridge with anticipation and then went and did a little online research. Discovered to my joy that it's quite simple to grow hosta from your own seed, and lots of gardeners do this to come up with various colors and varieties. I'm not likely to get blue hosta from the seed, but I might. We'll see!
And here we have more Apple seeds. Not like I need them. Already have two apple trees on the patio in pots, that I still don't know what I'll do with when they get bigger. But these seeds, exposed when I cut into slices a nice little mini-apple from the grocery store (is it a specific variety, or just the smaller apples off the same tree that grows big ones?) looked so plump and lovely I couldn't help saving them.

23 January 2012

spider plant

My large Spider plant has been looking rather heavy on one side. I decided the other day to see if I could rearrange it. It wasn't until taking the pot down and setting on a chair that I realized how monstrous this has grown! There were actually five plants in there.
I took out the two smallest ones, which also seemed the least-healthy; their leaves tend to corkscrew instead of making nice, straight curves. Centered the three largest plants as well I could, and repotted it all.
I'm surprised how much thinner the foliage looks now. But also more balanced.

lettuce seedlings

The baby Lettuce are already too leggy. The seedling leaves should be flush with the soil, not on these searching stalks. I know they won't mind the cold too much; I've put the trays into that old plastic cover and set outside. Even on an overcast winter day they seem to get better light out there than indoors under my lamps (I don't have real grow-lights yet). Just have to bring them in at night until they get bigger.
The second set of trays I started has just begun to sprout. I was kind of surprised that the four-year-old store-bought seed I planted sprouted in one day and the two-year-old saved seed I planted took three or four days. I guess my saved seed isn't quite as vigorous as the original it came from. Or perhaps the older seed is just that much more eager to grow, after being in cold storage for so long...

22 January 2012

tucked in

Glad I had my perennial garden plants well-mulched, even though it was getting so mild spring-like weather before yesterday's snow. I took this photo of the Garlic patch just a few days ago, so pleased at their lush growth
and then they got snowed on! I counted them; there are about forty garlic plants. Some of the leaf mulch had drifted off and I didn't quite get around to recovering it before the snow fell. I might loose some plants off the edge from the freezing cold, but that will be alright. Even twenty or thirty garlics should be enough for our year's use!
The Strawberry leaves are still just poking a few out above the surface; Rhubarb is completely covered in white. I hope they all enjoy their short winter sleep!

21 January 2012

cold herbs

Most of my herb plants seem to be doing just fine, in spite of the snow. Rosemary:
The Thyme has grown into a wild, bushy thing. Its stems have a reddish hue and the leaves are darker color than the two indoor plants I have in pots. So I think I've answered my own question: thyme likes to grow outside.
The Mints are all completely dead-looking but I have faith they'll survive, mint is such a hardy stubborn thing.
My little Oregano is completely covered in snow, and the Parsley plants as well. I feel pretty certain the parsleys will survive, not so sure about the oregano...

snow flores

We finally got some snow- just two inches, plus plenty of icy rain. So I tramped outside this morning to take some pictures of plants in the snow. Yellow Crocus that emerged just earlier this week:
and stubborn Daffodils still growing through the mulch I tried to suppress them with.

20 January 2012


I have a new plant!
I went to my favorite local garden center (which happens to have winter hours, unlike the larger stores) to pick up some potting soil. I resisted buy more seed because I just splurged on some seed from Southern Exposure (more on that later) but all their plants looked so beautiful I couldn't help bringing one home. I've always wanted a pothos or philodendron- I have visions of them growing vines across the ceiling... This is a Pothos Gold variety.

orange seed!

Last night I started some Orange seed. Yes, from this orange I picked them out of more than a year ago. Been sitting in the fridge all this time. I found a video on youtube (there are a lot) that shows how to grow them and realized what I did wrong last time. You have to soak the seeds first, at least eight hours, and then peel off the white outer husk. Let me tell you, this is a very annoying task. The seeds are so small and slippery (even though I tried to pat them dry) it was quite difficult to get a grip on them and peel the husks off. I think I damaged a few seeds. But have enough good ones; five from a navel orange and about a dozen from a smaller orange (clementine or satsuma? I can't recall). Anyhow, if I get a nice little orange tree I don't think I'll bother to ever try growing these again.
After peeling off the husks you fold damp paper towel over the seeds, then place in a plastic baggie (not sealed) and put in a warm place. So they've gone on top of my fridge. In about a week, hopefully some little roots will sprout!

19 January 2012

they're up!

I don't think I've ever had Lettuce seed sprout so quickly before. It's only been two days, and already I have eighteen seedlings! Tiny little green elbows above the soil.
You can barely see them, but I tried to get a picture anyway. When they're this small, I water them with a medicine syringe.