Need more seeds?

In case you gardeners in the US haven’t finished ordering your seeds for this year, here’s a tool that might help you sort through your enormous pile of catalogues:

The home page of PickACarrot.com

The home page of PickACarrot.com

PickACarrot.com is a free search tool that compares similar items across a wide array of seed catalogues. It includes a dedicated organic seed search function.

I gave it a quick spin. The search function could use some tweaking: Clicking on the front-page photo link for untreated ‘Hestia’ Brussels sprouts seeds yielded 4849 items, including (on page 485 of the results) heat mats, variegated clivia seeds, and kale. We cannot all be Sergey Brin and Larry Page, I suppose. But the first four results were all ‘Hestia’ untreated seeds, listing the supplying company, the amount and unit price, and when available, the number of seeds per dollar. And the next listings after that were for other varieties of Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t until page 8 of the results that things began to drift off course…first to other kinds of sprouts, then to other brassicas, then all over the map. But who reads through 8 pages of results, anyway?

You can search by scientific or common name. Give it a try.

Seed swap!

Yesterday on GardenChat, we talked about growing tomatoes. (To see the recaps of the Monday night chats, review their archives.) Looking at photos and hearing recommendations from gardeners across the US, Canada, and even a few from the UK, I became ravenous, craving not only fresh tomatoes, but their seeds as well.

My personal seed libraryI’ve participated in seed swaps before but have never hosted one. I don’t know how chaotic it’s going to get. But I’m giving it a try.

Here’s what I’ve got that I can share:

Tomatoes:

  • ‘Yellow Pear’
  • ‘Principe Borghese’
  • ‘Mortgage Lifter’
  • ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (good for short seasons)

Peppers:

  • Jalapeno (how do I put the tilde on top?
  • ‘Corno di Toro-Rosso’ (I think)

Miscellaneous vegetables and herbs:

  • Basil (Genovese)
  • Bush bean ‘Contender’
  • Broccoli ‘DiCicco’
  • Broccoli raab
  • Claytonia
  • Cucumber ‘Arkansas Pickling’

Misc. ornamentals:

If you want any of those, reply to this post and let me know what you’d like. If you have a blog of your own, link to a post showing what you have available to swap. I will leave it to individuals to work out mailing addresses and so forth.

 

By the way, I’m in search of almost any variety of sweet pepper, as well as tomatoes ‘Carbon,’ ‘Black Krim’ (can’t believe I’m out of those seeds!), ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Paul Robeson,’ and ‘Amy’s Sugar Gem.’

Flower and herb seeds are welcome, too. Please try to make sure you’re sharing fresh, viable seed.

Let the swapping begin!

 

 

 

 

 

Garden log, 12.19.14

A bit of garden clean-up today gave me a soul-nourishing break from holiday hubbub. Did some raking (oh, endless leaves); planted Cyclamen rohlfsianum (4 seedlings) at the base of an oak tree just above the rain garden. I sowed these seeds last year and set them outside to suffer winter. Just as I was about to throw the pot out, leaves emerged.

The Cyclamen Society says that C. rohlfsianum must be kept frost-free, but life prevented me from getting the pot indoors this fall, and these seedlings have endured a few frosts. I intend to press my luck a little bit. I shall put at least one seedling in a pot in my cold frame, but the others are under a blanket of gravel and dried shredded leaves. Wish me luck.

Raked out the rain garden and dug and divided some Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain,’ making one plant into about a dozen and setting them near the yew, the dwarf Alberta spruce, and a couple under the gardenia hedge. Cut back all the tattered and slug-munched foliage. New leaves are already emerging.

Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain'

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

Potted up an acanthus and planted out two leatherleaf viburnums, Viburnum rhytidophyllum. That’s in addition to the nine I planted a few weeks ago (I acquired a pile of seedlings from a neighbor’s woods). I’m working on an evergreen screen until I can get enough pennies saved to install a nice, high, deer-proof fence. The English ivy is out of control in the back garden, near the gardenia hedge, but that’s a project for another day.

Did myself a favor and decided not to grow bulb onions from seed this year. They take more work than I have time, and since we go through about 3 pounds of onions a week, I couldn’t hope to save myself a trip to the grocery out of my effort. More room for cut-and-come-again greens instead.

The weather should be perfectly foul tomorrow, high 30s (~3C) and rain. Fine weather to curl up with the deliciously fat catalogue from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and figure out what to plant in place of those onions.

Seed viability, part 3: Planting seedlings embedded in paper toweling

The easy sprouts have been potted up, and now it is time to tackle the ingrown ones.

seedlings embedded in towel

Now, the good thing about seedlings growing through their germinating substrate (the paper towel) is that, if you can be trusted with a pair of scissors and have sharp ones to hand (does anyone besides tailors ever have sharp scissors?), you can trim yourself a little seed mat by which to handle the seedling, making transplanting relatively risk-free. Or you can use a box cutter, if you have a sharp blade and clean it first with a bit of rubbing alcohol.

How to Pot Up Seedlings That Have Grown Through Paper Towels

1. As before, prepare a seed flat with moistened, sterile seed-starting mixture. This flat, incidentally, is an upcycled Chinese food take-out container, and it is perfect for such a task.

prepared seed flat

2. Taking care not to cut off the root (which may have tiny root hairs emerging from it), guide the blade of the knife or scissors between the sprouted seeds. Cut a small section of towel to support the seedling:

seedling embedded in paper towel

3. Carefully cut individual seed mats out of the towel. Hold the towel up to a light to help you find the space between the roots.

hold up the seeds to the light

4. Plant the seedlings, giving adequate space to each one. Don’t overcrowd the flat. Gently firm the roots against the soil.

fully planted seed flat

The seed capsules on the soil surface fell off during the planting process. These are not additional, fresh seeds planted in the flat, which would overcrowd the plants.

5. Top the seedlings off with fresh seed-starting mix, up to the base of the seed leaves.

top-dressed flat

6. Water gently, using a rose on a watering can or the spray function of a faucet or squirt bottle, and set in a bright, warm space.

Keep an eye on the seedlings, in whatever form they were potted up, and do not allow them to dry out. Bottom-watering is best: Set the flat in a shallow dish of water and allow the water to wick up through the drainage holes in the bottom of the flat. Once the seedlings have developed one or two sets of true leaves, they may be potted up again.

Seed viability, part 2: Potting up the sprouts

I began the germination test on my hollyhock seeds on January 7. Yesterday, I opened up the bag to find ‘The Watchman’ ready for duty.

germinated hollyhock seed

From your test, gently unfold the paper towel and see what’s happening. The photo above shows an excellent germination rate, and indicates the seed is still quite viable. In fact, of the 17 seeds I tested, 15 sprouted (88% germination rate, or 15/17). I’ve opened up towels to find the seeds exactly as I left them, which is depressing until you remember that that means you must purchase fresh seed.

What to do with them now? Keep them going. And here is a tip: They don’t care to grow on in paper towels. Pot them up!

Potting up bag-germinated seedlings

The seedlings at this stage have only their cotyledons, or seed leaves. Any handling of these seedlings must be done by grasping (gently!) the leaves, not the stem (more properly, the hypocotyl). And to slightly complicate matters, some of the roots have grown through the layer of paper towel.

seedlings embedded in towel

1.  Prepare a seed flat as you would if you were sowing fresh seed (which, clearly, you are).  Use a clean container and fill it with sterile seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix and tamp it down well.

seed pan ready

A clean seed pan filled with moistened, sterile seed-starting mix.

2. Grasp the seed leaves and pull slowly, firmly, but gently. Some of the seedlings may be just beginning to penetrate the paper towel, in which case you may be able to free them entirely. They’ll look a bit like bean sprouts you might find on a salad bar.

bare hollyhock seedlings

3. Make a slit or trench in the seed flat using a spoon or knife. Your finger will work just as well. Lay the seedling into the trench up to where the leaves fork from the stem.

seedling entrenched

4. Gently firm the soil back over the stem and root. Follow the same procedure for additional seedlings, but don’t overcrowd the flat. I’ve allowed six seedlings to a flat 3 inches wide by 6 inches long. None of the roots overlap.

seedlings potted up into the seed flat

5. Keep the flat warm (65-70 degrees) and well lit, either in a sunny windowsill or under a grow light. A fine dusting of sand, vermiculite, or even chicken grit can help to fend off damping-off.

In one more post, I’ll show you how to pot up those seedlings that refuse to release their security paper towel.

Winter harvest: Seed catalogues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: I’m enjoying my first harvest of the 2014 plant and seed catalogues.

2014 catalogues, first harvest

The first harvest of the 2014 gardening catalogues.

Most gardeners enjoy four full seasons of gardening, whether or not they realize it. In the northern hemisphere, it is the high season for plant and seed catalogues. It is a season of fertility and richness (in the mind, if not the wallet); the season of imagining the glory of our gardens in the months to come. Everything now is promising: We haven’t suffered heartbreaking drought, no surprise springtime hailstorms, no plagues of locusts. Damping off is only a vague possibility tucked away in the corners of our minds. Turning the pages of the catalogues that arrive every other day, we are reminded of that plant we’ve been meaning to grow for years now. And look! Here it is, waiting for you, at only $2.99 per pack! It would be criminally negligent not to order the seeds and get cracking.

It is understandable that enthusiasm will inevitably overtake you, and you will order more seeds than you can possibly manage to cultivate (which is fine; seeds will keep, of course). But it is worth investigating the box of seeds tucked away in the corner of the garage, or perhaps the plastic bag’s worth tucked under the wilting lettuce in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, prior to placing this year’s order.

You’ve craved hollyhocks for five years now, true, and the price in the catalogue cannot be beaten, and what’s more if you don’t order them immediately, you’ll probably forget for a few days and when you do get back to it they’ll have sold out of the variety you want. We have all seen this movie before. The color of the flowers in the catalogue’s glossy pages is unlike anything else, it would be the perfect accent in the border, and the entry promises the mature plants will be the perfect height and spread to fill in that difficult gap between the shrubs. But it’s possible you’ll find the reason you’re facing a fifth season sans-Alceas is because you have four years’ worth of unopened seed packets squirreled away. There is always a reason why certain events in the garden don’t happen the way you intend for them to, but don’t let surrender your cash too easily just now. You’ll need it when the bulb catalogues arrive in a few months.

hollyhock seeds