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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seedlings- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

If you experiment with growing plants from seeds like I do, you have had experience with all these categories of seeds.   I try to order all the seeds that are a long involved process in the fall so I can get an early start on them, like those requiring 30, 60, or even (gasp) 90 days of chilling in the fridge.  Then there are some that need a warm period and a second chilling period.  Once I wintersowed  some seeds I had trouble with, and they didn't come up.   But I was surprised the second spring to see 3 little seedlings had come up.    Then there are the ones that pop right up, but don't like my soil, my watering, my fluorescent lights, or whatever, and the next thing I know, they are expired.

Here are some examples where fall sowing pays off big- Alpine Strawberries, cute little plants that don't make runners and just sit there looking charming, worthy for a Hobbit garden, and blithely bloom and fruit whenever they want.  Fall sown November 19, nearly up to my lights (11")-
And here are some sown March 20, from seeds I collected from my own strawberries last fall-
Aren't they cute?   They are ready to transplant into individual pots, and sometime in the next 3-4 months they will be outside growing and could even fruit by fall.

I decided too late to plant Knautia macedonica so bought some seeds this spring and just planted them March 9.   The instructions said they needed 30-60 days of chilling, I was depressed to think they would get such a late start.  But they sat around under my lights for a while, and lo and behold-
Two valiant little seedlings!  I don't know whether to hope for the other seeds to sprout or just transplant these carefully and try to save the other seeds to refrigerate.  Actually, 2 plants from a $2 package of seed more than pay for themselves anyway, so I am ecstatic to get some plants so soon.  These came from J.L. Hudson, who also sells Gibberellic Acid, which is supposed to help difficult seeds to sprout, and can eliminate the need for chilling.  It can also cause normal seeds to over-elongate.  Speaking of which, we come to the Ugly.   Seeds that apparently need direct sunlight and get too leggy too fast under lights, like Cerinthe major purpurascens, planted March 9-
They will be a challenge to plant out safely.  Half of them also came up as twins, if you can see that in the left front seedlings, so delicate they are probably impossible to divide.   I hope they will do well, I haven't grown them before.   Here in the PNW with summer nights staying around 50*F, most annuals sown in the ground will have trouble blooming before fall.  But Nasturtiums will do well here direct-sown, being cold tolerant anyway so you can plant them out fairly early.  In San Diego they would self-sow coming up in Fall and growing all winter to die out when it heated up in late Spring.
The little seedlings to the right are Asperula odorata, an annual for shade and cool conditions, dying out in summer.  They grow quickly and I did transplant some out last year, I'll have to see if they were able to self-sow this year.  I'm still looking for more self-sowers.  Here is another annual, Limnanthes douglasii,  I'm hoping will self-sow, also planted out last year and having a good time blooming then in a sunny spot-
On the left is Baical Scullcap, a perennial that is also medicinal and has purple blooms.   It would definitely have been better fall-sown.    Here is fall-sown Geum chiloense 'Blazing Sunset' and 'Lady Stratheden' from Diane's Seeds, some eggplants and peppers on the left and tomatoes and Cerinthe on the right-
And here are some more Geums sown in March-

They are so cute, but not much hope they will bloom this year.  So, I need to stick to the program and start those seeds in the fall, but it is so tempting to grow just a few more plants..... who can resist?

Happy growing, Hannah

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday, March 28

Welcome to my Wildflower Wednesday post, and enjoy the other wildflower posts on Gail's site, Clay and Limestone, with a lovely blue and white flower, Collinsia.  I was surprised to see a Trillium in bloom-
And I finally got around to googling the name of a large shrub that is blooming now, Oemleria cerasiformis, Indian Plum.   I haven't ever noticed any fruit on it, probably it is a male plant, as sexes are separate.  I'll have to go check it for fragrance, males give it a nickname of  Skunk Bush.
That was all I could find blooming, but some Claytonia sibirica, Spring Beauty, is coming up in my newly cleared area, though it has to compete with lots of other (undesired) seedlings.
Spring is proceeding, new flowers are appearing every day, exciting times.


Friday, March 16, 2012

What's Blooming Today March 15, 2012

Welcome to another GBBD, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens .  Thanks, Carol!  She has some lovely frilly Hellebores.  My Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten Rose,  like to face downward so are hard to photograph, they range between dark wine purple and pink, to a few white with blotches-
They typically have blotches on the inner petal sides that adds beauty-
This Hellebore makes a big clump-
 Hellebores are very carefree as long as they are not in direct sunlight for long and get adequate water. I love the way they make a big bouquet in spring, and that they self-sow freely around the parent plant so there are extras to move or give away.  Some awesome hybrids have been developed as well.
Some bulbs are starting to bloom, daffodils like these N. cylamineus 'Jetfire', aren't they cute- poised as though for flight; and another one with a larger trumpet, not sure which it is.
I also found some Muscari, they are not really this color, a little more magenta.
The Vinca minors are beginning to bloom as well, love those perfect little pinwheels-
Aso the turnips in my vegetable bed, I hadn't noticed them so cut all the ones that had blooms and buds for dinner-
In my deck planter I have Purple Rain in front, perhaps named for the sunburst effect?
And Blue Blotch, these 2 were the most fragrant I could find.  There were some stunning very large pansies with light petals with sunset-colored washes but I was afraid they would not do well in rain and wind.  As it is, these had snow and popped back.  Some trailing plants will join them soon, probably some Calib
Meanwhile indoors, my Agastache rugosa continue to grow in my aquaponics system, where I will soon put the tomatoes, transplanted into 4" pots, that have hit the lights on my grow shelves.  Poor camera seems not to be able to do well getting magenta flowers right.

Only a week left until Spring begins officially!  Can't wait....


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chinese Artichokes and Some Spring Vegetables

One of my Spring preparation projects is to weed my cold frame and get ready to sow some peas in it.  This is my cold frame, designed and built by me, with a wooden frame, hardware cloth bottom to keep out the voles, sides made of corrugated Polycarbonate, and a 4x8' double-walled Polycarbonate sheet for a top.
The main problem I have encountered with it is that the corner wooden posts have been rotting.   I haven't really tried much to grow vegetables over the winter with it except a few greens in the photo, but start peas in it every year in March, and last fall I placed my Chinese Artichokes growing in a planter in it for over-wintering.  I decided to try growing the Artichokes in it this spring to see if they will do better than in the planter, since they need protection from voles and will have more room to develope.  If you have not grown them, they make nice tubers that look rather like a string of pearls, and make a nice crunchy addition to stir-fries.  They are in the Mint family, Lamiaceae, and are also called Crosnes or Stachys affinis.    Here are some from my planter, around 2-3" long.   The tops had not completely died down on the plants.  I wish I had a photo, but when in bloom, the upright petals fit neatly between the eyes of the bees that visit the blossoms, and it is so adorable the way the bee's eyes are peering around the petals as it is sipping the nectar.
I am putting them in the center of the cold frame and will put the peas around the edges.  I like the edible-podded peas exclusively, no shelling, especially the Sugar Snap pea varieties like the short Sugar Ann, Sugar Sprint, Sugar Daddy, and tall Super Sugar Snap, as they are very tasty and crunchy raw, and also very good cooked.  I like them either boiled or in stir-fries.   I also like  Snow peas, the kind of edible-podded pea used in Chinese restaurants in stir-fries when the pods have enlarged but the peas are still mostly undeveloped.  They can also be eaten raw but are not as good that way as the Sugar Snap varieties which have pods closely wrapped around the peas.  Snow pea pods tend to stay flat and larger than the peas so when the peas inside are mature the pods tend to balloon out.  I am going to try a new variety, Norli, which is described as a Sugar Snap but looks more like a Snow pea in the photo, and is supposed to be able to keep bearing when the weather heats up.  When the peas get above the height of the sides of my cold frame, I have to remove the cover and surround them with a wire cage to protect them from the deer, and for support for the taller ones.   Pea foliage as in the tender tips can also be eaten as greens, and some Oriental seed companies have varieties to grow just for their foliage.

I also have to spend some time cleaning out and replanting my 2 large stock tanks up on my deck that I use for tender greens since the slugs and voles can't get to them there.  The Evergreen seed company also sells some nice frilly baby leaf greens that can be cut over a long period of time, and add a nice taste and texture to a salad, as does Kitazawa.

Bon Apetit!   Hannah

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Chicken Destructo-mobile

I have both chickens and ducks in movable "Chicken tractors", and chickens are just way more destructive in working over the ground and eating all the grass and weeds.   Neither chickens or ducks actually eat moss, but the chickens really like to rip it all out in piles and make holes.
This is a triangular run from a design on the internet.  It has been fortified with metal covering, barbed wire, etc. to make it predator proof.  It is really too small for a couple of active chickens, and very hard to put food and water dishes of any size in it.  But it is a very secure design for protection from raccoons and dogs, both of which have killed poultry in our yard in the past.  That happened in our larger run occupied now by our four ducks.  The bent pipe at the bottom was too light, it has been filled with concrete and weighed down with a weight and the water bucket, and wrapped on the bottom with barbed wire.  The house has been covered with metal and metal corners and has wire instead of twine holding the fencing onto the house.  It is roomy but the ducks don't like the wire floor or being indoors so they are out in even the coldest nights.   They are much tougher than chickens, and better layers of what I consider better quality eggs, though not everyone likes them better.  Their webbed feet are not as suited to scratching so they can't rip the moss out of the ground as well or dig holes as well as the chickens, though if the ground is wet they can stick their beaks in and make a nice mud hole.  Fun girls.
The product of all that scratching and industry is piles of moss which have been well fertilized, and various holes that must be filled in at some point.   I like to use mole hills for that, all that nice soft worked-up soil in convenient piles.
We have been having fantastic weather that seems very like Spring!  The bright sunshine has lured me out to rake up moss and spread it on one of my garden areas.   I had to remove spent squash and cucumber vines, and pull long nails out of last year's pole bean rows, used to protect the bean stems and roots from voles tunneling up from below.  I will continue to put on moss and leaves until all the grass and weeds are under cover, then when it gets time to plant some new seeds or starts I will be using my mattock to remove any remaining weeds before planting.

Enjoy the fantastic weather, what a lovely full moon tonight! It is positively mesmerizing... Plant!  Plant! Plant!

Your Humble Plant Slave, Hannah