Archive for the ‘Seeds’ Category

Status, June 4, 2011

A lot has happened in the garden since I last posted. There is so much to see and so much growth to measure in these early June days. The cold rains of May have vanished, and we have had several steamy hot days. Those days comforted the tomato plants and I’m happy to report that their posture has improved. The flowers primped in the heat, and now the butterflies are paying court.

The Words of the Day for this post are from George Washington, who also noticed plant growth, and often found it a convenient analogy. Whether the plants were growing slowly or rapidly, he had something to say about it. I would agree: There is a lot of friendship and even more liberty in a garden.

I am also happy to report that I have seen 6 honeybees already, legs loaded with pollen, when I only counted 4 for the entire season last year.

As always, a venture into the garden involves MacKenzie. These are confusing times for her. She was always welcome, in whatever emotional state she was currently experiencing, when I was first digging the beds and securing the fencing. Her impact was minimal. Then Germination arrived, and her life changed. She has mostly been banished, because the seedlings are delicate and she is not. She is certain the garden is under assault from chipmunks (she is correct) and rabbits (one baby, so far), and her first instinct is to tear into the garden and race up and down the rows in hot pursuit, which is better described as focused hysteria when one is referring to labrador retrievers. Enough. While I admire her intent, I’m choosing my seedlings over her ego, and she knows now to sit and wait at the gate. Evidence:

She's entirely too eager right now. As soon as she settles down, she will be welcomed in.

I began my assessment with the flowers in the garden. We have several flat beds by the front porch, and a steep slope garden that leads down to the lawn. The sun is perfect for perennials. Evidence:

The lavender blooms are a few days away from perfection. Hidcote variety.

Echinacea, alba. This variety was promoted as having a vanilla scent and to be attractive to butterflies. No, and definitely yes.

The blossoms of the milkweed are pinking-up. The butterflies adore the flowers. Monarch caterpillars are especially fond of this plant, and I've photographed many of them visiting.

Those last three are part of my flat-bed gardens. Now to the slope:

Catmint has lovely gray/blue leaves, blue blossoms, and it spreads. Who could ask for anything more?

The catmint is loaded with tiny butterflies. They are some type of skipper, but I'm not sure of the exact type. I need a field guide to butterflies!

The Photo of the Day shows the last of the slope flowers I photographed today. On to the vegetable garden, to see how things are progressing:

Beautiful basil. Genovese.

Beets, but you'd hardly know it. The reddish leaves are just visible, and they are coming along very slowly indeed.

Broccoli, DeCicco. Only 6 seedlings survived, and so I have direct seeded into the bed. I cannot have enough!

Garlic, bold and commanding.

Kale, lacinato. Much to Husband's dismay, every seedling survived and is doing very, very well.

Three lettuces have emerged (I’m waiting for two others):

Lettuce, Amish Deertongue

Green looseleaf lettuce, a butterhead variety.

Red Romaine lettuce.

We have had two salads already, feeding 5 of us, from the lettuce and the spinach. I’m giving the plants a few days rest, before bringing my basket back into the garden before dinner.

Spinach, America. A little later in the season I will plant New Zealand spinach, which looks and tastes like spinach, but is not. I will share photographs of the two seeds, as proof, in a later post.

Rhubarb. This is what is left of my 5 monstrous plants after harvesting stalks for delivery to a local organic food market. And Eldest made a spectacular rhubarb upside-down cake. I have, perhaps, one more harvest to enjoy this season.

Garrison Keillor spoke about zucchini in one Prairie Home Companion broadcast. He alluded to the plant’s astounding production by commenting, “July is the only season of the year when Lutherans lock their cars in the church parking lot. They know that if they don’t, they will find bags of zucchini on the front seat when church has ended.”

My summer squash plants, baby zucchini and a yellow variety named “Zephyr,” are already so large that I am a bit alarmed.

These plants are so healthy that I am afraid. Very afraid.

Peas and beans. I had none last year, thanks to the marauding chipmunks. Earlier posts have described my battles, and I have achieved success — so far. I covered the emerging seedlings with cloches made of plastic milk jugs. Once the plants are approximately 6-8″ tall, the chipmunks lose interest. Here are a few photos of my beans sprouting:

Speckled Cranberry, a bean for drying, has a lovely seed that is tan speckled with red. The seedling has shed that coat and emerged pale white and green. I moved the cloche away so that you can see it clearly.

The cloche is anchored with a stake through the handle. This keeps it in place against the wind and against thieves masquerading as striped darlings.

And finally, the success story that is my pea plants:

Peas, Maxigolt, or as I call them: Amy's Triumph.

The potatoes are doing beautifully:

The trench is filled with potatoes now.

As are the peppers:

Pepper, Ancho Gigantea.

And my Cosmos seedlings. These are planted near the peas. By the time the peas are past, these plants will be ready to stretch out and up, to command that corner of the garden.

Cosmos, Sensation. This variety sports blossoms in red, pink, and white.

By the time I finished photographing, MacKenzie had calmed down. She was allowed inside the garden, and dutifully sat where instructed. Sharing the garden with a calm lab is a lovely way to end the day.

She agrees.


“True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”

— George Washington

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Seedlings, 2011

And so it begins: the Seedlings of 2011. The plant tray with steady, adjustable artificial light is next to my keyboard, and the window is filled with the plant display rack, given by our generous and good neighbors, that holds three more trays.

I started herbs, vegetables, and flowers indoors, reluctantly setting aside the “direct seed” packets for planting in the garden when the calendar dictates. This is a supreme exercise in self-control for me. My instinct is to start every plant indoors, but I have so many that I fear I’d be the subject of a new reality show: Seed Starter: The Truth, The Tragedy.

There I’d be, smiling and wide-eyed in disbelief, “But I don’t have too many seedlings. I was put on this Earth to start seeds!” And my children and husband, hollow-eyed, dabbing at dribbling tears, “At first they were just in her office. But now there are seed trays everywhere — the tables, the chairs, our beds, the dog bowl!” (cut to mournful MacKenzie, sad eyed, sniffing the zinnia seedlings that have replaced her kibble)

But I do have self-control, and I have limited myself (ahem) to 228 soil-blocks for planting seeds. Here is what is sharing my office these days:

A close look at the tomatoes. I confess, I am most eager for these seedlings to do well. I can do without anything, except tomatoes.

Tomatoes, broccoli, kale and peppers to the left, borage and herbs to the right.

And at my left elbow:

Keeping the seedlings as close as possible.

And in the window:

Zinnias in the foreground, calendulas towards the wall, both arching and waving towards the sunlight.

The hollyhocks start to emerge, with my boxes of seed packets and oh-so-elegant watering vessels below.

I start and end each day with them, checking on their progress, thinning out the weaker individual in each block (and I will never feel entirely comfortable with culling), and watering when needed. They are with me for such a short time, so I appreciate every minute.

P.S. Take note of the new “widget” (that’s what “wordpress” calls them) to the right: Chipmunk Scorecard. I will keep track through the season of who is winning the Amy vs. Thieves contest. I trapped one chipmunk already, and relocated him, much to MacKenzie’s dismay. No plants have emerged in my garden, so there has been no opportunity for the chipmunks to score. The 1-0 score, while in my favor, is not something to brag about. Yet.


“Every seed is awakened, and all animal life.

— Sitting Bull

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Spring, Indoors

I planted 228 soil-blocks yesterday. I started my indoor-seeds, and 228 did not seem like enough. But it was a good start.

I actually “planted” my first seeds in the refrigerator. My eldest daughter was captivated by the photo of Himalayan Blue Poppies, and so I bought a packet for her. Apparently you need to trick the seeds into thinking they’re in the Himalayas, and so you start the cultivation process by chilling them for three weeks.

Into a baggie, and into the bottom-most bin in the refrigerator they went!

It was a cold, sunny, windy day. I made the soil-block mixture in the wheelbarrow: top soil, a bucket of compost, and greensand, cottonseed meal and “super phosphate.” I set the trays on the picnic table, planting outside what was about to come INside.

The wind made some seeds particularly difficult to sow (think zinnias), but that’s why we have quiet Sundays — to calmly work through difficulties. It was such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Here are the vegetables I started indoors:

Tiny little black balls that stayed obligingly in my hand.

Also teeny-tiny little balls.

The first of three types of peppers this year, and I love the warm yellow of the flat seeds.

Sweet red peppers for my sweet daughters.

And the last, a yellow pepper said to be suitable for stuffing. I will report back to you on this claim.

One bed will be entirely devoted to these paste tomatoes.

And the slicing tomatoes will share their bed with the rhubarb.

The sole photographic representative of the flower seeds I planted this year.

I also planted these flower seeds: Lemon Gem marigolds, Queen Sophia marigolds, Wee Willie dianthus, Black Bowles violas, pink and black hollyhocks from Friend Cass in Colorado, and Candycane zinnias.

I also planted the following herbs: borage, spearmint, hyssop, thyme, lemon balm, basil, and parsley.

Next weekend I will plant my peas, spinach, and lettuce. Photos and commentary to come.


“Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As I prepare to leave my home and my seed packets for a week, taking Youngest to visit colleges, I’m adding two jars of Good Mother Stallard beans to my bags. They are Hostess Gifts, and I will present them along with the recipe below. What better gift to give in Frozen February, than the results of last summer’s bountiful harvest?

From “The Ranco Gordo Newsletter”: “They’re great for so many reasons but I think it’s their “pot likker” that gets me the most.”

Good Mother Stallard Bean Stew
Yield 2 to 4 servings
Time At least 2 hours


* 1/2 pound Good Mother Stallard (or other good dried beans)
* 2 1/4- inch slices of pancetta, diced
* 1 diced carrot
* 1 diced onion
* 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
* A few handfuls of arugula, or another tender green
* Salt and pepper to taste


* 1. Cook the beans until tender, about 2 hours. Check them frequently — they absorb liquid more quickly than most dried beans.
* 2. Sauté the pancetta in a bit of olive oil until just golden. Add the diced onions and carrots and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rosemary.
* 3. Add the beans and about a quarter cup of their liquid. You can add more depending on how thick a stew you want. When the mixture is heated through, add the arugula and continue cooking until it’s wilted. Adjust the liquid to your taste, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Source: The New York Times


“When God blesses the harvest, there is enough for the thief as well as the gardener.”

— Polish saying

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There Is A Season

My seeds have arrived. I have weeks and weeks before I can mix a wheelbarrow full of potting soil, form them into soil blocks and adorn each dimpled depression with a beautiful seed. What to do in the meantime?

I enlisted Husband’s tripod and camera, then Youngest Daughter’s camera, and a gray textured matte board, and began to photograph my beautiful seeds. It took me most of yesterday afternoon. It took me almost two hours to size the photos. A brief weekend season well spent!

I began my day in the ice-filled woods, struggling to walk on roads covered with 3 inches of smooth unbroken ice. Even MacKenzie had trouble walking. Only the yaktrax on my boots kept me upright. I couldn’t look up because I was so busy looking down, putting one foot carefully in front of the other. If I didn’t look down, I reasoned, I wouldn’t remain upright. This effort robbed me of any chance to think on my walk. Only my body was exercised today.

And so the only seeds I want to consider today are flower seeds. I cannot imagine the world ever being warm enough for me to set these seeds out. And yet seeds, like the changing seasons, hold promise. I will enjoy the beauty of these miraculous seeds, germs of promise, and look ahead to the next season when their promise is realized.

Tiny tiny poppy seeds, that will be planted on the slope garden in front of our house. The petals the color of the spring sky, and the eye the color of the gentle springtime sun.

And destined for both my vegetable garden and the slope garden, the colors of summer itself: Calendula. More on this remarkable blossom in a post devoted to herbs and their many uses.

I love the dramatic difference in size, shape, and color of seeds. The poppy seeds are tiny black balls, almost impossible to sow. The calendula seeds look like curled caterpillars, dry, lined, and shades of cream and brown. Why is it that perennial seeds are always so tiny and so very difficult to plant and germinate? Why is it that annual seeds are always larger — easier to see, sow, and handle?

Is the lesson here that things that last take more care and attention at the beginning?


“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”

— William Blake, poet, 1757-1827

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