Annuals and Perennials to start indoors

>> Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For most gardeners, Spring is way too slow in getting here. That wait to get back to the soil can be almost tortuous, but there are ways to get ‘dirty’ indoors too. In fact, one of the most important and rewarding aspects of gardening is starting plants from seed.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of seeds I started on my back deck, right out in the cold snowy weather. This seed-starting procedure is called ‘Winter Sowing’; the concept mimics nature somewhat in that the seeds are allowed to start outside much the way nature intended. In a natural setting the seeds would be protected from the elements by fallen leaves or other debris until the soil warms enough to allow sprouting. We provide that same protection by sowing the seeds in containers that would have otherwise been set out for recycling. Placing the containers outside allows them to be ‘awakened’ naturally by the sun as the weather warms thereby eliminating the hardening off process.

The other seed-starting procedure is the time honored method of starting our garden seeds indoors which requires us to provide the necessary ‘elements’ to allow the seeds to sprout. Elements such as light, moisture, and heat. Some general tips for starting indoors:
  • When planting seeds, plant the largest seeds in the package to get the best germination rate.
  • Cover containers with plastic. Prick holes with a toothpick for ventilation. Water as directed.
  • Find a place in the kitchen where there is natural bottom heat—on top of the refrigerator or near the oven. (Move the tray if the oven is on, as it may become too hot.)
  • Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C).
  • When seedlings appear, remove the plastic and move containers into bright light.
  • When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, prepare individual pots filled with a potting mix with plenty of compost. Move the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well. Keep pots out of direct sun for a few days.
NOTE: I don’t always have compost available so I lightly feed new sprouts with half-strength liquid fish emulsion.

Starting plants from seeds affords us a much greater variety of plant than the local nursery can provide and here is a very short list of plants that anyone can start indoors or start by winter sowing:
  • Balloon vine
  • Bloodflower
  • Browallia
  • Coleus
  • Impatiens
  • Petunia
  • Sage
  • Sweet William
  • Wishbone flower
  • Zinnia

  • Balloon flower
  • Baptisia
  • Columbine
  • Coreopsis
  • Delphinium
  • Hibiscus
  • Lobelia
  • Lupine
  • Purple coneflower
  • Statice
  • Windflower

General seed-starting tips:
  • Team up with a neighbor for starting seeds, since a packet often yields much more than you will need.
  • I use the Old Farmers Almanac Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart which is based on your frost dates and by the Moon.
  • You may have to soak, scratch, or chill seeds before planting, as directed on packet.
  • Use clean containers. Most seed catalogs offer seedling flats, peat pots, and other growing containers, but egg carton compartments make good containers, too. Be sure to poke holes in the sides near the bottom of the containers you use.
  • Label your containers now! There's nothing more frustrating than forgetting what you planted.
  • Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite to hold enough water and allow oxygen to flow. Don't use potting soil.
  • Pour soilless mix into a large bucket and moisten with warm water. Fill your containers to just below the rim.
  • Plant your seeds according to your seed packet. Most seeds can simply be gently pressed into the mixture; you can use the eraser end of a pencil to push in seeds.


Organic Weed Control: How Effective Is It?

>> Friday, February 11, 2011

Many gardeners prefer to get rid of weeds without using manmade chemicals.

Anything that makes getting rid of weeds is a good thing, but using something that is natural, easier and safer to use is better. And if it does not leave a poisonous residue that hangs around for years, well, that’s just a bonus.

W. Thomas Lanini, weed ecologist for the California Cooperative Extension Service, recently investigated the effectiveness of a group of organic herbicides that are all contact herbicides with no residual activity. The active ingredient in these products was either acetic acid (vinegar) or various plant oils that work by stripping away the waxy cuticle on the leaves, causing them to wilt and dry up. They included WeedPharm (20% acetic acid); GreenMatch (55% d-limonene, which is the major component of the oil extracted from citrus rinds); GreenMatch Ex (50% lemongrass oil); Maratec (50% clove oil); and WeedZap (45% clove oil and 45% cinnamon oil).

Lanini found that these products gave reasonably effective control of broadleaf weeds such as pigweed if weeds were treated when they were still young. Treatments to plants that were 12 days old gave a much higher chance of effective control than to weeds emerging later.

He also found that good spray coverage was essential and that adding organic surfactants or spreaders to the herbicides improved control. Most of the organic herbicides also worked best at temperatures above 75 degrees.


Winter Sowing 2011

>> Tuesday, February 8, 2011

72 empty containers for winter sowing 2011
 Finally got around to setting up the first wave of seedlings. It seems to take me forever to get things done these days. Anyway, I set up nine containers for a total of 72 plants.

72 filled containers for winter sowing 2011
 This has been hanging over my head for several months. The collection of paper towel inserts and toilet paper inserts and plastic gallon milk jugs have all been piling up along the kitchen wall, above the stairway, and on the kitchen table. It's a good thing my wife is understanding of the way I do things. I eventually get them done, after the initial light bulb moment fades away and the flurry of getting supplies together, things are still sitting around while I’m off onto other projects.

I started tomato, eggplant and pepper - typically hot weather plants - just to see how they will do in the frigid temps. If they make it I’ll set them in the kitchen until time to set out.

All of the containers are sitting on my back deck in an area that gets sun for most of the day.

Here’s a list of what I have started so far:
  • Tomato Cherokee Purple
  • Pumpkin Rouge D’etampes
  • Tomato Mama Leone
  • Pepper Corno Di Toro Giallo
  • Sweety Pea Mammoth Mix
  • Beet Five color Silverbeet
  • Broccoli Coronado crown
  • Eggplant Rosa Bianca
  • Lettuce lolla rosa
  • Marjoram sweet
  • Pepper sweet Italian pepperoncini
  • Squash Patissons Panache Jaune Et Vert Scallop

This list represents only what I currently have on hand. Others will be started later as I make room for them. I’m not usre I have room for all of these yet but it’s always good to get a little push to find room when faced with a punch of ‘extra’ plants. I’m sure it will all work out.

Next on the agenda is to start seeds in the basement on heat mats and under lights.



>> Sunday, February 6, 2011

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Become Self-Sufficient? Yes You Can

>> Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Permaculture, homesteading, sustainable living, they all go hand in hand. They all describe the cultural goal of living ‘with’ nature as opposed to using it for personal gain without giving any thought to its health. Attentiveness to the needs of Earth requires the constant and sustained effort that these ideals embody.

When mankind undertook the domestication of animals and the cultivation of landscapes for his personal consumption, he accepted an unwritten responsibility to, in return, provide the sustenance required to maintain those systems now that they no longer depended on nature to provide. The resulting symbiotic relationship has not always been honored in the healthiest manner possible. Mankind introduced chemicals in order to ‘persuade’ nature to give up more, and at a quicker pace, than was previously possible. We have not always been able or willing to replenish what we have taken. As a result, we have witnessed the collapse of entire eco-systems while certain species of animals have disappeared forever.

Self-reliance and self-sustainable living are prized goals of the ‘back to the land’ movement begun over fifty years ago. It is rooted in a basic life ethic which recognizes the intrinsic worth of every living thing. Many people romanticize the sustainable lifestyle but not quite as many are capable of ‘pulling it off’. To put it bluntly, we have become spoiled by our creature comforts, our ability to ‘run to the store’ at a moments notice for butter or an outfit for this weekends party or even a family meal.

Returning to the land and becoming self-sufficient requires talent, perseverance and an education in what true self-reliance entails. It can be done, but you have to be willing and committed to making it work.

That being said, here are some words to hopefully define what many see as ‘trading convenience for a life that fits their moral values’:

Permaculture -
Permaculture is about harmony between people and nature. It is sustainable land use design. Only when you know how the wind and the sun flow over the land, how the animals move, how the soil is composed and what plants naturally flourish there, can you begin to design a system that truly fits there.

The use of traditional farming methods, knowledge of local flora and fauna, and knowledge of cutting edge ‘appropriate technology’, to create human settlements that sit lightly on the earth.

Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimized, "wastes" become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions.

Homesteading –
Do It Yourself is the mantra of every homesteader.

Personal self-reliance, a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money. This is the single most important requirement for being a homesteader. Changing your own oil, growing your own food, collect and use rain water instead of using municipal or well water, supplement your home’s heating system with solar panels, all of these things are the marks of a homesteader.

“Homesteader" might be the antithesis to "consumer." Even the term "consumer" implies that one only consumes: continually buys, uses up, and buys more. A true consumer gives nothing back to the planet in return. A homesteader, on the other hand, creates, nourishes, and nurtures. A homesteader is a worthy steward to the Earth.

Anyone can be considered a homesteader in any environment, suburbs, urban, or rural. If you grow your own food and raise a few animals for your personal consumption, then you are considered a homesteader.

Sustainable Living -
A lifestyle that attempts to reduce our use of Earth’s natural resources through changes in transportation, energy consumption and diet. Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in manners that are consistent with sustaining a balance that is respectful of Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.

The recent downturn in our economy brought many new faces to the idea of self-reliance and sustainable living, but, as is often the case, when things start improving those faces tend to fade back into the crowd of those not yet willing to sacrifice their big fuel guzzling vehicles and expensive manicures. I’m not trying to be judgmental here, it is what it is.

Even those people willing to send us closer to the bottom of the fossil fuel well faster than the rest of us can do something to help society. Stop buying non-recyclable materials, start recycling and continue doing it, flex your political muscle to force more widespread acceptance of renewable energy, and put your money where your polluting tailpipe is by scaling back on those unnecessary, over-sized, ego-boosting, fossil-fuel-guzzling, road hogs.

We are in this mess together, like it or not, and we really should ALL try to do our part to make it last as long as we can.

The home gardener has taken the necessary first steps towards becoming self-sufficient. You can too. Learn how to grow your own food, hoe to preserve it, feel yourself becoming physically and mentally healthier and soon you will begin to hear that small voice inside you saying ‘yes I too can break away from the energy grid that is sucking money right out of my pocket’. Before you know it you will be referring to yourself as self-sufficient.



I love watching these graceful and beautiful beneficial creatures. We have a canal system near by and are visited by dragonflies all Summer long. I have made plans to add a small water feature this summer - it won’t ever be confused with being a pond, but it will attract a wider variety of wildlife than we already have, and the dragonfly will be one of those.

We love watching the hummingbirds, dragonflies, flickers, robins, finches, chick-a-dees, bees, mantids all flying about. Everyday during warm Summer months, at about 5 p.m., we get a lot of dragonflies in our garden beds. They stay for an hour or two and then fly away.

Most dragonflies need sunlight to fly, and will land even if the sun goes behind a cloud only very briefly. They are closely related to damselflies, which are smaller and which hold their wings above their bodies while resting (whereas the dragonfly holds his wings spread while resting).

Dragonflies are water creatures for the first part of their lives, living in the water 1-3 years, depending on their type and size. They are carnivores and will eat anything they can find, including mosquito larvae, small water creatures, and even each other.  The process of morphing into an adult dragonfly is fascinating, with the nymph climbing from the water, his armor splitting, and his crumpled wings emerging and hardening in the sunlight.  He finally flies off, leaving a brown translucent shell behind.

There are about 500 species of dragonfly in North America. They have legs, mainly for clinging and climbing, but they never actually walk. In the air, they can dive like an airplane or hover like a helicopter. They are very quick and often zero in and catch prey in mid-air.

Some species have very colorful names, such as, dragonhunter, jewelwing, pondhawk, and blue dasher and as far as I’m concerned they are deserving given their beauty and their aerial prowess. With two pairs of wings and an aerodynamic shape, they can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour, and even fly backwards.

Their excellent eyesight and aerial agility allow them to capture and consume most insects smaller than themselves. Damselflies consume gnats and midges, while dragonflies eat beetles, moths, and mosquitoes. Larvae, called nymphs, dine on aquatic invertebrates, including large numbers of mosquito larvae, which makes them a welcome addition to any garden. Larger nymphs can even capture prey as big as tadpoles and small fish.

Here’s how to make your yard dragonfly-friendly:
  • Provide water. Ponds and other water features provide a place for dragonflies and damselflies to lay their eggs, a habitat for their aquatic larvae, and a spot to hunt for food. Even the smallest backyard pond will attract these beautiful insects if you create it with their needs in mind.
  • Supply vegetation. Although they are strictly carnivorous, dragonflies and damselflies need vegetation both in and around the pond. Males perch on the ends of rushes and on wetland shrubs to look for mates. Females often lay eggs on the leaves of water lilies and other floating plants. Both sexes regulate body temperature by basking on vegetation to warm up or hiding in the shade to cool down.
  • Select the right plants. Dragonflies and damselflies are not picky, so any native aquatic or wetland vegetation will work. Plants that will thrive in your pond include bulrush, pickerelweed, cattail, and water lily. For spots around the pond, consider blue flag iris, cardinal flower, red-twig dogwood, summersweet, and winterberry holly.
  • Keep it messy. An overly tidy pond isn’t ideal. Let some dead leaves and debris accumulate in the bottom of your pond to give nymphs a place to escape from predators and wait for prey. When it’s time to complete their metamorphosis, the nymphs climb onto the stem of an aquatic plant, shed their larval skin, and emerge as winged adults. You can add a small tree branch for additional underwater cover. Try half-submerging it so adults can use the section above the surface as a perch.
  • Go organic. Broad-spectrum insecticides kill dragonflies,  damselflies, and their larvae.

Did you know?
• Dragonflies have been around for hundreds of millions of years. There were dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans flying around with the dinosaurs.
• When we hear about seasonal migration, most of us think of birds heading south for the winter. But did you know that some dragonflies also migrate? Certain species travel from the northern United States and Canada to the southern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
• There are a lot of myths about dragonflies and damselflies, including the story that they’ll sew your eyes shut with their needle-like bodies. This idea earned them the nickname “devil’s darning needles.” Luckily, this is just a myth; these insects are totally harmless to people.


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