Grow Your Own

Saving Seeds for Diversity and Deliciousness

Saving seeds is the first and last step of a good harvest. Home gardeners diligently tend their plots for flavorful produce, and prudent ones cultivate their seeds with the same dedication. Seed saving is the process of collecting seeds from successful plants, and then drying and storing them until it’s time to plant again.

It is an ancient technique that is economical and beneficial for the environment. Seeds should be saved from open-pollinated heirloom plants because they will grow like their parent plant. Also, planting heirloom varieties encourages seed biodiversity and builds local resiliency.

To get started saving seeds, try your hand with lettuce and tomatoes. These plants are great for beginners and will give you an introduction to both dry and wet seed processing. Plus, you’ll be two-thirds of the way to making the most delicious B.L.T. come harvest time.

How to Save Lettuce Seeds
Saving lettuce seeds uses dry processing.

Allow lettuce to bolt to seed. Small yellow flowers will grow on the stalk, with each flower made up of 10-25 florets. There is one lettuce seed inside each floret.

Let the flowers (and seeds) dry on the plant.

Once the seeds have dried, shake the plant into a paper bag to dislodge them from the residual chaff and flower fluff.

Collect the seeds in a glass jar and store in a cool, dry place.

How to Save Tomato Seeds
Saving tomato seeds uses wet processing.

Cut open ripe tomatoes and remove seeds. Retain the juice and pulp around the seeds and set aside together in a container.

Allow the seeds to sit in the juices for a few days. The pulp and seeds will ferment and dissolve the gooey encasement around each seed.

Stir water into the container to wash the remaining pulp from the seeds. Remove any seeds that float to the surface.

Collect the seeds from the bottom of the container and rinse in a strainer under running water.

Dry the seeds by laying them out on a cookie sheet or screen.

Collect the seeds in a glass jar and store in a cool, dry place.

Happy harvesting!

Grow Your Own

How To: Cutting and Caring for Flowers

Cutting and caring for flowers correctly ensures that the hard work of your garden gets its best reception. Cutting flowers and caring for them is simple, but it helps to know what you’re going to do first. Here are our favorite steps to floral beauty and longevity — in the vase!

Cutting

Most flowers are best picked when they are just starting to show color, and will last longer at this stage than if collected in full bloom. However some flowers, such as dahlias and roses, may not fully open up if cut when the buds are tight.

Here are some tips for cutting flowers:

  • Generally, the best time to cut and collect flowers is in the morning when their stems are turgid and less likely to wilt. Ideally wait until the dew has dried because moisture on flowers in storage are prone to botrytis, a fungal disease that will ruin them.
  • If you wait until the evening to cut flowers, do so when the sun is low in the sky and the air has cooled. In a perfect world, flowers would be cut only in temperatures below 80 degrees.
  • Make sure your clippers are clean to prevent the spread of bacteria. A quick dip in a jar of alcohol in between harvests will also help reduce the spread of disease. Clippers should also be sharp in order to make a clean cut and not smash the stems. We recommend you invest in high quality clippers (pruners) and a sharpening stone. We like to use a strong pair of pruners for thick stems such as lilacs and other woody perennials. For thinner stems, we prefer these everyday garden scissors.
  • Cutting flowers quickly and efficiently is a skill you develop with experience. You need to cut the flower, stripping the foliage from the lower part of the stem, and get the stems into water as soon as possible.
  • Always be sure to use scrupulously clean buckets, or you’ll risk introducing bacteria that will quickly plug up the stems of your flowers and prevent them from taking up water. Without water, your flowers will quickly wilt.

Caring

Once cut, it’s important to condition flowers to prolong their longevity and keep them looking their best.

Condition the cut stems by following these easy steps:

  • After cutting, you need to remove the field heat from the plant material as soon as possible to ensure the longest life. For the home gardener, bringing the flowers into a cool house or garage is usually all you need to cool them off.
  • For best results, recut all stems using sharp pruners to avoid crushing the stems and reducing their ability to take up water through their stems.
  • Leave the prepared stems in a cool place for 2 to 3 hours or longer to allow the flowers to drink up water and become turgid again.
  • Some plants with weak stems and heavy heads are prone to bending. To help straighten the stems, wrap the bunch of flowers in newspaper and leave in water for at least two hours. As the stems take in water and stiffen, they will support the flower head in an upright position.

Grow Your Own

Planting Citrus Trees

Planting citrus is a favorite for backyard farmers, particularly in California where growing conditions produce flavorful fruit – and lots of it. With glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant spring flowers, citrus trees are a handsome addition to any edible landscape.

March and April are ideal months for planting citrus. Here are some tips on establishing and caring for new citrus trees.

Preparing 

  • Choose a sunny, frost and wind-free site – southern exposure is best. Warm microclimates are created by reflected heat from walkways or houses. Avoid planting in lawns that get frequent shallow watering.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is in and one-and-a-half times its depth. To check drainage, flood the hole with water. The following day, refill the hole with water. Drainage is OK if water drops two inches in two hours. If drainage is poor, plant in a raised bed or container.

Planting

  • To plant your tree, tap the side of the citrus tree’s pot to loosen the roots. Gently remove it from the pot and stand it in a bucket of water. It’s best to do this about an hour before you plant it to allow the roots to get a thorough soaking.
  • Begin filling the hole with native soil until you are about the depth of the pot minus 2 inches.
  • Premix the remaining native soil with about one-third organic matter such as compost (and sand if your soil is heavy clay) in a pile or wheelbarrow. You can also add a small amount of manure or blood and bone meal but not too much as there is a risk of burning the roots.
  • Remove the tree from the bucket, tease out its roots with your fingers, and place it in the hole so that the top section sits about 2 inches above the level of the ground, planting the root ball high for future settling.
  • Fill the rest of the hole with the soil/compost/sand mixture to ground level.
  • Use the remaining soil mix to build a several inch-high, circular irrigation berm around the root ball. Make this watering berm or basin no larger than the root ball, or irrigations may wet the soil around the plant but not the root ball. Expand the area as the tree grows.
  • Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of each citrus tree to help hold in moisture, regulate the soil temperature, and prevent weed germination and growth. To lessen the threat of root rot, spread the organic mulch at least 6 to 12 inches away from the citrus tree’s trunk. This prevents excessive moisture retention around the roots and allows for proper air circulation.

Watering

  • Citrus don’t like “wet feet,” but it’s important for the first 12 to 18 months to keep new citrus watered. Don’t drown them, but water as often as necessary to keep the root ball moist. This may mean watering every three or four days at first.
  • As the tree grows, explore the soil with a screwdriver or soil probe to make sure the whole root ball is getting watered. Lengthen the time between irrigations after about nine months to every seven to 14 days. After 18 months, deeply water tree every 10 to 12 days, or as seldom as once or twice a month.
  • Begin fertilizing right away with compost tea or applications of liquid manure or fish emulsion. Citrus trees are shallow rooted, so try not to cultivate the ground under the tree and don’t plant any ground cover near it. Maintain your mulch.
  • More prolific with age, producing better-tasting fruit with maturity, citrus trees reward careful planting, watering, and fertilizing.

Here’s to a great start for your trees!

Grow Your Own

About Sustainable Seeds

sustainable seeds

What does it mean to work with sustainable seeds?

Growing your own plants from seed has several advantages, not the least of which is that you can control the environment in which your food is raised, quite literally from the ground up.

This kind of growing also offers a nice lesson in self-reliance and resiliency, qualities that we can all embrace during times of climate change and other uncertainty.

Start with clean, good soil that is chemical-free — and be certain to start with the best quality seeds.

When possible, we like to use open pollinated seeds that are specific to our region. There are several different types of seeds available and it can be confusing at first!

Openly pollinated seeds are those whose parent plants begat them through the usual round of fertilization practiced by bees, hummingbirds, bats, and beneficial insects. They grow true to the parent plant and adapt over generations to their particular micro-climate.

Heirloom seeds are those in which the plant variety has been cultivated for generations, typically 50 years or more. They are generally open pollinated, and therefore well-adapted to the environment.

Hybrid seeds are developed through cross-breeding and don’t produce true to the parent. Often sterile, hybrids are good for one generation only.

We avoid hybrid seeds when possible as they tie the gardener and farmer to the corporation that developed them, which is antithetical to self-reliance.

Studies show that vegetable diversity is down about 95 percent from the vast types of food once grown the world over.

Industrialized food systems keep producing the same few types of vegetables relentlessly demanded by market pressure.

Seed saving and supporting open pollinated heirloom seed growers means supporting a larger diversity of food stuffs, which is better for our own health, as well as that of the overall planet.

Plan to try seed saving in your own garden this year. Collect dried seeds from successful plants and store them, noting where they flourished. Try them again next year and record the results.

This kind of attention to the world rewards on a level that your soul can understand. Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re out in the garden to begin with?

Grow Your Own

Starting Seeds for Your Garden

There’s nothing more rewarding than starting your own seeds. The benefits of seed starting include getting a jump on the season, having access to hundreds of specialty varieties that you won’t find at your local nurseries, and a significant cost savings.

There are just a few supplies you’ll need:
seed flats or pots
a quality seed-starting mix
plant labels
bottom drainage trays

Getting Ready
For germinating seeds, use clean starter flats or cell trays. If using recycled cell trays or flats, be sure to use a 10% bleach-to-water solution to kill any persisting diseases or pathogens. You can also make your own recycled newspaper pots, or use biodegradable CowPots made from manure, but whatever you use — make sure your containers drain well.

Get Started!
Fill seed flats or pots to just below the rim with a light, porous, seed-starting mix and set on tray for drainage.

TIP: You can make your own mix by combining one part each peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.

Moisten the mix and let it drain. Place two seeds in the middle of container. Check seed packets for the recommended planting depth, and cover the seeds with the proper amount of mix.

As a rule of thumb, cover seeds to a depth equal to twice their diameter. Label each container with the plant’s name and the date. Moisten the soil lightly and cover with dome or a floating seed cover to maintain humidity.

For seeds to germinate rapidly, they need to be kept warm. If you are starting heat-loving plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squashes, or melons), set the containers on a water heater, the refrigerator, or use a heating mat to keep the soil between 75°F/24°C and 90°F/32°C.

Most cool-season vegetables will germinate at room temperature of 65°F/18°C. When the seeds germinate, move the pots into an area with bright light and temperatures between 60°F/16°C and 75°F/24°C.

For consistent light and temperature, you can place seed flats and pots under florescent lights suspended a few inches above the seedlings and put them on a timer, making sure to give plants 14-16 hours of light a day.

As the plants get taller, be sure to keep raising the lights so that they are 2-3 inches above the tallest plant.

Transplant Time

When the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, it’s time to transplant them to the outdoors or into a larger container (if starting from flats). Fill the new containers with potting mix, moisten the mix, and let drain.

Carefully remove the new seedlings from the germinating container. Try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. Newspaper pots can go straight into soil.

Make a planting hole in the container and nestle the seedling into its new home a little deeper than it was originally.

Gently press the mix around the transplanted seedlings and water them gently to settle the soil.

Your seedlings will need a steady supply of water, but the soil shouldn’t be constantly wet.

Feed the seedlings weekly with a fish emulsion solution or compost tea diluted to half-strength.

A week before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden, begin taking them outdoors to a protected place, such as inside a cold frame or near a wall, for increasing lengths of time on mild days.

This will help them adjust to the conditions outside—a process known as hardening off. Start with just a couple of hours each day, work up to a full day, and then leave them out overnight.

When you finally transplant your seedlings to the garden, be careful not to disturb their roots. Gently pop them out of their containers, keeping as much soil attached to their roots as possible.

If you’ve used a biodegradable pot, it can be planted directly into the ground. Your plants will suffer no transplant shock, and should establish themselves immediately.

Happy planting! Visit our new online Seed Shop and feel free to share your experiences and techniques with us here in the comments.

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Farming, Toolshed

Things That Are Lasting

After six months of design and planning, our website was updated last Thursday, Nov. 13. Fresh and shiny, clean and new, it was an effort of which we’re proud. What was interesting about the process, which involved hundreds of photographs and a reworking of all the text around our products, was the way that it really helped us consider what it is that we sell — and why. (more…)