Too Many Seeds, Too Little Space.

I remember when I first started gardening. As I recall, I went to the hardware store and bought three packets of seeds which I planted that afternoon.  I’m not sure how I followed my lust for seeds until today when my saved and leftover seeds now require two shoe boxes….and that’s after I gave away many many seeds.  So I look at all those seeds…and the envelopes of newly arrived seeds I’ve gotten in the mail…and wonder how I’ll ever have enough room on windowsills one plant rack to get all those exquisite young plants going.

Winter Sowing of course!  As fun as it is to germinate seeds on the heat mat that creates new plants in a few days, that’s not very practical when it could be another three months until the soil is warm enough that it isn’t freezing at night.  I learned Winter Sowing back in the early days of the internet….and it is still the most effective method for starting winter seeds.

The basic idea is you have plastic containers (I used water jugs). You cut them in half. Put some soil in. Label the name of the seed. Water the soil. Sow the seed. Tape the container closed. Move the entire container OUTSIDE to the north side of the house where it’s protected from the wind.  And that’s it.  Now as the season warms, Nature will cause them to germinate at the right time when the temperatures are best suited for the seeds.  Monthly watering is all the maintenance that this needs….and of course planting out all those seedlings when the time is ready.

The phrase Winter Sowing was coined by our hero, Trudi Davidoff. For years she has tirelessly gathered info and shared her wisdom on Garden Web, then her own website http://www.wintersown.org, then Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/groups/102675420505/  There really isn’t much more to doing winter sowing than I’ve said….but there are dozens of web pages via her website and facebook and Google, so enjoy learning.

You know all those seed failures you’ve had in the past? Probably won’t happen with Winter Sowing.  Seeds that need to be chilled get chilled.  Seeds that need a long time to germinate can sit there till they are ready. No leggy plants because they are outside in the bright light.  You’ll need to water every month or so….but that’s all you need to get 100s of plants going.  One plant I still start indoors is tomato because I want my tomato plants big sooner in my short season.  But otherwise….there is no end to what seeds you can try.  The biggest challenge will be getting them transplanted to the garden.

Photo Credits:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-C8hocPtlX-4/TdUvfKz1gVI/AAAAAAAAAPc/5HcSFDYBqTE/s1600/Winter-Sow-2-_-F1987.gif

 

Gardening as a Spiritual Path

by Sandy Swegel

Over the last few months, I’ve recommitted myself to a meditation practice. It’s a simple practice of Centering Prayer, sitting 20 minutes twice a day, although most days I’m lucky to manage one session. The fruits of a meditation practice (like those of a garden) come over time.  With regular practice, one slowly notices one is more calm, more able to handle the daily turmoils of living, more able to see things from a larger perspective.  With persistence and time, the meditator has a chance to become a more loving, compassionate and happier person.

In many ways, I live a split life.  I have a group of friends who meditate and focus on spirituality, and I have a different group of friends who focus on gardening. It is one of my pet theories that Gardening is the New Church.  Many people come together in community to garden, especially to grow food.  Gardeners meet regularly to support one other, they teach their children in the church of nature, they help the poor by giving away extra produce to food banks, and they join together to do gardening service projects in their community or to help older people who can’t garden alone anymore.  It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon.

I invite you to become more aware of how gardening is a spiritual practice for you.  Our BBB Seed Facebook page statistics give us lots of clues to how important gardening and nature is to you.  The pictures and blog posts you “like” the most are the ones that are the most spiritual or transcendent.  You “like” pictures of dramatic landscapes and pictures of the simple beauty of a single flower or a whimsical thought. You “share” articles about esoteric topics like Forest Bathing.

When I blog I like to give lots of practical advice about how to grow things because I want you to be successful at gardening.  So many people try to garden and give up because they fail in some way…usually because of not knowing what a plant needs.  I’ll keep teaching those things, but this year I want to write more about the spiritual practices of gardening.  I hope this will be a conversation too about how gardening and nature uplift your spirit.

It’s almost sunrise when I’m writing right now, and I’m off to complete one of my favorite simple spiritual practices.  I walk outside to greet the sunrise. I observe the reds and pinks and golds of the morning sky. I breathe in the fresh cold morning air and breathe out any negativity.  I think about three things I’m grateful for.  I compliment the sun on how beautiful he is this morning.  And I send out a blessing over the earth with each day’s new sun.  Amen.

 

Growing for your Freezer

by Sandy Swegel

The avid vegetable growers on my gardening email list have noted that alas, despite trying to plan well, their freezers and pantries are almost bare despite the fact that there’s still snow on the garden. We’re fortunate to live in times with well-stocked grocery stores.

We’re also lucky to live with reliable electricity. I know how to can and make preserves, but the freezer is still the easiest way I know how to easily capture garden produce at their peak. I keep a baking pan in my freezer and bring in surplus I’ve picked that I won’t use today and after washing, spread the beans, peas, corn, cherries or strawberries on the baking pan for a kind of home flash freeze. Later when I have time, I bag up the frozen item to protect them from freezer burn. Easy and fresh. And despite what all the books tell us, we’ve had really good luck with freezing produce without blanching it first.

Suggestions on what items are good for freezing: Tomatoes of course…Sauce or diced, roasted or stewed. We agree tomatoes are the most versatile item in your freezer.

Prepared meals:  ratatouilles, bean stews, chilis, lasagnas, stuffed peppers.  Who isn’t delighted to find a home-grown, home-cooked meal in the freezer on a cold January evening ready to thaw and eat.

Individual vegetables, loose.  Here I take inspiration from the freezer section of the grocery and make small Ziploc bags of everything the grocery store freezer section supplies:  beans, corn, peas, okra, black-eyed peas, baby limas, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and yellow peppers. Basically, anything that would make a quick side vegetable to balance out a meal or something to give a soup or stock some extra zip. One great suggestion I’ll try this year is to freeze poblano peppers whole ready for stuffing.

Pre-cooked foods. Here’s where I’ve learned that pre-cooking some foods turns ordinary vegetables sublime.  Frozen cut spinach isn’t too impressive, but frozen spinach previously braised in olive oil and garlic is sublime.  Likewise, braised mixed kale with a splash of tamari is welcome.  A great way to freeze these greens is to lay them on freezer paper in a long thin log and wrap them up.  Cut off a section of what you need and return the log to the freezer. Cooked and seasoned beans.  I love green beans fresh but there’s something about them frozen plainly that is unimpressive.  But I like heartier beans like broad beans that have been cooked and seasoned.  Potatoes. I’m still experimenting with potatoes, but I’m so crazy for mashed potatoes that frozen individual servings of mashed potatoes with a little gravy disappeared by December.  The texture wasn’t as great as fresh…but they’re still mashed potatoes!  Shredded potatoes for hash browns are pretty good too. Roasted eggplant slices….ready to go for lasagna. Baby beets, well-cooked and seasoned. Stir-fry mixes of favorite vegetables pre-cooked to almost doneness.

Fruit. You can’t make enough of this. Keep trying, but whether dried or frozen, cherries, raspberries and peaches just disappear.  There’s still applesauce and a few strawberries in my freezer and some dried cherries I didn’t see.  Freeze more next year!

Now that my freezer is almost empty, I know how to plan for this year’s garden.  Plant more of the foods that disappeared by December and fewer of the foods that are still frozen from the year before last.

Photo Credits: http://survivingthemiddleclasscrash.wordpress.com/category/food-storage/

http://www2.fiskars.com/Gardening-and-Yard-Care/Projects/Garden-to-Table/Canning-Freezing/Freeze-It-Quick-Tips-for-Freezing-Your-Garden-Produce#.UP1smyfAeSo

 

Sow Your Poppies Now!

Every year, there’s one packet of seed I always spread.  More important than tomatoes or basil, my two favorite vegetables, I never forget to sow a pack of poppies.  I use the Parade of Poppies mix liberally in a couple of different areas…one is a long fifty foot long, six-foot wide wildflower area along the road that’s minimally watered.  I love the bachelor buttons and asters and columbines in the wildflower area…but I always want more poppies so I sweeten the poppy mix each year by overseeding sometime between Winter Solstice and St. Patrick’s Day, preferably the night before a big snow so the snow can hide the seeds from birds and mice and the melting snow will hydrate the seeds and cause them to sprout.

I sprinkle some of the poppy seeds in the perennial bed where the daffodils and lilacs grow mostly untended.  The poppies bring bits of apricot and red and pink color that make the beds sparkle.

My favorite poppies are the Icelandic, alpine and Shirley poppies for their color and elegance and especially for how some of them will follow the sun through the course of the day, just like sunflowers do.

The California and Mexican poppies are the hard workers of the summer garden, putting out oranges and yellows even in the rocks along the hot sidewalk in August.  I’ve let them spread themselves in the xeric garden on the edges of the purple Russian sage where they always make me smile.

Try some poppies in your garden this year. Later, after seedheads form, you can collect the seeds from your favorite colors and spread them in hidden spots in your yard so they’ll surprise you next year.

Photo Credit: http://bethsummersartist.blogspot.com/2010/08/red-brick-gallery-ventura.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Friday_Harbor_Lavender_and_California_Poppies.JPG

 

Ask the Kids

What do you think is special about our Garden?

I recently returned from my annual trip to New Orleans. I go every Winter for a trip to my hometown so I can enjoy a minor respite from Colorado’s below-zero weather and smell fresh gardenias and camellias and remember that oranges and grapefruit grow right on the trees while the snow piles up in Colorado.

Besides walking through citrus orchards and hiking in the swamps, a highlight of New Orleans from a gardener’s perspective is The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, an amazing program that teaches 2500 kids in five different public schools to grow and cook their own food. They have a ton of fun (It is New Orleans….there’s a big emphasis on throwing a party to eat the food) and kids learn more than just how to grow a garden.  I don’t know if the kids get grades for growing food, but they’ve become pretty darn wise. Here’s some of what those kids have to say about “their” gardens:

“We grow our own food because it’s better when it’s freshly made. And because we use our food to cook with.”  –Ariel Surrency   “I think the garden is special because people from the neighborhood get to come pick things from it.” –Christian Powell

“The garden is special because there are all different varieties of flowers and vegetables and fruits. It’s peaceful and shows respect because it’s never messed up and everyone keeps it together.” – Biyon Calvin.

Go find the kids in your own family or neighborhood and ask them, “What makes this garden special?” Wait till you hear the wisdom your little garden has inspired.

Photo Credits: http://esynola.org/ http://www.dreamkeepergarden.blogspot.com/