Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

We are losing genetic diversity in our vegetables

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Not sure those seeds from last year are still good? Do a quick germination test to find out for sure.

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

If you are like most gardeners, you probably have tons of seeds from last year (and from years before!). Since different varieties have different “shelf lives”, you may want to do a quick germination test before you toss and reorder.

Wet a paper towel (moistened thoroughly but not sopping) and place 10 seeds on the top half. Fold the bottom over the top to cover the seeds and seal in a zip-lock baggy. Blow a little air into the bag so the seeds have a bit of oxygen, then put the bags in a dark place where you won’t forget to check them (I chose a kitchen cabinet).

Wait about a week (different varieties have different germination times — check the seed packet), peel off the top paper towel and count how many seeds have germinated. Fewer than 50% and you will probably want to re-order, 50% to 70% you would plant more thickly than usual, and over 70% and the seeds are as good as new!

Continuous-Harvest Veggies

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Pole beans can get 8 feet tall or higher. Obscure fact: pole beans always grow around their supports in a counter-clockwise direction as you can see here

When planning my garden, I distinguish continuous-harvest from single-harvest type crops. Since I am a self-proclaimed lazy gardener, I go for continuous harvest whenever I have any choice.

For example, you probably know that green beans come in two basic types (bush and pole), but did you know that bush beans were developed so that they can be mechanically harvested, which means the plants are short enough to fit underneath a harvester and all the beans ripen at the same time? In contrast, pole beans produce steadily from the time they start bearing around July 1 until the fall temperatures get too cold for them to set pod. Bush beans have to be succession planted if you want a continuous supply, but are good if you like to can or freeze your produce. Pole beans bear continually, so you can plan your meals by merely strolling through your plot anytime after they start producing in late June and picking what you need for a meal or two. Pole beans produce a lot in a very small space, so be sure to donate the excess to City Harvest.

Bush beans come all at once, which is great for canning or freezing for next winter


Indeterminates (top) get huge & produce until frost, determinates (bottom) stay short, bear all at once then quit.


Same thing with tomatoes: the short ones are determinate because they can be harvested mechanically, and produce all at once then stop growing, while the long vine-like ones that want to crawl all over your garden and need to be staked or caged or otherwise supported or restrained are indeterminate because they just keep on growing until the November frosts kill them off. I am a great fan of indeterminate tomatoes: the fabulous SunGold orange cherry tomato doesn’t quit producing until the first killing frost, long after all of the determinates have become a faded memory. Many of the famous heirlooms & Jerseys are indeterminate, as is Burpee’s tasty Brandy Boy, while paste-type and grocery store varieties tend to be determinate. Your seed packet or plant tab will tell you which type yours is.

Other continuous-harvest plants I like are chard, kale, collards — sometimes called “cut and come again” — plants which you harvest leaf by leaf. The only thing to keep in mind is to always leave enough leaves so the plant can support itself, otherwise you will shock it and slow or halt production. An additional bonus is that these plants are usually biennials, meaning they don’t produce seed until their second year — which means they have to survive through the whole winter, supplying you with fresh veggies during the coldest months plus a bonus spring crop right before they go to seed and die (most of our “winter” vegetables are these winter-hardy biennials). With the exception of chard, which loves the summer heat and is relatively unaffected by bugs, most of these veggies prefer cooler temperatures, so you might think about planting them in the fall when there are fewer bugs and the weather gets more comfortable for both plant and human.

Root crops (like beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga), although admittedly not “single harvest”, can be held in the garden over the winter under a blanket of salt hay mulch because they never “ripen” but only get bigger. That way you can gather only as much as your need for a meal or two and essentially treat them as continuous harvest until you run out. It’s not a bad idea to sow an extra crop of these in August for over-wintering.

Root crops like beets (left) can be left in the ground until ready to use. Chard (right), a biennial, can be harvested for almost a year before it goes to seed and dies.


– Barb Mc

BONUS LINKS: Pauline forwarded this article from Science Daily which will make you feel extra-good about growing your own tomatoes. Turns out organic tomatoes have more anti-oxidants that conventionally grown ones.

Anne Seidman sent this NYTimes article about a tomato gene which makes tomatoes beautiful but tasteless — inadvertently bred into most tomatoes to give them a luscious red color. Good enough reason to plant heirlooms!

Gardening geeks will also be interested in Darwin’s The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. First published in 1865, it remains unsurpassed in its observations on how plants climb. Thanks for locating this classic, Anne!

Night gardening

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Here we are in the early moments of January and while I relish these winter days for hibernation and reflection, I can’t help but fill my thoughts with what’s to come for the new garden season. These thoughts are of course influenced by seed catalogs (thanks Barbara!) and the fact that I just dug up the dahlia tubers on the 4th of January! All in good shape I might add…except for those that met the mean end of the shovel. Oops. While I started this task in the light of afternoon, it soon became clear that I would be finishing as that light began to fade and quickly as it will in winter. Once again, on the verge of night gardening!

If you have ever found yourself in the midst of a project as the lights are going dim (gardening wise, of course), you know the joys and treacheries of this type of insanity, I mean gardening. As the light diminishes, the brain kicks into high gear and one no longer ponders what needs to be done, one just DOES IT! This can be refreshing as I know for myself I spend a good deal of time second guessing, when the first guess was fine in the first place.

The sights and sounds seem to rearrange at night as well. I notice the street noises and lights and the people sounds more instead of the birdsong and the sun of day. The greens are deeper and the reds and purples fade into the gray a bit while the white flowers glow and new scents fill the air.

Photo of the Moon flower from John K.’s garden

Even now, after the solstice as I visit the garden and my cold frame covered greens, often in the late afternoon, the change from light to dark is quite abrupt (and cold!) so I must admit I prefer the long and lingering light of the warmer months (though I am very thankful to have a garden to visit, mid-winter, in the dark). Not to mention the curious looks from our garden cats (winter or summer), no doubt peeved that someone is observing their antics after dark and tripping the motion sensor light on the shed. Serious cat secrets no human should observe…their words, not mine.

If you’ve never stayed to play in your garden after dusk, I highly recommend it, if not to garden then just to observe. It’s a whole new world.

Photo of Brugmansia,  Angel’s Summer Dream

– Gwyn MacDonald

garden revitalized!

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I love this time of year in the garden, middle-late September, the light is crisp and clear and all of the plants I thought had worn themselves out in the hazy days of summer start to perk up and say ” Hey, we made it!” The last hibiscus blossoms floating high above next year’s seed pods, a new crop of borage, the glow of the marigolds, and the Dahlias! Oh my, the Dahlias! My first season growing dahlias…and I’ve caught the fever! The Monarch butterflies are out in full force these past few weeks, what a lovely sight to see them floating on the breeze. And in case you didn’t know…bees love sedum!!! Honeys, natives, bumbles….all OVER our three giant, floppy sedums. I could spend hours watching them. Tempting photos to follow…don’t go away!
Gwyn