Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors

Basics for Starting Seeds Indoors
Compiled by Seattle Seed Company, LLC using information from GardenGuides.com, Wikipedia.org and the personal experience.

What You'll Need:

Plenty of Light:Seedlings need lots of light and prefer a southern exposure. If you don't have a bright, sunny window, consider purchasing some cool-white florescent bulbs. Closest to daylight temperature is best, and often the bulbs will be named as such.

Containers: Use whichever pots work for you and fit inside your budget. They must be clean and have good drainage.  Soak peat pots (or coir, or cowpots) very well before adding your planting soil/medium. Dry pots will suck the moisture away from the soil.

Seeds (of course!):
You'll get the best results if you purchase fresh seeds, packaged for the upcoming growing season. If you have saved seeds that you purchased last year, consider their germination rate before planting.  For seeds with nearly 100% germination when fresh, it's safe to assume the following year they will have about 85% germination.  This means if you planted 2 seeds in a pot, there's still a relatively good chance at least one of them would sprout.  You can always plant a few seeds and then pinch off all but the largest (healthiest) one after they've begun to grow. Don't let more than one plant grow in each pot as they will compete for nutrients and real estate for their roots.
Start Shopping for Seeds

Growing Medium:
The best thing about planting mixes (or seed-starting mix) from the store is that they are sterile and weed-free.  Non-sterile mixes can give you molds and diseases right from the start, and your little seeds hardly have a chance. You can make your own by searching "seed starting mix recipe".  Here is an article that contains a seed starting recipe: Soil-less seed mix

The Basics:
Sowing Seeds
Fill fill your pots (or flats) to within 1/4 inch of the top with your potting mixture and level the surface. It's a good idea to water the soil and allow it to drain thoroughly before sowing the seeds. Make a hole for each seed with something like a pencil. Keep in mind that most seeds need to be planted four times as deep as the seed is wide. If your seeds are very fine, just cover them with a very fine layer of soil.

Moisture & Humidity 
The germinating medium should be kept evenly moist but not soaking wet. Too much moisture will cause the seeds to rot and molds to form. Use a fine sprayer to water newly planted seeds and tiny seedlings or, if possible, water from the bottom.  Watering from the bottom allows the seeds to pull in only as much water as they require. If you can, slip your pots and flats into plastic bags or place a dome over them to keep the humidity and moisture even and reduce the need to water as often.  We use plastic domes and various garden cloches to keep our environment moist.

Let There be Light
Most seeds require light to germinate, while others prefer darkness. Look at your seed packet or online to find out what your seed's requirements are. Once germinated, all seedlings need plenty of light to develop into strong, healthy plants. Supplement the natural light with florescent bulbs if possible.  In Northern climates with shorter days you should use overhead lights for several hours, or put them in a window that receives light all day from dawn until dusk.  Also, keep hanging lights close to the seedlings or they will stretch out in an attempt to get closer.  Seedlings that are too leggy will not be very strong.

Caring for your Seedlings
After germination it is very important to take care of your seedlings.  Keep their home moist, but not dripping. Small pots and flats dry out quickly, so check on them often. If your seedlings are growing in a windowsill, turn them occasionally to encourage straight stems, as they will lean towards the sunlight.

The first two leaves you will see on the plant are not "true leaves," but food storage cells called cotyledons. Once the first true leaves have developed, it's time to start fertilizing. Choose a good liquid organic fertilizer and use a weak solution about one time per week.

Hardening Off Your Seedlings
One week before transplanting your seedlings outdoors, start the process of "hardening off." This process acclimates the soft and tender plants, which have been protected from wind, cool temperatures, and strong sun, to their new natural environment. Move the plants to a protected outdoor area during the day, and bring them indoors for the night if night temperatures are cold. Each day, move them out into the sun for a few hours, increasing the time spent in the sun each day. Keep them well watered during this period, and don't place them directly on the ground if slugs are a problem. Monitor them closely for insect damage, and move them to another place if any is found.  Young seedlings are a delicacy for insects.

Transplanting to the Outdoors
Don't be in a rush to set your plants in the garden. If they won't withstand frost, be sure all danger of frost has passed before setting them out. Plan your garden in advance by considering companion planting and plant sizes. Make sure taller plants won't shade low growing neighbors too much.

Water the ground outside, and your seedlings, thoroughly before transplanting. This helps prevent transplant shock. It's preferable to transplant on a cloudy day so strong sun won't wilt your seedlings. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and set the transplant into the hole so the root ball will be covered by 1/4 inch of soil.  If you started your seeds in a peat pot or cow pot, you can place the entire pot in the ground (thoroughly wet) and they will quickly break apart. Press the soil firmly around the roots. A small depression around the plant stem will help trap moisture. Water immediately after transplanting and every day for the first week. Be sure to water deeply so you plants won't develop shallow roots.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

David Green's Guide to Hand-Pollination

Hand Pollination
A Gardener's Illustrated Guide
Photos and text copyright 2001, David L. Green, All rights reserved

  We'll start with a lily, which has large flowers and large organs, with colorful pollen as well. The first step is to understand and identify the organs. Since lilies are propagated by bulbs rather than seeds in the home garden, this isn't one that we would usually want to hand pollinate. But someone who is trying to develop new varieties might do so. At any rate it makes a clear example for our photo guide.   You may wish to consult at times with the glossary, which defines terms.

lily_swab_pollen.jpg (170422 bytes)

A cotton swab is
gently touching
the anthers
to gather pollen.
Hand pollination should be done early in the day, before pollen is killed by heat or dryness.
  There are five visible filaments, called stamens, rising from the center of the flower. Each stamen has a yellow, pollen-bearing anther at its tip. Another stalk, the pistil also rises from the center, and extends outward beyond the stamens. It is divided at the tip into two lobes that are sticky at the surface. This is called the stigma. The stamens and anthers are male organs, the pistil and stigma are female. With lilies, both are present in the same flower. There are almost an infinite number of variations in the form and structure, but these organs are usually present. Sometimes flowers have only male parts, or at least only the male parts are functional; others have the female.
   The design of a lily flower indicates a large pollinator is most efficient. Bumblebees and hummingbirds would be able to transfer pollen from anther to stigma more effectively than a smaller bee. Indeed, many tiny solitary bees will gather pollen from the anthers, yet they never touch the stigma, showing that all pollinators are not equal. For purposes of illustration, we will assume that the lily flower is self fertile.  In a self fertile flower the stigma is receptive to pollen from the same flower.

pollenswab.jpg (303696 bytes)
Cotton Swab
Showing Pollen
This pollen is dark yellow. Many tiny grains make up the colorful mass you see here.
Some pollen is pale yellow;
some is white.
Pollen comes in just about any color you can imagine.
A cotton swab, such as a Q-tip (Trademark) can be used, but a small artist's brush, or even your finger will work.
   Pollen contains the male reproductive cells of a plant. Pollens come in two types. Some pollen is light and fluffy, such as ragweed, or pine, or pecan pollen. This is intended to blow in the wind. It has very low nutritive value. Bees will gather these pollens, but only when they are desperate.

   Another group of pollens, such as this lily pollen, or goldenrod, or cucumber, is heavy and sticky, and has a high protein content. It cannot be blown in the wind, it must be gathered and distributed by insects or other active pollinators. You can laugh, whenever someone claims that goldenrod gives them hayfever. The only way you could get goldenrod pollen in your nasal passages is to stick a flower up your nose. The plants trade some food to the bees in exchange for the transfer of pollen, called pollination.

Carpenter Bee
Covered With Pollen
  Bees are the world's best pollinators for many of our crops. They are fuzzy and electrostatically charged, which also helps to hold the sticky pollen grains. Note the pollen coating on this little gal, who is working on a privet bush. Pollination can be accomplished also by flies, beetles, birds, butterflies, bats, and many other creatures. When we we hand pollinate, we become the pollinator.
carponprivit2.jpg (15736 bytes)

lily_touch_stigma.jpg (106500 bytes)
Touching the Stigma
  The pollen on our swab is now adhering to the sticky stigma. It will germinate and grow a tube down the interior of the style, to the ovary, where each pollen grain can fertilize an ovule. Ovules are the incipient seeds, which contain the female reproductive cells. Most fruits cannot develop unless the seeds form, and usually the completeness of pollination determines the quality of the fruit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fastest Way to Making Compost

Compost is critical for an abundant garden, but many people get frustrated by the time it takes for their yard waste to turn into black gold.  Here are tips to have compost in as little as 30 days when done properly.
(Information compiled from several sources and personal experience.)
1. Shred and chop.
Shred or chop materials as finely as you can before mixing them into the pile. For example, you can chop fallen leaves by running your lawn mower over them. The same strategy applies to kitchen scraps and the like—“the smaller, the better” is the rule for compost ingredients.

2. Mix dry browns and wet greens.
The two basic types of ingredients for making compost are those rich in carbon and those rich in nitrogen. Carbon-rich materials, or “dry browns,” include leaves, hay, and straw. Nitrogen-rich materials, or “wet greens,” include kitchen scraps and grass clippings; these work best when used sparsely and mixed in well so they don’t mat down. Your goal is to keep a fair mix of these materials throughout the pile.

3. Strive for size.
Build the pile at least 3 × 3 × 3 (or 4) feet so materials will heat up and decompose quickly. (Don’t make the pile too much bigger than that, though, or it will be hard to turn.) Unless you have this critical mass of materials, your compost pile can’t really get cooking. Check the pile a couple of days after it is built up—it should be hot in the middle, a sign that your microbial decomposers are working hard.

4. Add water as needed.
Make sure the pile stays moist, but not too wet. (It should feel like a damp sponge.) You may need to add water occasionally. Or, if you live in a very wet climate, you may need to cover the pile with a tarp to keep it from becoming too soggy.

5. Keep things moving.
Moving your compost adds air to the mix. You can open up air holes by getting in there with a pitchfork. Even better, shift the entire pile over a few feet, bit by bit, taking care to move what was on the outside to the inside of the new pile, and vice versa. Or consider using a compost tumbler, a container that moves the materials for you when you turn it.

Top 7 Heirloom Vegetables of All Time

When choosing which varieties to carry in our store, we research trends on which varieties are most popular and most successfully grown.  Over the years, farmers and home gardeners all over the world have passed down seeds of their most delicious, unique vegetables.  Seeds that are in their original form (meaning they haven't been genetically modified or hybridized) are called heirloom seeds, and must be preserved and passed down to ensure purity.

Here are the top 7 Heirloom Vegetables of all time based on number of years they have been preserved:
  1. Beans - Kentucky Wonder If a vegetable can be popular for hundreds of years and still be grown today when there are hundreds of new variations each year, it deserves some respect.
  2. Cucumber - Lemon Usually yellow cucumbers are a bad thing, but lemon cucumbers are a real gem. Pick them small, about lemon size, and you can eat them like a fruit. The pale yellow skin is thin and the inside flesh is crisp and juicy. They make an excellent edible bowl for salads and an interesting choice for pickles.
  3. Eggplants Eggplants are stars among heirloom vegetables, because of the variety of size, shape, color and flavor you won't find elsewhere.
  4. Garlic - If you live where the winters are cold, it's hard to beat the flavor or Garlic. It's a hardy vegetable and is prized for its taste and it also stores well for up to 6 months. Since garlic isn't grown from seed, you can safely save garlic bulbs to replant each year, without concern for cross pollination.
  5. Red Salad Lettuce - What's so wonderful about lettuce is that it is one of the few vegetables we all eat fresh. Salad bowl is a classic favorite and outredgeous red salad bowl does it one better by being beautiful too. This looseleaf variety is very slow to bolt, making for an even longer harvest. The beautiful deep bronze tinged leaves are crisp and inviting.
  6. Hot Peppers - There are hundreds of varieties of hot peppers that have been passed down for thousands of years.  Their spicy taste and aroma mixed with the ability to be served fresh, dried, or grilled, make for beautiful dishes that add a kick to your meal.
  7. Kale - This leafy green is among the hardiest and easiest to grow of its relatives, and it is absolutely packed with vitamins.  Kale has stayed relatively the same for centuries, a sure sign that it was perfect the first time around.
Visit www.seattleseed.com to purchase these and other great organic and heirloom seeds!