Feed Me

Giving Your Plants What They Need

by Sandy Swegel

It’s a fact of all young growing things.  They need food.  And while big hungry plants like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors can loudly demand their food, the young seedlings you have growing on windowsills are no less insistent and starving.  Most potting soils and seedling mixes come with a tiny amount of fertilizer to get seedlings off to a good start the first couple of weeks.  But then comes the day when were vigorous seedlings now no longer look so good.  My pepper plants are making this point to me right now.  I’ve been watching them grow their first true leaves and finally their second set of true leaves. I’m ready for them to get off the windowsill and out of the garden but, until now, growth seemed a little slow.  Then yesterday as I walked in, I noticed how yellowy the peppers looked.  Hmmm. I checked the water and wondered briefly about some kind of fungus when I had the “duh” moment.  I hadn’t fed them at all.  I had switched to a new “organic” seedling mix this year and it probably didn’t have as much nitrogen in the mix, since “organic” mixes can’t just use cheap synthetic nitrogen.

 

Seedlings aren’t all that particular about what you feed them.  Just that they get some food.  Later in the garden, their roots will gather food from the soil and plants growing in good soil will also take in nitrogen in the air.  But right now, they’re just growing in tap water.  So I just mixed in some liquid kelp to make a weak fertilizing solution.  Fish emulsion or any “grow” natural fertilizer will work at a weak concentration level. Don’t need to overwhelm them.  I expect that by my dinnertime tonight (water-soluble fertilizers can work quickly) the tiny pepper leaves will green up with tomorrow’s warm sun, the seedlings will perk up and soon be ready for the move into the nutrient-rich garden soil.

Seed-saving: Collecting Dry Seed

Dry Processing

by Chris McLaughlin

It’s easy to save seeds from plants that produce pods, husks, and other dry casings such as peas, beans, and flowers. The technique is called “dry processing” and is faster than collecting seed from fleshy, pulpy fruits such as tomatoes and cucumbers.  Seeds that are dry-processed can be allowed to dry right on the plants unless there’s wet weather in the forecast.

Gardeners collect these seeds in different ways. Seeds often fall where they may, naturally, little by little. Some gardeners make collecting them easy and as the seeds begin to mature, they secure paper bags over the seed heads and attach them to the stems of the plants. Thus, catching any seeds that ripen early.

Once you have the seed, you’re actually left with a mixture of seeds and what’s called “chaff” as opposed to pure seed. Chaff is pod or husk coverings and other debris that fall in with the seeds.

Separating the seeds from the chaff is a technique called “threshing.” Threshing is used to remove the coverings from the seeds. Commercial threshing is done by multitasking machines that can harvest, thresh, and winnow the seeds all at once. For the home gardener, a bag, pillowcase, or small sack is all that’s necessary.

Simply put the collected seeds into the bag, secure the ends, and roll it around, lightly crushing the contents a bit. Don’t get all macho on me and break out a hammer for this — you don’t want to damage the seeds. For the tinier ones, there’s nothing wrong with using a flat board to gently press on the seeds to loosen the chaff.
The next step of dry harvesting is called “winnowing.” Winnowing is just a five-dollar word for getting the loosened chaff off of your seeds before you store them. In nature, this would be taken care of by the wind, but you can use the same idea by placing the seeds into a bowl and shaking the bowl around a bit. Most of the chaff is lighter than the seeds and it’ll rise to the top.

Be sure to have a large sheet underneath your workspace so if any seeds are blown away with the debris, you can retrieve them. Work outdoors only on a day without wind. Now, blow gently into the seeds to remove the lighter-weight chaff. Repeat this process until all (or most) of the chaff is gone.

Be sure all wayward seeds are removed from the sheet underneath before you do any winnowing with other varieties. Another option is to use a screen or sifter where the holes are smaller than the chaff to simply sift them apart. The size of the sifter holes will depend on the size of the seeds and the chaff.

Label the seeds with their name and the date they were collected immediately after you’ve finished dry harvesting each variety. Excellent record-keeping is your best friend when it comes to seed-saving. It’s amazing how easy it is to mix up seed varieties!

How to Make Garden Friends

Seeds Bring People Together

by Sandy Swegel

Many of the ideas for this blog come from questions I hear from an email list of gardeners I belong to.  I introduced a new gardener to our group this week and she was so grateful to suddenly have a whole network of people she could turn to when she had a question.  She’ll soon realize what we all know:  that it is so cool to have so many plant-geek friends.

Our group started rather accidentally, but you can start your own low maintenance group of garden friends.  You’ll learn lots about gardening and many of your gardening buddies will turn into real friends because gardeners are really nice people.

Most of our group had gone once or twice to a local gardening club but didn’t really fit in because we were interested in growing food and the garden clubs here were more interested in flowers.  Our group started accidentally by one of us posting a note on the virtual bulletin board of one of those proper flower groups that said, “Tomato Seed Swap, Saturday. Email for details.”  We just wanted to try some new varieties of tomatoes without going broke by each person ordering 10 different packs of seeds. We’d just order seeds together.  Well, ten people showed up for that first meeting.  Then, of course, we had to trade emails so we could find out how everyone else’s seeds were doing.  Then someone brought up the topic of manure and if that made tomatoes grow better.  Soon one person took a truck to a local farm and we all showed up at his house with an empty bucket for manure.  Come harvest season, another person invited us to her place to see her tomatoes.  The key to us becoming a cohesive group was that Niki saw how much fun we were having and declared “We needed a name.” and She announced we were the “Boulder Culinary Gardeners.”  Soon we were having email discussions about zucchini and herbs and organic pest control.  Although we had all been gardening on our own and felt we didn’t know much,  collectively, we knew a lot about gardening.  Post a question on the list and one of our small group had an idea of the answer.  Since then 10 people has become 150 and we all know so much more now.  We haven’t saved much money on seeds though.  Turns out gardeners can never have enough seeds.  So we still share tomato seeds, but we take the money we saved on those to buy heirloom squash and watermelons and plants we had never heard of before like broccoli raab.

You can make new garden friends pretty easily using this method.  Or help others build a community of friends who grow food.  A friend belongs to an HOA where people didn’t know each other well but all of them belonged to an email list for HOA business.  My friend offered HOA members a  free Seed Starting class and Seed Swap. (Seed avarice seems to be the real secret to bringing gardeners together.) Five people showed up and now are making friendships across the high fences of the HOA.

Make some new friends today.  Everybody wants to grow food these days but don’t know for sure how to do it.  Just about everybody wishes they had more friends with similar interests and don’t really know how to do that.  Seeds can bring people together.

Earwigs

How to Handle These Creepy Crawlers

by Sandy Swegel

If I were making a low-budget movie about alien invaders, I’d definitely use close-ups of earwigs to make the scariest monsters with their pincers coming at you.  And no fan of Star Trek can help but shudder and remember the image of the earwiggy centipedy thing Khan puts into Mr. Chekov’s ear.  Earwigs actually get their name from going into ears of corn, not human ears, but there’s a primitive cringe factor that rises in us anyway.

Most people never notice earwigs, but if you do get an infestation, you’ll quickly find they can wipe out new seedlings by chewing the stems and leaves.  And in large numbers, they have no problem climbing corn stalks or fruit trees to get at yummy food.

It’s usually easy to catch earwigs…they gather under anything dark and damp such as mulch or an old board. Rolled up wet newspaper is pretty good because it’s a disposable container….just toss the whole thing in the trash.  I personally let a couple of chickens loose and they find the apparently delicious earwigs in minutes and eat them as fast as they can scratch them out.  If you have a serious infestation of earwigs, UC Davis has the best scientific integrated pest management protocol.http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74102.html

This week  I went to a bug talk by our local extension entomologist Carol O’Meara and learned a new tip about trapping earwigs. Trapping is usually the best way to deal with earwigs.  O’Meara’s twist to catch the critters is to put out little bowls of vegetable oil and soy sauce.  The soy sauce is an attractant and the earwigs are suffocated in the vegetable oil.  An old tuna can and a couple tablespoons each of soy sauce and oil (some people add a little molasses), and you have a great trap.  The folks at Deep Green Permaculture designed this little trap to give you an idea of the concept.

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/strange-brew-homemade-garden-sprays/

Happy Earwig Hunting!