What I Learned About Peas this Year

Tips for Growing the Best Peas

by Sandy Swegel

Two friends each planted a pack of peas back in March and lovingly watered and tended them while I watched.

One garden produced 5 glorious pounds of pea pods and made the gardener, a cook, very happy.  The other garden grew 12 spindly plants that have put out about 10 pea pods…and made the gardener very happy because they were her first ever peas.

Here’s what I learned about peas this year…

 

Soil does make a difference.

Both gardens had soil heavy with clay. One garden was double dug and amended with natural fertilizer and compost last year while the other just had the grass weeds removed. It’s true that peas improve the soil but if your soil is terrible to start with, you aren’t going to get many peas this year.

It’s OK if you forget to thin.

The prolific pea patch was never thinned and the whole packet of seeds went into one area.  Turned out OK.  More water was needed and careful trellising but all those crowded peas produced more than if they had been thinned.

The more you pick, the more new peas grow.

We kept the big pea patch well picked and those plants kept pumping out more. Those plants worked hard for their keep.

Of course, the most obvious lesson is that how many pounds of peas you get isn’t as important as how happy your garden makes you.

Is It Time?

Is There Still Time to Plant Seeds?

by Sandy Swegel

Is it time? Is it too late?  Can I still plant seeds?  These are the questions I heard this week.  In our Zone 5 area, garden centers are already starting to discount plants and seasonal workers will get laid off by the 4th of July. Does that mean it’s too late to plant seeds and you should just buy the biggest plant you can find?

Generally, the answer is, of course, there is still time to plant seeds…It’s only June!  For gardeners, the truest answer is always, “It Depends.”

There are a few seeds that it is too late to plant. In Zone 5 or other short growing season areas, it’s too late to plant watermelon or winter squash or tomatoes by seed.  The “days to maturity” info on the back of the seed package tells you that you need 90-100 days before the plant makes its first ripe fruit.  100 days from now is mid-September before you might get a watermelon…that doesn’t work when we might have frost by then…or at the very least cold nights.

The flip side of this question is, “Are there seeds I should plant rather than buy plants?”  Absolutely.  It makes no sense to buy a broccoli or cauliflower plant now for $4.00 when it’s just going to bolt in the summer heat.  It likes cooler weather.  And you could probably buy the broccoli itself cheaper.  But in a couple of weeks, market farmers are starting their broccoli seeds to get their fall crops going. Planting broccoli and cauliflower soon is a great idea!

Annuals are still a great bargain to plant.  I went into sticker shock when I went plant shopping this year.  Plant prices are up about 30 percent in my area.  For less than the price of a 4-inch pot with a marigold, I can get one seed packet of marigolds and have dozens and dozens of plants in bloom in only 45 days.  They’ll be super cute all over the garden and in the vegetable garden, they’ll help repel pests.

It’s the same for cosmos and California poppies and zinnias and all the annual wildflower mixes.  There’s still time.  For perennial seed, some plants might not bloom till next year, but the plants will be strong and it’s a lot easier to start seeds now in the garden where you want them to grow instead of inside under lights in the middle of winter.

Buying bedding plants is great for instant gratification, but gardeners know that if you want a garden full of hundreds of flowers (without breaking the bank), SEEDS are the way to go!

So there IS still time. Lots of time for annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers and bachelor buttons and zinnias and for big flowery herbs.  Then there all those vegetables to seed.  And the perennials you are admiring in bloom now. You get the idea. There is plenty of time to plant by seed and enjoy them this year.

 

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

Two Tips for Starting Seeds in the Ground in Spring

Seed Starting

by Sandy Swegel

 

Two weeks ago during a warm spell I had a little seeding frenzy and made tiny rows of lettuces and Micro Greens in a community garden plot along with the usual St. Patrick’s Day peas.  Every thing is coming up now (OK with their weed friends too).  There are two things I do whenever I put seeds directly into the ground to make sure I’m successful.

Here’s my basic process for starting seeds that works for me.

Weed and smooth soil out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil
Pat the seed lightly with my hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil.

TIP #1
ROW COVER
I lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seedbed.  You want it loosely so the plants can grow and the row covers lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks (of which there are many in our soil) to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away.  The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note…I water right on top of the row cover.  It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

Sometimes there are seeds that are slow to germinate.  That’s when I use

Tip #2
PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.
Seeds like peas or carrots respond well if you soak them overnight, drain them, let them sprout in a baggie with a damp paper towel for a day, then put them in the ground.  The peas get cute sprouts.

 

I get a high germination rate even from difficult seeds when I use these two tips.  Which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save a little money.

It’s Spring!  Enjoy playing in the Dirt!

Photo credit: http://frontrangefoodgardener.blogspot.com/
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/row-covers?page=0,1

I miss my garden

Benefits of Having Your Own Garden

by Sandy Swegel

 

I’m on the 6 a.m., red-eye flight from New Orleans and all I can say after a week in this great party town in that I miss my garden.  Sure, fried shrimp and stuffed crabs are great but after a week of culinary excess, I’m yearning for the crisp still frozen Swiss chard that I’ve harvested all winter underneath piles of leaves.  In big cities, you still get a lot of that pale white iceberg lettuce.

The other thing I missed in this big city are front yard gardens.  All those small urban front yard lawns are begging to be turned from turf to nice raised beds. Perfectly groomed shrubs are not nearly as pretty to this gardener as sprawling squash vines or trellises of peas would be.  The best I could do was slip some herbs between the roses and azaleas in my mom’s tiny condo garden.

 

So I salute, today, all of you who are growing your own food in cities or in neighborhoods controlled by HOAs that abhor anything untraditional.  I live in the fantasy land of Boulder where it’s trendy to grow your own food.  I have a new respect for you who garden in the city or where you’re the only gardener on the block.  And I’ve envied your fresh greens all week!

 

Photo Credits:

walkingberkeley.wordpress.com

blog.nilsenlandscape.com

 

 

 

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!