seed saving

Got Seeds? Make Sure You’re Buying the RIGHT Ones!

It’s time to buy your seeds!  If you haven’t been saving your seeds, that is.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds, I completely understand how you could become so excited over your tomato crop and making sauce that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of saving seeds.  Yep, you plopped them right into the boiling water for blanching without the first thought to seed-saving.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More tomato seeds are on my list, too.

seed shopping

But take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  It’s understandable that you get carried away. As for my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving, so slow down…take a deep breath and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

But there’s something very important that you must keep in mind when the seed catalogs arrive. After you eagerly run to the mailbox (or jog—as ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs, and peruse the list of seed offerings–make sure you’re searching for heirloom seeds.  Not hybrid, not super-duper-extra-sweet or double the normal growth potential…  Uh, uh.  You want heirloom and preferably organic.  Why?

my salsa tomatoes

Because once you plant hybrid seeds, the ones meant to overcome Mother Nature’s deficiencies (don’t let her hear you say that out loud) and harvest the produce and save your seeds, you’ll be sorely disappointed next season.  Hybrids aren’t natural and when you replant the seeds, your new crop of plants will not reproduce the original fruit — if they germinate at all.  Say you plant a hybrid Better Boy variety one season—thrilled with the beasts of bounty this seed produces—then save some seeds for next season, you need to be aware that your next crop might be a disappointing array of cherry-like tomatoes.  It happens. And it’s sad when it does.

So save yourself the heartache and buy heirloom.  Heirloom is straight up what it promises on the label, year after year after year.  Plant your seeds according to package instructions and keep moist.  Think of them as babies and treat them as such.  This spring I’m putting Hungarian Wax back on my list. Last season was disappointing, but this year? We’re going gangbusters!

Wish me luck!  Until then…happy gardening!

Pick Okra at Peak of Perfection

When growing okra, daily vigilance is a must. Not because of bugs or disease–okra are pretty tolerant on these counts–but because of harvest. Okra will range in size from an inch to six inches–a big difference.

Okra in varying stages of maturity

And in this case, size DOES matter. Those six-inch okra might look grand and delightful, but you don’t want to eat them. They’re tough and not nearly as tasty as their younger counterparts. Go figure.

Anyhoo, speaking of their younger counterparts, tender young okra are most definitely what you’re after when it comes to harvesting okra. The small ones are tasty straight off the vine, tossed in a salad, soaked in a tomato stew… There are a host of ways you can use okra, particularly if you enjoy Cajun-style cooking. YUM. My son prefers them Southern-style which means rolled in cornmeal and deep-fried. More

Save Those Seeds!

Saving seeds is one of the keys to organic gardening. Not only do you know where they came from, you know what went into producing them—important in this day and age of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

Seed saving is all about purity; a concept you must keep front and center in your mind, because if you’re not careful, you can create some hybrids of your own! For example, I’m not sure how it happened, but I have some Pantano variety tomatoes growing in my San Marzano tomato row.  Did I mix up my seedlings or did they cross-pollinate last season?

Hmph.  Not sure. What I do know is that one must be conscious of which seeds go where. To help keep things straight, I’ve created some seed packets to store my seeds, complete with section to keep notes. You can find easy how-to instructions on my website in the Kid Buzz section.

So what is the first step to seed saving? Keep your seeds separate, organized by harvest and variety and learn the recommended “shelf life” for each. Trust me—planting old seeds doesn’t work. Not only will the not germinate, but they take up valuable planting space before you discover the error!

Step two: dry them before storing.  No worse disappointment (other than your Italian red sauce won’t cling to the noodles) than to have saved moldy seeds. Yep.  It happened to my beans one year. I thought you could go straight from pod to packet but oh no, not unless that pod dried on the vine can you do so.  They must be dry, dry, dry.

If you harvest your beans—shell or bush—when they’re perfect and gorgeous, allow them to dry out for a day or so before packing them away for next season. They’ll keep longer.

Easier yet, allow them to dry on the vine. However, be aware that if you don’t harvest them in time, you may find some have already “popped” open and settled into the surrounding soil which means they’ll germinate in place next season.

Peppers are similar in that you remove the seeds and set them out to dry before storing. With the squash family (and okra) you’ll want to remove the “film” coating before storing.  Simply wipe clean and set out to dry.

But all seeds are not treated the same when it comes to storing. Tomatoes require a bit more effort. Once you remove them, you need to put them in a glass (or bowl as shown above) and fill with water (at least an inch or two above the seeds).  Allow to sit undisturbed for a few days. When a white mold begins to form over the seeds, scoop it out and any seeds that go with it.  The seeds left on the bottom of your glass are the ones you want—floating seeds are duds.

Drain water from glass through a fine sieve so you don’t lose any of your precious gems and then rinse with cold water.  Place seeds on a paper plate (paper towel over regular plate will work) and allow to dry completely; a process that may take a few days.  Then slip them into your seed saving packet and you’re good to go!

If you leave your lettuce and broccoli in the ground long enough, seed pods will begin to form and then collection becomes a simple matter of split and save! Find details here.

Carrots and onions are a tad more complicated. Okay, that’s a lie. They’re tough and out of my competency range. But if you’re the adventurous type I’d give it a whirl. (I did!)  And why not? All you have to do is allow the plant to go to flower whereby it will produce seeds. Tiny seeds, yes, but seeds nonetheless. If you can collect them from the flower before they blow away, you’re golden! If not, you’ll be back at your local garden shop.

So this year as harvest approaches think “seed saving” as well as “seed harvesting.” And next season make a point to buy heirloom seeds.  Hybrids won’t reproduce for you—at least not the same gorgeous fruit they produced on the first go-round!—but heirlooms will.  And as always, choose organic!  Happy gardening!

Monster Okra

Now this is enough to scare you plum out of the garden–so don’t let it come to that.  Okra are one of the easiest and tastiest veggies to grow and when eaten fresh from the vine (stalk, stem…) are not slimy in the least.  They are divine.  My son prefers them fried–and they are good this way–but I like them fresh.  But if you let your okra grow to gargantuan proportions, they will be tough, stringy and icky.  Leave these mammoth pods for seed saving.

And the only way to prevent this from happening is to visit your garden every day during harvest time.  Like I said, okra are EASY to grow and grow they will–inches a day!  Or so it seems.  These are Tami’s okra (no, we haven’t forgotten her) and in need of plucking.  But in between home and the beach, work and vacation, it can be downright hard to visit your garden every day.  (Yet another reason I close most of my rows for the summer.  Summers are for vacation in my household!) 

For optimum taste, you want your  okra about two inches, maybe a tad more if you’re frying them. This little guy is perfect, isn’t he?  Gorgeous AND delicious. 

Speaking of gorgeous, her pepper plants are thriving.  Beautiful and green and only a couple of holes to speak of, these babies are blooming and producing.  Now remember, perfection is overrated.  I don’t mind one bit if the leaves have a couple of blemishes.  So long as they don’t kill the plant or prevent peppers from blossoming, I’m good.  How about you?

Now her tomatoes are wild and wooly and taking full advantage of her divided attention.  They need pinched and pruned, but Tami’s been too busy to do either.  Like I said, Florida during the summertime can be very distracting.  Sunny skies, warm waves and beautiful beaches…  Who can stay home?

It’s tough.  Forgive her.  She’ll get back into the swing of it soon.  Why, she has this cute little melon fella to take care of! 🙂 

Isn’t he adorable?  Precious.  Just precious.  So if you’re in the same predicament as Tami, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  For all you lucky gardeners out west and up north, take heart–this is YOUR season to shine.  And do share!

How to Save Broccoli Seeds

Learning how to save broccoli seeds is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I knew the appearance of flowers meant I was on the right track, but I never could figure out where the seeds came from.  Oh sure, a quick search on the internet provides all the answers, but I was trying to use nature as my guide.  Surely something would look familiar soon.  Marigold seeds came directly from the flowers, why not broccoli?

Because that isn’t the way nature works.  You see, broccoli seeds are hidden in the pods BELOW the broccoli flowers.  You can see them here, beginning to plump as they form. 

But these aren’t quite ready yet (photo taken in February).  You need to allow them to fully develop before attempting to harvest.  For example, this plant is from my fall garden.  It’s April now, which gives you some indication as to the time required for these pods to form.  You can’t rush Mother Nature.  (She gets a bit itchy when you do.)  First you’ll see the flowers form and eventually the pods.  Mind you, I waited months for these, but it’s worth the wait knowing you can achieve self-sustainability.

For easier harvest, pull the entire plant out and allow the pods to dry on the stalk.  Now the kicker is how to get them out without destroying them.  Broccoli seeds are quite tiny.  In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to recognize them when I see them.  From the various sources I checked, it seems your first task is to save these pods, allow them to dry and then “pound” them open to get the seeds. 

Pound them?  That sounds so harsh.  How will this not crush the seeds?  Perhaps I can “pry” them open and allow the seeds to tumble out into my awaiting seed packet.  Better yet, how about I lay them out on white paper so that I can see the little fellas!  (Old eyes need all the help they can get.)

That’s much better.  Now rather than pound them out, how about I twist open the pods, much like I do with my bean pods?  Seems so much more humane.

And if it works, it works —just look at those little beauties!  Remember, these are very tiny so this photo may be deceiving.  Be sure your work space is conducive to working with broccoli pods (translated: an area where you won’t lose them if they roll off your paper—which they might do!)  Then, with your awaiting seed packet, fold the paper and roll them in…

Ta-da!  You’ve saved your broccoli seeds!  How cool is that?  Now mark your packet with all the pertinent details like where you harvested them and when and of course what type of seeds along with which variety!  You can make your own custom seed-saving packets by using my template found here.

Seed Shopping!

Yes it’s that time of year again when the seed catalogs arrive.  Eagerly you run to the mailbox (or jog—ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs and immediately you begin planning for spring.  Leafing through as you walk, you are amazed by the sheer variety of buttery lettuce leaves, the fantastic diversity of beans.  Who knew beans were not only green, but purple and yellow?  That corn came in red?  At least the carrots all look like carrots, a subtle (and welcome) reminder you have not lost your mind.

But I digress.  It’s time to buy your seeds!  That is, if you haven’t been seed saving.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds I completely understand how you can become so excited over your tomato crop and making sauce and ketchup that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of plucking seeds.  Yes, you plopped them right into the boiling water to blanch them for skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More San Marzano tomato seeds are on my list, too.

Take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  For my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving so slow down, take a deep breath, and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

And this spring I have a few experiements to share with you.  For my tomatoes, I’m going to try some red ground paper.  Supposedly it not only keeps the weeds at bay but it helps the tomaotes grow bigger and plumper.  How?

I have no clue.  Like I said, this is new for me.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress to be sure.  I’m also going to add a little diversity to my herb garden.  Yes, I must confess, I’m a sucker for brightly colored-pages and one of my seed catalogs really snookered me in this year so I’m going with it.  Maybe I’ll get crazy and make some herbal tea with chammomile, or add some lemon balm to my (husband’s) iced tea.  A little mint anyone?  Keeps the ants away!

Anyway, as you can see I have big fun planned so grab your hat—we’re going gardening!

It’s All About the Potatoes

This week it’s been all about the potatoes, from my home garden to the school garden—we’ve planted potatoes.  And rather than bore you with the details yet again, I’ll share this one picture with you. 

These are the youngest children we have involved in the garden and if you ever questioned how much fun kids in the garden can be, well, you won’t question it anymore.  These boys and girls are each planting a cut potato seed for our future French fry bake lesson we have planned for April and they couldn’t be happier (or more pleased with themselves).

They each dug their hole, they each placed their potato inside and they each covered it with a mix of existing dirt and cow poop (potatoes LOVE cow poop, don’t you know?).  And while it felt zoo-ish and zany at times—tends to happen when you have 30 children below the age of 9 together at one time—it was downright fun.  A LOT of fun. If you have kids and you’re not gardening together?  You are definitely missing out. 

And if you have a child that refuses to eat their vegetables, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  when they grow the vegetable by their own little hand, they will eat it (and enjoy it!).  Trust me, these kids love to haul their bounty straight into the kitchen and cook those puppies right up!  (Puppy as slang, kids, not cute & furry.) 

It is WAY yum.  And if your school doesn’t have a garden than sign them up for one.  Raise your hand, gather a few friends, spring is on the horizon.  How will you pay for it all?  Easy.  After a small initial investment in seeds, you can harvest your first bounty, save your seeds, create custom seed packets made and decorated by the kids (see my Kid Buzz section for easy instructions) and you’ve got yourself a school fundraiser!

Who wouldn’t pay $4.95 for a packet of seeds grown by their school’s students?  Shoot, if I”m willing to pay $3.50 for a box of Girl Scout cookies that disappear within minutes, I should be willing to pay $4.95 for dozens of seeds that will produce hundreds more!  Our sunflowers did.  Our beans did.  Our tomatoes did. And all were easy and fun to grow.

Think about it.  Spring is just around the corner!

All Around Update

As you may have noticed, my website was down for some time last week–technical glitch–but has since been repaired.  However, my gorgeous design didn’t fare as well; something I hope to remedy soon. 🙂  In the meantime, we’ll work with what we have and catch up on what we missed!

First off, Mandy’s edible landscape is coming right along and promises to provide us with the perfect example of companion planting at its best.  In the raised planter she has rosemary and cabbage–real snuggle bugs in the garden.  Down below she planted carrots, beets and radish (the larger ones)–all BFF!  Why?  Refer to previous garden coaching post for full details but know that as they grow, they’ll not only prove to be a help to one another, but they’ll also fill in for a lovely layered landscape–great for curb appeal. 

 Moving to the school garden, we see the kids have been busy too.  As part of a move to make better use of our yard space we’re moving the garden to a sunny section located just around the corner from our current spot.  Tucked away in a back corner of the school sports field, it will turn an empty space into a productive space.  And isn’t that what we’re all about?  Productivity?

Of course!  Speaking of productive, the kindergarteners learned a valuable lesson in seed saving.  As organic gardeners, we like to be self-sustaining–a really big word for the little ones to comprehend, but the concept is simple.  We grow beans, we eat beans but we save some beans for next season!  Kids understand independence and that’s the kind of gardeners we are (a.k.a. self-sustaining)!

We used the seed packets made from the templates found in the Kid Buzz section of this website.  So easy, a child can make them on their own!  (I know, because I had my two demonstrate this fact. :))

So this season when your labors turn to fruit–save those seeds for next season!  Around these parts that means spring.

Custom Seed Packet & Holder Giveaway!

Attention savvy gardeners!  Visit us on Facebook and hit “like” for your chance to earn one of these adorable seed packet holders. 

Your choice of design, as well as a set of 15 custom seed saving packets, compliments of BloominThyme — http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme

Don’t save seeds?  No problem.  Use these containers to hold paper napkins or plastic utensils on the picnic table, or perhaps envelopes on your desk.  How about the perfect unique gift for that gardener friend?  Or win one for the kids!  These holders are a great way to get the youngsters excited about gardening. 

Already “like” us?  Thanks!  You’ll be automatically entered to win.  When we reach 75 likes, one random winner will be drawn.  At a 100, a second will be chosen.  So enter early and increase your chances of winning.

Then, stay-tuned for more giveaways as well as gardening made easy — BloominThyme…your “cliff” notes to gardening!