Pre-Germination, again

corn germinating sharpened LAHGardeners, especially those in short-season areas, will do almost anything to get a jump on the growing season. Pre-germinating your seeds is one excellent way to speed up the sometimes tedious wait for sprouting seedlings. At my daughter’s request, I’m re-posting this article that originally ran back in 2009. I wrote it for vegetable gardeners, but it could work just as well for many flower seeds.

The nice thing about pre-sprouting your seeds is that you don’t need any fancy equipment. No grow lights or windowsill, no sterile potting mix, no seed trays or peat pots or six-packs. Most of us have paper towels, sealable plastic bags, and even a shallow pan we can fill with cornstarch (or unflavored gelatin) and water. It’s easy, fast, and a fun way to get the kids involved. Here’s my method: Continue reading

Save the Seeds

Poppy seedheadsWhile we haven’t had a hard freeze yet, the lack of warm sunshine is telling my plants that the season is about over. Poppy seedheads act like salt shakers—just invert and shake out the seeds. We missed harvesting some pole beans and they’re now overripe, the pods puffy and enlarged. I’m letting them dry on the vine.

I let some of the cilantro mature and bloom, as the flowers attract lacewings and other beneficial insects. Parsley is a biennial, and I overwintered last year’s crop; it also bloomed this summer. Both are producing more seeds than I will ever use. Continue reading

Microclimates Matter

nga-app-planting-guideThe link promised to tell me when I should start my vegetable garden—when to sow seeds indoors, and when to sow or transplant outdoors. Just type in my zip code, and I’d have information customized for my area, courtesy of the National Gardening Association. I rarely click on ads, but I’ve found the NGA to be helpful in the past. Besides, I was curious. I have 24 years of records telling me when to plant in my area—how would their site measure up?

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Seeds to Start in January

geranium-bold-charm-rose-csu-lah-162For an avid gardener, January can be a difficult time of year. Sure, we can dream. The seed catalogs that have been arriving for a month now are filled with post-it notes, dog-eared corners, and bright yellow highlights. At the same time, I’ve decided and re-decided (at least a dozen times) where I’m going to plant each seedling once the weather warms. I love the optimism of dreaming, but sometimes I just want to get my fingers into some soil—even if the “soil” came out of a bag of potting mix.

At this time of year, gardening outside is pretty much impossible. The ground is frozen, and there’s still a layer of snow in the shadows on the north side of the house. Besides, it’s cold out there!

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Weed? Or Wonderful?

LAH_7583Everything is growing. Buds are bursting, early flowers are in bloom, and millions of tiny seeds are breaking through the soil into eager growth. It’s a wonderful time of year, and a busy one for gardeners. As we sow seeds and pull weeds, the question arises—which is which? Should we dig out that clump of green, or is it a desirable plant?

This is especially difficult if it’s a new yard, and this is our first chance to see what’s growing in it. Let me tell you a short story illustrating my gardening ineptitude.

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Gardening with Children: What to Grow

Lathyrus odoratus_Sweet peas_CoSpgs-CO_LAH_6185When you plant a seed with a child, you never know what will grow. I have a vivid memory of sowing sweet pea seeds with my mother; I must have been all of three or four years old. We dug a trench against our back fence. Then my chubby fingers placed each seed exactly in its place. I can still close my eyes and see the lavender, pink, and white seeds, coated to indicate what color the flowers would be. Then we covered them up and I patted the dirt smooth. In a few months we had armfuls of fragrant blossoms filling vases all over the house. Growing those sweet peas turned me into a life-long gardener, and to this day they are my favorite flower. Continue reading

Seeds to Sprouts

Lettuce seedling_LAH_9671In spite of the snowstorms this week, spring really is on its way. If you’re starting seeds indoors, it’s time to be sowing tomatoes, peppers, and other crops that take about eight weeks to reach transplant size. (Hold off on the cucumbers, squash, and melons—here in Colorado they should wait until early- to mid-May.)

Even if you’re waiting for warmer weather to plant, you may already have your seeds. Just think—that one little envelope might hold hundreds of zinnias or carrots, or thousands of zucchinis (at least)! How does something so innocent and seemingly lifeless turn into a magnificent flower or an overabundance of squash? How does that seed know to bide its time until it’s planted? What actually happens down there in the dirt?

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