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Here it is, six weeks later, and some seedlings have s-l-o-w-l-y begun to sprout. The spinach has been up about a week and a half and is only now putting out second leaves. This past week some carrot and kohlrabi sprouts began to show.  At least this give me some hope for the seeds remaining underground—they might spout yet. So okay, up here in north central western Michigan, you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked, but the results, like the weather, might be mixed.Six wees to sprout? Really? Kale, a very cold tolerant plant has shown no signs of germination, neither have the beets, radishes, or Swiss chard. It might work out better for me to plant some of these in late August and grow them through the fall, and just wait until about now to put other seeds in the ground. On the other hand, the annual seeds of camomile and parsley are all over the garden! They have literally turned wild and are competing with the Veronica peregrina, in other words they’ve joined the weed community. I don’t really want to pull any of them out. Perhaps the veronica would make a good ground cover on the walkways between the growing boxes? Gardening is an adventure and an experiment!

My daffodils. scilla siberica, and hyacinth  are all blooming, and in the wild, so are the Amelanchier trees, so I can state spring is well underway here. Doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow! However, the blueberry plants from White Flower Farm arrived last Friday and I planted them Sunday. Hope they survive.

Okay. So I’m late getting my vegetable garden in. The salad crops were planted in containers on the back deck. That worked well, but ended with me giving them more attention. For the big garden, spring was late, and the weather turned bad, and then I decided I wanted raised beds. We got the first bed in and planted tomatoes and peppers plus the Amaryllis bulb that I want to keep. Hopefully it will grow well enough to bloom again this fall.

Every year I will fill them a little more with good soil, but this year their on the same level of ground. Each box will receive more fertilizer and attention, so I think they will grow more crops.

Parsley and Camomile have grown like weeks throughout the space. I hate pulling them out since they are useful. The asparagus planted last fall is very slow coming up, and in the skinniest, shortest little stalks I’ve ever seen.

After installing all but three planned boxes, the garden was enlarged to 40 x 60 feet. All I can envision is more weeding. As the raised were bed put in, I planted one with beans, one with root crops. Smaller ones are for herbs. Finally most of the seeds I bought were planted.

I had four annual flower packs to plant; had them in my hand yesterday. Whatever the heck happened to them after that is anyone’s guess because I can’t find them, and I know I didn’t plant them. Makes me madder than the mad hatter.

The extra, enlarged space is for raspberries, but the place I wanted to purchase them is all out of plants, so we’ll put in pumpkins. It’s late, but maybe they’ll ripen.

Later, looking for my flower seeds, I went to my seed box, and there were four new packets of herb seeds that I missed planting, not the annual flower seeds. Where the heck did I put them? And where am I going to plant these herbs?


Cleome grown from seed and a prolific reseeder

One of my fascinations with gardening is growing plants from seed. Like most gardeners I’ve grown many annuals, vegetables, and perennials from commercial seed sources. Some are easy, some are difficult, but at least the seed comes sorted, cleaned and ready to grow. Some of these seed-grown plants can’t be stopped from reseeding—my Cleome (grown from seed three years ago) has gone wild, and I’m pulling plants out like weeds after flowering and before seeds set. Despite this dangers, growing plants from collected seed can be an enjoyable challenge.

Parsley gone to seed. I’m sure I’ll have parsley all over the vegetable garden next year.

There is one thing to know about seed. Each is an individual plant, and like children, they are not perfect replicas of their parents. There are no guarantees you will end up with a desirable plant. Although the new plant may look like the parent, it is different. The plants that may develop can vary in size, hardiness, color, in bloom and maturing time, or any number of other ways. You do not want to collect seed from hybrid plants. The plants that develop from the seeds seldom show the characteristics of the parent plant. If you want to propagate exactly the same plant you started with, you must use vegetative propagation methods such as division, offsets, cuttings, or grafts.

In general, seeds develop about one month after the plant blooms. You need to watch the plants carefully to see when the seed ripens. Collect ripened seed on a dry sunny afternoon, as moisture is less of a problem. Some seeds drop easily from the seed head with a gentle shake, such as poppies or sunflowers. My poppies have provided seed for breads and hot dog buns, so there are practical reasons to gather seed, too.

Echinacea seed will reseed in the garden, but also provide finches feed through the winter.

Other seeds are contained in protective growths like cones or fleshy fruits, and these must be removed before the see is stored. Cones and pods placed in paper bags will often release seeds as they dry.

Make sure no debris or chaff (seed husks, flower bracts or other parts) is stored with the seed. Separate the chaff from the seed by rolling the collected seeds and material on a piece of paper. Heavier seed separates out, or may roll more easily leaving the chaff behind. Blowing gently on the chaff usually removes most of it, but don’t sneeze or you’ll waste all your efforts.

Store seeds in paper bags or envelopes, label the outsides with pertinent information like contents and date, and leave in a dry place for a few weeks. Paper allows moisture to escape and the seed may need to dry more, even if it appears completely dry. Store the paper containers in plastic and place in the refrigerator over winter. Next spring the seeds should be ready to plant.

As March 16th came and passed under snow cover, I thought of an old garden adage about planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Gardeners, after a long winter of tending houseplants, itch to get an early start, and there is nothing as good as fresh peas from the garden, but not here in a northern garden. As disappointed as I was, I don’t shovel snow off my garden before planting, preferring to wait until the ground is clear. There are ways to allow you to start gardening earlier.

If this is your first garden, think about where you want to locate it. Placing your garden on a south-facing slope helps warm the soil faster. It will catch more sun and allow you to plant a few days sooner. That is if you don’t get another eight inches of snow, but even then, chances are some seeds will sprout as soon as the snow melts. Raised beds make sense, too. They also warm up faster, and if you have clay soils, drain better, permitting earlier planting. Another trick is to plant in a cold frame, just keep the snow swept off the top so the sun can enter.

Many vegetable seeds germinate even if planted in cold soil. Technically, that means soil at 40 degrees. If you don’t take your soil’s temperature, that’s about when the soil is easily tilled. Don’t disturb the ground if big clods of soil form while you work, the soil is too wet. Let it dry out a little.

Cold season vegetables grow better in the cool air and weaker sun of spring and fall. Luckily, these are some of the fastest growing vegetables, and best salad ingredients the home gardener grows. Vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard can be planted as early as the snow melts. Other lesser-known leaf vegetables like corn salad (lamb’s lettuce), broccoli raab, and some chicories also do all right planted in cold soil. This is not the optimal temperature for seed germination, but sow heavily and enough seeds will germinate to make the effort worthwhile.

Other vegetable seeds that germinate in cold soil include many root crops and members of the cabbage family. You can plant cabbage, cauliflower, beet, turnip, rutabaga, radish, onion, shallot, leek and carrot seeds at the end this month or early April. Most of these vegetables are types that do better planted directly into the ground anyway, but I have seen seedling plants of some at nurseries.

Most of the rest of the vegetable seeds you might want to grow need warm soil. Save them for planting in May or start them indoors four to six weeks before you intend to plant them outdoors. It is easy and fun. If you don’t want the fuss, most of them can be bought as well-grown plants at nurseries and garden centers all over town. Even in May we can get late frosts, so be prepared to keep these plants protected. You can use row covers, or cloches for individual plants.

And don’t forget the peas go in the ground as soon as possible.

You know every seed is different from every other seed from basic biology class. Even though every plant in a field of corn, or wheat, or each pink petunia, might look the same to us, each plant has its own identity, a face as different as yours is from mine. Which means every packet of seed you plant contains the possibility of surprise, like finding a red green bean or a green sunflower.

In 2006 I planted some seeds for Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ from Thompson & Morgan Seeds. I selected the seeds for their orange bloom, and planted five pots in January, with plans to place them in my orange and pink garden later in the spring. (After all, you can only have so many poppies in a small garden!) Last year they finally bloomed. While two of the plants bloomed in slightly different shades of orange, and two had to be transplant so were set back and haven’t bloomed yet, the fifth plant bloomed pink.

Pink poppy surprise

Pink poppy surprise

Papaver 'Brilliant'

Papaever 'Brilliant'

(Off topic: Have you noticed how difficult it is to photograph orange? It never seems to fit in with rest of photograph. Same with white and black.)

Both of these plants are huge, 40″ plants with blossom stems reaching 48″ and more, and luckily, the pink still goes in my pink and orange color scheme. Especially, since due to the poppy’s taproot, it is nearly impossible to transplant once established.

Now, this could be a genetic change, but, what I suspect is more likely, a seed from another poppy type somehow flew into the mix. However it happened, it was a great surprise!

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn't it beautiful?



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