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Author: ryandunnewold

Grow a Flower Child

There are few things as rewarding as introducing children to the joy of gardening. Once school is out, I enjoy inviting several of my friends and their children over to enjoy an afternoon of decorating and planting containers.  It’s a fun activity, and a great way for kids to learn the basics of planting and caring for their buckets of blooms. Parents and kids can enjoy the activity together and then take home the container as a keepsake of the event.

When everyone arrives, the children dive into the fun by personalizing their own containers with stencils and markers. To keep things simple, I divide the plants into three groups—flowers, foliage and fragrance—and let them choose a plant from each collection. After they fill their buckets with soil, they plant their container and label it as their own with a colorful plant name tag.

Stenciling the ContainerPotting up Container GardensFinished Container Garden

Everyone gets a chance to see what others have made as they enjoy some special treats. The party food is presented in flowerpots that look as if they are filled with dirt and worms. At first parents are a little dubious, but the kids really love the confections made from crushed chocolate cookies, pudding, and gummy worms. As the celebration winds down, the children take home their containers and a plastic watering can as a keepsake of the party.

Special Party Treats:

  • Dirt and Worm Pudding
  • Dip made of peanut butter and honey.  Dippers were apples and bananas splashed with pineapple or lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.
  • A platter of oatmeal cookies, sticks of string cheese, bite size Ritz crackers and goldfish crackers.
  • A platter of gelatin Jigglers in lime, orange, and cherry flavors in flower, star, and fish shapes.
  • The terra-cotta pots can also be used to hold party favors such as stencils, markers, plastic scoops and packets of easy-to-grow seeds, such as sunflowers.


For a list of materials and ideas on how to set up the party, pick up a copy of my book, Living in the Garden Home.


Teacup Birdfeeder

Teacup BirdfeederThese teacup bird feeders are an excellent way to recycle old cups and saucers.  And they are both whimsical ornaments for the garden and work great as feeders.


Teacup and saucer
1/8 inch ceramic tile bit
1/4 inch masonry bit
36 inch long 1/4 inch threaded metal rod
30 inch long copper tubing 1/2 inch wide
2 stainless steel nuts with 1/4 inch wide hole
2 stainless steel washers with 1/4 inch wide hole
Safety Glasses

Drilling HoleDirections:
First collect your cups and saucers. A good place to look is a resale shop or junk store.

Next prepare your cup and saucer. Mark the center of each and carefully drill a hole through them one at a time. To reduce breakage and frustration, first make a starter hole with the 1/8 inch ceramic tile bit and then widen it with a 1/4 inch masonry bit.

Saucer and CupNow take the 36 inch long, 1/4 inch wide threaded metal rod and screw a nut about 1/2 inch from the top, place a washer on top of the metal nut and then the saucer and cup on top of the washer.

At this point you will have the tea cup and saucer balanced on the metal nut and washer with about 1/2 an inch or less of the threaded rod rising up through the middle of the tea cup.

Adding Copper TubingTake your second washer and slip it over the threaded rod so that it sits flat inside the teacup. Next add a metal nut on top of the washer and screw it down tightly so that the teacup and saucer are secure.

Select the area in your garden where you would like to place the feeder, push the copper tubing into the ground about 2 or 3 inches and then insert the threaded metal rod down into the ground through the copper tubing to give the feeder a finished look.

Heritage Poultry Expert Frank Reese on Aylesbury Ducks

Aylesbury ducks have an intriguing history, and they’ve been around for a long time. And at one time there were many of them. But now they’re considered a very rare breed. Earlier this year, Frank Reese, with the good shepherd poultry ranch, came to visit me at the farm to discuss the history and importance of preserving the heritage of these beautiful birds.

Allen Smith: Frank, I can’t believe how windy it is today. I’m so glad you’re here.

Frank Reese: Well, thank you.

Allen Smith: you know, the Aylesbury duck has been around for a long time, hasn’t it?

Frank Reese: Yes, it’s a very old breed. It’s so old, we don’t even know for sure their complete history. But it’s an old English breed of duck.

Allen Smith: You know, we have been fortunate here to be able to collect three genetic lines of that duck. I was stunned when I began to collect these birds, how few there are left in the country.

Frank Reese: Yeah, you probably have one of the bigger flocks that’s even in existence in North America. There’s just hardly anybody left breeding them, especially in any numbers. So the work you’re doing here is extremely important. And they’re not the only bird in trouble. There are many of our varieties of standard-bred poultry — the Jersey Giant, the Barred Rock, the Silver-laced Wyandotte, the old, original meat birds. And there are many, many other varieties of poultry that are in great danger.

Allen Smith: Now, you’ve raised poultry your entire life and know a lot about all the different species. But with the ducks, any advice as we move out of winter into spring?

Frank Reese: Well, you know, this time of year for ducks, they do quite well in cold weather and just getting ready for spring and that they have all of the water and feed and nutrition they need to lay good, healthy eggs. The majority of the time we get in trouble with a little duckling is because we let him get cold, and we let him get wet.

Little ducks, believe it or not, drown very easily. And so you do have to just watch them. You are their mother. They’re babies. They need to be watched. And you need to help keep them warm and dry and have good bedding and clean water.

Allen Smith: Well, my hope with this series of strains, these three that we have, that we’ll be able to hatch a lot of ducklings and really bring up the population of Aylesbury and be able to offer them to other farmers.

Frank Reese: Yeah, and hopefully you’ll also become the center of teaching, a place in which people can come and learn what an Aylesbury is about and why that duck needs to be preserved and be part of our future.

Allen Smith: Frank, so good to have you here. Thank you.

Suet Cakes for Birds

With the increased popularity in feeding birds, specialty shops have popped up to meet the demand. These stores are basically delicatessens for birds. You can’t imagine all the different foods.

For instance, there is one blend called Birdola. It’s something like a form of granola. And there are several different types of suet cakes. These are basically bird foods mixed with beef fat and other things such as almonds. One variety is actually packed with insects and another is made with papaya and orange.

Now the reason for all the mixtures is that each one offers food appealing to different kinds of birds. But I have an easy to make general recipe you can try at home and it starts with a trip to the grocery store.

To make the suet cakes follow this simple recipe:

1 pound beef fat
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup corn meal
1 cup birdseed

The key ingredient or "glue" that binds these suet cakes together is the meat fat trimmed and discarded by the butcher. Most butchers will be happy to give this to you and some will even grind it up, which makes it easier to use. Other ingredients you’ll need to pick up – corn meal, oats and some peanut butter. I like to use the extra crunchy kind and you’ll also need a small bag of birdseed of your choice.

To prepare this recipe melt one pound of beef fat over a low heat until it is in liquid form. Remove the saucepan from the stove then mix in one cup of peanut butter, one cup of rolled oats, one cup of corn meal and a cup of your favorite birdseed. Then pour the mixture into a form, any disposable container will do, and let it cool and solidify.

Once cooled fit the suet cake in a wire cage or net bag and hang it in a tree branch you can see from a window. In a few days, you should be able to see some fine feathered friends enjoying this home cooked meal.

Starting Seeds

I’ve been starting plants indoors for several years and I’ve found it’s a great way to get a head start on the growing season. I can gain 4 to 8 weeks by setting out seedlings rather than planting seeds in my garden.

It’s also a way to insure that I will have just the variety and color of the plants I need as well as any unusual or heirloom plants on my list.

Here are some tips to help you get started:
Soil – A key to success is using a loose, fertile, disease-free soil mix. I find the packaged potting soil easy to use.

Containers – You can start seeds in almost any container; it doesn’t have to be fancy. I’ve used plastic flats, trays, clay pots, compressed peat pellets, and even a make-your-own-paper cup from recycled newspaper with a little gadget called an N. Viropotter. Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs, and egg cartons can also be used to start seeds. Last season’s flats, trays, and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the containers in soapy water, and then disinfect them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to add holes in the bottom of the containers to allow for drainage.

Timing – Find out when your area is likely to have its last frost. You’ll find this information in gardening books or check with your county cooperative extension service or local garden center.

Next, look on the back of the seed packet and find out how long it will take the seeds to sprout. Mark the last frost date on a calendar then count back the number of weeks needed for sprouting. That’s the date to start the seeds. If you want the seedlings to be larger, start earlier. The time varies from plant to plant. Peppers require 7 to 8 weeks and tomatoes 5 or 6 to grow to transplanting size, while squash and cucumbers require only 2 to 3 weeks. Seedlings are ready to transplant when they have the first set of true leaves.

Seed Size – Usually smaller seeds require less soil to cover them than larger seeds. Check on the back of the seed packet for the proper seed depth. Seed size also determines the size of container and sowing method. Fine seeds, such as begonias and petunias, are typically sown in flats or trays.

After germination, the seedlings are transplanted into individual containers. Large seeds, such as marigolds and tomatoes, can also be germinated in flats. However, they are often sown directly into individual containers, thereby eliminating the need to transplant the seedlings before planting outside.

Temperature – Soil temperature is important. Cool soil retards germination. I use an electric grow mat under my trays to make sure the soil is around 75 degrees or so until seedlings have emerged. Provide an air temperature of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65 degrees.

Water and Light – After seeding, water the soil gently until water drains out the bottom of the container. Just be careful not to wash seeds away. Place containers in plastic bags or cover the soil surface with plastic film until the first sign of the seeds’ emergence. Then remove the plastic cover and be sure the container gets maximum exposure to light. Most seeds do not require light to germinate, but seedlings need full light exposure as soon as they emerge.

Problem and Solution: Leggy Seedlings

I have been growing brassicas from seed for a number of years and have always had a problem with them going leggy in their starting pots. They always have plenty of light. My Aunt, who lives in England, has the same problem with hers. Is there is a way to prevent the legginess?

You’re on the right track to get your seedlings off to their best start. Good, stocky transplants are vital to a good harvest from your plants.

There are two reasons that young seedlings become leggy – light or temperature or a combination of the two. The light could be too weak or too far away from the plant and the soil temperature or the air temperature could be too warm. Since brassicas are cool season plants it is generally best to start and grow the seedlings on the cool side. A soil temperature of about 55 degrees with daytime air temperatures of about 65 degrees and nighttime air temperatures of around 55 degrees is just about right. They need bright light and a large south window will work, but be sure to rotate them one-quarter turn everyday so they will be stocky.

Even better, since broccoli and other brassicas are often started earlier in the year than most seedlings and light levels are low, use a fluorescent light fixture with two 40 watt tubes and position them so that the lights are 2-inches above the starting medium. Keep raising the light as the plants grow so that the lights are always 2-inches above the leaf tips. Provide 14 – 16 hours of light each day.

Keep your seedling moist but not soggy, provide for good humidity and some fertilization at half strength about every two weeks. When they have developed the first set of true leaves, thin them to one seedling per pot or transplant them to individual pots. Continue growing (and rotating) them until it’s time to start hardening them off, about two weeks before planting time. I’ll bet you can already taste that first, sweet harvest.

Can I Grow an Apple Tree from a Seed?

I have some apple tree seedlings that I started as an experiment. I simply placed them in a pot with some potting soil and they came up. The seedlings are about 2 inches high, and I noticed that 2 of them have brown areas on the stem and are not able to stand upright from these areas.

There is one very important aspect to know when propagating apple trees from seeds. The apple trees you purchase in a nursery are produced by grafting because apple seeds are very unreliable. The seeds found in the apple are the result of cross pollination between two different species or varieties of apples. This makes each seedling a genetically unique individual with unpredictable traits; for example, seedlings sprouted from your ‘Macintosh’ apple might produce tiny red crab apples. You will have years invested in these seedlings before finding out if they will produce an edible or flavorful apple.

That being said, experimenting with growing different kinds of trees from seed can be fun and it is a great project for kids as well. It’s a good way to get them connected with the origins of the food they eat.

To begin dry the seeds out. Next sow them about 1/2 inch deep in sterile potting soil. Be sure your containers are
sterile as well. Place the seed pots in a sunny location. Keep the soil moist and at temperatures above 60 degrees.

Tree seedlings require full intensity light. If you cannot place them outdoors, consider using a grow light. They need 18 hours of artificial light per day.

The browning you see on your seedlings is probably a fungus caused by either by overwatering the plants, seed pots that were not sterile or too much warmth. To correct this you will need to start over with seeds sown in sterile containers that have drainage holes in the bottom and use fresh potting soil. Water them only when you can stick your finger in the soil about an inch and it feels dry to the touch.

Once your seedlings outgrow their seed pots you can transplant them to larger containers and move them outdoors.

They can be planted in the garden when they are large enough to not get stepped on or mistaken for a weed.

Be sure to plant your trees in areas of full sun in well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

One last tip. Because the traits of your trees are unknown, the mature height and width are hard to predict. Be sure to plant them in an area where they will have plenty of room to grow.

Seed Guide: Start Indoors or Direct Sow

Plant seeds are miraculous things from which great things grow. Soil, sun, and moisture transform the little dry pods into colorful flowers, tasty vegetables and even trees!

Unfortunately it’s because of this magical metamorphosis that many gardeners
shy away from growing plants from seeds. It’s just hard to believe that a
vibrant, living thing can be easily coaxed out of a seemingly lifeless seed.
But this doubt can be cast aside when armed with a little bit of information.

Essentials for Successful Indoor Seed Planting


Newly sown flower and vegetable seeds don’t need much light until they germinate. Once the stems start to emerge, move seeds trays to an area that receives bright light.

Sterile Potting Medium

To prevent seedling diseases always use new soil. Any loose soil mix will do.


Thoroughly water your newly planted seeds. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. A spray bottle is a good tool to have on hand to water seedlings.


Soil temperature is important. Cool soil slows seed germination. I use an
electric grow mat under my seed trays to make sure the soil is around 75°
or so until seedlings emerge. Provide an air temperature of 70 to
75° during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65°.


Hollyhock Seedlings

You can start seeds in almost any container; it doesn’t have to be fancy.
I’ve used plastic flats, trays, clay pots, compressed peat pellets, and
even a make-yoru-own-paper cup from recycled newspaper with a little
gadget called an N. Viropotter. Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs,
and egg cartons can also be used to start seeds. Last season’s flats,
trays, and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the
containers in soapy water, and then disinfect them in a solution of one
part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to add holes in the
bottom of the containers to allow for drainage.

Which Plants Grow Best from Seeds

The question of whether to start plants from seeds or purchase potted
plants from a garden center can be confusing. Starting seeds indoors
is inexpensive, allows you to grow unique varieties and gives you a
jump start on spring. This last point is especially important if
you live in an area with a short growing season. However, if the
plant is difficult to grow from seeds it is more advantageous to
purchase a potted plant from the nursery.

Here is a list of common vegetables and herbs along with an explanation of how easy (or difficult) the plant is to grow from seeds.

TypeSeed IndoorsSeed OutdoorsPotted Plant
TomatoesYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.DifficultYes
PeppersYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.NoYes
CornNot necessaryYesYes
CucumberNot NecessaryYesYes
RadishesNot NecessaryRadishes grow rapidly from seeds sown directly in the garden.Not Necessary
ArugulaNot NecessaryYesYes
SquashYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.YesYes
TurnipsNot NecessaryYesNo
CarrotsNot NecessaryYesNo
Winter SquashNoYesYes

Sowing Seeds in Containers

I’ve always made space in my garden for sowing seeds of annuals such as larkspur, verbena-on-a-stick and gomphrena, but this year my habit has spread beyond the borders of my flowerbeds and into containers.

Because, truly, what could be easier than filling a pot with soil and sprinkling a few seeds around? That is about all it takes to create a beautiful container overflowing with colorful blooms.

The best varieties are those that can be direct sown and germinate easily. I’ve had luck with cosmos, heirloom petunias and cock’s comb to name a few. For large containers try dwarf sunflowers or cleome. Make sure you keep the soil consistently moist while the seeds are germinating. As they grow into seedlings, you may want to thin them a bit so they don’t get overcrowded.

And as an added bonus you can save seeds from many of these varieties for growing next year.

August is the time that I start collecting seeds from the annuals that are currently flowering in my garden. If you want to try your hand at seed saving just let some of the flowers mature and form seedpods. The pods are ready for harvesting when they are dry and brittle, but before they break open.

On a dry, sunny day, after the dew has evaporated, collect the seeds by shaking them onto a piece of paper. It’s important to make sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you store them in labeled, airtight, plastic bags or mason jars. Once sealed, store them indoors in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them in your garden or containers next summer.