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Introduce Yourself to Husk Cherries

By guest writer Jennifer Burcke
(taken from the October Naturally e-magazine)

I remember vividly the first time I tasted a husk cherry. It was more than a decade ago while shopping at the local farmers market with my young daughter. One of the farmers had a small basket of papery lantern shaped fruits on his table. I asked if they were tomatillos based on their appearance. He was happy to offer us a generous handful of husk cherries to taste while he told us all about these interesting fruits.

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Two-for-One Plants: Amaranth

Amaranth flowers bloom in hot summer day

By Amy Renea
See full article in the September issue of Naturally

Amaranth is an under-appreciated native grain with a host of beneficial uses. It grows easily in most of the United States and can be found growing wild in many U.S. states. Typically, wild amaranth is ‘pigweed,’ but you might also find various cultivars popping up in your garden that have seeded from a neighbor’s garden. My initial exposure to amaranth was in our first house where a tiny seed of ‘Hopi Red Dye’ had managed to settle in the cracks of an aging sidewalk. I didn’t know what it was, only that it had beautiful wine red leaves, so I let it go. That tiny little seed in that tiny little crack with its tiny little red leaves grew and grew and grew until it was 6 feet high. Beautiful plumes developed and seed was set for the next generation. I was hooked for life.

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Dark purple sweet peas

Secrets to Growing Sweet Peas from Seeds Successfully

I covet sweet peas for their heavenly fragrance and old-fashioned simplicity. These little vining flowers are a delight to see and smell. Sadly, they can be a tricky annual for me to grow. They prefer cool temperatures but won’t withstand a frost. If I sow the seeds in early spring in my zone 7 garden they are likely to get wiped out by a late frost. Unfortunately, mid-South springs tend to be short, so if I try sowing them any later, the plants melt in the heat before they have time to bloom.

The solution is to start the seeds in the greenhouse in February and move the pots outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Starting the seeds indoors gives them the head start they need to bloom before spring ends.

Gardeners in climates with long, cool springs can sow sweet peas outdoors as soon as the threat of frost has passed. If you are like me and need to sow the seeds indoors, do this about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area.

The secret to good seed germination is soaking the seeds in milk a few hours before you sow them. That’s right, milk. This helps to soften the outer covering of the seed.

Whether starting indoors or direct sowing in the garden, plant sweet peas in a spot that receives full sun. They like a sweet soil with a pH of 7 or 8, so if you know that your soil is acidic add garden lime to make it more alkaline. Be sure to following the package directions on the garden lime bag. Sweet peas have relatively extensive roots, so the soil should be friable at least 24 inches deep.

Provide immediate support for your young seedlings. Metal can get hot on warm spring days, so try twine or twigs.

Once they are up and flowering, you will want to do everything you can to keep the plants full of blooms. One of the best ways to encourage continuous flowering is to cut bouquets for the house. I like to cut the blooms about every other day. Flowers remaining on the plant will develop into seed pods. It’s a good idea to remove the flowers before this happens because you want the plant’s energy to go into creating more blossoms, not seed.

Storing Seeds

I have quite a few packets of seeds left over that I didn’t get planted this summer. Can I save them for next year?

The summer growing season often gets away from me before I have time to sow all of the seed that I purchased for my garden. At the end of the summer I make an inventory of what I’d like to save and discard the rest.

I store left over seeds in a labeled, airtight baggie or glass jar. I’ve had the best luck with seeds that I kept indoors rather than in my tool shed or garage. I simply place them in a cool, dry location. Some people recommend that they be stored in the refrigerator, but I have not found this to be necessary.

The same storage techniques apply if you are saving seeds collected from your garden. Just be sure that you have thoroughly dried them on newspaper before putting them in jars.

Next year when it is time to plant the seeds you can check their viability with this simple test. Place approximately 10 seeds of the same variety on a damp paper towel. Roll up the paper towel and put it in a plastic bag – do not seal the bag. Keep the bag in a warm area. The top of your refrigerator is a good location. Check the seeds daily and keep the paper towel moist. After 2 or 3 days count the number of seeds that have sprouted. This will give you a pretty good idea of how the seeds will do in the garden. If half the test group germinated, then it is likely that half of the rest of the seeds will grow in your garden.

Seed Collecting

I want to start collecting and saving seeds from my garden. I’m looking for information about how to collect seeds from flowers. Do all flowering plants produce seeds for collecting?

Seed gathering is a fun gardening activity with a time honored past. Before seed companies and nurseries made it more convenient to buy packets of seeds and flats of ready grown plants, farmers and gardeners relied on collecting and saving their own seeds for the following year’s crops. I recall my parents and grandparents collecting seeds from their flower and vegetables, not only to be frugal, but to make sure they had seeds for the varieties that they liked to grow.

Since those early times plant breeders have created all kinds of new hybrid varieties, which makes modern day seed saving a little more challenging for the home gardener. Here’s why. Hybrid plants often produce seeds that either won’t germinate or the resulting plants don’t have the same characteristics as their parents. So when you purchase seeds to get your garden started be sure they are from plants that are an open pollinated variety. How do you know? There are several seed companies that sell open pollinated flowers. Also, many companies have varieties they categorize as heritage or an old fashioned favorite. Those flowers are usually a safe bet.

Seed Producing Flower Choices

Bachelor’s Button
Calendula
Corn Poppy
Cosmos
Globe Amaranth
Hyacinth Bean Vine
Larkspur
Marigold
Moonflower
Morning Glory
Nicotiana
Poppy
Zinnia

Selecting and Collecting

Gather them from the best plants. Tie a piece of bright yarn on the plants that have the height, color, bloom size or disease resistance qualities you prefer. The string will help remind you not to remove the fading blooms.

Blooms need to fade and dry on the plant so the seeds can develop and mature. Let the seed heads or pods dry out as much as possible on the plant before collecting them. Keep an eye on them. If the seed pods start to break open or a heavy rain is predicted, go ahead and harvest them.

Seed collecting should be done on a sunny day, after the morning dew has dried. How you harvest depends on the plant. Some seeds like nicotiana (flowering tobacco) will fall into your hand if you gently shake the stem. Others like zinnias and marigolds take some gentle pulling to extract the seeds from the flower head. Plants such as hyacinth bean vine have seeds that need to be manually removed from the pod. So depending on the type of seeds you are collecting, you can either shake them in to a paper bag or envelope, or if you are gathering flower heads and seed pods, place a sheet or some newspapers on the ground in front of the flowers so you can prune and toss them on the sheet as you go. The important thing at this point is to label the seeds and keep the varieties separate from each other, unless you plan on creating your own mixture of seeds.

Drying and Storing Seeds

Before you store your seeds, make sure they are completely dry. Scatter them out in a ventilated box or container and put it in a warm, dry spot. If you keep the box outside, make sure it is protected from the wind, rain and birds. Try sandwiching the seeds between two old window screens to keep them in place. If you have the room, your best bet is to keep them indoors when it looks like it will take a few days to dry them completely.

Once dried, store your seeds in an air tight container such as a glass jar with a tight fitting lid, a plastic storage container or a zipper style plastic bag. Label each container with the plant’s name and the date and year it was collected. Then store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place until you are ready to use them.

Some gardeners add a little packet of silica gel (such as those included in the package with new electronics or leather goods) to make doubly sure the seeds stay dry. If you don’t have those on hand, make your own using a spoonful of dry milk powder in a piece of paper towel secured with a rubber band.

Test Your Seeds Before Planting

When you are ready to plant the seeds, you can test them for germination to find out how many seeds you can expect to grow. Take a small sampling of the seeds, place them on a barely damp paper towel and fold it in half over the seeds. Slip the towel into a sealed plastic bag or enclose it in plastic wrap to keep the towel from drying out. Label the package with the seed’s name and date and set it in a relatively warm place (70 to 75 degrees) such as the top of your refrigerator or on a high shelf. Avoid putting it in direct sun as the seeds could overheat. Check the towel daily to see if the seeds absorb the water and swell. If the towel dries out, mist it lightly. A majority of the seeds usually sprout within a few days, however some varieties take longer. When the germination stops and no more seeds have sprouted for a few days, that will give you an idea of the germination rate you can expect from that batch of seeds.

10 Spring Plants to Grow from Seeds

Starting plants from seeds may seem like a challenge, but if you choose the right varieties you’ll find that there is nothing to it. In some cases seeds will sprout and grow right where you sow them in the ground.

Here is a list of 10 plants to get you started on your seed adventure. All of these plants thrive in cool temperatures so they are ideal for the spring garden or areas that have mild summer weather. And be sure to buy an extra pack for growing in your fall garden.
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Heirloom Seeds Equal Family Heirlooms

What’s the quickest way to catch a case of spring fever? Seeds. Whether it’s online sites, catalogs or a strategically placed stand at your local garden center, there’s nothing like a pack of seeds to get a gardener itching for the growing season.

This year as you peruse your seeds sources, be sure to select a few heirloom seeds. The classification of a plant as an heirloom depends a lot on to whom you are talking. Some gardeners think any seed that has been handed down the family line qualifies. Others feel that the plant variety must be more than 50 to 100 years old. One characteristic of heirloom seeds you can bank on is that they are open pollinated rather than hybridized. This means saved seeds will reproduce the same characteristics every generation.

Black Seeded Simpson LettuceThere are many reasons to grow heirloom plants. Nostalgia, preservation of genetics and my favorite, taste. You can’t beat the flavor of an heirloom tomato such as ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Mortgage Lifter’.

You don’t have to be a seed saver to grow heirlooms. Their increased popularity means seeds are more readily available. You can purchase them from garden centers and mail order catalogs. Seed swaps are also a great place to pick them up. Last September I took some American Basket Flower (Centaurea americana) seeds to the swap at Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival and traded them for some real treasures.

5 Heirloom Seeds to Try

  • ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ Lettuce
  • ‘Black Beauty’ Zucchini
  • ‘Jewel’ Nasturtium
  • ‘Abe Lincoln’ Tomato
  • ‘Fairytale’ Pumpkin

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.

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.

Plant a Seed

This activity gives children a firsthand experience in growing plants. The magic of planting a seed and watching it spring to life can spark a child’s sense of wonder. Teaching a child to care for a plant is a good way to help them gain a better appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them.

Materials

  • Potting Soil
  • Containers such as egg cartons, or milk cartons cut in half or recycled nursery packs with added drainage holes
  • Easy Seeds:
    Sunflowers
    Pumpkins
    Beans
    Nasturtium
    Gourds

Steps:

Planting a Seed Fill your containers with potting soil.

Plant the seeds and water.

Place the planted containers in a sunny window and keep the soil consistently moist.

Transplant outside after the last frost date in your area.

Good to Know

All seeds have a hard protective outer covering that protects the embryo plant inside until conditions are favorable for it to grow. Seeds contain nutrients for the young plant to draw on until it can emerge through the soil and photosynthesis can begin. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plant uses energy from the sun, and stores that energy in the tissue of the plant.

More than 230,000 different kinds of plants reproduce from seeds.

The pull of gravity tells a seedling which way is down. That is how the roots know which way to grow.

Some plant roots are strong enough to break boulders.