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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.

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.

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

Light

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.

Moisture

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.

Temperature

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°.

Containers

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.

Type Seed Indoors Seed Outdoors Potted Plant
Tomatoes Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. Difficult Yes
Peppers Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. No Yes
Corn Not necessary Yes Yes
Broccoli Yes No Yes
Cabbage Yes Yes Yes
Cauliflower Yes No Yes
Cucumber Not Necessary Yes Yes
Radishes Not Necessary Radishes grow rapidly from seeds sown directly in the garden. Not Necessary
Lettuce Yes Yes Yes
Arugula Not Necessary Yes Yes
Squash Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. Yes Yes
Rhubarb No No Yes
Turnips Not Necessary Yes No
Carrots Not Necessary Yes No
Spinach Yes Yes Yes
Winter Squash No Yes Yes
Pumpkins No Yes No
Okra No Yes Yes
Eggplant Yes No Yes
Chard Yes Yes Yes
Melons Yes Yes Yes
Basil Yes Yes Yes
Rosemary No No Yes
Thyme No No Yes
Oregano No No Yes

Seedling Diagnosis

Depending on when the last frost date is in your area, by early March you’ve either begun your seeds indoors, or are gearing up to start.  There is a lot of hope in those packets of seeds, but sometimes hopes can be dashed if everything doesn’t go as planned.

Even under the best circumstances, you might run into a few problems. Here’s a list of a common symptoms and the corrective measures you can take to solve them.

Symptom: Spindly or Leggy Growth
Causes: Low light, too much water, excessively warm temperatures, over fertilization, crowded plants.

Corrective Measures:
Some seeds will germinate without much light, but seedlings need bright light.  Use grow lights if a sunny window is not available.  Position the lights 4 inches above the seed tray and leave the lights on for 16 hours a day.  Don’t forget to raise the lights as the seedlings grow taller.

Provide an air temperature of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65 degrees.

Soil should be kept consistently moist, but not soggy. Mist with a spray bottle or water from the bottom up by placing the containers in a pan filled with 1 inch of warm water.  Once the soil is moist, remove the seed pots from the pan.

Wait until seedlings have produced their first set of true leaves to fertilize.  This is actually the second set of leaves that emerge.  Use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength.  Feed once a week.

Sow seeds and thin seedlings according to the packet instructions to prevent overcrowding.

Symptom: Dwarf Plants
Causes: Low fertility.

Corrective Measures: Because there is so little soil, nutrient levels are hard to maintain.  As mentioned above, feed with a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength after the first set of true leaves emerge. Feed once a week.

Some seed starting soil mixtures contain nutrients such as Mycorrhizae, a naturally occurring fungus that promotes strong root development.

Symptom: Decay or rotting of the stems of young plants near the soil surface.
Causes: Damping-off. Disease organisms attack germinating seeds and young plants, especially during prolonged cloudy weather.

Corrective Measures:
Use a sterile soil-mix designed for seed starting.

Mound the soil in the container so that it is flush with the edge of the pot.  This will allow air flow across the surface of the soil.

Symptom: Wilting followed by death of the seedling.  Tiny insects hovering around soil.
Causes: Fungus gnat larvae will feed on the roots of the seedlings.  Adult fungus gnats are those pesky, small flying insects that hover around potting soil.  They are attracted to moist potting soils that have a high organic content.

Corrective Measures:
Use a well draining potting soil.

If you see the adult gnats, cut back on water to make the soil less attractive to the adult female gnat. You don’t need to stop watering completely, just allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Placing a moist slice of potato on top of the soil will attract the larvae.  Throw out the potato slice to get rid of the larvae .

Seeds for Direct Sowing

I believe that seeds suffer from a case of mistaken identity. They are often described as being difficult or labor intensive. While it might take the right equipment and know how to sow seeds indoors, there are some plants that will spring right from the ground where the seeds are sown. These are “direct sown” seeds or seeds that you can sow in the garden rather than starting in pots or flats.

Some seeds are better suited to direct sowing than others. For example, tomato seeds can be finicky, so it’s a good idea to start them in pots first. Also, if you live in a region where summers are short, starting seeds indoors will give plants the additional weeks they need to mature for flowers or fruits. To check a seed’s disposition toward direct sowing read the back of the package. Look for clues such as “sow directly in the garden,” “volunteer,” “reseeds,” and “does not transplant well.”

Direct Sowing SeedsBecause you are planting outdoors you won’t have as much control over the environment so Mother Nature can throw you some curveballs. Excessively wet or dry weather, insect pests, and birds can reduce your success.

Before you get started read the directions on the seed package. It’s important to how and when to sow individual varieties. You also need an understanding of the mature plant’s requirements – light, water, soil – to know where to sow the seeds.

Sow seeds in soil that drains well and is mixed with amendments such as compost so that it is light. Follow the package instructions. I like to tamp down on the soil after the seeds are planted to make good soil to seed contact. Gently shower the area with water. Use a hose with a spray attachment or a watering can with a rose so you don’t wash away the seeds.

The most important part of seed sowing, whether indoors or out, is keeping the soil consistently moist. Not too wet or dry. Soggy soil invites diseases and dry soil will stop germination.

Once your seeds are sown, you can start the best part – going out every day to check on their progress.

Seeds for Direct Sowing

  • Arugula
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Okra
  • Corn
  • Nasturtiums
  • Sunflowers
  • Zinnias
  • Bachelor Button
  • Cosmos
  • Poppy
  • Moon Flowers
  • Morning Glories
  • Hyacinth Bean Vine

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.