Tag Archives: seeds

New Favorites for 2013

6 Jan
Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'photo courtesy AAS

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
photo courtesy AAS

Not only do I love getting the new garden catalogs for the year, I love to learn about the new varieties that are available.  Even though I have my favorites that I will forever plant year after year at My Urban Farmscape, I can’t wait for the season to begin so I can try something new.  I have already started my seed sowing calendar and have realized that it’s almost time to start the majority of my veggie, herb and flower seeds.  It’s this time of year when my family learns to deal with my obsession and continuous conversations with them (and sometimes, well mostly, with myself) about what gardening or plant related thoughts are in my head.

Really, just this morning I blurted out, “I need to get those seeds planted in the next few weeks if they are going to bloom this year.”

My husband’s eyes glazed over as he asked, “What are you talking about?”

“This Echinacea ‘Cheyene Spirit’  is absolutely beautiful, and I need to find a place grow a big patch of it, just a few feet, maybe five along the fence, and it should bloom the first year when planted from seed, but I have to get it sowed by the middle of this month.  Oh my!  Look at all the colors, red, pink, yellow, orange, purple and white which will grow really good in that hot sunny spot next to the house.  Oh!  The bees and butterflies will LOVE them, I can see that late summer cut flower bouquet now..…..”  I realized he wasn’t listening, but continued to talk out loud to myself.  “It’s also one of the 2013 All-American Selection winners!”

Tomato 'Jasper'photo courtesy AAS

Tomato ‘Jasper’
photo courtesy AAS

My excitement continued with another 2013 AAS winner that was bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  A bright red cherry tomato ‘Jasper’, an F1 hybrid which is also certified organic.  Nice!  An intermediate growing cherry tomato needing to be staked which should produce fruit 90 days from sowing seeds.  Johnny’s and AAS described the flavor having a “sweet, rich taste”.  I think that I need to try this one.  I’m sure I can fit it in somewhere.

Now thinking about tomatoes reminded me about the grafted tomato plants available from Burpee.  I called out to my husband, “Can you believe they are grafting tomatoes like they graft fruit trees?!”  No response.  I have found this to be very interesting, reading about it for the past few years and decided this is the year to buy a few plants.  Simply put, an heirloom variety is the plant on the top, so you get the delicious heirloom flavor, but the roots are from a hybrid that will provide increased disease resistance.  Wow!  The original pink Brandywine will be my first choice.  You can purchase these directly from Burpee.com or possibly your local garden retailer.

Burpee's 'Bumper Crop' grafted tomatophoto courtesy Burpee

Burpee’s ‘Bumper Crop’ grafted tomato
photo courtesy Burpee

I came across a new heirloom pickling cucumber ‘Miniature White’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Not only is the flesh a creamy white, but the skin is also a creamy white.  That should look nice against the green foliage.  I thought that this may make an interesting addition to the garden as they say it is a high producer and grows good in a container.  I was even more excited when I read about it seldom growing more than 3 feet!  A true bonus for any Urban Farmscape.  I became distracted wondering what color container I should plant it in and decided to go outside and rummage around the garage.  I could always paint it if I didn’t have the right color.  Orange?  Maybe purple.  That would really stand out.  Not too many purple things in the garden.  I don’t know.  I decided to go in and ask my husband what color he thought would look good.  I don’t know if he’ll respond, but I know that at least he’ll smile.

Planting the Summer Garden

20 May

When the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees here in Michigan, I know it’s finally a safe time to plant the warmer summer season crops such as beans, squash, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes. This next week the temperatures are going to be very warm, so with a little water, seeds should germinate quickly and transplants should root in nicely.

planting bean seeds

When planting seeds, make sure you follow the directions on the package. As a general rule, you will plant a seed as deep as up to twice its diameter. For instance, you plant beans about 1″ deep. Some seeds you may just sow directly on top of the soil and barely cover. The most important part when planting seeds is that you keep the soil moist until it has germinated and is growing. If the root begins to emerge from the seed, and it dries up before it is able to become established in the soil, it’s a gonner.

loosing the rootball on this tomato plant

When transplanting vegetables or flowers to your garden, make sure you loosen the rootball of the plant and bury it in the soil at the same level it was growing in the container.

This rule can be broken for tomatoes, which when planted deeper in the soil, burying a leggy stem, will develop more roots on the soil covered stem, which is better for the tomato plant overall.

planting tomatoes to encourage additional root development

Even though we have reached our frost free date, and the nighttime temperatures are consistently over 50, I will wait another week or two to plant basil, eggplant, and some of my favorite peppers. I don’t want to take any chances and these plants really like to grow in warmer temperatures.

So when planting, keep in mind the following five tips:

  1. Make sure you know how deep to plant the seed or transplant
  2. Check the seed packet to see how far apart to place each seed  (or plant).
  3. Lightly pat the soil around the plant.  Don’t smash or compact the soil. 
  4. Water thoroughly and continue to check daily for watering.  Keep moist, but not soggy. 
  5. Label each planting with the name and date planted.  Then you can estimate the time of harvest.  Yum!

Happy Planting!


When do I plant (insert veggie or flower here)?

4 Apr

This has been the question of the week. Yikes! My weekly posts are not enough. So here is a little extra. Don’t forget, you can click on the GrowVeg.com banner for a 30 day trial to help plan your garden. They offer e-mail reminders too! Something I’m not ready to do yet, unless you sign up to receive an e-mail each time I post on this blog. There’s an idea! Also, while I’m at it, please share My Urban Farmscape with your garden friends via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or any of the sharing links below. Keep in mind my Garden Revolution Resolution!

For Michigan, our frost-free date is typically May 20. You can plant cool loving vegetables and flowers prior to this date, starting the first week of April for spinach and peas, but save the majority of your planting until after the frost free date. Remember to “harden off” your plants that have been growing indoors. This just means to acclimate them to the outdoors by setting them out during the day, bringing them inside (or protect in a garage or shed) at night for a few days before planting them. First frost dates are determined by historical records. This year, spring has sprung a lot earlier, but we are back to freezing temperatures and frost can still occur after our first frost date. If that happens, you should protect your plants using lightweight fabric or newspapers. Don’t use plastic if it will touch the plants.

This may not be everything that you want to grow, but it’s a start. Refer to earlier posts and make your calendar!

Start indoors 8-10 weeks before frost date. Transplant in the garden AFTER first frost date.

  • Peppers (Best to plant at least two weeks after first frost date)
  • Eggplant (Best to plant at least two weeks after first frost date)
  • Snapdragon
  • Forget me nots
  • Coleus

Start indoors 6-8 weeks before frost date. Transplant in the garden AFTER first frost date.

  • Tomatoes
  • Basil (Best to plant at least two weeks after first frost date when nighttime temperatures are consistantly above 50 F. Can also be directly sown in the garden at that time)
  • Calendula
  • Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth)
  • Marigold
  • Strawflower
  • Zinnia

Directly sow outside in the garden 4-6 weeks BEFORE frost date. Provide protection if freezing temperatures occur at night.

  • Peas
  • Spinach (can also be started indoors 4 weeks before planting in the garden)
  • Mustard Greens (can also be started indoors 4 weeks before planting in the garden)
  • Mache (corn salad) (can also be started indoors 4 weeks before planting in the garden)
  • Kohlrabi (can also be started indoors 4 weeks before planting in the garden)
  • Kale
  • Radish
  • Carrot
  • Flowering Sweet Peas

Start indoors 4 – 6 weeks before frost date. Transplant to the garden two to three weeks BEFORE first frost date.

  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Swiss Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Directly sow in the garden (you can start 2-4 weeks before frost date if you wish, but not necessary) AFTER first frost date.

  • Beans
  • Cucumber
  • Corn
  • Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Melons
  • Cosmos
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Sunflower

Starting Seeds Indoors

19 Feb

Seeds germinate easily with a little help by providing the proper growing media, container, water, temperature, and light.

  1. Growing media for seed starting is what you plant your seeds in.  Think dirt, but it’s not dirt.   It should be fine in texture but most of all it should be sterile.  You can find several seed starting mixes out there but I have had the best luck using “No Damp Off” by Mosser Lee.  Simply, it’s a finely milled sterile sphagnum peat approved for organic growing.  A little goes a long way.  Avoid breathing in this light and airy peat.  Seeds carry all of the necessary nutrients to get them started so don’t be fooled by those with a lot of unnecessary ingredients such as fertilizers and wetting agents.   Most of these have not been approved for organic growing.
  2. It doesn’t really matter what type of container you plant your seeds in as long as it is shallow.  I use a lot of recycled materials that have been disinfected in a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water.  Plastic egg cartons, plastic veggie containers and some of the oven or microwave containers work well.  They only serve as a vessel to hold the growing media, seeds, and water for a short time.  Make sure they have drainage holes.  I use a 20 row seeder when I am sowing a lot.  These individual rows provide dividers when I want to sow several different seeds and it only takes up the space of a flat.
  3. The growing media needs to be kept moist.  I water from the bottom of the drip tray (the tray underneath the container) and allow the water to soak up.  I then spray the top with a spray bottle after sowing the seeds.  I’ll use the spray bottle daily to mist and keep the media evenly wet.  You can use a clear plastic dome that will increase humidity and prevent from drying out as quickly, or regular plastic wrap works well, but is a pain putting it on and off. 
  4. The soil temperature is more important that the air temperature.  Each seed has an optimum temperature for germination.  Detailed information can be found in the book The Seed Starters Handbook  by Nancy Bubel or in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Fifth Edition by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth .  Odds are, in your home, if the temperatures are 70 degrees, the soil media in your little germination trays will be 70 degrees.  If you grow in the basement, like I do, it’s a little cooler, so for some veggies, like peppers, I will use a heat mat to increase the temperature allowing for improved germination.  Keep in mind that when seeds are germinated at their optimum temperature, you will see a more even, improved, and quicker germination.  Items such as this Germination Station with Heat Mat from Hydrofarm work great.
  5. Your seedlings will emerge at different rates.  You will notice the stem first, arching like a sea serpent with leaves to follow, roots beginning to anchor in the soil.  Within a day or so you will see little plants reaching toward the light with their cotyledon leaves.  At this time any plastic should come off and the lights should go on.  The cotyledon leaves are the leaves which hold all of the nutrients necessary for the plant to start growing.  The next set of leaves are called the “first true leaves”, which means exactly that.  Once this set of first true leaves unfold  the plant really starts growing and now is the time to transplant these new seedlings into larger containers or cell packs.  It is important to keep the lights on for 12-14 hours to allow for proper photosynthesis and to avoid stretching.  Providing proper lighting will encourage shorter, compact plants reducing that “leggy look”.  Even if you have a very sunny window sill, you will benefit by providing supplemental lighting for healthier plants.  For seed starting, full spectrum fluorescent bulbs work best.  These are available in many shapes and sizes.  The Two-Foot Grow Light from Hydrofarm fits well in most spaces.  If you have more room, this Four-Foot Grow Light will have enough space to grow two flats.  You will notice soon that the cotyledon leaves will dry up and fall off.  That’s normal so don’t worry!

Not all seeds require starting indoors, and some may only need to be started a couple weeks before planting outside.  I love starting seeds.  It gives me the option to grow so much more than what is available at the garden centers.  If you are hesitant about starting seeds, just try one new thing this year.  You may be surprised!



Click on the links above and below for more information on seed starting supplies!

 Hydrofarm CK64050 Germination Station with Heat Mat

 Growers Supply Company GS2211-4 4-Pack 22-by-11-by-2-1/2-Inch Perma-Nest Plant Trays, Green

 5 Pack of Durable Black Plastic Growing Trays (with holes) 21″ x 11″ x 2″ – Planting Seedlings, Flowers, Wheatgrass

Is it the Seed or the Plant?

5 Jan

Think about it. You need seeds to grow plants, but then you need flowering plants to make fruit that holds the seeds. What came first? The seed or the plant?

And how do you grow seedless vegetables and fruit? Companies are actually creating plants that flower, and make seeds, but they aren’t viable. It’s a flowers job to reproduce and create lots of seed to ensure it continues to exist. Think dandelion. Does that make sense?

Long, long ago, in the Kingdom of Plantae, there first existed non-vascular (no xylem or phloem to transport water or food or roots) plants called Bryophytes (think mosses and liverworts). They reproduced with the help of water splashing male gametophytes to female gametophytes. Soon evolved Seedless Vascular Plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that reproduced by the production of thousands of spores that drop to the ground at the right time ( brown spots under leaves of ferns). Lastley, plants evolved into Seeded Vascular Plants producing seeds in cones (pine trees) and seeds in fruits of flowering woody and herbaceous plants (trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, flowers). Oversimplified, yes, but does it answer the question? Maybe.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Photo courtesy of Derek Shiels

While you contemplate on this, you need to get a jump on getting your seed catalogs if you haven’t already. Whether you are going to start seeds or not (I will teach you how later, so you might as well order some) the catalogs offer a lot of great cultural information. You can order seed catalogs or download them from the company’s website. While thumbing your way through, pay attention to container or climing tall varieties. They take up less space which is something you need to think about when planning your Urban Farmscapes. Look for seeds and seed companies that are certified organic. Starting with organic seed is the best choice. They should carry the standard logo on their label such as I have here.

Also look for heirloom, open pollinated seed. This way you will be able to collect seed to use for next year (I will teach you how to do that later too). Heirlooms are old fashioned varieties that pollinate freely and have been collected and saved over time. These would be the plants our grandparents and great grandparents grew. If you see a hybrid, sometimes called an F1 Hybrid, this means it is a cross between two or more other varieties. In flowers for example, if you cross a white petunia with a purple petunia, you may get striped white and purple petunias or lavender colored petunias. Is this bad? Nope. People have been creating hybrids throughout history trying to improve something about them. Tomatoes have been bred to last longer on the grocery store shelves, thus sacrificing flavor. Who wants a tomato that doesn’t taste good, but can sit on a shelf for a long time? Can you get organic F1 hybrid seed? Yes. But you won’t want to collect hybrid seed because the seed you may get could be the original variety that was crossed to get the hybrid. Make sense? Again, I am oversimplifying while trying to explain the world of plant genetics and seeds. Send me a question or comment if you want to discuss further.

I have become obsessed with growing heirloom varieties and collecting seed, but still need (well, want, maybe not need) seed each year. Here are a few of my favorite seed companies.

photo courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a large selection of organic and heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds as well as fruit plants. They also carry small farm and gardening supplies,along with tools designed by Eliot Coleman. Great quality and service in business since 1973. The employee owned company is located in Maine. The best resource I have found so far for cultural information. You will save this catalog and use as a reference! Awesome online resources. In my garden I will be growing many peppers that are recommended by Johnny’s for containers, along with many other yummy things. Johnny’s has been my favorite seed source for as long as I have been gardening.

www.johnnyseeds.com (877) 564-6697

Photos courtesy of Baker Creek

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. The life forces behind this fourteen year old company are Jere and Emilee Gettle who produce only heirloom varieties. You should buy their book and to learn more about heirlooms and their whole story. The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere & Emilee Gettle with Meghan Sutherland is available on their website and other book buying venues. Not only is it a story about Baker Creek and the importance of growing heirloom varieties, it has an A to Z Growing Guide for their favorite fifty crops that include the history and uses of the plant, growing tips, pests and diseases, seed saving and preparing it to eat. AWESOME! In my garden this year I am going to grow their Top 10 Favorite Container Plants that is discussed in their book in chapter 7 titled, “City Farmer”. Buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

www.rareseeds.com (417) 924-8917

While I’m on the subject of heirloom and open pollinated seeds, check out Seed Savers Exchange. I would definitely have to agree with them as being the nation’s premier seed saving organization. Located in Decorah, Iowa since 1975, they are a seed saving non-profit member organization collecting and selling seed to help fund their preservation efforts. I have always wanted to visit their Heritage Farm headquarters or attend one of their special events. If you don’t want to start your own seed, then you could opt to buy transplants from them. They grow and sell several heirloom pepper transplants as well as heirloom tomato varieties like Cherokee Purple and Hungarian Heart. These won’t be at any garden center I know of. You don’t have to be a member to order from their catalog, but if you do become a member, you will receive 10% off of your order!

www.seedsavers.org (563) 382-5990

Seeds of Change. Located in New Mexico, probably one of the first organic seed companies in business since 1989. They have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and donate 1% of their net sales to advance the efforts of sustainable agriculture across the world. A very philanthropic company. They have identified vegetable varieties for “Space Challenged Gardening” which is what most of us Urban Farmscapers are dealing with.

www.seedsofchange.com (888) 762-7333

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Based in California. Organic seeds, plants, tools and fun gardening stuff. You can even get 10 Fruit Trees delivered for $199 ! That is, if you have room. I planted four varieties of garlic and one type of shallot this past autumn that I ordered as a Garlic Combo Pack. If you want to grow garlic, keep in mind that you plant it in the autumn.

www.groworganic.com (888) 784-1722

Order your seeds soon to make sure you get the variety you want. Soon I will guide you through successful seed starting indoors!

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