Chit Sugar Snap Pea Seeds Anytime Now

I wrote a post last year on chitting seeds, which is a method developed by Steve Solomon and described in his excellent book Gardening When It Counts, of presprouting the seed prior to planting it in the ground, in order to achieve better germination rates.  Here is a link to the post if you’d like to learn how to do it.

I put my seeds to be chitted in damp paper towel pieces, and then put them in sealed plastic bags in a warm spot–my germination box–see this link for a description of what a germ box is.  We will see how many days it takes for them to develop a sprout, after which time I can plant them outside.  This Saturday is supposed to be nice weather, so I will get a spot ready in the garden for planting them out when it’s time.

Here is a picture from last year of the peas:

Fresh peas from the garden are so very good, and not very hard to grow.  I have had better luck growing them in the spring, because eventually the rainfall will taper off when they are starting to produce peas, and thus the conditions are less right for pea problems, such as powdery mildew, to occur, as has happened often in trying to grow them in the fall.

I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment and tell me what are your favorite pea seed choices, and do you have any great space-saving ideas for trellising them?

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Narcissus and Tulips Blooming!

Although the narcissus have been in bloom for a while, they are now joined by some lovely tulips!

These are mixed single narcissus, including some bright yellow ‘King Alfred’ types, along with some bright red mixed tulips that are wide open on a sunny day.

These beauties are ‘Beau Monde’ tulips.  I love the two-tones of white with pink bars on each petal.

This is a nice combination of ‘Winston Churchhill’ double narcissus that are white with a bright orange center along with purple grape hyacinths below.  In the upper-left corner of the photo is a ‘Cheerfulness’ double narcissus in bright yellow.

Please leave a comment–how have you used tulips and narcissus in your landscape, and what is in bloom now?

Super-Sexed Insects As Natural Pest Control

Here is a little snippet I read today via Care2 email:

“Looks like it’s party time for the ladies of the agricultural pest world. A new method for sustainable pest control using “super-sexed” sterilized male insects to copulate with female in the wild is being developed by agricultural researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The scientists are hoping to provide a new way of eliminating pests without the use of chemicals. Okay, so maybe the female insects are going to miss out on the joy of raising a brood of bug babes–but less asphyxiation by pesticide and super-sexed males? Nothing wrong with that…in concept at least.”

To read more, go here.

Eating Fresh Salad Greens From The Garden

Just a quick update on the salad greens bed I put in on February 2nd–we ate our first salad from those greens last night for dinner!  So about five weeks from the time I put seeds in the ground until the time we could eat the greens–that is fast.  I have gobs of green mustard greens ready at a baby stage, and others coming along.  I double-covered the bed with plastic when it got cold a couple of weeks ago, and just left it on.  I don’t normally water the bed, because we’ve had so much rain and the water condenses on the inside of the plastic covering, so this, outside of getting the bed ready and planting, has been a very low-work project with good results.

I plan to get another salad greens bed planted this weekend, and need to prune and tie up climbing and rambling roses, and take a look at the raspberries and see what needs pruning and thinning out.  Weather should be sunny and nice, so I hope you get outside into your garden, too!

Germination Box For Seed Starting

I am finally trying Steve Solomon’s idea of using a germination box for starting seeds indoors.  This tip comes from his wonderful book on vegetable gardening, entitled Gardening When It Counts, which I highly recommend.

You basically use the germination box to create the ideal microclimate in your house for getting seeds to germinate.  If you look on the seed packet, you will notice that they give germination temperatures most suitable for the seed.  It ranges from 75 to 80 degrees, and so this is the temperature that you are trying to consistently maintain inside your germ box.

We set this up from very humble materials.  You will want, ideally, some type of wooden box that will hold your four-inch pots of seeds.  We had an old drawer from a dresser that works well, but any wooden box that is not too heavy will do.  He says you can even use a cardboard box, but that sounded a little dangerous to me in light of the fact that you will have a light bulb placed directly beneath the box, but it you use a small, like a 25-watt bulb, he says it is okay.

So, you now have a wooden box.  You will want some type of lid that is clear for the box.  Plexi-glass would work well for this, but I didn’t have any, so I used a piece of bubble wrap and just laid it over the top of the box, and it works fine.  You want to be able to open or close this lid to not only put your containers of seeds inside, but also to adjust the temperature.

You will also need a thermometer.  Please use an outdoor house air thermometer, which you can get for less than three dollars at a hardware store, and not a food thermometer, which I attempted to use at first.  (We won’t talk about that!)  Use tape to tape the thermometer to the inside of the wooden box.  Now you have a means for determining exactly what the temperature is inside the box.

Now you need a heat source to go under the box.  Seeds germinate best with bottom heat, and for this purpose you will need one of those ceramic light bulb fixtures that are available at the hardware store inexpensively, a couple of screws that fit the holes in the light bulb fixture, a little square of scrap wood, an electric drill with a bit to fit the screw size you are using, and a screw driver.  You will also need to purchase light cord, and a plug-in.  You have to attach the cord to the light bulb fixture, which is not too super difficult to do, so afterwards you can screw in a light bulb and plug  the cord into the wall, and the bulb will light up.  After it is wired, attach the fixture to the scrap of wood, and the light is now ready to use.

Now you will want to raise your wooden box up off the table so that you can fit the light bulb fixture underneath the center of it.  I had some styrofoam pieces lying around that worked well for this, but you could use bricks or anything that is sturdy and flat to lay the box on top of.

Once the box is raised, you will want to put a light bulb in your light bulb fixture, position it under the box, and turn it on.  Place the plexi-glass or bubble wrap over the top of the box, and leave it alone for a while.  When you come back, remove the bubble wrap and see what the internal temperature of the box is.  You want it to hold at exactly 75-80 degrees–not colder, or the seeds won’t germinate, and not hotter, or the seeds will cook and not germinate.  You can try starting with a 25-watt bulb and if needed, move up to a 40-watt bulb.  You can also reduce the heat by only partially covering the top of the germ box and leaving part of it open.  I found for a small dresser drawer that I used a 40-watt bulb and kept the box covered all the time to maintain a good consistent temperature.

Now you are ready to get your containers and fill them with seed-starting mix (Steve Solomon recommends making your own from 1/2 of  a 5-gallon bucket full of garden dirt, 1/2 of the same bucket filled with peat moss, and 1 cup of complete organic fertilizer, all mixed together well).  Dampen it, put it in the containers, and then put your seeds in the containers, covering with a bit more soil if needed–the seed packet will tell you how deep to plant them.  In the germ box I have, I found that I could fit in 8 four-inch pots, but this will vary depending on the size of the box you are using.  Put the containers in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and then place them in the germ box.  Cover the box if needed, and then you are done.  Check back starting in three days, and every day thereafter, and when you see some of the seeds have germinated, take them out of the germ box, remove the plastic bag, and continue to grow them on under lights.

You can save yourself having to do a lot of transplanting of little seedlings if you only plant one to three seeds in each container, and then thin the plants as they grow to the strongest one and let it grow on.  So far, I am starting basil, tomatoes, peppers and will continue on to eggplant seeds.

This method is working great–my basil germinated in only three days, and the tomatoes in four days–quickest it’s ever happened for me.  I’ll try to post a photo of this soon!

Feel free to leave a comment–do you have any tips that have worked well for starting your seeds indoors?  I’d love to hear about it!

Evergreen Clematis in Bloom!

It must be late winter or early spring, because my evergreen clematis, Clematis armandii, is in bloom.  Here is a photo:

It is rather gargantuan in size, but if you have room for it and are not afraid to use your pruners, it is a great flowering vine.  The deep green foliage is truly evergreen, and the white flowers, which are highly fragrant, stand out noticably and are set off well by the nearby red new foliage of the rose on the left-hand side of the picture.

This behemouth does not need any fertilizer, and I hardly ever water it in the summertime either, and it does just fine.  You can prune it right after it finishes blooming.

Please leave a comment–do you grow an evergreen clematis, and how do you use it in your landscape?