Saving Heirloom Flower Seeds

Saving SeedOne of the last — and most meaningful — end-of-season tasks is saving flower seeds. We’re not talking about those hybrid seeds you got from the catalog. We’re talking about open-pollinated heirlooms, flowers that have been around longer than grandma. Their names are familiar and come together like words in a poem: Calendula, Four O’Clocks, Morning Glories, Petunias and Poppies.

If you’re lucky, you’ve been saving seed since you were a child, going out with grandma and gathering pods, seed heads or the seeds themselves for careful drying and preserving. Back when, we would put the seeds in grandma’s old pill bottles. Today we put them in tightly-sealed baggies.

Every year, one or two varieties of heirloom flowers disappear from seed catalogs. At that point, if you haven’t saved seed from the flowers you grew the season before, you’re out of luck unless you can find someone who’s saved seed. Some families have made a tradition of gathering seed, going out in the fall and making sure they’ll have their favorite flower seeds available for spring planting. (more…)

Late Cover Crops

Cover CropsI’ve been called out for not recommending the planting of cover crops earlier in this blog. Okay, guilty! Cover crops, especially legumes, are best planted a couple weeks ahead of the first killing frost — as if our changing weather patterns give us any clue as to when that’s going to happen — to give them time to germinate. Legumes usually take longer to germinate. But if you haven’t planted? Experience tells us it’s not too late, depending on your climate and the precautions you take.

Grasses — ryegrass, winter rye, winter wheat and wheat grass, oats — germinate more quickly and there fore are more suitable for late planting. But some legumes — hairy vetch for example — are more adaptable to cold climates and will germinate if planted late, especially if you get a string of warm days in the late season. Buckwheat is a good grass choice for colder climates. Not only does it germinate more quickly than legumes, it’s a quick grower.

Both legumes and grasses will germinate under cover of mulch if the mulch isn’t spread too deeply. And the mulch will help protect young spouts from cold damage — a must if planted this late — as well as give them a boost in the spring. Here’s a chart (PDF format) of best cover crops for different areas of the country. (more…)

GMO Labeling Final Arguments

GMO Labeling IssuesCalifornia voters — and everyone else across the country — go to the polls Tuesday. Californians will cast a historic vote on whether or not to label the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in our foods. The question at hand is simple: should consumers have the right to know if the foods they buy contain GMOs? But the issue itself is not simple and has been clouded by a flood of anti-labeling ads broadcast across the state. As we and many others have stated before, it’s about more than just whether or not GMOs are harmful to humans (some decidedly are, the jury is still out on others). It’s about unbounded pesticide and herbicide use and the health of our environment, it’s about our willingness to accept monoculture and corporate control over the production of our food, it’s about the survival of heirloom, organic, sustainable and non-engineered crops and farming; it’s about our children; it’s about who owns and controls the very seeds we put in the ground.

The assault from chemical companies and big agri-food producers companies has been overwhelming. Monsanto alone has spent more than all the Proposition supporters combined. And the latest news isn’t good. A poll conducted by the California Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy finds the measure going down — it once led by a wide margin — with 39% in favor and 50% opposed. (more…)

Light Right (Indoor Plant Lighting)

Plant LightingHere’s a trick question: What’s the single most important factor when growing indoors? The answer is, of course, that there’s no single factor that determines success. Plant lighting, temperature, water, potting conditions and nutrients all play an inter-related role. All are crucial. You can’t separate one from the other. You may have perfect light in religiously timed and measured lumens. But if your plants don’t have enough moisture, or they’re exposed to extreme temperature variations, well, all that money you spent on lights is wasted. Likewise, if you put plants out on your sun porch — plenty of light! — but the dead-of-winter sun shines in only six hours each day, your plants will do little but maintain (if that). Worse, if that six hours of sunlight heats the room beyond what the plant can bear — or if it loses a lot of heat through all that glass at night — your plants will be lucky to survive the variations let alone flourish.

Forget the trick questions. Instead, we offer this absolute statement: The most wide-spread misconception concerning indoor plant lighting is that your plants will do fine in a sunny windowsill. “Growing” is the key word here. You may be able to overwinter houseplants or a potted herb or two in a sunny window. But for growth? You need to recreate the complete, concentrated, and long light conditions that plants experience outdoors during the summer. (more…)

Plan On Planting Apple Trees Now

Apple TreeThere’s no more rewarding investment than planting trees. Apple trees that you plant early next spring may start yielding fruit in three to four years. But they’ll be giving joy almost immediately. Planting apple trees with your children can be especially rewarding. They’ll grow right along with your kids. A picture journal that begins at the first day of planting and continues through the years, with your kids standing right alongside their tree in each picture, will give you family memories that will last a lifetime, as will the tree itself.

Now you might be thinking that I’m jumping the gun here in late October. Nearly everyone recommends planting fruit trees in the spring, although you can get away with it in the fall if you have mild winters and protect the newly transplanted roots with plenty of mulch. But good organic tree-planting practice starts in the fall even if your trees won’t go in the ground until spring. We went to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to find out more. Here (with some additions) is what they recommend. (more…)

Sugar Is Sweet; Let’s Make A Pumpkin Pie!

Heirloom PumpkinsWe finally had our first hard freeze here in Northern New Mexico, two weeks late of the average. Now, I’m sure most of you, including those in my beloved former-hometown of Bozeman, MT, are well beyond that point. Anyway it got me to thinking about how closely we’d be listening to weather forecasts in the fall, watching the patterns, and waiting until just the last moment to get in the winter squash and sugar pumpkins. Usually a light frost would first do some damage to the vines, warning enough that it was time to go out with a short, sharp knife and get them in. But sometimes a hard frost would just descend from the sky — like it did here last night — and, well, if caught napping it might mean the loss of one’s valuable crop.

And that got me thinking even further. We always grew pumpkins as a food crop. None of this giant pumpkin stuff for us. Why’s that? Well, truth-be-told, we love pumpkin pie. And that got us thinking even further. Lately, we’ve seen strange heirloom pumpkins offered around town and at Farmer Markets, like the blue Jarrahdale pumpkin from New Zealand, the oblong Rouge Vif d’Etempes and the pale Long Island Cheese pumpkin. But all our lives, we’ve grown only one kind of pumpkin, the ubiquitous small sugar. (more…)

Resisting the Anti-GMO Labeling Blitz

GMO LabelingOur friends in California report a barrage of anit-Prop 37 ads on their televisions, thanks to the big money donors who are so afraid that people might be honestly informed about an issue important to them and their families’ well-being. But despite their best efforts to nip this food-awareness thing in the bud, California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling bill, is starting to gain more national exposure, not exactly what Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations fighting the proposition want. And that publicity focuses on what’s the most important issue to fans of organic food and gardening: the use of pesticides — the over-use of pesticides — in the fields that produce our basic crops.

Last Friday, Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Organic, author of the new book Label It Now: What You Need To Know About Genetically Engineered Foods appeared on the HBO series Real Time With Bill Maher. He did a great job explaining the GMO labeling issue and why it’s important, especially regarding the increased use of pesticides. We’d link but HBO knocks down videos of the discussion on YouTube almost as soon as they appear. And your concerned Planet Natural Blogger would never link you directly to HBO… they can do their own advertising. (more…)

Let’s Talk Root Vegetables – Turnip, Parsnip and Rutabaga

Root VegetablesOr maybe that should be Rutabaga, Turnip, Parsnip as rutabaga and turnips are closely related in many ways (in post Revolution America rutabagas were called “turnip-rooted cabbage”, according to Jere Gettle) and parsnips — bless their sweetness — are quite different. But all three are root vegetables and we love them this time of the year because 1) they’re easy to grow, especially in the late season (well, maybe not parsnips that usually need a long season to mature); 2) they’re well adapted to cool and short growing season (even parsnips); 3) they taste even better after cold weather and frosts have set in; and 4) they keep well, sometimes for months in a cool basement, root cellar or refrigerator.

Then why do I see you out there holding your nose? Is it because they have that cabbagey twang (well, not parsnips) that gets your mouth vibrating like a guitar string when you take a bite? Get over it! My sense is that if you like cabbage, you’ll like turnips and rutabagas. It’s the texture, I believe, combined with that taste, that puts most people off. (more…)

GMO Food Labeling News: Not Good

Genetically ModifiedCalifornia’s Proposition 37, the GMO food labeling rule which will appear on the state’s November 6 ballot, registered a nearly 80% approval rating in early polls. But no longer. The Los Angeles Times reported on two polls that show the support for the proposition has slipped, in one poll to 48% favoing and 42% disapproving with 11.5% of voters still undecided. The reason? Can you say big money advertising blitz? You can see the results of the Pepperdine University/ California Business Roundtable Survey here (scroll down to see Prop. 37 charts).

We’ve already reported on where the big money spent to defeat the proposition is coming from. You can visit BallotPedia’s Proposition 37 site to update the information (again, scroll down for donor lists). So what are the anit-37 ads saying? That there are too many exclusions. That alcohol will be excluded from labeling. That dog food will be labeled but meat for human consumption will not. That, that… Well, you get the point. Savvy voters should always be suspicious when the forces seeking to kill a ballot measure claim it should be defeated because it doesn’t go far enough. In this case, they seem to be arguing that we need even more GMO labeling would be a better thing than some (which means “most”) GMO labeling. Of course, what they really want is no GMO labeling at all. (more…)

Gleanings, Seedings, Weedings

Autumn ColorsHere’s a few short items pulled from the web, most related to gardening news previously addressed, one even fresh plucked. Feel free to suggest links and add further information to any of our posts (and don’t forget corrections!). Help make this a conversation. And thanks to those who have!

A local worm rancher responding to our post on the uses of straw bales in gardening, says we missed one. He suggests that bales make good worm corrals in the winter, keeping your worms working, if ever so slowly in the cold weather, and keeping them from burrowing out of the pile and into the ground. Bales make good insulation, no doubt about it; these days, they’re even used to build green homes. As the bales break down the following spring and summer, they can just be added to the compost pile or used for mulch. We looked into it further: some gardeners build complete worm systems out of hay bales. Hay bales… the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

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