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Archive for February, 2011

Even though it’s three months before most plants can go outdoors here, I’m planting the really long-season seeds this week: onions and leeks for eventual transplanting to the garden, and indigo and cotton seeds that will be pot-grown.

I was very fortunate to find another source of cotton seeds – CottonSpinning.com. Joan Ruane combines two of my favorite activities, spinning and gardening and offers four varieties of cotton seeds on her site for the home cotton grower. Now I can try pima, uplands, brown and green cotton!

The pots have been prepared, but have not reached the minimum soil temperature for the cotton (60˚F, 15.5˚C) or indigo (75˚F, 24˚C), so they will be warmed on a grow mat before the seeds are added.

The flax seeds saved from last year turned out to be quite viable. Almost all had sprouted in a wet paper towel after four days, and the last few looked like they were planning to sprout, so I will use them for this year’s fibre flax crop instead of ordering new seeds.

Just having an opportunity to play in the dirt raises my spirits when the snow is still deep on the ground.

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When I was about ten years old, I discovered the Dominion Seed House catalogue and I was hooked.

My stash of veggie and flower seeds from previous years is substantial but every year I need to buy the basics: peas, beans, beets, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, spinach and squash.

Favorites from last year include butternut squash because it was delicious and kept well – we had it for Christmas dinner along with home-grown potatoes.

Touchstone Gold beets were also good – it just seems easier to cook beets without puddles of bright red juice everywhere. They looked best when oven roasted.

Another first last year was brussels sprouts – they are so incredibly good right from the garden, and while my family is divided between sprout lovers and haters, I’m sold on these little gems.

Multi-coloured carrots were less of a hit with the family – most of them turned out to be a blah white or yellow, but the occasional one had a beautiful blush of pink on white. To give them credit, they all tasted fine, especially when roasted. This year I’ll stick with the orange and red ones.

Re-ordering from last year’s list (William Dam Seeds):

brussels sprouts – Jade Cross Hybrid

yellow beets – Touchstone Gold

long cucumbers – Sweeter Yet Hybrid

butternut squash – Early Butternut Hybrid

“red” carrots – Nutri-Red

I ordered many of my seeds from William Dam Seeds, and will do so again this year, although I’m also partial to Stokes and Dominion Seed House (their catalogues are my favourite winter reading, particularly Stokes which provides a wealth of information about growing each variety they sell).

To quote Stokes on the green bush bean:

SEED COLOR: Never use white seeded beans too early! Black and tan seed can regulate water uptake in cool, wet soils, preventing the cracking of the cotyledons. White seeds transmit water too fast, cracking the cotyledons which reduces seed vigor and germination.

Now I get it!

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I’ve been focused on dye and fibre plants so far this winter, but I don’t want to neglect the vegetable garden, so it’s time to get my veggie seed list in order. I do save seeds, so there are a few things that are taken care of: cilantro, dill and various heritage tomatoes.

Seed Potatoes:

Last year I ordered some sample size packs (foursomes) from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: banana, peanut fingerling, norland, alaska sweetheart, german butterball and russet burbank. This was a great way to try a variety of potatoes and all of them grew well. My new-found favourites were the fingerlings and the Alaska Sweethearts, which were a nice pink inside. In addition, I picked up some Pontiac Reds at a local fruit and veggie stand as they are very reliable in our area and also keep well in the cool back porch.

This year I’m going for quantity as well as quality, so I’ll grow a few fingerlings, but also try for some heavy producers as well. So far the list looks like this:

Banana Fingerling (a heritage type)
Russet Burbank (Netted Gem)

I’ll order from Eagle Creek again, as I liked the varieties they offered, and they grew well for me. I’ll also pick up what’s available locally – an early variety since the others are late maturing and nothing is better than a continuous source of new potatoes!

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Seed removal (rippling) is first step in processing the flax grown last year. As the entire flax crop fits easily in a green garbage bag, I didn’t invest in any equipment but just ran my fingers through the dry stalks, over a bowl to catch the seed pods. The result was a bowl full of pods, loose seeds and lots of other bits and pieces.

When the weather gets warmer (it’s -20°C here today), I’ll try to break up the remaining pods to release the seeds, and then try tossing the seed mixture in the breeze to separate out the chaff.

In the meantime, I’m curious to see if the seeds are mature enough to grow this year, or whether I should be ordering in some new ones. Last year’s crop was pulled when the stalks started to turn from green to gold, and there was a mixture of blooms, and green and brown pods on the stalks.

I’m doing a simple germination test with a few seeds in a wet paper towel to see what proportion will sprout.

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Even though snow is still falling daily, the little Hardy Chicago Fig in the back porch has decided that Spring is almost here.

The good news is that it has apparently made it through the winter, but it has broken dormancy three months before out last frost date.

Over the winter it has been watered lightly, and kept above freezing, but has been exposed to daylight in a south-facing room.

Now that the buds are bursting open, I’ll move it under a grow light and wait for outside temperatures to stay above freezing before putting it outside.

You grow, little fella!

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I’m a big fan of Richters Herbs – they have such a huge variety of herbs and other seeds and plants that are hard to find anywhere else. Over the years I’ve ordered fibre flax seed (last year’s crop was grown from this seed), various herbs, and a Hardy Chicago fig tree that’s over-wintering in my cool back porch.

Richters was a logical choice to find the dye-plant seeds that I needed for this year’s Cloth from the Garden project, so I ordered indigo, woad, weld, yellow bedstraw, and golden marguerite seeds.

Indigo will be the most challenging dye plant to grow as it requires warm temperatures (minimum 19° C) and a long growing season. It probably won’t be feasible to move the plants outside at all, but it’s worth a try and I’ll baby it indoors.

Woad produces the same dye chemical (indigotin), that is found in indigo, but in smaller amounts. It’s a biennial and the first year’s leaves are harvested for dyeing so I’ll start it indoors and transplant it out. It’s indicated as hardy to zone 3.

Weld is also a biennial, but only hardy to zone 5, so this one may have to be grown in a warmer garden than mine (if I can find one).

Yellow bedstraw is hardy to zone 3 so this one will be planted outdoors and should grow well here.

Golden marguerite is hardy to zone 4, so I may just take a chance that it will thrive here.

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Madder is a dye plant used to produce red (turkey red). It was the hardest dye plant seed to find, with only two sources that I could discover: Horizon Herbs in Oregon, and Wild Colours in the UK. This one will also be a challenge as the roots are used for dyeing, and the plants need to grow for three years before harvesting. Indoor cultivation won’t be the answer, it’ll just have to survive outdoors.

I ordered my seed from Horizon Herbs, and it arrived almost by return mail!

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