Friday, February 26, 2010

Seed Trades

One of my garden friends from abroad invited me to engage in a nice seed trade which I thought was a splendid idea.  We should do the same, actually.  Since the majority of my country is currently under snow, let's welcome Spring by trading garden seeds.  I'm open to trading both flowers and vegetables with an obvious preference for heirlooms but open pollinated varieties are great too.  No hybrids, please, as I'd like to save the seeds and offer them to the club.  Really looking to add to the lettuce collection but am open to everything - especially the unusual with an interesting history. And this is an international trade so anyone else from abroad is welcomed (as long as your country accepts the importation of seeds).

Please send me the list of items you'd like and what you have to trade.  I'm thinking it would probably be easiest if I post what's currently available for you to choose?

Thanks and looking forward to it!  You're welcomed to send an email with your list of gems to me directly.  Here's the e-address

Monday, February 8, 2010

Giant California Celery: The Ever Present Plants

My Oban Bay sweet peas were desperately in need of transplanting.  The area of interest was filled with celery plants which made their way there after a great escape from a 5 foot plant that went to seed about 10 feet away (down a path and around a corner!).  The celery made an enchanting green backdrop to the impatiens and primrose but they had to go. Since I'm not big on wasting plants, I knew this transplanting process would take some time.  I needed to transplant the celery so I could get the sweet peas in this tight area of about 5 inches wide and 1 1/2 feet long.  The task was not nearly as daunting as it was mind boggling.  How on earth so many celery plants could grow so large in such a small, tight area was a mystery.  By the time I finished, more than 60 plants were extricated from that one area and transplanted into cells.

Several weeks ago I stumbled into a garden neighbor who asked if my celery was like wood after me asking him if he'd like some celery plants for the garden.  Wood?  Now how on earth could his plants get woody when my plants (which received no attention whatsoever) were always green, tender, highly flavorful (almost too flavorful) and juicy? And my plants have been known to grow as tall as me - at just over 5 feet. Although it wasn't clear what variety he was growing, many people seem to have a rather difficult time sowing them from seed.  They're actually really easy to grow if you just plant them and forget about them.

Botanical Name: Apium graveolens
Plant Type:  Annual
Growing Zones:  Zones 3 - 8 (relative as I'm in zone 9 and they grow like weeds)
Hardiness:  Some frost; bolts in heat
Soil Preference:  Rich
PH Preference:  6 to 7
Fertilizer:  10-10-10
Water: Even moisture
Sun Requirements:  Full sun (although some recommend shade - mine have grown in both shade and sun)
Spacing:  8-12 inches apart

Once the seedlings emerge, they're generally extremely hardy and easy to transplant. In our gardens, they've been planted among other vegetables as well as flowers without any serious pest problems. Snails and slugs, when really hungry, will consume celery by taking slithering bites out of the plants.  But, they seem to enjoy the stalks more for hiding-and-resting more than anything else. Depending on how large the plants are allowed to grow, snails and slugs can often be found on the interior of the plants, at the base of the first few stalks.  This has even been an issue with earwigs. If harvested regularly while small, this is not an issue.  

The Giant California celery is very strong and one stalk can easily overpower a good pot of soup where the soup may normally call for 3 stalks chopped finely.  Plants have been known to last for months and months and months and act as a cut-and-come-again plant. While we're generally more than satisfied with just one plant, it becomes difficult to control if allowed to go to seed.  We've had plants materialize in the smallest of cracks in the ground (as a matter of fact, our 5 footer was grown in a crack where no soil existed outside that crack as it was surrounded by concrete along the parameter of the garden).  So, do be careful if you don't want them springing up all over your yard - especially if you're in a tropical climate.

Some recommend blanching the leaves of celery.  You will end up with celery that looks more like the kind you'll sometimes find in grocery stores.  While we never blanch ours, doing so is as easy as hilling up dirt around the stalks for a couple of weeks in Spring. I've even seen people cover plants with terracotta pots  or cardboard to blanch them.  Seems like much too much work to me.

Some heirloom varieties are:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seed Bank

I've not had much time to actively promote the seed bank concept but I'm planning on changing that since there always seems to be more and more seed available.  One of our club members kindly donated several packets of seeds which will go into the seed bank.  All seed bank seeds will be made available for SASE to other club members.  The seed bank will be located in the new exchange forum (yep, I'm changing that too).

The Heirloom Club Exchange/Trade forum portion of the site drives me nuts so I'm changing to a different format.  The current format makes it much too difficult for me to follow and if it's difficult for me (the one who is currently posting more than anyone else) it must be just as annoying to everyone else.  Everyone who had registered on the site will automatically get registered to use the new site.  My hope is the new forum will encourage more interaction and discussion among heirloom interested gardeners.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seed Starting Revelations

I've had a bit of an epiphany relative to starting seeds. At this point, seed starting is such a natural process and part of the normal garden routine that it's rarely given much thought until something unusual happens. And a couple of days ago, I started some Goose lettuce seeds from a very old packet. While I expect the germination on an old packet of seeds to be low, what I don't expect is for those that do germinate to emerge within a week or two. I've had them take as long as a month and in this case I was in no rush. Much to my utter shock, these seeds popped up within a couple of days of planting- which simply made no sense to me.  As a matter of fact, I started some packets of new seeds that were just purchased that hadn't sprung up yet. So what was the difference, I thought?

Here's what I realized - which was an amazing revelation:

1.  Heat &  Sun:  The Goose lettuce seed were positioned on a shelf to the west of my normal seed starting area. This provided them with more intense sunlight and more heat.

2.  Rain Water:  Having stored rain water in a couple of buckets from the January rain (a rarity worth capturing), I've used that water to fill up my water bottles that I water the seeds with.  I'm convinced rain water is an absolute elixir.  I've been able to resurrect feeble, dying and weak plants with repeated doses of rain water. It's simply fantastic!

3.  The Mix:  Over the past year or so, I've been experimenting with different types of matter to mix with perlite, rather than peat, to start my seeds.  This is my effort to be conscientious over the sustainability of using peat. 

My seed starting results have been mixed, however, and not nearly as satisfying as my stand-by mixture of 50% peat and 50% perlite.  When I started the lettuce seeds, I had a leftover bucket of peat from years prior and that's what I used to start the seedlings and as usual, the seeds seemed to respond extremely well.  Even other seeds that were placed on the east facing shelf emerged at a 'normal' pace. However, there are some brand new packets that were started a couple of weeks ago, in a compost/peat mixture that are struggling.  They're emerging inconsistently and not at all at a pace consistent with a new packet of seeds.  In this case, I think the soil is just a tad too heavy - even with the perlite (and this was at a rate of what would probably be 40% compost/60% perlite).

Being in a tropical climate definitely helps my seed starting efforts as I'm able to start seeds throughout the entire year - literally.  I usually reserve a small area of my westerly facing shelf for transplants rather than seed starting simply because I have more space for the large pots.  But, I'm rethinking this strategy...