Category Archives: Seeds

Growing Things from Seed


(echinacea purpuea started last spring)

Seems a strange time of year to be inspired by writing about gardening, but I guess as fall progresses and the garden is ‘wrapping’ up, it’s nice to look back at our growing season and look forward to the next…

Generally speaking, Scott is the vegetable grower and I am the flower grower around these parts. Generally speaking, Scott grows things from seed and I buy 4″ perennials at the nursery. Before the children came I grew flowers from seed quite a bit, but when I started having my babies there was only so much nurturing I could do. Starting from seeds had to go, for a while at least. Now that our youngest is 3, I started a few things from seed this summer and remarkably the majority of the seedlings have grown and flourished! There is something to be so proud of when you grow a successful plant from seed. First it’s so much more economical and the satisfaction of growing something from nothing is huge.

(hollyhocks started last spring)
In spring I started a tray of both echinacea purpurea and black hollyhocks. I kept them on my washer and dryer which is right in front of a window. Since I do at least one load of laundry a day it was easy to keep an eye on them. Once the threat of the spring bugs where gone, I planted them out with handfuls of Sluggo, copper tape and even netting over them to protect them. Only one of the echinacea survived, but boy is it a healthy plant. Most of the hollyhocks survived too and growing well in the garden. Strangely enough I planted them all within a few feet of each other, making sure to get them by the drip lines, yet some are just slowly growing while others are three times their size. Not knowing the rhyme or reason, I just sit back happy that none of them are dead!

(hollyhocks started 6 weeks ago and transplanted outside)
Hit by a streak of confidence I started another round of both echinacea and hollyhocks about 6 weeks ago in hopes of doubling my yield of flowers next spring. I grew the black hollyhocks specifically for dying yarn. The book Harvesting Color shows that they give a beautiful blue color, which is a rare color to get without indigo in the natural dye world. I’m curious to see if starting these perennials & biennials last spring versus this fall will show much of a difference once next spring comes.

(echinacea purpurea started six weeks ago, still inside)
For about 9 solid years my flower gardening got very basic and tough love. If the store bought plants didn’t survive with my haphazard watering routine or a soccer ball thrown into it at full force, well, then too bad. However I did feel bad when I looked out my window and saw another dying plant. Now though, I’m able to give a little more to the garden. There’s a saying I heard a while back regarding women trying to balance motherhood and their career. It goes, ‘You can have your cake and eat it too, just not all at once.’ I keep that saying in mind towards a lot of activities that I’d like to be doing, but have to make lunches or drive again to their school instead. All things in good time. You can have happy babies and a thriving garden, but maybe not all at the same time.


Filed under Flowers, Seeds

Things to Know Before Starting Your Spring Garden


Spring fever has hit hard around these parts. The weather has been sunny and in the seventies. This weather has spurred us to order 15 yards of compost, 15 yards of mulch and 1000 feet of drip tubing. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us! The past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting a great little list of links for you to peruse before you start your spring garden. Have you found any good gardening links lately?

My parents recently went to go visit Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, not too far from here and they brought back last years catalog. Stunning! The most beautiful plant catalog I’ve looked through. Annie’s Annuals focuses on both annual and perennials that do well in our California climate. My mom has been slowly collecting California natives to plant in her backyard and Annie’s is a great source for her. Please go sign up for their catalog, it’s gorgeous! Even if you are not in California, it’s worth getting the catalog and I’m sure you’ll find one or two things that can grow where you live.

What veggies are the most profitable to grow? I’ve often thought about that as we’ve chosen what’s going to go into our garden. Not that we are in it to make a profit, as we’ve never sold anything we’ve grown. But if one of the reasons you garden is to save money, doesn’t it make sense to skew your seed purchases towards things that are expensive to grow in the store yet easy to grow at home? This blog post gives a breakdown of what’s most profitable to grow at home. Cilantro…who woulda thought.

I LOVE this site. You simply enter in your zip code and it tells you exactly what seeds to plant this week. It even gives you a sneak peek into what to start in future weeks so you know to stock up on seeds. Brilliant! I have it set to Sonoma, but you can change it to your zip code.

Do you know what zone you are in? It’s a good thing to check before the growing season begins. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (I’d say they’d be a reliable source), we’re in zone 9b. (via Urban Farm & Beehives)


Filed under Compost, Seeds


Amongst the rare times when the rain stops, we have been able to run outside quickly to plant a few things. We filled our newest raised bed chalk full of spring goodness, daikons, butterhead lettuce, gai choy mustard, brussel sprouts, beets and cilantro. That was on February 18th that we were able to do that and already everything is coming up:
We also started some summer seeds this past weekend which we are keeping warm in our makeshift greenhouse…more on that later…
Onions also got put into the ground a few weeks ago. They were a couple of weeks later going in than last year, but I don’t think they’ll mind too much. We planted copious amounts of onions last winter and enjoyed them all the way through this winter. After we pulled them last summer and let them dry a bit we stored them in our laundry room which goes unheated and they kept there well until the first rains came, October I think. When we started to notice a bit of mold growing on them we quickly cut them all up and froze them to use all winter long. We hope this next year is just as productive for this round. This year we chose Red Tropea Torpedo Onions and First Edition Onions both from Sonoma Mission Gardens. If you are new to growing onions, please read Onions: All You Need to Know for a primer.

Have you put any new seeds in the ground lately?


Filed under Onions, Seeds

Sort Your Seeds (Day 23 of 30 DTABG)

We have a lot of seeds and sometimes it’s good to go through them all. We did this of course at the beginning of the growing season when we were first getting started, but it is a nice habit to keep going through them. Just yesterday we realized that it’s time to start the radiccio seeds (seed packet says late June) and we wouldn’t have remembered that if we hadn’t gone through everything. Luckily we have a few open spots in the garden now that the garlic, onions and shallots are out.

This is also a good time to ditch the seeds of plants that didn’t work out. Like those St. Valery carrots I just wrote about? They got filed in the round can this time. Its a shame to throw away good seeds, but we are finding more and more that it’s best to just get rid of things we don’t like rather than keep trying them year after year and end up disappointed.
Give it a try, go through your seeds and see if you forgot to plant anything. See if your autumn garden crops need planting now. Tell me what you find.


Filed under 30 Days to a Better Garden, Seeds

Trouble with Seedlings : Damping Off

tomato seedling riddled with damping off

Scott and I aren’t experts at seedling fatality diagnostics, but we’re pretty sure that for the last two years in a row at least one of our tomato seedlings has succumbed to ‘damping off.’ Damping off or seedling rot is caused by fungi that live in the soil. When you keep the soil continuously damp, give it some high humidity and maybe some cloudy days it sets that fungi in action and ready to destroy your fragile little seedling stems.

healthy seedling

How Do You Notice Damping Off?
We first notice it when the base of the 1″ stems get thin and white, the next day they fall over and die. Sometimes the damping off will affect your seedlings before they even sprout.

How can You Prevent it?
You can prevent Damping Off by sterilizing everything before you plant your seeds. If you make your own seed soil mix you can sterlize your seed soil in the oven with this tutorial. Make sure to wash your planting flats thoroughly too. When seedlings are crowded together that also will activate the fungi, so try to only plant one seed per planting cell.

What to Do When You Spot Damping Off.
Believe it or not, there is a slim chance that you can rescue your poor seedlings from damping off. When you first spot it stop watering right around the base of the plant. Give the seedlings as much light and air as you can. However we’ve had our seedlings our in bright sunlight with low humidity and they always die on us. My recommendation would be to start new seeds immediately when you spot it because chances are slim that you’ll save your new growth.

This year due to all the house renovations we’ve undertaken and our battle with damping off, we’re going to be buying most of our tomatoes and peppers. That’s just fine, it feels good to take a year off from nuturing seedlings in pots.

Have you had any seedling fatalities this year so far?


Filed under Seeds, Soil, Sprouting

Good Things to Know when Starting Seeds

Early Spring in Sonoma
It’s mustard time in wine country which means that spring is almost here. Which means it’s seed starting time, isn’t it? I’ve noticed that many of you have already started. Our house is just a tiny bit larger than a postage stamp and without an extra square inch to spare, we usually wait to start our seeds a little later by planting them in flats outside. Since we are a few weeks out from starting our summer seed plantings, I thought I’d root around for a nice set of resources to get us inspired for when the time comes. I found some great homemade alternatives to seed starting pots, a good recipe for seed starting soil and and easy as pie tutorial for setting up an indoor lighting system for sprouting seedlings as well as many other goodies.

When & What to Plant
First things first, you need to have a game plan of what seeds to plant and when right? Right. Like I mentioned yesterday, knowing when your last frost date is helps a lot in garden planning. Here’s a nice site to help find your approximate last frost date. When you’ve got that figured out, head over to Skippy’s Vegetable Garden (via Compostings-thanks!) and plug in your numbers into her excellent online planting calculator and it will give you actual dates of what seeds to start. Very helpful, isn’t it?

What to Grow Seeds In
Now that you’ve got your game plan, here are some cool free homemade containers to grow your seeds in. You can buy those huge flats of little seed containers and while it’s very nice to have them all on one tray, we always find new curse words to utter when trying to get the actual little seedling out to plant without having to cut the whole thing apart. And I hate having to waste a perfectly good seed tray. We tend to reuse store bought seedling pots (the 2″ guys) or use little yogurt containers with holes punched into the bottoms. But you can also use cardboard toilet paper rolls and check out this fantastic newspaper seedling pot tutorial.

What Soil to Use
Sterile seed starting soil is expensive, but using regular garden soil isn’t always the best seed growing medium either. To help those fragile little seedlings out you need a lighter and airy soil than what’s typically in your garden. You also need it to retain a lot of moisture because you don’t want your seedlings to dry out. Try this homemade seed starting potting mix that contains only three ingredients.

How to Get them Growing
If you have the luxury of a few feet of space inside to devote to seed growing, I envy you. Marc from Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op explains all about his easy seed growing lighting set up.

When You Can ‘Plant Out’
I admit that when it comes to gardening, we’re not so good at following exact dates or numbers or record keeping or planning or the like. So when we plant our seedlings into the ground we do it with a bit of intuition, a prayer of hope that we don’t have some freak late frost, and of course a rare day of free time to accomplish the task. But if you are a numbers person, this is fantastic chart to show when you can begin to plant your seedlings outside (you’ll need your last frost date from above before you click over).

Do you have any seed starting tips that you’d like to share? Any cool seed starting related websites you’ve stumbled across?


Filed under Seeds

Winter Harvest & Early Spring Planting

It’s that time of year between winter and spring, here in Sonoma. We have been getting ‘in like a lion’ rain/hail storms (thankfully) and yet the cherry plum trees are in bloom and daffodils are beginning to make there appearance throughout town.
Last Saturday was a sunny day, a rare day for us lately, so we decided to harvest most of the cabbage, the bolting kale and a few of the brussel sprouts which have been growing all winter. Because we’ve had more than our fair share of kale lately, I decided to break out the ol’ FoodSavervacuum and use it to vacuum seal blanched portions of kale to freeze for a later date. Have you used a FoodSaver before? We received one when we got married 6.5 years ago and we really like it. It keeps things fresher for much longer in the freezer. We originally used it for vaccum sealing the salmon that Scott used to catch. But we also use it for freezing large Costco sizes of meat and now for veggies too. A worthy investment if you freeze a lot of food.
Potato Growing
Into the garden went the potatoes: Red Gold, Russet Norkotah, Rose Finn Apples (Potato Garden is where we get our seed potatoes). Old German shallots and Red Wethersfield onions (for green onions), our newly aquired spinach, daikon, and carrot seeds, and lastly peas.

We took out our favorite How to Grow More Vegetables book for some spring planting inspiration this past weekend because they lay it all out for you of exactly how many seeds you should be planting of what vegetables for this time of year for a family of four, isn’t that convenient? Anyway, they listed a rather reasonable amount of seeds for each item, but when it came to peas? It suggests you plant 1800 pea seeds! One thousand and eight hundred! We looked at our measly one packet of seeds and laughed. So I suppose we’ll be about 1775 seeds short of what we should be planting this year. Since I’m not a fan of cooked peas anyway, I’m not too worried. How many pea seeds do you usually plant?

Oh, I also wanted to point out that I added a bookstore link up above, do you see it? I’ve added only books that either we own or that we have read and have liked, I’d never suggest something to you that we haven’t tried ourselves.

I hope your last week of winter is going smoothly! Oh and go here to find out when your last frost date is.


Filed under books, Preserving, Seeds

We Didn’t Need Any Seeds This Year

Baker Creek Seeds
“This year, this year we don’t need any new seeds.” Scott declared. ‘Uh huh’ is what I think I remember mumbling in reply. Of course he didn’t need any more seeds. I’m quite certain we could start our own online seed store with all that his collection holds. Still, I was far from shocked to walk out on the porch one day to find a package from Baker Creek. It is his very favorite place to buy seeds. And as I can never have to many books, yards of fabric, or Anthropologie anything, he can’t have too many seeds.

So what did we get? I’ll tell you. In fact I’ll list them out for you.

Merlo Nero – an early dark leafed Italian variety
Bloomsdale Long Standing – which is said to do better in hotter weather, perfect for us.

Shishigatani or Toonas Makino – These are very expensive winter squash seeds (20 seeds for $4), but are a rare Japanese variety. Apparently they keep you from paralysis when eaten in summer. That’s good, we have been worried about summertime paralysis around here and were looking for a good preventative.
Zucchino Rampicante – a summer squash who’s description reads that the flavor is superb! (With an exclamation point) Who could pass that up.

St. Valery Carrots – This is Baker Creeks favorite carrot, how could we pass it up?
Hollow Crown Parsnip – We’ve recently added parsnips to our winter diet, prepared just like mashed potatoes. It’s fantastic! We’re excited to try growing some.
Japanese Minowase Daikon – A perfect garden addition to aid our new kimchi making addiction. These diakons grow up to 24″ long!
Chinese Red Meat Radish – Green on the outside and bright red on the inside, I’m excited to try these too.

Blacktail Mountain Watermelon – We found last year that we had our best watermelon year when we planted to varieties together. In addition to our beloved Ali Baba’s we’re going to try this variety which grows well in heat and drought.
Quadrato d’Asti Rosso Peppers – We grew these quadrato d’asti rosso peppers last year and were more than pleased with how they turned out.
Ching Chang Bok Choy – Last year was our first year growing bok choy and it was such a welcome, regular addition to our diet, we’re making them a garden staple.

Did you order from Baker Creek this year? What did you get?


Filed under Seeds

Back into the Garden

I bet you were starting to think that there wasn’t much ‘garden’ left in this Sonoma Garden, weren’t you? Well now that all the other to-do list chores have been caught up on, we were able to plant a few things for fall which I’ll be sharing with you this week. The first thing to note is that if all works out well, we are going to be having cabbage coming out of our ears soon. We’ve planted both red and green cabbage, all starts from our favorite nursery, Sonoma Mission Gardens. We haven’t had great success with cabbage in the past, it just hasn’t formed very well. But being the gardening masicists that we are, we are trying again.

We’ve also grown some Napa Cabbage from seed. This is the first time we’ve grown that so I’m anxious to see how it works.
Napa Cabbage

And while this isn’t cabbage, look, the raddiccio is actually starting to form! We planted these seeds quite a while ago, maybe six weeks ago or so?
I was starting to feel pretty ho-hum about the progress of our yard at the end of summer, but now that we’ve pulled out all of the old, ugly stuff it’s rejuvinating to get some new happy green growth back.
Update: Carrie asked for some cabbage growing tips so I thought I would share some things that we’ve read. Now mind you we are not cabbage experts, so we are learning from this too. Cabbages like a sunny spot with well drained soil. They are also heavy feeders and heavy drinkers, so be prepared to give them ample nutrients and water. Heavy mulching is also a good idea. While the cabbages are still young you can interplant them with lettuce and radishes since they have such a short growing period. Where as cabbage takes anywhere from 60-180 days to mature depending on the type you are growing. If you want to read more, check out Mother Earth New’s article.


Filed under 1, Growing Challenge, Leafy Greens, Seeds, State of the Garden

Weeds and Why They Grow

Yellow Flowers

Here’s an unusual read for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge.

I bet you never thought that weeds are really an indication of the nutrients in your soil. I never did. I just thought certain weeds grew where they grew because they just kept sprouting from the year before. But by changing the nutrient content of your soil can actually allow new weeds to grow and stop the growth of weeds you currently have. Interesting, isn’t it? I never would have thought. We learned this all in a book that Scott ordered called, “Weeds and why they grow” by Jay McCamen from Moses (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Inc.)

The root systems of some weeds, especially perennials, can penetrate deep into the subsoil to loosen it. Some weed roots can go down into the soil as much as twenty feet, breaking up the soil and improving drainage and aeration. They also bring up minerals and make it possible for the root systems of other plants, such as vegetables, to use those minerals and natural aeration.

As I mentioned, you can identify problems in your soil by what weeds are growing in it. There is a detailed chart that lists almost every weed out there and the soil nutients that allow that weed to proser. Through reading this book and looking in our yard, we found that the prolific srouting of purslane, amaranth, dandelions and some others that we have a calcium deficiency. That would also explain our yearly battle with blossom end rot on our San Marzanos. So off to the nursery we went, and back we came with liquid calcium which the man working there said is the best way to apply calcium at this stage in the growing cycle.

So once we get our calcium problem fixed, will the purslane, amaranth and dandelions leave? Quite possibly. And in its place maybe red clover will arrive. How will it get there? Well weed seeds can lie dormant and viable in the soil for as long as 30, 50, even 70 years! They are just waiting for a spec of light and for their proper soil conditions to sprout. (I’m serious about that spec of light, a fraction of a second of sunlight will do to get it growing, which is why he recommends tilling at night.)

Another thing I learned is that a garden that is free from weeds is actually a very unhealthy garden. When very little weeds grow it means the soil is actually extremely unhealthy. So it’s a good thing if you have weeds. Healthy weeds mean a healthy soil.


Filed under books, Fertilizing, Seeds, Soil, Weeds, what we've learned