Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Mad Seed Starter

Considering hanging up my indoor seed-starting hat forever...

I'm hopping mad --- at myself.

I'm mad at myself for failing - consistently and repeatedly - with my efforts to start plants from seed indoors.

I don't have any problem raising plants (at least certain plants) from seed outdoors, but I'm pretty pathetic when it comes to starting seeds in pots indoors.

Well, actually, my first experiment (inspired by videos and blog posts like this) was to try starting seeds in eggshells.

My wife and I diligently saved our plastic clamshell egg containers and washed-out eggshells all winter. In the spring, I purchased a plastic table, grow light and timer, setting up the whole shebang in the garage. Then I packed the shells with plain old topsoil from a big-box store, dusted the soil with seeds and set back to watch the magic.

Sure enough, seeds sprouted!

But the seedlings never grew much. And most of them soon withered and died.

Perhaps I hadn't given them enough water and the soil had dried out?

So I tried again, heading to a growers' supply shop to purchase biodegradable peat pots and some good organic potting soil with fertilizers built in.

Once again -- good germination, not much growth, eventual wilting and death.

I'm tempted to give up on this whole indoor seed-starting business with its grow lights and timers and spray bottles. Instead, maybe I'll try a bit of cold-frame gardening next winter.

Or does anyone want to try to convince me to give it another try and enlighten me as to what I might be doing wrong? Should I try the bottom watering method shown here?


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Monday, July 10, 2017

Hibiscus for Days

'Blue Bird' rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
'Blue Bird' rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Pink Swirl'
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Pink Swirl'
Native rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Native rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Veggies Til the Cowpeas Come Home

Daikon radish (Raphanus sativus) gone to seed
This might just look like a hot mess, but it's actually hundreds of daikon seeds ripening on some of my biggest roots. The pods themselves are edible when green and younger, but now I think they're probably only good for seed-saving.

In my first year or two of gardening, I tried growing a lot of veggies in our solid clay soil.

Frustrated by my lack of success, I mostly gave up and focused on ornamentals.

Recently though, I've started tiptoeing my way back into growing food.

I've had some fair success with basil - including a couple of volunteer basil plants the last couple of years.

Last fall and again this spring, I planted daikon radishes (Raphanus sativus) from Sow True Seed. This crop plays multiple roles - the leaves function as a cover crop, the roots are edible, the seedpods are edible and any roots left in place should hopefully decay and thus work as a no-till soil amendment. The fall crop did OK last year despite a drought and the spring crop this year did even better, producing good-sized roots and literally thousands of seedpods.

I ate some of the pods (found I liked them best raw), but ultimately ended up just composting most of them. I'm allowing the pods to mature on some of the biggest roots to save seed and/or let them naturalize a bit.

Meanwhile, as the radishes bolt and fade in the summer heat, I've started some 'Southern Brown Sugar' cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata- also from Sow True Seed - one of my favorite seed companies!) for the first time.

I'm very impressed with the germination on these seeds. I think almost all my seeds sprouted in under a week and seem to be off to a strong start!

Vigna unguiculata / cowpea seedlings
Cowpeas looking good so far!

And then there's the tropical roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which I sowed in the garden about a month ago. Germination was a bit slow on these and the seedlings are fairly slow-growing. I'm a little worried that I should have started them indoors and that they won't have time to mature and flower in a single season. (I believe they're actually perennials in zone 9 and warmer, but they'll almost certainly behave like annuals here in zone 6-7.)

To read about roselle's edible uses, you can check out this publication from Purdue University.

Hibiscus sabdariffa / roselle seedlings
Grow strong, little hibiscus!


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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Partridge Pea - One of the Best (Self-Sowing) Annuals in my Garden

The bumblebees fly up into the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) flowers and then vibrate with a high-pitched buzz... presumably to harvest the pollen? It's fun to observe!

Pollination results in the formation of these long seedpods. When the pods ripen, they turn a dark reddish color and split open to release their seeds, some of which will ideally sprout to create next year's partridge peas.

I scattered ~ 130 seeds outdoors in autumn 2015 from Kansas Native Plants. Last spring, I only had a few plants germinate, but this year I have dozens of plants. I harvested some of the seeds to scatter around the garden and let other seeds fall naturally to the ground beneath the plant. Some seedlings have sprouted in the lawn too, but they don't seem to flower (so far) with regular mowing and are easy to pull, so I'm not too worried about this plant becoming a lawn weed. 

Partridge pea is native to Tennessee and throughout much of the rest of the Central and Eastern U.S.
The only place I've seen it growing wild (and it might actually have been planted there) was alongside a parking lot in a South Florida nature preserve.
These plants are growing in full sun on unamended, compacted clay soil with very little supplemental irrigation. (I think I've watered them by hose a few times so far this year.)  As you can see, they appear to be thriving.
Per the USDA:

[Partridge pea] seed is one of the major food items of northern bobwhite and other quail species because it remains in sound condition throughout the winter and early spring. Partridge pea was found to be one of the most important fall and winter foods of bobwhite quail in Alabama. Partridge pea seeds are high in phosphorus content and protein value, and low in crude fiber and lignin making digestibility generally high.

Seeds of this legume are also eaten by the greater and lesser prairie-chicken, ring-necked pheasant, mallard [and] grassland birds.

Partridge pea often grows in dense stands, producing litter and plant stalks that furnish cover for upland game birds, small mammals, small non-game birds, and waterfowl.

Partridge pea is considered an important honey plant, often occurring where few other honey plants are found. Nectar is not available in the flowers of showy partridge pea but is produced by small orange glands at the base of each leaf. Ants often seek the nectar and are frequent visitors. The common sulfur butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves, and the larvae use the leaves as a food source.

Partridge pea is considered an excellent species for planting on disturbed areas for erosion
control and improving soil fertility. It establishes rapidly, fixes nitrogen, reseeds, and slowly decreases as other species in the seeding mix begin to dominate the site. Nitrogen fixation is greatest during the flowering stage. To help prevent weed establishment and control soil erosion along county roadsides in Iowa, partridge pea is often included in the seed mix with other forbs and grasses.

Per the North American Butterfly Association:

Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow caterpillars all use Partridge Pea as a food source. All three of these butterflies range widely over the southern U.S., with Little Yellow’s range being restricted eastward.

Partridge Pea is also used as a food source by Ceraunus Blue caterpillars which are common in far southern regions, usually late in the summer; found all year long in southern Florida and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Gray Hairstreak caterpillars also include Partridge Pea as a caterpillar food plant in addition to countless other plants.


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