Saturday, February 12, 2022

Beauty in Decay

 I came upon this dancer, broken and gone, yet graceful in her demise. 

There is beauty yet in her decay, life in her death.

Highlighted in snow, one last bow, perpetual, until she collapses into decay.

There is beauty here, yet. Life in her decay.

A rotting corpse feeds the tiniest ones, which in turn feed roots and seeds, feeding stems and leaves.

A single tree no longer one, continuing to live on in many.

The magic, the beauty of the cycle.

Beauty, life, from one many, and on.

PS The day before this photo, when I first saw her, her arms held more snow and made a more striking scene. She was more obvious. But there yet is beauty here.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Snowy Days

 Snow moved in Friday night and blew through Saturday morning. The day was gray and cold, cold, cold. A lovely fog shrouded the world beyond the woods this morning and the afternoon turned sunny.

I went for a walk in the woods, looked for animal tracks (deer, birds, house cat, mouse?), hugged a giant Osage orange tree, and watched the snow that had collected on branches of the red cedar trees melt, sparkle and glitter as it dripped in the sunlight. I came in with twigs and red cedar leaves stuck in my hair. A great afternoon.

In my last post I noted that the germination test on the leek seed was a resounding success. It looked as if all of them had sprouted. Since it's about time to start my leek plants, I planned to go ahead and plant them. 

Three days later I went to do just that and found that not only did all of the seeds have tiny roots poking out, but had produced itty bitty greenery, as well. No problem. I went ahead and planted them anyway. However, instead of just dropping the seeds onto the soil and sort of patting them in, knowing the little roots would know which way to go, I poked holes into the soil and dropped in each seedling one by one. That took a little more time than my original plan would have, but it worked.

Initially I made the little holes with my fingers, and then decided I needed a tool. A chopstick works

nicely for that task. With the tip of the chopstick in view, you can see how tiny the little seedlings were. 

On that same day I started germination tests on some other seeds and checked them yesterday.

The six-year-old Orangeglow watermelon seed germinated 100 percent, it looks like. This seed I collected from watermelon growing in my garden. I am not sure what melons from this seed will be like. I first planted Orangeglow in 2014, along with at least one other melon variety and they likely cross-pollinated. A melon somehow got missed, or I spit seed into the garden, not sure, but a watermelon vine or two grew there the next year. I didn't realize it had produced any melons until I started clearing away cover crop. It was a huge melon, orange and sweet inside.

But I can't depend on that being the case when I plant these seeds. We will see what comes of these. 

I will stick a few of these sprouted seeds in a pot and hope I have a nice little melon plant or two when the Extension Master Gardeners Garden Show comes around in two months. I'm in charge of the Edible Garden table.The watermelon plants might be too leggy and pale for a nice display along with the cabbage plants, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, nasturtiums and begonias. (Begonia flowers are edible.) 

When I started the germ test on the watermelon seeds I also started one on some six-year-old carrot seed (just for fun), six-year-old jalapeno seed and seven-year-old cayenne seed. Only a few seeds of each had put out little tails. It will be interesting to see how many actually sprout. I don't plan to plant any of these seeds, but I was curious to know whether they were still viable.

Besides, what else gardening related is there to do in January?

Start onion and cabbage plants! Buy seeds! 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Test Results

 The results are in... mostly.

After I wrote my last post I started germination tests on several different seeds. 

Of greatest concern were the snap peas. I have lots of seed in two different containers and no idea when I bought them.

Germination was successful, with a high percentage for both batches of peas. Yes! I will have snap peas again... barring a horrible infestation of cutworms, such as took out my peas two years in a row several years ago. The peas were the first seeds to send out a radicle.

The Roma II bush beans also germinated successfully, taking a couple of days longer than the peas.

The leeks also showed nearly 100 percent germination. Since it's about time to start my leek plants, I'll go ahead and plant these little seeds. The leek seed was purchased in 2019, and supposedly leek seed has a life expectancy of only a couple of years, which is why I tested it.

The Brandywine tomato looks iffy. So far only two seeds out of probably 30 are showing signs of life. I'll give  them a few more days.

The celery test must start over. Because I thought celery seed needs light to germinate, I put the damp coffee filter with the seeds out flat an stuck in a plastic bag. I forgot to check them for a couple of days and today they were dried out. So, start over. Apparently celery can take two to three weeks to germinate, although I don't recall it ever taking that long when I planted it in soil. Do I want to mess with getting new seed or just take my chances? I don't want to wait three weeks to order seed. 

Decisions, decisions.

That wraps up the necessary germ tests, more or less. I think I'll probably order more Brandywine tomato seed, unless the germ tests gets radicles soon. 

I have some other old seeds earmarked for testing, but that will just be to satisfy my curiosity as these are not seeds I'll replace. One packet contains five-year-old purple haze carrot seeds. I didn't care for the way they grew, but I'm curious if carrot seed that old will germinate. I'll test some seven-year-old jalapeno seed and eight-year-old cayenne seed. I only need two or three plants of each, so I've just been buying plants instead of starting them. Plus I have some six-year-old Oranglow Watermelon seeds that I collected from watermelons growing in my garden. Not sure if I'll plant any if they still germinate, but I'm curious. Science, you know.

I'll let you know how things go.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Seeds for Thought

It's that time of year again. I'm thinking about seeds, seeds, seeds.

Seeds are incredibly amazing beings. Each seed, no matter how tiny, is a miniature plant curled up inside a protective shell. Each seed has a tiny root (radicle), a stem (hypocotyl), and miniature seed leaves (cotyledons). 

At left is a little drawing I did of the interior structure of a seed. The green part is the cotyledons, seed leaves, that contain food to nourish the little seedling once the seed coat cracks. 

Although the seed appears to be sleeping, lots of enzymatic and chemical actions take place to prepare the seed to germinate and grow. 

No matter how tiny the seed is, it contains the same structure and processes as much larger seeds, like that avocado pit you just tossed into the compost bucket.

The seed waits for the right conditions -- the proper amount of moisture absorbed, the appropriate soil temperature, and who knows what else the seed is waiting for that will disintegrate the germination inhibitors that all seeds contain. All seeds and/or the fruits they form within, contain germination inhibitors, otherwise they might germinate at a time or place the seedling cannot survive. When the germination inhibitors are gone, the radicle is the first to emerge, digging into the soil. Then the little seed leaves unfurl, soaking up sunlight. And you have a plant.

The photo at the top of this post is of the refrigerator drawer where I store my seeds. When stored in proper conditions seeds can remain viable for quite some time. Just how long seeds remain alive depends on what plant they come from. Melon seeds, for example, remain viable for much longer that seeds of leeks and onions. So I can stock up several years worth of melon seed, but only a couple of years' worth of leek and onion seeds. However, seeds will survive past the expected life expectancy when stored properly. According to "The Seed Garden," published by the Seed Savers Exchange, okra seeds have a life expectancy of just two to three years. Yet I had 10-year-old okra seeds germinate almost 100 percent. Then we have ancient varieties of beans and squash that germinated after thousands of years in buried clay pots. Some of these, such as the "Cave Bean" featured in Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, have been propagated and shared, reviving those old varieties.

None of the seeds in my refrigerator drawer are thousands of years old, or even 10 years old, but some are six or seven years old.

Tonight I started germination tests on some of the older seed so I know whether I need to replace it, or whether I can plant it for another season. A germination test is pretty simple. Basically, you need water, a paper towel, and seeds. Here are step-by-step instructions and pictures on a blog post I wrote for our Extension Master Gardeners' Web site. 

Not all of my seeds are those I've purchased. For a number of years I've saved seeds from cultivated flowers, like poppies, and some wildflowers. I pretty much stick to those that are easy to gather, like poppies and celosia, or columbines and royal catchfly.

At right are some of the seeds in this year's collection, Royal Catchfly, Clammy Weed, two kinds of celosia, and something I can't identify in this photo. 

At some point I will shake the seeds loose from their pods and capsules and store them in much smaller containers for planting and sharing later. For now, however, they are in bags, buckets and other containers in the garage. I have only a little more than a month to do this if I want to take any to the local seed fair to share.

This year I hope to start saving some vegetable seeds. Those of beans and peas are pretty easy to collect and save. You just wait until the pods have dried, then separate the seed from the pods. Pepper seed also is easy to collect. The seed is mature when the peppers have ripened to their mature color, which is when I think they taste best. Spread them out to dry before putting them into storage. You don't want them moist enough to mold.

Tomatoes are trickier, as you must "ferment" the seeds in the pulp, then clean and dry them.

Saving seeds begins when you are planning where to plant things. Plants that rely on insect pollination have long "isolation distances." That is the distance you must have between different varieties of one species to avoid cross pollination. Wind pollinated plants, such as corn, also might require long isolation distances. Corn varieties, for example must be separated by 800 feet to a half mile. Self-pollinating plants, such as tomatoes, require much less distance for isolation. Tomato varieties need be only 10-50 feet apart. So it is important to find reliable information about how to plan for saving seed. "The Seed Garden" is an excellent resource, but I am certain you can find a lot online, as well.

One benefit of saving seeds is having a reliable supply that costs you nothing. If you want to put in more effort, you also can select seed only from the healthiest plants that exhibit the best desirable traits. Over the years, then you are cultivating plants better adapted to your garden's conditions, and exhibiting the traits you most desire.

Never save seed from unhealthy plants or splotchy fruits because the seeds could carry disease from one generation to the next.

I'll let you know how my seed saving goes. Let me know what your seed saving experiences are.