Category Archives: Seeds

The KISS Principle – Winter Sowing 101

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff

For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.

Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.

Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!  

My plants – June 2022. As you can see not all successful. I love the Hunk O’ (or Chunk O’) transplanting method once they have grown (see FAQs)

Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.

The Basics

So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).

You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?

My winter sowing containers – January 2022

You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.

Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.

Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.

Timing for Winter Sowing?

You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!

They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).

What Soil to use?

It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.

What Containers? The Ontario Twist

Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used –  juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.

You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.

How do I Label?

Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.

This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.

I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!

Want More Information?

Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group

Dolly Foster – Hort4U Winter Sowing Presentation

All The Dirt on Winter Sowing

Planting Native Seeds (Facebook link)

WinterSowing 101 – Jug Prep (if you have milk jugs) (Facebook link)

Frequently Asked Questions (Facebook link)

A Garden for the Winter Solstice

by Lois Scott, Peterborough Master Gardener

The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role.  I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.

I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden.  Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more

I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry.  I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries.  Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil.  It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds!  Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter?  That is a win-win for me! 

A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees.  Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal.  For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year.  In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.

I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Cool Season Crops

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

It is that time of year where we turn our attention to thoughts of what we would like to grow in the coming season.  Because of the pandemic, many of us have dabbled in sowing some seeds indoors. It does require time, space, proper lighting and the patience to check your seedlings every few days for proper moisture levels or any signs of disease.

Author’s Seed Catalogues for 2022

Begin planning your garden early.  Now is a good time to browse through the seed catalogues and decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need.

If you don’t have the time or desire to start seedlings indoors, there are many vegetables that can be seeded outdoors in the very early spring. They are known as cool season crops.

I look forward to getting out into my garden in the early spring, however, we should not start digging too soon as there are many beneficial insects and native bees that overwinter in the soil or under leaf litter.  They all need time to emerge from their long winter nap.  By growing cool season crops, I get to play in my garden early and benefit from a good supply of fresh vegetables.

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

All the following vegetables can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.

LETTUCE & GREENS

There are so many varieties of salad greens such as leaf, mustard, arugula and mesclun. Lettuce is generally a cool season plant, but newer varieties have been developed that will grow happily in the summer.  Salad greens can bolt quickly when the weather gets really warm, however, there are varieties that are more bolt tolerant.  I usually choose seed that I can sow early in the season.  These particular varieties can withstand some shade in the summer so I plant the seed behind a larger vegetable such as kale so that they get the protection they need from the hot sun. Be sure to check the seed package to understand when to sow, how to harvest, and how quickly the lettuce will bolt.

CARROT

Carrots need good drainage and work very well in raised beds.  They work best when planted as soon as the soil can be worked. They require plenty of sun.  The cultivated carrot originated in Afghanistan and was purple.  According to William Dam Seeds, they believe the orange carrot was developed around the 16th Century.  There are many different varieties and some of my favourites are the Nantes and I had great success last year with Nantes Napoli.

KALE

I find Kale a very easy vegetable to grow and it will last well into the fall.  It likes well drained soil.  It is best to harvest the young leaves as the older leaves will get quite tough and stringy.  It is rich in Vitamin C and frost will actually improve its flavour.  I really enjoy Vates, which is ruffled with a medium dark green leaf.  By using a row cover, we were enjoying kale in our salads well into the fall.

RADISH

Radish is amazingly quick to germinate.  I think they add the perfect crispy, peppery taste to a salad. If you plant the seeds early, it will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Radishes also work well for Succession Planting.  Radish varieties have evolved over the years and there are now several different sizes and colours.  I enjoy the French Breakfast varieties.

PEAS

Homegrown peas, whether cooked or raw always taste amazing.  Taller varieties do require some kind of support and will benefit from a fence or string for the vines.  Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller gardens and don’t require support.  They do need lots of sun but will tolerate some shade in the summer.  Smaller peas are tastier than larger ones, so be sure to harvest often.  The edible garden pea dates back to 16th century England.  I will admit not to have a lot of luck with peas.  I may be getting them planted too late in the spring and with instant summer heat, they do not do well! I am determined to try again this year.  My favourite are sugar snap peas and I would like to try one called Sugar Ann, that matures in 55 days and is a dwarf variety.

SPINACH

A favourite cool season vegetable to grow is the vitamin-rich spinach.  Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. They mature quickly.  As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. Row covers are advisable to protect the plants from leaf miner.  Many varieties have been developed to resist Downy Mildew.

Resources

A good resource for seed planting is Planting Chart Cheat Sheets – Square Foot Gardening

To understand your first and last frost date and when to plant, check out the following on-line tools OMAFRA Frost Dates

Hybrid or Heirloom?

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

It’s that wonderful time of year when the seed catalogues are arriving in the mail.  The many seed choices may be both enticing and overwhelming and for some, possibly confusing.  Terms like F-1 hybrid, heritage, and open pollinated may accompany tantalizing names like Red Ace F-1 hybrid beets or Brandywine Heirloom tomatoes.  What do these designations mean for a gardener?

Let’s start with the term F1 hybrid.  This term is used for first generation seed that follows the successful pollination of one genetically uniform plant variety with another specific genetically uniform variety.  From the University of California, see “What does “F1 Hybrid mean?”   It potentially takes years to develop the parent plants for these seeds which is why hybrid seeds are usually more expensive. The benefits of growing hybrid seed include a more vigorous plant, higher yield, improved disease resistance, shorter time to fruit maturation and consistent performance.  This is known as hybrid vigor.  If you grow a plant from hybrid seed, the seeds produced by your plant will not be ideal for saving as the offspring from these seeds will have unpredictable characteristics.

Open-pollinated seeds are from plants that get pollinated naturally by insects, the wind, birds, or people.  These plants are more genetically diverse which is considered beneficial as plants adapt from year to year to local growing conditions.  Some consider the flowers or fruit from open-pollinated seeds to have superior beauty or flavor.  Of importance to seed collectors is the fact that seed from open-pollinated plants will grow plants very similar (true-to-type) from year to year and are ideal for saving.  There are some details to know about seed saving which could be discussed in another blog but this link explains some of them: University of Minnesota Extension: Saving vegetable seeds.

Heirloom (sometimes referred to as Heritage) seeds are always open-pollinated and have a history of being passed down within a family or community for a number of years, with 50 years being the minimum for some seed companies. 

In my garden I grow both hybrid and open-pollinated seeds, including some heirlooms.  For a few reasons, I like growing mini cucumbers which are a hybrid variety, but I also enjoy growing heirloom greens, tomatoes, and open-pollinated annual flowers, and saving seed.  Having all options allows gardeners to choose the seeds that are best for their needs.

Resources

https://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/open-pollinated-heirloom-and-hybrid-seeds

https://www.growveg.com/guides/which-are-better-hybrid-or-open-pollinated-seeds/

Grow Lights

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

It’s getting close to that time of year when our thoughts turn to gardening and starting seeds. The seed catalogues come in the mail in the new year, the Master Gardeners have their Day for Gardeners (pre-covid, this was usually held in late February), and then there’s Seedy Sunday (usually held in mid-March, and still possible for 2022).

Starting seeds in your sunniest south-facing window is your best bet if you don’t have grow lights. When grow lights are used properly, you will have more compact, healthier seedlings to put out in your garden. And grow lights can be used year round to grow veggies indoors. They can be used for houseplants as well.

grow-lights-2683982_960_720

There are lots of different options for choosing grow lights from plant stands with fluorescent or LED lights suspended over your seed flats, to incandescent light bulbs that fit into a standard lamp. There are pros and cons to each type of light. For example, incandescent lights are cheapest, but the most expensive to operate. There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing and selecting the grow lights that will work best for you and the plants you want to grow. I’ve done a little research and found Lamps Plus and Modern Farmer have some good information to help you select and use your lights efficiently.

Resources:

Check out these sites for all you need to know to get started using these amazing lights.

Verbena bonariensis

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Verbena bonariensis Courtesy of pixabay.com

I was very intrigued by the plant known as Verbena bonariensis.  This particular Verbena is often shown growing in gardens on the British show Gardener’s World.

I managed to find seeds this spring from William Dam Seeds Ltd.  The package instructed me to start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost, however, due to a huge demand for seeds the past few years, my package arrived quite late and I was unable to start the seeds until well into April.  At the best of times, Verbena can be an erratic germinator and I was only successful getting one seed to germinate.  However, this one plant was a huge success and I will definitely be trying again next year, although I may be lucky to find some seedlings in my garden.

This plant is one of about 250 species in the genus Verbena. Most are not in cultivation.  It is native to Brazil and Argentina.  Bonariensis means ‘from Buenos Aires, Argentina’.  ‘Buenos’ means ‘good’ and ‘aires’ means ‘air’. It is a perennial in zones 7 to 11, therefore, is grown as an annual in the Peterborough region.  In some milder climates such as California, it can be considered a weed. Verbena bonariensis, also known as Tall Verbena or Brazilian Verbena has stiff upright branching stems.  It reaches a height of 3 to 6 feet and spreads 1 to 3 feet and is unlikely to fall over.  The stiff square and rough stems hold clusters of lilac-purple flowers from early summer right through to late fall.  The deep green, lance-shaped serrated leaves form a mounded rosette at the base of the plant.  The flowers are borne in rounded clusters 2 to 3 inches across.  The cut flowers last a long time in flower arrangements.  England’s Royal Horticultural Society Floral Committee awarded V. bonariensis an Award of Garden Merit (the Society’s symbol of excellence given to plants of outstanding garden value) “because of its attractive flowers and uncluttered habit.” They can make an unforgettable display and although they are tall plants, they have an open and airy appearance which lends them to being tucked in between other plants or even creating a dramatic appearance at the front of a border.  They sway in the breeze and are very attractive to butterflies, bees and other insects.  They prefer full sun to part shade in well-drained soil.

Our very hot summer did not affect its performance and knowing that they are drought tolerant once established is another plus for this plant. There are little known pests or diseases, although powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem.  White spots on the leaves do not seem to have much impact on blooming.

If you leave the flowers to develop seed heads for the birds, the plant may self-seed the following year.  As this was my first season with this plant, I will have to wait until the spring to see if my conditions are good for self-seeding.  I understand that they may not appear until late spring.

It is also possible to cultivate through cuttings and you can find out how to do this in this short video by the very well-known British gardener Monty Don.

Seed Saving and Bombing

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

With the autumn equinox right around the corner, this is the perfect time of year to be collecting seeds. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find seed collecting both rewarding and therapeutic. There is something about spending an intimate amount of time with different plant species, getting to know them and discover how the plant truly grew. It’s amazing that something as tall and beautiful as a Foxglove grows from the tiniest of seeds. Whether you are collecting seeds from fruits and vegetables, wildflowers, ornamental flowers, grasses or trees, you will notice that each seed has various characteristics that make it unique.

A homemade seed saving library that was installed in East City

I always carry a pen for labeling, a big stack of envelopes, usually a pair of secateurs or snips, and sometimes paper lunch bags for larger seeds. I go for a meditative walk through the woods or around my yard, carefully collecting my stash, labeling the envelopes or bags, and bringing them home for extra drying time. For some seeds I use a sieve to take off any chaff that is still clinging on, and then I weigh everything out on my scale and divide certain seeds up into packages I make out of old scraps of paper (vintage National Geographic magazines are my favourite to use). Before the pandemic started, there was an annual Seedy Sunday event held every March in Peterborough; keep your eyes and ears peeled for future dates because this is a great place to meet other seed collectors and swap findings.

Insects love to hang out amongst the pods. Always be sure to clean your seeds.

I encourage you to go for a walk around your property or nearby country road and collect your own seeds because not only is it a fun and free way to help you grow different plants on your own, but you can also share or sell any leftover seeds you have. Some of my favourite native varieties to collect are:

Aquilegia canadensis, wild columbine

Asclepsias tuberosa, butterfly weed

Aster novae-angliae, New England aster

Coreopsis lanceolata, lanceleaf coreopsis

Dalea purpurea, purple prairie clover

Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot

Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, aromatic aster

Another thing that I like to do is create seed bombs that I can use for guerilla gardening projects. Seed bombs are a great activity to do with kids and it encourages them to get messy and add to the beauty of this world. I personally like to “bomb” public areas around commercial properties and newly built subdivisions with wildflower seeds, anything to bring some life back into the beige-grey landscape.

Basic envelopes that I use when I am collecting seeds. Once I have everything at home I sort and clean them and put them in new labeled envelopes.

Materials you will need:

  • Wildflower seeds or seeds collected from the garden
  • Water
  • Peat-free compost.
  • Powdered clay (found in craft shops); some people also use cat litter
  • A bowl to mix everything in
  • A tray to dry the seed bombs on

How to build your bombs:

  1. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of seeds with 5 cups of compost and 2-3 cups of clay powder.
  2. Slowly mix in water with your hands until everything sticks together. It should have the same texture and consistency as muffin batter (kids love this because it’s like making slime)
  3. Roll the mixture into firm, even balls and then leave the balls to dry in a sunny or warm spot
  4. Once they are dry, plant your seed bombs by throwing them at bare parts of the garden or land and wait to see what pops up! (I usually like to time my guerrilla plantings with the rain).

If you are interested in learning more about seed saving locally, Jill Bishop from Nourish has some great reference material and sometimes offers workshops, especially to those who are members of local community gardens. https://nourishproject.ca/basics-seed-saving

Seeds of Diversity is another great resource https://seeds.ca/

Coriander seeds which I save and collect every year for culinary purposes.

Casting pods to Podcasts

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

One of my favourite things to do when I am gardening, especially at other peoples’ properties, is to listen to podcasts while I am working. Normally I would prefer to listen to the sound of nature, but that’s not always possible when you are weeding in congested neighbourhoods or planting next to the street, or heaven forbid, have to drown out the irritating noise of someone else’s noisy lawnmower (yuck). So in urban settings, I like to set up a playlist on my phone of a few different episodes from different presenters and allow their voices to guide me through whatever gardening task is at hand that day.

Collecting seeds in the author’s garden

I don’t know about you, but I take every waking moment I can to learn something new. I am constantly on the search for more local-based podcasts that are focused on gardening but I have yet to come across many (if any) Ontario-based independent podcasts associated with gardening (wink-wink nudge-nudge to those reading who have a knack for radio: get on this please!) Sure there is CBC and the ever-familiar voice of Ed Lawrence during his half-hour call-in Q&A segments, or Mark Cullen’s informative, albeit short, bits of advice (last updated in 2017), but that’s not the same as listening to an hour long interview solely dedicated to one topic.

Just for fun, I am going to list and associate some of my favourite podcasts with some of my favourite symbolic plants that produce interesting seed pods, especially those in which you can collect and cast around your garden, scattering and planting seeds like tidbits of knowledge one has learned from the voices heard through the headphones. Being a seed saver and sower is just as important as educating oneself about the future we have at stake, so grab your phone and earbuds and check out one (or all) of the following podcasts next time you are puttering about in the garden.  

Sea Holly, Eryngium spp.

Eryngium spp. (Sea holly): In Defense of Plants

Matt Candeias is hands down one of my favourite podcast hosts. The guy is a natural-born interviewer and just knows how to ask the right questions to his guests, whether they are scientists, activists, or the average plant obsessed person like you and I. Similar to the loyal and well-structured Sea Holly plant that symbolizes admiration, each episode of Candeias’ show can be something to admire because he makes sure to cover a new topic every week, discussing everything from carnivorous plants to paleobotany to ecological restoration.

https://www.indefenseofplants.com/podcast

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock): Cultivating Place

Jennifer Jewell’s weekly show focuses on the “conversations on natural history and the human impulse to gardening”. She takes the listener around the globe as she interviews various academics and gardeners about the impacts plants have had on humanity, and how they shape our collective global identity. Just like the hollyhock plant, every Cultivating Place episode is ambitious and to the point, acting as little capsules into different topics and periods of time.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

Papaver spp. (Poppy): Gardens, Weeds and Words

Let’s face it: the Brits not only know how to garden, but they know how to make the best gardening-related podcasts. Maybe it’s his calming accent, or maybe it’s his fantastic interviewing skills, but host Andrew Timothy O’Brien really does have a knack for creating a fantastic episode to listen to, even if they only come out once a month. Like the well-structured seedpods of the whimsical poppy plants, every episode brings me a feeling of peace, remembrance and pleasure, while also introducing me to a new guest that I can relate to in some way.

http://www.gardensweedsandwords.com/podcast

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed): The Native Plant Podcast

An informative American-based podcast that has that traditional talk radio sound and feel to it with a Virginian twang. Like the dignified milkweed plant, the majority of the episodes interview people about native plants found in North America, as well as insects (friend and foe), green infrastructure, dendrology, and wild edibles. As much as I have enjoyed the information I have learned from various episodes, I have to admit that the format is kind of dry. 

https://www.nativeplantpodcast.com/

Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon): The Organic Gardening Podcast

Another great UK-based podcast, hosts Chris Collins and Sarah Brown educate listeners every week about the most organic and sustainable gardening practices there are, from weed management, to mulches, to seed collecting, to rewilding. Just like the skull-looking seedpods of the beloved annual snapdragons, this podcast really hits the head on topics

Some other gardening-related podcasts that I recommend include:

-Talking Heads https://www.talkingheadspodcast.co.uk/ (UK)
-Down The Garden Path https://downthegardenpath.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-The Maritime Gardening Podcast https://maritimegardening.com/ (Can)
-The Daily Gardener https://thedailygardener.org/ (USA)
-The Grow Guide https://thegrowguide.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-Roots and All https://rootsandall.co.uk/thepodcast/ (UK)
-Urban Forestry Radio https://orchardpeople.com/podcasts/ (Can)

Which podcasts are your favourite? Or which seedpods are your favourite to collect (great list of images)? Are there any others you can suggest to fellow readers? Please leave a comment if you have something to share.

Casting Pods to Podcasts, Anica James.

And Sow it Begins

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

The season has begun! Canada Post has delivered seeds for this intrepid gardener to coax into cutting garden participants by providing the right conditions for survival and growth. In order to germinate, seeds need water, oxygen and warmth.  Some like foxglove have additional requirements such as light.  Once sown, seeds soak up water to soften their outer coat (“imbibition”) and then begin to metabolize stored food reserves.  A seedling soon appears.  At my house, seeds are germinated in a warm room and then moved to the sunroom where it is cooler and brighter.  My growing set up consists of a metal cart (two main levels) with adjustable grow lights hanging above the bottom shelf.  When space runs out on the cart, the tables in the sunroom are enlisted. To brush up on seed starting essentials check out the articles in the resources list.

Tips that have come in handy for me are highlighted below:

Online seed starting calculators.  I wish I had known about this before I calculated all my dates this year! Based on your last frost date, the calculator gives you the date to sow your seeds as well as an approximate date for transplanting seedlings outside. 

Sowing tiny seeds:  Gadgets don’t work for me.  This year I discovered pelleted foxglove seed and loved it.  Not only does the pellet make it large enough to handle easily, it is coloured so you can see it on the soil. For non-pelleted tiny seeds, I use a moistened toothpick to pick the seed up from a dish and drop into the plug tray. 

Vermiculite:  Once seeds are sown, covering the tops with vermiculite prevents the formation of a hard crust.  Tiny seeds such as snapdragons and foxglove get barely covered with a fine dusting.

Cold Germinators:  These are hard to start seeds like dara and bupleurum. Some annual varieties fall into this category. Put these seeds into the freezer to stratify for a few weeks. Try to not to forget where you put them.

Consistent Warm Temperature:  Most plants will germinate around 70F.  Bottom heat from a propagation mat can provide faster and more even germination.

Bottom Watering:  Using plug trays or cell packs in trays allows you to water from the bottom. Water wicks up from below reducing incidence of fungal disease and preventing tiny seeds from washing away. Option 2 – use a turkey baster to water small seedlings.  Time consuming but precise.

Supplemental Lighting:  Seedlings need 14-16 hours of good light to develop strong, stalky stems.  Even in the brightest room, the daylength is too short early in the season (February/March).

Succession Planting:  This involves sowing in batches, successively, every few weeks. This spreads out the flowering window and provides blooms over the season. 

Resources:

www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/flowers/succession-planting-flowers-planning-frequency-recordkeeping-tips.html

www.finegardening.com/article/10-seed-starting-tips

www.floretflowers.com/resources/seed-starting-101

www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/flowers/succession-planting-flowers-planning-frequency-recordkeeping-tips.html

YouTube Video: Indoor Grow Lights — $ vs $$$ comparison

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become”  
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax