A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘sowing’

Wildflowers on Order for 2011

Having looked through countless pages of wildflowers for our area, I’ve made my final decisions for next year!  I placed my order through Wildseedfarms.com of Fredericksburg, Texas.  I loved the annuals corn poppies and cornflowers so much that I’ve ordered them again this time around.

Corn Poppies (image copyright by RoundRockGarden)

Cornflowers (image copyright by RoundRockGarden)

In addition, I chose Purple Coneflower (echinacea), which can be used medicinally.  It reportedly grows up to five feet tall and blooms from April through September.  Bees and butterflies love these!  From what I’ve read, purple coneflower is a perennial.

Purple Coneflower (image copyright by Wildseedfarms.com)

Chicory is the next flower I chose.  It sports periwinkle-colored blooms that last only a single day, but flowers June through October, growing up to 4 feet tall.  Bees, butterflies, wasps and lacewings enjoy nectaring on chicory.  The leaves can be used as a nutritious addition to salads, while the roots can be dried in the oven, ground and used as a coffee substitute.  Chicory is a perennial.

Chicory flowers (image copyright by Wildseedfarms.com)

To add more red to the garden, I chose the almost fluorescent Scarlet Flax.  This variety is shorter than the rest, measuring up to only two feet or less, but blooms from late spring all the way through fall.   It is also an annual.

Scarlet Flax (image copyright by Wildseedfarms.com)

Finally, I’ve decided against the larger sunflowers this year and chose Maximilian Sunflowers.  These are wonderful sunflowers you see all over Central Texas.  Growing from 3-10 feet tall in thick mounds, they make a nice natural hedge absolutely covered in multiple blooms up to 5 inches across.  These are also perennials, and bloom from late summer through fall.

Maximilian Sunflowers (From NPS.Gov)

With the exception of the sunflowers, all of these wildflowers can be directly sown in fall.  I’ll be preparing the beds in the coming weeks and get them sown by the end of October so they can establish themselves and put on a great show in 2011.  Unlike last year, when I used a wildflower mix, I will be sowing these in groupings so as to ensure a good representation of each.

I can hardly wait to see how colorful the garden will be next year with all of these new additions, PLUS the milkweed and the native flowering plants I put in earlier this spring!  Who knows, I may also have coreopsis and primrose come up from last year’s sowing … and maybe even bluebonnets that failed to germinate!

Have you made your wildflower order yet?

Wildflower anticipation

Spring is finally upon us and the wildflower bed I prepared last fall is teeming with greenness!   This is the first time I’ve sown wildflower seeds and I have no idea what each of these plants are, but there are hundreds of them!    I purchased the seeds from  mybluebonnets.com, a local Austin seed distributor.   The package said the seed mix contained the following wildflowers:  bluebonnets, Indian blankets, purple coneflower (echinacea), phlox, cornflower, cosmos, corn and California poppy, daisy, scarlet flax, primrose, Mexican hat, and Indian paintbrush.

I did very little to prepare the bed.  The grass was mostly dead along the fenceline in the back, so I stripped the sod along 30 feet of the fence and about 1 1/2 feet wide.  Then I edged the bed with rocks and poured a little topsoil and compost into the bed before sowing.  Then I simply scattered the seeds and covered with another dusting of topsoil.  The most eager of the seeds germinated within a couple of weeks, but it didn’t take long for a carpet of green to form all throughout the bed.  Today, nearly six months later, many are now over my knees and preparing to put on a show.  Somewhat disappointing is the fact that I can only find one bluebonnet, and it doesn’t appear to want to flower.  I did find this explanation on mybluebonnets.com:

“Adapted to the rocky, alkaline soils of the Hill Country – and to its frequent droughts – Bluebonnets produce large, hard-coated seeds that may cause them to have a low germination rate the first year or two. This is Nature’s “insurance” so that, in case of drought, residual seeds are left in the soil for the following year. As the hard seed coats wear down from abrasion and decay, with some water the seedlings begin to sprout.”

I made sure I either cut with a knife, or rubbed with sandpaper every seed I sowed (which took a long time!).  The seeds are extremely hard, like pebbles.  Disappointing that I can see only one!  Even still, I’m eager for the colorful blooms, of  the other wildflowers, the bees, the butterflies and, of course, posting pictures!

In the meantime, I have to contain my anticipation by taking pictures as the flowers are preparing to bloom.  Perhaps someone out there can help me identify these flowers simply by the foliage?

Look at how tall they are standing!

Wildflower bed, northeast corner of yard

The east fenceline

A flower bulb forming in the center below

Close up of a forming flower head

another type ...

This looks slightly different...

one of the tallest growing so far...

I love the fluffy leaves of this plant

I love the furry leaves

Even the stems are fuzzy

Fuzzies everywhere

Here is the wildflower bed as the seeds started to germinate.

When is your last freeze?

Dave’s Garden has a great tool you can use to enter your zip code and receive your area’s last/first frost dates.

Not only that, but it will provide local “detailed station data” highlighting the percentage of likelihood of receiving frost at particular dates in your immediate area.  The result summary will also tell you when you are virtually guaranteed to/not to receive frost.  For example, a search for Round Rock, Texas came up with the following summary:

My results: "You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from March 30 through October 31."

With that information in mind, you can sow seeds indoors according to the seed packet directions and have them ready to go when Mother Nature is ready!

Indoor Seed-Sowing for Spring

Saturday was a beautiful day of sunshine.  I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to spend gardening, but I think I made the most of what little time I had.

I pulled up the remaining carrots.  There were slightly more than three dozen, all with varying sizes.   In retrospect, I need to do a better job of thinning the carrots to 2″ apart.  Most of these were just too close together and it limited how big they were able to grow.   They had incredibly long tap roots, but they just didn’t fatten up and fill out like they should have due to space restrictions and probably less available nutrients.  Still, there were several good-sized carrots.   I went ahead and worked the soil well and planted five more rows – three of the Danver’s half-long and two of the Big Top.  (For the record, the three rows closest to the lettuce and marked by wooden sticks are of the Danver’s variety.   Last time I couldn’t remember what was what after they grew!)  In the fall, I think I’ll dedicate the 3’x3′ broccoli bed to carrots.  The broccoli needs to be rotated, and I need more room for carrots.  So far, they seem like an easy crop to grow and, as I’ve mentioned before, they are a common staple at our house.  It makes sense to have a bigger bed that I can successively sow seeds in.

I transplanted about six more lettuce plants and then cut three more heads down for our use this week.   I have another half dozen transplanted into cups, which are growing under lights in the garage.  I’ll pull up the roots of the heads I just harvested, plus I think I currently have space for a couple more in the bed, so that should give me room to transplant the remaining plants.  That will probably conclude my lettuce planting for the year.  Oh, and I still have many sprouts of the organic lettuce blend coming up, which will need to be thinned out after they’re a couple inches tall.  The blanket of snow we received last week did absolutely nothing to the sprouts, luckily.

It was also time to start the rest of the veggies for transplanting at the end of March.  I’m going to try the zucchini, cucumbers and squash again.  Because I had half a pack of seeds of each leftover from fall, I decided to go with the same varieties:  Black Beauty, Straight Eight and heirloom Yellow Crookneck.  I have eight seeds of each sown.   I started eight containers of Tendergreen bush beans, but I also need to do another eight or so Bush Lake Beans here in a couple of days.   To get a jump start on the sunflowers, I started them in large paper pots – I started about half a dozen Russian Mammoth.   These seeds are all sitting in a sunny window covered with plastic until they sprout.  Finally, I sowed about twelve chives.   These need darkness to germinate, so they are sitting in a closet for now.

The cayenne (4) and bell peppers (5) are now 3-4″ tall.  They weren’t growing very fast out in the garage due to the colder temperatures.  I moved them indoors to the sunniest windowsill where it’s at least 65 degrees.  I placed them into a recycled, clear-plastic Baby Spinach tub and then used binder clips to attach another tub on top.  This created a mini-greenhouse.   As it sits in the sun, the entire container warms up and gives the pepper roots the warmth they need to grow.  Since doing this, they’ve grown at least 2″ in the past week!  Mental note: next fall, purchase a couple of heating mats for germination and seedlings.  This will accelerate growth and I’ll have healthier and bigger plants to transplant.

In addition the all of the above, I have a dozen or so Sweet Alyssum, four Mexican Mint Marigold, six Verbena, twelve Black-Eyed Susan (just starting to germinate!), four Calabrese Broccoli and one Bloomsdale Spinach plants growing from seed.

Small triumphs are nourishment for the soul

It looks like the transplants are starting to take off now after a few days – the broccoli all looks to have survived the deeper planting and their stems appear firm.

A little added luck:  the only spinach plant that sprouted, which then got nibbled off by our tubby cat, also looks to have survived.

The lettuce needs to be transplanted from the starter kit, so I’ll do that tomorrow or over the weekend.  Meanwhile, I have lettuce transplants temporarily sitting in plastic cups awaiting to go in my mother-in-law’s garden beds.  I’m surprised at how quickly the lettuce transplants have grown over the past few days.  Although they are the same age as the plants in the starter kit, they’re easily double their size now that they’re in a larger container.  The roots on the lettuce plants still in the starter lit have escaped their cells and are snaking along the mat-wick.  Amazingly, I found roots going through the mat-wick to the reservoir below!  I’d say it’s time to transplant them!   Also germinated are several Verbena, Sweet Alyssum, and Mexican Mint Marigold (left 3 rows of starter kit).  I checked the flat of alyssum plants I had last fall.  It’s been sitting outside.  They’ all seeded and have since re-sprouted, so I gave them a good watering to help them along.

I’m pretty happy with the setup and with the results thus far.  I was worried about the broccoli, but I think it’s going to do just fine if not better now.

Plants and transplants

Transplants with rebounded broccoli

Lettuce transplants awaiting, well - another transplant.

The spinach stands alone - but at least it's still standing!

Lettuce roots

Saving the broccoli + Burpee growing pellets

I had to rescue the broccoli seedlings this morning.  They started to droop a few days ago and they only got worse.  I read that this often happens with young broccoli plants, especially if they aren’t moved under lights soon enough.  I don’t know if that is the issue or not here, but I replanted each of them in an effort to save them.  One was already looking pretty rough, with one of the leaves beginning to die.  I pulled each one out of their individual cells and replanted them in a larger paper planter using Jiffy Mix.  I gently removed the soil from around the roots, so that it would sit further down in the new pot and then I buried the stem almost up to the first set of leaves.

I think this will give them support as they spread their roots and strengthen the main stem.

As I was already transplanting, I decided to go ahead and transplant the peppers and spinach.  I also transplanted six lettuce plants for my mother-in-law.  I’ll be going over there this afternoon to build her some boxes and help get her garden going.  The lettuce will need to be hardened for a few days before she can plant it, so I have them sitting outside in the shade.  They’ll be “good to go” by mid-week as I gradually set them out longer each day.

After I finished transplanting, I set the tray in the sunlight coming through the back patio door.  Not five minutes later I found one of our cats sitting happily in the sun next to the tray.  Then I realized The Gut (as we affectionately refer to him, a.k.a. Fatty, a.k.a. Mr. Boones, a.k.a. Roadkill) had already eaten the spinach plant, a broccoli plant and half a cayenne plant!   Needless to say, I chased him off and the plants are in a safer place.

Transplanting from Burpee Growing System using Jiffy Mix:

Removing the plants from their individual cells is not especially easy given that there are 35 other plants in the same tray with the one you are trying to remove!  With a little practice, patience and care, it is do-able without destroying the cell and therefore keeping it intact to use again.  The best way I’ve found is to turn the tray to a 45 degree angle, gently push upwards from the bottom of the cell, and then pinch the plastic together while grabbing the emerging soil and pulling out.

Jiffy Mix is a very light, dry and loose material.   It doesn’t soak up water immediately without some help and if you use it dry it will take awhile for water to penetrate the soil fully without leaving any dry spots around your transplant.  After trial and error, I’ve learned that it’s best to put a small amount of Jiffy Mix in the new container, about half-way full, then fill the container about 3/4 full with water.  I gently shake the pot side to side to incorporate the water into the mix and add a little more water if the soil isn’t watery and sit flat.  Then I take the transplant and stick it into the Jiffy Mix, pushing down gently at the base of the plant.  If the mix is wet enough, the transplant should push easily down into it, and it will rise around the bottom of the root ball.  This helps hold the plant upright as I use a cup and add dry Jiffy Mix around it until it’s about an inch or so from the top.  Then I fill the pot with water to the top and let that settle in.  This takes a few times to get the soil saturated.  Using a spoon, I gently pack down the dirt around the plant, and if needed, put in a little more mix.

Fill the paper planter half way with jiffy mix

Paper planter 1/2 full with dry Jiffy Mix

Pour water into planter until it is 3/4 full, shake until incorporated

Carefully remove the seedling from its cell

Place the seedling in the wet Jiffy Mix and press down gently

Fill with a more Jiffy Mix to top off

Using a spoon, gently firm the the dirt around the seedling

The finished transplant

Finished transplants

Burpee Growing Pellets

The Burpee pellets are a cool mini-experiment in and of themselves.  They are super compressed, and after adding water they grow six times their size.

Dried Burpee growing pellet

Burpee pellet, slightly expanded

Fully expanded

I snapped this neat little video on my camera:

I especially like the sound as it expands!   These pellets are really simple to use.   All you have to do is make sure they stay flat.  Don’t drop them in on their side or they’ll expand sideways and become stuck.  Also be sure that they don’t float over on their side after adding water.

Indoor Sowing Dates for Veggies

It’s less than six weeks until the average last frost date here in the Austin area.   If you haven’t started your seeds yet, it may be time to do so if you plan to get a head start on the growing season.  Because Spring typically is short-lived before temperatures reach the nineties here in Austin, it is a good idea to start plants indoors and transplant them later.  Doing so will ensure a healthier plant and faster/longer harvest.

As a general guide, here are recommendations I found online regarding more popular types of veggies.  Below is the number of weeks seeds should be sown inside prior to transplanting into the garden.   As always, don’t forget to account for a few days of hardening off, and remember that plants cannot go out until all danger of frost has passed.  Some plants cannot go outside until the soil warms to 70 degrees.

Beans: direct sow, they grow too quickly

Broccoli/Cabbage/Cauliflower: 4-6 weeks

Carrots: direct sow, the taproot grows the most in first few weeks

Cucumbers: 4-5 weeks, no more than 5

Lettuce: direct sow or start 4 weeks before transplanting

Melons: 4 weeks at most

Peppers:  8 weeks – not until soil is 70 degrees (plan on April 1st)

Pumpkins/squash:  no more than 3-4 weeks.

Spinach:  6-8 weeks

Tomato: 5-6 weeks

The planting window closes for some of the cooler crops like carrots, spinach and lettuce within the month, so those should be started right away.  Spinach and lettuce transplants can probably still go into the ground through mid-March.

I’ve started broccoli, which I should be transplanting in two more weeks.  I also have one spinach (1 out of 6 germinated!) that I’ll transplant the first week of March.  I have more carrot seeds that I will direct sow this weekend in the space left behind by the carrots I harvested.  I have eighteen lettuce plants going and I’ll transplant them in the next two weeks as well.  I have also started a couple dozen pepper plants (habanero, jalapeno, cayenne and bell).  I’ll have to transplant them one or two times before they are permanently placed in the garden.

All of these times can be a somewhat daunting task to remember and keep straight.  This is why I record my sowing times and plan out the sowing schedule for the season ahead of time.  This is also one of the major reasons why I keep this blog, as a reference tool/chronicle of what I’ve done in the garden.