Saturday, May 7, 2016

DIY seed tape

I have wanted to get seed tape for a couple of seasons running now. I had decided, though, that given how many seeds I have already accumulated that it only made economic sense to buy tape with seeds, which I have tried multiple times to germinate, but with only negligible success.
For me, that's seed tape for carrots.  There are a few things which I have difficulty growing, for Lord-knows-what-decent reason. Peas and carrots. Yep.

In a seed starting class, I had this eureka moment, when all my frustrations around growing from seed were illuminated.  A seed, the teacher said, had inside it all the energy it needed to emerge from the seed coat, and find the light. After that, it could make its own ‘food’ via the sun’s energy. But only just enough energy to get there.

Year after year of sitting around on the shelf, OR, finding itself in a soil which is nearly too heavy to move out of its way, can mean the seed never escapes. Exhausted (or having lost vitality sitting on said shelf) - it never seeds the light of day. Literally.

Many gardeners I know, get around the issue of poor germination due to our heavy clay soils, by spreading fine compost or a bag of potting soil, atop the native soil and using that as a planting medium. That sure does help a seed to emerge, but it is in for a big surprise when it begins to send down roots into much heavier soils. The non-native applied, lighter topsoil, is also at risk for blowing away during our windy springtimes.

Yet, seed tape, seemed an affordable way, to anchor tiny little carrot seeds just underneath soil line. (Just kissed by the soil, as a friend and long-time gardener advised me.) Also, I could more easily ensure a uniform planting depth — also a challenge when your native soil only comes up in clods!

So, around the house, I rounded up:
1_A roll of budget TP (the kind like tissue paper. Extra-gentle Charmin will not be ideal.)
2_A few brushes, Q-tips, or anything that works like a brush
3_My seeds & a shallow dish or plate to hold the seeds
4_A tweezers
5_A mixture of flour, cornstarch, or gelatin and water. (Yep, any of the 3 works great.)
a Cut the TP in half lengthwise, and then fold each of the resulting halves, in half again. You have material for (2) seedtapes.
b The mixture should not be so thick, that when you apply it to the TP, your brush sticks to the TP. Rather, it should nearly drip from your brush. The cornstarch wants to settle to the bottom of the water all the time; no problem. Simply dig your brush down to the bottom of the bowl each time you apply the dots to your TP.
c I did 10 dots at a time, applied the seed with my fingers (tweezers are handy only when stray seeds end up in the wrong spots), then folded the TP over the seeds. I dotted the cornstarch mix atop the top layer of TP, too, just to be sure the little seeds were nicely anchored.
d I worked on a plush bathtowel, so that there was a bit airflow below the TP for drying. Allow several hours or overnight to dry.
e I wound the resulting tape around old plastic bottle or old paper towel cores, and then slipped them into a ziploc for transport to the garden.

I found that I could complete one foot of tape for each 10 minutes I invested. So, it was great for gray days indoors or keeping my hands busy during a movie. It can seem tedious when the weather is beckoning you outdoors or you have more pressing things to do. 

I am hooked, I have to admit. What I found to be a great bennie to doing this onself, is that I could do custom compositions — alternating colors of snapdragons 1-2-3, or alternating veggie seeds with a companion crops, such as cabbage and dill. FUN, fun, fun!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Waterwise gardening?

Who doesn't like standing around with a hose in hand, on a hot summer day?   Let the rug rats frolic in the spray, but make sure that isn't all spent on your garden! 

Whether you live in a drier climate or not, with *overwatering* in your garden, comes:
1 Lost investment
2 Compromised root health and possibly root rot
3 Loss of oxygen to roots

The fascinating bit in all of this, is that a plant literally works to create a little zone of humidity around itself, through the phenomenon called transpiration - or the plant releasing water through its leaves. Its a zone of protection for it.

What impacts transpiration? Wind, humidity in the air, temperature and radiation. (Radiation triggers the pores on the leaves to open.)

A crop will meet its fullest potential if its transpiration needs are met.

Slow down the evap!

Organic matter IN THE SOIL, distributes water and cools the soil. (Work for 5% of your soil existing as organic matter.)

But organic dressings ATOP the soil, also helps your soil retain moisture - as you likely know.

Compost!  Newspaper! 
Grass clippings from your yard!  
Un-sprayed Straw or Hay (true, finding unsprayed is increasingly difficult)
and Leaves (avoiding glossy leaves such as cottonwood and excessive needles)

If insects hiding under your mulches - and staging a coup on your plants - is an issue in your garden, consider turning under these amendments slightly, say — a couple of inches. Only the topmost soil will be vulnerable to elemental exposure where not in the shade of a plant.

When to water?
As you’ve heard before, but it bears repeating, a plant can absorb more moisture if given in the wee hours of the morning, when its still cool. Plants will benefit most from your water in vestment. Also, think of avoiding watering where there are not roots presently, or where you do not when to stretch *to.*

Water infrequently and water deeply to encourage that root stretch!

How do I know if I’ve watered sufficiently?  Drive a screwdriver down into the soil 8 inches. If there is moist soil clinging to the end of the tool, your soil has been watered about right.

How do I know if I am under watering? 
No tassel? No flowers? No fruit?  Get some water to those roots!

*my notes from lecture by Nancy O’Brien, Master Gardener Jefferson County

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Planting Cabbage in late April

I just visited an artisanal sausage 'kitchen and watering hole' which serves sausages, for which the meat is ground on site. The sausages...the burgers.... while excellent, were almost outdone by their made-from-scratch ketchup, stoneground mustard & horseradish, and the assortments of PICKLES. The cabbage pickles were amazing and remind me, that I don't want to miss out on this from my garden this year.

Its cool outside yet, so its a perfect time to transplant my hardened off cabbage. The spacing seems to be ideally in a little spot 15 inches by 32 inches. No, I will not plant it in any location where brassica has been grown in the last 3 years. Good crop rotation will keep the bugs guessing!

In our climate where hail can strike anytime, its a great idea, to have a few on hand, which are grown simply because they can mature quickly. As cabbage can be grown in autumn, as well, tolerating freezing temps and even doing fine under a 3 mm layer of plastic sheeting, even if I had hail in August or September, I may be able to mature 'Derby Day' by Thanksgiving, as it requires only 58 days to maturity!

Now, for ensuring that its lined with great companions such as onions, dill and mint to keep the bugs at bay, and providing a great high-nitrogen fertilizer (which is the first number in the fertilizer digits on the bag N-P-K) such as bloodmeal or chicken manure, and I'm good to go!  Kimchi, here I come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Tulips are out! Hardy, Durable Tulips

Its a big day! The first tulips appear in the western-facing border garden.

I am hard-pressed to be able to point to anything which the former homeowner did to the home, which was lasting in any way. Most of it was done quickly, without expertise, or done with the cheapest materials available.

The exception is the tulips. (And maybe two rose bushes.) I can count on these lil' buggers showing up every year. In fact, I planted native "rose" bulbs from High Country Gardens in this dry and warm spot, which largely lives on springtime snows, but only one of these has returned 3 years later.

Instead, her red and orange-red tulips remain. I will invest in more of these this autumn, as tulips are generally planted in autumn. (Though, let it be known, that any forced bulbs which I purchase from my local supermarket, I do plant in late springtime. They skip a season of blooming, but do produce blossoms the following spring.) But what are they likely to be?

Better Homes and Gardens says that 'species' types of tulips generally are the longest lived. What the heck is a species type? Here's some good reading: I also turn to the Bible of Tulip sites: -- fascinating site -- but rather academic - do I decide to return one day. For my immediate questions, to this site I turn:

It turns out that tulips have been bread as cut flowers for so long -- 20 years plus - that we've lost the original appearance of tulips and their longevity for quite a while. The 'cutters' want a single, large blossom on a stem. They aren't interested in a long-lived plant as they will replace the bulb at the end of the season (throwing out the old one).  So, those plants/bulbs which are the closest to their 'wild' ancestors, retain the longest life.  Note, these types of tulips are often called 'Botanical Tulips.'

He writes, "Among the botanical tulips that are easy to grow in home gardens are Tulipa kaufmanniana and its hybrids (‘Ancilla’, ‘Concerto’, ‘Johann Strauss’ and many others), T. greigii and it hybrids (‘Cape Cod’,’ Pinnochio’, ‘Toronto’ and many others), T. fosteriana and its hybrids (the ‘Emperor’ series is the most widely grown), T. tarda (now T. urumiensis), T. turkestanica and T. praestans. Note that most botanical tulips do not need deep planting to perennialize well: the standard recommendation of 6 inches (15 cm) is generally quite acceptable."

The author also notes, that some tulips come from very hot dry places, where no rain falls in summer (About a hundred species of botanical tulips grow wild across the mountains of Central Asia, particularly in an area spanning from Turkey to Afghanistan.)  He cautions that the reader may want to avoid these. For us in high, dry climes -- this list is a true bonus as this is exactly what we need! I can't wait to try them!
"...T. clusiana, T. bakeriT. humilis, and their hybrids, such as T. ‘Lilac Wonder’ and T ‘Eastern Star’..."

Finally, some tulips have green chlorophyll in their petals, which allows them to produce food for themselves not only though leaves and stem, but also through their petals. This gives them a bit of edge in the non-food producing season of survival, winter. Yes! I can justify indulging my craving for decadent, green-striped parot tulips, then - and see what happens!

Finally, note there are some groundcovers which are better than others, over bulb flowers in general. One of these is creeping phlox.  Planting your bulbs under groundcovers that don't rob them of what they need to live - maybe even holding warmth in the soil over bulbs in winter - will also help ensure they come back year after year!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Silica - Beefing up your Veggie's Defenses

Not everyone has respect for all schools of Permaculture.  One school of thought in agriculture, called biodynamics, can't help but incorporate the awe for miracle of growth into specific composting and fertilizing practices. Some are very ancient.

I combed through a rather exhaustive list of these, one day last season, and was struck by how often animal horns were used - buried at the head of new rows planted, for example. Bones seemed to make sense, as I know all too well blossom end rot, that is, what happens to my trying-to-mature peppers and tomatoes when the calcium supplies are short in the soil. But, horns didn't seem to make quite as much sense to the modern, scientific-minded gardener.

But after reading about silica supplementation to plants-- now it does!

Human hair and nails, as are animal horns, are made of a tough protein called keratin. So what is the relationship of keratin to silica? Silica is needed for the creation (or synthesis of) of keratin - that is, without this trace mineral the cross-fiber strands, which lend strength to all connective tissue, are weak.

In the earth’s crust, silicon* is the second most abundant element after oxygen, making up 27.7% of the crust by mass. Its found in rocks and stones - but sadly, these days our soil is usually very deficient in silica. (Therefore our diet is also somewhat deficient in silica. For USDA recommended daily allowance, see here:

Effects of Si-treatment on growth of cvs. Hinohikari, Oochikara and lsi1 mutant. Aspects of wild type rice cvs. Hinohikari (a, d), Oochikara (b, e) and lsi1 mutant (c, f) were observed after control nutrient treatment of rice seedlings (a, b, c) and 14-day silicic acid treatment of rice seedlings (d, e, f) [7].(Photo from:

When a pathogen (or bug) launches an attack on your veggie plant, the first line of defense is the cell walls themselves. The tougher the better. The silica (as silicic acid) is moved by the plant from its roots through the xylem, and into the intercellular wall spaces, as 'plant opal.'  BUT, researches have also found that when a plant is supplemented with silica, it also triggers the natural defenses, or second line of defenses by the plant, namely the production of toxins to discourage or kill the predator/pathogen.

A good source of silica? Diatomaceous earth!  You've caught be writing about it more than once, now. In fact, the sharp particles of diatomaceous earth are the silica itself. It will even rip up chitin - the 'keratin' or tough connective outer tissue of fungi. Hence, its been touted as getting in the way of powdery mildew. But, the better use for silica in this case, is IN the soil- as vitamin for your plant.

For a Bible on plant defenses see:

*Silica is one form of silicon.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gardening Arms Length from my neighbor's Pet Waste Dump?

I was just cleaning out my vegetable bed, when the incessant barking of the dog just a foot or two away on the other side of a worn privacy fence, rose out of the background of my consciousness, and into conscious thought. Its been two dogs, 3 years, sun-up to sun-down and absolutely no cleaning of that tiny area where they intensively urinate and defecate during that time.

Crap! (On both accounts.) My vegetable beds are a mere 4 feet away. I wrestled with my hunches and hopes. It took me nearly a week to muster the drive to do the needed deep dive on pet waste and gardening.

I used to think those advertisements for pet toilets in public parks were silly and hilarious. But knowing what I know now, has transformed how I think about gardening, wearing shoes in the house and even wading in a street puddle! With 70-80 millions pets in the U.S. producing an avg 3/4 lb of poop per day -- that's 270 lbs per year, per pet --- one writer commented that we're literally swimming in pet waste. As a gardener, I need to understand this new landscape within which we're gardening.

1. So, what's in pet waste that I need to worry about?  A single gram of pet waste (that's about the size of a pea) contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. Pet wastes carry bacteria that make us very sick (pathogens), parasites and parasite eggs.

Academics writing about microorganisms causing illness through the water supply noted that one doesn't always know they are harboring a disease. There aren't always obvious symptoms. My last research showed that 3 out of 10 U.S. citizens had a parasite co-habitating - host unaware! But often, there ARE symptoms.
a) What are the symptoms of illness from bacteria in pet waste? Look for: fever, cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.

In the top '5' list of parasites U.S citizens experience, the CDC places pet-borne parasites (yes, pets) in position 3 & 4.  Some can be treated with anti-parasitical drugs, in other cases, only the symptoms can be treated.

b) What kind of symptoms would a person have who is infected by parasites or worms?  Watch out for:
1) A condition called Visceral Larval Migrans. The ascarid eggs hatch in a person’s small intestine. The little worms or larvae get into the blood stream and float to the liver. They migrate in the liver and get to the blood stream that goes to the lungs. Some may enter the general circulation and end up in different parts of the body. They have been found in the human heart, brain, spinal cord, skin, and other tissues. The symptoms would vary depending on where the larvae become attached.
2) Another condition is called Ocular Larval Migrans. The immature ascarid worms or larvae can affect the human eye. The larvae attack the retina and cause blindness. Many eyes of children have had to be removed which until recently was the only treatment for this problem.
In a pediatric hospital 37% of all the retinal diseases of children’s eyes were positive for dog ascarid larvae. This is definitely a potential human health hazard.”

Take it from these online-vets, who have everything to lose if perceived as anti-pet, when they say: "pet waste is the greatest source of potential health risk for your pet and your family."

2. The pets are in the neighbor's yard. Do I need to care? 
YES! There are many ways that pet waste reaches your edibles.

First, pet waste (and semi-spent birdseed from your feeder**) draws rats (and mice). Kitty-corner across the street, the neighbors' open compost pile, has already drawn a large rat into regular neighborhood rounds. Ugh. The worms the pet waste harbors, are passed along to the rat. Rats are not trained only to defecate in pet runs.
Second, flies will consume and lay eggs in pet feces. These same flies will then come into your house and then spread disease as they pause on your counter and food.  REALLY? Flies??? One source noted that we seem to underestimate how many of the diseases we come into contact with, originate with insects also noting that:  ''Houseflies can be used to illustrate the dangers posed by disease carriers. Flies, which have tastebuds on their feet, always land directly on the food they eat-and on any given day, that could mean raw sewage (a fly favorite) followed by picnic food. The hairs on a housefly's body can carry millions of pathogens, which then brush off on anything the fly touches....'''
Third, your shoes! According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)*, pet droppings can contribute to diseases animals pass to humans, called zoonoses. When infected dog poop is deposited... eggs of certain roundworms and other parasites can linger in the soil for years (one commenter on a forum noted a decade or longer). Anyone who comes into contact with that soil—be it through gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot or any other means—runs the risk of coming into contact with those eggs; especially your dog.
Finally,  as you might imagine, the soil, moisture conditions and height of the offending area vis-a-vis your gardens, are the first factors to consider. Given that my neighbors do not irrigate in our high desert climate - and the pet is defacating atop dry soils and piles of leaves, there is a lot of dust! That, combine with the fact, their yard is slightly higher than mine, means there is definitely some pet waste reaching my garden as dust and run off during springtime melts - both threats to vegetables below and above ground.

So, other living things, dust, moisture, natural seepage in soils, carry what is in your neighbor's domain into yours. 

3. Look, you say. No one ever gets sick from this stuff. Really. how do we know that PET wastes are what to blame for pathogens and bacteria in our environment? Where is the evidence?

In one study, the researchers looked at a waterway near a popular spot for pet walkers. They were able to use DNA markers to indeed confirm, the contaminants in the water they feared, originated with Fido.

In another study, agriculturalists wanted to know if pet waste could be turned into fertilizer. What they found was that, the pet waste would have to be incinerated at such high temps for an entire week to render the dangers benign. It was no longer worth it -- this from a raw input that's free & FREELY given. (So, keep that pet waste out of the compost!)

But do the pathogens actually enter the plant tissues?  Some companies, scientists and agencies are trying to find out. There have been many foodborne illnesses, which have broken out even after the produce was washed multiple times in chlorinated water, so it has lead to new studies analyzing how the pathogens enter the plant.

In one study, it was found that salmonella used the lettuce plant's photosynthesizing process to locate its stomata and climb inside.  In another study, the penetration of pathogens occurred all the way through the roots of the spinach plant, but didn't rise beyond the crown of the plant into its leaves.

4. So where to from here?
Gardeners can reduce their exposure by peeling root crops, removing the outer leaves of leafy crops, washing their produce and hands before eating, and leaving dirty garden gear outside.

Others write about how important compost and amendments are to the soil around your vegetables, thus providing an ideal enviroment for the population of bacteria, which may prey on parasites or their worms that originated with Fido.

I have decided to treat the ground near the neighbor's 'pet run' as I would contaminated soil and raise the bed up sufficiently to be safe.  Last season, I visited a nearby community's 'community garden' which used to be a storage facility for municipal vehicles, machines, supplies. They knew that the ground too contaminated for food production. All beds are raised at least 12 inches.

Risks to all producing food around animals - even pets - are real. Sadly no one - not municipal authorities in charge of waste or water quality, not decision-makers nor citizens - wants to discuss the facts. Its considered uncool and anti-pet or animal rights to speak out the facts. Have the boldness to start dialogue with pet owners closest to you.  If you're a pet owner? Do all you can to ensure your life with animals is a sustainable one.

*The University of Maine suggests locating gardens FAR from where a family pet roams and even notes that gardens should not be near bird feeders. 

** Are all the same risks in dog poop also present in human feces? One garden blogger I read claimed 'dog poo - human poo - all the same stuff.' NOPE. Nada. Not at all! Science, the CDC, the EPA and Wikipedia all agree on that one.

**I HIGHLY recommend reading this article from Food Safety News for more info on how pathogens get into plants:

campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:
campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:
campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How did the ol' Wintertime Cool Season Garden turn out?

The thrill of growing through the winter, is a thrill of which I'll never tire! This is the 3rd winter during which I have grown under hoop houses covered in 3mm plastic.  (The hoops are built of flexible plastic piping from the irrigation section of Home Depot and anchored with 2 ft sections of rebar.)

Fall consumption: Those crops which sown in late summer, are to be harvested though Thanksgiving. Now, I always mean to plant my autumn crops between July 23rd and August 7th or so. I do. I always mean to.  My greens were planted in mid-September instead. It was a true crapshoot. But it turned out to be worthwhile.
Springtime consumption: Those for which I did not have time to harvest before hard frost or snow OR which - if harvested - we’d be challenged to finish off before they spoiled. So, I opt to keep them in the ground.
My Redbor and Blue Curly kales did well. Our winter was so cold, though, that the remained the size they went into winter. So, only 1-2 inches, they remained this through all of winter. They will take off during the first warm spell of February; we'll be eating 'em soon!
Leeks (var: American Flag):  These I had planted in part-shade in my garden, and they started their lifecycle also crowded. The odds were stacked against them that they’d mature in time for end-of-growing season harvest. I kept them in the ground over the winter. Covered under plastic, which often was weighed down with heavy snow, they did terribly well. While they didn’t put on hardly any mass, they came out of even the crushing snow, rather unscathed.  I have picked (4) for soup and am letting another two dozen shake of winter slumber and thicken up a bit.
The same is true of other greens where finding a cold-hardy variety makes all the difference in winter survivability, incl:
Tatsoi  // Spinach (var:  Olympia) // Marvel of 4 seasons  & Reine des Glaces lettuces
Mature parsnips (var: All American):  These I left in the ground from last fall. They grew slightly —mostly in length (reaching for warmth?). When I saw the first new leaves emerging, to prevent them from becoming woody and hollow, I dug them up. A huge harvest!
Parsnip seedlings (var: All American): These were volunteers of a single parsnip I allowed to go to seed last summer. They double in size from 1 inch to 2 over the winter and have a great start on this growing season. They’ll be ready to eat by June 1.
Green onions: These are amazing little suckers in wintertime. Sure, the outer leaves turn dry and golden. But, inside, there are tender green onions for winter noodle bows. Guardian, from Territorial Seed, is an especially cold hard variety.
Kohlrabi: This is usually one of the top performers in my winter garden. Even if they get a bit woody on the outermost layers, they’ll be tender and sweet inside. This year, I put them in the ground too late. They grew to a height of 2 inches and have remained there all winter. If they don’t bolt, I’ll have little kohlrabi this spring.

Here’s where I am throwing in the towel:

1) Broccoli Raab: I must give up on this in our climate. I’ll eave this to those of you in marine climates.  I’ve tried it (2) autumns, and (2) springtimes. Even with faithful pruning, I am unable to foil my broccoli raab’s tendency to throw up flowers. The occasional super hot day, just confuse it too much. The remaining stalks are very tough.
2-3) I have also been unable to germinate Kailaan (Chinese broccoli) and Daikon radishes. I’ve tried several seasons for each - both spring and autumn. For the sake of delicious steaming winter noodle bowls, I may try a different seed company. Just one more time.