Seedy Saturday! Getting into “garden mode”

Seedy Saturday is happening in Ottawa this Saturday, March 2nd at the Ron Kolbus community centre at Britannia Park. Seed exchange table, organic local farms selling heirloom seeds, free workshops and all kinds of goodies. An organic gardener’s MUST DO to get ready for planting season… check it!

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So I am a bit sheepish to admit this is my first blog post in nearly 6 months, basically since returning back to work. Call me lazy, but I find there is something about working a full-time job and raising a toddler that kind of eats into your “Oh, I think I’ll write a blog post about composting or garbage-picking” time.

Aaaanyway.

Here, I am, back at the computer, after all this time, motivated by the rapidly approaching spring and the need to start planning for indoor and outdoor planting. I know it’s hard to imagine that planting season is almost upon us when we have had such a hardcore winter that we’ve come to call -12 a “mild enough” day. But believe me people, it is almost here. Last year we planted our indoor seeds on March 10th… that’s in, like, only 2 weeks!

Ok, stop panicking (note to self: stop panicking.) Two weeks is a perfectly adequate length of time to plan a garden, provided you know where to start. Shameless self promotion here: If you DON’T know where to start and you’re thinking, after getting a few paragraphs into this post, that maybe you would like to grow some veggies this year, please shoot me an email and I’d love to come by and help out.

It definitely helps to have some experience testing out different seeds when you’re planning out what to grow. I find that with each passing year of experimenting with growing vegetables, I’ve gained a better understanding of what I like growing, how much is not enough/too much to plant, how often to plant, how much water things do/don’t like, what sorts of pests to watch for and how early and how often I can plant something, etc. etc.

I find it really helpful to sit down and make a plan, starting by thinking about what we loved from the last year(s), what we could have done without and what new veggie we’d like to try that we’ve never grown before.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Last year, we introduced Jerusalem artichoke – a definite winner, and I must learn to make a good roasted artichoke soup with them this year. We also planted our two peach and one nectarine trees, which produced a small but outrageously delicious crop of insect-free fruit. We also sprouted a sweet potato indoors and planted the slips… no spuds, but we’ll try again earlier this year! And of course there was the garlic. I still can’t believe it was the first year ever growing our own. We gifted several garlic braids to friends and family and ate garlic like we were living in a Twilight novel. We are definitely growing a lot more of that this year!

The big new thing for me this year is going to be flowers. Namely, medicinal or edible flowers. For starter, to keep it simple, maybe flax, echinacea, camomile, lavender, bee balm, nasturtiums and sunflowers. Other suggestions? I would also really love to get some raspberry and ground cherry bushes going. An old neighbour of mine grew ground cherries here in Ottawa, and they were off-the-hook. Ben and I tried planting some from seed here last year and failed miserably. This year I’ll do a bit more research.

See you at Seedy Saturday!

 

Say “Seeeeeeeds!”… Time for Seed Harvesting

Call it the “after thought harvest”… seed harvesting is not something that you might do or even think about if you are a newbie (or even seasoned) veggie grower. But if you don’t like forking out $3.50 a pack for organic seeds, then I suggest you give some thought, and a tiny bit of energy, to harvesting some seeds from your own crops to plant next year.

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Of course each crop variety has a slightly different method for harvesting its seeds. In the case of “fruiting” crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, the seeds are inside of the fruit, so must therefore be harvested from a picked fruit. I will leave those to a separate blog post later in the season… for now, let’s consider legumes and leafy crops, since that is what we’re harvesting right now.

Legumes (i.e. beans and peas) are the absolute simplest seed to harvest. Just allow a few of your pea and bean pods to fully mature and dry out on the vine. Harvest only after the pods are fully dried. A word of caution – don’t allow too many beans to fully mature off the bat or you will reduce the output of your plants. In the case of beans and peas, the more you pick, the more they produce! So wait until the plants are getting close to the end of their productive life before allowing pods to fully mature for seed harvesting. We have had excellent results with all peas and beans to date!

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

In the case of leafy crops the concept is simple – allow some of each crop to bolt, flower and go to seed, then allow the seeds to dry on the live plant before harvesting. I really cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the seed pods to dry fully on the plant before harvesting. If harvested too soon, the seeds may not be viable, or they may be difficult to store without rotting. This takes patience! For the last month we have been annoyingly stepping around a tangle of bolted cilantro to water our swiss chard, biding our time til the seeds are fully dried and ready to harvest… all for the love of sweet, sweet crushed coriander seed. (In the case of coriander, we save a few seeds for planting, but we use it religiously in all sorts of cooking.)

Cilantro (coriander) seeds... almost dry!

Cilantro (coriander) seeds… almost dry!

Over the last few years, we have had really good results harvesting seeds from the following leafy crops: all lettuces (… and did you know that lettuce plants have beautiful yellow flowers when they bolt?); spinach; arugula; dill; cilantro; and basil.

Once you have harvested the dried seed pods from the plant, release the individual seeds by rolling the pods between your thumb and fingers, gently crushing the dried pod. Place your harvested seeds in paper envelopes; I would advice against plastic since trapped humidity can make your seeds rot. Label, and store for next year in a cool, dry place. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make yourself a cute seed box to keep them all in …

Say Seeeeds!

Say Seeeeds!

FYI, to date, we have not had any success harvesting seeds from kale, although recently I started chatting with a man on an airplane who turned out to run a small cooperative farm. He said that you can totally harvest kale seeds, and that they are good for eating as a nutrient-packed sprouted seed! We are definitely going to try this in the fall… will keep you posted on that one.

 

Indoor planting… party?!

As if there is ever need of an excuse to eat fresh croissants with friends on a Sunday, but if you’re looking for one then an indoor seed-planting party is definitely a good one! The gist of the planting party is that everyone brings a little something to either plant or eat or both. Seeds are shared and planted in pots and flats, and everyone goes home with full bellies and an assortment of planted seeds to germinate indoors.

Jaune Flamme seedlings

Jaune Flamme seedlings

Due to Ottawa’s short(ish) growing season, if you’re planning on starting everything from seed, there are certain veggies that should be started up to eight weeks before the last frost date, which is May 6th, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We held our planting party March 10th*.

Here is a list of the seeds we planted indoors and the source for each:

  • Jaune Flamee tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Black Cherry tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Montreal Tasty tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Mixed bell pepper (seeds harvested from 2011 planting)
  • Beaver Dam Hot Pepper (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Hungarian hot pepper (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Evergreen bunching onion (Urban Harvest)
  • Rosa Bianca Eggplant (Urban Harvest)
  • Dill (Greta’s Organic Gardens)
  • Cilantro (seeds harvested from 2012 planting)
  • Basil (seeds harvested from 2012 planting)
  • Sunflowers (Seeds of Creation)
  • Watermelon (seed trading table at Seedy Saturday)
  • Cantaloupe (from Ben’s dad)
Pepper seedlings

Mixed “Mystery” bell pepper seedlings

Here is a list of some things that are important to prep before you host your own planting party:

  1. Have all of your seeds in order and sort out those that should be planted indoors. All seed packets will come with planting  instructions will say whether a crop should be started indoors.
  2. Determine approximately how many plants you would like of each crop… I tend to err on the high side because it’s fun to give away seedlings to neighbours, friends and colleagues. (It is amazing the goodies you can trade for you home-sprouted seedlings!) Once you know how many you want, you can figure out home many pots/planting flats you need, and how much potting soil you will need.
  3. Make sure all of your pots and/or planting flats are the type that allow drainage. Some of the flats come with a clear plastic lid which provides an excellent greenhouse effect for little seedlings.
  4. Have some trowels and a small watering can or spray bottle on hand. Ask friends to bring their own trowel and any small tools they think they’ll need.
  5. Labeling is key, especially when you have many people planting several different types of seeds. Have masking tape and a few sharpies on hand and make sure people are labeling as they go… last year we somehow ended up with something like 2-dozen eggplant plants and no pepper. Whoops!
  6. Pick your house’s sunniest spot and clear out an area for the flats to live for the next 6-8 weeks.
  7. Good music, good friends and good food also help make a highly successful indoor planting event. Duh.

Once seeds are planted they need to be kept warm, moist and sunny. Take good care of these little babies! In the week leading up to the planned date of outdoor transplanting, the indoor seedlings should be left outside for several hours a day to “harden” them. Read more about seedling hardening here.

Afterthought: We had good germination on most of the above listed crops, with the exception of the onions… I think this will be the last year we bother trying to start those by seed indoors.

It’s a little seedy around here

At this time of year, I get a lot of people asking me the same question when I tell them about the vegetable garden: “Where do you get your seeds?” In case you are also interested in the answer to this question, dear reader, I will tell you. There are the several places we get our seeds…

First of all, as much as possible we harvest seeds from our own garden for future planting. To date we’ve had success doing this with peas, beans, peppers, basil, cilantro, cantaloupe, lettuce, spinach and arugula. (Stay tuned this summer for a video blog series dedicated to showing you how to harvest from various crops.)

Hands down the best seed-buying event in Ottawa is Seedy Saturday – an event held in early March each year where numerous local (ON and QC) organic farms sell their seeds. For the last three years we have come home from this event with way more seeds than we planned from several of the farmers selling there, and have yet to be disappointed. The event also has a seed exchange table (i.e. FREE seeds if you have something to contribute to the table), some highly instructional gardening workshops and all sorts of scrumptious artisanal goodies to be found. Check out the Ecology Ottawa website for next year’s date.

Sugar snap pea seeds

Sugar snap peas from Ferme Tourne-Sol

There is one farm from which we’ve had some particularly incredible seeds: Ferme Tourne-Sol co-operative farm (les Cèdres, QC.) We have tried several of their tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peas, radishes, carrots and kale and everything has been very well germinating and producing. If you missed them at Seedy Saturday you can always order seeds from their website.

We are trying some fun potatoes this year! We have ordered four different varieties of fingerling potatoes from Bryson Farm.

We’ve also had good results with seeds from Greta’s Organic Gardens (Gloucester, ON) and Urban Harvest (Toronto, ON.)

Finally, I have been know to pick up certain herbs (rosemary, thyme, dill, chives) at the Parkdale Market, where you can often buy 3 plants for $5.

So, you could say we are not really one to buy seeds at Canadian Tire, preferring to take time to choose seeds that are heirloom as often as possible, and from organic producers. BUT, if that is what is easiest for you in order to get growing, then what better way to spend your CT dollars!