March 2014
The Herb Farm

Counting Seeds Until Spring

 
  What am I?

This winter has presented itself with more sustained cold temperatures than I have seen in several years. Some of my hardy plants do not appear to be as hardy as they were in the past.

No matter, I am ready and welcoming the coming growing season. Unlike last year, I am ready! This year’s planting beds are laid out and documented in my journal. Seed catalogs have been carefully studied and my orders are in hand, waiting on the final tiller pass on the terra and then their respective planting days.

This is the beginning of the magical time of year for me. From last month’s big holiday, Groundhog Day, to the first day of spring - Tuesday, March 20, 11:57 a.m., I’m like a kid in a toy store. Needless to say, this time of year really gets me going! Every day is a new adventure in the garden. Why, I can even tolerate a snowflake or two in March.

The title of this article was more or less a tongue-in-cheek reference to something I do every year. But, I really do count seeds and organize them in anticipation of the great growing season.

Back in October, I received a few emails about organizing saved seeds from the garden, and what to do with the unplanted seeds from the previous season.

Some folks just do not get around to planting all of their purchased or saved seeds, for whatever reason, and want to save them until the next planting window. That is fine. I save some seeds for up to 3 years before I use them up.

   
Left to right, most pepper seeds look alike. However, some are a little darker in color or smaller than these. If you don’t know this one by sight then sniff it. Dill seed is a common seasoning for many culinary delights. Spearmint or peppermint? Neither, but it is a mint … lemon balm.
 

 

 

Left to right, chard seed can easily be confused with beets. Mustard green seeds should be sorted at the time of harvest as most Brassica seeds look alike. These are giant red mustard seeds and look almost identical to pak choi seeds. If you grow different types of basil then be sure to label your seeds when you harvest them.

Seeds such as lettuce seeds are purchased in such a large amount here that it is best to save the leftovers in the refrigerator for the next planting season. Keep in mind there are two planting seasons for salad greens and others; I personally plant about ten different kinds of lettuces alone. There are leftovers.

The best way to save seeds is to be organized with your collection methods and save seed packs with leftover seeds. Make sure they are labeled with the exact type and cultivar of seed.

If you have leftover seeds from your early plantings this season and want to save them for planting until late summer or early fall, place them in a container and save them in a refrigerator - NOT freezer.

 
  It takes so little effort to take cuttings and place them in a window. This Angel Wing Begonia is ready to be potted.

Some folks have emailed me about their unorthodox seed saving methods. I must admit, I have been guilty of the same poor practice in the past.

Instead of ditching the seedpods during the prime seed collection window, I used to put everything into a community collection bag (usually a 33-gallon leaf bag) and leave it untied until the pods had a chance to dry and I had a chance to sort them out. Sometimes, that was four months. Later, I discovered the best containers for storage and drying until the seed could be cleaned and sorted was paper bags. Instead of trapping moisture in, paper allows the moisture to escape, thus reducing the probability of fungus on the seed.

Finally, I began to discipline myself and as soon as the seed began to be ready for harvesting, I had many bags ready to accept the pods for drying. They are sorted according to cultivar and color.

There have also been several emails containing images of seeds the readers could not identify and wanted help with so they could plan their flower gardens. Unfortunately, all of the images were so blurry, they could not be identified. Either they were photographed too close for the lens to focus or so far away, the seed was too small to identify.

I decided to include a few general photographs of common seeds with brief descriptions for those of you who need a reminder of what they look like.

How many of you pinch and share your plants? By "pinch" I don’t mean the English slang euphemism, "steal." I mean to literally pinch off or take cuttings from your favorite plants to share with other folks. I have been doing it for many years. Whenever I’m out and about visiting or shopping and spot a plant I don’t have and would like to, I always ask first for approval and then cut a small piece with my pocket knife to take home and root.

In the fall and winter, my window ledges are filled with repurposed glass jars of water (we don’t have a glass recycling program nearby) with covers made from aluminum foil, holes punched through and plant cuttings taking root.

Begonias, geraniums, African violets, petunias, tomatoes, chili peppers, basils, hardy marigolds, lemon verbena, Stevia and, my biggest reward this season, patchouli are all brightening up my view of the world during the seemingly deadest time of the year. It is also nice to keep cuttings growing all year long like that. You never know when a visitor will ask you for a cutting of a particular begonia and you present them with a rooted cutting or, better yet, a potted version.

Why was the patchouli cutting my biggest reward? There was a malfunction with the cold frame and all of my potted ones froze. I stuck a broken piece in one of my window jars and forgot about it. That’s my little starter for this season.

Let’s talk a bit about pinching and sharing. Never pinch a piece of a plant in a nursery or botanical garden. Do not even ask for permission. It puts everyone involved in an awkward situation. When you are in a situation where it is appropriate to ask permission, don’t be greedy. Take a reasonable portion of a cutting that is as un-noticeable as possible. Better yet, if they offer to cut the piece for you, let them. You might get a bigger portion than you would have taken.

There are two things I will include in this column each month if there is room. 1) A photograph to have you guessing "What am I?" and 2) a recipe I have tried and proven it to be tasty.

So, last month and the month before I asked, "What am I?" There were no correct answers from readers. In January, the answer was the back of a "Little Gem" magnolia leaf. In February, it was the whole same tree silhouetted at sunset.

Now, it’s recipe time! After the issue came out I began to get emails from readers, asking for the recipe for the cranberry casserole I made to go with my broiled salmon. I was overwhelmed by the interest and I enjoyed answering the requests. Thanks for reading!

CRANBERRY CASSEROLE

 
  Gluten-free cranberry casserole baked without the topping.

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, soaked about an hour to hydrate

3-4 (3 cups) Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed

1 (20-ounce) large can pineapple tidbits, do not drain

1 cup granulated sugar (option: use equal amounts of brown and white sugar)

Topping:

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup gluten-free oats

½ cup pecans, chopped

1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray or wipe glass casserole dish with olive oil. Add casserole ingredients and stir. Combine topping ingredients except butter in a bowl and sprinkle on top of cranberry mixture. Slice butter and place the squares all over the top of the casserole.

If you want extra liquid, add a small can of pineapple juice. For less liquid, bake a little longer. Note: It dries some as it cools, so watch your project.

Bake for about an hour.

The topping is optional. It’s just as tasty without it. I don’t usually use a whole stick of butter on top if I don’t add the topping ingredients, so be your own judge.

Anyway you make it, this is quite tasty! It’s good hot, room temperature or cold. Try warming it a bit and adding a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream for a delicious desert.

Until next time; remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Happy Vernal Equinox!

For more information, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Be sure to find me on Facebook at: Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.