- Author: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
If you are just planting a garden for the first time you will, no doubt, want to grow tomatoes.
Once you tell someone you're putting in a new garden you likely will receive helpful(?) advice from friends and family.
No matter where you live there are a lot of funny rules for planting tomatoes. Some of this handed down wisdom is legitimate, but others are clearly just made up and passed along because they are memorable. When I first moved here, several people told me never to plant tomatoes before White Mountain Peak is snow-free. That's clearly too late most years, but it is easy to remember.
The thing about gardening is that every year is different. That's part of the challenge! For this year, at least if you live below 5,000 feet, you should already have planted your tomatoes. As I write this, it's April 27. If you haven't planted your tomatoes, get them in soon. It's probably about time in Coleville and Walker, too.
A good tomato for new gardeners is 'Juliet.' It's a grape tomato, but large for that type. It is good in salads and dehydrates wonderfully. Unlike some fussy slicing tomatoes, it will continue to set fruit all summer. A larger tomato that is tough to screw up is 'Celebrity.' I've had good luck with it in containers. It hasn't been a huge producer for me, but it has been very consistent all the way until fall. Many gardeners in our area raise 'Early Girl' without problems. All of these varieties are (usually) easy to find in our area. If you can't find these, just plant what you can get.
For almost everything in the garden, you should plant transplants level with the soil in the pot you get it in. That's true with tomatoes, too, but there is an exception: tall tomato transplants can be planted deeply if you pinch off the lower leaves. They will grow some new roots on their stems and survive the deep planting. You can do this to shorten the plants so your trellis has more room to support the vines. They also do fine if you don't plant deep.
Make sure that your plants are well-watered before transplanting, and them water them afterward.
For the first week or so after transplant, you may need to water more frequently than you expect since the roots are confined to a small area. Check on the plants a couple times during the day for the first week. You will see what they need.
Your plants will probably need some fertilizer. I use 1 tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water, and give each plant 1 cup of that solution within a few days of transplanting. You can use 1/3 cup of fish emulsion instead if you prefer, but it's stinky and of interest to skunks and raccoons. Repeat this in about a month or so.
Tomatoes are vines and require support. It is not a good idea to let them sprawl all over the ground. There are as many ways to stake tomatoes as there are gardeners. Anything that holds them up is fine, even a bamboo stake with the plants gently tied on works OK.
I use modified cheap tomato cages from the hardware store. Straight from the store, these things have a terrible design with the wide part at the top, so I cut off the 3 "legs" and bend them into hooks like tent stakes. I then turn the cage upside-down (small end up) and pin them to the soil with my newly made hooks. These are very secure, and hold plants well. The 2 pictures on this post show how it's done.
Whatever system you decide use is fine. Just be sure that it is secure.
The rest of the work of raising tomatoes is keeping the weeds and pests under control. If you check your plants daily, it's not that big a deal. Most tomato pests can be blasted off with water or plucked off by hand.
Hopefully you'll have a successful crop this year!
If you have questions contact the Master Gardener help line at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Author: Erich Warkentine
The Farm + Food Lab, located in the City of Irvine's Great Park, features themed raised-bed gardens, fruit trees, vertical gardening, a worm compost bin, and solar and wind-powered lights. It is operated by a partnership consisting of the City of Irvine, Solutions for Urban Ag, and the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County.
During a recent visit to Southern California, we visited the Farm + Food Lab. It turned out that officially it was closed due to high winds, but we introduced ourselves to two of the people who were working on site and were privileged to be given a private tour! Everyone had their own tour highlights, but two on which we all agreed were (1) the survivor tree – progeny of a tree from the center of the 9/11 building complex – which is now growing big and strong; and (2) three progeny of the Manzanar Pear Trees.
Some of the themed beds include the Pizza and Spaghetti Garden, Butterfly Garden and chicken coop, and pollinator garden.
The Orange County Master Gardeners present classes to the community on such topics as garden tool care and maintenance and fruit tree pruning and berry planting. Orange County Master Food Preservers have presented classes on food preserving.
For more information, see:
- Author: Jan Rhoades
Well, it is that time again. The holidays are over so I can spend dreamy nights curled up on the couch with the seed catalogues and sunny winter days digging in the garden beds. Ah, a gardener's heart filled with hope and joy for the coming season!
Thinking back on my veggie gardens, I have always planted borage. Somewhere along the way, someone made sure I knew how important it is as a garden addition. It attracts pollinators, is a beneficial companion plant, has nutritious edible leaves and flowers, is virtually pest free, and, as a bonus, it is a prolific self-seeder.
A historic medicinal herb, Borage (Borago officinalis), is a Mediterranean annual also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss. It's not only a favorite plant of honey bees, but also attracts bumble bees and small, native bees. It has served many purposes from the time of ancient Rome to the present. Pliny the Elder believed it to be an anti-depressant, and that it gave courage and comfort to the heart. Francis Bacon thought that borage had "an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie.” One old wives' tale states that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a promising man's drink, it would give him the courage to propose.
John Gerard's Herball (Published in 1597) mentions an old verse concerning the plant: "Ego Borago, Gaudia semper ago (I, Borage, bring always joys)". He states that "Those of our time do use the flowers in salads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind. The leaves and flowers of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy, as Syrup made of the flowers of Borage comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the frantic and lunatic person. The leaves eaten raw engender good blood, especially in those that have been lately sick.”
At one time borage was grown by beekeepers to boost honey production. It can be grown as an ornamental plant, but is also edible. You could say that borage is a sort of super plant.
In the garden, the claimed uses of borage include repelling pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aiding any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants — notably tomatoes, strawberries, legumes, spinach, brassicas, and squash. Some strawberry farmers set a few plants in their beds to enhance flavor and yield. Tomatoes planted near borage seem to improve in growth and disease resistance. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching.
It is an annual, but readily self-seeds and thrives in full sun. It is so proficient in self-seeding, in fact, that once a borage plant has established itself in your garden, you will likely never have to reseed again! The bloom period is different for various climates and growing zones. In my garden, borage will bloom from mid-spring to early fall. Borage will bloom for many weeks if the older flowers are trimmed off, and you can often push tattered plants to make a comeback by pruning them back halfway in midsummer. Healthy borage plants shed numerous black seeds, so expect to see volunteers for two years after growing borage. Self-sown borage seedlings are easy to dig and move, or you can pull and compost the ones you don't want.
Now, you may be thinking, “This is amazing! How in the world do I grow this miracle plant for myself?” It's quite simple actually. Seeds germinate easily and are best sown in full or partial sun under ½ inch (1 cm) of soil. Borage is not fussy and grows happily in poor soil. It's easy to sprinkle a patch with seeds and then cover it with a few handfuls of soil or compost. The plants can easily grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, so give them room to grow, and let them shade your partial sun plants. Water well until the seeds germinate and the plants are established, then water only when dry. Feed monthly with a balanced organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Treat this easy-to-keep herb well and it will reward you with scores of beautiful flowers, lush foliage, and fertile soils.
If the Borage begins to take over your garden just thin out by hand pulling the plants out. The shallow roots will dislodge easily. Remember that the stalks are prickly, so you may need to wear garden gloves.
- Author: Trina Tobey
I woke up on my seventeenth birthday to find my parent's juvenile maple tree had magically converted to a banana plant overnight and had a resident monkey…and no, I was not dreaming. My very creative friend Whitney had snuck into my yard in the middle of the night to tie bananas and a stuffed monkey from the tree limbs. Twenty years later, this “banana tree” is the most beguiling gift I have received.
I come from a family of practical jokers. My dad loves to prank my children, and they love to get their revenge whenever they can. So when my dad's birthday came around this year, my kids and I took a page from Whitney's book, and plotted the perfect gardening practical joke. My dad hates watermelon and so my daughter suggested we put a watermelon garden in his yard. We found the fake vines with leaves and garden gnome at the thrift store and new Family Dollar in town for less than $10 altogether. All that was left to buy was a few mini watermelons and voilà, we had an instant watermelon garden! We got up at 4:30 A.M. the morning of his birthday and stealthily tip-toed into his backyard planting our prank garden into the middle of his pristine lawn. Now, the most fun was his response. He took pictures and posted them on social media, texted family and friends, and grilled every suspect until my daughter finally caved under the pressure two days later. My mom said, “He really got a big kick out of that!”
Here are some other ideas for gardening pranks, but the possibilities are endless and guaranteed to make for great stories and laughs for years to come. You could decorate your friend's garden with the ugliest garden ornaments you can find at yard sales. Put a gnome, flamingo, or other figurine in a garden and move it periodically (like Elf on a Shelf) posing it to do various gardening tasks. Attach store bought fruit or vegetables to a plant of a different species (i.e. tie oranges to an apple tree). And then there is the rubber snake, always guaranteed to create a startle but not for the faint at heart.
Be creative, have fun, and, most importantly, pick the right person or they might not think it is funny.