Soaking Garden Seeds

Visualize yourself totally stoked about gardening. In this picture you are getting some garden beds or containers ready for planting. Maybe your schedule lightened up and you found yourself with a free day to garden – to plant seeds. The cool of the morning ignited your enthusiasm and in just two or three hours you made the soil look gorgeous, fertile. “Wow,” you say. “Any seed will thrive in that soil.”

But wait! Before you throw those dry seeds from the packet into the dirt, please know this.

Seeds are miniature storehouses of information. Not only do they know how to produce a plant, they know how to protect themselves from the harsh conditions in nature. Seeds are encoded with inhibitors, a defense mechanism that gives them the ability to survive, to withstand overly wet or dry conditions, extreme temperatures, and, if eaten, to survive the acid filled digestive tract of an animal. Soaking seeds for 8 to 16 hours before planting leaches away these inhibitors; soaked seeds germinate at a much quicker rate.

Although you’re excited about weeding the earth and preparing the soil, (woo hoo – pat yourself on the back!) go ahead and pause. The soil will wait while the information rich seeds soak in warm water in preparation for planting.

If you have soaked seeds before, you may realize that wet seeds are more challenging to work with than the dry ones out of the packet. After soaking, rinse the seeds, drain the excess water, and then put them on a rag or washcloth. It’s also wise to keep a dry rag or cloth nearby when planting to wipe your hands on – the entire planting process goes more smoothly when you keep your fingers dry.

Happy Planting!

May your harvest be nutritious and delicious!

Planting a Fall Garden

In the midst of summer fun, those who love garden fresh greens for months to come will take the time now to sow the seeds of kale, cabbage, broccoli, and collards. When we are savvy and sow the seeds in August, these cruciferous crops get off to a healthy enough start to withstand frigid winter weather.

What is so beautiful about this reality is that we can harvest the greens, especially of kale and collards, all winter long and for most of next spring.

Use whatever space you have, a deck, balcony, patio, small plot, or large garden. After you purchase your seeds, soak them for 8 – 12 hours and sow these seeds ¼” deep in loose soil.

The choice to sow the seeds directly into beds or to start them in flats or small pots is up to you. Planting the seeds directly in four inch pots, about 25 cents each at garden centers, insures that you have a strong and vital plant when you are ready to transplant into beds or larger containers.

Another reason some choose to go the route of four inch pots is for the sake of enjoying the rest of the summer garden edibles until the time comes to harvest. When the tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, and summer squash come to their end, a little bed preparation goes a long way in setting the tone for the healthiest fall garden plants.

The great news in your near future (come six weeks down the road when the bed space is ready) is the kale, collard, cabbage and broccoli starts will be very well established.

August is also a good month to plant lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, beets, and, depending on your zone, rutabagas and parsnips. These plants tend to do best when directly sown into their permanent home, so skip the small pots on these crops.

A few herbs that tend to thrive when planted in August are chives, oregano, thyme, sage, and rosemary.

If you don’t have a full on backyard but do have a little space, like an apartment balcony or any place that gets sunshine, a few garage sale trips can help you to gather planters or miscellaneous items that can be transformed into planters. A five gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom works wonders.

First step, however, to relish in those luscious greens this fall and winter, is to start the seeds now. As you read this, consider grabbing a piece of scratch paper and jotting down your list of what you’ll need to buy or gather in order to feast on the fabulous fall and winter foods. If the fresh taste isn’t motivation enough, think of all the time and money you’ll save by not driving to the store, shopping, and spending cash on foods that you grew from tiny seeds!

Zucchini and Summer Squash

Summer Feasting

Zucchini and summer squash display such rapid middle of summer growth that some gardeners sneak out at night and gift their surplus on local doorsteps. If you discovered a mountain of summer squash in your garden or on your doorstep, steaming, sautéing, baking, grating raw in salads, slicing and dipping, dehydrating, and making noodle shapes for sauce are some of the many ways squash can be devoured.

Zucchini health benefitsUnlike the sweet fruits of summer, zucchini and summer squash are actually non-sweet fruits that tend to be easy to digest and very balancing to the body. So feel free to indulge and find new ways to eat these tender fruits. You’ll reap the health benefits these squash offer.

Recent studies have shown, zucchini and other summer squash rank in the top three foods high in antioxidant rich carotenoids like alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. Summer squash are also high in potassium, vitamin C, manganese, and vision preserving vitamin A, as well as B-1 and B-6. These nutrients support bone health including the health of the teeth, heart health, healthy weight, cancer prevention, collagen production (think beautiful skin) and eye health. Beyond eating them raw, steaming them with the skin intact (as opposed to boiling or microwaving), has been shown to be the best way to preserve those nutrients.

Summer squashes are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are relatives of both the melon and the cucumber. All parts of summer squash are edible, including the flesh, seeds, and skin. For Native Americans, squashes were so prized they were coined as one of the “Three Sisters” along with corn (maize) and beans.

Zucchini can have a yellow skin, green skin, or striped and speckled skin. Black Beauty, Golden, Caserta, Cocozelle, Round, and Dark Green are some of the popular varieties and as one more bonus, zucchini is one of the summer squash types that produces edible flowers.

Golden Summer Crookneck and Early Prolific Straightneck are the varieties many of us refer to as summer squash and they are most often yellow in color – although they can also be pale green.

Scallop Squash, also called Patty Pan, can be white, pale yellow, or light green in color and are the shape of a thick sand dollar or saucer. Scallop Squash often have a sweeter flesh than other summer squash.

The trick to harvesting fresh zucchini and summer squash all summer is to plant in succession in late spring, sowing a few seeds every two weeks. This way if your neighbor doesn’t leave you a basket of these beauties, you’ll still be enjoying squash in salads or warmed up with fresh garden tomatoes, basil, and onions. Instead of high carb noodles, make spirals or ribbons with your squash and then indulge in pasta sauces over nutrient rich, hydrating (95% water), low-calorie summer squash.

Feeling adventurous? Find novel ways to make zucchini bread and zucchini chips. Your search engine will lead you to many recipes, both raw and cooked, that you will be proud to present at parties or for just you and your clan.

Fall Container Gardening

The price of organic kale, collards, and broccoli are likely to continue to increase. So even if you have room for just a few containers on your deck or balcony, if you act quickly, you still have time to grow some gorgeous winter greens.

Most garden centers and nurseries have potted starts of kale, broccoli, and collards available during the month of September. This is a good thing, because it’s a bit late to start winter greens from seed in most zones after Labor Day.

Kale and collards are easy to grow and are the best bets for greens that will winter over. Spinach and chard, if you have the space, make for tasty fall feasts, yet once winter comes, the delicate leaves of chard, spinach, and lettuce are likely to wither away.

If you have gardened in containers before, you might have a designated space and a few supplies on hand – potting soil and some two, three, or five gallon containers with drainage holes. For container gardening, choose a potting soil that has vermiculite or perlite added, and if you anticipate heavy rains, consider adding a bit extra to help with drainage. A small amount of coarse sand can be mixed into the potting soil either with, or in lieu of, the vermiculite or perlite.

Minerals have a magic all their own. By adding a balanced fertilizer to the potting soil on the day you transplant, you’ll be giving the winter greens an extra boost. And – no surprise – when you eat these greens, the living minerals from the healthy vibrant plant will enter all the hungry cells of your body.

If you are growing on a deck or balcony, you will want to choose smaller containers that are spread evenly so they don’t put too much weight on your given foundation.

With a yard or patio you have more options when choosing containers. A creative gardener can make use of dozens of objects — anything that will drain — and turn them into growing containers. Some may be quite unique and some purely functional and practical.

A five gallon bucket with holes pierced in the bottom is a classic example of a functional, practical, garden container. With two gallon containers, plant just one or two kale or collard plants. A five gallon container can hold two to four and, as you continue to harvest the outer leaves, these plants will produce for months.

If you find yourself inspired to start a fall container garden, have fun with it!   Maybe a few garage sales or thrift stores will help you to gather some outrageously shaped non-toxic gadgets that can be transformed into growing pots. .

The sooner you can get to the nursery or garden center in September, the better your chances of getting some starts. So cheers to you and happy gardening!