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Saving seeds from the winter garden, it's fun and easy

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog garlic chives seedsThese garlic chives have gone to seed and it's easy to see the plant is about to drop them. Photos by Doug Oster

I don't know about you, but I miss the garden already. Saving seeds is a great job this time of the year.

While walking through the flower and vegetable garden, it's easy to see that lots of plants have gone to seed. Even though it's been cold, those temperatures won't harm the seeds.

In my garden, there are garlic chives, marigolds, hostas, beans and more which will give up their seed easily.

All we are doing is mimicking nature by grabbing the seeds before the plant discards them.

There's one important thing to consider when saving seeds. There are two basic plant types, hybrid and open pollinated. Hybrid seeds might be sterile and won't produce the same plant, it reverts to a parent. OP seeds will produce something almost identical as the plant which it was saved from.

Sometimes hybrid seeds can sprout and grow something interesting. In the case of the hosta, one of those seeds could create a brand new cultivar. That's what I hope anyway. In the past, my seedlings always look identical to the plant I've saved the seeds from. But every once and a while a sport will sprout which will look completely different.

It's easy enough to see when seeds are ripe for the picking. Examine each species in an effort to harvest seeds just before the plant drops them. Seeds are living, breathing organisms, it's important they are mature. When they are, it insures the seed will have what ti needs to produce a plant next year.

Beans are an easy plant to start with. My favorite pole bean is the heirloom 'Cherokee Trail of Tears.' It was the first heirloom I ever grew, planted almost 30 years ago. I wrote a story about learning about the plant from the late Bob Janca. He started my life long obsession with heirlooms that continues today. Heirlooms can always be saved from year to year. In the case of beans, once they mature, dry and turn brown they are ready to be saved. The whole pod can be stored and then the seeds can be removed when it's time for planting.

I'll gently pick apart the hosta seed pods, dropping the black seeds into a paper bag. For other plants like garlic chives, they can be shaken into a bag or in the case of marigolds, the seed pods themselves can be saved.

Storage might be the most important aspect of seed saving besides maturity. It's imperative the seeds stay dry after being harvested.

After dropping into the paper bag, the seeds are brought inside, allowed to dry and then put into small paper envelopes.

Those envelopes are then put into a glass mason jar. Each one of my jars has silica gel in the bottom to be sure the seeds remain dry. Some gardeners use rice to absorb any moisture.

The jars are stored in the basement where they stay cool and it's dark.

Each species has different requirements for germinating. Some need a period of cold, others need it to be dark and some want light to sprout.

The hostas will be sown in late winter under lights. I'll know what I have as soon as they sprout. It's fun to tell garden visitors "those were started from seed."

I also love to give away seedlings and even the seeds to like minded gardeners.

Take a look around your garden and find some seeds to save, it's fun and you might discover the next great variety.

blog hosta seeds readyThese hosta seeds are ready to be shaken into a paper bag and saved for the winter.

blog marigold seedsmature marigold seed pods can be saved too.

blog tot seed pods'Cherokee Trail of Tears' pole bean is my favorite. These pods are ready to be picked and saved.

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Free garden books and more Sunday with Doug

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog give a wayI'm giving all of this stuff away on Sunday at 1 p.m.

I've got lots of books, bulbs and other gardening bling to giveaway Sunday. I'm presenting "Preparing the Garden for Spring (things you can do now, for your best garden ever)." I'll also be cooking with oysters all as part of Wholey's Oysterfest in the Strip at 1p.m.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

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Everything must go! Free garden giveaway Sunday with Doug

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog give a wayThis is just some of the garden bling I'm giving away this Sunday at Wholey's in the Strip. Photo by Doug Oster

I'm just finishing up vacation and part of the chores included cleaning my office. If you've ever seen the show Hoarders, you get the idea.

I've got tons of cool gardening things to giveaway this Sunday, 11/23/14, 1 p.m. at Wholey's in the Strip.

Not only will you walk away with a free gift or two, I'll be cooking with oysters for the store's annual Oysterfest event. You get to eat what I'm making and I'll also be talking gardening. I'll be presenting "Preparing the Garden for Spring (things you can do now, for your best garden ever)."

Hope to see you there!

 

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Floating row cover is a simple tool to keep the garden going

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog greens under floating row coverThese mustard greens and Swiss chard should go all winter under a floating row cover. Photo by Doug Oster

Tomatoes, peppers and vine crops look tired as they patiently wait for the first frost. But even though this is the end for them, it's just the start for other plants.

I don't know what it is that makes gardeners like myself want to extend the season. I know plenty of people who are happy for a well deserved rest as tender plants fade.

I can't do that.

By choosing plants which enjoy growing in cool weather, the garden can be productive most of the winter.

Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Veggie Gardener is a kindred spirit, her book is the definitive work on the subject.

She's much more accomplished at growing 365 days a year than I am, and she's gardening in Nova Scotia! I've learned a lot from her and love to keep harvesting into the winter.

My garden is planted with carrots, Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, kale, tatsoi, radishes, spinach and more.

Each bed is covered with a floating row cover. It's a spun bound, translucent fabric which acts as a greenhouse. It can be used for a few seasons if handled with care. The row cover is usually sold in 25 to 50 foot rolls and comes in various widths and thicknesses. It can be found at any good nursery or garden center.

I use 12 gauge wire to support the row cover which I find at my local hardware store. The fabric is so light, the plants themselves can support it, but I've found making hoops with the wire keeps the snow from crushing the plants.

It's not too late to plant if you can find some greens at a nursery. I've seen them locally at Hahn Nursery, Chapon's Greenhouse and Best Feeds.

I put down a couple bags of compost, tuck the plants into the soft soil and then protect them with the floating row cover.

What I love about gardening this time of the year is I don't have to worry about weeds, pests or watering.

There is something magical about going out to the vegetable garden, brushing off the snow and picking something wonderful and fresh from the garden.

 

 

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Garlic rules! Enjoying raw cloves on TV!

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog garlicNothing can compare to home grown garlic. Photo by Doug Oster

It's garlic planting time. This week's segment of Pittsburgh Today Live breaks down just how to plant it. Then I enjoy a raw clove of garlic with Jon Burnett and we both breathe on Kristine Sorensen, to her horror!

“It would be a sad world without garlic,” says my friend Johno Prascak. The Pittsburgh artist shares my obsession with garlic from the garden.
This is the perfect time to plant.
The first step is to start with the right garlic. It needs to be hardy for our areas, so farmer’s markets, local nurseries and garlic farms will well you the right thing. Most of the grocery store garlic isn’t hardy and is treated to retard sprouting.
I know for sure Hahn Nursery and Chapon’s Greenhouse has garlic for sale. But you’re favorite nursery might too.
Bob Zimmerman from Bobba-Mike’s Gourmet Garlic Farm in Ohio told me he has lots of ‘Music’ left. That’s my favorite variety, I’ve been ordering from Bob for over 15 years. The folks at Enon Valley Garlic have plenty of garlic left to order too. We’ve also become friends and they sell locally at the Sewickley, Ellwood City, Market Square and Chippewa farmer’s markets.
Once you have the right garlic, separate the head into cloves. Plant the biggest cloves three inches deep, six inches apart in good soil. I save the smaller cloves for the kitchen.
These garlic seeds are tasty. The only way to get any is grow your own.
In my garden, I mulch the bed with straw. Now all we have to do is wait until spring. Garlic growers get four harvests, not just one.

The first happens early in the spring when the greens sprout. They can be harvested lightly, remember the greens provide energy for the bulbs. But those early fat little sprouts sharing their show with the crocus signal the start of the season are delicious.
In early June a seed head called a scape will emerge. It must be removed so the bulb can reach its potential. They are a delicacy, I use them for pesto or grill them.
I leave some of those scapes in the garden. Even though they are no longer attached to the plant, the seed head will continue to swell and grow little bulbets that are a clone of the bulb.
When more than 50 percent of the greens turn brown in July it’s time to harvest the bulbs. They can be pulled out or gently coaxed with a garden fork. If you’re growing bulbs to store all winter they will need to be cured in a warm dry place for three weeks. Garlic lasts longer if the stalks are left attached.
There’s nothing like garlic from the garden, the fresh stuff is filled with oils that will make any recipe special. I even know a gardener who eats raw cloves out in his garden, guess who?

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