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Saving seeds 101

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog hosta seedsThese hosta seeds are ready for harvest. Photo by Doug Oster

The seed pods of a hosta have dried and turned brown. Some have even cracked open and are waiting for a hard rain or strong wind to knock the seeds to the ground.

Many plants are getting ready to drop seeds this time of the year in an effort to perpetuate the species.

It's fun to save seeds, plant them next season and see what sprouts.

Every plant has a different time and way to distribute its 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 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.

It's easy enough to see that this hosta is 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.

I'll gently pick apart the hosta seed pods, dropping the black seeds into a paper bag.

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.

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.

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

 

 

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Learn beekeeping and chickens 101

Written by Doug Oster on .

Blog SCG BEE LANDINGHoney bees are fun to raise and make lots of honey too. Photo by Doug Oster


If learning about raising bees and chickens has been on your bucket list, here's an opportunity to learn about both pastimes. Joe Zgurzynski was one of the instructors which taught me beekeeping.

Tending to bees and chickens was one of the things I always dreamed about doing and I'm so glad I have both around my garden. It takes a little work, but if your inspired to raise either, it's pretty easy.

The honey and eggs are wonderful, but the satisfaction of raising bees and chickens is something which makes us smile.

Here are the details-

First Year Beekeeping Class on Saturday, November 16, 2013 
Where: Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, 614 Dorseyville Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238
When: This is a one day class to be held on Saturday, November 16th 2013 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Description: This is a classroom-based course offering an introduction to honey bee biology and basic approaches to beekeeping.  The goal is for students to learn how to keep bees for the first year.  There may be an opportunity for an onsite apiary visit if the weather permits for interested students who have protective gear.  Fee: $115, Pre-Registration Required. Email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  for a registration form and more detailed information ASAP.

Backyard Chickens Workshop Saturday, November 23, 2013
Where: Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, 614 Dorseyville Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238
When: This is a one day class to be held on Saturday, November 23rd 2013 from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm
Description:  This is a classroom based workshop offering an introduction to small scale chicken husbandry.  Learn how to keep these interesting birds healthy and happy.  They are great pets that will produce a few eggs too! Fee: $65, Pre-Registration Required. Email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  for a registration form and more detailed information ASAP.

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The first taste of paw paws, a gardener's surprise

Written by Doug Oster on .

After speaking to the Sewickley Village Garden Club, I was dying to see Heather Saftner's garden. The large, formal landscape was designed by Ellen Biddel Shipman, who was a famous garden designer of the day. Heather wants the space to be a gathering place for her family. She shares the home with her husband and six children.

Heather and her husband Clay are slowly restoring the garden and as we approached the main entrance I was shocked to see two paw paw trees flanking the main stairway. "What are they," Heather said after seeing my excitement. As I reached up to gently squeeze the ripening fruit, I yelled out, 'they're paw paws."

Her four old son Cale was with us and helped carry the fruit to the house.

It's always exciting as a gardener to turn someone on to a new thing. I've been growing paw paws for over a decade. The fruit was favored by Native Americans and early settlers. It's starting to make a comeback, a friend even told me about finding some at a farmers market. The fruit doesn't ship well and ripens quickly when picked. The trees are easy to grow and work best as an understory planting, they can get 20 feet tall and wide.

The flesh tastes like a cross between a banana and mango. It's not easy to eat as the seeds are huge, and the flavor isn't for everyone, but I love paw paws.

I explained to Heather how to cut the fruit open and gently pull it apart and was thrilled to watch her take the first taste, she couldn't believe how tasty the yellow, custard like flesh was.

The real test would be Cale, who tentatively took the first spoonful from his mother and smiled.

I photographed his second taste.

paw paw1Heather Saftner feeds her son Cale, 4, a spoonful of flesh from a paw paw fruit. Photos by Doug Oster

paw paw2I think he likes it!

paw paw 3Hurray, another paw paw convert.

After enjoying half a paw paw, we went back into the garden as Heather was eager for some advice. It was wonderful to see the amazing bones of this historic landscape. I was guessing about which plants were new and which were original to the design. I wonder if the paw paws were added or had always been part of the plan.

Either way, it was so much fun introducing Cale and Heather to the wonders of paw paws.

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Mums act as a legacy for a mother's garden

Written by Doug Oster on .

Camey mum2Camey Mazanek holds up a pot of mums she dug out of her garden. Photo by Doug OsterOne of the wonderful things about being a garden writer is connecting with gardeners who get to know me through stories, videos and the Internet.

Before I started speaking to the garden club in New Kensington, Camey Mazanek of East Vandergrift had a gift for me. She had seen one of my videos about "hardy" mums which weren't actually hardy and wanted me to have a special plant her mother enjoyed for decades.

The purple mums have been growing in her family's home for as long as the 60 year-old gardener can remember. "Every fall I took them to my teachers in elementary school for bouquet," she said. Now Camey passes the plants along to friends and family members. Each plant is a living legacy to her mother.

Her parents have passed away and Camey moved back into the family home. She thinks of her mother when the roses, tulips and these mums bloom. While growing up, there were two other women across the street who also gardened. Now Camey watches across the street as their spring bulbs and other perennials emerge, only to be mowed over by the current owners. Luckily Camey has become a steward to her mother's old garden.

As she held a large pot of the pretty flowers, Camey handed them to me and said with a smile, "I just hope they grow for you."

I'll be planting them tomorrow as part of this week's Digging with Doug. Even though I never got the chance to meet Mary, these plants will remind me of the daughter who inherited Mary's love of gardening

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1900 figs harvested from three trees on one city lot, an urban garden to remember!

Written by Doug Oster on .

photo 3Pat Morgan holds some of the fresh figs she picked in the morning. She harvested 1900 from three trees growing on her city lot. Photos by Doug Oster

I met Pat Morgan many years ago while she was completing the Bidwell Training Center's horticulture program. She's since become a Penn State master gardener and created her own wonderful garden in Braddock. We bumped into each other recently, started talking gardening and when she told me of her amazing fig harvest, I had to see it in person. On an unseasonably warm day off, I visited her amazing space.

She gardens on two diminutive city lots, one she shares with her 92 year-old neighbor Millie Kubik who is glad to let Pat fill every corner with interesting plants. Millie doesn't even mind holding the ladder while Pat stretches to reach, fat, ripe pole beans.

photo 1Look at the size of the three fig trees Pat grows.

The fig trees dwarf Pat as she walks out in the garden, they have to be at least 15 feet tall and are still loaded with sweet, green and purple fruit. Why figs?, I ask, "I don't know, she says, I had my first taste of a fig and bought a tree off a little Italian guy named Aldo at the East Liberty Market. That tree was donated when she moved from Point Breeze back to Braddock where she grew up and she bought three more with an eye on adding one more soon.

For 30 years she's gardened and is passionate about sharing her fresh produce and information about the pleasures a garden has to offer. Wild arugula with pretty yellow flowers self sows in one corner of the garden, pineapple sage explodes with luminescent red blooms in another and a six in one cherry tree overlooks the entire landscape. Pat admits to growing her 38 tomato plants too close together, "I only have so much room," she says with a smile. Her favorite is 'Cherokee Purple,' but also loves 'Japanese Black Trifele,' and 'Golden Boy' just won't stop producing.

Her porch is filled with beautiful tan squash, onions and garlic pulled from the soft earth. The kitchen is awash in homegrown tomatoes as it should be.

Every fig tree grower has a different way to get them to over winter. She cuts the trees back, uses bungee cords to hold the branches close and then wraps them with burlap. The trees are then surrounded with cardboard boxes and she fills the boxes with whatever insulation's handy. That might mean straw, leaves or bubble wrap. Pat then wraps the trees in tarps. It's obviously working, she has picked 1900 figs off the trees...so far. There's many more to come before frost.

She receives many things from her garden. "I just love having the fresh food to eat, I love to share the food with people, she says,  I like eating healthy and I also like educating people about what you can do in a small space."

But there's more to it than that, Pat feels so much more when she gardens.

It's a spirituality thing, she says, being in contact with nature, I feel more in touch with God and all of creation, it's just a wonderful thing.

I walked out of her garden with five pound of figs, a bag of tomatoes, some homemade honey/fig jam and a smile on my face. There's nothing better than seeing a garden built with hard work and the love of a real gardener, and Pat is a real gardener.

yellow'Golden Boy' tomato just keep pumping out fruit.

tomato33The kitchen counter is awash in fresh homegrown tomatoes.

garlic33Onions and garlic from the Pat's garden.

sagersPineapple sage is blooming strong.japanesebt'Japanese Black Trifele' is a tasty tomato.

 

 

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