Jump Start Your Garden by Direct Seeding, Practical Gardening

shutterstock_138850070 Planting SeedsMost of us want our gardens to come back to life as soon as the snow is melted. Once the soil is thawed, you may be tempted to buy plants and get them in the ground, but resist the urge. For those of us in USDA Zone 5, we can still anticipate a hard frost, or freeze, until mid-May.

Another option to consider for your garden is direct seeding cold-hardy vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials. Many of these plants will do much better when the air and soil temperatures are cooler. And the costs of seeds are a lot less than flats of plants if you are on a tight budget.

Make sure your garden is not too wet to be worked. If you pick up a clump of soil and squeeze it and find it remains in a tight ball, or water drips out, it is too wet to be worked, so wait awhile. The soil is best worked when the clump of soil falls slightly apart after it is squeezed. Working a garden that is too wet will compact the soil and damage roots of existing plants.

As you prepare to plant, work in compost or peat moss. Lightly fertilize the soil where you plan to grow annuals and vegetables.

Direct seeding is easy. My technique is to scratch up a patch of soil to the depth as indicated on the seed packet, and sprinkle the seeds over top. I then take a handful of the soil and sprinkle this over the seeds and water lightly. To water lightly, use a misting head or fine sprinkler on the end of your hose. A spray bottle works well for small areas. I have found that a watering can with a sprinkling head often pours too harshly and the soil washes off, exposing the seeds.

If you want to plant in rows, make a shallow straight trench to the depth indicated on the seed packet—pile the soil to one side of the trench. Space the seeds as directed, and then push the piled soil over the seeds. Again, water lightly.

For seeds planted less than an inch deep, do not pat down the soil, as some gardeners do, I prefer to let the water settle the soil against the seeds instead.

Vegetables to plant by mid-April would include potatoes, onions, and garlic. You can now seed peas, plants in the cabbage family, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce and arugula, radishes, beets, turnips and rutabaga.

It is also the time to direct seed perennial herbs such as chives, oregano, and sage.

Though still too early to plant for Zone 5, come May you can direct seed annual herbs parsley and dill. The annuals that can be direct seeded are snap dragons, petunias, calendula (some consider this an herb), stock, sunflowers and alyssum.

When it comes to perennial seeds, there are a lot to choose from. Some of the easiest to direct seed are blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, forget-me-nots (careful, these can become weedy), lupine, columbine, tickseed, coneflowers, and candytuft.

If you are someone who uses weed-inhibiting chemicals, such as Preen, remember that this product prevents any seed from taking root—including those you want to grow. Be sure to wait until after your seedlings have become well-rooted and sturdy-stemmed to spread the weed inhibitor.

It won’t be long until you see the seedlings pushing through the soil to become part of the joy you find in the garden.

(Image: Gardening – Pea Seeds by Space Monkey Pics, at shutterstock.com.)


Tomatoes! Make ’em Stop! Practical Gardening Gone Wild


Image morguefile.com

I don’t know why I agreed to the request from the woman who lives downstairs. Linda had asked that I grow some tomato plants for her—one ‘Sweet 100s’ and a second ‘Champion’—oh and would I mind maybe bush zucchinis and a single cucumber plant?

I no longer worked the grounds at the retreat center and hadn’t taken on any gardening clients this summer, so I had a bit more energy. I had been growing only one tomato vine, and that seemed more than enough. With the removal of all the perennial beds, there certainly was space along the west fence for her plants. So, I thought, why not.

God help me for such shortsightedness!

harvest vine

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Nearly 40 ‘Straight 8’ cucumbers have been picked from that single plant and it’s still fruiting. And the zucchinis? The ones I began hand pollinating at the beginning of the season? Well after the first 15 fruits, and having stopped playing bumble-bee, they continued to produce from every single bloom and, with the well spaced rains, the squashes grew at a nightmarish rate! Seven plastic grocery bags filled to bursting, and requiring two hands to carry, were toted out to friends and enemy alike.

It is the tomatoes that are pushing me over the edge. I surrendered and stopped picking the tiny ‘Sweet 100s’ after the first half-bushel—they can rot on the vine for all I care!

But the ‘Champions’? They are out of control.

Harvest pot

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

harvest 3When I realized what monsters were afoot I lopped off several of the limbs and plucked flowers before they could set. I think I made harvest 3them mad…they grew all the more. The one plant off the kitchen door (pictured above) is over four feet high by eight feet wide! So far it has produced more than 70 full sized fruits, with at least 30 more still ripening. (Folks, that’s over a bushel from one vine!) I can’t sauce down, blanch and freeze, or give them away fast enough.

Next summer I will keep in mind there is only one person in this house that cooks. And to not plant veggies where the old chicken coop once stood.

Oh, and here are a few recipes to use up some of the multitude from the garden:

Fresh Ratatouille-ish 

8 med. tomatoes, blanched/skinned and diced*

1 med. Eggplant diced (skin on)

3 small summer squash, sliced

2 small zucchini, julienned (or omit summer squash and use a total of 5 zucchini diced)

1 tbl. each, dry, oregano, basil

1-3 tsp salt (to taste)

1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Olive oil

Sauté Eggplant in olive oil until slightly tender, add squash and sauté until they are tender. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.

*Or 2 cans Mexican style stewed tomatoes


Fresh Tomatoes Soup

½ stick butter

3 chopped sweet (Vidalia) onions, about 2 cups

8-10 cups fresh chopped tomatoes, skinned or not

1/8 c lemon juice (about 2 tbls)

4c vegetable or chicken stock (one large box)

¼ c thickening agent; flour, gluten free mix, or instant potatoes (Optional…I sometimes like it clear)

½ c fresh minced parsley, lightly packed

½-1 tsp salt (to taste)

½ tsp fresh ground pepper

Sauté onions in butter, add broth, tomatoes bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree half the batch. Add thickening and simmer another 10 minutes. Add parsley, salt, pepper, cook until parsley is tender. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.


Tomato Bake

1 box Quinoa shells or bag of egg noodles, cooked and well drained

4-6 cups diced tomatoes (about 8-10 fruits)

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

(If using Quinoa, 1 tbl sugar)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbl butter melted into cooked noodles

Take 9×14 glass baking dish, greased. Add buttered noodles, add seasoning to tomatoes and pour over noodles and mix together. Cover with foil. Bake 350 for 15 minutes, uncover and cook another 15 minutes or so until top begins to dry just a bit.

You can also top this casserole with any kind of cheese, seasoned coating mixes like Shake and Bake, French’s Fried Onions, or the pot-luck favorite–precooked stuffing mix layer on top. Do not cover with foil if you are adding any of the toppings.

Harvest table

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

 In the Beginning…

Bee Mindful, Practical Gardening Series

Image morguefile.com.

Have you begun vegetable gardening? Me? Not for another 60 days. My big-garden days are over. I still include a couple tomato plants, pole beans, and bush zucchinis among my remaining border beds.

A decade ago the fruit set was about a third more than it is today. Extra plants are needed to get the same amount of food. The issue is not with the cultivars, and the problem is pretty straight forward—no bees.

And no bees, no food.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing in containers on a patio or running a multi-million dollar farm. Without pollinators—I’m talking about insects—fertilization and fruitfulness doesn’t happen. No apples or oranges, no cucumbers or tomatoes.

A virulent insecticide known as neonicotinoid (pronounced, nee·ō·nic·ō·te·noyd) became internationally used at the turn of this century. Shortly after its introduction efforts were made to remove it.

The use of some members of this class has been restricted [or eliminated] in some countries due to some evidence of a connection to honey-bee colony collapse disorder [this insecticide breaks down the bee’s immune system so they are no longer resistant to common viruses]. In January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority stated that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored science upon which regulatory agencies’ claims of safety have relied may be flawed.

Organic Gardening writer Jean Nick shared that over 50% of plants at big-box stores are contaminated with this insecticide. What’s worse, the retailers are marketing the stock—vegetables and flowers—as “bee friendly”.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth purchased “bee-friendly” plants from three major big-box retailers around the country and had them analyzed at a laboratory. Seven of the 13 plants tested contained neonicotinoids, a type of synthetic insecticide that is poisonous to bees.

Neonicotinoids are especially dangerous to bees and other insects because they are absorbed into plant tissues and distributed to new growth, including pollen collected and eaten by bees. This class of insecticide is known for its persistence in plant tissues and the environment, remaining deadly for months or even years. An increasing amount of evidence links neonicotinoids to the decline of bee populations worldwide.

Buying plants at big box stores is convenient and cost about 20% less than from independent growers. I ask that you consider if saving a couple of dollars is really worth the tradeoff of essential pollinators.

I’ve experienced first-hand the loss of bees. I’ve hand-pollinated when vegetable plants failed to set fruit, and remove deformed veggies and flowers that lacked full pollination.  I’ve listened to friends, neighbors, and clients bewildered over the lack of fruits and veggies in their properly fed and watered gardens.

My attempts to encourage gardeners to purchases from independent growers has had minimal results—and more so, the same people blissfully spray pesticides with little concern. After all, they say, what difference can one person make.

What matters is that you try. That you encourage others to try to be better stewards and gardeners. Being organic is not always easy. Looking out for the littlest of God’s creatures is a challenge. But keep in mind that the end results are pretty straight forward—no bees, no food.

God had a plan when he designed nature, and we need to get with his program.