The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

February 18, 2015

Time for starting early seeds.

Filed under: Seed Starting,Seeds — bob @ 12:23 pm

This is time of the year when most people are counting down the number of days to the first day of spring. Gardeners  on the other hand, are calculating the number of weeks until the last frost. That date is far more useful for gardeners than the vernal equinox.

At this time, we are somewhere between ten to twelve weeks from our normal last frost. The way the winter is going right now, I’m planning on a later frost date rather than an earlier one. You have to take your best guess as to when it will be safe to plant outdoors months down the road.

The other alternative, which most people choose, is to just let the greenhouse manager worry about frost and buy your plants from him when the time comes. The problem with that is if you want a particular variety that you’ve seen in a catalog or magazine, it may not be available unless you grow it yourself.

So it’s time to sow some seeds, those that need a long time to germinate, grow and develop before setting outside in the garden. My new seed order arrived in the mail Tuesday and in it were some of those seeds I need to sow now.

The first of many seed orders.

The first of many seed orders.

I’m starting just a few vegetables this week: onions, leeks and celery.  I’ve cut back on flowers and am sowing just heirloom petunias and black-eyed Susan. In years past I would have been starting butterfly weed, sweet William, foxglove, and yarrow too.

The peak season for starting the rest of the seeds won’t begin for another three or four weeks.










Mother-in-law’s tongue plant

Filed under: Flowers,Potted Plants — bob @ 9:17 am

Recently I’ve had three people ask me about caring for  their Sansevieria. I took that as a sign that there may be a few more people wondering about the same thing.

Sansevieria, commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant, are probably the most common plant found in people’s homes. I suspect the reason for this is because they survive long after other plants have died from neglect. Therein lies the secrete to keeping a Sansevieria: benign neglect.

Most plants die fairly quickly if neglected. Not so with Sansevieria. Whenever I see a snake plant that has problems, most of the time it’s because its owner watered it too much. During this time of the year watering about once every three weeks is plenty. Water a little more frequently if the plant is in a bright window or greenhouse, a little less if it is in a darker area of the house.

Although they can survive under almost any kind of lighting conditions, full morning sun will help your plant thrive rather than just survive . Continuous bright but not direct light is just as good. I kept one in a bright foyer area for years and it was quite happy there. If your plant’s leaves are flopping over, it may be a sign of too little light.


Mother-in-law's tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Mother-in-law’s tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Sansevieria grow under a wide temperature range too. So if you are competing with your most energy efficient neighbors to use the least amount of energy during the winter, don’t worry about hurting your Sansevieria by turning down the thermostat too much, it will do fine in cool, but not cold, conditions. From my own experience I would caution you not to leave your plant in a drafty place when the temperature might go below 40°F for any length of time — low temperatures will cause chilling injury.

Because Sansevieria are grown for their foliage and rarely flower, some people think they are dull and boring. If you are in this group, think about this: NASA scientists have found that Sansevieria has the ability to clean significant amounts of formaldehyde, benzine and other toxic chemicals from the air. So, they’re really not so boring after all.

Fortunately for those who have pets or small children, Sansevieria are non-poisonous however they may cause skin irritation.





February 6, 2015

Going through seeds

Filed under: Seeds — bob @ 9:24 am

We’ve managed to save up a pretty large collection of seeds over the past several years.

There are two large, covered containers in my garage that contain over twenty pounds of assorted vegetable and flower seeds. Most of them are long expired. The oldest are between five and ten years old. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re no longer usable. Even some of the oldest may still be viable, that all depends on what species they are. I just need to take the time to organize them.

I plan to go through and separate the out-dated, non-poisonous ones like sweet corn, peas and melons and feed them to the chickens. The rest I’ll toss into the compost pile. I did that once about five years ago, now it’s time to do it again.

this is a good time of the year to sort through all of those left over garden seeds.

this is a good time of the year to sort through all of those left over garden seeds.

Also we have a number of current seeds, those that we’ve either purchased or saved from our own plants. They date back only a year or two or three. We keep them in glass jars in the fridge. They stay in the planting rotation from year to year. We’ll plant most of those this year.

We don’t have a detailed list of what is in those jars, that’s what Judy is doing this week. Once she gets the list done and compare it to our garden plans, we’ll place our seeds orders.






January 28, 2015

Garden seed catalogs

Filed under: Catalogs,Seed Starting — bob @ 8:38 am

A lot of gardeners I know get pretty antsy this time of year. Seed catalogs are arriving in our mailboxes almost every other  day and making us even more fidgety. I suppose that’s the whole point of the catalogs, to make us excited about the up coming gardening season so we buy something we may not otherwise want or need. The familiar seed company logos are like the faces of friends we haven’t seen for a while.

I don’t consider any seed catalog junk mail, even the new ones I’ve never seen before and will probably never order from. Sometimes I find a jewel hiding in those too.

I’ve been gardening for many years and have seen seed companies come and go. Some stick around for eight or ten years while others try to break into the crowded field and fade away after a few years. The most familiar names have been around for generations.

Some homey-looking seed catalogs look like they’re from a small, friendly business when in fact they come from multi-national conglomerates. That’s marketing I suppose.

Most seed companies, even the small homespun outfits, don’t actually grow their own seeds, they purchase them through brokers and from other suppliers.That makes sense when you think about it.  Keeping genetic lines going and varieties true-to-type is a very time and labor intensive business, takes highly skilled managers and lots of land. The best most can manage, if they try at all, is to grow just a few varieties.

To me,  there is something about holding a printed catalog in my hand that I don’t get holding a tablet computer. Plus, with printed catalog you can mark pages and write notes all over it. I use bright colored marker and make big sweeping circles around the varieties I’m interested in. Then I write the page number on the cover. To me it is a lot easier, or maybe more intuitive, than book marking web pages on a computer.

On the other hand, when it comes time for ordering and paying, I’ll buy online — it’s so much easier that way.

Do you have a favorite garden catalog?




January 15, 2015

Finishing up saved bean seeds

Filed under: Seeds — bob @ 10:22 am

I finally finished shelling and putting away the last of my bean seeds. These are from the same plants I wrote about earlier in the gardening season.

Saving bean seeds is a lot of fun and is just about the easiest of all seeds to save. You don’t have to pick through over-ripe fruit or worry about things like cross pollination.

Because of their structure, bean flowers are pollinated by pollen produced in that individual flower. That means it is very difficult for beans to cross-pollinate. Less than five percent of bean seeds end up being cross-pollinated. So, for the most part, they stay true to type and reliably produce the same type of bean year after year. Beans of this type are called “open-pollinated”. There are literally thousands of open pollinated varieties of beans.

Bean seeds have a wide variety of color.

Bean seeds have a wide variety of color.

Hybrid beans, on the other hand,  are cross-pollinated on purpose by plant breeders. The breeders maintain a special genetic family tree for each variety and use field technicians to hand pollinate each bean flower. That’s why hybrid seeds are more expensive than open-pollinated seeds.

Although hybrid bean varieties are available for gardeners to plant, they are used mostly by large scale farmers who need plants that have certain characteristics. One example is beans ripening all at the same time so the crop can be harvested by machine. Hybrid seeds are labeled with the designation “F1″ either on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.

Once the first generation of hybrid seeds is grown and harvested, the next generation ends up producing plants that are no longer true to type. So, unless you just want to experiment to see what you get, don’t save seeds from a hybrid crop.

I didn’t wait this long to put away my beans on purpose, it’s just that that job kept being pushed down on my list of priorities.  There was no hurry and no harm done to the seeds . Beans need to be dry anyway before being put into storage. Since I had them spread out on a table in the house while still in their pods, they had a chance to thoroughly dry. Those extra dry bean pods were very easy to open too.

Bean seeds have a moderate seed life, two to three years. My plan is plant them all next year, eat what I can and save the rest to plant the following year.




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