The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

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.




January 8, 2015

Lemon tree recovers from freezing in the fall

Filed under: Fruit,Trees,Weather — bob @ 2:20 pm

Sometimes gardeners are given plants that others can’t use or take care of but they just can’t bare to throw out. That happened to me this past summer when someone gave me a four foot tall lemon tree. It was in mediocre condition, a little weak and run down and needed some extra attention.

I re-potted it and applied slow release fertilizer pellets. Once or twice a week it also got a dose of manure tea solution.  It took me the rest of the summer to nurse it back to reasonable health.  And it actually looked pretty good going into the fall.

I always like to keep my citrus trees out as long as possible in the fall. It seems like a bit of a chill tends to make them a little more hardy. I don’t worry about the trees  if it gets down below freezing. They seem to do well even when it briefly dips into the upper twenties at night.

One evening this fall I got caught stretching the season out too much. The overnight temperatures were predicted to be around 28°F so I moved the trees to a sheltered area near the garage, tossed a light frost cloth over the top of them and let them stay out that night.

The actual temperatures were almost ten degrees colder than predicted. The oranges looked a little droopy from the cold but I was pretty sure they would pull through. I’ve seen them handle some pretty cold temperatures after a power outage. The new lemon tree however, lost nearly all of its leaves. A large percentage had already fallen off of the tree and were laying on the frosted ground — it did not look good at all.

That day I moved them all into a semi-heated area in my garage for storage. The temperature stays in the upper 40′s and the trees get a few hours of winter sunlight from south facing windows.


Leaf and twig buds grow at the node where the old leaves were.

Leaf and twig buds grow at the node where the old leaves were.

A couple of days after Christmas I noticed some tiny green pointed buds here and there on the lemon tree — it was still alive and wanting to grow leaves! A few days later, buds were emerging from branches all over the tree.


This new twig is almost two inches long.

This new twig is almost two inches long.

This week, the buds are still growing and developing into new leaves and twigs.

I’m fairly optimistic that the lemon tree will completely recover but it’s not out of the woods yet, we still have plenty of winter left before spring arrives.




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