Archive for August, 2013

Fall Planting with Old Seeds and an Old Book

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013


Last year I had a harvest of carrots and beets that continued into December.  I used a low hoop tunnel to protect the crop from frosts and freezes and the results were great.  (You can read about it here).   I hope to do the same this year, but I took some big chances because almost all the seed I used was really old.

As most gardeners know, seeds do have a shelf life.  In spite of the stories of seeds germinating after being unearthed in an ancient Egyptian tomb or some Stonehenge like burial site, most seeds lose their viability or germinating power quickly and are usually good for only a few years.  I’m not storing my seed in air tight containers or at controlled temperatures so I’m not helping the longevity.  Nevertheless, I’ve often been surprised at how long seeds do retain some percentage of viability.  Since I had some old seed in large quantities, I thought it wouldn’t be that big a risk to give it a try as long as I just sowed heavily.

There are many sources that will give you approximate germinating life of vegetable seeds, but my favorite reference is The Vegetable Garden by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, a reprint of an English edition book published by a Paris seed producer in 1885.  This wonderful book lists, with hand drawn illustrations, hundreds of what would today be called heirloom vegetables, the most of which have been lost to modernity, but amazingly, many are still available.

At the back of the book is a table titled: A TABLE Showing the Comparative Weight and Size of the Seeds of Kitchen-Garden Plants, and also, the Average and Extreme Periods of Duration of their Germinating Power.  Carrots, for example, are shown to weigh 360 Grammes per Litre of Seed and have 950 Seeds per Gramme.  Their Average Duration of Germinating Power is 4 or 5 years, but at the Extreme they can last beyond 10 years.

I planted carrot seed from packs dated 2005, 2009, and 2011.  I think they’ll do okay.  Beets are cited to have an average life of 6 years, but again, they can last beyond 10 years.  My seeds were from 2005 and 2007, I planted them thickly, and again, I think I’ll be happy.  I planted turnip seed from 2005.  I’m pretty sure it has a good chance.

The only seed that I think could totally fail is the onion I planted as scallions or bunching onions.  Onion seeds are given an average life of 2 years with 7 years being listed as their extreme germination.  I took two packets of onions, one dated 2005 and one dated 2008 and mixed them up with a couple new very small packets dated 2012 and 2013.  Since I’m not growing for bulbs but only to get some green onions, I’m hoping enough will sprout to give us at least a few.

Planted, Watered, Waiting to Sprout

Planted, Watered, Waiting to Sprout

It’s all in the ground and watered.  We’ll soon know if we’ll have enough seeds sprouting to make the experiment worth while.  Over the next couple days I’ll plant another bed of greens, lettuces, radish, spinach and collards.  That will all be with relatively current model years of seed so my risk there will be very low.

Fearing Burr

Fearing Burr

As an aside to the mention of the Vilmorin-Andrieux book, which is relatively well known, the whole layout and style of their book was lifted or “borrowed” from a more obscure American book first published in 1863 titled The Field and Garden Vegetables of America:  Containing Full Descriptions of Nearly Eleven Hundred Species and Varieties; with Directions for Propagation, Culture, and Use, by Fearing Burr.

Imagine a listing of eleven hundred different varieties of vegetables available to gardeners in 1863 and it’s easier to realize the true loss of diversity in seeds that has been occurring.  The catalog today is unfortunately much smaller.  It’s a good reason to both save seeds and to support the smaller seed producers who are trying to maintain the old varieties.

White Wine Vinegar Marinated Cucumbers

Monday, August 19th, 2013
Marinated Cucumbers

Marinated Cucumbers

The cucumbers are prolific this year.  Some of them hide themselves well under the nearby zucchini plant leaves so they tend to get bigger than the ideal size before they’re found.  The larger cukes can get a little bitter so a pre-salting will draw that bitterness out.

Here’s a recipe that can use up a lot of cucumbers:

Peel several large cucumbers.  Slice them thinly in a food processor or use a hand slicer or mandoline.  The thinner slices absorb the marinade a little faster and taste better than fatter slices.  Sprinkle the slices with ½-1 tsp. salt depending upon how many cucumbers you have.  Let stand for about ½ hour and drain the accumulated liquid.  No need to squeeze them dry – you want to retain some of the juice.  Splash with 1-2 TBL. organic white wine vinegar or to taste, mix and marinate at room temperature for ½ hour or until ready to serve.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Serve as a salad or use them in a sandwich.  They’re excellent just this way but feel free to use your favorite herbs to accent the flavor in different ways.  You can use any mild vinegar but there’s something exquisite about the white wine vinegar.  Explore with your taste buds!

Pureed Zucchini Ginger Soup

Thursday, August 15th, 2013
Zucchini Ginger Soup

Zucchini Ginger Soup

As they say – a prolific zucchini plant is the mother of invention!  We have just 2 zucchini plants.  It’s hard to tell with the tangle of vines and leaves but you’d think there were a dozen plants in the garden.

I’ve been sautéing them in various ways with different additives each time – onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn, peppers, potatoes, whatever is on hand.  Today I decided to make pureed zucchini soup with a ginger kick.  The great thing about this recipe is that it uses up a lot of zucchini, unlike zucchini breads and cakes that only use a couple cups.   When the zukes get away from you (yes, I know you are supposed to pick them when they are small), it’s good to have an enjoyable way of working down the stash.

The beauty of pureed soups is that you can throw just about any veggie in the pot.  Once it’s blended only you, the cook, will really know what’s in it.

Raw Ingredients

Raw Ingredients

Here’s what I threw in the soup pot today:

6 cups veggie broth

6-8 cups unpeeled zucchini, coarsely chopped

1 large unpeeled potato, scrubbed and chopped

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, skinned and chopped

1 knob of ginger, about 1” x 1”, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer all ingredients for 20-30 minutes.  Cool slightly and blend 2 cups at a time in blender.  Cover the top of the blender with a towel to help prevent hot liquid from splashing out.  I also put it through a food mill or sieve in case the ginger has any tough fibers.  Adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and salt, if necessary.

We ate it with just a few grinds of fresh pepper.  The soup could also be embellished with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of freshly ground parmesan cheese, fresh herbs or whatever you choose.  I have enough left to freeze for a winter warm-up….and more zucchini waiting for another innovative recipe to be made!

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator Featured in New York Times

Monday, August 12th, 2013
CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

CobraHead garden tools received their most important single piece of publicity recently with an excellent mention in the New York Times.  The article by Bob Tedeschi, who writes for the Times under the byline “The Pragmatist”, was titled “Ergonomic Tools that Prune Away Gardening Pains”.  It appeared online on July 3, here, and also appeared in print on July 4th with the title “The Pains of a Garden, Pruned Away”, on page D1.

The article was on innovations in ergonomic garden tools.  Mr. Tedeschi consulted a panel of gardening experts:  Barbara Pleasant, contributing editor to Mother Earth News; Pam Ruch, who managed the test gardens for Organic Gardening magazine; and Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association.  According to Mr. Tedeschi, The CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator was the only tool “that all three panelists went out of their way to rave about”.

Mr. Butterfield said, “it’s the most efficient tool for taking out weeds,” and “it’s built like a Russian dump truck so it won’t break.”   Ms. Pleasant stated she’s “gotten kind of dependent on it.”  Ms. Ruch said, “it’s the best all-around tool for the garden, because you don’t use a twisting motion,” she said. “You’re kind of punching it into the soil, so you’re using your arm muscles rather than your wrist, which is a real area of vulnerability.”

While our tools have received many great reviews over the years in the best garden magazines, in online articles by garden bloggers, and in major newspapers both in the U.S. and Canada, the significance of a mention in the New York Times to our little company cannot be overestimated.  From an immediate sales perspective, July 4th was the single largest day for online orders in our history, and we continued to receive heavy online sales activity for the whole month of July, normally a slow month for garden tools.

We want to thank Bob Tedeschi and his panel of gardening experts for citing CobraHead.  This means a lot to our little company and it will prove to be a great help in reaching more gardeners.

CobraHead Long Handle

CobraHead Long Handle