Sunday, February 24, 2013

Winter Sowing

A Garden for the House recently introduced me to winter sowing. I have never tried it before, or even heard of it. Apparently it's an easy way to sow spring vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Plant your seeds in a miniature "greenhouse," stick outside, and wait for the seeds to sprout. It sounds simple, and I like simple. So I decided to experiment.

The Ingredients

Gallon milk container
Knife or screwdriver
Seed-starting mix or soil-less potting mix
Duct tape

The Recipe

I don't usually have gallon milk containers around the house. Fortunately, my sister has a thirsty 16-month old son, so she saved a couple for me. (I believe he calls milk "daddy" as he does nearly every other object around the house.)

Begin by cutting your gallon milk container in half. I have insanely sharp kitchen knives but you can also use scissors. Leave a little bit of plastic connecting the two halves, to serve as a hinge.

Make a few drainage holes in the bottom. Kevin from A Garden for the House uses a screwdriver heated at a gas stove flame. I used my insanely sharp kitchen knives.

It's been windy in New England for the last couple of weeks, so I tossed in a few pieces of gravel to weigh down the container.

 Fill your container with a couple of inches of potting mix and water well. I put my container on a plate so it wouldn't drain all over my table.

I chose two seeds for my winter sowing experiment. I've been missing fresh parsley, so that went in one of them. And I thought this method might be a good way to start alpine strawberry seeds, so fragaria vesca went in the other.

Finally, I duct taped the "greenhouse" shut. When the seedlings sprout, I'll be able to open the top half to allow more sun and air circulation and I can close it again during cold nights.

Here they are, sitting in the snow, nestled inside one of my self-watering containers. Fingers crossed, I hope this works!

Have you tried winter sowing before? How did it go?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Calendula Salve (part I)

The marigold, or calendula, blooms about once a month, so regularly that it got its Latin name from the word "calendar." The brilliant yellow-orange flowers get their color from carotenes (including beta carotene). Their petals used to be used to color cheese, and according to Eleanour Sinclair Rohde's Old English Herbals, they were also used to dye hair! But I'm especially interested in the petals' ability to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in lotions and salves. That makes it a great thing to have around for dry skin in winter.

I received two Calendula seedlings at the Get Growing Festival in Harvard Square and harvested lots of flowers over the summer. Now I'm infusing olive oil so I can make calendula salve.

I started with a bunch of dried calendula blossoms. (You can grow your own or buy them from Mountain Rose Herbs.) I plucked the flowers after they had opened, when they were at their brightest. It was a little painful to kills those beauties, but worth it. I set them out to dry for a day or so on a paper towel, then stuck them in a paper bag to protect them from the light.


I bought organic olive oil to infuse with the calendula. Since this stuff is supposed to soothe dry winter skin, best to choose something with no risk of chemicals. I pulled the petals off of the flowers and put them in a clean mason jar....

...then poured in the olive oil, about one inch above the original level of calendula petals. (They floated so I had to estimate.) 
 Now they'll sit in the sun for six weeks. If you can't wait that long for the complete recipe, check out Mountain Rose Herbs' recipes for calendula salve, lip balm, and more.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Quick Hit: Blog-Leaping

Today's snow has me blog-leaping and I found a couple of cool things.

Chiot's Run has a chart showing the shelf life of seeds. This will come in handy as I decide which to toss and which to keep.

And A Garden for the House has a way to test the seeds you have in storage. Are they still viable? Find out!

What did you find while stuck at home today?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Terrarium, Terrarium

A friend and I decided to ignore the Superbowl last Sunday and throw a terrarium party instead. Terrariums are quite the trend these days, maybe because they offer a chance to be creative and exercise that green thumb without actually requiring artistic skill or a green thumb. You only need a few ingredients to make a kick-ass terrarium.

To start with, you'll need:
 Sphagnum Moss Soil Cover (0180) - Ace Hardware
Sphagnum moss
FoxFarm FX14023 Light Warrior Soilless Mix, 1 cu ft.
Soil-less potting mix
Think of these as the layers in your four-layer bean dip. (That's my last Superbowl reference.) Each layer plays a role:
Start with a bottom layer of gravel to provide drainage
Add some charcoal to act as a water filter to prevent the water from stagnating
A layer of sphagnum moss will keep the dirt separate from the gravel
And finally, a couple of inches of soil will give roots a home and something to eat

You will also need:
  • A clear container
  • A small plant or two or three
  • (Moss, rocks, lichen covered twigs, a mini garden gnome...)

Some garden stores cater to terrarium makers by providing mini plants, each in its own container. They're easy to fit into your terrarium.  But if you can't find mini-plants, aim for small plants that can be divided. Look for a small pot with multiple stalks coming out of the dirt. When you remove the plant from the pot, divide the stalks from each other by the stalks by gently pulling the root system.

A few tips to help your terrarium succeed:
  • Keep it simple - don't put too many plants in the same container to avoid crowding
  • Choose plants depending on conditions. My dining room gets more shade than light, so I chose leafy plants that I think (hope) will do OK here
  • Water generously after transplanting to help plants recover from the shock

There's really not much more to it than that. If you need some inspiration, check these out:

And if you're really adventurous, you could even solder your own glass container like Sonia did. She filled it with sand, seashells, pebbles, and air plants:
That rake? It's an extendable back-scratcher :)