Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Across the planet earth an amazing process is continuously taking place. Plant parts and animal leavings rot or decompose with the help of fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Earthworms and an assortment of insects do their part digesting and mixing the plant and animal matter together. The result is a marvelous, rich, and crumbly layer of organic matter we call compost, which is nature's gift to the gardener.

Benefits of Compost

Compost encourages earthworms and other beneficial organisms whose activities help plants grow strong and healthy. It provides nutrients and improves the soil. Wet clay soils drain better and sandy soils hold more moisture if amended with compost. A compost pile keeps organic matter handy for garden use and, as an added advantage, keeps the material from filling up overburdened landfills.

How to Make Compost

Start with a layer of chopped leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste like banana peels, eggshells, old lettuce leaves, apple cores, coffee grounds, and whatever else is available. Keep adding materials until you have a six-inch layer, and then cover it with three to six inches of soil, manure, or finished compost.

Alternate layers of organic matter and layers of soil or manure until the pile is about three feet tall. A pile that is three feet tall by three feet square will generate enough heat during decomposition to sterilize the compost. This makes it useful as a potting soil, topdressing for lawns, or soil-improving additive.

Your compost pile may benefit from a compost activator. Activators get the pile working, and speed the process. Alfalfa meal, barnyard manure, bone meal, cottonseed meal, blood meal, and good rich compost from a finished pile are all good activators. Each time you add a layer to your pile, sprinkle on some activator and water well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saving Pepper Seeds

You want to start with a fully grown, ripe bell pepper. Allowing the pepper to grow to maturity will help ensure your pepper has healthy, robust seeds, resulting in a higher germination rate when planted.

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pepper down the middle from top to bottom. This will leave you with two halves, both containing plenty of seed.

Now take the spoon and scoop the seeds out onto a paper towel. Try to separate them from each other as much as you can. Let them dry out for a few days in a cool, dry area.

To store your seeds for planting next year, place the dried out pepper seeds in a paper envelope. It is optimal to then place the envelope in the refrigerator or freezer to maximize their shelf life.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saving Tomato Seeds

This is a really simple process. Here's how you save tomato seeds:
1. Choose a ripe, perfect tomato.
2. Cut it across the center of the fruit.
3. Squeeze the seeds, gel, and juice out into a small cup or jar.
4. Cover the seed gunk with two to three inches of water.
5. Label your container so you know which variety of tomato you saved seeds from.
6. Set the labeled jar in an out-of-the way spot and wait.
7. After about three days, white mold will start to form on the surface of the water. This means that the gelatinous coating on the seeds has dissolved.
8. Once you see the white mold, pour off the mold, the water, and any seeds that are floating (floating seeds are bad - they wouldn't have germinated.) You want all of those seeds sitting at the bottom of the cup.
9. After you've poured the mold and bad seeds off, drain your seeds in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under running water. It's not a bad idea to move the seeds around with your fingers to remove any extra gel that may be clinging to them.
10. Dump your rinsed seeds onto a paper plate that has been labeled with the variety name. (Yes, paper plates. Not ceramic. You need something that will wick the water away from the seeds so they dry fast and don't get moldy.)
11. Make sure your seeds are in a single layer on the plate, and set it aside a few days so the seeds can completely dry.
12. Once they're dry, put them in a labeled envelope, baggie, or other container and store in a cool, dry spot. I like to keep mine in the fridge.
Tomato seeds will keep well and germinate reliably for up to ten years if stored properly.
So, there you have it. Save seeds from your favorite tomatoes, and grow them every year. You'll be helping to protect genetic diversity in our food supply and keep some great heirloom tomatoes growing. And you'll be rewarded each and every time you enjoy a ripe, juicy tomato straight from your own garden.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saving Onion Seeds

Did you know that you can save the seeds from onions in your garden to plant next year? It's true. Once the garden onion matures and grows an attractive white flower resembling a ball, it's easy to save lots of onion seeds for next year's garden. Saving onion seeds saves money and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.

Onions are rich in vitamins B6, B1, K, C, folic acid, chromium, biotin, and fiber. It only makes sense to add this nutritional vegetable to the summer garden and to also save the seeds. I'm a nut about saving seeds from vegetables in our garden each year. It's so easy to save seeds from onions, as well as other garden vegetables. In saving onion seeds, you'll have onion seeds to give your gardener friends and you can also give onion seeds to people who desire a garden, but don't have the money to get one started.

Here's all you need to do to save onion seeds:

Harvest your onions in the usual way, once they're ready to be picked. By the way, onions are ready to harvest when you can see the top of the onion peeking out of the ground. Save one onion, do not pull it up, leave it in the ground for the onion to turn to seed. How do you know when an onion has turned to seed? A beautiful, round white flower will emerge from the onion. These flowers can get quite tall and attractive, but, like most things in life, the beauty of the flower will soon fade. When the onion flower looks as if it's seen better days, cut the flower, along with a little of the stem, from the onion.

I stumbled upon the next step to save onion seeds by accident. Get a mason jar and put the onion flower inside. If you don't have a mason jar, a glass jar will do fine. Leave the onion flower alone for a couple of weeks. The onion flower will dry out and open up, releasing the tiny black onion seeds from the flower. If you have a band and lid for your mason jar, put on the lid and just shake the jar to encourage more seeds to release from the flower. Toss the spent onion flower in the compost bin, and there are your onion seeds for next year's garden.