Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.


Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.


Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!


The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:


Godiva tolerating George


George tolerating Gadget



Sow: seed signage

Must be something in the air. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have any kids that are in a Texas high school and need me to make a homecoming mum. You really must watch this video to understand this state’s fascination with something so ugly, huge and ridiculous:

Yes, I have a glue gun and I recently picked up a laminator. That’s why I decided to make some fancy-ish garden signs so that I remember what plants are which when the seeds I planted on Labor Day start springing from the ground (so far bok choi, snow peas, and mesclun are winning for speed).

First, I grabbed the seed packs (yes, they are all Botanical Interests) and made color copies of their pretty fronts.

lots of seed packs

lots of seed packs

You may wonder why earthy-crunchy me didn’t just reuse the seed packs. Two reasons: I haven’t necessarily emptied each pack and there’s important growing info on all four sides so I like to keep them for reference. And I suppose the third reason would be that I’m not sure the laminator could take the thickness of multiple layers of seed packet paper.

Second, I fired up the laminator. It’s only the third time I’ve used it. It’s not a very fancy one and cost less than $20 including 100 sheets of laminating plastic. A bargain! It has two settings: cold, which is for fragile items like old photos and hot, which is for paper things like my seed pack fronts.




The first package going into the laminator


Laminated radish seed pack front right after it came out of the laminator

It was super easy so I just kept feeding the plastic covered seed pack fronts into the laminator. It really didn’t take very long. I trimmed off the excess plastic and was left with the seed pack front signs:


A few laminated seed pack fronts 

Third, I wanted a post for each sign so I grabbed my glue gun and fired it up. I picked up some craft sticks, aka popsicle sticks, at Target. They’re inexpensive and I think they’ll be durable enough to stand up for the season. And if they don’t stand up to water and soil well, I bought 60 so I’ll have replacements available.


the sign posts

When the glue was flowing, I made a thin line on a stick:


the thin clear line

Then I slapped on a laminated seed pack front and pressed down for a second or two:


voila: a little seed sign!

Here’s one for the arugula washtub:


the arugula feels special now

It didn’t take very long and I had a lot of fun with this little craft. Best of all, anyone who looks at the washtub, planters, raised beds and stock tanks will know exactly what’s growing there. It was a great Thursday night activity.


lots of seed signs ready to plant

Have a great weekend, everyone!



Sow: seed tape

Tomorrow is President’s Day in the U.S. and Family Day in Canada. In Canada, it’s a statutory holiday so everyone will have a long weekend. In the U.S., the banks, some schools and apparently a few advertising agencies have the day off. Bruce does not (yes, he is bitter).

Tomorrow is also a big gardening day for the spring 2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm. Seeds are getting planted. Including so very tiny seeds.

The snow and shelling pea seeds are nice and big.  Mache and the various lettuce seeds can be scattered and still look nice and grow just fine.

But I want to have better carrot, radish and beet crops than I had in 2012. I just threw seeds in the ground and hoped for the best (ok, I did read the packets a bit, but honestly not well enough). Surprisingly, we actually had produce to pick and eat. But this go around, I really want to have TOO MANY carrots, radish and beets to eat. I want to have plenty to eat and give away.


Beet type #1: soaking for 24 hours


Beet type #2: soaking for 24 hours


So I tried something new this time: I made seed tape.


Well, I made carrot seed tape, the radish seed tape will have to wait until tomorrow.

First thing I learned was that I should have started making all of seed tapes months ago when I first bought the seeds and was dreaming of the spring garden, not the day before I planned on planting. A lesson to apply for the 2014 spring garden I guess!

I had looked online to get advice on how to do it. Several sites recommended one-ply toilet paper. Since we use a fancier product, that wasn’t really feasible without going out to purchase special t-p for the garden. Seemed a little silly.

Then others recommended newspaper strips. One problem there: few people I know, including myself, actually read a paper newspaper these days. I thought about asking the guy in the red SUV that delivers the newspaper when we’re walking the 3G Network, but he really seems like he’s in a hurry in the morning for some reason. Then I remembered one of my coworkers gets the Sunday paper because he likes to hang out and drink coffee and get inky fingers. I got him to donate some newspaper to the cause (thanks, Wardo!).


this stuff is newspaper. I’m going to save what I have in case it becomes more difficult to find next time i need to make seed tape.


I cut the newspaper up in thin-ish strips. Then I measured off 1 inch marks since carrot seeds need to be planted 1 inch apart.

After that, I made some homemade paste:


1/4 cup regular old white flour and enough water to make a paste. I thought the pastry brush would be a good idea but it was not. neither was the spoon.

Basically planting carrot seeds (very small! a big pain to count! hopefully worth the effort!), requires 4 seeds every inch. Each row needs to be 6 inches apart, although apparently you can plant radish seeds between each row.

My first efforts used too much paste and once the newspaper strips dried, they curled up:


don’t worry, I got better at making seed tape

The 3G Network was curious since I was sitting at the dining room table doing this and I’m guessing the flour/water paste smelled like human food. First, Guinness showed up, though not because he was hungry:

Guinness is feeling much better and insisted on a short walk while I was making seed tape

Guinness is feeling much better and insisted on a short walk while I was making seed tape. So we went.

Post-walk, George wanted in on the action:

George in his supervisory role

George in his supervisory role

He was mostly looking for handouts. When he realized that I wasn’t baking cookies or something equally delicious, he finally laid down. Boring!

Here you can see me working to perfect my tape making method. I really don’t know what I ever did without Sharpies. I really love them and they were a big help today marking 1 inch increments. Notice my paste applicator. Yes, a finger worked best for making a nice little blob of paste to hold four tiny seeds. No need for fancy tools.


Applying glue

Did I mention how small the carrot seeds are? I think that is the #1 reason the fall carrot crop ended up so crappy. Because the seeds were so small I put more than 4 seeds every 1 inch. And because it makes me sad to thin out three carrot seedlings and only keep one, I had a low yield. Not this spring. I will be ruthless with my scissors and to make one beautiful carrot, I will eliminate three seedlings. I know better now.

tiny carrot seeds, tweezers to help move them around

tiny carrot seeds, tweezers to help move them around

using tweezers to get the optimum number of seeds/glue blob

using tweezers to get the optimum number of seeds/glue blob (I am about to reduce the number of seeds in the blob to 4)

So I have made a ton of carrot seed tape, probably more than I need for tomorrow. Supposedly I can roll it up or put it in a plastic bag and it will keep until fall planting.

I ran out of steam in the seed tape making after all those carrot seeds and moved on to helping Bruce with other things. So tomorrow morning first thing, I really need to do some seed tapes for the radish seeds. They are bigger so it shouldn’t be as difficult. Same goes for the soaked beet seeds.

It’s time consuming, but I hope it will be worth it because I really want to do all I can to make the crops successful. And make the raised beds look pretty this spring. Tomorrow, I plant!