Selecting squash, pumpkin and gourd seeds

Under good storage conditions, winter squash and pumpkins can stay edible well into winter. I have a spot in my garage that stays cool, around 50 degrees, through the winter and that is right around the ideal storage temperature for squash. Air circulation is also important and there is plenty of air movement in that spot too. So we have been eating squash on and off for the past couple of months.

One thing I have noticed is that flavor can vary from squash to squash of the same variety. Sometimes there can be quite a large difference in quality. You can buy seeds of the same variety from two different seed sellers and even though the squash looks the same, the flavors may be close but not the same. I think that explains some of the difference in opinion people have when discussing which variety they prefer. I’ve noticed this inconsistency in other vegetables too, especially with certain heirloom tomato varieties.

What I like to do is save squash seed from the best tasting squash and discard seeds from those that are bland or off-flavor. That way year after year I gradually improve my squash. Since the seeds are well preserved inside the fruit until it’s ready to cook, seed saving for me is an ongoing thing until the squash run out. You can end up with a lot of squash or pumpkin seeds in a hurry since each one can have dozens or even hundreds of seeds as anyone who carved a pumpkin knows.

Squash and Pumpkins
I have three different kinds of winter squash. I keep pumpkins to feed to my chickens in the winter.

The way I go about it is that I never toss out the seeds until dinner is over and I’ve had a chance to sample my squash. I mentally rate it and if it is better than the last one I had, I keep the seeds and get rid of the ones from the previous meal. By the time I eat my last serving of squash, I’ll have the seeds from the best tasting one from the garden. The rest of the seeds go to the chickens. I know it seems like a lot of fussing around but hey, it’s what I do.

Gourds are filled with seeds and have very little flesh. These are seeds from a single gourd.
Gourds are filled with seeds and have very little flesh. These are seeds from a single gourd.

This is a relatively simplistic way to select for a single genetic trait. Professional plant breeders select for other things such as disease resistance, high yields, ease of storage and other traits. In the home garden, flavor is a good one to select for.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poinsettia care after the holidays

For a vast majority of people Christmas poinsettias are a disposable commodity. There are a few of us however, who adopt them as part of our permanent plant collection.

A while back, for several years in a row, I kept one particularly bright red poinsettia that eventually grew to almost four feet tall. You can imagine it was pretty impressive at Christmas time while in full bloom. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of it to share with you. The computer I was using at the time crashed and took all of my plant photos with it. I learned a hard lesson that day.

To keep your poinsettia going for as long as possible,  keep a couple of things in mind.

Most poinsettias die from over-watering and that is related to growing conditions. Your home probably has a lower quality of sunlight than the greenhouse from which it came, so your plant will be less actively growing and therefore need less water. So, let the soil dry out some before watering. Then water the plant thoroughly until water flows out of the bottom of the pot.

Most poinsettias come with a waterproof foil or plastic wrapper to keep water from leaking onto furniture. After watering, dump out any water that remains in the wrapper. It is this extra water held in the foil that is the main reason poinsettias die prematurely. Poinsettias standing in water develop waterlogged roots. Eventually the roots begin to rot and the plant rapidly declines.

Pour our any excess water that collects in the foil pot wrapper.

Don’t worry about fertilizing your plant, it won’t really need much until spring. A half-strength dose of water soluble houseplant fertilizer once in a while should be more than adequate until growth resumes in the spring.

Also, bear in mind that poinsettias weren’t meant to last too much longer than the Christmas season.  They were bred for color, not hardiness. On the other hand, I’ve seen some poinsettias growing under abysmal growing conditions that survived until spring when the owners set them out in the sunlight to grow again.

At the very least, enjoy your poinsettia as long as possible this winter as a reminder of wonderful Christmas memories.

Bob

Protecting bonsai from bitter cold

There’s some talk among weather prognosticators about a speed bump developing in the polar vortex this winter. Some are saying very cold, below normal temperatures are just over the horizon and heading our way. If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to finish up prepping your garden for winter.

I’ve done all I can for my gardens making sure they are all set for the cold weather . The last item I had on my outdoor things-to-do list was winterizing my bonsai trees. Usually I have them all tucked in around the first week of December but this year it’s been so mild that I left them out until this week.

Every year I change the way I winterize them but there are a couple of important things I always make sure happens. First, the roots and tops are protected from the extreme cold and fluctuations in temperature. I do that by digging an over-sized  hole in a protected area big enough to bury my pots.

The second thing is to make sure melt water doesn’t settle in to the pots. Re-freezing of water in the pots can cause them to break due to the expansion that occurs when water freezes. So, I tip the pots on their sides keeping the water out.

Placing them on their sides also allows part of the top branches to be in the hole. The surrounding soil helps moderate the temperatures that they are exposed to.

This year I dug my hole in a well-drained area near a group of white pine trees. The trees will slow down brisk winter winds lessening the chance of desiccation. After placing the trees in the hole I covered them with a layer of white pine needles. That will help insulate them and make it easier to clean off the soil when I take them out in the spring. Then I took the soil that was left from digging the hole and covered the needle covered plants.  I also banked up the soil on the pot end of the hole giving additional protection to the roots.

Here’s what they look like with a layer of needles and soil. Next comes a layer of leaves.

Finally, I hauled in tree leaves and covered the entire area including the plants. A small amount of branches are still peeking up through the leaves. Later, when the Christmas tree comes down I’ll cut off boughs from it and lay them over the mound. The boughs will help catch snow allowing it to drift over the spot and provide even more insulation.

I know this sounds like a lot of work for a few plants but my bonsai are valuable to me. I’ve been caring for one tree for seventeen years so I sure don’t want to lose it now.

Bob

Last minute gift for chicken fancier

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a flock of chickens that not only provide eggs but also help out in the garden. For example, in the spring I let them out to weed fallow areas and to dig up grubs and other underground garden pests before I plant.

I’ve had hens for eighteen years and in that time have become very familiar with their behaviors, habits and even personalities. Yes, chickens have individual personalities that become easy to spot once you get to know them.

Through the years I’ve read a lot of articles and books about chickens, so good and some not so good. Most I read or skim and never go back to them again. Recently, a book from New Zealand caught my eye, “Cluck A book of happiness for chicken lovers” edited by Freya Haanen.

Look no further for that chicken enthusiast who has everything.

It’s loaded with charming photographs of chickens in their natural habitat, which is just about everywhere and anywhere. What tickles me is how she was able to capture those chicken personalities perfectly through her selection of photographs.

The book also contains memorable quotes about chickens from philosophers, poets, scholars and great thinkers throughout history. Some serious, some amusing and some just leave you scratching your head.

This is not the type of book filled with facts, figures and how-to’s. It’s one that you keep around the house and keep coming back to. Folks who long for a flock of hens of their own but can’t swing it right now, for what ever reason, will love it.

Bob

 

 

Twelfth anniversary of “All things green” blog

This blog, “All Things Green” went on-line December 8, 2006. It is the longest running blog on blogsmonroe.com . We started it back when “green” meant having to do with plants, which is how this blog got its name. Nowadays “green” is more typically used to refer to ecologically friendly concepts such as “green” energy.

When reading other people’s blogs, I often find myself going to the comment section of blogs to find out what others are thinking about the subject being discussed, I bet you do too. When you leave a comment, it helps me and the folks that administer blogsmonroe.com get a feel for our readers reactions.

Twelve years is a long time to keep a blog going but there are plenty of things to discuss when it comes to gardening and other outdoors topics. I plan to keep this blog going for many more years to come and to add improvements from time to time such as sharing more videos.

To the readers of this blog, I’d like to thank you for your support whenever you visit here and read my musings. Also, many to thanks to the Monroe News for hosting All Things Green.

Bob

Digging dahlia tubers late

Last week I talked about my potatoes that I dug up very late in the season. What I didn’t mention was that same day I also dug my dahlia tubers that were still in the ground. Turns out they where in fine shape shape as well.

It makes perfect sense that the tubers would look so nice.  The ideal storage temperature for dahlias is around forty degrees Fahrenheit and that’s about what the soil temperature was. I checked the soil temperature in my garden again this morning and found that even now, during the first week of December, it’s running about 40F.

What kind of surprised me was how warm the soil is even with the colder than normal November we experienced. Looking back on the several weeks,  a pretty good set of circumstances lined up for my dahlias. First, the tops were froze back by the frost back i October. Then I left them in the ground for well over a month. That allowed the tubers to develop healthy “eyes”, just like the eyes on a potato. With strong eyes, my tubers should make good, strong growth next spring — that is if I take good care of them over winter.

This is a typical dahlia tuber but they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

There’s a few simple tricks to keeping dahlias over winter. The first is to store them at the proper temperature and we already know what that is — just don’t let them freeze.

The second crucial factor is humidity. If left out in the air during storage, the tubers will dry out due to the low humidity we typically have in our homes in the winter heating season. So the solution is to store them in air tight containers. For a small amount of tubers, maybe under a hundred or so, I find keeping them in zip-loc bags is a good way to go. I usually separate the clumps of tubers into singles, then place one or two in each bag. To maintain good humidity I add moist sawdust to the bag. If you have more that one tuber per bag, the sawdust also keeps the tubers from touching each other. While you’re at it, add a tag so you know what variety it is.

Even though I had success in the past using peat moss, potting mix or garden soil, I’ve found that sawdust works best for me. I’ve heard of people using shredded newspaper but have never tried it. However, with so many people opting to get their news online, printed newspaper is getting harder and harder to find these days . You can easily solve that dilemma by subscribing to Detroit News home-delivery, but I digress.

The third and final secrete is to check on them once in a while. Open them up and make sure the packing material is still moist. Also, toss any rotting tubers you might find. It’s pretty disappointing to open them up in the spring only to find out your tubers were ruined due to neglect over winter.

Those plants you bought from the garden center and planted in your garden, most likely grew a set of usable tubers. Since soil temperatures are still hovering around 40 degrees F, it may be fun to check in your garden to see if your dahlia tubers are still good. Dahlia farms are asking $3.00 and up for each tuber (not including shipping) so it may be worth your while to poke around in the garden. Let us know in the comment section what you find.

Bob

Late digging potatoes

Earlier this week I was out working in my vegetable garden. I finished off the season by digging the last of my potatoes.

Since we’ve had a cold November,  I was somewhat concerned about the shape they might be in. Now, I have occasionally found potatoes in the spring that have gone through an entire winter with no apparent damage so my concerns were not that great. On the other hand, I’ve had potatoes freeze over winter and ended up frost damaged tubers that were completely unusable. I debated whether or not to even bother with them since I had so many other things on my plate with the Holiday season ramping up.

On Sunday the weather was more seasonal so I got out my garden fork and dug into the first row. The potatoes were in perfect shape and the yield looked promising too. This was the patch of “near no-till” potatoes I blogged about this spring.

My first bucket of potatoes from this patch.
My first bucket of potatoes from this patch.

The ground had a covering of tree leaves that I’m sure helped insulate the soil. There must have been enough residual heat stored in the ground to keep the soil around the potatoes from solidly freezing despite the fact we had temperatures down into the teens and frozen soil at the surface. I didn’t check the soil temperature but it was probably in the mid to upper thirties which is close to the ideal storage temperature for potatoes.

The yield was halfway decent, maybe a little on the low side, but that was because of nearby trees competing with the potatoes for light and water. Plus, I never irrigated this patch but it did have a layer of dried grass mulch that helped conserve the soil moisture.

All in all, I call it a successful experiment. My “no-till plus mulch” combination along with an inadvertent late harvest worked out well.  If you are thinking the potatoes you left out in the garden are a lost cause, I suggest you try digging them even though these’s snow on the ground, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Bob

Burning tree leaves

A couple of weeks ago I was running behind in my fall garden projects including taking care of the fallen leaves all over my lawn. The early snow we had back then didn’t help either.

One weekend while driving back from up north, I spotted several people catching up on their fall tree leaf clean up. They were easy to spot because of the plumes of smoke rising up from their lawns and ditches. By the way, this was happening out in the countryside where leaf burning is still fairly common.

I enjoy the smell of burning leaves as much as the next guy. When I smell leaf smoke, it reminds me of my childhood when nearly everyone in the neighborhood burned their leaves. It actually was a pretty good tactic to get the kids out of the house. As a matter of fact, the neighborhood kids looked forward to raking the lawn because of the fire afterward.

Of course nowadays most communities have ordinances restricting leaf burning. And Michigan has a state law regulating open burning of leaves so we don’t see or smell much of it anymore.

As much as I enjoy it, as a gardener I wouldn’t burn leaves even if it were allowed. They are just too valuable as a soil amendment to let them just go up in smoke.

Burning destroys valuable soil builders.

I you think about it for a bit, trees have huge root systems that absorb soil minerals from a deep and wide area, nutrients that may not be available to other kinds of plants. Those soil nutrients, along with carbon from the atmosphere, are used by trees to make their leaves. That’s a lot of plant nutrients that trees make for us when you consider the shear volume of leaves each tree produces every year.

The mineral components of the leaves quite are valuable, providing much more fertilizer value than manure. Even more valuable than the mineral elements are the carbon compounds that make up the bulk of a leaf. When leaves break down in the soil they provide humus, that magical ingredient that experienced gardeners know is the secrete to a flourishing garden.

I remember several years ago a friend of mine used to pick up bagged up leaves from the curbside in the city and take them home to use because she didn’t have access to enough leaves. One day just as my friend was about to depart with a van full of bagged leaves, the homeowner came running out of the house shaking her fist and yelling, “put those leaves back!”  The funny thing is those leaves were about to be picked up by the trash collectors and taken to the landfill.

The biggest drawback to leaves is their tendency to blow around and not stay put where they are needed. That can easily be taken care of by cutting them up into smaller pieces. I use a leaf vac with a collection bag to shred and collect most of my leaves. Some of the heavier and tougher leaves like cottonwood, I run over with a lawn mower first to make them easier to vacuum up. Then they either go right into the garden as a mulch or into to the compost pile if there are any left over.

Instead of looking at leaves as trash that needs to be bagged up and hauled away, I like to consider them free soil builders provided by mother nature every year. In case you were wondering, my friend did manage to escape with her misbegotten load of contraband.

Bob

What side of the debate were you on this fall?

While much of the country is focused on the mid-term elections, two opposing camps of gardeners are lining up this fall.  Each side has compelling reasons why they are right and the other side is wrong. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

One side is more, you might say, traditional in their approach to preparing perennial beds for winter. Those gardeners remove all of this year’s dead plant material from the garden and dispose of it by composting or other means. They claim that removing dead material now, in the fall, creates a clean slate for new growth in the spring. Tender new growth will less likely be damaged than if you try to remove last year’s growth when the plant is actively growing in the spring.

Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.
Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.

The other group says, “We care about birds”. They leave all of their plant growth untouched in the fall. All of that tangled up mass of plant stems provides valuable cover for wild song birds that over-winter. This group feels they have a responsibility to the wider ecological community when gardening. Many perennials produce seeds each fall. Leaving those old flower stalks up, they say, provides an addition food source for birds.

Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.
Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.

Leaving the garden alone in the fall has some other, less tangible benefits. All of that debris tends to collect and hold snow in place providing a natural insulating blanket. The protective snow cover can reduce the chance of freeze damage or frost heaving in some years. Not only that, the stalks provide an attractive visual element to the winter landscape as well, claims the leave-it-be group.

Gardeners on the other side counter those arguments claiming by the time they start clearing their gardens, the birds have already eaten virtually all of the seeds. Their small plot of flowers would not provide any really usable cover for birds either, they say. And who wants to look at a messy garden area all winter anyway? Not only that, spring is busy enough without having to do all the work you should have done last fall.

So every fall die-hard gardeners endlessly debate the merits of their position. I’m not really sure how often one breaks ranks and joins the other side, probably not very often.

Bob

 

 

 

 

Planting garlic

 

Since I ordered my garlic bulbs way back in the spring, I was not thinking of them at all when they arrived in the mail several days ago.

I got those garlic cloves into the ground right away even though they could have been planted anytime from October through November. Getting them earlier gives them a chance to put down some roots and get nestled in for the winter.

In the past, I’ve had to postpone my garlic planting until well into November and the crop seemed to do quite well despite the delay.

Garlic for planting looks just like a bulb from the grocery store produce department.
Garlic for planting looks just like a bulb from the grocery store produce department.
Cover the cloves with one  to two inches of soil.
Cover the cloves with one to two inches of soil.
Before planting you need to separate the cloves yourself.
Before planting you need to separate the cloves yourself.
Always place the garlic clove with the root end down.
Always place the garlic clove with the root end down.

You have to plan ahead if you want to grow garlic because when planting time rolls around, you very likely will not be able to find cloves to plant. So put it in your calendar for next spring as a reminder to yourself to place your order.

Bob