To Seed or Not to Seed?

Propagation is one of my favorite garden tasks. It’s just a big word to describe a couple simple techniques for starting new plants.

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There’s seed (which I’m sure everyone is familiar with), cuttings (think of it as cloning, but all you need is part of a stem, leaf or root to do it) and layering. Since layering is a technique that is used on actively growing plants, I’m going to ignore that one for now and just focus on starting baby plants.

Sowing is the traditional way to grow plants. 

Just follow the directions on your seed packets and you should be fine. A good rule of thumb when sowing is to plant the seed only as deep as its diameter. 

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There are a few seeds that are dormant and need a little help breaking dormancy. In that case you can soak, nick or freeze your seeds for a specified amount of time. Few seeds require treatments like that, so unless your seed packet indicates otherwise no worries.

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Not all seed is created equal. Yup, you heard me. 

Some plants are sterile and don’t produce any seeds, while others which do, don’t come true to seed. This phrase “not true to seed” refers to planting seeds from a single plant, but the emerging seedlings show wide variation in color, form and/or growing habit. When this is the case, you should take cuttings. 

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I take cuttings for rosemary, tarragon, lavender and my scented geraniums in the fall so they have a good start before the following growing season. And even though you can take cuttings anytime, spring and fall are best.

Use clean, sharp snips or a razor to sever a 3-6″ long stem or leaf from the mommy plant just above a node. Then, trim the bottom to just below a node–your cutting will root quicker from there. Sometimes rooting hormone is useful, others not-so-much, but stick your cutting in a light potting mix and firm up the soil. Most cuttings root in 3-4 weeks. 

And whether you are starting from seed or cuttings, a heating mat is invaluable! 

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Cuttings are also useful when you see a plant at your friend’s house that you want to steal covet. It’s less of an imposition to ask if you can just snip off a stem rather than tucking the whole thing into your bag when no one’s looking and giving “innocent eyes” when someone discovers the plant is missing.

For more on sowing seed, cuttings and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Herbs 101 : Basil

There is nothing like going into the garden and picking some herbs to freshen your home, or your food! Every Tuesday I am going to share some of my favorite herbs – why I love them, how to grow them and any special tidbits I’ve picked up along the way.

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And this week I am going to start off with BASIL!

I like to start mine from seed, and I’ll sow about 10 plants every 2-3 weeks. This guarantees that the farm  (and any friends and family who come begging) will have fresh basil all summer long!

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I use a basic seed starting mix, and either prop trays or my  soil blocker (which is am-a-zing!). The soil blocks hold together well once the seedling is rooted, and it makes for easy transplanting into the garden or pots for the kitchen windowsill. I give my seeds full sun and they usually will germinate within 5 days. I’m a bit careful about watering, as basil seedlings are prone to dampening off.

My biggest piece of advice for growing basil is Pinch-Pinch-Pinch it back!

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By pinching back the plant delays flowering, and once flowering occurs its leaf production will slow. And since I grow basil for its flavorful leaves, I just keep pinching it back until it is a nice bushy plant.

I use my basil in everything from pasta and sauces to bruchetta, soups and salads. And if I have enough leftover (which unfortunately never happens) I’ll dry it for the winter.

For more on growing basil and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Warmly,
Kelly
By |March 13th, 2017|Growing & Gardening, Herbariums, Herbs|

Compost, the Black Gold

Every gardener’s compost pile aspires to the almighty ‘black gold’. Full or nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, it feeds your vegetables, herbs and flowers so much better than any fertilizer can and the best part of it is, it’s FREE!

The hardest aspect of composting for me is the patience. I have none.

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It takes at least 6 months to turn your garden’s leavings from garbage into gourmet food.

You can make compost in a pile in the corner of your yard or homemade bin. If you are using wood, just be sure that is it not pressure-treated. You don’t want those nasty chemicals leaching out into your compost and then into your food. There are a number of materials that can be used to make great compost, including: plastic, wire, wood, pallets or fencing.

The key to happy, healthy compost is heat and the right amount of brown and green material. 100908_4354

Heat is generated by keeping your piles to a manageable size (3’x 3’x 3′) and turning it weekly. The ingredients are the other half.

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Shredded newspaper, pine needles, dried leaves and cardboard are all good sources of carbon (or brown) materials, while vegetable scraps, grass clippings and other green things are good nitrogen sources. The rule of thumb is for every one bucket of nitrogen, use two of carbon.

Since carbon materials can be in short supply in the growing season I’ll bag up a bunch of leaves in the fall and store them in the shed for use in the summer.

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Once your pile smells nice and woodsy, it’s time to spread it out in the garden. And don’t be stingy! Use a good 3-4 inches and your garden with thank you.

For more on composting and the organic kitchen garden, be sure to check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

How to Dry Thyme

 

Drying Thyme | Bowery Beach Farm

I’ve been running the food dehydrator non-stop to my husband’s dismay. Everyday he says things like, “You haven’t finished drying that parsley yet?” and I have to remind him that now I’m onto drying something else like sage, rosemary or thyme. This week I’ve been harvesting and drying a TON of thyme. This year we grew quote a few different varieties in bulk but some of my favorites include: French, English, Silver Edged, Lemon, Spicy Orange and Lavender.

Culinarily French Thyme is the typically the best tasting and the most requested by our restaurant and chef clients. This drys exceedingly well and maintains its delicious flavor. English is another highly sought after variety and the most most home gardeners are familiar with. We grew both on the farm this year and I personally found the French variety edges out the English ever so slightly. Silver Edged is also a good choice because it can be used in cooking but looks just as pretty in the garden or a pot with its silvery-white edges. Lemon is a must if you like to cook with fish and Lavender is a good addition to rice, pot roasts and doughs if you like the flavor of lavender (it really does have a lavender taste!). And I found spicy orange is best for borders. I adore its citrusy-orange scent as I step on or brush against it in the garden.

Drying Thyme | Bowery Beach Farm

Thyme – fresh or dry – is a must in the kitchen for me. It is an essential herb in spice mixes like bouquet garnis and herbes de Provence. I use it in soups, stews, herb breads, marinades and meats. This herb has so many uses in the kitchen that it is a no-brainer for us to grow and dry so we have home-grown thyme all year long.

And drying this herb couldn’t be easier! Harvest stems early in the morning, and cut right before your thyme blooms for peak flavor. Rinse and shake off any excess water. You can dry the leave on or off the stem, but they’ll dry quicker off. If you have a dehydrator kudos to you, it should take a couple of days. If not, don’t worry, you can bundle a few springs together and hang them upside down in a room that is a at least 50ºF for a week or so. Once dried, the leaves should come off easily by using your thumb and forefinger to squeeze and run them down the stem. 

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Now just store them in an airtight container out of sunlight to maintain flavor. And as a rule of thumb use one teaspoon of dried thyme for every tablespoon of fresh when cooking.

n soups, herb breads and  marinades

By |November 5th, 2015|Herbs|

Propagating Pelargoniums

Propagating Scented Geraniums | Bowery Beach Farm

Have you ever started a project with a timeline in mind of how long it would take … and then it takes twice, scratch that, four to FIVE times as long?  Well, that’s about how long it’s taken me to propagate all our varieties of scented geraniums!

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And that’s not even going into all the leaf and flower drying and essential oils we’ve been distilling from everything growing in the fields and hoop house.

 

But with just over 50 scented geraniums (or pelargoniums for you more botanically inclined plant enthusiasts) growing for next year it’s been a busy couple of weeks months of cutting and propagating.

Propagating Scented Geraniums | Bowery Beach Farm

For many of our larger leaf cultivars I trim, no, make that cut down the leaves by half or a third in order for the plants to have enough energy for root development, rather than transpiration. This helps them develop stronger root systems much faster than if they had their entire leaf.

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And don’t waste your money on rooting hormones – scented geraniums really don’t need need or require that in order to set root. They are more than happy to grow roots and into healthy plants with just some light, water and TLC.

By |October 19th, 2015|Herbs, Propagating|