January always finds me a bit restless. The holidays are over and it is time to dedecorate the house, the weather may or may not support outdoor activities like walks or cross-country skiing, and that New Year’s resolution of cleaning up the attic seems more daunting with every passing week. So to find some peace of mind, I reach for a hot cup of herbal tea and my stack of seed and plant catalogs that has been climbing higher each day the mail comes.

Like many gardeners, I start off with a wish list. Fanciful, curious, gorgeous or productive new, or previously unknown to me, selections are listed in my seed notebook to be later pared down to what I actually have room in the garden for. The eyes are always bigger than the garden!

I thought I would share some selections in the first few catalogs that I have received which caught my eye. Several new selections from the Park Seed catalog (www.parkseed.com) got my attention. Since I am always looking for cut flower selections, cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ looked interesting with its fused petals resembling a cup, hence the name. It is supposed to grow 4 feet tall and stand up to heat, rain and drought.

Multi-colored marigolds may work well as bedding plants. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ has double pompom blossoms with petals of coral, peach, gold and orange. I am seriously considering it for lining the front walkway this year. ‘Fireball’ also offers big double flowers that are open red and then turn orange, bronze or gold. Both are compact plants reaching about 10 inches high.

marigold-straw-blonde-park-seed

Strawberry Blonde Marigold from http://www.parkseed.com

Parks also offers a blueberry that fruits twice in one year. ‘Bushel and Berry™ Blueberry Perpetua’ not only fruits in midsummer and again in fall but the leaves change to red in the fall and the yellow stems turn red in the winter making this 4 to 5 foot high plant productive and attractive year round.

Pinetree Garden Seeds (www.superseeds.com) is offering two new kales. ‘Siberfrill’ is quite decorative with its frilly edged leaves while ‘Dazzling Blue’ is just that with bluish-tinged leaves and pinkish-purple midribs. Enjoy them for their decorative as well as eating qualities. ‘Edox’ lettuce is a disease-resistant, butterhead type with attractive burgundy edged leaves that reputedly grows well spring through fall.

Two snap peas will also likely end up in my garden. ‘Sugar Magnolia’ has pretty pink bicolored flowers that turn into deep purple edible podded peas and plants are said to beat the mid-July heat. ‘Opal Creek’ sports white flowers and pastel lemon pods on 6 foot vines and also holds up well to summer heat. ‘Corbaci’ is a sweet pepper with super long, thin fruits that bears heavy and early. This Turkish heirloom can be eaten at any stage and can be used fresh, dried, for pickling or frying.

sugarmagnoliapea-from-pinetree

Sugar Magnolia Pea from Pinetree Seeds http://www.superseeds.com

It is hard to choose tomatoes or peppers from Totally Tomatoes (www.totallytomatoes.com) as there are just too many choices. Usually I just grow sweet peppers but may try ‘Sriracha’ this year. The chili-type fruits are supposed to be mildly hot but not overpowering. The thick-walled, early maturing fruits are good for roasting and pickling. Another interesting pepper is ‘Jupiter’ which is an open-pollinated reintroduction. Blocky fruits ripen to red on 30 inch, tobacco mosaic resistant plants.

‘Sunrise Sauce’ is a hybrid, determinant tomato that is resistant to fusarium and verticillium. Three to 4 ounce orange fruits taste like the traditional red Romas. High yielding fruits ripen all at once which is convenient for sauce making. ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ is in a unique dwarf class of tomatoes. Three foot tall plants produce large 8 to 12 ounce mahogany red, beefsteak tomatoes delicious fresh or cooked.

tasmanianchocolate-heritageseedmarket-com

Tasmanian Chocolate tomato. Photo from http://www.heritageseedmarket.com

Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) is offering All America Selections Regional Winner, eggplant ‘Patio Baby’. This compact mini eggplant would work well in small gardens and containers. Purple flowers are followed by purple, 2 to 3 inch, spineless fruits.

‘Xtra-Tender’ is an early bicolor sweet corn and the first supersweet variety available as organic seed. Supposedly it germinates well in cool soils, is of excellent eating quality and matures in 71 days.

New to me are some mini romaine lettuces. Too often too many lettuces mature all at once and there is just so much salad a person can eat. ‘Dragoon’ is a green, mini romaine that is slow to bolt. ‘Breen’ is a medium bronze mini only 8 inches tall and ‘Trunchas’ is a dark red. All mature in less than 50 days and show some disease resistance.

Sunflower ‘Florenza’ has dark centers ringed with a deep burgundy and tipped with gold. Plants grow about 4 ½ feet tall and flowers have a mild chocolate fragrance.

florenza-johnnys

Sunflower Florenza from http://www.johnnyseed.com

The last couple of years I lost my basil plants to a disease known as basil downy mildew. New from Burpee (www.burpee.com) is ‘Pesto Party’, a late-flowering basil with tolerance to downy mildew. Coleus ‘Pineapple Surprise’ sounds like a container hit with its chartreuse and burgundy leaves swirled with chocolate brown.

basil-pesto-party-from-burpee

Basil Pesto Party from http://www.burpee.com

A definite addition to the cutting garden is celosia ‘Red Velvet Cake’. Three to 4 foot plants have strong stems that do not require staking. The vibrant crimson heads look like they will make great fresh and dried flowers.

celosia-rvc-burpee

Celosia Red Velvet Cake from http://www.burpee.com

Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com) has a uniquely colored butternut squash, ‘Autumn Choice’. Classic butternut-shaped fruit have attractive orange and green speckled bands. Not only is butternut a great tasting squash but because of its solid stems, members of this species, Cucurbita moschata, are not attacked by squash vine borers.

autumn-choice-squash-territorial

Autumn Choice Winter Squash from http://www.territorialseed.com

Another fun squash is offered by Henry Fields (www.henryfields.com). ‘Dinosaur Eggs’ is a hybrid summer squash with round fruit in three colors – pale green, dark green and yellow. It is listed as disease resistant and productive.

These are just some offerings that piqued my interest and I have yet a dozen or more catalogs to go through. It is fun to try new vegetables and flowers while growing some old favorites. The hard part is whittling down the list to ones you can afford – both space and time wise.

Happy Horticultural New Year!

Dawn

About now, many of us gardeners have a stack of seed catalogs several inches high and have started combing through them acquiring all kinds of ideas and a long wish list. Before finalizing you orders, spend a bit of time going through any leftover seeds from the previous year. Many seeds, including tomatoes, peppers and zinnia remain viable for several years. So if you are just starting 2 ‘Sungold’ tomatoes each year, you might just need to purchase seeds every third or fourth year. On the other side of the spectrum are short-lived seeds whose germination declines with every passing year. They include vegetables such as onions, leeks, parsley, parsnips and sweet corn. It is best to purchase new seeds for these crops every year for best results.

How older seeds are stored will also affect viability. They can be kept in their individual seed packets, small coin envelops, or in plastic or glass containers. Wondering what to do with the envelops your bank teller or ATM hands you? Give them a second life storing seed collected from the garden. The key to seed saving is to keep them dry, not exposed to very hot or cold temperatures, and away from heat sources. I use a photograph box and organize my seeds into two rows – flowers and vegetables. Plastic bins are used by others while another option is putting them in photograph albums with pocketed sleeves. Any extra seeds which you won’t be using this year could be traded with friends, donated to community or school gardens or offered to local garden clubs.

A photo box holds the authors seed collection. Photo by DMP

A photo box holds the authors seed collection. Photo by DMP

I’m not sure how many local readers have signed up for the CT 10% Campaign (http://www.buyctgrown.com/ct-10-percent) but purchasing seeds from Connecticut seed companies is just one more way to spend 10% of your food and gardening money locally. Connecticut has at least 6 seed companies with numerous offerings.

The oldest is Comstock, Ferre & Co. which was founded in 1811 by Joseph Belden who advertised his first seed variety and price list in the Hartford Courant. His brother later took over the business selling seeds out of the 1767 home their father built which still stands in Wethersfield today. In 2010, the company was purchased by Jere and Emilee Gettle with the intention of returning it to its heirloom roots. One of their goals is to search and preserve the seed varieties listed in old catalogs and seed lists. They also are working on the restoration of the buildings and grounds on the historic site eventually creating a living history museum depicting the importance of agriculture and heirloom varieties.

Now known as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/Comstock, Ferre & Co. and still located in Wethersfield, CT, the company offers vegetable, flower and herb seeds at their company store as well as online. Check out www.rareseeds.com  to view their offerings, business hours and family friendly events.

The Chas. C. Hart Seed Company, after being founded in 1892, is still being run 5 generations later by Charles C. Hart’s great-great grandsons. Beginning as a small, home-based, consignment seed package business, it slowly grew purchasing other seed businesses in Connecticut and neighboring states. Although the original wood building housing the Chas. C. Hart Seed Company burned in 1943, a new office/warehouse building was constructed on the historic Wethersfield site.

Hart Seed is GE (genetically engineered) free and is typically sold online in bulk. While one may not need 1000 or more seeds which might be a catalog minimum, individual packets can be found at many Connecticut locations including garden centers, agricultural supply shops and hardware stores throughout the state. For a list of locations, visit www.hartseed.com.

Although not as old as the previous two seed houses, NE Seed was founded in 1987 by two longtime friends with the purpose of creating a line of ‘high quality, chemical-free seed products’ reasonably priced and consisting of conventional, organic, heirloom and hybrid vegetable, flower and herb varieties. Seeds from their catalog are generally ordered in bulk but like Hart Seed, their smaller seed packets are available at a variety of local venues.

NE Seed also offers bulk seeds of native forbs and grasses which would work well when establishing a wildflower meadow or wildlife habitat plot. They are located in Hartford and at www.neseed.com.

Seed packets from some CT seed companies. Photo by DMP

Seed packets from some CT seed companies. Photo by DMP

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers is a unique seed company located in Union, CT specializing in old-fashioned flowers but offering a limited number of vegetables and herbs, all non GE seeds, as well as annual transplants and perennials. What is unique about antique flowers, as well as heirloom vegetables, is that they are open pollinated which means that if the seed produced by the parent plant is saved and replanted, an identical plant or one very similar to the parent plant will grow. Seeds can be saved from year to year. With many of us New Englanders residing in older homes, the flower varieties offered by Select Seeds may well be the same ones our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were growing and also, quite compatible with the historic and architectural elements comprising our homes . See their complete listings at www.selectseeds.com.

Select Seeds new catalog. Photo by DMP

Select Seeds new catalog. Photo by DMP

If one is focused on cooking what one grows, Kitchen Garden Seeds in Bantam, CT www.kitchengardenseeds.com may have some attractive offerings.  Scroll through their seed offerings to find a variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers and specialty collections. There is a relatively large selection of Asian vegetables and even the telephone number of their seed specialist who will take your calls during the week. Request their print catalog or order on-line. This company offers numerous recipes using their herbs and vegetables and a nice assortment of horticultural tips.

Lastly, while not typically for the general public, Colonial Seed of Windsor should be mentioned. They specialize in native grasses, sedges, legumes and other native plants that are needed for habitat restoration plantings, native wildflower meadows , forage fields and other challenging sites. Some of their seed is available through other commercial outlets like Hart Seeds but contact this company directly at www.colonialseed.com for more offerings.

Connecticut residents are lucky as it is not that difficult to live and buy local in many areas of our state. Support local businesses, including seed houses and local garden centers as a way of supporting the businesses employing your neighbors and keeping local dollars in the local economy.

Dawn P.

Silene

Silene stenophylla, regenerated from a 32,000-year-old seed.
(Photograph: National Academy of Sciences)

The dry little speck that develops into a magnificent plant is one of those miracles that happens so often that it’s easy to take it for granted. But, if we stop and consider the way plants guarantee that a new generation will carry on their genes, we have to marvel at the elegance of nature’s design. Protected by a tough coat, seed can tolerate conditions much harsher than its living parent could ever survive, and it can wait years for the proper conditions to germinate. In the case of Silene stenophylla, proper conditions were scientists removing its seed from a 32,000 year-old squirrel burrow in the Siberian permafrost and growing it. This “delicate” arctic campion grew, bloomed and set seed after millennia of patient dormancy. Other reports of Jerusalem date palm and lotus seed remaining viable for a mere thousand years is testament to the phenomenal adaptation and resilience of plants. (At the other end of the spectrum, some tropical seed remains viable only briefly, and must be sown fresh for good results.)  In order to make management of a crop easier, agricultural seed has been selected to germinate all at the same time, a characteristic that would be disastrous for wild species. Ordinary garden seed, collected the previous year and packed and stored in dry conditions, is a valuable resource for gardeners.

Growing plants from seed allows the gardener a much broader range of plant choices than you’ll find at your local garden centers. With all the offerings online, in seed catalogs or on the racks in the big-box stores, the choices can be overwhelming. When selecting varieties, consider not only appearance, but yield, disease resistance and flavor. Gardeners’ reviews in internet forums can be useful in making a decision.

Tomato seedling 'High Tower' (Photo: Rutgers)

As the time for starting seeds for the vegetable garden approaches, a few pointers may be helpful:

  • Start tomatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, or thereabouts (Eight weeks is standard lead time before planting in the garden, but if mid-May is still too chilly, plants can always be held a couple more weeks.) The majority of garden vegetables can be started from seed at this time. Cabbage can wait a few weeks, and for the vines, (cucumber, melon, squash, etc.) delay indoor planting until the last week of April, because setting out these heat-loving plants too early will only retard their growth.
  • Root crops should be sown directly in the garden.
  • Growing annual and perennial flowers from seed is an economical way to grow large numbers of plants and also to try unusual varieties. Be aware that some perennials require stratification (periods of cold that break dormancy) before they will germinate.
  • Seed saved by friends and neighbors in your area are often a good bet. They’ve been tested by others who have about the same conditions as yours.
  • Start small seeds in flats and larger seeds in cell packs, using commercial potting soil. (The garden books advise sterilizing the cell packs if they’ve been used before, and also using sterilized growing medium; I do neither and have never had a problem.) Garden soil can contain weed seeds and pathogens; potting mix is the safer choice.
  • Don’t trust your memory; identify flats with popsicle sticks labeled with indelible marker.
  • Germinate seeds in a warm room. Bottom heat aids germination; a table over a baseboard or radiator is excellent, as long as it’s not too hot.
  • Cover germinating seeds with a sheet of plastic to retain moisture. (Dry cleaner’s bags work well, held in place with something light – I use chopsticks.) Monitor closely to be sure soil is damp, not wet. Remove plastic as soon as seeds break the surface. Allow one week beyond the germination times stated on the seed packet. If germination is disappointing or absent, resort to Plan B.
  • The humidity that is conducive to seed germination is also the perfect environment for the growth of fungi and bacteria that can attack seeds or seedlings in a condition called damping off. Keep soil moist, but not wet; excessive moisture is the primary culprit of this disease. A small fan running on slow speed (placed well away from the seedlings) or a slightly open window on warm days will help by circulating air and keeping surfaces dry.
  • Move sprouted seeds immediately to the brightest light available. A sunny window is good; or artificial lights (fluorescent or LED) hung on a chain can be positioned a few inches from the growing plants and moved as necessary.
  • After sprouted seeds have their first set of true leaves, they may require thinning. Plants that are too crowded will compete with each other and none will flourish, so don’t skip this step. Cutting off unwanted plants with small scissors is preferable to pulling because it won’t disturb delicate roots.
  • When plants outgrow their cells or small pots, move up to a 2.5-3” pot, using a plant stake or plastic spoon to separate and lift the seedlings. Water thoroughly with a dilute water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Vine crops (cucumbers, melons, squash, etc.) are best started in peat pots because they can be transplanted without disturbing their temperamental roots. Peat pots are mushy when wet, so at planting time, soak them well, tear them gently open and plant directly into the ground. Trim off any pot that will protrude above the soil; this will cause wicking action that can rapidly rob moisture from the plant.
  • Harden off plants before planting out in the garden, gradually exposing plants, over the course of a couple of weeks, to increasing sunlight and cool weather.

For those who haven’t tried it, growing your own plants from seed is a gratifying experience – there’s no better way to tune in to a plant’s requirements and hone your horticultural instincts, and it’s an economical way to try new varieties and keep your garden interesting.

J. McInnis

Knowledge To Grow On……..Ladyblog – 2009 Week One

 

Every New Year brings with it new possibilities and new challenges. Just as we can’t predict how well our gardens will do this next growing season, we venture into the coming year not knowing what we might behold. Events over the last few years, especially over this last one, have many seeking a simpler, more responsible and sustainable path.  As educators, we want to provide you with research-based, unbiased information so that you can make informed choices. Our focus, obviously, is horticulture. But, when you think about it, all life begins with the soil. A plant’s health and well-being is essential for our health and well-being. As more and more details are discovered about global climate change, it becomes clearer that every part of the global ecosystem is connected. Chemicals we use or have used in our daily lives, residences, offices, factories and so forth are found in the bodies of polar bears inhabiting the Arctic! 

 

We, as gardeners, have the ability to transform the world. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, row by row. Not only can we put food on the table (often having enough left over to share) but we can become good stewards of our little patch of land. We have many opportunities to spread the word about gardening practices that tread lightly on the landscape. Our goal is to provide you with the information necessary to do so. Check out our blog each week for thoughtful conversation, tips, helpful information, resources, rants and raves, and what the scientists in our College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are working on. We welcome your comments and suggestions. DP

 

Happy Horticultural New Year!

 

UConn Home & Garden Education Center Staff

Dawn Pettinelli, Leslie Alexander, Carol Quish and Joan Allen