Saving Seeds

We are often asked how to store a packet of seed that’s partially used. all our Nichols Garden Nursery seed packets are resealable. But once opened and left lying around germination may reduce in response to heat and humidity changes. My easiest solution is to place the packets in a glass container. Either pour some desiccant to your jar of  fold up some powdered milk in a paper towel and add to the jar with seeds. Close the jar and refrigerate. Check it from time to time. Especially useful with seeds you sow in spring and again in summer or fall for a fall winter garden.

Sow Peas On Valentines Day

HEARTS4PeasPeas, flat, round, long and short, crisp or tender, these are one of the first vegetables to plant in spring. In many parts of the country Valentine’s Day is traditional for pea planting. I look around and it’s a pretty day this year with soil temperatures up to 40 degrees, suitable for pea planting. When I head home today the peas are going in the ground. Here are my favorites and why…what do you do with peas, eat them of course and toss polyspun row cover over the young sprouts if birds in your neighborhood think the young shoots are nesting material. The row cover also gives a temperature boost for faster growth. Plant seeds no deeper than 1”. I make a little furrow and cover with ½” of soil and once they’re up add more, so roots are protected from heat later in the season. I also use legume inoculant so there’s no need to need to add nitrogen since this organically approved product helps legume plants utilize atmospheric nitrogen for growth. All four varieties I’ve listed can be planted for spring and again in mid-July for a fall crop. These are all results of the Oregon State University Horticulture Dept. vegetable breeding program. Multiple disease resistant including enation virus and powdery mildew.

Cascadia Snap Pea: A tall bush type, more productive and sweeter than other bush snaps we’ve grown. Let tender pods fatten up for maximum flavor.

Oregon Sugar Pod II: The most widely grown Sugar Pod in the world. Perfect for Asian stir-fries and you’ve undoubtedly eaten this delicacy in many a Chinese restaurant.

Oregon Giant Sugar Pod: Pease are about 50% larger than OS Pod II and a touch sweeter. It’s a great home garden variety because it takes fewer for a meal and most home cooks like the larger size but little used commercially.

Oregon Trail Pea: This all-purpose shelling pea is twin podded and there’s nothing homier than shelling a mess of peas with a class of iced tea beside you.

We’ll share some pea recipes later in the season…but planting as early as possible is the essential first step. And, these all grow well in containers as Maggie and I discussed in McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container.

Hop Shoots Picking & Preparing

Hop shoots are a gardeners’ treat in early spring. Here are photos of them growing by the entry arbor to our herb garden at Nichols Garden Nursery. I snapped off a small bundle of emerging shoots, selecting for short tender stems and tips. Much admired in Belgium and France, where they are known as Jets de Houblon. Mature hop vines are actually more productive of hop cones when some shoots are removed.
To prepare plunge your tender shoots into salted boiling water, cook for 2 minutes and then drain. The timing can vary a bit cook only until barely tender. While shoots drain, poach eggs in fresh water (to avoid discoloration) or gently fry. Reheat shoots in butter and sprinkle over freshly cooked eggs. Don’t miss dipping a few hop tips into egg yolks.
Where these shoots are abundant they are variously sauced with béchamel, used as an omelet filling, served as a vegetable and pickled. Pickling does sound like a lot of effort for an ephemera of springtime. I’d most surely be appreciative of another’s accomplishment.

Talking about Herb Gardening @ awaytogardening.com

Join us atawaytogarden.com in an interview with  Margaret Roach at her blog/gardening magazine. Today Nichols Garden Nursery is featured. Keane is holding two fine specimens of Oregon Sweetmeat Squash Homestead. Notice the beautiful color and thick walls.  Grow it and you’ll also taste how sweet and tender it is. I am holding our very new Ruby-Gold Flint Corn and branches of true Mediterranean bay, Laurus nobilis, Rosemary Blue Gem, a Nichols introduction. Read her article, join the giveaway and learn a few herb gardening tips. Leave a comment on her blog and join the giveaway. Margaret is the former senior editor and Martha Stewart Living Magazine and author of the new and highly reviewed “and I shall find peace there” her latest book. Click the link to Margaret Roache’s article

http://awaytogarden.com/giveaway-rose-marie-nichols-mcgees-herb-qa#comments

Forcing Winter Branches Into Bloom

Every New Year I cut branches of shrubs and trees to force into early bloom. Think Spring! Now we have vases and jars of  Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Dogwood, Daphne, Hazelnut, and Willow.  A branch of Snow Berry adds a little substance to it all. When I brought in the branches the stems were gently scrubbed and recut before placing in water. The first few days it’s best to change the water daily. After three or four days if the buds are swelling I ease up. If buds are not swelling and branches are not using water your house may be too dry and a misting will help the buds open. Also cut off 1/2″ of stem to give them a fresh start. These are meant as simple directions for casual enjoyment of what’s in the garden at the beginning of a brand New Year. Place one variety per container since they bloom and leaf out on different schedules.  I’ll put up more photos when we have color. Place these flowering stems in a bright area but out of direct sun.

Pickled Elephant Garlic

Pickled Elephant Garlic A member of the leek family, Allium ampeloprasum like all garlic doesn’t produce viable seed. In spring mammoth scapes appear and can be harvested when flower buds form. For all types of garlic removing the flower buds directs the plant’s energy into bulb formation. These are a delicacy when sautéed. Come back for a recipe in late spring.

Pickling is a natural for these large mild cloves. So I offer you this recipe with the greatest  respect for those who develop pickling recipes. The flavors change and develop over the first six weeks and even longer and it is important to have it acidic enough to not cause botulism. The vinegar mixture needs only brought to a boil and then poured into the jar. Vinegar boiled in an open kettle for more than a few minutes will evaporate acetic acid reducing overall acidity.

Makes 2 pints

Ingredients
2 to 3 heads Elephant Garlic
4 cups white wine vinegar
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
4 dried or fresh chili peppers

Directions: separate bulbs from garlic heads. Remove the skins and trim the root base. Cut bulbs lengthwise into three sections. In a saucepan put vinegar, spices, sugar and salt on to heat.

Put canner or stockpot on to boil with enough water to cover jars during processing. Put lids into hot water to soften while jars are prepared.

Slit peppers with a knife tip in 3-5 places.  Place pieces of garlic, a bay leaf and peppers into freshly washed rinsed jars. Dip a spoon into brine, scoop out spices and add to jars. Add hot brine mixture to jars leaving ½” headspace. Wipe edges with a clean cloth or paper towel. Cover with heated lids and gently tighten rings.

Place jars in simmering waterbath. Jars should be covered by no more than an inch of water. Bring water to a strong simmer and once bubbles begin rising to surface process for 12 minutes. Remove jars from kettle and cool. Because I’m intimidated by any thoughts of spoilage or botulism my jars go into a refrigerator, another good reason for the small batch approach. The lids will  be depressed as a sign of sealing. Your garlic should be fresh and is ready to eat in ten days but I prefer six weeks. I like to cut into sections when serving. A true garlic aficionado may want a third of a clove or more.

Planting The Gardener’s Fall/Winter Pantry

Helen, who does much of our photography planted  her fall/winter pantry in early September. It’s 20 feet long and covered in light polyspun row cover. She used 6″ boards. bed is 36″ wide but wanted to make it unattractive to cats. Her materials were sawed off 5/8″ deeply set and 10″ above the ground. wood dowels pounded into the ground and PVC pipe.

She was indignant that cats had been pawing through the bed as soon as she prepared the soil. Polyspun was initially effective until a cat or raccoon dive bombed it one night. Critter control that’s not cruel or lethal seems a constant issue for gardeners. Helen solved her problem by covering the polyspun with bird netting just to see if that would deter the cats and that has worked.

The beds stand 2′ high.

Lettuce 10 varieties

Chicken scratch mix, Italian parsley and single parsley, green wave mustard, five or six different radishes, water cress, mountain cress, and garden cress were all planted in early December.

Her bed is watered twice daily two twenty minute periods. Part of her lawn system.(now that we are in October the water has been off for several weeks)

Medium size ‘Garden Clips’ and used three on each span to keep everything in place

She has done all of this herself and this post will be followed up with pics of her current garden in a few days. Most areas of the US have what I call shoulder seasons when we can grow cool weather crops that actually taste better when grown in lower temperature. The cool temps encourage plants to generate more sugars which act as a natural anti freeze.

Find Nichols Garden Nursery

I want all our  blog visitors to know we are now on facebook and you tube.

http://www.facebook.com/NicholsGardenNursery

This is where we comment on gardening and keep you informed about what is happening here at our nursery/seed company:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf3GQcw_EOQ

Here is the first episode of our new series of short instructional videos on how to grow, care for and use herbs from your garden. This session is “How to Make a Lavender Wreath”.

http://www.NicholsGardenNursery.com

Please visit our site, request a catalog if you don’t already have one and of course check out our online catalog. We are a 62 year old family seed owned seed company located in Albany, OR.

Happy gardening,

Rose Marie

Basil-Tomato Salsa

Salsa recipes are versatile and this is one that says Summer! Serve the “Basic Recipe” with chips or crackers.
The goat cheese log shown resting on a nest of wild arugula is summer fare. Make the full “Basic Recipe” and use half for this smokey paprika version. Add 1/4th tsp. Nichols triple smoked paprika and 1 tsp. olive oil and serve with goat cheese. Adding a spoonful of chopped capers to the “Basic Recipe” portion gives a lovely Tuscan quality. Pile onto toasted bread slices for bruschetta. These salsas are good with fish. If your palate wants more heat, acid or garlic adjust accordingly. You are the cook and summer abundance invites improvisation.

Basic Recipe
6 medium Roma Tomatoes (3 cups diced)
1 large mild onion (Walla Wallas if available)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4-6 Jalapeno peppers –deseeded
1 cup basil leaves, finely slivered and tightly packed
juice of 2 lemons or ¼ cup red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste, a touch of sugar if needed

With a well sharpened knife trim and finely dice the tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Deseeding peppers improves texture of the salsa and produces a milder flavor. The basil leaves need to have stems trimmed away before chopping. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you prefer to use slicing tomatoes, chop, let sit for a few minutes, and drain off excess juices.
I’ve used wild arugula which holds up in summer heat better than our standard arugula. Both will be delicious, Spread your cracker or toast with goat cheese “Chevre”, add a few sprigs of arugula and top with salsa.

Gardeners tip: beginning July 1 soils in the continental US are warm enough to direct sow basil seeds. Sow seeds about 1/2 inch apart in a sunny spot, keep damp as seeds germinate and plants develop. Thin to allow 3-4″ between developed plants. Start harvesting when 4″ tall. This is always my main crop for pesto. All this clipping doesn’t make for beautiful plants but the flavor and production is great.

Growing Rhubarb In Alaska

A customer wrote today asking if it is possible to grow rhubarb in Galena, Alaska. Galena is inland between Nome and Fairbanks and winter temperatures will drop to minus 50 F.
I think with care it can be done, though the low end for rhubarb is usually considered minus 40-minus 30 F. Here is my response to her.
Well there’s no better motivation for a gardener than a good challenge mixed with a measure of zonal denial. Rhubarb is considered hardy to -30 or -40 F. We lived in Northern Maine for a few years and saw temps go even lower though not for extended periods. Rhubarb was a great crop. You, I expect, have even colder temps and probably for longer periods. If you want to chance it, and if I were living in Galena, I’d give it a go in spite of the possibility of losing plants. Here is what I’d do. I’d dig up a nice bed for the crowns. The soil should be enriched with organic matter, leaves, manure etc. Set the crowns in this comfy bed and don’t harvest the first year. Fertilize early in the season with some form of seaweed because I think it builds a stronger hardier plant. Don’t fertilize after July 1 because you don’t want to force any late tender growth. Plant one crown in each of two large black plastic 20″ to 24″ nursery pots in an equally fertile mix. Fifty % of this mix should be commercial potting mix because of better drainage and lighter weight. Leave 4″- 5″ from plant to container soil line so you can mulch and to make watering easier. Place this out in nice sunny spot during the growing season.
Winter mulch with several inches of leaves after a couple hard frosts. Move the leaves out near your plants ahead of time so it’s an easy job when the weather turns. The two crowns growing in containers are your insurance policy. They should also be mulched, brought in to an unheated garage, an out building with a bit of wrap(burlap is great if you can find it). You want them kept steadily cold but not as cold as the outside temperatures. Once the weather begins to break move these outdoors and move leaves away from crowns. Once these start sending up shoots check your field planted crowns as they too will need to have mulch pulled aside.
You might consider low winter plastic tunnels and should do some research on the practicality of tunnels. The decision will be partly based on soil, permafrost conditions, and experience of other local gardeners. Our Garden Clips do an excellent job of holding heavy plastic to PVC pipe. Pipe is secured over a rebar stake.
The url below is about growing rhubarb in Alaska with informational links. The author has less harsh conditions than Galena but still interesting useful information.
http://akrhubarb.blogspot.com/
If you’ve made it this far…sorry about such a long post but it’s info for cold climate gardeners. Last summer I spoke to Anchorage Master Gardeners and came away wowed by the beauty of the place and how these gardeners enthusiastically overcome their challenges.

Frozen Pipes – Disconnect the Hose

Have you ever wondered why we’re told to disconnect the hose from pipes during a hard freeze? We usually did this but I always wondered why thinking the worst that could happen would be a split hose.
Yesterday, we saw why we always get this warning. In our case the hose froze solid forcing water to back up into the faucet and pipe and they broke. Other pipes were disconnected, this one is fairly hidden in a yew hedge. It formed this dramatic water sculpture and fountain. We’ll forever faithfully disconnect hoses when we no longer need to water.

We know there will be plant losses revealed as weather warms. Our demonstration salad gardens are worse for the weather and we do love salads. The tunnels warmth will encourage greens to regrow. As soon as there is a warm spell a light fertilizing of seaweed or fish emulsion will give plants a kick start.
Recent winters have been warm and we’d stopped taking all the necessary precautions against cold. We’re still learning and relearning the lessons we forget and winter does have it’s distinct power and beauty.

Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is easy, fun and  you to improve the soil while you decide what you what to do with a patch of ground. I’ll be planting a few bales at our annual Nichols Garden Nursery “Plant Day” this coming Saturday, May 16th. Varied crops will be growing for months since I plant greens, tomatoes, peas, beans, and peppers. When I plant peas and beans I always use legume inoculant so I don’t need to supplement with fertilizer. “Legume inoculant” allows these plants to utilize atmospheric nitrogen with nitrogen rich root nodules. Sounds complicated but works beautifully and results count.

Welcome our new straw bale blogging partner, fellow garden writer, Patsy Bell Hobson from Cape Giradeau, MO. She’ll also be growing a straw bale garden and I’ve included a link to her blog “Oh Grow Up”. You can follow two experienced gardeners living in very different environments using straw bales. See the  link to her site on the blogroll to the right of this page.

strawbales

Last week I was in Anchorage, AK and spoke to University of Alaska Master Gardeners on Container and Small Space Food Gardening and  on straw bale gardening. I hope these Master Gardeners  ask questions and report their results. Anchorage was warmer and sunnier than here in Western Oregon. I think the incomparable beauty of Anchorage and the surrounding area shall be forever imprinted in my mind.

After talking with gardeners and growers from this area I realize the need for short season varieties that get off to a fast start. We’ll be looking for these characterics in our summer trials. It’s not only Alaska needing fast maturing varieties but gardeners from Montana to Maine who persevere and grow great gardens. It’s May and we are all eager to once again experience the joy of gardening.

Garden Greens of Many Colors

Green leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and flavor. Grown for salads or cooking, there’s no easier faster crop for the home gardener. This spring I’ve been stir frying Kale, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy, Purple Broccoli, Raab, and Beet Greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic. I trim my pickings, chop and rinse. The skillet is hot and ready, I add oil and garlic, wait a few seconds, and then add the chopped greens with a little water still clinging, stir and toss until tender and sprinkle with a little salt. This usually takes no more than seven or eight minutes. If my chard stems are broad and beautiful I start cooking these first and then add the remaining greens.

My good friend, Al Modena, of Italian parentage,  owns an old family wholesale seed company in San Francisco. He asked me how I cook my Swiss Chard and I gave him this preparation. He enthusiastically nodded his head, saying “that’s right, but you need to add just a little anchovy instead of salt and it makes all the difference”! It’s as good as he says.

When I return from my Anchorage talks on Container & Small Space Food Gardening and Straw Bale Gardening we’ll cook up a few different greens with photos. Now is the time to start sowing seeds of all these “greens of many colors”. My family business, Nichols Garden Nursery is having a month long sale on many of these seeds. Often it is best to sow a row and come back in three weeks and plant again. It’s a little early to talk about fall planting but most of what we’re eating is from late summer and fall plantings of last year.

Tomatoes-Blossom-end Rot in Straw Bales

Most tomato gardeners have seen or experienced blossom-end rot on tomatoes. It appears at the base of the tomato…the portion that is fastest growing and forms an unattractive black decayed appearance. Also a fruit so affected generally ceases to grow or grows slowly.The following information applies to all tomato gardeners, whether growing in ground, containers, or straw bales.

Generally, it is the oblong Roma or paste tomatoes that are most often affected. I have never seen blossom end rot on a cherry tomato plant and I think it is because the fruits growth cycle is faster.

First it is a physiological problem not a disease. A lack of soil calcium or a defect in the  plant’s utilization and uptake of calcium is considered the cause. A few controllable conditions lead to this.

A simple lack of calcium is a factor which can be remedied by adding lime, gypsum, bone meal or in small gardens even ground up eggshells to the soil before planting.

An excess of ammonium nitrate can be a problem…straight substantial amounts of chemical nitrogen which some old articles on straw bale gardening recommend. Don’t use it. An excess or imbalance of potassium or magnesium. All these minerals and nutrients are needed by tomatoes, just no one in excess so use a balanced fertilizer along with compost. Consider also applying foliar sprays of liquid seaweed , Maxicrop is a good product.

The third and perhaps most significant cause is fluctuations in watering. Plants which dry out are not absorbing nutrients or water. This is followed by a heavy watering. Cycle through this a few times and it sets the stage for blossom end rot. If your climate is somewhat humid this moisture problem may be compounded. Drip or trickle irrigation either with emitters or leaky pipe will maintain even and optimal moisture. With straw bales and containers I like to give plants a thorough soaking from time to time.

The more oblong Roam or San Marzano tomatoes are most susceptible to blossom end rot. If your plants are producing defective fruits consider picking everyone that looks as though it will have this condition. The fruits will likely have a very poor taste and by picking plants nearly clean new fruits will set.

Basil-Summer Sowing

Basil seeds can be sown directly into the ground though all of July and on into early August. Warm soils lead to quick germination and you should be seeing small starts within a week. Prepare a smooth seedbed and sow seeds few inches apart. Don’t plant deeply, these are small seeds and need to be barely covered with 1/8″ of fine soil. Keep soil moist during the germination period. If weather is really hot and you are trying to keep soil from drying cover with newspaper propped a few inches above the soil. Sprinkle the seedbed and the papers to help hold in moisture during the day. When seeds sprout and show a full set of leaves thin 8″ to 12″ apart.

This late planting is what I use for frozen pesto and other preserved basil. It grows fast, is less troubled by slugs and needs little coddling. One of my favorite ways to preserve basil is frozen basil cubes. Strip leaves from the stem, and place in blender with enough water to make a thick slurry. Pour this mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. These can be stored in a sturdy zip-lock bag. Just toss in one or two cubes into sauces and soups for a burst of fresh summer flavor.

Easy Gardening Tips

Baking soda and water is often all we is need to treat mildew in the garden. Trouble is it’s so easy to forget or misplace the recipe. So if that should happen to you this recipe it will be archived on this site.

Mix together:

1 tablespoon baking soda (from the kitchen cupboard) 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap 1 tablespoon horticultural oil 1 gallon of water

Mix together and apply from a clean sprayer. The baking soda counteracts the fungi by changing the pH of the leaves, the soap helps it spread, and the oil coats the fungal spores and keeps then from growing. In a pinch, I’ve used a clear kitchen oil like canola or grapeseed as they too will smother but the lightweight hort oil is best. If you have plants you’ve not treated with this spray before start out on a small section. Plants should be well watered befoe applying and don’t apply in heavy sun. For many plants this might mean watering well in the morning and then in late afternoon/early evening come back and spray well hydrated plants when they are not in direct sun. I like to discard unused mixture after one or two days and then mix up a fresh batch. When these measures don’t seem adequate for fungal or mildew problems I apply Serenade, a commercially available and OMRI approved organic product.

Easy Gardening Tips

Composition roof shingles laid between raised beds keeps paths dry and weed free. We began using these last summer and through the winter have come to love them. The shingles are rough and seems to discourage slugs, the surface is never slippery or muddy. When they are no longer needed, shingles are easy to lift and remove. We’ve used Sequoia needles, filbert shells, landscaping fabric and this is the best solution for weed control and comfort.

Easy Gardening Tips

Today, I’m starting a series of simple gardening tips that have not been published everywhere. Random topics to be sure, the sort of tips we share back and forth with friends, your comments are welcome.

James Cassidy, soil scientist, began the Organic Gardening Club at Oregon State University. At a recent Master Gardener meeting he recommended sowing onion seeds in four inch pots filled with moist seed starting mix. Let these grow two to three inches, just large enough for transplanting. I started onions, shallot seeds and leeks this past weekend. I’m growing the Nichols Tri-Color Onion Blend, Ishikura Improved single stalk scallion, Prisma Shallots and Kilima Leek. We’ll have some more varieties growing at the nursery trials but this is for our home garden. These are sown fairly thickly and will be transplanted into garden beds in about three weeks.