Tag Archives: seeds

Growing Microgreens for Flavor and Nutrition

mustard microgreens

Now that winter is coming, you can still grow your greens, just indoors. Growing microgreens is a fun, cheap way to grow nutritious vegetable seedlings for sandwiches, wraps, soup, and salads. Microgreens are the shoots of edible plants, requiring very little space and minimal cost. Microgreens differ from sprouts. Microgreen seeds germinate in a growing medium and after one or two weeks, the “micro” stems and leaves are cut to the soil level and eaten. Sprouts are seeds grown in a moist container—no soil. After a few days, the root and seed are harvested and eaten. Continue reading

Growing Mexican Sunflowers for Orange in the Fall

Mexican sunflowerThis year I grew Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) for the first time, and I must say, I highly recommend this annual. Although I should also say, I did not grow this plant intentionally. In fact, I have never been interested in growing Mexican sunflowers before because of their signature orange flowers. I don’t mind a strip of orange here and there in marigolds or zinnias but broad strokes of bright orange seemed too garish. Continue reading

Twenty Tomato Tips for the DC Metro Area

By now you should have started your tomato seeds indoors under lights. This is just if you want a head start of course, it is not necessary. You can also purchase tomato plants but be aware that the night temperatures are still too cold for them to be out in the garden now. They prefer warmer weather. Waiting to plant tomatoes until the beginning of May or Mother’s Day will give you the best results. For tomato success, read these twenty tips for growing tomatoes in the Washington DC metro area. Continue reading

National Plant a Flower Day

Today is National Plant a Flower Day. I always have flowers in my garden. Before this pandemic, I used to cut the flowers and bring them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just put the zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos in a vase on my desk. My colleagues loved them. Invariably they would smile and strike up a conversation. Some would be brave enough to ask me to bring flowers for them while others were inspired to bring flowers of their own into the office. Continue reading

Don’t Forget to Order Bulbs for Summer Blooms!

Many gardeners focus on obtaining seed now to start their garden in the spring. But given the increased interest in gardening it may be best for gardeners to also focus on ordering summer-blooming bulbs as soon as possible. It will be too cold to plant them now in the DC metro area and some nurseries do not even ship them until later when it is warmer. But given the high demand for seeds, gardeners may want to select and order their summer blooming bulbs now to make sure they have them when it is time to plant in May. Continue reading

Sixteen Seed Starting Tips

marigoldsGardeners like to start seeds indoors to get a jump start on warm season plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons. They also start seeds indoors to be able to grow plants that have a longer growing season than the season in which they live. Before you begin to sow seeds indoors, read these sixteen seed starting tips to have as much success as possible. If you haven’t ordered your seeds yet, here is a list of seed companies. Continue reading

What Does GMO Really Mean for Home Gardeners?

no gmo signI love seed catalogs. Reading them is an easy, simple way to learn about growing plants and new plant introductions. I grow many of my edibles from seed — it’s fun, economical, and rewarding. But I am not willing to pay extra for the “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” claim I see on almost every catalog now. Even more importantly, seed catalogs should make it clear that they are offering non-GE seed, which isn’t even available to the home gardeners anyway so they are not really “offering” any more than the next seed catalog. Continue reading

Seed Sources for Flowers, Vegetables, and Herbs

Time to ring in the New Year with 2021 garden plans, including more seed packets! Below is a list of online seed companies as well as companies that still publish and mail seed catalogs. Many of these catalogs are free.

Continue reading

Today is National Spinach Day!

spinachToday is National Spinach Day! Spinach has to be one of the easiest greens to start from seed. Here in Virginia, I sow spinach in the cool spring months and again in the fall. Now in March, I sow seeds in the ground and in containers on the deck (for last minute dinner salad harvesting). I plant the seeds about a half inch deep and water. Later, I thin them to prevent overcrowded mature plants. Every couple of weeks, I sow again, in different places, for a continuous harvest. It is best to grow different types, from savoy (wrinkled) to smooth leaves, to heat resistant cultivars, and in different places in the garden to avoid slugs.

We use spinach in everything from salads to sandwiches, stews, egg dishes, soups, and pasta. For salads, we prefer the savoy and semi-savoy type, the wrinkled leaves, because the leaves hold up well in salads and the salad dressing clings to the leaves. For smoothies, quiches, and egg dishes, we use the smooth leaves, which I roll up like a cigar and cut with small scissors to create ribbons.

Although I may harvest the entire, mature plant when I need a lot of spinach for company; usually I cut the outer leaves as I need them. I always look for insects and then submerge the leaves in a large bowl of cold water (to drown anything hidden in the leaves). After draining in a colander, I spin the leaves in the salad spinner (hopefully flinging any survivors to their death against the spinner’s plastic walls). Fortunately, I rarely see bugs.

Like all greens, spinach needs nitrogen for its leaves. In early spring, I amend the garden beds with compost or alfalfa meal (a store-bought, nitrogen-rich amendment). Lately, it seems that all bags of potting soil come with fertilizer so the container spinach does not seem to need the extra boost.

By June, my spinach throw up their flower stalks in the air and call it a day. Rebelling against summer’s warmth, their leaves become too bitter to eat.  Now taking up precious real estate, spinach gets relegated to the compost pile and my attention turns to heat loving veggies while the remainder of my spinach seeds lie dormant in the house, waiting for fall.

Some Like It Hot and Some Like It Cold

warm season tomato plants for sale in March will not like the cool evenings if planted in the ground

One of my first lessons in growing vegetables and herbs is learning the plant’s preference for temperature. To keep it simple, there are cool season and warm season crops. Getting to know what the plant prefers determines when to buy/plant, what to buy/plant, where to buy/plant, and when to harvest/eat!

In the mid-Atlantic area, typical cool season plants are anything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, collard, Brussels sprout), lettuce, pea, kale, chervil, dill, cilantro, leek, scallions, radish, spinach, arugula, beet, pak choi or bok choy, carrot, mustard, parsnip, turnip, and Swiss chard.

cool season lettuce for sale in March will like the cool temperatures if planted in the ground

Some can continue to grow well during the summer such as spring onions and Swiss chard. Other cool season lovers “bolt” when it warms up in May/June. For example, cilantro will bolt, that is, flower and set seed, in May. This is good if you want the seed, also known as coriander, but bad if you want to continue to harvest the leaves. When the plant bolts, the leaves become bitter and eventually the plant will die because it is an annual.

Most people associate the warm season edibles with summer itself. These include tomato, basil, fennel, eggplant, pepper, corn, summer/winter squash, zucchini, melon, watermelon, cucumber, okra, and pumpkins. These will not tolerate the frosts we may get in the spring evenings so it is best to start them outdoors after the last average frost date in mid-May.

Frequently you will see both types of plants for sale as early as March. These photos were take at a local hardware store in March last year. Basil, a summer lover, is especially sensitive to cold. If one were to purchase these basil plants and put them in the garden unprotected they may die because there is still the likelihood of frost in early spring.

basil plants for sale in March may even die from a late spring freeze

In my zone 7 garden, the cool season plants/seeds should be started outside in mid-March to the beginning of April. The warm season plants/seeds should be started in early May to the end of May. If you do not know what your vegetable or herb prefers, there are several ways to figure this out:

Read the seed packet or label
Read seed catalogs
Research on the internet
Read local gardening books
Visit garden nurseries and ask knowledgeable staff.

The books I found most useful books for this area are listed below and are easy to get from the library or bookstore. Knowing the plant’s preference will help you figure out when to start your seed and/or when to purchase plants.

The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010)
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) (Timber Press, 2013)
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011)
Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic, Month-by Month by Andre and Mark Viette with Jacqueline Heriteau (Cool Springs Press, 2008)

broccoli for sale in March will thrive in the cool season