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save tomato seeds

On 22, Nov 2010 | 4 Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Yes, this is a spruced up picture of mold. In order to save your favorite tomato seeds for next year, you need to remove the gelatinous coating that keeps them from germinating inside the tomato fruit.

In nature, the tomato will eventually fall to the ground and for lack of a better word, rot. While it is turning to mush on the ground, the pulp and juices ferment and break down the gel around the seeds, allowing them to germinate.

Since we normally pick the tomatoes from the vine before this happens, we need to mimic the process to obtain the fertile seeds ready for germination.

Just think of this as a science experiment dedicated to the fermentation process. It kind of smells, but it is not too bad.

tseeds1-cropChoose your favorite healthy tomatoes, the open pollinated variety (the other ones won’t come true from seed). Label the jars the pulp is going in with the type of tomato and the date. tseeds2-cropSlice the tomatoes across the equator. It makes it easier to scoop up the pulp. tseeds3-cropScoop up the pulp inside the… tseeds4-crop…corresponding labeled jar.
tseeds5-cropCover the seeds and pulp with half a cup of water. tseeds6-cropCover the jar with a clean coffee filter and place in a warm place to ferment. It doesn’t smell good, so don’t place it somewhere where the smell would bother you. tseeds8-cropAfter a few days (3 or more) the mixture will ferment and start developing mold at the surface. This means the gel that coats the seeds has broken down and they can be cleaned up and dried. tseeds9-cropThoroughly remove all mold, fermented pulp and sterile seeds by adding water to the jar and pouring out everything that floats on top. After a few rinses, the water will run clear and the healthy and fertile seeds will sink to the bottom. Strain them, pour them on a paper towel and pat them dry, then spread them out to dry on a paper plate, marked with the type of tomato and the date. After they dry, place them in labeled paper bags for spring.

don’t forget the bulbs!

On 01, Nov 2010 | One Comment | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Don’t forget to plant your spring bulbs before the dirt freezes. Use only healthy bulbs that are not soft or showing signs of mold, and make sure to work plenty of bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil, to give your plants a good start for next season.

A few comments about planting bulbs:

– they don’t like wet feet,  a well draining soil will help them thrive; if you have heavy clay soil, loosen it up a little by adding sand.

– do not plant them too shallow (follow the instructions on the packet but a good rule of thumb is to plant twice deeper than the height of the bulb), and use group plantings for better color effect.

– if you have a small garden consider planting several overlapping layers of bulbs of different sizes and blooming times.

divide perennials

On 28, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

The picture is showing a clump of daisies, but the method will work with most perennials. Fall blooming perennials should be divided in spring, and spring blooming in the fall.

Choose a cool cloudy day, humid if possible, to divide your plants. This will put the least stress on them.

division1-cropLift the clump by digging under it with a long spade. Some plants will be hard to lift if they have been established in the location. division2-cropYou can lift the whole clump, or cut through it with the spade and lift a portion of it.  Break out the clump into smaller pieces by pulling it apart with your hands or with a pitch fork if it’s too hard.
division3-cropSelect a good location for the new planting, place the plants in the hole and water. division4-cropCover the roots with dirt and you are done.

There are no rules about how many plants you can get out of a clump, use your best judgment. Typically, if it looks like there are enough roots and enough leaves, the process should work.

Also, if you have some spring perennials that you would like to relocate, mid fall is the best time to do it.

take rose cuttings

Rose propagation is a really simple process, however the success rate is by no means 100%, so make sure to take lots of cuttings from your favorite roses; you can always move your new plants in spring if the location is not perfect. Also keep in mind that many nursery roses are patented and their asexual reproduction even for personal use is illegal. Those roses usually come with tags asserting the patent. If you are not sure, check your rose name online to see if it is listed as “under patent”. Patents usually expire after 20 years, so most of the old world roses are patent free. People swear by different methods of propagating roses from cuttings: the little plastic baggies, the cut-up soda pop bottle, the misting. I tried all methods and only found success with this one, so I’m going to recommend it. You might be wondering why the glass jar will work and the plastic bottle won’t? The answer is “I don’t know”.

Cut a healthy stem, still green but stiff at a 45 degree angle. If the cut is far from the next growth bud, cut the remainder of the stem back about a quarter inch above an outward facing bud. If you don’t the rose will do the job for you and kill the useless piece of stem.

The stem you choose should have at least one branch with 5 leaflets, this detail is important. The stem shouldn’t be longer than 6 inches. Remove any leaves and some people advise all thorns from the bottom part that will be stuck in the ground. Make sure the stem is healthy and free of any pest or damage.

“Bruise” the end that will be in the ground; this will encourage the plant to produce more hormones for rooting. You can bruise it by cutting it lengthwise or smashing it.

If you have rooting hormone, I strongly recommend it: you need to give the young plant all the help you can. Dip the stem in rooting hormone. If you don’t, it will work without it too.

Stick the stem firmly in the ground, it should not be easy to pull out. If the soil is really dry, water it. There is usually enough rain later in the fall to provide sufficient moisture for it. It is best to plant it during or after a rainy, cloudy day, because these conditions put the least stress on the new plant.

Cover the plant with a glass jar. Push the jar into the ground so that it forms a tight seal at the bottom. The jar must remain undisturbed from fall (this is the best time to take rose cuttings) until the next spring. Don’t lift the jar to see how the rose is doing. Remove the jar in spring after all danger of frost is gone.

Different roses take different times to sprout roots, don’t be impatient. You can’t tell whether a rose took  just by looking at it. Some will stay green for the longest time and not take root, some will wither immediately but turn into beautiful healthy little rose bushes in spring. The only sure sign that the stem has roots is if you see new growth at the root level, but that is unlikely to happen during the cold season. Again I have to emphasize the fact that the jar needs to stay undisturbed.

layer raspberries

On 22, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Raspberries will do this all by themselves if you let them. They’ll arch gracefully until they touch the ground, and where they do, they will sprout roots. I actually had to pull these and replant them to document the process. If they don’t do it by themselves, you can help them along and get more raspberry canes and therefore, more yummy berries. The best time to do it is at the beginning of fall, when temperatures are not extreme any more but there is still a long way till freezing. The process is as follows:

layering1-cropDig a shallow hole and water it generously. layering2-crop_0Bend the cane into the hole and cover with dirt. Water again. layering3-cropCover with a rock to prevent it from popping back up. layering4-cropIn spring cut the offspring from the mother plant.

snapdragon seedpods

On 12, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

These seedpods are not ripe yet, but I wanted to share this diaphanous image of exactly how amazing the beauty of nature is. Ah, the details! Anyway, the point is that these flowers were grown from seed kept from year to year and they are thriving. Who said only flowers were supposed to be beautiful?

On a practical note, when these pods turn dark brown and bone dry, gently cut the stems with scissors and place them in a bag. The little dry pods are like pepper shakers and all the seeds will scatter on the ground if you shake them too much. Snapdragon seeds look exactly like poppy seeds; to get them out of the pods shake and tap the stems on a white piece of paper and pass them through a tea strainer to get all the residue out.

Stock seeds

On 28, Jul 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

These are fragrant Stock seed pods. I started the plants from seeds collected last year, and they have done fairly well this year.

If you start them indoors in a little greenhouse box (the type with transparent plastic cover – I strongly recommend it, it accelerates the growth of plants in a manner that is nothing short of miraculous) you should have big and strong seedlings to plant in your garden after the last frost.

The flowers came true from seed, exactly like their parent plants, including the color.

Keep seeds in paper bags, in a dry, cool place.

This is what the flowers look like:


harvesting seeds

On 21, Jul 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

These colorful Four O’Clocks (second year plants, produced from last year’s seeds) are thriving in my garden and they are very prolific in generating seeds.  The seeds themselves are quite intriguing, like dark and shiny peppercorns ready to fall out of their green casing at the slightest touch.

Enjoying the flowers is quite a different matter, though. I had to watch the plants for days in order to get the picture above. They seem to open at random times of day, if they feel like it, and they stay open for a few minutes. I don’t understand how they manage to produce seed, but they do.


Four O’Clocks require little care and will quickly cover a patch of dirt if they have enough sunlight (4 to 6 hours a day). The blooms are not fragrant; they sport every hue in the fuchsia, pink, magenta and white range, or combination thereof, and create a bright and cheerful display when open.

If you like the blooms, make sure you take photos: they are not the kind of plants you can proudly present to your fellow gardeners during a stroll through the garden.

I thought I would show them off, so I took my own advice and photographed the4oclock1m.

Pretty, yes?

leaf cuttings

On 08, Jul 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

African Violets are extremely easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. I don’t know how I can fill a whole post with details of the process, but all there is to it is cut a leaf and stick it in the ground: it will take care of itself from here.

Of course, it helps if you dip the stem in rooting hormone and keep the dirt moist. For a couple of weeks it looks like it is not doing anything, and then the miracle happens.

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lupine seeds

On 07, Jul 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Did you know that lupines and beans are first cousins? If you didn’t, the seed pods might give you an inkling. As a part of the Fabaceae family, the lupines grow their offspring in the familiar seed pods, that are to beans what mastodons are to elephants. Spiky, hairy and archaic, the lupine beans look sort of familiar. As all members of the bean family, they can process the nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots as ammonia, thus improving the soil for the surrounding plants.  They are also perennials, so you can watch them grow and spread year after year. Lupines are tall, imposing plants that do well against a wall or in the center of the border. They are sun loving plants, so make sure to plant them in a spot that gets plenty of sunshine.

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