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Through my Internet wanderings, I ran across a mention of a site where people received free seeds –   I checked it out and decided to go through the ordering process as I just LOVE (XOXOXOXO) seeds (the more, the merrier).  WinterSown has developed and tested a system to start seeds outside without the use of expensive setups or even lights.  Just use recycled materials, starting soil, and the great outdoors (here are the instructions for use with a plastic gallon jug).

To order, just follow the instructions on the site, which is basically mail in a printed order form and a self-addressed stamped envelope (aka SASE) with two stamps.   With that, they will send you either the seeds of 6 randomly picked plants or 6 tomato seeds that you have chosen.  If you donate money via check ($5 minimum), you will get your order doubled (or more with a bigger contribution).  I mailed my order for 12 random seeds with a donation of $10 on 3/5/2013.  The site said it could be up to 4 weeks to receive the order but found my SASE in my mailbox on 3/21/2013.  The whole process reminded me of my youth, as I would wait by the mailbox for something I sent away for from the back of a comic book.  Of course sending in a check these days meant I could log in to my bank account every day to see when it was cashed (which of course I did).

Below are the seeds obtained from

Red Pear Piriform tomatoes
Long Purple Eggplant
Danvers 126 Carrot
Petite Marseillais Pepper (2 packages)

Shirley Poppy
Dwarf Toadflax
Large Dahlia Mix
Evening Primrose
Shasta Daisy
Perennial Lupine

The timing of my delivery was perfect as we have been having a very long winter/spring this year in Northeast Ohio with snow on the ground 3/22/2013.  Last March we had temperatures in the 80’s and my garden was completely tilled up by April.  My understanding of the WinterSown process is the seeds react to natural weather patterns to start when the time is right.  With the use of protection and heat capture, the exposed seeds are able to germinate earlier and better than just sowing them in their final growing location.  I’m also trying a variation of this method by direct sowing my spinach seeds under 2-liter pop bottles.  My house is full of starts, so I’m out of room under the lights.

The WinterSown system is designed for early plants, like broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, herbs, wild flowers, and even root vegetables like carrots.  I was surprised by seeing carrots on the list as I didn’t think you could transplant those.  I’m guessing if you get them out in the garden before they create much of a tap root, you should be good to go.  In seasons past, getting them up before the weeds take over has been a Snarky Gardener pet peeve, so this sounds very promising.  I’m also starting Purple Top turnips to see if they will transplant.

Below are pictures my WinterSown sowing.  As you can see by the last picture, I decided to just place the milk cartons out in my garden.

Note:  Here’s the update from 4/16/2013

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Fenced Back Yard Garden Update – 3/9/2013

With temperatures in the mid-40’s and bright sun, March 9th turned out to be the first day of 2013 I was able to get into the garden and do some hoeing and planting.  The first inch of soil was frozen in spots but otherwise very workable.

Fenced Back Yard Garden as of 3/9/2013
Fenced Back Yard Garden as of 3/9/2013

First I took care of the garlic that I had wrongly planted back in October (see “Plant Garlic Cloves Not Bulbs“).  Then I put in the Jerusalem Artichoke I received from the Food Not Lawns Cleveland seed swap back in January.  The back middle of my garden along the northern fence seemed like the best place to bury it.  I probably could have spread out the four tubers more, but oh well.  (Note:  I replanted them a few days later, spreading them out more).

Jerusalem Artichoke – 3/9/2013
Jerusalem Artichoke – 3/9/2013
Jerusalem Artichokes mulched with last year’s Brussels Sprouts and broccoli – 3/9/2013

Once the Jerusalem Artichokes were planted, I took on the task of making four east/west crooked rows for the Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Peas (I suck at straight lines).  I’m not sure if I was too early planting them as I read after the fact that they should have soaked in water overnight.  So much to learn as a gardener, so many mistakes to make.  I also put out my 2-liter bottles to prep the area for spinach.  I direct sowed them on 3/14 (12 under the bottles and 6 without as a control group to see if the extra cover helps or hurts).

Planted snow peas (foreground in 4 crooked rows) and Jerusalem Artichokes (to the left in the picture).  2-Liter Bottles are prepped for later spinach planting.  The Snarky Gardener is the shadow.

As my starts have matured (but not the Snarky Gardener), I’ve been planting them in whatever cups and pots I can scrounge. Pictured below is broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, spinach,  and Swiss chard (which didn’t thrive and had to be eaten – yum).  The plastic drawer allows these to be easily pulled into the house when snow and ice threaten to freeze my little friends.  Unfortunately I’m not sure which ones are kale and which ones are kohlrabi (or if I even planted kohlrabi).  A poor job of documentation when starting related seeds inside means I’ll just have to play it by ear when planting.


After all this, I decided to check up on my herbs after pulling off the leaf mulch.  My sage looked OK, with some leaves green and others more gray.  The rosemary is in bad shape and I’d be surprised if it comes back.  I’ve even taken it off my latest garden plan (I’m a realistic optimist).  I heard there’s a type that can overwinter in Ohio – Rosemary Arp.  It’s a hybrid that must come from a transplant.  It’s either that or the SG will need to “pot up” his rosemary in the fall.  On the positive side, the oregano and thyme came back without issue.  I think thyme is my favorite herb, as it grows very well and has both culinary and medicinary uses.

Sage – 3/9/2013
Mostly dead rosemary – 3/9/2013
Oregano – 3/9/2013
Thyme – 3/9/2013

Inspiration from “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food”

I just finished reading the book “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food” via Kindle and feel like quite the rebel.  My gardening research has made one thing abundantly clear – saving seed is the way to go.   Last season I saved the seeds of two plants, Ho Mi Z mustard (a close out at Johnny’s Selected Seeds which I still have a boat load left) and Tendergreen bush green beans (purchased at the Garden Spot in Ravenna).  The mustard saving was sort of by accident as it went to seed during the summer and I just randomly collected some (maybe to make condiment mustard?).  As for the green beans, I had saved bean seed (aka just beans) before and thought I’d be growing them again in 2013.

The writing style choice for the Seed Underground (stories about seed savers) made the driving force of the book transparent.  Though there was plenty of seed saving techniques and advice (tomatoes and sweet potatoes, to name a few), the author’s main goal was to inspire others to action.

Even though I may not know you, I have fallen in love with you, you who understand that a relationship to the land is powerful; who want that connection; who want authentic experiences; who want a life that has meaning, that makes sense, that is essential. And I am writing for you. You. This story is for you. This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life.

Many of the chapters are about specific seed savers and their plants.  Each saved seed has a history with people, places and events attached.  My inner gardener has proclaimed that now is the time for the Snarky Gardener to start his own stories.  I’ve already fallen in love with several of my garden plant varieties (don’t tell my girlfriend) and know there’s room in my heart for many more.  Below is a list of my seed saving intentions for this upcoming year (for motivational reasons mostly).

Seeds/Tubers I will definitely save this year:
– Tomatoes
– Beans
– Peas
– Coriander (aka Cilantro)
– Mustard
– Sunchoke (aka Jerusalem Artichoke)
– Potatoes
– Seven Top turnips that I overwintered (if they go to seed)

Seeds/Cloves I might save this year:
– Peppers
– Eggplants
– Dill
– Parsley
– Chervil
– Lettuce / Mesclun
– Kale
– Garlic
– Pumpkins
– Other herbs (thyme, basil, oregano, mint, lemon balm)

Seeds I won’t save this year:
– Watermelon – it’s a small F1 that I’m using up this year
– Cucumber – female only variety
– Zucchini – female only variety
– Mache / Corn Salad – I have plenty plus I’m just going to let it go to seed in the garden so it grows like a winter weed
– Onions – I will just buy bulbs like I do every year
– Leeks
– Kohlrabi
– Broccoli
– Brussels Sprouts
– Purple Top Turnips – next year if I remember to overwinter a few
– Corn – when I find a flint type that will store

I’m still seeking favorite tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and peas. An order from Amishland Seeds (Amish Paste, Black Cherry, and Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes) should provide me with tomatoes.  I’m down to two types of beans: Amish Gnuddel (an Amish dry bean planted around my corn Three Sisters style), and Jacob’s Cattle beans (a dry bush bean I picked up at the farmer’s market this spring).  Eggplants will be one Japanese / Ichiban variety.   I have started Long Purple seed (from the FNLC seed swap) and will see how it fares in my garden.  It’s the same thing with peppers as I received a Mini Belle Pepper mix.  Peas have been whittled down to one climbing (6 foot snow pea vines going up my tomatoes cages) and a bush type to be used as a spring green manure.


Another argument for seed saving is the fact that local food equals local seed.

There’s that word local again. Locavore, local economics, and now locally adapted seed. This also means that if you’re a seed saver, you’re a seed selector, and thus a plant breeder, more or less, growing seed adapted to your locality. And as the seed adapts to soil, I heard a gardener at the Rodale Institute once say, the soil adapts to seed.

Maybe this means my seeds will adapt to my pH levels, so I won’t have to fret about my soil acidity (worth a thought).  Saving my seed also means it will grow better next year for my micro-climate and organic gardening style.  I’m a lazy farmer, so the easier my plants grow, the better I like it.  And after years of growing my especially adapted plants, Northeastern Ohio varieties could be released to the public (Ohio Snarky Beans anyone?).  My ego could handle that 🙂

One note from Mari at “Food Not Lawns Cleveland”:

Be sure to tell folks on your blog that the books Food Not Lawns and The Seed Underground are always available at the events/gatherings – no tax, no shipping.

Plant Garlic Cloves Not Bulbs – the Fall Planting Fiasco

Captain Obvious here with a public service announcement to let you know that even experienced gardeners can make mistakes.  I’ve been growing food for six or seven years but never my own garlic.  At the Haymaker Farmers’ Market in Kent this fall, a bag of garlic called out to me (“Buy me!”) and I asked the lady selling them if they could be planted, to which she said yes.  What she didn’t say was how to plant them.  I have planted onion bulbs for years now (very easy).  Just take them out and plop them in the ground, pointy end up.  The garlic I bought was on the small side, so my onion experience thought they would just get bigger once planted.  Thus, last October I planted the bulbs, pointy end up, just like I would with onion sets (except somehow I knew to bury them in several inches of mulch).

This February, when we had a nicer day (i.e. above freezing), I peeked under the leaf mulch to see how they were doing.  Below are pictures of what I found (note the multiple green spears).  Even then I didn’t really think anything was wrong.  About a week later, after reading some new gardening books, the wrongness of the situation came to me as a slow but steady voice in my head – “Plant cloves not bulbs.”  I conducted an Internet search for examples of others who had made this same mistake.  Oddly enough, I didn’t discover much, just a mention of finding missed bulbs the following year in May, and others commenting that they wouldn’t produce much with the cloves that close together (noooooooo!).




It was two weeks later before the weather was nice enough (mid 40’s and sunny on March 8th) to deal with the bunched up garlic cloves.  Drawing the mulch back, I pulled the cloves apart, leaving one or two rooted to the ground.  Those I removed were attached quite well and took some tenacity to get them out without damage.  But in the end I prevailed and all the bulbs were now cloves (albeit with a green sprout and several inches of roots).  I planted these just north of the current garlic bed (up into my overwintered carrots) and to the west, where I will co-plant kohlrabi and broccoli with them in April (hoping to scare away some cabbage flies with the stinky garlic smell).  I have no idea how the replanted garlic will do, as spring garlic doesn’t perform as well as fall planted.  But at this point I’m willing to roll the dice so future snarky gardeners will know if their crop can be saved or if they should just dig them up and enjoy (yum).




Food Not Lawns Cleveland Seed Starting Workshop – 3/3/2013


On Sunday March 3, 2013, I joined Food Not Lawns Cleveland for their seed starting workshop held at the Grace Lutheran Church in Cleveland Heights.  It took me an hour to get there from Kent, but well worth it as nothing beats spending an afternoon talking about gardening (except actually gardening).  Though I’ve been growing food for a number of years, there is always something one can pick up.

Some things I learned (or relearned) at the FNLC seed starting workshop:
– Tomatoes can be planted outside in mid March with protection
– Arp Rosemary can overwinter in Ohio
– Plant petunias with broccoli to ward off cabbage worms.
– You can create your own hybrids by seed saving.
– “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food” is a very inspiring book (as you will see in future blog entries).
– I know enough about gardening to assist others (explained bush vs. pole beans among other things)
– I need a better camera with a flash.




After very little deliberation, I decided to start a Mesclun (aka French salad) seed mix.  After planting (as seen below), I realized the date on the seed package was 2005.  Lettuce is only supposed to have a one to two year shelf life.  But instead of just scrapping the whole thing, I made the choice to see what happens as life is full of surprises.





Three days later (3/6), much to my chagrin, the seeds were sprouting like nobody’s business.  Of course, the seeds had been sealed in a little metallic envelope, but even still, quite a surprise.



Fenced Back Yard Garden Plan for March 2013

March is finally here and my garden planning is in full swing.  I’ve changed my plan literally dozens of times through February as I keep refining it to perfection.  Of course it will change even more times in March as I actually put plants into the ground.  My starts are doing well and will be ready to transplant in a few weeks.  Not sure which ones are going in right away (under 2-liter bottle cloches most likely), and which ones will get the hardening off treatment.  For now I’m playing it by ear as to who goes out when.  I’ve also decided to go pea crazy as I’ve been reading too much about nitrogen fixing and cover crops lately.  I’ll purchase my peas when I go to get my spring onions and potatoes at the Garden Spot in Ravenna in a week or two.

Fenced Back Yard Garden Plan – 3/1/2013