Friday, June 30, 2017

Seed Saving in Your Vegetable Garden

Some folks don't know that you can save your own seed from many, if not all, of the vegetable plants that you grow in your garden. Some folks are finding out, though, that the savings can be a substantial amount of money, and can add up quickly. The ability to share the seeds you grow with family, friends and those who can become friends through this exchanging of seeds is fun too.

I collect all of my own seeds, from all of my own heirloom varieties, and have been doing so for a long, long time. On occasion, I buy newly available varieties that I don't have, from a reputable seed source, like The Seed Guy , but their are many seed providers available to you via the Internet, so use who you think is the best.

Collecting some types of vegetable seeds is an easy process. Some plants make it so simple for you to collect their seed, that you could easily end up with hundreds, if not thousands of seeds from just a few minutes of collecting. Some, on the other hand, require a little more work on your part to extract the seed from sources like cucumbers, melons and squashes. Never fear, however, it is all worth it!

It is always best to collect seeds from what are called heirloom varieties, because they will carry all of the same traits as what you planted last year. YES! sometimes you can plant seeds from vegetables that you buy from the produce section at the local market, but you risk things like the fact that the seed may not be disease resistant, you may not get the same quality of fruit or vegetable, or you may not even get a yield at all. These are important things for you to consider before you waste your time.

Look at these zucchini seeds drying out on a paper towel and cookie sheet. At the end of your growing season, for this plant, let one zucchini grow to at least 18" long. It's okay if it is bigger and it may get as big as 8"-12" in diameter by that time. The seeds need to be scooped out of the fleshy part of this squash, rinsed and dried. Typically, I use paper towel and a cookie sheet, but sometimes seeds like watermelon stick to the paper towel if you don't get them rinsed well enough.

Let them dry out for at least a few days before you package them up for storage. I just use a zip type baggie and with a permanent marker, write the name of the veggie and the year I collected them. You can save them in one of many kinds of storage containers, like small mason jars or old spice jars.

Dealing with the fleshy, gooey part of a fruit or veggie to extract the seeds for next season is sometimes a real pain, but there are ways to make it a little easier. Some folks put the gooey part of a tomato that surrounds the seeds, as an example, in a mason jar with it half full of water. They will keep it in the jar for as much as a week, shaking the jar at least once each day to help loosen the goo around the seeds. Then, they just pour the contents of the jar into a strainer, rinse, and then place the seeds on a paper towel to dry. These tomato seeds were collected this way.

You can collect some seeds directly off of the mature or dying plant. These coriander seeds come from a cilantro plant. I collected all of the cilantro that I would be dehydrating for the season, then I let the plant grow normally until it started to die back. Once the seeds were dry on the plant, I pulled several branches together and broke them off into a large paper shopping bag. I shook the branches until all of the seed fell into the bag. I cleaned out all of the dried debris and bagged up the seeds

Sometimes a squash or melon produce a lot of seed. These cantaloupe seeds below are from just four melons. They require a little more work, but look at the result and the benefits. I usually let these harder shelled seeds dry out for a longer period of time prior to bagging them up to avoid the risk of mold.

It's always nice to get seeds in the mail from a fellow gardener, especially when it is a fruit or vegetable that you currently do not grow. One day, I received several small seed packets, from a Facebook friend, of different varieties of things I already grow, but she had included a little surprise. She had sent me a "Hopi" squash. 

These squash get big (I grew one from her seed that reached 32 pounds) and gray with a deep and rich orange colored flesh, and boy do they taste good. The seeds are very big and puffy. So, needless to say, I collected the seed, enjoyed the squash, and will be planting this variety of squash for years to come.

So, you see the importance, if not the necessity, of planting heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables in your garden, so that you can collect the seed, save some money and share them with friends and family. Why don't you get started as soon as you can? I'm sure you will enjoy doing it as much as I do. There is so much more to learn about seed collecting, heirloom varieties and vegetable gardening that just can't be included in this article, but the good thing is that we all have this little friend called "Google" so have fun searching and learning!

Monday, June 26, 2017

A New Look With Raised Beds

You may have noticed that I have not spent much time here on the I Grow Vegetables Blog this last year. I am making major changes to the vegetable garden. I am raising up the beds and lining them with concrete block, which to some is very controversial.

I'm stacking the block two high, so these new beds will be 16" deep. I am also covering the ground, prior to placing manures, with cardboard. Some may call this a twist on the Back to Eden method. I call it good stewardship by helping my cardboard supplier keep it out of the landfill.

Once the cardboard goes down, the beds get lined with the block. Then, the manures go into the beds. It will take an entire season for the manures to break down on there own, so you can use finished compost instead. I then filled the walking paths with 12" of wood chips. Since I didn't want to loose an entire growing season, I got these new beds planted.

I am dealing with some some issues like stunted plant growth, and nutrient deficiency, but overall the garden is growing well. Prolific plantings like zucchini and cucumbers are doing great, but the tomato plants suffered until their roots reached the original soil below the manures. Bell Peppers are also thriving and producing much more than I hoped for. This season, my first year planting of "Kiowa Blackberries" produced 72 pounds of berries from 30 plants. I really look forward to next seasons berries.

I do a lot of canning of the zucchini, so I have 10 plants this year. I think I will plant 10 each season going forward.

I have also planted 6 cucumber plants, so, like every season in the past, I am canning a lot of pickles

The yellow squash grew well this season and it is hard to can up, so I dehydrated a lot of it into "chips" seasoned with garlic and onion powders.

And of coarse...the blackberries...

Although the season is not yet over, it will be soon and I look forward to finishing the rest of the beds during the fall and winter months. Although I do plan on expanding the garden, again, right now I have enough work to do, so, back to the garden!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How to Grow a Pineapple from a Top Cutting

I've tried to "start" pineapple tops several different ways over the years, as indicated by so called experts on YouTube and never had any success. But, like Einstein, I never gave up. I decided to try it "MY WAY" and have been successful with 8 plants so far and I just started 10 more plants today.

Here's my "step by step" process. I ended up with 100% success rate with this process and if you follow it, you should have the same success, so give it a try! 

Here goes:
Cut the top off of the pineapple. Make sure you have NO FRUIT left on the cut end. If you leave fruit, you will likely end up with molds and then ROT!

Peel back at least 1-2 inches of the bottom leaves carefully to expose the tiny roots growing under these leaves. These are adventitious root and grow tightly under the base of the leaves.
Soak the cut end in lukewarm water for 2 hours so that the top can suck up a little water into the leaves.
Pull the tops out of the water and set them on their sides to dry out for at least three days. The cut end of the top will get dried out looking, and the rest of the top may look like it is dying, but don’t worry.
Plant in a container in good potting soil just up to the bottom of the leaves. You only need to plant it deep enough so that those roots that you exposed earlier are now covered with soil and the top stands up on its own and is stable.
Keep evenly moist prior to and as you start to see new leaf growth. I keep my pots in a “morning sun” area so that the new plants are not exposed yet to our hard Texas sun. Since the pineapple plant is a member of the Bromeliaceae genus, you can water into the center of the plant. There may be a little “cup” forming that may hold water, or at least direct rain or overhead watering to the base of the plant.
Once you have at least 3-5 new leaves, depending on what season you are currently in, you can plant up into a bigger container, or in its permanent place in the garden. However, planting and tending will be found in an upcoming blog article. Good Luck with your new plant starts.

Top plant in above photo is 4 months old. Plant on bottom was just planted.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Canning Refrigerator Pickles

Canning refrigerator pickles from your garden grown cucumbers is very easy and gives you edible sweet pickles that you can eat within four or five days, instead of having to wait five or six weeks for regular sweet pickles to cure.

Growing the cucumbers is also extremely easy and one plant can provide an abundance of cucumbers to use for pickling. I planted 8 plants and was overwhelmed by produce. I have pickles in brine, for whole dilled pickles. I also have a pantry full of  bread and butter pickles, dill chips, sweet pickle spears and dilled pickle halves.

The following recipe for the refrigerator pickles should be followed without making any changes. This is a sweet pickle that will last in the refrigerator for about 60 days.

8 cups of thinly sliced cucumbers (3 large cucumbers).

1 ½ cups of thinly sliced sweet yellow onion (use red onion for added color).

¼ cup of sliced red bell pepper

¼ cup of sliced green bell pepper.

Making the brine.
Bring the following ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir this combination often. Boil for 3–5 minutes. Pour this mixture over the cucumber, bell pepper and onions. Mix well and let stand to cool. Fill your jars and chill for 3-5 days before eating to let flavors migrate into the cucumbers.

2 cups of White Granulated sugar.

2 cups of White Vinegar (5%).

1 tablespoon of pickling salt.

1 tablespoon of Celery Seed.

1 ½ teaspoon of Mustard Seed.

This recipe makes 2 quarts.