But perhaps most importantly if you sign up for my Erin Growing Home Newsletter you will receive my latest and most dearest project, a carefully crafted Planting Calendar which is the culmination of 20 years of great attention paid to gardening like it’s my job! I worked very closely with an amazing artist and dear friend of Tree of Life Studio to create this beauty and we are both very pleased with our baby.
The Growing Home Garden Year is a beautiful map to guide you through the growing year, including when to start seeds indoors, outdoors, and in cold frames. It highlights what to plan for in your garden each month, and what to gather & glean from the wild in the harvest season. The work of the inner garden is not forgotten: what to tend in the garden of your soul throughout the seasonal cycles is woven in as well. May it guide you on your way to Growing Home.
I have been sorting a lot over here lately; trying to evaluate, release and upgrade. During this process I have been shifting through this little blog of mine, a chronicle of the past ten years of my life as Seeds & Stones. I have come across some gems in these archives and this essay about sorting seeds is perfect for today, as, like every year in late winter, I am doing the same sacred act of sorting my seeds. This week we also did our seed blessing ceremony, because not only does every garden start with a seed, but first a prayer.
The Soulful Art of Sorting Seeds- By Erin O’Neill of Seeds & Stones
The seeds were saved in September. The edible parts had been harvested and the flowers left to dry on their stalks in the garden, forgotten completely since mid summer. When they dried up into seed heads by autumn, they were cut off at the stem and put into brown paper sacks and hung to dry in the shade and abandoned again. Between saucing and canning, homeschooling, cooking and cleaning and everything else that requires my attention in a day, the seed hung forgotten for a long, long time, gathering dust and fading from my mind.
Until today that is, a sunny quiet February day. I took all those sacks down dusted them off, and starting sorting my seeds. It would have been great job for a fall day in the garden, a lot less mess and any strays would have gone right into the ground, but alas…I have time and mental space to clean seed in February and from now on I am sticking to it.
As is often true when we follow our own natural rhythms & internal guidance, turns out February is the perfect time for sorting seed. We are all doing it right now, whether metaphorically or actually, we are taking stock, going through, preserving the viable releasing the no longer useful. As my face was soaking up the greenhouse sun, my hands rubbed and windowed, separating the seed from the chaff, it all felt so right, so deep, so old. I thought of all the human hands that have carefully, meticulously, consciously saved seed for well over 10,000 years. Without that attention & care we would not being eating any of the food we do today, as all of our crops are domesticated, stewarded, & cherished by our ancestors. Seeds were sown into the hems of shirts and carried across seas in migrations. Seeds were stashed and stored like gold, and in many cultures, seeds were never sold, only given. As the task of sorting, shifting and selecting the sacred seeds took over my hands, my mind wandered to the work the seed was doing on me. The practice, the focus, the attention, the patience. As I was working the seed, the seed was working on me. I am not the first one to have been worked on in this way. Every farmer, gardener, grower of any sort has each been through this mill, nature forming us into our true selves. The work and rhythm of forces beyond our comprehension, creating us, every human through every breath.
These mysteries may be lost on our conscious minds, but they are still hard at work on our souls. It may have begun with Psyche, the Greek word of course for soul. Psyche was a mortal woman who became a goddess in her quest for true love. In her attempt to prove her love to her husband, her mother-in-law Aphrodite (the beauty), gave her four seemingly impossible tasks, the first of which was to sort a huge pile of mixed up seeds by the next morning. To overcome her fear of the impossible and trust in her own capacity the ants come to help her sort. In wanting to share this symbolic soul story with you I found Whitney Johnson & her blog Dare to Dream who speaks so beautifully about the potent symbols of sorting seeds.
“Sifting through possibilities and establishing personal priorities in the face of conflicting feelings and competing loyalties requires a sorting of the seeds. Sometimes we need to sleep on the problem letting the industrious collective of ants – our subconscious – work things out. As we learn to trust our intuition, clarity will emerge.“
Psyche goes on to attain the golden fleece from the rams of the sun, a dangerous and wild breed….it is the reeds in the water that help her this time, guiding her to collect the golden strands that have caught in them, after the rams have fallen asleep. “Psyche’s ability to acquire the golden fleece without being crushed is a metaphor for a every woman’s task of gaining power without losing her innate sense of connectedness and compassion. “
She attains water from a treacherous stream aided by the eagle. “Psyche’s ability to fill the crystal flask is symbolic of her learning how to set a goal, avoid the pitfalls that will inevitably come, and to then achieve her goal.“
Her last task is to go the underworld and retrieve beauty ointment from Persephone, being told she will have to say no to people in need along the way.
“To set a goal and pursue it in the face of requests for help from others is especially difficult for women whose lives are focused on care giving. In completing the task of saying no, three times, Psyche exercises choice. Many women allow themselves to be imposed on and diverted as they set about their goals. They cannot accomplish what they set out to do, or to determine their life course until they learn to say no.“
Psyche succeeds in all her tasks, she marries her true love Cupid, and is made a goddess by Aphrodite, but the most exciting part of this tale to me is that she cultivates her intuition, her trust, her power…she is transformed by her heroic quest while holding steadfast to her feminine nature.
There are so many layers and lessons in this story but for me it reminds me that seed sorting, selecting and saving has been the work of women across cultures and time. This tiny repetitive work, much like knitting, weaving, beading, sewing.. has been the work of women; done with children in their laps, others to talk to, and often alone to process the busyness of our minds and ease into the pace of our hearts. These calming, repetitive practices ground us into our bodies and gets us out of our heads, as any woman knows, a much needed reprieve. Rapunzel did her spinning, Cinderella did her scrubbing, Psyche did her sorting… most princesses have to do it sooner or later, and so must we.
The decisions were made. The dust, sticks and pebbles were removed by the winnowing of my patient hands and given back to the garden from where they came. The most viable seed was placed neatly into jars, labeled, and tucked away for warmer days. The intentions were set, the course charted. I decided in February what I would plant in June. All I have to do now is take those jars down and follow through, placing every tender seed into the dark earth like a dew drop, revisiting Psyche’s journey into consciousness with each seed I sow.
Happy Earth Day- which is every day for me, but it always good to remember where you came from, your mother earth!
Today I got a handful of texts and calls asking me the exact same question…
Me….”Hello, growing home hotline”
Friends….”Help! I planted my seeds over a week ago and nothing seems to be happening, is something wrong?”
My first thought was, ‘a watched pot never boils’… are we in our gardens a little too much that are seeds are getting shy? I doubt it. Maybe something is in the stars…but after the new moon sap with rise again so things should start to sprout right out, but seeds need time, consistent moisture and appropriate temperatures to sprout.
Moisture– Don’t water by habit, water by feel. You don’t need to water every day but you do need to visit your seedlings everyday. Touch the soil, get up close. If the soil is moist to the touch (moist as a rung out sponge) you don’t need to water. Seeds are only in the first inch of soil so this is the area that needs to be moist. If when you touch the soil your fingers aren’t moistened, water. I water daily, but on a cloudy day if the soil isn’t drying out, I leave it. Outside I use row cover over my seeds, like a blanket. I sow the seeds, water and them put row cover over them, then water the row cover. I peek every day or so to check the moisture and water if need be. When I see sprouts, I remove the row cover and place mini hoops over the bed, then I put the row cover over the hoops so the seedlings don’t get squashed, but still are protected against wind, birds, cats, children, etc… I do fold the row cover back to water with a sprinkler until I have my irrigation up and running. ***Note- I always water with a watering can or sprinkler with a very fine spray. Seeds are fragile and can be blasted out of place by a hose or heavy flow from a can.*** Just like this little gardener!
Soil temperature matters more to a seed that air temperature for germination. If you are starting seeds these days indoors, your seeds should be plenty warm to sprout. Most vegetable need 70-80 degree temps to germinate, but keep in mind this is the soil temperature which is different than air temperature. Optimal germination temperatures vary according to the crop, but indoors is plenty warm for all vegetables. Outside, the soil may still be too cold to activate germination, but right now you should only be sowing cool season crops like peas, lettuce, arugula, kale, chard, broccoli, cilantro, etc…. which all like cool temps to germinate… I plant peas in the snow and it works every time! Many people are planting carrot now, which is fine, but it is still chilly out there and they do take a while! You can do a few things heat up the soil faster like row cover, plastic covers, or mulch, and indoors heating mats work really well for peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, especially in January!… but the soil will warm up soon enough, wait for it!
Time– Most vegetable seeds need at least 7-10 days to germinate. If it has been over 2 weeks, your seed may not be viable, but chances are if they are new they are just needing more moisture or warmth to go for it.
Seed Viability-If your seed is brand new it should have at least 90% germination rate because companies actually test for that. If you have had your seeds for a while, or if you are questioning the viability of your seed because it is old or been stored questionably (maybe got too hot or wet?) you can do a seed viability test. Basically take ten seeds, place them spaced an inch apart on a moist paper towel. Slide the towel into a zip lock bag, label it with the date and put it on your fridge… Keep a spray bottle handy because the towel needs to stay moist, but chances are if the zip lock is truly sealed the moisture level will be fine. Depending on the type of seeds you’re testing, they should begin to germinate anywhere from 2-14 days. (Seeds like peas and beans will sprout faster, while seeds like carrots or parsnips will take much longer).
Once the seeds being to sprout, give them a day or two, and then take note as to how many sprouted vs. how many did not sprout. This will give you a germination rate.
Out of 10 Tested Seeds
1 seed sprouts = 10% germination rate
5 seeds sprout = 50% germination rate
10 seeds sprout = 100% germination rate
Obviously, the higher the germination rate, the better. Anything over 50% is decent. Anything lower than 50% still might be usable, but you may need to sow more thickly.
Mulch-Mulching is wonderful and necessary to retain moisture, create soil biology and protect your plants, but if a seed bed is over mulched before the seedlings are 3 inches tall it can suppress plants from coming up through it. I usually apply wet straw mulch around my seedlings, after they are 3 inches tall. If you do mulch with straw over a seed bed, make sure it is light and lose so the seedlings can push up through it. Like I mentioned above- Outside I like to use row cover to retain moisture till I get good germination.
Soil Medium– Is there enough drainage in your soil mix? Some seeds get too much water and the soil isn’t draining properly. If you just scratch one up you may find they are actually rotting under the soil… it has happened to me!
Depth– Did you plant your seeds too deep? What about too shallow? Most things need soil contact to germinate ( expect many tiny flower seeds which actually need light to germinate). My rule of thumb is plant a seed twice as deep as it is wide… some say three times it’s size, but if you are buying seeds every pack will have very specific instructions to follow.
Pests– Did the mice, birds, cats come eat or dig up your seeds in the night? It’s happened to me!
Compaction– If your soil is too hard or compacted seeds may be struggling to germinate, and even if they do germinate they may not be able to wiggle those tiny roots down into the soil. Seeds need fluffy soil to take root.
Pre-soak– Many seeds like to be pre-soaked, especially really ones with really hard seed coats like Nasturtiums and Peas. Could help go things moving, give it a try.
It has been a stormy week for those of us here in the high desert. Corona cases jumped from 4 to 41 in our state one weeks time. We have been sent home & stayed home, social distancing for a … Continue reading →
May is lovely- but can be wild too. As we have seen this weekend in Santa Fe- a foot of snow!!
It is such a transitional time, the last burst of winter before it finally passes. I looked back on my calendars and it does usually snow every year in the first week of May, so though odd, it is actually to be expected.
But the good news is no harm done over here. All the little cool season greens and seeds were tucked under row cover and only seemed to perk up from crisp air all the moisture gifted to them. If you are wondering how cold CAN your cold season crops get…well
How low can they go?
The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards, Peas and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.
Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Radish, Parsnip, Turnip can all take temps 28-25 degrees.
All of these can survive under thick row cover all winter, though they may not show many signs of growth, they will start to spring new leaves in February.
Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rutabega, Salsify, Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Swiss Chard, tolerant of Temps from 32-29degrees. These can usually be harvested till Christmas under heavy row cover, but will need to be replanted in the spring under row cover as well. (with the exception of Swiss Chard, this patch was almost invisible all winter under no row cover… but is coming back just fine!)
So not to worry, the storm has passed, we have gathered the moisture and now we prepare for hardening off and the planting out process… More on that to come.
What an honor to have our little 1/5acre of paradise featured on Soule Mama’s Blog this weekend. I was shocked at how many visitors this little blog of mine got and since a few of you asked to see more, I am so happy to share. You may have noticed I love taking pictures of my garden just about as much as I love taking pictures of my kids, so I have a lot of images to share. I put together an extended garden tour from photos I have taken over the past 5 years when I started this blog of mine, so it was also a good reflection for me to see how far we have come in seven years… so with no further ado, Welcome to our humble abode…
My husband is kind of a twisty wood collector, before we got married I think he thought he would retire early and set up a twisty wood furniture company… well, no early retirement for this papa of three, and now our gardens are all hemmed in with twisty wood creations…lucky me! He also built that ladder out of a single black locust log up to a tree nook in the box elder where he wove the branches together so it feels super cozy for the little birds who hang out up there.
When you enter you will inevitably be greeted by a curious small person. This very small person helped my weave these low garden fences out of willow we gathered together and hauled up the lane from the river. They keep the babies out of the garden and the constant layers of leaf mulch in. ( mulch is a must in a desert garden)
As you can see, I never remove weeds from the yard, I simply pull and lay them down in place. In the desert they dry up in a day or two and act as mulch, skips the step of buying mulch. My husband has been working for years, slowly surrounding the growing spaces with bricks he finds on craigslist. They are great water catchment, thermal mass and of course great for playing with trucks, riding bikes and learning to walk on.
Another masterpiece built brick by brick by my husband. Every nook ans cranny is utilized, horno under the shed roof, cradle on the freezer, etc… we use every inch we can!
Shade is key in the desert, now we have grapes vines that are almost covering it, but those grass mat fencing things work great for shade in the summer. In the winter we remove them and have a super sunny spot to warm ourselves on cold days.
Our first dinner party in the outdoor kitchen….followed by many many more!!
The boys built our Horno a couple of summers back which we now spark up every May for our annual boy birthday pizza party and every November for the Thanksgiving Turkey.
The garden studio craft shack was actually built for food storage, but I quickly took it over with all my crafting supplies, a girl needs a place to put all her yarn right?!
It was built out of old shipping pallets and mud and straw…there is a whole blog post about the shed here, check it out, it is awesome!
Another genius of my husband!! He said he had that antique O’Keeffe Merritt stove under a tarp for almost ten years before I came along. Now I got that baby canning and baking all summer long, I barely even turn on the oven inside for months!
Our washing station where of course the water runs right out to the peach tree behind the sink. And yes that is a very large salad spinner that was worth every penny! I haven’t had a turn yet, the kids always want to do the spinning!!
Step through another twisty garden gate and follow the red brick path….to your right vertical growing on the south side of the greenhouse is usually covered with tomatoes. To your left is a vegetative hedge of Currants, Nanking Cherries, Wild Plums, Wild Roses, and Hops all that started as twigs from the national forest service that help buffer between us and our neighbors and feed the wildlife.
The grandma tree beckons you back to discover more around the bend, my husband always says it was this tree that sold him on the house. When he moved in 15 years ago the lot was completely barren and the house in a state of disarray.
A sharp turn to the north and you will find hundreds of gallons of rainwater being collected for dry days ahead. And yes that is a Chicago fig gifted to me from my friends mom, but it dies back every year and only produces a few figs, but it’s cool so we keep it around, who knows, maybe someday the climate will change so much it will thrive year round ( the bright side right?)
Peek over the garden gate and the prize vegetable await!
Yep, another twisty wood gate!
And here it is from the other side- twisty wood arches everywhere, I told you!! We decided to fence in the garden last year so that I could let the chickens free in the rest of the yard. They are too messy to come into my tidy happy place!
My desert maiden Amanda enjoying the Japanese knot weed ‘lawn’ while the kids enjoy her gift, “The Imaginarium“! What a great Aunty!!
Kid, chicken, bunny zone
Someday I would like to see a nice blue grama grass lawn here, someday!
The little garden that could all hemmed in.
Along the north side of the house is the drive way and a 4ft wide strip of dirt that once was the vegetable zone but now home to 20 espalier apple trees. They act as a living fence and this is the first year they gave fruit and they are pretty as a picture!
The north strip garden is now home to a ton of plants gone wild.. tomatoes parnips, amaranth, arugula zinnias and whatever else has naturalize and perrenialized itself there.
Our hops monster eating the porch
And back to the beginning, the front garden is mostly flowers, herbs and medicinals that are cycling through at different times of the year, mostly a spring garden but it gets lots of action all through the year with the sand box right in it.
AHHH the Greenhouse in the high season, But I will save that for another day… next time I will invite you inside for tea and a look around!
Five years ago
Us today, my how we have grow!!
Thanks again Soule Mama for encouraging me to share and thanks to all of you who know small is beautiful and there is no place like home!
Just as simple as that … Out trellising cucumbers this evening and I was looking for what I had in the yard to get them up off the ground. I found an old plastic coated wire clothesline lying around and of course, clothespins. It turned out to be the perfect materials for cucumbers to latch onto and climb.
I hate to buy stuff I really can’t use for a million different things and re-use a million times, so there is no guilt when I buy even more clothesline and clothes pins to finish the job. I mean really can you have too many clothes pins? Never!So there is my clever garden invention for the day and with the evening backlight on my little cucs, I couldn’t help but share!
I plan my garden very strategically so that there isn’t much work to do in June and July… For many reasons… Maybe first because I was a garden teacher for so many years that I planned spring and fall gardens with very little summer maintenance. Even though I am not running a school garden this year, I now have a tiny baby and can’t really garden much at all…so it is convenient that I don’t have much to do but harvest in the high heat. It is also convenient for leaving town during the hottest, driest time of year which we all want to do.
Yeah for harvest help from our good friends from Ampersand, love you guys!!
And probably the biggest reason I plan so much for spring and fall gardening is that is when gardening in the high desert is at it’s best! There is cool air, cooler soils and real water falling from the sky! I start things outside as early as February (my pea crop was started then and yielded my best crop yet!) and am eating out of the garden till Christmas eve. Summer is for being lazy anyways right!?
So though I am still being very lazy, I am starting to think about the transitions about to happen out there, the good old ‘fall flip’. This is when I pull out all the lettuce and peas that have stopped yielding and bolted into pure bitterness that may still remain and I plant a whole new slew of cool season crops.
Because it is only the 9th of July I can still plant a nice beet & carrot crop. Later in the month I will plant more lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whatever other cool season greens I wish. I also have started planting big beautiful marigolds this time of year to have for autumn garlands.
High summer I hear a lot of people say, ‘oh I am too late to have a garden this year’…but you are not! Autumn harvest is within reach. Plant now and you will abundance you will reap!!
I am sure many of you spent Mother’s Day weekend filling shopping baskets with new baby plants to bring home and fill your garden with, it is a Mother’s Day tradition, (and it may be the only day of the year you can get the whole family to help you in the garden without complaint). I received the wonderful gift of my son and mother planting a brand new climbing rose for me while I took a nap!! Heaven!!
However around these parts Mother’s Day week and weekend is also famous for snow storms, which is why the last frost date is in fact May 15th- not May 5th! Transitioning things outside and toughening them up enough to go from lush nursery conditions to exposed windy high desert gardens is an important step to protecting your investments.
Here is a post from years back that talks about the hardening off process and why it is important.
And lastly one about transplanting tomatoes, which is what I will be doing this weekend… and for many days to come until these babies are tucked cozy in the ground! If you are planting according to the Bio-dynamic Calendar, Friday and Saturday are not only fruit days but (specially good!!) So hope you are hardened off and ready to go!
What a spring we have had! Erratic whether, moisture, crisp cool air, and really spring greens like nothing better! I have begun harvesting multiple pounds of Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Chard and Chinese Cabbage every week and just wish I had more garden space to plant more.
If you are doing succession planting in your garden planning, timing and leaving space for the future is everything!! You have to think about how long it will take for a head of lettuce to produce,(about 60 days in the spring) and then plan what you will pop in its place once harvested. In these pictures above and below you can see I planted Cabbage babies among the cut and come again Lettuce, so that by the time the Lettuce is bitter the Cabbage will take over.
I usually plant a lot of cut and come again varieties of Lettuce, Spinach and Kale and Chard so I don’t have to keep planting…but this year I knew I could sneak in a bunch of head Lettuce before the warm season crops needed the square footage, so now the garden is full of butterhead and romaine varieties so I can remove the whole plant and put in warm season crops the same day…..lots of salad ahead for Mama’s Mini Farm CSA!
The next three days are leaf days, so in go the last of my greenhouse Romaine starts and I will be sowing directly more Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula and Lettuce. Possibly for the last time till mid July, as once my attention and garden space goes towards the warm season crops I simply don’t have enough room or time for greens…not to mention when the weather heats up many of these spring babies go bitter or bolt quickly. Luckily my Chard and Kale keep pumping through the heat and I may not even need to replant them if I care for them right…
Which is to say I have found that if you shade cool season greens in the high summer they really like it and last longer. As you already know I am a huge fan of row cover for a long list of reasons… but when it gets too hot and plants don’t get enough fresh air they can get very flimsy and over succulent. So much so that they couldn’t survive one day in full exposure and they will just turn to mush before your eyes, so I try to gradually remove the row covers for more and more hours at a time to toughen them up to the real world.
I often raise the row cover so wind and beneficial insects can find their way in on the ends, because another set back of having your crops under constant cover is pests, namely good old aphids can take over while you aren’t watching.
At some point when cool spring breezy days shift to hot summer days, Often around June 1st. I take the row cover off all together and replace it with shade screen. This lets light, water, and beneficials in, but it takes the edge off those sweltering afternoons that will cause a cilantro to bolt in one day!
I have found in full sun gardens these shades are very helpful for almost all crops even warm season crops, throughout the whole summer. I have learned my lesson with more than one June hail storm destroying my precious babes! More info on what to use is in this previous post.
So if you aren’t out there already….get sowing!! You can plant pretty much any cool season crops, flowers and roots right now and in a few short weeks it will be tomato time!! Hooray!