Category Archives: Seeds

Gardening Predictions for 2021

There may have been one bright spot among the gloom of 2020: The pandemic turned out to be great for horticulture. Experts estimate the industry gained 16-20 million new gardeners during the pandemic.

They’re predicting 85% of those gardeners will continue this year.

If that prediction holds true, experienced gardeners will be competing with new gardeners for seeds, plants, potting soil, mulch, tools, accessories and anything else that helps with planting and growing.

Last year seed catalogs, online retailers and garden shops couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming spring demand. More than a few had to shut down their online systems so they could catch up with orders.

Even though companies say they’re better prepared this year, gardeners should plan ahead and order their favorite varieties yesterday.

Backyard, front yard, patio and balcony food growing will continue to engage new and newer gardeners. Those who had some success last season will be anxious to expand their gardens; those who wished they would’ve started last season will get growing this year. They’ll be on the lookout for heirlooms and all kinds of organic options.

Some plants will sell out sooner than others because of special marketing and promotional programs. That’s especially true for the National Garden Bureau’s Plants of the Year for 2021.

Every year the national organization selects and promotes its Crops of the Year plants. The selections are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile, according to the NGB.

The 2021 Plants of the Year include:

Annual: Sunflowers
Perennial: Monardas
Bulb crop: Hyacinths
Edible: Garden beans
Shrub: Hardy hibiscus

Plant Select has three new introductions for this year that include Drew’s Folly Hardy Snapdragon (Antirrhinum sempervirens), Hokubetsi (Helichrysum trilineatum) and Blanca Peak Rocky Mountain Beardtongue. The Plant Select website features a list of retailers that offer Plant Select plants so you can call ahead to check on availability.

Smaller garden varieties are part of All-America Selections winning plants this year. Goldilocks squash and Pot-a-peno peppers are meant for small-space gardens. The AAS’s Gold Medal winner is Profusion Red Yellow bicolor zinnia that’s sure to be in demand.

The Perennial Plant Association selected Calamintha nepta (calamint) as its Perennial Plant of the Year for 2021. A nice rock garden and border plant, tiny white flowers bloom on a bushy low mounding plant that attracts pollinators to the garden.

Houseplants will continue to be in demand to fill home offices and windowsills that have turned into miniature greenhouses. New offerings include plants that drape over pot edges and tiny plants for tiny places.

Pantone’s colors of the year will show up in plants, flower colors, pottery and other garden accessories. Look for combinations of Illuminating Yellow and Ultimate Gray at big box stores, garden centers, the plant sections at grocery stores and wherever else gardening supplies are sold.

New gardeners will continue searching for resources, help and advice. CSU Extension master gardeners will need to be extra-creative when it comes to cultivating community from a distance, encouraging new gardeners to reach out for reliable information and finding ways to reduce the fear of failure for beginning gardeners.

If you have any gardening predictions for 2021, look into your crystal ball and add your forecast here.

By Jodi Torpey
CSU Extension master gardener since 2005
Image provided by Pixabay

Plan Ahead for Pumpkin Habanero Peppers

Pumpkin habanero peppers are perfect for Halloween. (Image by John Pendleton)

If you like to play practical jokes on your friends, how far in advanced have you planned to put one in place? I’ve waited two full gardening seasons, so far.

The devious prank occurred to me in 2019 when I read about a new “cooler hotter” chile pepper called Pumpkin habanero. These adorable pumpkin-shaped peppers look just like candy, and I thought they’d be a perfect trick for Halloween. I pictured how sweet they’d look sitting next to all the other seasonal treats on a party buffet table. (Cue fiendish laughter.)

Pumpkin habanero peppers are a cross between African and South American habanero peppers that were intentionally planted in the same field as part of a special project at Rutgers University. The two peppers mingled naturally and created a bright orange pumpkin-shaped habanero chile pepper.

These peppers were bred to pack less punch than Scotch Bonnets, more like a hotter jalapeno with a tangerine-like taste. Plant breeders wanted to produce peppers especially suited to the New Jersey climate and to give the state’s immigrant population a taste of home.

As a long-time vegetable gardener and chile grower, I didn’t let pepper facts stand in my way. Surely New Jersey habanero plants could also grow in drier and less humid Colorado.

But first I had to order seeds from the Exotic Pepper Project at Rutgers. The Exotic Pepper program began about 10 years ago as a special agricultural project to create new pepper varieties that were missing in the marketplace. The program was the brainchild of Albert Ayeni, professor of plant biology, together with professors Tom Orton and Jim Simon. They conduct their research at the New Jersey Agriculture Research Station in New Brunswick, N.J.

Pumpkin habanero chile peppers turn from green to orange with time. (Image by Jodi Torpey)

I spent $11 for forty Pumpkin habanero seeds that arrived in time for starting a few indoors in March. The seeds took about 8 weeks to sprout and grow into small, dark green plants with wrinkly leaves. They were ready for transplanting in May. Unfortunately, those first habanero plants struggled and never recovered from an early spring cold spell.

Rats! My Halloween prank would have to wait for the 2020 gardening season.

When spring rolled around, I started another batch of seeds and this time waited to transplant until temperatures really heated up in June. Two small, but healthy Pumpkin habanero plants began growing in containers placed in the hottest spot on the patio.

With a lot of extra TLC, the pepper plants each grew to over 24 inches tall. Every day I looked for small white flowers and then watched for the tiny green peppers to form. They were slow to grow and even slower for the first few to ripen to bright orange in September.

With warm October days helping them along, I had a good crop of perfect pumpkin-shaped peppers for my long-planned prank. But I’m foiled again! With no Halloween parties planned this year, I’ll have to wait for gardening season 2021 for my friends to be treated to my Great Pumpkin trick.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener since 2005

Easy-to-Grow Container Basil

My summer garden wouldn’t be the same without a container of basil growing on the patio. Not only is basil a beautiful plant, but it’s one of the most versatile herbs around. The fresh leaves get tossed into green salads, stacked with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for a Caprese salad, blended into pesto, and plenty more.

One packet of basil seeds means dozens of fresh summer recipes. (Photo by Jodi Torpey)

Every year I grow a container of basil so I can clip the fresh and fragrant leaves all summer. This method of container planting is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to plant basil, and it uses only one packet of seeds. My favorite is the Genovese basil because of the large leaf size.

The basil plants grow well with a limited amount of morning sun, then afternoon shade to keep tender leaves from burning.

Any container that can hold a good quality potting soil and has holes in the bottom for drainage is a potential for planting. My go-to basil container is a plastic window box that has a matching tray to catch water. Paper coffee filters cover the drainage holes to keep soil in.

Here are the three planting steps:

  1. Sprinkle (broadcast) the entire packet of seeds evenly over the top of the potting soil. Gently pat down and cover seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil.
  2. Spray the seeds and top of the soil with water from a spray bottle or plant mister. Spraying keeps the seeds on top of the soil.
  3. Spritz daily or whenever the soil starts to dry out until the little plants begin to grow. Continue gently watering the container with a watering can or hose and nozzle.

Basil seeds sprout and grow quickly. Start clipping the leaves when plants have three to five sets of leaves. Don’t worry about pruning the leaves, because that encourages healthy new growth and branching, plus it keeps plants from flowering too quickly (although the flowers are tasty, too).

Fertilize with your preferred water-soluble plant food or gently dig in a slow-release fertilizer about once a month to keep plants green and healthy.

One of my favorite quick salads is sliced garden-fresh tomatoes, topped with several tablespoons of snipped basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served at room temperature.

How do you like to use the fresh basil from your garden? Please share your recipe ideas in the comments section below.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardeners since 2015

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

How Long Will Seeds Last?


Do you have a stash of old seed packets tucked away with your gardening gear, thrown on a shelf in the garage or mingling with this-and-that in a drawer? I bet you do. Do they hold the promise of healthy plants or are they past their prime?

Seed packets have a sell-by date, but depending on the seed type and the storage, they can be viable far longer.

According to Colorado State University, flower and vegetable seeds can be stored at room temperature for a year without significant loss of germination. Given optimal dry and cool conditions, some seeds can be viable for up to ten years. Colorado’s semi-arid climate is advantageous for seed saving as moisture shortens seed’s shelf life. This CSU publication contains details on seed saving, the longevity of common plant seeds and germination rates.

If you want to know if your past season’s seeds are worth planting, you can easily find out by doing a germination test. Count out 10, 20, or 30 seeds and spread them on several layers of moistened paper towels. Carefully roll them in the paper so the seeds stay separated. Place the roll in a plastic bag and store in a warm spot without direct sunlight, such as the top of the refrigerator.

Check your seeds for signs of sprouting after 2-3 days and daily after that for about two weeks, keeping the towels moist. After that time, divide the number of sprouted seeds by the number you started with and you have the germination rate. You’ll likely find that the rate is reduced, but the seed is still useful if you plant more seed than you need, using the germination rate as a planting guide.

If few seeds sprout, they are too old and not worth saving. By doing the test, you’ll avoid being disappointed by poorly performing plants in the garden.

February is a great time to take stock of your seed stash and purchase what you need for the year. And if you have some still-good seed you don’t want, consider sharing them with a gardening friend or donating them to a school or community garden.

Image: Pixabay.com

Written by: Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

Where Does Baby Corn Come From?

A few weeks ago, one of my vegetable gardening friends asked me where she could buy seeds to grow baby corn.

She thought the tiny rows of corn stalks would look cute growing in her elevated garden bed.

I thought about it for a minute before telling her, “Baby corn comes from the same place as baby carrots.”

She looked confused until I explained what I meant. Then we both had a good laugh.

The baby corn found on appetizer plates and in stir-fry recipes isn’t a special variety of sweet corn. The tiny ears are the second ear from the top of regular sweet corn that’s been handpicked before the plant’s been fertilized. The top ear is left on the plant to keep growing into full size.

Because handpicking little ears of corn is especially labor intensive, almost all the baby corn we eat is grown and harvested overseas in countries like Thailand. Of course, there may be a few industrious U.S. growers who grow and harvest the baby ears of corn to sell in their husks at farmers markets.

But large farms steer clear of the early harvest because it can’t be mechanized.

The packages of baby carrots at the grocery store aren’t a special variety of carrot either. Baby cut carrots start out as full-size, slightly imperfect carrots that are sliced into smaller pieces, run through a mill and then polished into perfectly round “baby” carrots.

The idea for baby cut carrots came from one creative carrot farmer who was trying to find a way to increase carrot sales and reduce the amount of carrot waste from irregular or “ugly” carrots.

The leftover carrot scraps from the milling process don’t go to waste either. They’re usually composted, used as animal feed or turned into carrot juice.

The good news for vegetable gardeners is there are real baby carrots we can plant and grow in our gardens. These miniature varieties of carrots are sold in seed packets with names like ‘Romeo’ baby round carrots, ‘Baby Little Fingers’, and ‘Short ‘N Sweet’ carrots.

As for growing baby corn, you can always plant any variety of sweet corn and then start picking those little ears just after the corn silks emerge and before they have a chance to grow.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

Seed School

You may be familiar with the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. As a member you can buy or exchange seeds with other members.  They encourage heirloom seed saving.  You can grow the same variety of Hollyhock or Sunflower that your grandmother grew because people have saved the seeds and passed them along for other gardeners to grow.  seeds

A relatively new organization is the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.   The founders of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke at the Denver Botanic Gardens in September 2015 – “Seed: the Future of Food”.   Seeds saved from successful plants are uniquely adapted for the local environment which makes local or regional seed groups important.

Both of these organizations offer “Seed Schools” where they teach best practices in seed harvesting and preservation.   The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance offers webinars on seeds and has a seed school in Aurora, CO in August 2016 

If you want to see some interesting videos about International Seed Banks see my earlier post on this site.

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.

What is a Seed Bank?

A seed bank is a secure, climate controlled collection of seeds that are saved in case of annihilation of all plants, at least that is how I currently understand it,

There are two international seed banks.  These are a back-up for National Seed Banks.

Most countries have a National Seed Bank.  Unfortunately, these can be, and have been, destroyed by natural disasters or wars.  Recently, one of the international seed banks sent Syrian seeds to other countries that are not currently affected by war; so that there is a regional source and so that seed scientists can continue to grow, test and collect the seed.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault  is buried in a mountain on an inland in Norway, close to the Arctic Circle.  This TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talk is a good place to start.

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership in London has a slightly different philosophy.  This TED Talk is an excellent explanation.  

Can you identify the difference in the philosophy behind the two international seed banks?