Monday, May 8, 2017

Seed float test

I've always been told that if seeds are viable they will sink, if not they will float. For most things this seems to be accurate, probably due to the fact that a dead seed will have more air and less water inside.

I have a bunch of leftover (?!) fruit seeds this spring, so I decided to test it.

Apricots:

17 floated, 14 sank (in the shell):
3 floated when in the shells and when I cracked them
---One sprouted on 4/4
14 floated when in the shells but sank when I cracked them
---One sprouted on 4/2
---One sprouted on 4/20
8 sank both times
---One sprouted on 4/2
---One sprouted on 4/3
6 sank when in the shells but floated when I cracked them

No visible difference. I separated the seeds into those groups.

After soaking 24 hours I filled the bottles with sphegnum moss to soak up the water and create the ideal microclimate for the seedlings. All of the seeds appear to be healthy. One of the sank/sank batch split within 24 hours.

They've been in the refrigerator all winter so I think the "cold stratification" criteria has been met.

As if 4/28, all the remaining seeds are still firm but no more have sprouted. Based on this test I don't see any difference in sprouting rates between the seeds that floated and the seeds that sank. The others could probably sprout eventually, but this test is over.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Food Forest #3

The idea behind a food forest is to create an artificial forest, which functions as a forest with little or no input, and which provides food for humans, birds or wildlife. Mine is intended to provide food primarily for humans, but I'm sure the birds will get their share.

The plants I chose should do well in this area. They're all relatively drought tolerant, and anything that doesn't make the cut will be weeded out eventually. I need this area to be self sustaining, and to require nothing from me. Once the trees are mature they should provide all the leaf litter necessary to sustain the reaction. Other plants will attract pollinators, protect the trees, fix nitrogen in the soil, etc. The fungus will break down the leaf littler.

Over time I will introduce other pieces of the balanced environment, until the food forest can thrive and grow without my help. Once established that area will provide me with various fruits, root vegetables, grains, edible mushrooms,and seasonings. It will provide food and shelter for birds, a refuge for beneficial insects, and a more sheltered environment for plants that wouldn't necessarily grow in this area.

The goal is to eventually turn most of the yard into a food forest. But I start with this little space to figure things out before I start the rest.

It's a long term project, but it's necessary.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Food Forest #2

A forest doesn't require fertilizer, it doesn't require additional water, it doesn't require any form of human intervention. Plants cluster where they fit and create their own planting zones. They naturally cluster with other plants that keep critters away. They build the perfect environment for OTHER plants and protect each other in a symbiotic fashion.

Forests exist all over the world, except in the worst cold and the worst deserts. They thrive where human thought says they should die. I think part of that is the human expectation that everything NEEDS them. Nope. Sorry. Here's your sign.

A forest naturally has seven layers.

Canopy
Under Canopy
Undergrowth
ground layer (creepers and such)
Climbing (vines)
fungus
Tubers

All niches are filled. You seldom see bare ground in nature. It's always covered by something. The forest goes down just as far as it goes up, and that area is also full of life.

In creating my food forest I wanted to cover those same bases. My canopy isn't 30 or 50 or 100 feet over the ground, so I cut out the under canopy. My canopy is the trees that would be an under canopy in a normal forest.

Canopy: Three dwarf fruit trees
undergrowth: Aronia, gooseberry, currant, elderberry
ground layer: tarragon, rue, dill, potatoes, tansy, fennel, herbs, grasses, sage, yarrow
vining: honeysuckle, luffa
root: potatoes, horseradish
fungus: winecaps (planting this year)

I'll be planting melons and nasturtiums up there as groundcover. This year is to see how everything gets established. Next spring the real fun begins.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Food Forest

I walked up onto the hill a few days ago and just stood there, looking down over my garden. I love this time of year, when everything is fighting to live again.

I sometimes wish I had an even higher place, where I could see the hill as well--that's going to be my food forest.

The "forest" was once a very steep hill. The neighbor behind us had a child in a wheelchair so when he built his fence he built it at the top of the steep hill rather than the bottom.

A few years ago I was in the difficult position of needing to relocate my herb garden, and the only place available was this hot, dry area where nothing grew. Not even weeds. It's straight sand, there was no water in place, wind blasted through there and blew away anything that did manage to grow.

Needless to say, the herb garden didn't do well. Rue, tarragon and feverfew thrived. Everything else died.

Then I made a discovery. That area is consistently 10 to 15 degrees hotter than the rest of the yard, even during the winter. The snow up there melted off a full month ahead.

Essentially I have a solid 1 planting zone jump, IF I can keep the wind from blowing the heat away during the winter, and IF I can control the heat during the summer. Not many plants can handle a range of 120 to -10 degrees fahrenheit.

Since the space is about 3 meters by 10, I decided that three dwarf fruit trees would be sufficient for the canopy layer. Eventually that will be one apricot and two cherries, which will help with transpiration and create shade, thus bringing the temperature down to a manageable level during the summer. By putting up a vine trellis along the east end the wind should be cut down summer and winter. So that takes care of two problems.

The other was the soil. It's almost straight sand, in spite of assertions that compost has been put up there. A few pounds of composted steer manure and a few buckets of garden soil are not sufficient. So last year I put in mulch. I buried the whole area in grass and leaves. I also spot-treated with whey when the plants appeared to be struggling. That should introduce the beneficial bacteria needed to actually build soil rather than the whole thing being just a few inches of leaves over dead sand.

I've been rewarded this year by everything coming back strong--even some I thought had died last summer! The next step will be introducing fungus. I found a few mushrooms up there last year, which I've never seen before, and this year the soil is thick with worms. Progress, right?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Celery

I mentioned in an earlier post that the celery was a wash. I planted a whole bunch (in moss, sheltered, under grow lights) and not a single one came up.

Thinking my seeds were perhaps to blame, I did a germination test. I scattered a pinch of seeds in a plastic bag on a wet paper towel. It took a while, but every single silly seed sprouted. It was like the celerypocolypse, with zombie celery popping up everywhere.

Celery is notoriously picky, and if I manage to grow this stuff I only want the strongest. I want the plants that will spit "not good enough" back in my face and grow in spite of my neglect. I stripped the seedlings from the paper towel with my fingers, scraped them all up and unceremoniously dumped them into the moss where I tried to start seedlings the first time. They did OK, a little yellow. When they had seed leaves I took them out of the moss and plunked them in the dirt.

So far, so good. I can see half a dozen that are sinking their roots into the dirt and laughing at my attempts to kill them. This is good. I'll try harder next time. :)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The effectiveness of a pinned post

I have one post (on vinegar craving) that still gets about 200 hits per week after five years. I can see that the posts to either side of it get more hits than most of my other posts, but few people go so far as to search out the homepage and see what I'm currently writing.

So I did a test. For three days I "pinned" the vinegar craving post, just to see if there was a difference. Taking into account that there are a LOT of comments on that post and it would take a long time to scroll down through them, I expected that the post just after it would have a few more hits. Probably just because of proximity. I think the system counts it as a view even if the individual just scrolls to it in getting past the previous post. If the skuttlebut about a pinned post driving more traffic to other posts is accurate, then the posts beyond the first should also see an increase.

During the test period the next post down (True Potato Seed update) got 18 hits, about triple the usual, but no comments. The posts below it got no more than usual.

I have concluded that the idea of a "pinned" post being a draw for traffic applies ONLY if the audience is the same for both posts.

Monday, March 6, 2017

TPS (True Potato Seed) Update

Potatoes are a root crop, right?

Most people believe that potatoes don't set seed, that they are root crop only. Like garlic, but that's another topic. In fact, most potatoes do set seed--it's only the "commercial" varieties that have been bred for male sterility, which means the flowers don't set fruit unless they're hand pollinated.

I always knew potatoes had flowers, but since I have never seen a seed pod on a potato (in spite of years of trying) I assumed the flowers were sterile and didn't go any further.

Until last year, when I accidentally ran across a mention of True Potato Seed and went looking for more information.

It's really not important to go into the details here, but this year I planted tps, or true potato seed, for the first time.

True potato seed prefers cooler weather, with normal germination temperatures being between 50 and 70 degrees. Using a heat mat will give you more consistent results, but it won't result in higher or quicker germination. The seed leaves are smaller than a radish seed, or another comparison would be the point of a pencil. I can't think of any real comparisons in the modern world, so you'll have to use your imagination if neither of those work for you. Think really tiny. The stems are about the thickness of a paperclip, and hairy.


The first batch started to germinate after about 10 days and I got 30% germination. I have since read that because of their built-in growth inhibitors (a lot of seeds have this) germination can take anywhere from five to fifty days. So 30% may not be accurate, but it's what I got. I now have 9 plants from that first batch.


The potato seedling is shown here (in the center) with tomatoes below and peppers above, all of them planted the same day. If you look really close you can see two more potato seedlings, just two leaves poking up above the soil in the two pots that look empty. This was the day after transplant into their first pots.

I'm half expecting a high failure rate this year. I hope not, but working with plants when I'm not familiar with their habits and needs gets tricky.