Sunday, February 10, 2019

Much Better late than never...Winter Sowing

Last year I experimented with Winter Sowing.  I loved this very simple technique for starting seeds.  It proved to be very successful and resulted in me having lots of perennial seedlings, that I have not had great luck with using direct sowing. I do not currently have a great place to start seeds at my house in Kentucky.

Some of my favorites were the Foxgloves, parsley, cone-flowers, Pumpkins-on-a stick, Luffa gourds, and Passion Vine, just to name a few.

I started this last year around the 2nd week of January but I seem to be way behind the garden 8 ball this year. However,  it was just too successful for me not to attempt it again.

Here is an article I wrote about the experience of Winter Sowing.

I first heard about the Winter Sowing technique for starting seeds on a podcast over a year ago. The hosts were homesteaders in Texas. They had extensive gardens and also sold plants. They propagated most of their seedlings using this method. Of course, a quick Google search provided me with much needed additional information including a definition that follows.
Winter Sowing is a method by which seeds are sown into containers that act like mini greenhouses. These seed vehicles are then located outside, experience the chill of winter, and eventually germinate in the spring." It is a phrase that was first coined by Trudi Davidoff.  You can read more about her on her website 
      I do not have a greenhouse, so finding a suitable area to start seeds is very difficult for me. The notion that I could use the outdoors as a place to start seeds set my wheels in motion, so I gave this method a try.    
   Now after one attempt I am hooked. That is not to say that I had a 100% success rate and all was perfect. But the pros outweighed the cons, and I am going to do this method of sowing certain seeds again this upcoming winter. 
    Here are the steps that I took for this project.  
# I sorted through my recycling to find an assortment of potential plastic containers. Milk jugs, vinegar jugs, fresh greens containers, large fruit plastic containers, and liter beverage bottles all went into the potential greenhouse pile. 
#2 I decided to start with perennials. I have good luck with direct sowing annuals in the garden but not perennials. So I end up spending a fortune on new perennials.
#3 All summer I collected seed packets, buying some when they went on sale after the planning season rush. I tried to focus on plants that I wanted in mass and ones that I have not had great success with direct sowing. Here is an example of the many ones I tried. 
Parsley, both the curly and the flat leaf( I need an abundance of these for my Spicebush Swallowtails to munch on). Hollyhocks (I am still experimenting with this beauty, as it always dies in my garden. But I am determined). Butterfly Weed, (to add to my Butterfly Garden), plus some Coneflowers and various other perennials. I tried to stick to seeds that required cold stratification to germinate. 
#4 Early in January, I enlisted the help of my husband to prepare the bottles for me. I have a lousy track record with knives, so I thought this the best approach.
#5 The milk and vinegar jugs, were cut open about 1/3 of the way down and just 3/4 of the way around. So it resembled a lid that opened but was still attached. By doing this, I was able to plant the seeds evenly. And I figured that when they are ready to venture into the real world, I will be able to transplant them into the garden swiftly. My husband created drainage holes on the bottom of the plastic jugs using both a box cutter and a drill to make the drainage slits and holes. The salad greens containers already had hinge type lids and just needed some additional drainage holes.  
#6 I purchased seed starter mix and filled each vessel with about 4 cups of the mix. Next, I made sure the soil was wet.
#7 Following the directions for seed planting depth and coverage, I sowed each container. Then I watered them into their winter home. 
#8  I marked each filled container in two places. First I used a water soluble pen and wrote on a plastic knife and duct taped it to the side and in addition, I labeled each jug by writing on the container. 
#9  At this point I wished them all a good growing season and battened down the hatches. I used duct tape to seal the flip tops and made sure the caps were off the jugs and took them outside to my patio table. Since I had a somewhat eclectic array of duct tape, including Mickey Mouse, from a project with my grandbabies, my Winter Sowing project table was very colorful.
All throughout January, February, March they endured the snow, sleet, and rain and I did doing nothing to them. By April I was starting to see some sprouting, then in May, there was a lot of significant growth. Near the end of May, I began to transplant my hundreds of seedlings into pots and the gardens.
I would estimate that I had about a 60% success rate. Here are the reasons for the failures. 
#1 The salad containers worked the best. The holes in the bottom of the vinegar jugs and coke liter bottles seemed to get stopped up, not allowing the water to drain efficiently. Thus causing the containers to fill with water and destroy the seedlings.  So next year I will focus on better drainage. 
#2  My labeling system was a big miss. I double labeled all the growing bins, but only about 1/2 of the labels were still legible. I had saved all the seed packets and had to do a guessing match game. My labeling system needs some serious TLC before next season. 
#3 I need to be more proactive with transplanting the seedlings. I lost quite a few due to not separating, thinning and putting them either into pots or safely in the ground.  My lack of experience with transplanting seedlings was an issue. But I learned and will do better next year.  
The bonus was that I ended up with hundreds of seedlings, from Foxgloves to Parsleys to Butterfly Weed and much more. It also helped me fill that urge to get my hands in the dirt in winter and provided me with something interesting to watch all winter long.  I feel my outdoor Winter Sowing without a greenhouse was successful. I hope you will give this fun project a try. 
Lessons  Learned:
* Label and label again and make a chart.
* Take more care with transplanting and the timing of the transplanting
* Be prepared with space, pots, and good soil to move these babies on up!!
* Be selective and pick perennial seeds that need the freeze/ thaw cycle, they do best.

I hope you will try this technique. It is not for all seed starting but works well for some!!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

BASIL BECKY..... Gardening from the Heart: Bangalore I am finally adjusting to the10 and...

BASIL BECKY..... Gardening from the Heart: Bangalore I am finally adjusting to the10 and...: Bangalore I am finally adjusting to the10 and half hour time change. Jet lag has been wicked.  However, waking in the middle of the ni...
I am finally adjusting to the10 and half hour time change. Jet lag has been wicked.  However, waking in the middle of the night has allowed me time to reflect on the last couple of weeks.
    I know when I think of Bangalore, the street scenes and noises will forever be etched in my mind. The horns constantly honking as each traveler tries to navigate the chaotic masses of traffic. Motor scooters with whole families piled on, Tuk Tuks weaving in and out jammed packed buses, and cars going every direction. The streets were host to every sort of transportation imaginable. Not to mention the hundreds of people dressed in a colorful array of traditional and non-traditional wear. Oh, then there were the cows, calmly viewing the situation. My photos don't accurately show the layers of the activity.  However, the people were warm, friendly and just like all of us...trying to make the best of the life we are given.  I hope I have the opportunity to return, and perhaps explore other areas of this massive country.  Of course, the possibility is real because as long as my grandbabies are there I will come.
I will post more blogs on this amazing journey, there were so many different parts to the three weeks ...stay tuned!!! Plus view more photos on my Instagram , basilbecky.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

BASIL BECKY..... Gardening from the Heart: Why does my Christmas Cactus Bloom at Thanksgiving...

BASIL BECKY..... Gardening from the Heart: Why does my Christmas Cactus Bloom at Thanksgiving...: is because it is a Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) versus a Christmas Cactus.( Schlumbergera bridgesii ...

Why does my Christmas Cactus Bloom at Thanksgiving? is because it is a Thanksgiving Cactus(Schlumbergera truncata) versus a Christmas Cactus.( Schlumbergera bridgesii). This beauty was passed down to me from my Mom.

It is such an easy plant to take care of and gives me so much joy knowing that my mom loved it.

Look at the leaves....
This is the secret. The Thanksgiving Cactus leaves "phylloclades" are serrated or toothed. The Christmas Cactus is more rounded.

Here are some tips for care of this precious plant:
#1 Allow the soil to dry out during resting periods or when it is not producing bloom

#2 Water only when the soil is dry to touch. Overwatering can kill the plant. Provide plenty of light and room temps of 60 to 65 degrees. 
#3 There are all kinds of ways to promote more blooms etc but I just let it the same space. Maybe because I am a Beatles fan. But my Thanksgiving Cactus that was given to me by my mom I just "Let it Be"

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

My Favorite Fall Flower

I moved into my house some 32 years ago in late spring.  That year was a year of plant discoveries.  Early in the growing season, I began to see paddle-shaped leaves some getting about 24 inches long and 6 inches wide.  They are a very attractive olive green.

I was just way too overwhelmed by the potential and all the plants emerging on my 7 amazing acres of land to focus on these particular plants growing and growing.

However much to my surprise around September, these plants presented me with a gift, a gift that has continued to be my favorite fall flower for the 30 years I have lived at my Kentucky Homestead.

"Aster tataricus" is the most amazing pollinator loving flower.  How do I love it let me count the ways?
#1. It stands straight up and does not fall over or flop like other Asters until the very end of the season.
#2. It is a low grower and does not really start shooting up in the garden until the perennials around it are ready to retire for the season.
#3. The pink to purplish flowers are loved way into the late fall season. In fact, one time I was so focused on taking a photo of a monarch feasting on the blooms that I did not even notice a hummingbird enjoying the blooms one bloom away.
#4. It is such an easy reliable old faithful. I have even seen praying mantis, native bees,  wasps and so much more.
#5. Native, perfect for naturalizing. I love to share and it has been so popular at our Master Gardeners plant sale.

So this one wins.....if you can't find it, email me and I will send you one!

Monday, September 17, 2018

So Where has Basil Becky Been?

This has been a very different 6 months for me. So many life changing events have happened.. My gardens are my soul and to have let them go this season has been hard, But I will tell you so much good has come out of the last 6 months. The gardens have flourished, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend so much time with my daughter before she moved to India and all is ok. 

This is the article that was published in the September Kentucky Gardener 2018.  I finally put Kalee, Tallulah, and Huck( 8 weeks old) on a plane to India the end of August...a month after we thought. But they are happy and together, Lulah said it best when they were eating one of their first meals to together in India and Lulah took their hands and said: "it is so nice to be home". I think to a 3-year-old home where the heart is...where the family is together. Oh, the wisdom we can reap from the mouths of babes.....

Article Published in the Kentucky Gardener September 2018 

Rebecca Stoner Kirts 
“Let it Go”
Only in Kentucky
September 2018

    There are sometimes in one's life that you just have to let things go. Very few of life’s happenings slow me down in the garden. But this year has been different as a combination of events put limitations on my usual obsessive compulsion to play in my dirt. 
    It all started in March with the arrival in Kentucky of Tallulah, my 2-year-old grandbaby, and my daughter.  Kentucky was a waypoint in their move to India where my son-in-law had accepted a job and was already working there. Tallulah's adventure had become more joyfully compounded by the upcoming birth of a new baby brother in June. It was an exhilarating time for sure. 
   So the brakes were put on planned garden tours, talks, and other Basil Becky outings.  But somehow during this very unusual spring, a new appreciation for my garden emerged.  
    I began to look at my outdoor spaces through the eyes of a toddler. My soft garden soil became her digging areas, where she could aerate the earth with her tiny shovels and trucks. 
     My weeds became gems to pick and make fabulous dandelion necklaces.  Too many violets? No worries they made great floating beauties in pails of waters.  Scattering seeds was a joyful chore to her which soon resulted in a significant culinary adventure of tasting all of the emerging bits of lettuce.  Of course, this pushed me to research which of my many plants are edible. Some fun lessons were learned. 
    Who knew her young palette would enjoy fresh asparagus plucked straight from the bed as it poked its stalk up from the ground, or that she would take such pleasure in eating the rhubarb straight up just as I remembered my father doing many years ago. 
     I now realize I did not miss much by not planting my usual spring veggies; it was a cold, snowy time anyway. There was plenty of opportunities after Lulah left to pursue a prolific vegetable garden. 
     Because I did not have the time to mess with existing beds, it allowed many of my plants to reseed and spread naturally. The Cottage Garden greatly benefited from the neglect.
      Now with a trip to India, planned for late fall, I am taking this approach one step further. "Letting it Go" will be applied to the fall garden clean up as well. 
      This fits nicely with what I have been reading about how important it is to not pristinely clean the garden in fall. In other words, leaving vegetation is very beneficial to insects, bees, bugs, and butterflies by providing them with homes and food for the winter. Tallulah loved to chase the butterflies, search for little bugs and watch the robins pecking at the ground to find food for their newly hatched baby birds.  How sad for all of us if she returns next spring to a garden void of her favorite things just so my gardens look tidy. 
     There are other reasons for adopting this 'Let It Go' philosophy with regard to fall garden chores. I agree with a quote from a blog I recently read " It is time we make the environment more important than looks. It is time that we do things which are best for the other life forms around us" (Robert Palvis; Garden Fundamentals.)    
      I also have been profoundly influenced by the writings and lectures of Doug Tallamy. In his two Books "Bringing Nature Home" and the "Living Landscape." He makes so many positive arguments for us as home gardeners to put our weedwackers and pruners down for the fall and let our gardens be. 
       My beloved Firefly population is in decline, and they need leaf litter to spend their entire larval life safe and sound, according to Dr. Tallamy. Who among us has not set out on their porch swing and watched as a young person witnesses the miracle of the twinkling fireflies coming up out of the ground?
        Leaving flower seeds heads on my many coneflowers and black-eyed Susans allows me to watch as the finches, and other birds feast all winter long. 
        According to Dr. Tallamy, "Much of the insect community is spending winter, in the debris, we get rid of"  such as our Native Bees. Our butterflies, other than Monarchs, that hang in our garden for the winter also need a safe home for their cocoons. Stems cut down stuffed into black plastic bags or into piles that could be flattened by snows etc. are not conducive for survival.
        We also need to be mindful that toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards all need safe havens in which to hibernate as well. 
        Since I have honey bees, I am always looking for natural ways to control the pest in my gardens.  By providing resting places for the beneficial bugs, like ladybugs and praying mantis's perhaps these beneficial insects will return the favor and hang around all next summer and eat up some pesty whiteflies. 
      So my plan is set. I will get rid of any diseased leaves, clean up the vegetable garden a bit but very minimally when compared to my previous efforts. I will be very careful to not disturb or disrupt my other gardening spaces. In addition, I will shred my tons of leaves from all my trees and spread them around the gardens (Free mulch)
      As an added benefit, with the time I have freed up, I can tackle some of the chores that I sometimes do not seem to get completed; such as giving my tools a much-needed cleaning.  Here is another bonus, I will not feel stressed taking some time to fly to India and visit my grandbabies!! But by far the biggest benefit will be when I walk through my messy winter gardens and smile while dreaming about showing Lulah the fireflies next year...

So my plan is to start blogging more and please check out my Instagram and Facebook page.  Instagram Basilbecky and facebook rebeccakirts  and my articles and photos in Kentucky Gardener Magazine.

I hope to give you great info on gardening some humor and love of my passions..nature, garden, travel, and family ...The best is yet to come...


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