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Should you try to grow tulips from seed? June 22, 2014

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Our friend Ben has been fascinated by this question since Silence Dogood and I ordered a gorgeous pastel tulip mix from White Flower Farm last fall. We also ordered their famous daffodil mix, The Works, and interplanted the tulips with the new daffs. This spring, we had the most gorgeous show of daffodils and tulips that Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, has ever known. (And our daff display, thanks to the previous owners, has always been pretty spectacular.)

We felt good about spending the gift certificate from Silence’s beloved brother on The Works, because we know that daffodils will multiply every year and keep the show going and growing, almost certainly outliving you. But we felt guilty about getting the tulips, since, in contrast to daffodils, most tulips bloom for a year and then decline. Even the so-called perennial tulips like the Darwin hybrids typically only bloom five years, max. Only the tiny species tulips are true perennials, and their blooms are more crocus-sized and look nothing like what you and I think of as tulips.

Yikes. Our tulips were stunning this year, but we expect to see foliage and no flowers next year, and nothing thereafter. However, many of the plump, healthy bulbs produced not just gorgeous flowers this year, but huge, plump seedpods that are continuing to grow and ripen. Our friend Ben wondered if there was any hope that we could grow more tulips from the thousands of seeds in those plump pods.

I checked in with my good friend Google, and quickly realized why people bought tulip bulbs instead of growing their own. Obviously, the carefully bred hybrids you bought would look nothing like the seed-grown tulips you raised. But getting potentially thousands of free tulips every year would certainly console us for not getting premium hybrids. That wasn’t the reason people don’t grow tulips from seed. It’s the time/care factor.

This is the same reason most people don’t grow another bulbing plant, onions, from seed. You can get a lot more onion varieties if you buy seeds rather than sets or starts. But almost everyone buys sets or starts instead. That’s because, if you grow onions from seed, you get tiny, thin, threadlike seedlings from the seeds. You have to nurture them like the most delicate preemies, eventually setting them out into a carefully watered and weeded garden bed until, at the end of the season, you get not onions but onion sets, those thumbnail-sized round bulbs you generally buy and plant in spring to harvest onions in fall. You have to carefully dry your homegrown sets and store them through the winter, then plant them out in late spring to get onions the following year.

Most people aren’t willing to go to the trouble, especially when planting storebought onion sets is the easiest thing imaginable: Push the set into the soil until only the top protrudes, firm the soil around it, put the next set in about an onion’s width away, and so on. Before you know it, you have onions.

Not so with seed-grown tulips. Yes, you can let those fat pods turn from green to brown, then cut them off and harvest the seeds. But if you’re serious about growing them, you need to stratify them all in moist sphagnum moss and sand in plastic in the fridge or a coldframe, then carefully monitor the seedlings through the SIX YEARS it takes for the bulbs to reach blooming size. Yowie kazowie! No wonder everyone buys their tulip bulbs every year.

We loved our White Flower Farm pastel tulip mix, but damned if we’re buying it every year. Nor is our friend Ben about to sacrifice those perfectly splendid, plump tulip seedpods. Instead, once they’re dried and brown, I’ll scatter the seeds everywhere we want tulips. Winter will stratify them every bit as well as a refrigerator. Maybe they’ll grow and maybe they won’t. I guess we’ll know six years from now. Why do daffodil bulbs live, multiply, and bloom year after year, and tulip bulbs decline and die? Our friend Ben has no idea. But the tulips have given us a chance, through their seedpods, to keep them alive, and our friend Ben is going to take it.


Tulipomania strikes again. May 7, 2014

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It’s daffodil and tulip season here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. To cheer us up after the horrible winter that still hasn’t fully left us—tonight’s low is predicted to be 34 degrees—our tulip and daffodil display is our best ever.

That’s because OFB’s brother and his family gave us some nice gift certificates to White Flower Farm over the years, and this past fall, they offered phenomenal deals on their daffodil mixture, “The Works,” and a pastel tulip mix that was simply too gorgeous to believe. We decided it was time to cash in our certificates and purchased one of each mix. When they arrived, we mixed the tulip and daffodil bulbs—incidentally, the fattest, healthiest bulbs we’ve ever seen—and planted them on both sides of the path leading from our parking square down to our front door.

What would come up? What would the flowers look like? Would they bloom at the same time? Would the daffs and tulips look good together, or would they clash? All winter long, we speculated. The answer is that yes, they are blooming at the same time, and yes, they look great together. No, we wouldn’t have chosen every single tulip and daffodil in the mixes, but then, we wouldn’t have known to choose others that are, as it turns out, our favorites.

The daffs are unquestionably a great investment. No animal or other pest eats daffodil bulbs, which are poisonous; no disease affects them; and they multiply year after year during their very long perennial lives. (Think peonies and 50-year spans.)

Tulips, on the other hand, are simply an indulgence. Even the longest-lived, so-called “perennial” tulips like the Darwin hybrids bloom for five years at best; bulbs like the ones we bought will be unlikely to bloom a second year, though they may send up foliage, teasing us with hopes of blooms that never come. Species tulips are, in fact, true perennials, but they’re the size of crocuses and, while colorful enough, bear no resemblance to what most of us think of as tulips.

So why did we buy this tulip mix, knowing that we’d probably only see blooms this spring? Well, we had a gift certificate. It cost no more than a lavish flower arrangement, but would last much longer. And, okay, we love tulips, but never splurge on them because the flowers are short-lived and the bulbs seldom produce a second bloom.

In short, I guess we were suffering from modern-day tulipomania. The original tulipomania struck the Netherlands, specifically Holland, in 1636. Tulips, which originated in Turkey, had been imported into Holland and found the climate to their liking. The colorful flowers became a big hit. And then, multicolored flowers with bold color combinations and exotic “flamed” petals (such as white blooms with red “flames” on the petals) began turning up in growers’ fields. Pandemonium ensued, and prices shot up.

The phenomenon became known as tulipomania, and it became famous as the first financial bubble. At its height, a single bulb of one of the rarest varieties, such as ‘The Viceroy’ or ‘Semper Augustus’, could cost more than ten times as much as a skilled craftsman made in a year, or as much as two tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat swine, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogsheads of wine, 4 tuns of beer, a bed, a suit of clothes, a silver drinking cup, 4 lasts of rye, and 2 lasts of wheat combined. For ONE bulb.

Who was paying these prices?!! Wealthy collectors and speculators. Tulipomania was fueled by a number of strange and rare phenomena colliding, creating mass hysteria and zero common sense. First, the 30 Years’ War had been raging throughout the Germanies and sucker-punching the Netherlands, leaving it weak and depleted. Next, the bubonic plague was raging through the Netherlands at the time, creating a carpe diem (“live for today”) attitude, be it a lust for beautiful bulbs or a love of wine, women and song. And finally, most bizarre of all, no bulbs were actually changing hands during these transactions. The Bitcoins of their day, tulip bulbs were bought and sold on the open market by speculators who had zero interest in planting or selling actual tulip bulbs, only in making a fast buck.

Tulipomania peaked in 1636, then crashed in February 1637, when nobody showed up at the weekly bulb auction in Haarlem. (And yes, New York was originally settled by the Dutch, which is why it has “Harlem.”) To add to the irony, even if everyone who’d been bidding on tulip bulbs had been an avid gardener or collector, they wouldn’t have realized that all those exotic color combinations and “flames” on the petals were caused by a virus, which weakened the bulbs and ensured that the tulip varieties couldn’t possibly be seed-propagated and would die out in a matter of two or three years.

Today’s tulips don’t have viruses, even if they do display gorgeous flames of color. But they’re still usually one-season wonders. Which is why we’re considering our stunning display a one-time event. Unless somebody gives us another gift certificate.

A gardener’s nails. August 8, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. The other day, I was standing in line and noticed my cashier’s long, glued-on, elaborately ornamented nails. I hoped she didn’t notice mine.

I’m a gardener, and during gardening season, especially if you like to feel the earth like I do with your bare hands, you’d better forget about nails. Forget about them all being a uniform length. Forget about them being long, much less the Mandarin length popularized by nail salons. (How on earth do those people even use their hands?!!) Forget about nail polish. If your nails are clean and not jagged, it’s a triumph.

They tell me that gardeners who want clean nails should run them over a bar of soap before they go outside, then rinse them out afterwards. I can see why this would work, but confess I’ve never tried it. Gardening is plenty of work as it is without adding an extra step. A good metal nail-cleaner usually does the trick for me.

I don’t know about you, but as a gardener, I’m proud of my short nails and functional hands. When I put hand lotion on, I make a point of rubbing it into my nails to give them a little relief. And of course I take my vitamins to nourish my nails from the inside out. But other than that, they’re on their own. Which is, as I see it, as it should be.

‘Til next time,


Of gardeners, snails, and spelling. June 2, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Most gardeners aren’t especially fond of snails, to put it mildly, especially when they get up in the morning, go outside for a peek at the plants, and find that snails and slugs have turned their beloved hostas or long-anticipated lettuce into lace. I confess that I’m torn on the topic. I can’t find much to say in favor of slugs, but as a lifelong shell collector, I can’t find it in my heart to hate snails.

So you can bet that I was delighted to learn that, apparently, at least some snails perform a valuable function in the plant world, namely, pollination. Plants that are snail-pollinated are referred to as malacophilous plants (at least, by those who study mollusks, a branch of science known as malacology).

Now, okay, I have a Master’s degree in science, and I love shells, so I knew about malacology. But I’d never heard of malacophilous plants. How did I find out? By reading an article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, about the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As someone who could spell “chandelier” by age six (thus putting an abrupt end to my parents’ spelling out things they considered unsuitable for children’s ears), I was naturally intrigued by the spelling bee. Competitors must be between 8 and 14 years old, and proceed to the final round in a tense environment of despair, tears and triumph worthy of “American Idol” or “Chopped.”

But the words they have to spell, and define between rounds on computer tests, are so arcane as to be ludicrous. Would you know how to spell aquiclude, capitatim, cyanope, erethic, intravasation, lallation, minnelled, pergameneous, sarrusophone, telmatology, or venenate, much less know what these words mean?

I might be able to correctly guess the spellings, but not the meanings. Why give kids words they’d never use unless they became a specialist in that particular field (in which case they’d easily pick them up)? What good is served by forcing children to learn such words, unless they plan to go on to become professional Scrabble players? Only James Joyce could approve.

I love words, and I love spelling, but rather than see an 8-year-old having a meltdown over a word he’ll never read or hear in his lifetime, I’d like to see words that are typically misspelled but in common use, such as “desiccate,” the word meaning “to dry” (as in dried flowers), which almost anyone would think was spelled “dessicate,” or pasteurize, after its inventor, Louis Pasteur, not “pasturize,” like turning a cow out into a pasture.

As for specialist vocabulary, if you’re a gardener, it’s nice to know the difference between etymology (the study of word origins and development) and entomology (the study of insects), and to know that the correct word is “horticulturist,” not “horticulturalist.” You might find it interesting if not useful to know that the correct word for the act of fertilizing a flower was originally “pollenation,” until it was misspelled so often that “pollination” became the accepted usage. But this sort of specialized knowledge, while perhaps appropriate at a horticultural convention, is hardly the stuff of dinner-party chat. (And besides, nobody likes a know-it-all.)

What I really wish is that someone would sponsor a national grammar convention and spark some interest in learning the difference between “its” and “it’s,” when to use “me” and when to use “I” (note: “it’s just between he and I” does NOT cut it, try “him and me”), even between “desert” and “dessert.” (Hint: You eat the latter and try to avoid the former.) Not to mention those strange instances when a word and its seeming opposite mean exactly the same thing, as in “flammable” and “inflammable.” And I won’t even get into the misplaced clauses that cause riotous double entendres, often involving the clergy.

I see so many misuses of our language every day in newspapers, books, billboards, signs, online articles, and magazines, it makes me want to scream. Forget Henry Higgins and “Why can’t the English learn to speak?” Why can’t anybody learn the most simplistic grammar basics?

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering: The winner of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee was 13-year-old New York State resident Arvind Mahankali, whose winning word was “knaidel,” a kind of dumpling. I wouldn’t have had a clue, but I bet everyone in my area of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, the very heart of dumpling-making, would have aced it.

‘Til next time,


Great balls of burning mulch! April 11, 2013

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Yowie kazowie! Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were visiting a friend on Tuesday when her neighbor stopped by to relate a horror story. She and her husband had just put mulch down around the deck on their mobile home. Then they’d gone to work. Then someone had been driving by, seen flames coming up from the mulch and setting their deck on fire and melting it, and called 911. Fortunately, the fire company was able to douse the flames before they spread to the home itself.

Normally, gardeners—and especially organic gardeners—regard mulch as a godsend, preserving moisture in the soil, suppressing weeds, adding organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. What could have happened to turn good mulch bad?

Our friend Ben and Silence speculated that perhaps the mulch contained moisture and was exposed to hot temperatures while still in its plastic bag, so it started composting, a breakdown process that generates heat. Confined in the bag, with nowhere for the heat to go, perhaps it built up and then exploded into flame once the mulch was finally laid down.

But research on Google seems to say that a too-thick layer of mulch combined with dryness and wind can start the mulch blazing, and that dark wood chips are most likely to catch fire. Their remedy is simple: Hose down the mulch regularly to make sure it stays moist and doesn’t dry out.

Wow, there must be nothing like the feeling of trying to do something good for your property and ending up with a fire. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we use compost produced on our own property rather than wood chips as a mulch, and we’ve seen wonderful results in terms of soil fertility and plant prosperity. And not so much as a plume of smoke. We recommend it.

Another day, another dead plant. May 20, 2012

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“Silence! Get out here!”

“What’s wrong, Ben? Don’t tell me a raccoon has attacked our goldfish! What’s going on out… oh, not again.”

Our friend Ben was pointing melodramatically to a pitiful plant, its leaves curled and withered, that had appeared on our deck with this note:

Dear OFB and Silence,

            Help Me Please!!


                        Ms. Gardenia Bonsai

P.S. I had to escape—Joan* was trying to kill me!!

* Not her real name.

The care instructions for the unfortunate gardenia were thoughtfully there with the plant and note, and they mentioned that the plant had been nurtured into its present form for three years before being sold. Three years of care and attention, and now this—another expiring plant. Another expiring plant dumped on me and Silence Dogood.

This is far from the first time we’ve had this delightful experience. People apparently assume that, because we love plants and gardening, we’re some kind of plant hospice. We’ve been given a cycad that was down to its last leaf and a poinsettia that had freeze-dried after being left outside on a 15-degree night. And that’s not the worst of it.

We don’t understand why people wait until the plant is either dead or near death, and then, rather than tossing it, decide to dump it on us. If they’d give it to us when it starts to decline rather than waiting ’til the last gasp, we’d have a much better chance of saving it. We’d be happy to restore the plants to life and return them to their rightful owners, with idiot-proof care instructions, if they would just give us a fighting chance.

We’re still hopeful for the cycad. And we’ve put the poor gardenia in our plant ER in a semi-shaded spot outside the greenhouse, watered it with compost tea, and are keeping an eye on it to see if there’s any hope for a comeback.

One thing’s certain: If you’re a plant person, we’ll bet this has happened to you, too.

The gardener’s dilemma. May 13, 2012

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“Hey, Ben! What have you and Silence been up to?”

“Oh, nothing.”

The moment these words left our friend Ben’s mouth, I could have kicked myself. Silence Dogood and I have been spending every spare minute for the past couple of months clearing our raised beds and adding compost to enrich them for this season’s plants. We’ve emptied our greenhouse and moved the plants that live there during the cold months outside, potting up, dividing, pruning, and adding our own super-rich earthworm castings to their pots. Then we’ve taken the rejuvenated plants to our deck or returned the ones that live in the greenhouse year-round (like cacti and orchids) to their comfy home.

We’ve sown greens and planted transplants, added onion sets and potatoes, potted and planted endless herbs, and potted up tender edibles like citrus, olives, figs, black pepper, vanilla, cardamom, lemongrass, and elephant ears. We’ve cosseted our perennial crops—rhubarb, strawberries, cilantro, asparagus, horseradish, comfrey, catnip, motherwort, chives, garlic chives, walking onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes. We’ve potted up extras—peppermint, garlic chives, catnip, partridge-breast aloe, Cuban oregano, jade plant, aloe vera—to share with friends.

We’ve been planning two new raised beds. We’ve been feeding our three compost bins daily. We’ve been weeding and watering ad infinitum. We’ve been very, very busy.

And yet, when somebody in the non-gardening universe asks me what I’ve been up to, I say, “Oh, nothing.” Nothing that would interest you. Nothing that wouldn’t turn your whole world upside down when you grasp that I spend hours outside in the garden nurturing our plants and ourselves rather than sitting in front of the TV watching “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Dancing with the Stars” or [your favorite show here].

I doubt that you’d be too excited about the shows that run 24/7 here at Hawk’s Haven: “Bad Dog!”, “The Scallop of Doom Knows All, Sees All,” “Who Threw Up on the Rug?!”, “Shut Up, Ben,” “GAAAHHHH!!! A Stinkbug Flew on Me!!! Get It Off! Get It Off!!!” and last, but by no means least, “How Can We Make a Fortune from Athena, the Dancing Cat?!”

Right, nothing ever happens around here. Silence Dogood is never the least bit ruffled by any least thing that comes her way. Our friend Ben is not the least distracted by dreams of grandeur connected to winning, say, the MacArthur Fellowship or the Nobel Prize. Silence and I never give so much as a thought to becoming #1 New York Times bestselling authors as we write our sci-fi and historic mystery novels.

Oh, no, no. What have we been doing? Nothing.

What have you been doing?

To plant, or not to plant? May 8, 2012

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That is the question, at least here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Days here are predicted to be in the 60s and 70s this week, but nights drop from the 50s into the 40s later in the week. This isn’t a problem for our greens, alliums (bulbing and walking onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and garlic chives), herbs, celery, cole crops (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.), and perennial crops (asparagus, rhubarb, potatoes, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, comfrey, strawberries, etc.). They’ve all been in the ground since April (or, for the perennial veggies and many of the herbs and alliums, for years now) and are doing fine.

The issue for us is our warm-season transplants: tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet corn, tomatillos, basil. Should we set them out now or wait? Warm-season crops don’t like cold air or cool soil. Test after test has showed that waiting to plant until the nights are mild and the soil is warm gives your warm-season plants a better advantage than planting them in cold soil.

This makes perfect sense, but there’s an issue here that’s not addressed, and it’s about the plants’ roots. If you choose (like us) to buy your transplants rather than grow them from seed, most likely you’re looking at a 1-by-1 or, at best, 1-by-2-inch pot, with a healthy plant coming out the top and a rootball crammed into an unimaginably small area. We love the diversity, health, and heirloom variety we can purchase locally, and we love supporting businesses in our community. But those plants really need to go in the ground ASAP so they’re not set back by those tiny rootbound spaces.  

If our temps were going to stay in the 50s at night, this would be a no-brainer: Give those roots room to spread! But low 40s is a totally different situation. We don’t have any hotcaps, Wall’O’Waters, or row covers to toss over our raised beds. Once our plants are in the ground, they’re on their own.

We do have a greenhouse, and can set our flats out to harden off during the day (as we’ve been doing), then haul them back inside on cold nights. We could pot up every single tender transplant to avoid root-binding. We could plant them out, then cover them with sheets or other protection when the temps dip into the 40s. Or we could just step off the cliff, plant everything, and replace the plants if the weather kills them.

What would you advise?

Get up and grow! March 18, 2012

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With gorgeous sunny blue skies and daytime temps edging into the 70s, you can bet our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been outside getting our gardens ready to grow. We’ve been weeding our raised veggie beds and amending them with our own rich compost and composted cow manure from one of our favorite nurseries, James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers, PA. We’ve been cleaning out the greenhouse in anticipation of moving the endless container plants that spend each winter there onto our deck for the season. And of course, we’ve been checking our stash of seeds and planning what we’ll plant in each bed.

Mind you, there’s plenty already going on in our two perennial vegetable and herb beds. In the allium/herb bed, the walking onions, garlic, garlic chives, chives and shallots (all perennial crops with us) are coming on strong, along with thyme, peppermint and cilantro. We’ll be adding more herbs once we feel we can trust the weather to stay mild. (Usually we wait until May, but given our mild winter, we’re very tempted to move that up to mid-April. We shall see.)

Horseradish, rhubarb and comfrey are breaking ground in our perennial vegetable bed; no sign of the asparagus yet, but we’re watching. And Silence is planning to add Jerusalem artichokes to the bed this year, maybe even today; she has some nice, fat organic tubers. (Jerusalem artichokes are in the sunflower family and produce cheerful sunflowers, but it’s their tubers that are harvested for eating raw in salads or cooked.) This is also our catnip bed; we hope the minty catnip repels (or at least confuses) pests, and even if it doesn’t, we have three cats and they thank us.

Rain has been surprisingly scarce the past two weeks, but is predicted for tomorrow, so Silence is eager to sow cold-hardy greens and the like in our biggest bed this afternoon. Because this bed is now shaded by two of our apple trees, which turned out not to be nearly as “super dwarf” as their labels claimed and somebody’s (not, of course, to mention Silence by name) optimism warranted, we’ve devoted it to the production of shade-tolerant greens, plus early-spring salad crops like radishes, bunching onions, and snow and snap peas. We love greens raw and cooked, and usually include them in at least two meals a day (in soup and/or a sandwich for lunch, and as a cooked side and a salad at supper). And many are cold-tolerant, a definite bonus when trying one’s luck by seeding them in early spring.

Before moving on to what we’ll be sowing in the shaded bed, our friend Ben would like to point up an aspect of climate change, global warming, and weather in general that is really disturbing. It also shows us that the interactions in our gardens are far from simple, and could go some way toward explaining why simplistic “solutions” to garden problems often don’t work, backfire, or work less well than expected.

So, for a minute, let’s get back to those apple trees—and our pear trees, peach tree, pluot, elderberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and other fruits whose buds are now swelling in preparation to bloom. Orchardists hate early bloom, since the flowers and developing fruit are subject to late frosts. If a frost hits while flowers are open, the result is frozen flowers and no fruit. If a frost hits the developing fruit, the result is usually dead fruit. And since fruit trees flower only once a year, if the flowers or fruit are killed, the whole year’s crop is lost.

This would be depressing enough for backyard gardeners like us. But what about orchardists who make their living growing fruit? Unlike vegetable gardeners, who can simply replant, the fruit grower’s harvest and income is lost for the year. (Yet another argument for diversification.) This may result in an even more horrific situation: orchards being sold off to make yet more McMansion-packed “house farms.”

And there’s another factor to consider: pollination. Unlike nuts, which are wind-pollinated, fruits are bee-pollinated. Honeybees, our chief pollinators, are already under attack from parasites and fungal disease, and their numbers have dropped dramatically. But what if unusually warm winters and springs wake up the plants before the bees?

Certainly, Silence and I haven’t seen any bees buzzing around here, yet our fruit trees are in bud and their flowers will open within a week or two. If they bloom before the bees emerge, we won’t get fruit; and if the bees emerge after bloom, they won’t get food. And what if the warmer weather favors the proliferation of the mites and fungi that attack bee colonies? This is a lose-lose situation for all concerned. Much as we love a mild winter and early spring, it’s not worth losing our bees, fruit, and many of our bee-pollinated vegetable crops. 

But let’s get back to seed-sowing. Silence and I believe in patronizing as many seed companies and local seed-selling businesses as possible, since our goal is to keep local businesses carrying seed and as many seed companies as possible in business. This particular batch, for example, includes seed packs from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Rohrer Seeds, Renee’s Garden, The Cook’s Garden, Burpee, The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Botanical Interests, Seeds of Change, Agway, Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, and Happy Cat Farm.

Our technique is simply to scatter the seeds randomly over the bed, with the exception of the snow and sugar snap peas, which we plant in a row along a trellis we push into the soil along one end and part of the back of the bed. Then we drag the back of a raking fork over the bed to lightly cover the seeds with soil and to make sure they’re in good contact with the soil so they don’t try to root into thin air. When the seeds come up, since all the greens are edible—even the pea shoots—if some are too close, as they inevitably will be, we thin them and use the thinnings as microgreens and, later, mesclun mix in our salads. We’ll also transplant as needed to fill any bare spots.

Ready for our seed list? It’s pretty sizeable, but remember, we’re talking about a 4-by-16-foot bed. And we do eat a lot of greens! Here you go: ‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard greens, ‘Mizuna’ mustard greens, ‘Southern Giant Curled’ mustard greens, ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, ‘Grand Rapids’ lettuce, ‘Royal Oak Leaf’ lettuce, ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Red Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Ruby’ lettuce, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce, ‘Lollo Rossa’ lettuce, ‘Troutback’ lettuce, ‘Blush Butter Cox’ lettuce, ‘Red Ruffled Oak’ lettuce, ‘Red Devil’s Tongue’ lettuce, ‘Sucrine’ lettuce,  ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ snow peas, ‘Super Snappy’ sugar snap peas, curly endive, arugula, wild arugula (roquette), corn salad (mache), French sorrel, ‘Merlo Nero’ spinach,’Long Standing Bloomsdale’ spinach, ‘Rossi di Verona a Palla’ (‘Dragon’) radicchio, ‘Red Verona’ radicchio, ‘Komatsuma Tendergreen’ oriental greens, ‘Tatsoi’ oriental greens, ‘China Rose’ winter radish, ‘White Icicle’ radish, ‘Cherry Belle’ radish,  ‘Crimson Forest’ bunching onion, and ‘Tokyo Long White’ bunching onion.

Wow! Our friend Ben hopes that reading that list didn’t wear you out. It’s only the beginning of our vegetable-gardening adventures this season, and, we hope, of yours! Tomorrow, we’ll share a few fun garden-resource sites we’ve found this season.

February: When gardeners get boring. February 17, 2011

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Our friend Ben thinks that T.S. Eliot got it wrong, at least as far as gardeners, or more specifically, their social lives, are concerned. April isn’t the cruelest month, it’s February.

You see, for most of the year, we’re too busy gardening to talk about it. And in the winter, there’s nothing much to talk about. Silence Dogood and I tend the greenhouse, water our houseplants, and wait for spring.

Then comes February. Finally, the days are noticeably longer. The daytime temps occasionally creep up into the 40s and 50s, and the eternal snow cover begins to shrink away, revealing evergreen groundcovers, still alive and verdant under their suffocating white blanket. Old friends, like our resident wren, start letting us know they’re back, and beloved winter visitors like our junco flock decide it’s time to move on.

It’s not so much that spring is in the air as it’s in our blood. We begin surreptitiously looking for bulbs to begin poking their green tips out of the not-so-frozen land, or eyeing the hellebores for signs of blooms. We pore over the seed and nursery catalogues and fight over who’s getting which garden beds this year and what’s going in them. We dream of the day we can head out to our favorite nurseries to pick up heirloom vegetable transplants, and we try to convince ourselves that we can squeeze a few more dwarf fruit trees onto our property. We fantasize about a day spent at the huge orchid show going on now at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and we try to convince each other that we could take in the show without buying more orchids for our greenhouse. In other words, we have a grand old time talking about gardening and planning our gardens and our gardening year.

Unfortunately, our friends and extended family don’t seem to find our obsession as enthralling as we do. Strange as it might seem, come February, it seems that everyone’s schedule is suddenly so packed with activities that they can’t even answer our garden-crazed e-mails, much less make time to see us. If it weren’t for Silence’s irresistible cooking, we probably wouldn’t see a single friend for the entire month. And even then, the second we start going on about the durability of daffodils, heirloom vs. hybrid tomatoes, or the relative virtues of different types of onion sets, our guests (or, worse, hosts) suddenly recall a previous engagement.

For our self-respect’s sake, it’s a good thing that we know from experience that this pariah-like treatment will reverse once the gardening season arrives. Once we have homegrown eggs, strawberries, raspberries, greens, herbs, tomatoes, hot peppers and the like to share, suddenly we’ll be Mr. and Ms. Congeniality. Folks who shunned us in February will welcome us (and our produce) with open arms in June. They’ll rave about our eggs, and might even ask us a few questions about our colorful assortment of tomatoes or beautiful multicolored lettuces and beans.

Such, our friend Ben concludes, is the gardener’s lot: Like gardening itself, popularity is cyclical. Still, if we could manage to curb our enthusiasm (and shut our garden-obsessed mouths) in February, we might find ourselves with a lot more invitations. But where would be the fun in that? Oh, did I mention that we’ve recently discovered a new heirloom/hybrid tomato cross…