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Basil Basics- Great Tips for Growing This Tasty Herb.

October 28th, 2012

 

Basil is an annual-growing herb which is often used in Italian cooking, but it actually originates from India. There are many varieties of basil nowadays – some of them are spicier, others have a lemony or cinnamon flavor. Basil grows easily in sunny and warm weather. The leaves are used for cooking and the flower buds are edible too.

The size of the basil varies – the “sweet basil” can grow up to 6”, but most gardeners can grow it only up to 3”. Some short varieties grow really well in pots. Basil needs a full sun exposure and warm climate in order to grow successfully. From after you plant the seed, allow 60-90 days and you can harvest the basil. Gardeners try to prevent the blooming of the basil as long as possible. This is done by harvesting the top layer of leaves when the plant reaches 6”. Once the plant blooms, it won’t reach that full and bushy state with lots of tasty leaves. When the plant goes to seed after that, the leaves lessen their flavor. You can still cut them, as well as the flowers, and use them in cooking though.

Basil is part of the mint family and it has strongly aromatic leaves. The different types of basil have different flavors. The color of the leaves goes from green to dark purple. Traditionally, basil is planted among tomatoes as they help each other during the growth. Some of the varieties you can grow include: “Genovese” (with large leaves), “Mexican Spice” (with purple flowers and cinnamon scent), “Spicy Clove” (a quick growing type you can grow in a container), “Lemon” (with a lemony tang and small leaves), “Red Rubin” (with great flavor and purple-colored flowers). Since basil loves heat, you should plant it when the day temperatures are higher. Basil also likes rich soil and you shouldn’t keep it dry. Plant the seeds about 10” from each other. Once the plants reach about 6” in height you need to start pinching off their top leaves, so they don’t grow too high with only few leaves. Keep in mind that basil is sensitive to frost and as soon as autumn comes you should be prepared that the plant will go. If you want to extend its season you can cover the plants, but as soon as frost touches the leaves they will turn black.

You could also grow the basil indoors from seed. You will need direct sunlight (perhaps put the pot on the windowsill) and plenty of warmth. Feed the plant monthly, otherwise its leaves will be pale green and you won’t be happy with their flavor when using them for cooking. As it has already been mentioned, basil needs regular harvesting – the tops should be pinched off and this way you can keep the plants to produce leaves for longer. Basil is used in cooking – it adds not only taste, but color too. You can put fresh basil leaves in salads or sandwiches. You could even wrap cheese cubes in basil leaves if you are aiming at preparing a fancy gourmet dish. Don’t forget that you need to treat the basil as you treat your other potted plants – regular care, plant food, water and sunlight. Don’t forget it’s there and you will be able to enjoy the production for a long time to come.

 About the Author:

Nicole really enjoys sharing interesting home organizing and gardening ideas. You can read some of her latest publications at http://www.flowershops.co.uk/.

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What Factors Affect Germination?

October 20th, 2012

Germination: When a seed or spore begins to grow and put out shoots after a period of dormancy.

Seeds need to be stored in environmentally controlled conditions in order to ensure optimum germination and prolong their lives. When exposed to elements such as heat and moisture, the life of seeds can be gravely compromised. Have you ever noticed how seeds are stored at big box stores? Many times, they’re placed in the hot sun or near plants that get misted. The paper packets that these seeds are stored in do not protect them from these elements.

That’s why we store our seeds in environmentally controlled conditions up to the point of shipping. Before being shipped, seeds are packaged in re-sealable Mylar® bags which provide great seed protection, as well as the opportunity to plant now or later. And, if you are a seed saver, you can re-use your Mylar® bags to save seeds from the plants you grow. We pamper our seeds so much that we even play classical music to them in our storage facility.

While we do our part to ensure some of the highest germination rates around, there are other factors to consider for successful germination.

Soil Conditions That Affect Germination:

*Moisture. To trigger germination, adequate soil moisture is critical. Ensure the soil is moist, but never wet before planting. Also, remember to practice continuous watering throughout the germination period.

*Temperature: While most seeds will germinate in the spring (seeds prefer rising temperatures), some seeds perform better when planted in other seasons. Check which season or temperature works best for your seed prior to sowing.

*Consistency: While seeds can germinate in many different types of soils and surfaces, the best soil for germination is not rich. Salts and acids in rich soil can actually delay or stop germination, as many seeds prefer thin, sandy soil. Purchasing a Germination Mix from a reputable nursery or creating your own is your best bet.

Other Conditions To Consider:

*Storing seeds properly. Once purchased, keep seeds stored in a dry and cool place, such as in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Also, keep seed varieties separated from each other in clearly labeled packets. If stored in the right conditions, seeds will remain viable for years.

*Light exposure.  Providing seed with the correct light exposure is as important as providing the correct soil conditions. Always check the seed packet instructions for the sunlight requirements. Some seed prefers the dark during the germination period, while others require sunlight. If the seed requires light, place the seed at the top of the soil’s surface. If the plant prefers the dark, plant the seed beneath the soil (and check the seed packet for recommended depth).

*Proper labeling.  Label all of your seeds in the garden, as well as the date you planted them. While time consuming, this technique is key for determining proper germination rates. While some rely on good memory or keeping seedlings separated – many gardeners find that something always puts a wrench in the system. Labeling is the best practice for knowing when anticipated germination ought to begin, or when a seed can be transplanted outdoors.

Furthermore, keep a record book to note the date you planted, the time it took to germinate, whether you started your seed too early or late, and whether you grew too few or too many. Even better… record if everything was just right!

What are your tips for ensuring successful germination?

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Seed Saving 101

October 13th, 2012

Why save seeds?

When we think of the word “extinction,” a head of lettuce normally doesn’t pop up in our minds. It’s certain that our grocery stores aren’t full of endangered fruits and vegetables, either. But what about the prize-winning carrots you boasted last spring? Or your great-grandfather’s special heirloom tomatoes you remember eating every summer? If no one decides to save these seeds, the legacy of these plants will eventually die out.

What are some other reasons to save your own seeds?

Gardeners save a few seeds or every seed from their crop, sometimes for a specific purpose, or for other gardeners to enjoy.  Many do it simply because they liked the vegetables they grew last year, and want to grow them again. The fact that it saves money is also a wonderful positive.

If you decide to save seeds this year, there are some important ideas to learn and put into practice to ensure success.

Learn the overall quality of the parent plants. Specifically select seeds from the plants that grew quickly and with vigor.  A common mistake is to choose seeds randomly, and from mediocre plants. One major rule of thumb? Never save seeds from malformed fruit, or a fruit that has been damaged by insects, mold, or disease. Plants should be strong, healthy and not exposed to stressful conditions when early seed formation begins.

Learn how to effectively save seeds, and choose plants that are easiest for beginners. Beginner seed saving plants generally produce seed all in the same season, and are self-pollinating. Some plants to keep in mind are beans, lettuce, peas, peppers and tomatoes. If you’re new at this, choosing these types of plants will generally increase the likelihood of successful seed saving. Also, check out this full seed saving guide for beginners.

Learn the characteristics of healthy seeds. Start with healthy, sturdy seeds, and consider these characteristics:

1) Maturity and Size – The relative size and maturity of the seed will correlate to the survivability of the plant. Therefore, allow seeds to ripen to full maturity before they are harvested.  Keep in mind that large, mature seeds will have more food stored to nourish the seeds once they have sprouted, and will also produce strong seedlings.
2) Viability and Vigor: Find out the germination rate for your batch of seeds. This will determine the vigor in which seeds will sprout out of the soil under ideal conditions.

Learn how to care for plants during seed formation. Removing any diseased plants away from potential seed saving plants will increase the viability of the plant and its seed. Diseased plants can also spread pathogens to otherwise healthy plants, and can affect the success of succeeding generations as well.

During seed formation, be sure to provide the plant with sufficient moisture at flower time – this will promote pollen development and flower set.

Learn how to expand your garden once you’ve become more experienced.  Expand your garden by including plants that require separation to keep unwanted cross pollination at bay. These vegetables include: corn, cucumbers, muskmelon, radish, spinach, squash and pumpkins. Take a look at this helpful resource for more information.

**Friends, which plants are you saving seeds from this year?

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Why Invest In Non-GMO and Organic Seeds?

October 8th, 2012

The word, “organic” commonly refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. But with all of the focus on organic food – sometimes we forget the importance of investing in non-gmo seeds. With large biotech corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta controlling 40 percent of the U.S. vegetable seed market, it’s now more important than ever to seek out and store “safe seeds.”

Doing so can offer support to natural farmers, improve the environment and our health while making it easier to grow seeds in safe conditions.

It Offers Support

It’s simple: buying “safe seeds” supports the companies and farms that are committed to producing healthy food. When you make the choice to purchase non-gmo over modified seed, it sends a message that you support a more positive trend towards improving agriculture, without genetic engineering. It also promotes more research for finding new ways to grow seeds specifically using natural conditions.

It’s Better For The Environment

When crops are grown for seed, they require an entire life cycle for seeds to mature. This results in a greater length of time in which pests and diseases can destroy the seed crop, and may explain why in conventional farming, plants are doused with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These chemicals are poisonous and should not be allowed to run-off into our water supply, as they can be hazardous to our health and our children’s future. They also carry heavy toxic load for the environment, and the surrounding natural farms. Yet, with the focus on the bottom line, companies allow these devastating effects.

Buying non-gmo seed that is certified organic provides the assurance that no synthetic chemicals were used while the seed was growing and maturing. In this video, a seed geneticist discusses how organic crops are “babied,” while being able to withstand the common problems farmers face.

It Makes It Easier To Grow Organically

Non-GMO seed that grows in organic conditions are more likely to thrive using natural gardening practices. When seeds grow in organic conditions, they become more adapted to compost and milder applications of pesticides, and develop stronger roots to seek out scattered nutrients in the soil. On the other hand, when seeds are modified and then developed with conventional farming practicing in mind, seeds become more reliant on fertilizers and pesticides to survive.

Studies show that when life gets a little tougher for organic plants, often times, it forces the crop to withstand drought, bad weather, and other common gardening problems. It’s also important to remember that high quality seeds have already proven their viability in organic growing conditions.

It’s Better For Our Health, Says Recent Studies

Over the last decade, plants and seeds have become increasingly engineered and treated with chemical fertilizers, synthetic insecticides and herbicides, as well as synthetic fungicides. A French study recently published their findings after rats were fed a lifetime of Monsantos’s genetically modified corn, as well as water tainted with American permitted “safe” levels of Round-Up.

While controversial, their findings were shocking.

The animals fed GM corn developed mammary tumors, as well as significant kidney and liver damage. In fact, up to 70% of the rats fed the GM diet died prematurely, compared with just 30% from the control group. Furthermore, the animals exposed to the “safe” levels of Round Up (remember that GM seed varieties are more tolerant to increased applications of this herbicide), had a lower life expectancy than the control group. Based on this study’s conclusions, Russia rushed to ban imports of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn, while France and a growing number of European countries continue to uphold their bans, not wanting to risk the health of their country.

Another reason to invest in “safe seeds?” Researchers at Stanford University published a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed organically-grown food being more nutritious than conventionally grown. While this study has sparked controversy since, it’s important to keep in mind as we make choices about food.

**Do you use “safe seeds” in your garden? What are the reasons you personally choose to grow them? 

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