That wasn’t smart 4.0

Seed starting isn’t the worst thing to do in the winter, but having your May seedlings sprouting in February is definitely not a good idea.  It all started with last year’s massive seed starting failure.  As usual I filled a few dozen pots and set them out in the cold to wait for spring, but the results were far from good, and only a few things sprouted.  I thought it might be the weather, but now I’m leaning more towards a bad batch of soil.  So this year for a bunch of seeds I figured I’d skip the soil and go back to the Deno method (click here to see how that works) of sprouting seeds in plastic bags.  I set up a bunch of seeds which I thought would benefit from a nice bit of cold before sprouting, but also thought it might be a good idea to give them a week or so of warmth first.  You can guess what happened.

deno method seeds sprouting

Just five days later and I have a mess of sprouting seeds to deal with.  After having failed twice already with these Californian thistle seeds it looks like they didn’t need a cold treatment after all!

So now I’m faced with a bunch of seedlings which will somehow have to survive my care under lights for at least 2 more months.  Even with the cool temperatures out in the winter garden slowing down their growth it will still be a long haul. Another not so smart thing was finding a baggie of needle palm seeds which I must have given up on two years ago.  Apparently there was a (now brittle and cracked) outer shell which I didn’t know about and which probably should have been removed prior to sowing.  It will be a true testament to the lives of seeds if these go ahead and sprout now.

needle palm seeds

Seeds of the hardy needle palm. Stored moist for a year, bone dry for another, cracked out of their shells, rubbed along the file and replanted this month. Not likely to lead to success but you never know 🙂

I’m much more optimistic about seeds I received from this year’s HPS seed exchange.  I potted up this happily sprouting red buckeye (aesculus pavia) seed yesterday and will try and find a cool spot for it until things warm up outside.  Also arriving pre-sprouted are two packets filled with Southern Magnolia (m. grandiflora) seeds…. don’t ask about that, I don’t need one borderline hardy southern magnolia let alone two dozen, but I should have plenty of time to think that one over since I’m hoping they’ll be slow growing.

sprouting chestnut seed

Some seed need to be planted immediately, so it helps that the donor of this seed ‘moist packed’ the seeds in damp peat when collected and then sent them in to the exchange. Sure beats receiving a dried out seed that will never sprout (such as my palm seeds became)

The rest of my seed exploits should also be in better shape.  I did go traditional and put out two trays of little pots to suffer through the rest of winter under the deck, and they will hopefully not run into problems this year, but the rest of my perennial seeds went into baggies and are sitting in a box in the fridge.  It all feels pretty promising to me.  Even the ones that had already sprouted in their baggies are coming along nicely after a few days under the growlights.

seedlings under grow lights

Carefully planted into soil the little seedlings greened up and sprouted normally. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my end of Pennsylvania who has half-hardy Californian cobweb thistles (cirsium occidentale) growing along indoors under lights. That must mean something, I’m not sure what.

My little primrose continues to make me happy, and I’m sure you’ll also welcome seeing yet another picture! 😉

yellow primula polyanthus under lights

The first yellow primula polyanthus in full bloom. A little sparse, but still perfect….. and the cyclamen aren’t too shabby either!

Never fear, I also have a few onions sprouting so not everything is odd and nearly useless flowers…. but I also have to warn you there are two more primrose divisions on the cool windowsill which are only now starting to put up buds.  If the weather keeps going as cold as it is you might be stuck looking at them all through March!

The Winter Garden 2014/15

My winter garden is having a good season so far.  Usually I don’t bother setting things up until around New Year’s but this season the shop lights went on in October for some special cuttings, and things have been humming along since.  The hardy cyclamen coum which I keep potted up are just starting to put on a show, and now that I’ve dispatched Mr. Mouse the blooms can open in peace.

winter garden under lights

The “Winter Garden” with cyclamen coum in bloom. I love the flowers alongside the bright variegated leaves of the plectranthus (probably ‘Troy’s Gold’).

For those of you who might not be as up to date with my garden as you’d like 🙂 here are a few statistics on the tiny little patch of plants which serves as my winter garden.  Basically it’s a four tube fluorescent shop light set up in an unheated workshop just off the back of the cool (never freezing) garage.  The bulbs are a generic T-8 type, usually in the ‘daylight’ or ‘natural light’ category but it really just depends on what I grab the day I’m shopping for lights.  That’s it.  Not quite a citrus filled orangerie or a warm, sunny conservatory, but it does the trick on a dark January evening.  I’m considering buying a few more and lining the side of the room with them in order to grow something bigger and fragrant.  A little goldfish pool back there wouldn’t bother me much either, might as well put a fountain in while I’m at it.

hardy cyclamen growing indoors under lights

Another two or so weeks and the cyclamen should really put on a nice show.

Last year I had a bunch of snowdrops and some early spring blooming perennial purchases from Far Reaches Farm.  They were awesome but this year I spent my winter treat money a few months too early and had to improvise, so on a warm December afternoon I went out and dug up a clump of almost completely frozen primula vulgaris for forcing.

forcing primrose

They needed dividing anyway, which eventually I did…. after letting them thaw out and sit in the dark for a week or so (not a recommended of course, but you know how things can get away from you during the holidays!)

A month later and they’re starting to wake up.  They probably won’t have as long a bloom season as some of the newer hybrid types, but I love their soft yellow color and big clumps of blooms.

primula vulgaris forced

One of the primula divisions coming along.  Fingers crossed for a good show!  (please ignore the dying coleus next to it.  Cold weather, overwatering and coleus are not a good mix)

I have a new favorite celebration.  As any Northern hemisphere gardener will know, the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the point beyond which days lengthen and the march into spring begins.  But gardeners also know we don’t rush out in January and start planting.  It takes a while for the sun to catch up, shake off winter, and get things going again.  According to the ever interesting blog at MacGardens, the turning point for this is the January 21st celebration of ‘post-solstice’.  One month after winter solstice and the sun is starting to turn the tide of winter, bringing soil temperatures back from their lowest point (happening somewhere around Jan 21st) back up into the civilized range.  Speaking of civilized, check out MacGardens for a special treat of cool plants, exotic alpines, and just plain old interesting gardening.

cyclamen coum potted

I’m always trying to get out of the ‘average’ category of photography. Here’s one of my favorite cyclamen coum which I attempted to set up for a nice portrait.

Until post-solstice kicks in and we can again search for signs of life outdoors I’ll stick to the indoor garden.  With more snow on the way tonight I think that’s the best plan.  Here’s another plant making me happy sheltering from the storm under lights, it’s a variegated ice plant (dorotheanthus bellidiformis, probably ‘mezoo trailing red’).  Not to ‘out’ my slacker gardening, but the cuttings might have been hastily thrown on a workbench back in November when the first hard frost hit.  They sat there unplanted for at least a month until I got around to potting them up and don’t seem to have minded at all.  Surviving rootless on a table for over a month ranks well on my plant-o-meter.

dorotheanthus bellidiformis 'mezoo trailing red'

Variegated ice plant finally living the good life with soil and water (and plenty of roots- I checked)

A few snowdrops weren’t stolen out of their pots or had their heads nibbled off by the late Mr. Mouse, so February should be off to a good, post-solstice, start.  In either case I’m just happy that there’s already a bit of light on the horizon when I pull into work, and a rosy glow to the sky when I walk out!

What is this!?

This could be a problem.  I’m obsessing about my little cuttings rooting under the shoplight in the garage.  They’re the goodies I snipped from Michael Bowell’s garden in early October, and as the outside garden dies back and bores me the indoor garden takes over.  This is supposed to be my “winter garden”, not my “overwintering cuttings garden”.

overwintering cuttings under shoplight

I fired up the indoor garden early this year to give the cuttings a good chance at surviving. Don’t they look promising?

Maybe Santa will bring me another shoplight.

The cuttings went into a tiny bit of rooting powder, a loose sandy potting soil, and then sat on the cozy warm heating mat which I got last winter.  They seem to like it, I just have to figure out when I can remove the mat.  The spotted begonia leaf and the yellow elephant ear are favorites.  The elephant ear was just a tiny root nub which had a little bud on it, I hope by next year it’s a couple feet tall!

Oh the optimism of a new season 🙂

Still hiding indoors

We’re into another warm spell, with temperatures predicted to peak at a balmy 50F (10C) this afternoon.  I would pull out the shorts and T shirts, but the weather forecast also has a low of 5F (-15C) listed for Wednesday, so maybe I’ll wait another week.  For now the indoor garden will have to do while we wait for the snow to melt.  Cyclamen coum are at their peak.hardy cyclamen coum indoors under lightsSure they would be hardy outdoors under the snow, but to see them blooming now is twice as nice, even though they have suffered more than ever this winter under my neglectful care.  Most are unnamed mixed seed, but the darker, smaller bloom is from the Meaden’s Crimson seed strain.meadens crimson cyclamen coumI have some whites outdoors, but only this one under lights.  It’s got nice foliage, a decent sized flower, and a nice blackberry smudge on the nose.  Also, according to the original listing this seed comes from a wild collected plant of cyclamen coum ssp. causasium, which to me means its mom comes straight from the wilds at the edge of the Black Sea near Turkey and Western Russia (and may also be slightly less hardy than other c. coum).  A cool pedigree as far as I’m concerned, but based on the mixed variety of colors and forms that came from this seed batch I’m guessing dad was a local.white cyclamen coum with blackberry centerThis one is still my favorite.  No fancy reason, just like the color.pink hardy cyclamen coumThe snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) which I potted up in December from a late Van Engelen order are doing fine, but just not as well as last years order.  There’s just not as much variety in bloom shapes and markings this year, and to me this says it might be time to move on from my bulk snowdrop purchasing days.  I’m sure I’ll still pick a couple up here and there, but no more bags of hundreds.  Just the other day a friend suggested I try Brent and Becky’s since they usually supply a higher quality and larger bulb…. (so maybe I’ll still have to try one more year of bulk orders) forced snowdropsEventually I hope to bring in a pot or two of my own garden’s clumps and force them indoors, but for now my clumps of just one bulb aren’t ready for that.  So until then I’ll have to take what I can get.galanthus and primulaYou might recognize the pinkish primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii from my Far Reaches Farm order in January.  It’s lookin’ good!  I can’t really take any credit for this since all I did was keep it warm and under lights, but it’s a nice treat here amongst the permafrost.  Rumor has it that sibthorpii should have a white ring around the yellow center star or else it’s a mixed hybrid, but since mine has been grown under artificial lighting, it may not yet be showing it’s true colors. primula vulgaris sibthorpiiTo save on indoor light space I placed another dormant primrose in a cold spot near the door to keep it asleep…. then the polar vortex and little vortices came through and before I knew it the poor thing was a block of ice.  After a slow thaw I have it under the light too, and other than a few freezer burned rosettes of new growth, I believe it will be fine.frozen perennial primroseAnother objet d’hope  is this group of overwintered geraniums I potted up last week.  I had a free afternoon and the strangely bright sunshine made me antsy to get something growing, so after another 25 pots of seeds were sown and placed outside to get a taste of winter, I took pity on the stray geranium cuttings sitting in the dark garage, repotted them and set up the second shoplight.overwintered geraniumsI had been of the opinion that my tropicals under a shoplight experiment was a waste of lighting, but last year’s hanging pots of geraniums look much better for having been under the light.  I suspect this will be the year of the geranium (pelargonium) since I now have room for nothing else (other than this sad looking cane begonia- which believe it or not will recover very quickly from this wintertime abuse).overwintered geraniumsThe succulents are much less bother.  Dim lighting, a cup of water in January, and they look as good today as when I brought them in.  As long as they only get enough water to hold off death, they’ll be fine until May.overwintered aloe

May sounds good right now, but I’ll be happy enough when March gets here.  It’s scheduled to come in like a lion, but hopefully by the end we’ll see some signs of life outside.  Onion seeds were planted last week so even if the ice outside says winter, the calendar will soon start to argue that…. I hope.

Goodies from Far Reaches Farm

Gardeners often find their passion when the kids fly the nest, the first house is purchased, or maybe at retirement.  I was an odd child.   I planted tree seedlings in the sandbox and collected seedheads while on the family vacation.  I remember one Christmas when in addition to playdoh and matchbox cars I added bulbs to the list.  Somehow Santa found a few wood hyacinth in December, and I was a happy kid when the presents were opened.

My parents were the sensible type though, and although a lot of the lawn was turned over for flowers, they insisted I take it easy so that the yard wasn’t a complete burden when I moved on.  They were right of course.  The college years, first apartments, moving around to different states, all those other things in life that interfere with gardening happened, and it’s only now twenty something years later that I’m settled down enough to really have some fun.  I can’t afford a fancy car-midlife crisis, but I can still swing a few overpriced snowdrops while also keeping the kid’s college funds intact.  Here’s a treasure from Far Reaches Farm in Washington state.  A friend tipped me off to a few snowdrops at this nursery (very reasonably priced for named snowdrops), and although shipping cross country during a polar vortex isn’t exactly normal plant buying procedure, I’m sitting fat and happy here, all hunkered down on the Pennsylvania tundra with my brand new galanthus “John Gray”.galanthus john grayI also picked up ‘Blewbury Tart’.  Maybe she’ll grow on me as the little tart clumps up but for now I’m still lukewarm to her small sideward facing congested bloom.  Both of my new snowdrops show up on ‘best growing’ or ‘favorite snowdrop’ lists, so I’m pretty sure that even when they’re out in the garden among all the other snowdrops they should someday make me proud.galanthus blewbury tart

Of course when shipping cross country it’s foolish to buy just two plants.  Far better to fill the box, so I added two primrose plants.  This one is primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii, an English type primrose that has a reputation for doing better through the dry, hot spells that other primrose generally don’t like here.  The second (and third bonus!) primrose are in a cold garage corner (still dormant), but this one with it’s blooms already coming up goes right in to add to the winter garden!primula vulgaris ssp sibthorpii

I loved my Far Reaches Farm order.  Premium plants packed to perfection, communication was great, and the primula are so well grown they could even be divided now if I were so inclined.  Just looking at their website today I could have easily filled another even larger order with cool arisameas and species roses…. but I should really do a one month cool off period for any more new plant orders (the budget being blown as it is!)  For now I’ll have to be satisfied with the winter garden…. for as long as it lasts…. the cold is creeping into the garage and the last polar plunge has pots in the corners of the garage frozen solid.cyclamen under lights

All these exciting new treats make me wonder why I ever bothered to overwinter those tired old tender plants from last year!  They only look marginally better this winter after having spent most of their time under the grow lights, and I think the trouble’s not worth it, so next year it’s back into the near dark of the garage.overwintering tropicals  I know come May it will have been worth taking them in.  Maybe if I’m bored during next week’s not-going-over-freezing weather I’ll repot the geraniums and start giving them a little water.  It will be nice to have some summer flowers growing again, and they shouldn’t mind the cool garage temperatures at all.

Daylight savings time

During daylight savings time I’m not entirely sure where all the saved light goes, but after getting to work in the dark and leaving in the dark, I’d like to pretend a little shows up in my winter garden.  Ok, winter garden is a pretty fancy label for my shoplight in the back of the garage but in a family that calls the vegetable garden “the farm” and one apple tree “the orchard”, it makes sense.  I cleaned things up a little with a plastic liner and gravel base and I’m more pleased than ever.  My only complaint is I should have used a sand base to place the pots on, a sort of ‘sand plunge’ that would distribute the watering better.  Looks like that’s the plan for next year.winter garden under lights

Things seem late, maybe because of the cold spells or my late setup and start-of-watering, but from the looks of things it should pick up soon.  More of the cyclamen coum are sending up blooms including the darker ‘Meaden’s Crimson”potted cyclamen coumThis is my current favorite though.  It’s got a nice pink shade that darkens around the petal edges giving almost a bicolor effect.cyclamen coum under lights The seedlings from last winter are also recovering well from my neglect.  For about the first year of their lives these cyclamen hederifolium will grow quickly sending up new and larger leaves if kept cool and watered with a little fertilizer.  Once they get past a certain point, around their first birthday, they either get too big or get too old (I’m not sure) and no amount of light, water, cool or warm will keep them actively growing through the winter.  They just sit there until warmer weather and drought bring on dormancy.  In this batch of seedlings I like the silver leaf in the center with it’s slight pink tinge.  Maybe it will hold onto this as it grows, but I’ve seen other babies play this trick and it never lasts.cyclamen hederifolium from seed

More snowdrops are coming into bloom.  I don’t think any of these are galanthus woronowii (like the label said) since they just don’t have the glossy green leaves that they should, but the blooms are welcome anyway.forced snowdrops

The first of many Van Engelen clearance sale bulbs are blooming.  I can’t hold them back any more!  It’s difficult to tell from the picture but these are barely half the size of the others.  Still nice though as more snow falls outside.potted snowdropsI have a birthday coming up.  I’m considering gifting myself two more shoplights rather than endlessly wishing for a greenhouse.  It’s not quite the same but it’s a start!

disclaimer: I guess daylight savings time is technically the summer time change, but just like I’m desperate for sun I was also desperate for a title 🙂

Opening day for the winter garden

There’s only so much I want to do outdoors while the snow is blowing and the temperatures drop.  It looks beautiful and we have plenty of cozy winter gear but unless I have a snow shoveling job to do I’d rather just admire the whiteness from inside the house.  So instead of bundling up, I dusted off the shop light and set up my little winter garden.  These cyclamen coum and cyclamen hederifolium are hardy enough to overwinter outdoors easily but I’m sure I’d miss them too much under the snow, so it’s nice to have them under lights and in the garage.  Plus with blooms starting, it’s time to give them a nicer spot than the dim, dusty windowsill.hardy cyclamen under lightsThe snowdrops also need more light,  I try to keep them back by holding them in the coolest corner of the garage but they have their own growing timetable.  The first of this bunch bloomed in November and now I’m happy to see the rest starting.  My apologies for the mess and dirt and less than attractive cardboard backdrop…. no Martha Stewart gardening here.potted galanthusLast winter’s cyclamen seedlings also appreciate the lighting.  They didn’t sprout until temperatures cooled in the fall but will now grow and reach a decent size for planting out next spring.cyclamen hederifolium seedlings

With the lights on, these cyclamen will get more regular watering and we’re going to pretend it’s spring 🙂  There are new blooms just under the gravel waiting to come up, and if it’s between looking outside and looking at this, I’ll take the flowers.cyclamen coum blossomNot a bad way to start off the new year.  It sure beats the -9F (-23C) I saw on my drive to work the other day.  Stay warm!

Seedling Update

I’m not as far behind as I thought I was.  Even though not a single garden center would ever worry about me as competition, there are a few things looking like they might be ready to go in the ground.  Two weeks earlier and a week or two in the cold frame (which doesn’t exist) would have been perfect… but this is where I’m at… and chances are next year this is also where I’ll be at.  I’m a slow learner.

indoor seedlings

This was supposed to be the warm season light, with tomatoes and peppers and such, but I think it’s still not warm enough.  The empty pots are things that just didn’t want to germinate, and the ones that did did it ever so sloooooowly.   I think I need a heat mat to speed them up, it sounds like a good idea but I’ve never committed to getting one.  Anyone have good luck with them?

The tomatoes and peppers look fine, but the coleus cuttings seem to do much better on the windowsill.  Coleus are the one plant that appears to find something lacking in the flourescent lights.  They always seem to have a “funny” look to them until they go outside and I wonder what it is.

The cool weather plants under the lights in the back of the garage look a little more impressive.

indoor seedlings

I think once this stuff hits the great outdoors it will take off…. assuming the bunnies stay away.  I’m trying out “bright lights” swiss chard and already like the multicolored stems.

indoor seedlings

So we’ll see where this goes.  Right now the vegetable garden is full of spring bulbs.  It seemed like a good idea in October, now I don’t know.  But at least it looks nice.

daffodil beds

Feelin’ Rich

I’ve been on a buying spree lately.  After months of doubtful back and forth it looks like my job will be around for another year, so I’ve finally cracked open the wallet to treat myself to a few extras on my wish list.  The first was last weeks’ $100 trip to Lowes.  A new 4 light T8 shop light with timer, light bulbs, and a bag of potting soil all got a spot in the cart.  I eyed the seed potatoes for a while (they had a nice selection, reasonably priced) but didn’t bite.  After years of sitting on my wallet it’s hard to go all out.

I’ve got the lights set up in a corner of the basement close to the furnace, so I’m hoping this will be a good spot for the warm growers like tomatoes and peppers.  Of course space under the new the light is already filled up with nonsense like coleus cuttings and geraniums, but I did fit a bunch of new seedling pots in.  Hopefully by the time I need more space a few of the cool weather things can already go outside. seedlings under lights

It’s a crappy picture but it shows about all you want to see of the spindly coleus cuttings that have spent all winter on the windowsill.   I should have potted them up earlier but….. you know…. hopefully they will grow fast enough to give me a few additional cuttings as I pinch them back.

Nothing fancy about the light set up.  It’s a basic T8 shop light with generic 5000K “sunlight” light bulbs rated for laundry rooms and closets.  I may be feeling rich but I’m not going crazy with special (aka expensive) growlights, and based on the success of the first light setup this one should be fine.

My credit card got a little more excersise over the next couple days.  Not much, but I’ll wait a few days before fessing up to my other purchases.

They say it’s spring, I don’t agree.

 

easter table decoration

Easter decorations

All the signs are there, the calendar, the birds, the rabbits, the plants, but one thing is missing. It’s still crappy grey windy weather and I don’t feel like spring at all. In fact after a snow day this week, I’m expecting another on Monday when another 2-4 inches comes our way. Hardly the weather of egg hunts and daffodils, but there’s not much you can do about it. I suppose the silver lining is once things start going it will be so late the threat from late freezes shouldn’t exist…. but you never know.

Every time the snow receeds (the sun when it does come out is pretty strong) the plants that reappear seem to have grown a little more.  The cyclamen coum is really taking off now in spite of the cold, and the winter aconite wins the distinction of being a flower so early it’s actually now over for the year.  My cyclamen picture doesn’t really capture the glow these early cottoncandy colored flowers give off on a grey day.

hardy cyclamen coum

A few hardy Cyclamen coum in the garden

Crocus are trying, and on the first warm day will burst out fully opened.  It amazes me how these flowers seem to explode into bloom when the temperature rises.  The snow crocus are first with yellows and creams and smaller flowers, the bigger dutch hybrids are a little later with dark purples.

Yellow species crocus

Yellow species crocus

We will see this spring how my crocus lawn is developing, it’s a bit sparse right now but I see lots of sprouts and I’m hoping more will show.  Here’s the only lawn picture I got before the rabbits nibbled off every single bloom.

Purple dutch crocus hybrids

Purple dutch crocus hybrids

A sheltered spot near the house has the first hybrid crocus ready to bloom.  The other ones planted in the open garden are barely just appearing through the mulch.

For all the complaining, spring is not much later than average.  My less than scientific investigation puts us maybe a week behind a normal year.  I’ve kept records of bloom dates for a couple years and like looking back to see what’s up and what’s missing.  My records should be more organized and I should plan a little better but this is about all my procrastinating self can handle.  Right now I feel like I’m already behind and should have more seeds started and more cuttings rooted, but you know how it goes, you’re either much too early or (for me at least) much too late.

seed exchange packets

seed exchange packets

I guess it would help if I stuck with the plan and didn’t take advantage of the surplus round of the North American Rock Garden Society’s seed exchange.  Here are 40 more packets waiting for me to do something with them.  Did I need them?  Of course not, but who can resist giving excess seeds a home and only spending $10 dollars doing it?

So in the meantime I’ll start the peppers and tomatoes and stick with the indoor gardening.  Under lights the onions are coming along, the snowdrops are starting to yellow and the cyclamen coum is still showy.  Two months of indoor color during the dullest time of the year is pretty good in my book!

seedlings under lights

Onion seedlings coming along under the shop lights