saving seeds, holding seeds, preserving seeds

How to Save Your Seeds

By Catherine Winter

As desperately as we try to cling to summer, especially since it’s so fleeting here in Quebec’s zone 4, the signs of autumn’s arrival are all around us. Trees are losing their leaves, and the temperature has dropped down to near freezing at night, so we’ve had fires blazing in the woodstove almost every evening. Summer is indeed coming to a close, which is prompting me to get off my arse to collect seeds for next year’s garden.

If you’ve grown some varieties that you really love, be sure to save a bunch of their seeds, both to grow again next year, and to trade with your friends/family. One cannot have too much biodiversity in one’s own vegetable garden, and it’s always wonderful to discover new varieties that those close to you have grown and love.

tomato seeds, heirloom seeds, heirloom tomato seeds, saving tomato seeds

Tomato Seeds

To save seeds from both cherry and full-size tomatoes, scraped the seeds out and place them in a very fine sieve. Rub gently to remove as much pulp as you can, and alternate between that and running them under water to rinse the pulp away. After you’ve done that, put the seeds in a clean jar filled with about half a cup of room-temperature water, and seal with the lid. Place that in a cool, dark cupboard and shake gently a couple of times a day. In about a week, you should see bubbles forming, and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom: those are the viable ones. Any of the floaters will be infertile, so toss those into the compost bin.

Rinse the viable seeds in your sieve again, then place them on a piece of paper to let them dry. After a day or so, you can either remove them from the paper and store them in a paper or glassine envelope, or store that entire piece of paper in a larger kraft paper envelope: come springtime, just tear or cut the paper into pieces with the seeds left in place, and plant the seeded paper directly into your soil.

saving beans, saving peas, saving dried beans, dry beans, dried beans

Beans and Peas

If you’ve discovered some fabulous varieties of beans or peas and would like to grow them again next year, that’s awesome: they’re incredibly easy to save. Just let some pods mature fully and dry in the sun as much as possible. Once the skins have started to shrivel up a bit, pick them and put them in a basket or paper bag for a week or so to dry out a bit more.
Then pop the beans/peas out of the dried casings and store them in paper envelopes or glass jars until next planting season. If they’re climbing varieties, you can even grow them indoors over the winter on strings or mesh hung over a sunny window.

Related: Create a Community Seed Bank

pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, saving pumpkin seeds, saving seeds

Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

You know those slippery, gooey innards that squash and pumpkins have? Pick as many seeds as possible out of that mess, and then place them in a colander or other strainer. Rinse them as clean as possible, then spread them on a screen (like an old, clean window screen) to dry in a warm place for a week or so. Place in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them again.

(Be sure to save extra if you’d like to roast them as snacks, because who doesn’t love those, really?)

melon seeds, saving melon seeds, how to save melon seeds, cucumber seeds, saving cucumber seeds

Melon and Cucumber Seeds

Use the same technique as for the pumpkin and squash seeds, but try to harvest them from a plant that you’ve allowed to mature for as long as possible out in the garden. Seriously, wait until the thing is close to rotting before you harvest them. Why? Because the seeds within actually get more fertile and viable the longer leave the fruits attached to their stems. If you elevate the fruits on rocks or bricks (or even suspended via some fetching old stockings), the air circulation will delay their decomposition. Once the skin hardens, you’ll know the seeds are at their best and are ready to harvest.

dill seeds, fennel seeds, saving dill seeds, saving fennel seeds, herb seeds, saving herb seeds

Herb Seeds

Since herbs—whether medicinal or culinary—tend to have tiny little seeds, the best way to collect them is the brown paper bag technique.

Let a couple of plants mature and go to seed, and once the seed heads are drying nicely in the sun, pop paper bags over them and tie them securely in place with some twine. Use scissors or a knife to sever the stem a handspan or so beneath the twine, then hang the bag upside-down in a dry place. As the plant dries within the bag, the seed casings will shrink, releasing the seeds into the bottom of the bag.

 

After a couple of weeks, shake the bag well to release as many seeds as possible, then cut the bag open and pour the seeds into envelopes.

Keep your seeds in a cool, dry place away from direct light and any form of moisture, and you’ll have a plethora of plants to play with next spring!

 

Photos via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

FTW Kitchen: Good for What Ails ‘ya Ugly Carrot Soup

Market season, for me, really begins in Autumn. Autumn has been a bit finicky, of late: not showing up at all two years ago, and quite delayed last year. But this year, frost has already come to Ontario and I immediately lined myself up at the market this weekend for bags of ‘unwanted’ carrots.

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My favorite stall is run by Fiddle Foot Farm, about twenty minutes from here. They plant heirloom varieties of all vegetables, and have the sweetest beets I’ve ever eaten. They also sell their ‘unwanted’ produce by the bags full for just five bucks.

When that happens, I make a big batch of ugly carrot soup. Made with a few peasant ingredients from all around, this soup is yummy, reduces inflammation, is soothing on the throat and pleasing to the eye. If you’re into balancing chakras, the yellows and oranges are vibrant and well suited to a balancing diet.

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Now, if you don’t have access to ugly, unwanted carrots, I am so sorry. Regular straight n’ narrows will work too, but they won’t make you laugh, or taste as sweet. You can also substitute Yukon Gold or another starchy tuber for the purple sweet potato, if you can’t find those. If using regular sweet potatoes, though, keep in mind the flavors will be different, and the texture a little runny.

Ingredients
About 1.5 lbs ‘ugly’ carrots. This was ten for me.
2 large cloves garlic, diced
1 large yellow onion diced
2 stalks celery, diced, plus leaves
1 large purple sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 TBSP grass fed, or best butter you can get
1 TBSP coconut oil
1 – 2 tsp ground turmeric (or more, if you are like me and staving off the sicks)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 can coconut milk (plus 2 cans water)
Himalayan salt, or sea salt
a few grinds of pepper, or 1 tsp
10 sage leaves, or other herb, roughly chopped
Splash of runny honey, or maple syrup

Method
Warm butter and oil on medium low heat, in a large stock pot.
Add turmeric, and cook with the butter for about a minute.
Add onion, garlic and celery, and cook another two minutes.
Add carrot, and potato, along with salt, pepper and ginger, stir thoroughly, allow all veg to saute 5 minutes on medium, stirring here and there.

Add sage leaves or herbs, splash of sweetness and stir.
Add coconut milk, and water.
Bring mixture to the boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer at least 30 mins, but preferably an hour.

Blend soup in a blender, or use hand blender. Season again to taste.
Serve with some roasted root vegetables, garlicky greens, and whatever else you like. Enjoy the beauty of Autumn, and the delicious flavor of being different.

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seeds, light-dependent seeds, poppy seeds, papaver somniferum, papaver somniferum seeds

Light-Dependent Germination

By Catherine Winter

Have you ever struggled with starting plants from seeds? Almost all of us have, and it’s absolutely normal. Some seeds fail because they’ve been rendered infertile through improper storage, others fail because they’re grown in the wrong type of soil… and still others fail because they just haven’t gotten enough light to trigger germination.

That might sound weird to those of us who were taught to plant seeds based on the 3x rule: that the seed should be planted at a depth 3 times its own size, and covered lightly with soil. The truth is that there is no true rule of thumb in that regard, and there are many seeds that require direct sunlight to shake them awake and tell them to get growing already. This is especially common for very fine seeds, like certain flowers and herbs, whether culinary or medicinal.

lovage, perennial vegetable, lovage perennial

Seeds that Love Light

The following are just a few plant species that require direct sunlight to germinate:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Lettuce
  • Poppies
  • Columbine
  • Angelica
  • Geranium
  • Catnip
  • Mullein
  • Nicotiana
  • Lovage
  • Violets
  • Bee Balm
  • Savory (winter and summer)
  • Lobelia

Related Post: There’s No Such Thing as a “Black Thumb”

sowing seeds, how to sow seeds, light-dependent seeds, light-dependent germination, germinating small seeds

How to Cultivate These Plants

When it comes to sowing seeds for any of these, pre-water the soil in your growing bed, then scatter the seeds loosely overtop it. Then, using the palms of your hands, press those seeds lightly into the surrounding soil so they’re “hugged”, but not buried. If you live in a cooler climate, wait until the hottest, sunniest days of your growing season to plant these, or you may risk losing the majority of them to rot.

Water these regularly, but lightly, making sure you don’t drown them with overzealous flooding. If you’re growing these plants indoors, be sure to keep them in a very sunny spot, and try to keep pets away from your pots so they don’t disrupt the seeds while they establish their rather delicate root systems.

sorrel soup, sorrel spring soup, sorrel, French sorrel, garden sorrel, sauerampfer suppe, sauerampfer, herb soup

FTW Kitchen: Sorrel Soup

By Catherine Winter

Here in zone 4, very few greens sprout up until mid May at the very earliest. While friends in England start posting photos of snowdrops and daffodils in February, I have to wait until the snow clears (a few months after that…) to see the first greens unfurl. Fortunately, right after dandelions make their appearance, sorrel springs up in great, abundant heaps, just asking to be devoured.

sorrel, garden sorrel, French sorrel, lemon sorrel, perennial vegetable, perennial sorrel

I grow a variety of herbs and perennial greens in my potager garden, just outside my kitchen door, and it’s always a delight to bite into the first, lemony sorrel leaves when they show up after the long, cold Quebec winter. Springtime came earlier than usual this year (which was a delightful surprise), so I have chives and thyme coming up as well. Since the evenings out here are still quite chilly, I decide to gather a bunch of sorrel and put some soup together for dinner.

I grew up with sauerampfer soup, but my family’s recipe was very heavy on cream and egg yolks, and I found it to be way too heavy. I’ve adapted my own recipe to incorporate whatever’s in season (and in the fridge), and omitted the cream and eggs: I use fat-free plain yoghurt instead.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, sorrel soup ingredients, making sorrel soup

Ingredients:

Olive oil or butter or Earth Balance (for frying)
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small bunch green onions or chives, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, grated or finely chopped
A couple of big handfuls of sorrel leaves, shredded
4 cups of your favourite stock (I use chicken stock, but leek or onion stock works really well in this
1/3 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream (dairy or vegan)
Lemon juice (fresh, not concentrated!)
Salt and black pepper

Heat your butter or oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat, and add the onions and thyme, stirring often until the onions soften and start to turn golden.

Add the stock, green onions, and potatoes, and stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let that bubble away merrily until the potatoes have softened.

Toss in those sorrel leaves, which will turn a sort of murky olive green as soon as it hits the heat: don’t be alarmed, it’ll still taste fabulous.

Use an immersion blender to puree approximately half of the soup, or scoop out half of it and put it through a standard blender or food processor, adding it back to the pot when you’re done. If you find the soup too thick, feel free to add some more stock to thin it out. Stir in the yoghurt or sour cream, and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Add salt to taste, and feel free to add more lemon if you like as well.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, immersion blender, pureeing soup

The sour cream or yoghurt are optional and are just used to make the soup creamy, but you can also use pureed cannellini beans if you’d like to add protein and a silky texture. Some people prefer not to mix the sour cream into the dish, but instead add a dollop of it into the bowl just prior to serving, along with chopped raw sorrel, parsley, or dill.

I made this soup with what I had on hand, but it can be adapted so many ways. Fresh sweet green peas make a great addition as soon as they’re available, and swapping out half of the sorrel for spinach adds more iron and greenness to the pot. I’ve added leftover roasted zucchini, used cauliflower instead of potato… but the one common denominator is always the gorgeous lemony bite from the sorrel.

Do you grow this plant in your garden? How do you like to prepare it? Let us know!

 

Photos by the author, and lead image is by Neal Foley via Flickr Creative Commons.

wilted plants, dead plants, frosty plants

Learning from Failure

By Catherine Winter

My basil plant died.

It was a beautiful, healthy pot of basil that I had been nurturing on my kitchen counter for nearly two months, and now it’s dead. I’d been diligent about keeping the dove from trying to nest in there (she loves basil), coaxing it to healthy vibrance in the weak late winter/early spring light, and then I went and did something unbelievably stupid, and now it’s dead.

Springtime in my zone (Quebec, 4b) is nothing short of bipolar: outdoor temperatures can shift and change a hundred times a day, and it’s not unusual to have searing heat one day and a snow flurry the next. This is exactly what happened this past week: temperatures reached 36C (97F) in the sunshine a couple of days ago, so in addition to getting sunburnt just by stepping outside for a moment, I also took the opportunity to put Sir Basil out on the porch for some merry sunbathing.

The problem is that I forgot to bring him back inside, so when the mercury dipped below freezing last night, guess what happened?

Sir Basil expired.

dead basil, dead herbs, wilted herbs, herbs, basil, culinary herbs, wilted herb

…there was much swearing, let me tell you.

So, here’s the thing: stuff like this happens all the time, to all of us. It’s frustrating and discouraging because so much time and effort are put into coaxing those little seeds into plants, but Mother Nature will occasionally sideswipe us and decimate a crop or three, so it’s best to brace for that inevitability.

There are always more seeds available, and plants can be started anew, with greater awareness, foresight, and dedication to their care. For my part, my basil might be wilted and half dead, but it’s still delicious enough to be used in pesto and soup stock. Nothing need ever go to waste, right?

Don’t let a setback like this make you give up—just learn from it, and keep growing.

 

Greens to Grow Indoors This Winter

By Catherine Winter

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, chances are things are already getting a bit chilly where you are. Out here in Quebec, we’ve already had about five inches of snowfall, and that’s likely to increase exponentially over the next few months. As an avid gardener, I used to spend months pacing and champing at the bit to get my hands back into the soil so I could grow my favourite vegetables, but since the snow often doesn’t melt out here until mid May, that’s a lot of pacing and frothing.

Fortunately I’ve discovered that there are plenty of food plants that can be grown indoors during the cold half of the year, and few require any kind of special equipment. I’ve had a hell of a lot of luck growing vegetables and herbs beneath standard LED lights in my basement, as well as on windowsills. South-facing windows are ideal, as they get the most light and warmth over the course of the day, but any window that allows in a fair bit of sunshine will do the trick. Just don’t place your plants too close to the glass if it’s seriously below freezing outside, as the chill can kill tender greens.

These are a few varieties that I’ve managed to cultivate quite easily. If they can grow in my chilly, rural Quebec basement, chances are they’ll thrive in your space as well. I’ll link to a few of my favourites from the organic/heirloom companies I order from in case you’re interested in cultivating them yourself.

sprouts

Microgreens

These don’t take up much space, and you harvest them shortly after their leaves appear, so you don’t have to worry about them surviving for months. I like mizuna, but you can also get a great microgreen mix that has several varieties mixed in.

Mache

Small and really quite adorable, these buttery little leaves are great in salads or sandwiches, and grow best in cool conditions.

Lettuce

You can either grow your winter lettuce in pots, or get creative and hang it in a mesh basket. Just cram it full of seedlings and hang in a sunny window. You can snip off leaves for salads and let them re-grow over the course of the season.

Purslane

Its leaves may be teensy, but purslane is packed with flavour and thrives in cool, shady conditions. Those little leaves have a wonderful, meaty texture and slightly lemony-green bean flavour, and are wonderful in salads, soups, and tabbouleh.

peas

Climbing Peas

These hardy plants are ideal for growing on a wall or lattice indoors. They’re sweet, juicy little pearls that brighten up dark winter days with bursts of flavour.

Kale

All brassicas grow well in cooler conditions, but kale can even grow in the snow. Seriously. I’ve brushed knee-deep snow out of my garden beds and found kale still thriving beneath, so it’ll do just fine in a cool room with just a bit of winter sunshine.

Sprouted Legumes

These are probably the easiest of the lot, as beans and peas will sprout if you so much as wave a glass of water in their general direction. As far as equipment goes, you just need a jar, wire netting or cheesecloth, a bean/pea mix, and some water, and you can cultivate a crop of sprouts on your kitchen countertop.

Winter Savory

A bit hardier and more aromatic than summer savory, this herb can take a beating and still keep growing strong.

Sorrel

Alongside chervil, sorrel is the first green to make an appearance in my garden every spring, stubbornly pushing its way up through cracks in the ice and snow. It’s known as Sauerampfer in German, and is a key ingredient in one of my favourite soups.

There are, of course, just a few varieties that I’ve been able to cultivate with ease indoors. Right now I have rainbow chard sprouts arching enthusiastically beneath the living room table lamp, and potted chives that are doing surprisingly well. I’ve never been able to keep basil alive indoors, nor dill, but savoury, thyme, rosemary, and parsley have all thrived on my kitchen windowsill. Ultimately, it’s really a question of trial and error to discover what will grow well in the space you have available, and what you like to eat.

Don’t waste time, space, or resources growing anything that you don’t actually want to eat, just because you think it’ll grow well in your space. Is there a particular vegetable or herb that you’d like to grow indoors this winter, but don’t know whether it’ll thrive or not? Let us know in the comments section!

 

Photos via Wikimedia and Flickr Creative Commons