Little Gardens for Little Friends

By Kim Locke

Spring has sprung in Canada, with wonderful sunny days and the drive to go outside and putter about in your garden. Even though some parts of the country are still waiting for the ground to dry out, now would be a good time to plan what you will be putting in your garden this year.

Have you thought to include plants for your pets (bunny, chinchilla, degu, guinea pig, etc.) as well? This is something that I do every year, mainly because the cost of feeding them will go down by half as it’s a continuous source of forage. You will also be in control of what goes into growing their forage, so that’s also a good reason to do it as well.

degu, pet degu, food for degus, plants to feed degus, gardening for degus

Your pet’s teeth need to be worn down as they are constantly growing. One way to do this is to provide a mixture of different types of plants, flowers, grasses, and hays. This will force your pet to have to chew in many ways to eat the different types of forage, instead of the normal up/down motion for chewing pelleted foods.

The plants that are easy to grow that are very popular all three species of animals are as follows:

dandelion, dandelions, edible dandelions, dandelions for rabbit food, degu food, chinchilla food, guinea pig food

Dandelions – These are not actually plants that you need to purchase seeds to grow. They’re usually weeds that we remove from our lawns and gardens. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus all enjoy the flowers, stems, and leaves of the plant. If you have a plethora of them, they can be dried and used as forage in the winter as well.

Clover – These are also plants that you do not need to purchase seeds to grow. They usually spring up around this time of year on your lawn. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus can eat the flowers of the clover plant. White clover is very sticky and sweet, so I would use them as treats, sparingly.

sunflower, sunflowers, edible sunflowers, edible flowers, rabbit food, bunny food, chinchilla food, degu food

Sunflowers – This is the easiest plant I would say that you can grow for your pet’s nutritional needs. The flower petals are a favorite of degus, chinchillas, and bunnies, and can even be dried for winter forage. The seeds can only be saved and consumed by degus (they are high in fat for degus, so I use them as training treats) and chinchillas (one or two is ok, not more than that). Bunnies cannot process seeds, of any kind at all.

Strawberries – This might be something that you have planted in your garden in the past, or something that you have growing wild in your backyard. Due to the high sugar content, it is not recommended to give to degus (who cannot metabolize sugar) or chinchillas (who cannot metabolize large amounts of sugar.) Bunnies can eat both the berries and the leaves of the strawberry plant itself.

parsley, flat-leaf parsley, herbs, herbs for pets, parsley for pets, herbs for pet rabbits, herbs for pet degus, herbs for chinchillas, grow your own pet food

Parsley – This is an herb that many people have growing in their gardens for flavoring foods and to add a piece de resistance onto their salads. Bunnies will eat one bunch of parsley a day, while one spring will be enough for a degu or chinchilla.

Rosemary – This is another herb that many people plant in their gardens for flavoring summer dishes and salads. Degus can have one sprig of rosemary whereas it will make chinchillas very sick if ingested. This is due to the high fat and calcium content. Bunnies can have rosemary, but only a few springs here and there as treats.

roses, rose petals, dried rose petals, rose petal treats, edible flowers, edible roses

Rose Petals – These delicate delicacies can grace the salad of any bunny, degu, or chinchilla, but only if they are dried first. If they are not dried, they will slow down in the digestive tract of your degu or chinchilla and make them sick.

Sticks – Most sticks are toxic to degus, bunnies, and chinchillas but they are very important to assist your animal to grind their teeth down to prevent malocclusion. It’s best to stick to sticks from trees that do not have stone fruits, such as apple or willow. They will enjoy chewing off the sweet tasting bark and the young branches underneath.
It’s also best to dry out the sticks first if you are pruning them from a wild tree and then baking them at a low temperature to kill any bugs inside the stick. If you are harvesting from willow trees, you can also dry them out, but be sure to limit the amount as willow bark acts like aspen.

Chinchilla

 

*Please note that you should not use any pesticides on these plants, even IF it says it will not harm your pets and is organic!

If you are still puzzled by what types of plants to use in your garden for your furry friends, please consult the following resources:

Degus and Chinchillas – Degu Internationals SAB Diet Plant Identification Forums – http://forum.degus-international-community.org/viewforum.php?f=31

Bunnies – https://www.saveafluff.co.uk/rabbit-info/safe-foods-for-rabbits

If still in doubt, LEAVE IT OUT! 😊

 

Guinea Pig

 

Organic and Heirloom Seed Companies

One of the most common questions we get asked is where we order our seeds from. Our main writers are mostly based in Canada and the USA, so the following companies are based in these two countries. If you’d like to add your favourite company to our list, especially if you’re from another country, please let us know in the comments section!

BakerCreek

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

www.rareseeds.com

Based in Mansfield, MO. USA Ships to Canada and USA.

Botanical-Interests

Botanical Interests

www.botanicalinterests.com

From Broomfield, CO, USA Only ships seeds within USA

Greta.png

Greta’s Organic Gardens

www.seeds-organic.com

Based in Gloucester, ON, Canada Ships to Canada and USA. Being in Ontario, the seeds are well-suited to growing zones in Eastern Canada and NE USA.

Hawthorn.png

Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds

www.hawthornfarm.ca

Based in Palmerston, ON, Canada.

Heritage.png

Heritage Harvest Seeds

www.heritageharvestseed.com

Carman, Manitoba, CA. Ships to Canada and USA. Since they’re in Manitoba, you know the seeds will do well in cooler growing zones.

High Mowing.png

High Mowing Seeds

www.highmowingseeds.com

Based in Vermont, USA. Ships to USA and Canada. Ideal seeds for cooler regions.

SaltSpring.png

Salt Spring Seeds

www.saltspringseeds.com

From Salt Spring Island, BC, CA. Ships to Canada and USA.

SeedSavers.png

Seed Savers Exchange

www.saltspringseeds.com

Decorah, Iowa, USA Ships to Canada and USA

WestCoast.png

West Coast Seeds

www.westcoastseeds.com

Delta, BC, Canada Ships to Canada and USA

Urban.png

Urban Harvest

uharvest.ca

From Toronto, ON, Canada. Only ships seeds and plants within Canada.

 

mouse, field mouse, house mouse, mouse in the house, mouse eating, mouse eating seeds

Mice Will Play: Lessons in Seed Storing

By Catherine Winter

There are a few basic truths about living in a rural area: dining options tend to be limited (no going out for Ethiopian or Thai food at 3 a.m.); serenity will be disturbed by camping aficionados on summer holiday; and you will have mice in the house at some point.

They’re not as much of a nuisance in summertime, since there’s plenty to eat outside, but they will certainly find their way indoors once the weather turns cold. Since I no longer have a cat (RIP Callie and Aylwyn), my mousey housemates have gotten a bit bolder, and have been venturing into places they wouldn’t have dared to go before. Case in point, I discovered yesterday that the little monsters have somehow gotten into what I thought was a secure cupboard, and helped themselves to some of my vegetable and herb seeds.

My heirloom, organic, sacred-to-me seeds. Not cool, mice. Not cool at all.

Glass-Seed-Tubes

Storage Solutions

I’m of the opinion that every setback is an opportunity for learning and growth, and the lesson I learned this past weekend (Happy New Year!) is that my current method of storing seeds just doesn’t cut it. The mice chewed through plastic containers that were holding my paper seed envelopes, so I’m going to have to take more extreme measures and transfer my remaining seeds—and others I’ll purchase in future—into glass storage containers.

For small batches of seeds, I think that clearly labeled test tubes are the way to go, and then I can store those in wooden boxes. Hey, if it works in the Svalbard seed vault, it’ll probably be just fine for my homesteading needs, right?

Related: New Year, New Opportunity to Start a Community Seed Bank

Seed-Storage-box

When I do my big seed order at the end of this month or the beginning of February, I’ll likely order a couple of boxes of glass test tubes so I can store the seeds properly. Until then, I picked up some glass spice jars from the grocery store: they can hold what’s left of my seed stash and will hopefully keep the furry little jerks from raiding my seed stash from now on.

Permaculture really is about working with the land and environment in order to cultivate a symbiosis, but it also takes into consideration the other life forms with whom we share living spaces. I plant alliums like chives, leeks, and garlic around my garden beds to dissuade deer and rabbits, for example, and protective cloth goes over the brassicas to keep the cabbage moths at bay.

Although I’ve tried to seal most cracks and such in my home, and use mint oil to fend off the mice, it’s inevitable that a few will get overzealous and make their way into my cupboards. Humane traps are great, but removing temptation entirely by storing things in glass and metal is probably the best action I could take.

Field-Mouse

How about you? How do you keep your seeds and stored foodstuffs from being gnawed upon? Share your tips with us in the comments section!

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

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.