Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Send Seeds Safely Through the Mail Without Being Broken

Until you’ve had some crushed, you probably are not aware of how easily seeds can be crushed in the mail. While some seeds can be sent unpadded and arrive unscathed other seeds can be smashed even after two layers of bubble wrap or a bubble mailer. This guide is designed to offer you two ways to send seeds cheaply through the mail without them being damaged.

We did not create this first method, but it is excellent for sending seeds that are tiny while still meeting the thickness requirements for a first class envelope. This method will keep the package under 1/8", meaning it can be sent with a first class stamp. This method is quick and easy, but it requires Popsicle sticks, which you may not have on hand. For this method, we recommend using some type of card stock. But plain paper should work too. The scissors really aren't necessary unless you want to use them to cut the tape.

Scissors (perhaps?)
Cardstock or index card
2 or more Popsicle Sticks



Start out by cutting your card stock to size to fit your envelope. An index card should fit pretty well inside a normal 3 5/8" x 6 1/2" envelope.

Next, lay your Popsicle sticks on top with enough space between them to fit your seeds. 

 Now, tape over your sticks to hold them firmly in place.  Depending on how many seeds you have to send and the size of the packs, you can use more than two sticks. But two seems to be about right for most cases.

 Afterwards, your seeds go in between your sticks where they will be protected from rollers in the sorting facility and the general weight of other mail. Just use a piece of tape to hold them in place as you see above.  Here we are using Peruvian Torch cactus seeds, which have very little tolerance for abuse.

At this point, the seeds are ready to go into your envelope where they should fit nicely and flatly.

Just to test them, we've placed them beneath 36 lbs of weight.

And there they are...completely untouched.

Now let's get to method two.  We at World Seed Supply used this method for a number of years to send seeds for some of our Ebay orders. Eventually, our order load became too great and we found a reasonable source for bubble mailers.  But this method is still great for the average person.  When we first started shipping seeds, there weren't the same requirements for thickness from USPS.  We were able to bulk the package up as much as we needed. But when the rules changed we had to find something that would stay under 1/8" but still protect the seeds.  We assumed that since bubble mailers offer two layers of protection, that would suffice here.  But we eventually came to learn that three layers of bubble wrap are really what is needed. And they can still pass for the 1/8" thickness requirement, allowing them to be sent as an "envelope with a rigid object."  Seeds that need delivery confirmation cannot be packed using this method since a package must be over 1/4" to add that service. This rule is intended to keep senders from adding delivery confirmation to letters and any other piece of mail.  Without being able to add delivery confirmation, this method is best for inexpensive seeds, sending seeds to someone you know and trust or sending internationally, since international tracking is generally too expensive anyway.  

Scissors (definitely for this one)
12"x12" sheet of bubble wrap
Envelope (3 5/8" x 6 1/2")


Start out with a single 12" x 12" sheet of bubble wrap. This picture shows a piece that is missing a little strip. The one in the first picture is a full sheet.  But it was from the inner part of a roll of some cheap bubble wrap where the bubbles where neraly deflated.  You want something with a little life in it. We will explain more on this later.  But as long as you have one full 12" side, it ill work. You can actually pack two envelopes with one 12"x12" sheet.

The first thing you want to do is fold your bubble wrap in half so that it becomes roughly 6" in length. As you can see, this is about perfect to fit in a 6 1/2" envelope.

 From the folded sheet of bubble wrap, cut a (folded) strip that is a little less than the height of your envelope. You do not want to cut it to the exact height because then it will be tough to close your envelope at the end.  We usually cut it about 1/4" less than the envelope height as shown.

Taking the remainder of the original sheet of bubble wrap, cut off a second folded strip that is the same width or even a little thinner than the strip you made before.  Half of this piece is going to be used for the third layer.  Going back to the concept of bubble thickness, if you have a new roll of bubble wrap, it might be too much to use three layers of that.  So sometimes a piece of the partially deflated bubble wrap from the inside of the roll is good to use for the middle layer. 

Here you see that we snip of the folded end of the strip we just cut.  This serves to separate the two layers so you can use one for the third layer of your homemade bubble mailer.  But it also helps shorten the piece enough so that it can fit in between without hanging out on the end.

And here you see the original strip opened up with the piece you just made placed on one side.  The bubble of the two layers will interlock, increasing the strength and reducing the thickness of the two layers.  You will notice that it is a little less than half the length of the original, which allows the larger piece to be folded nicely. If the little strip is too long or you have it over too far, you can get some bunching up in the corner where the fold is.  If anything, it is best to leave and excesss towards the right end where it can be cut off.

Now it is time to place your seeds on top of the two layers and tape the packet in place.

By folding the other part of the strip over the two layers, you end up with your three-layered padding.

Proceed to trim any ends that need to be trimmed and tape them up. You will notice that the folded end does not need to be taped.

Finally, the padded seeds are placed inside the envelope, and the envelope is cloesed.  You can see that when done neatly, the envelope stays thin.

Once again, 36 lbs. of weight are placed on top to demonstrate the validity of this method.

Just to prove that the seeds are indeed under there.

And again, they are totally unharmed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mallacht's Worm Compost Tea Recipe

We were given permission to post this guide by The Mallacht. This is a guide for making worm casting tea. Worm castings are a euphemism for worm poop. It is also known as vermicast or worm humus. Like the solid waste of many other animals, worm castings are a wonderful fertilizer than can be used in place of chemicals for organic gardening. In addition to fertilizing, compost tea is believed to help prevent disease in plants. Gardeners often equate worms with a healthy soil, and this is because worms help to foster the web of life within the soil by breaking down organic matter and making nutrients readily available to plants. It also helps increase beneficial aerobic bacteria. By making a tea using worm castings, gardeners can add these beneficial nutrients to their soil in liquid form without actually having the worms present. Through aerating the tea, you can increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in your tea and your soil.

Essentially what you are doing is creating a culture of beneficial aerobic bacteria. When water sits for a long time without moving, it eventually becomes bacteria ridden or disgusting because harmful bacteria, or Anaerobic (anti-air) bacteria, thrive in an environment lacking oxygen. So when you use the bubblers to oxygenate the water, you are creating an environment that is perfect for the beneficial (aerobic) bacteria thus creating a thriving culture of them. Beneficial bacteria help break down components in the soil that would otherwise be useless to plants.

Materials Needed:

Two Socks to use as tea bags
Enough worm castings to fill the two socks (1 bag = $10)
Black Strap brand molasses (said to be the best brand)
Air Stones (preferably 4 or more)
Aquarium pumps for the airstones
Standard 5-gallon bucket

Here’s a picture of what a completed setup looks like without water

As you can see, there are four airstones in the bottom. Tying them together can keep them from floating, which is important because they work better on the bottom.


Here is a picture with it connected to the air pumps

A picture of Grandma’s Black Strap molasses

This is the setup with the water bubbling


     Afterwards 2-3 tablespoons of Grandma’s Black Strap molasses are added.

The worm castings are added to the socks and placed in the water for “brewing” This shows the setup in full operation

A pump is wired with a switch like this so that you can more easily fill gallon jugs and further aerate the tea.

Of course it may be overkill, but it helps to create more of the frothy foam that you are looking for. Let it run for 48-72 hours or more. A good amount of foam is a sign that the tea is ready. The more foam the better. It seems that the foam is indicative of there being a large amount of beneficial bacteria present.

                                                         So FOAM = READY for use


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Germinate Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds (HBWR)

Germinating Hawaiian Baby Woodrose seeds can be tricky for some growers. Two factors that make Hawaiian Baby Woodrose somewhat difficult to work with is their hard seed coat that does not allow moisture to easily penetrate and a tendency to rot easily. This guide will assist you in overcoming both of these factors so that you can successfully germinate your seeds.

When beginning germination, the first thing you must do is prepare the seeds to receive moisture from the outside so that they embryos can wake up. To do this, you want to file the hard seed coat thoroughly. This process is called scarification and can be accomplished using either a file or some large grit sandpaper. You want to file the seed coat away from the little circle on the seed (the germ eye) and towards the pointy end of the seed. This is because the root of the seed will come from the end with the germ eye, and you do not want to damage it with your filing.

Next, you want to load the seeds up with moisture so that they can germinate quickly. If you were to leave them in the soil without soaking, it would be difficult for them to absorb enough moisture, especially because most of the moisture would have to enter through the nick you made by filing. Soaking will also soften up the seed coat to allow the root to emerge through the other end. Simply submerge your seeds entirely in plain water and let them sit for 24 hours. After 24-hours you will notice that they are swollen, which means they have taken up the water they need to sprout.

The point where germination usually fails is after soaking. The soaked seeds tend to rot easily, especially in soil. Therefore, it is advised to use an inert medium such as a paper towel. Wet a paper towel in pure hydrogen peroxide so that it is moist but not soaking. The paper towel should not leave excess moisture on the surface of a table if it has the proper moisture content. You are using hydrogen peroxide instead of water because peroxide has the ability to resist mold and bacteria better than water. Before you place your seeds in the moist paper towel, blot them dry with a dry paper towel. This will remove any dissolved material on the outside of the seed that pathogens can breed on.

Fold your seeds up in the peroxide paper towel and place them in a plastic zip seal baggie. Do not seal the baggie though because you want some airflow. Check the seeds each day for germination and to make sure the paper towel is not drying out. If it is, you can add some additional peroxide. Once you notice sprouts and the roots are about ¼” long, it is time to transplant them into soil.

Hawaiian Baby Woodrose likes a soil that is rich, well-draining and has good airflow. Plant your seeds with the root facing down at a depth of about ¾”. Keep the soil consistently moist (not wet) at room temperature. From this point on, your seedlings should be easy to grow. Established plants enjoy plenty of sunlight but will survive indoors (without flowering) as well. For pictures of the process follow this link



Friday, December 17, 2010

How to Root a Cactus Cuttting


Cactus Soil
Large Plant Pot
2-3 Stakes
A few feet of rope or string

Like other plants, columnar cacti such as San Pedro Cactus and Peruvian Torch can be reproduced as cuttings. Many columnar cacti have adapted to be able to grow roots from just about anywhere on the plant in the event that a piece would break off. We tend to think of rooted cuttings standing upright, but that is not how it would happen in nature. Most likely, a cactus arm or tip would break off and land on its side. Many people do not realize it, but a broken cactus arm can actually root on its side and send up one or multiple growing tips. But for the purpose of this guide, we will talk about how to root cactus cuttings in the upright position.

Rooting cuttings is very simple and actually does not require much effort at all. After all, a cutting that roots in nature has no human help at all. The same idea should be kept in mind when rooting at home. Rooting really does not involve you other than to set up your cactus cutting in the position you want the cactus to grow in. Many people stress themselves out over what they can do or might be doing wrong to get the cactus cutting to root. But the truth is that the cutting will root on its own when it is ready. The amount of time it takes for a cactus cutting to begin rooting can be anywhere from a few months to several months. As long as the cutting does not rot, it will root. So your job in rooting the cactus is simply to set up the cactus, prevent conditions that could lead to rot and have patience.

One of the conditions that is helpful for preventing rot on your cactus cutting is providing airflow to the buried tip of your cactus cutting. That means you want to have a soil that is not compact. Perlite is the best way to avoid compaction and provide aeration in your soil. Perlite is a type of highly porous volcanic glass that resembles pumice. Perlite appears as small, round, non-uniform, white particles. Some people mistake perlite in potting soil mixtures for Styrofoam balls. Even if you are using a commercial cactus potting soil, we at World Seed Supply recommend adding at least 50% perlite to your soil. This may seem like a lot, but it will keep the airflow constant so you can avoid rot.

Aside from limited airflow, the other condition for rot is moisture. So it is important that your soil is dry before you use it. Unlike rooting plant cuttings where moisture is imperative for the cutting to survive, cactus cuttings already store the moisture they will need until they root. The cactus flesh does not absorb water well on its own and is prone to infection. It is believed that when the cactus becomes thirsty, it will actually trigger rooting. So aside from rot, it is counterintuitive to the rooting process itself.

Once you have your soil mixture you want to fill up a large pot. You want to use a good-sized pot if you have the room. For a 12” cactus cutting, a pot that is about 10” in diameter and 10” deep is ideal. Sometimes pots can be expensive, so even a bucket or similar large container you might find at the dollar store will work if you drill holes in the bottom. This will give your cactus the room it needs to grow once the roots begin growing. If you want nice thick growth, a good root system is essential.

Before you root any cutting it is essential to make sure that it is well-calloused. Just like a scab over a cut, a wound, in this case a slice, on a cutting will scab over. A well-calloused cutting will be dry rough and hard. If there is any moisture present on the cut, leave it in a dry place to finish healing. If you not follow this advice you will almost certainly have to deal with rot.

We usually position the cactus upright, burying the bottom 3” of the cutting underneath the soil. If your cactus cutting is not a tip, it does not matter which side is up or down. At a 3” depth the cutting should be able to stand up on its own. If not, go a little deeper. This is a suitable depth for helping the cactus stand up. But it also gives enough flesh below the soil for roots to come from. You can even bury the cutting a little deeper if you do not mind it starting out shorter. With a good root system, it may just give you a taller cactus in the long run.

If you are rooting indoors, your cactus cutting can probably get away without being staked. But if you want to be on the safe side or you have pets or are rooting outside, then you can use stakes to hold the cutting upright. You can use two to three stakes place around the cactus to hold it up. Stick them deep into the soil so they can gain a good foothold so that they offer maximum support. Wrap a length of rope or string around your stakes and the cactus cutting at the point where they all meet. You can use several wraps to help secure everything together. Then tie it off. Leave the cutting at room temperature, and the roots will form when the cactus is ready. And most important of all, do not water.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cacti Seedling Care: World Seed Supply’s Venting Technique

The following information is an extension of our original germination guide. This is a technique pertaining to the maintenance of your seedlings once they have been sown.

The Humidity Tent

In our original guide, we mention that we prefer to use small Chinese soup containers to germinate cactus seedlings. It turns out that the Chinese soup container is assistive to this technique. As many guides suggest, the seeds should be covered with clear plastic after sowing. Newly sown seeds need a combination of light, moisture and air. While clear plastic wrap works well, the opening of a quart-size zipper seal bag fits perfectly over top of the Chinese container. This gives you a perfect seal to lock moisture in while creating a pocket of air, so the seedlings have a little extra air to breath than with clear wrap pulled flatly over the top of the growing container. The pocket offers the added benefit of limiting the amount of condensation that forms. If you are already using a different type of container, the same type of scenario could be set up with a different bag, although it seems that the Chinese container and quart-sized bag were made for each other.

Lighting Progression

A simple compact fluorescent bulb is suitable for starting cacti seedlings for the first few months. But they key it to keep it right on top of the seedling containers. A small desk lamp with a bendable neck is ideal for directing the light at your seedlings at this close range. Eventually, you will want to move your seedling to stronger lights such as four-foot fluorescents or even HPS. If possible, you should look towards eventually moving your seedlings outdoors, if not just for the warmer months. It is important to realize that outdoor light is drastically stronger than even the best indoor lights, so you will have to start your seedlings out in complete shade and gradually expose them to more light. If the seedlings begin to turn red or purple, it is a sign that they are getting too much light.


Cactus seedlings enjoy water, and you should look to give them as much as possible without them rotting. So to avoid this you need to create a good enough supply of fresh air. You can accomplish this by venting. Venting does not occur continuously. It is part of a cycle. So you would start the cycle by having the humidity tent locked on tightly for a few days. Keep in mind that you should be keeping the soil moist. It should not be saturated, but moist like the tip of a new marker where the moisture is readily available but not ready to come out on its own. Now, if you were to leave the humidity tent on consistently, the air would stagnate and lead to mold. So this is where venting comes in. Venting simply means that you pull off one side of the opening of the bag. Due to the ideal fit between the Chinese container and the quart-sized bag, the opening is able to be a small slit such that you are literally able to create a vent while still having the tent largely in tact overhead. You can leave the tent in the vented position until the very top starts to dry out. After that, simply spray your soil back to its original moisture, put the tent back on tight and the cycle begins again!

*Maintain this cycle, transplanting at about 1 inch in height.

Humidity tent in the vented position


How to Root Plant Cuttings

Supplies Needed:

1 mother plant
1 pair of scissors
Rubbing alcohol (optional)
Rooting medium of your choice
Rooting hormone (optional)
1 quart-sized Chinese soup container or suitable replacement
1 clear plastic bag
1 rubber band

Rooting cuttings is a task that can range in difficulty depending on the species being rooted. Some plants such as coleus or salvia divinorum are known to root quite readily. They will form roots in a wide range of mediums while being exposed to a variety of conditions. Other plants may either have a high tendency to rot too quickly or are stubborn to send out new roots. Some cuttings can last months until the leaves eventually drop off and the plant dies. This guide is geared towards those plants that will root in a straightforward manner without manipulation of factors specific to that type of plant’s rooting requirements. In other words, this guide will help you learn to root plants that will root under general conditions.

In general, cuttings can be rooted in a variety of mediums. Theoretically, anything that can deliver moisture to the cutting’s tip will work. The better choices will also provide aeration, which may be necessary for some of the less willing plant species. Among the most popular rooting mediums are plain water, perlite, vermiculite, plain soil (or sand) and rock wool.

Rock wool is a synthetic material with a spongy quality that is made of a dense network of fibers. It is used as insulation aside from its use in horticulture and hydroponics. Rock wool has a tendency to produce great root networks. However, the rockwool may have to remain attached to the stem when the cutting is moved to soil to avoid any risk of damaging the newly developed roots. This is especially true for plants with thin roots.

While some growers will choose to root their cuttings in plain soil, it is usually advised to use one of the other options because they are less likely to carry molds and bacteria that could lead to stem rot. But plain soil does have its place. It is generally the preferred medium for rooting cacti and succulents.

Sand tends to be a slightly better choice for most other plants because it lacks the organic material that can harbor pests. But sand can also be denser than some of the other options, which limits airflow and the movement of newly forming roots.

Vermiculite and perlite are both non-organic soil additives that are used to aerate the soil. As rooting mediums, they offer this same benefit. But vermiculite is known to retain more water and be less airy than perlite. For more information on the difference between perlite and vermiculite see our article Perlite vs. Vermiculite: How to Tell the Difference. These mediums are great for both hydration and aeration, and unlike rockwool, they are easier to separate from the root mass and will blend better into the soil once transplanting occurs.

Aside from these other mediums, many growers choose just to root cuttings in plain water. Using plain water will offer no better way of ensuring that the stem tip has a constant supply of water. But water does limit the amount of air that can get to the tip. Changing the water constantly will help increase oxygen content and reduce pathogens. A much more sophisticated way to increase oxygen content in water is to run a fish tank bubbler with an air stone at the end into your water. Some will even use this method with a combination of perlite and water, with the perlite giving something for the root to grow into. While this method may look pretty, it is probably not necessary for most species of plants.

Each of these different mediums has benefits and drawbacks, but when all is said and done, they should all be suitable for rooting a plant such as coleus or salvia. As you experiment, you will eventually come to learn what you prefer for each type of plant.

So once you have chosen your rooting medium, you will need a cutting to root. Choosing a piece to root is important not only to the cutting you’re rooting, but to the mother plant. Since new growth occurs at the nodes (where leaves connect to the stem), you want to make the cutting just above the node so that you leave an area suitable for new growth left at the tip of your branch. If the leaves are in pairs, there is one node on each side if the stem. When taking a cutting, you should keep in mind that snipping a growing tip will cause a plant to split into two growing points, one from each node. Keeping this in mind will give you an idea of how the plant will continue to grow after the cutting has been made. Although you will end up with two new growing points in place of the one, these new tips will be thinner. So you do not want to make too many cuttings in a row from the same tip. In some cases, it may be better to take a side shoot off the main branch if you can find one.

Making a cutting with your scissors is self-explanatory. However, you may want to take the extra step of sanitizing your scissors with rubbing alcohol before making the cut. This will help keep things clean and reduce the chances of infection.

It is also important to select the type of growth that will give you the best chance of success. New growth is the easiest to root. This is most likely because this type of growth is still full of growth hormones. Woody growth tends to be difficult if not impossible (depending on the species) to root cuttings from. So try to avoid it if possible.

The cutting you choose should not have an overabundance of leaves on it because this will just work against you by sapping water from the plant. If your cutting has a lot of leaves, it is a good idea to remove some. Your cutting can only draw in a limited amount of water without roots. The more leaves a cutting must divide that water supply by, the more it will be stressed. In fact, some of the more difficult species to root will only work if you remove all but the top leaves. All too often, people focus on the way the cutting will look rather than if it will be well-established. New leaves will always form, so don’t hesitate to get rid of the baggage before you begin the rooting process.

Once you have selected a cutting, what do you do? Well, first you need to decide if you are going to use rooting hormones. Rooting hormones are not necessary for many cuttings to form roots. However, a trial test (see here) with calea zacatechichi, a plant that is known for easy and quick rooting, has shown that rooting hormone is till effective. Even with a plant that can root very effectively, the rooting hormone showed even quicker rooting and a much more established root network. The most common rooting hormone, which can be found in most garden centers, is indole-3-butyric acid. It is most often seen in powder form. But gel form is better if you can find it since it adheres and remains on the stem better and longer. If you’re against the use of chemicals you can always look into using a tea of willow bark. The alkaloids in willow bark are a natural rooting hormone, which we have used to root mitragyna speciosa (kratom). Since you cannot apply the tea to the stem like you would with chemical rooting hormones, you just use the willow bark tea in place of water, either straight or to hydrate another growing medium.

So now you’re ready to root. Chinese food containers are just an example of a container you can use, but any jar or container that will keep the cutting upright will work. Fill the bottom 2-3 inches of your container with your rooting medium of choice. Thoroughly hydrate the medium. There’s not a lot of technique to this. Just get it wet. If you’re using perlite, you can let a little bit of water pool at the bottom. You want it fully wet. Now, take your clean finger or a pencil and poke a hole in the medium. If you’re using rockwool, you can use something like a BBQ skewer to get a good hole established. Then stick your cutting in the hole you made. If you’re using powdered rooting hormone, wet the cutting tip first before applying the rooting hormone. Then, stick it in the hole. Take your clear plastic bag and put it over the top of your container. Seal the opening of the bag around your container by placing a rubber band over it. This “humidity tent” will conserve moisture so that the cutting does not lose too much moisture from its leaves during the rooting process.

Once your cutting is set up, it is important to leave it in a place that is out of intense light or heat since these conditions have a tendency to stress the plant. Aim for a neutral setting. Some species do have temperature parameters for rooting. But as a general rule, room temperature is fine. To avoid stagnant air, open the top of your tent every few days to let fresh air in. Leave your plant in its rooting chamber until you see a well-developed root network. It is best off in the long run to be patient and wait for a good root system to guarantee a smooth transition into soil. Congratulations, you’re now able clone plants!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Should I Plant Flower Seeds?

The following question was posed on Yahoo answers, but the amount of space they allowed me to answer was not nearly what was needed for me to fully answer the question. In order to provide supplemental information and help others that may have similar questions, I am providing my full answer here:

The question of when to plant flower seeds is relative to your area and the type of seed being planted. In general, you want to think of the "time to plant flower seeds" as the time within the seasonal cycle of your area more so than the literal time of year.

Ideally, you want to start the seeds as early as possible so that you can maximize the amount of time you get to enjoy your blooms. But if you plant the seeds too early, it is possible to stunt growth of young seedlings or kill them altogether. The best thing to do is look on the packet or look up a grow guide for the individual species you are growing. This will give you an idea of the seasonal conditions that are optimal for the given species you are trying to grow.

But let's talk about some general terms. If you are dealing with flowers such as poppies you actually want to start them very early in the season. I can say from experience that cosmos and leonotis nepetifolia (klip dagga) are not flower species that will be hurt from planting too early. You will see many packets or grow guides talking about starting the seeds as soon as the ground is workable. In this case, it means that once the ground has thawed enough that you can work in it, you can plant your seeds. Again, these are seeds that can tolerate and may even benefit from cold or frosty conditions. So when you talk about the time that this occurs, it goes back to being dependant on area.

It seems that the most common recommendation you will run into is plant the seeds after the danger of frost has passed. While the seeds themselves may be able to withstand frost, these are usually plants whose seedlings are frost tender. Many seeds in nature have mechanisms to prevent them from germinating all at once. Packaged seeds have a tendency to produce quicker and more regular germination to please the customer. But it removes the plants defense from the "irregular" nature of weather. So if you were to plant a species whose seedlings are frost tender too early, you may end up with a spout of nice weather that causes most of your seeds to germinate only to experience a period of frost that kills your seedlings. So if you pick a time in which you know the danger of frost has passed to plant your seedlings, you can avoid this problem. In many areas, May is suitable for this. But in other areas you might even wait til early June. On the other hand, you will be able to plant earlier than May down south.

But all of this speaks about planting outdoors. Many growers get a head start on the season by starting seeds indoors or in something like a greenhouse. Again, this will affect the question of what month you can plant. If you have suitable conditions, you can technically start plants or flowers in any month, and you can grow just about any species (even tropical) plants in your location. But the key to this is being able to provide suitable conditions. Indoor light simply cannot match the light outdoors. Even a well-lit window probably has less light than a shady area outdoors.

When you start your plants indoors you have to consider two things. The first is whether the conditions are suitable to maintain the plant long enough to get it outdoors. Seedlings tend to require lower light than established plants. This makes sense not just because seedlings are smaller and have less biomass to maintain. Seedlings often get their start beneath leaves, branches or under the shade of other plants. As they grow higher, they eventually find the light they need to maintain adult growth. It seems that nature understands this and has made seedlings adaptable. If your seedlings start out very tall and skinny, it is likely that your house lacks the light even to maintain seedling growth. For this, you would want to supplement the light with a grow bulb or compact fluorescent. But imagining you get past this, you do not want to start your seedlings so early that you pass the seedling stage before you can get them outdoors. So even indoors, the time of when to plant can be dependant on where you live and when the weather is warm enough outside. But it will give you a head start. As for determining when indoor planting is right, you can often look on the seed packet or in a grow guide for help. Of course, if you supplement the natural light in your house with something like fluorescent lights, you can often determine yourself when you want to plant because you will have sufficient light to keep the plants going beyond what natural light alone may offer.

The second thing you want to consider about starting seeds indoors is called hardening off. Essentially, this is the idea of getting your seedlings used to the harsh outdoor world. As mentioned before, the sun will be stronger outdoors. Just as people tend to get burned easily early in the season after lack of sun exposure, so do plants. To get your plants used to these conditions, you want to gradually expose them to the outdoors over a period of time while also increasing the amount of light you expose them to until they reach their final growing place.

Here is a basic plan for hardening off: Start them off in complete shade for a few hours a day. Over the next few days increase the time the plant it outside until it is outside all day. Monitor the plant for any signs of stress. Then eventually you want to gradually increase the light exposure until you find that your plant can tolerate its final growing place.

Some packets and grow guides will actually mention starting seeds indoors x number of weeks before the last frost. But they do not explain much of what I have just described. This will help you in such cases. Starting flowers from seed can be a bit more work than buying plants. But with seeds you will usually be able to get a lot more flowers and a lot more variety for the same price. Each year your skill will improve so that growing from seed will be second nature. But if you have any reservations about your ability when starting out, go for easy-to-grow varieties like Grandpa Ott's Morning glory, cosmos, klip dagga, California poppy, Purple coneflower (echinacea) or sunflowers. You can find seeds for most of the locally, but we also carry them at World Seed Supply. Perennials such as echinacea will return each year while some like Grandpa Ott's morning glory have a tendency to reseed. So you initial efforts will pay off in the long run. Don't be discouraged. Happy planting!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Mulch?

Mulching your garden will improve your plants’ health and save you time in the garden. They say time equals money. Well, mulching equals more spare time for you. So, if you are not already doing it, here is some “valuable” information. Many of us might already be mulching our flower beds to control weeds. But the benefits of mulching are not just limited to weed control. Mulching allows the soil to retain moisture and heat longer. It can extend a growing season. It also provides an environment that houses beneficial insects and works to improve your soil over time. Mulching can even reduce infestation.

You may very well be familiar with mulching when it comes to landscaping and flower beds. Landscapers often use mulch to keep weeds from overtaking their projects. So why not do the same in your garden? If you haven’t been mulching, then you’ve probably been busy fighting with weeds that compete for light, moisture and root space with your plants. But in today’s world time is precious commodity. And gardening is supposed to be a hobby, not another chore. Any idea that saves time is usually a good one. You can use straw as an inexpensive alternative to traditional mulches. By putting a thick layer down, you block new weed seeds from reaching the soil below while starving seeds that are already below of the light they need to thrive. This is not to say that it will block every weed. After all, life has a way of adapting to just about any obstacle. But it will certainly free up more time to spend on the more enjoyable endeavors in your garden.

Another way mulching saves you time is watering. Just as the mulch creates a barrier to weeds, it does so with moisture. Mulch blocks the sun’s rays from directly beating on the soil. At the same time, mulch keeps soil moisture from evaporating right out into the air where it disappears. After leaving the soil, moisture can remain in the mulch itself where it is still of more use to your plants than if it had dissipated. By conserving water, it means that you will spend less time watering. This is beneficial to the environment and to your water bill. Just like time is money, water is money. So even if you have a sprinkler system so that watering time is not so much an issue, mulching will still help you save in other ways.

Mulching can also benefit you timewise by extending your growing season. Just like mulch will help maintain moisture, it acts as an insulator. In this way, it can insulate the roots of late-season crops so that you may be able to get some extra growing time out of them. In some cases, mulching the roots can even help perennial plants survive the winter in an area where it might otherwise just miss being able to do so, due to cold temperatures. It may not do much for the leaves and branches of the plant. But if the roots are preserved, the rest of the plant will regenerate much quicker and stronger than growing from seed. Or depending on the case, this may save you the time and space of having to bring plants indoors for the winter.

On the other side of the spectrum, mulching can buy you time in the early part of the season too. Mulching can help you get an early start on the season with seeds you are sowing in the ground by helping keep the soil a little warmer. A loose layer of straw will also work well to help shade new seedlings from the intense sun until they get on their own feet. By this, we mean having a layer of straw (or other mulch) that is not packed so that there are gaps in between the pieces where seedlings can grow. The shadows created by the pieces of the mulch will create shading for seedlings just getting off to their start in life. As the seedlings grow, just add more mulch until you have the thick layer of mulch you will need later in the season. This shading will keep them from being stressed while improving their moisture supply to ensure your seedlings get off to a better start. And getting back to the concept of time, a better start should mean quicker growth. So you may spend just a little less time waiting for your plants to start producing.
Along with these benefits, mulching will also improve your soil quality. Healthy soil is an entire ecosystem with the plants only being one part. Mulching helps provide a home for beneficial insects, fungi and micro-organisms. Insects like ladybugs, centipedes and spiders help by feeding on potential pests. Mulching also has a tendency to attract earthworms, which are often good indicators of soil health. Earthworm castings, which is a nice way of referring to the solid waste of the worm, have countless benefits to the soil. Castings act as a fertilizer and can increase a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. The castings also contain bacterias and microorganisms that, just like the worms, help break down organic matter. As organisms break down the mulch, it will help provide additional nutrients to the soil. By working with nature’s natural chemistry you can forgo the monetary and health expenses of using chemical fertilizers.

Another good thing about mulch is that it allows you to foster that ecosystem in your garden in a way that it is partitioned. The microorganisms and insects that break down organic matter tend to lie primarily in the soil below the mulch. The mulch layer prevents splash up during watering that can introduce soil-borne diseases to the foliage of your plants. This mulch barrier also works out well for fruits like cucumbers and melons that may lie on the ground. While their roots can still partake in all the benefits of the mulch, the fruits can lay atop the mulch layer, keeping them away from excess moisture as well as many organisms that might invade the fruit. Instead, the fruits are left up above that layer with you, the one who will be doing all the eating.

At the start of this, you may have thought of mulching as just an extra thing to do in your gardening this year. But mulching is one of those extra steps that pays for itself. If you can take a single step that will save you time, money and at the same time increase productivity, then only poor planning should prevent that step from happening. We could go on further about the benefits of mulching, but this article is very much about saving time. And I think we’ve spent just enough to get the point across.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Perlite vs. Vermiculite: How to tell the Difference

Several years ago, I had an experience where I specifically needed perlite for a gardening project. When I got to the gardening section of this store, I discovered that they were out of perlite. I asked a store employee for help, and he confirmed that perlite was indeed out of stock everywhere in the store. Instead, the employee tried to sell me vermiculite, insisting they were basically the same thing. While this is true in one respect, this mistake could also ruin your project. While working for the same purpose in one respect, perlite and vermiculite are completely opposite in another. So it is important to know the difference between perlite and vermiculite so that you are never influenced to do something that could ruin your gardening projects by incompetent store employees.

Vermiculite and perlite are both non-organic soil additives that are used to aerate the soil. As rooting mediums, they offer this same benefit. Vermiculite is a spongy material made from mica whereas perlite is a type of highly porous volcanic glass that resembles pumice. Perlite appears as small, round, non-uniform, white particles. Some people mistake perlite in potting soil mixtures for Styrofoam balls. While both mediums are used for aeration, they cannot always be used interchangeably.

Both perlite and vermiculite are great at retaining water, but vermiculite retains much more water and offers a little less aeration than perlite. Vermiculite literally acts as a sponge that will retain water to the point of saturation. Perlite holds water by having a large amount of surface area within the nooks and crevices of its vast pores. But being porous and made of volcanic glass it allows excess water to drain much more readily than vermiculite.

In a case where you have especially thirsty plants and want the soil to hold extra water, vermiculite would be a better choice. You might find that perlite will dry out too quickly in this situation. But if you were growing cacti, you would eventually discover that the amount of water vermiculite holds would lead your plants to rot. Perlite, on the other hand, would be well-draining and suitable for your cacti mixture.

Vermiculite is also used in mycology to add moisture to the substrate that mushrooms will grow on. Perlite would fail miserably at this task. Perlite can also be used in mycology or horticulture to raise humidity levels. Because perlite has more surface area, it fosters higher humidity by evaporation off this extra surface area. Vermiculite would not work as well for this though because it would retain much more of that water.

So essentially, perlite and vermiculite are the same in that they can retain more water than many other things, and they can aerate soil. But vermiculite differs from perlite because it retains water and creates a soil mixture that retains water, whereas perlite fosters a well-draining soil mixture. Likewise, vermiculite’s tendency to retain water makes it a good additive to mushroom substrates but a bad candidate for increasing humidity. Perlite’s hard, porous nature makes it a great mechanism for increasing the humidity of a given area but disqualifies it as a candidate for creating a substrate that will retain moisture.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Hardy is Silene Capensis?

One might think that silene capensis would be rather tender being from South Africa. Well, apparently silene capensis can tolerate freezing temperature better than most plants. The silene capensis plant shown above has been subjected to freezing temps for at least three straight days with the thermometer dropping as low as 27 degrees F. According to Wikipedia, it seems that silene capensis can tolerate temps down as low as -5 degrees C (about 23 degrees F). With the leaves in such good shape on young plants, I am willing to bet that this species can withstand even lower than what Wikipedia predicts.