Thursday, August 15, 2013

Saving Seeds - Part 1 Dill, Cilantro, and Peas

As promised in my earlier Seed Packages post, here is the first in a short series of posts on saving seeds.  I will add to the series as seeds in my garden become available for saving.

The first of the plants to set seeds in my garden are the early spring leafy greens including various leaf lettuces and spinaches.  When the weather gets warm these leafy greens bolt, meaning they send up a flower stalk with the intent of reseeding themselves.  I do not have any pictures of my early greens but they follow the same lifecycle and their seeds can be saved in the same way as the dill and cilantro. Chives and onion seeds can also be saved as described in this post.

As you may have noticed, most plants produce a flower at some point in their lifecycle.  These flowers may, after pollination, produce a fruit in (or in the case of strawberries on) which the plant's seeds are found or instead the flowers may go straight to seed without producing a fruit.

As a side note, have you ever wondered about the real difference between a fruit and a vegetable? If the part of the plant you eat grew from the plant's flower, then it is a fruit.  If you eat the plant's leaf, root, stalk, flower, or other part that didn't grow from the plant's flower then it is a vegetable.  So that makes tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, avocados and many others fruit.  Somewhere I read that "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom is knowing NOT to put it in a fruit salad."

It makes sense that the first plants in the garden to have seeds that can be harvested and saved for future growing seasons are vegetables (and herbs) since fruits take much longer to develop.

In general for vegetable and herb seeds, you can simply collect the seeds from the plant when the seeds are full sized but before they have completely dried out or started to drop from the plant.  The harvested seeds of this type are best collected in paper bags (lunch sized works for most) then allowed to dry in the house in a cool dry location.

One day many years ago I planted one, just one dill plant.  I haven't planted one since.  But I get dozens of plants every year.  Why?  Because one dill plant can produce a bazillion seeds (ok maybe more like several hundred).  And those seeds can stay in the ground lurking for years until just the right environment exists to germinate.  And with each passing crop of dill, I am incapable of collecting all the dill seeds so the problem is perpetuated from season to season.

Well I guess I could yank out all the dill plants, but I like them so I let them grow.  I do collect and save dill seed each year.  For me, the dill seed is for pickling and cooking rather than starting new plants.  Once the seeds are ready for long term storage (meaning they have fully dried out) I keep my dill seeds in a jar in the spice cabinet.  My garden sufficiently produces enough new dill plants each year I never need to plant a dill seed on purpose.
Dill flowers
Dill plants start to flower after only a few weeks of germination.  The flowers are tiny and yellow growing in an umbel shape.  This is the same flower shape found with carrots and Queen Annes Lace which isn't all that surprising since all three plants are from the same family.
Dill seeds ripening, ready to be taken inside and dried
After a short time the flower dries out and seeds begin to form.  Pictured above you can see some dill flowers in the far right.  The majority of the picture are the swelling seeds that have grown from the flowers.  Once the dill seeds get to this size, you can clip off the whole head of seeds and store it in a paper bag for drying.  And no matter how familiar you are with your seeds, always label your paper bags.  Dill is pretty obvious because of its pungent fragrance but with many seeds, once dried, you will have no idea what those seeds are.
Dill seed a few days away from reseeding the garden
If you leave the seeds in the garden they will continue to dry out on their own like the ones shown in the picture above.  Dill seeds only take a short time to go from plump green seeds to the fully dried and ready to use seeds below.
Dill seed ready to cook with or plant
Cilantro has a similar life cycle to dill and is harvested the same way.  Below is a nice cilantro flower.  These flowers hang around for a few days then start to fade as seeds form.
Cilantro Flowers
In the picture below you can see cilantro seeds in various stages.  The bright green ones to the left are fully grown but have not yet started to dry out.  In the lower middle of the picture the seeds that look a bit pink have started to dry, seeds in this stage are the best to harvest.  The darker brown seeds are fully dry (see how much smaller they are than the other seeds that haven't dried yet).  These brown seeds are hours away from falling to the ground to produce new cilantro plants next season.
Cilantro seeds on the plant, some dried (the darker brown near the top right corner), and some in process, ready to be picked and dried inside (center)
You can harvest cilantro seeds at any point in their cycle once they have plumped to full size.  Again just pop the seeds in a paper bag to dry in your home in a cool dry place.  The dried seeds are the spice coriander (which is used in many curries and other yumminess) which taste nothing like cilantro.  So this is a double duty plant.
Coriander, also known as cilantro seeds 
If you don't harvest the seeds, next year your garden will look like the picture below.  I didn't plant any of these cilantro plants.  They were all grown from last year's seed that fell to the ground.  As you can see, not harvesting seeds can make a real mess.  There is also a volunteer cherry tomato plant in the picture.
Volunteer Cilantro
Peas take a little longer to produce seed.  Now to be clear, if you eat a pea it is food.  If you let the pea dry out on the vine it is a seed that will produce a new pea plant.  In fact, there are many peas that stay on the vine too long in my garden to be eaten so I just let them dry into seed.  The longer a pea stays on the vine the more of the natural sweet sugar in the pea turns to starch making the pea taste bland and, well, starchy rather then sweet.  Once the pods start to get a little leathery is usually when the peas have past their prime eating stage and are better left for seed.

In the picture above these pods are obviously dried out.  I just pluck them off the vine and pop the pod and all into a paper bag.  You can shell the dried seed peas out of their pods after they are fully dry.  I recommend shelling the peas after they have dried for a couple of weeks rather than leaving the peas in the pods until next year.
Sometimes I wait until the entire pea vine has died back to harvest the seed peas.  Peas on a vine that looks like this are almost completely dry and usually only need a few extra days of drying inside.
Again just label your bags then keep them in a cool dry place while the seeds finish drying.  Please note that this method is not the right method for dealing with wet seeds like those of tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers.  More on those later.

Once your seed are fully dry, you can move them into the Seed Packages you made earlier.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Storing Onions

So you may remember my post on Harvesting Onions with all those beautiful onions hanging on a ladder in my garage to cure.

Well those onions have now dried and look like this. 


The next step is to cut them down and put them into storage waiting to be used up.  With proper storage these onions will last many, many months.

The first thing I did was cut the bunches down by cutting the twine off the ladder.  Next I cut each onion off of the bunch with scissors cutting the next about an inch or two above the onion bulb.  A few of the larger onions still had wet necks, meaning the stem growing out of the top of the onion was still wet of juicy when I cut it.  These onions need to dry more or they will not store properly.  I moved these into my kitchen to be used first, just in case.
Ready to move from the garage into long term storage
I have a pantry downstairs which is underground.  It stays cool and dry all year long.  That is the perfect place for my onions.  There are a number of ways to store onions.  Some people use bins with lots of small holes to allow for air circulation.  Some people encase the onions in panty hose, knotting between the onions then cutting off onions as needed.

I use this hanging mesh toy storage thingee I purchased from IKEA years ago. 

I put the onions in a single layer in each level of the mess hanging thingee (what is this thing called anyway).  The mesh allows for sufficient air circulation around the onions. 
I check the onions periodically to look for any that are getting soft, smell bad, or have sprouted. Remove any of those types of onions immediately to keep the rest of the onions from going bad.

Keep in mind that home grown onions will not store as long as grocery store onions because grocery store onions are sprayed with a sprout inhibitor right before they are cured.  Homegrown onions often try to sprout before the next year's onion crop is ready.  You can eat sprouted onions.  Just don't leave sprouted onions to set with the rest of the storage onions too long.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tooth Fairy Pouch

My daughter found her first loose tooth last night!  She is beyond excited.  And she immediately became very worried that her tooth might become lost under her pillow and that the tooth fairy might not be able to find such a small tooth.  So this called for immediate action on my part which resulted in a rather homespun pouch in which to put the tooth when it finally lets go for good.

I completed this project in under 30 minutes using scraps of things I had around the house.  I could have made this little pouch much prettier if I had gone shopping for supplies.  But always remember, free is good!

 One other thing to note is that the color in these photos is not true.  What appears to be red is really a much mellower pink which does actually coordinate with the light pink ribbon.  So try to not be too distracted by the colors.

What you will need is some felt, some ribbon or lace (about 18 inches), some thread, a button, a hand sewing needle, and some straight pins.  You could instead of sewing this pouch by hand, use a sewing machine, or even just glue for a no-sew project.

First I cut a 2 1/2 inch wide strip of my white felt.  I love my rotary cutter.  Since you are not finishing the edges, you will want a nice straight cut.

Next I cut my now 2 1/2 inch wide strip of felt into a three inch rectangle and 4 1/2 inch rectangle.  The smaller one will be the front of the pouch and the longer one the back and top flap.

 Then I cut a small rectangle of my pink felt.

Folding it in half, I cut out a small heart.  I needed to trim down the size of my heart a couple of times so that it fit nicely on the front pouch piece, far enough away from the edges so that the heart didn't get sewn up in the stiches around the outside edge of the pouch.

Next I hand stitched the heart to the front piece of the pouch with a needle and tread to give it a homespun look.  Again you could glue the heart in place or machine stich.
Hand stich (or glue) heart to front piece
Next I gathered my ribbon.  You could do this with lace instead of ribbon.  If you used lace you may not even want to gather the lace.  The ribbon I grabbed happened to be a wired ribbon which saved me a step.  If you don't have a wired ribbon you will want to stich along the outside edge of the ribbon with long stiches so that you can gather the ribbon (bunch it up on the thread you just stitched along the side of ribbon) .  With the wired ribbon, I just bunched up the ribbon along the wire until my 18 inch ribbon was bunched up to the correct size to go along three sides of my pouch front (two long sides and one short side about 8 1/2 inches).   
Gather ribbon to size
Pin the gathered ribbon to the inside of the front pouch piece arranging the gathers evenly around the felt piece.  I used silk pins because the are long, very thin, and sharp.  I use these pins for applique work too.  As you can see below I had about 1/4 of ribbon overlapping the felt piece.  You want to make sure that when you stich (or glue) the front and back felt pieces together that you catch all the ribbon.
Pin ribbon or lace to inside of front piece

Layers pinned together
Now turn over the front piece and carefully lay it on the back felt piece, lining up the edges.  Pin through all the layers in a couple of places and stitch (or glue) around the three sides, leaving the top open.  I hand stitched the layers and checked with each stitch that I was catching the back and front with each stitch as well as the ribbon.

Next I sewed the button in place at the top of the front felt piece.  Make sure you do not sew the button to the back piece or the pouch won't open.  Then I made a small slit in the flap (which is part of the back felt piece) with scissors for the button hole.  Since this is felt (and because this pouch isn't going to get a lot of use) I didn't finish the button hole but you can if you want to.
Add a Button
 Ta da!  Super simple tooth fairy pouch.
Finished Tooth Fairy Pouch
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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Seed Packages

We save a large amount of seed from our garden each year.  Check out my post here on saving seeds. There are seeds from the staple plants we grow year after year like chives, cilantro, dill, peas, onions, and sunflowers to name a few.  Then there are seeds from select varieties of staple garden plants we save as well usually from tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.  How I save seeds will be the topic of another post in the near future.

I have often collected the seeds in paper bags and then for lack of thought just stored the seed in the paper bags until needed next year.  And it works great year after year.  But sometimes I would like to share my seeds with neighbors.  And other times I wish to be one of those creative women who have a beautiful and delicate solution to everything.  Ok so that last one isn't going to happen in this lifetime but sometimes it is fun to pretend.

From time to time over the years I have made seed packages or seed envelops in anticipation of the annual seed gathering.  While any paper envelop will work, when I make my own I can choose the paper for the packages which is half the fun. 

For this project you are going to need the following:

Paper of your choice.  I used scrap book paper.
Glue stick

Print out the template from the above link.  I printed out two sizes.  If you want you can print the template directly onto the BACK of your scrap book paper.  I was using 12"x12" pages which don't fit into the printer.

The larger template I printed on regular white paper.  The smaller template is printed on card stock.
I glued the larger template to the back of a cereal box then cut out both templates.

Next choose your paper.  I found in my scrapbook paper a number of prints I am unlikely to use in a scrapbook project (I think we all have that collection).  But these prints I thought would make adorable envelops.  Card stock is too thick for this project since you will be making several folds.  Smaller prints also work better since the envelops are small.

 Trace the template shapes to the BACK of the paper.  With the 12"x12" paper I found I could get one large envelop and two smaller envelops per sheet. The link above is only one size.  I resized it in my printer settings to get the smaller size. 
  Then cut out the shapes. 
 Next fold and glue the envelop.  As shown below. 

Don't glue the top flap or you won't be able to get the seeds inside.  You can glue the top flap shut after the envelop is filled.

Here are my seed packages.  But for them to be effective they are going to need labels.  For my own purposes I will just write on the envelop what is inside.  But for a more finished look you may want to add a proper label to the front.
 I like the hearts which I made with a punch. A more traditional approach would be a stylized rectangle (and if I was one of those fabulously crafty women I would have cut some of those out too).

For gifts of seeds, you will also want to put a label on the back with all the information needed to successfully grow the seeds.  I recommend printing this information out and gluing it to the back in the proper size.

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