Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Must Be Crazy

Meet Burt.  He's a cabbage white butterfly.  In the summertime you see these little guys happily flitting around the garden.  Unfortunately many of them flit on over to my cabbage patch and their voracious, green prodigy munch their little caterpillar hearts out.  So what's with Burt? Well, he must have hitched a ride on some of my veggies last fall as a chubby green caterpillar. I don't have the heart to squish the caterpillars I find on the leaves, I just put them in the bag with the compost destined to go out, and figure they can fend for themselves there.  Well, this one must have escaped, and found a place in my kitchen to do what caterpillars do over the winter. How else can I explain the fact that I came home from work one day recently to find this little guy flying around the kitchen?   He certainly didn't come from the great outdoors since our January temperatures, especially this year, aren't really ideal for butterflies! Bummer Burt!  Not the best time for you to venture out of your cocoon!  (Or I guess, technically, your chrysalis, since you're a butterfly, not a moth.)  Anyway, despite Burt's poor sense of timing I suppose he picked a pretty good house in which to reside.   Currently he is hanging out in my basement with a catnip plant I have under lights (along with some of our potted herbs we over-winter and my lettuces).  Amazingly, the catnip's actually blooming!  And being the overly kind-hearted (aka eccentric??) soul I've also been putting out some butterfly food (1 tsp sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup of water) for old Burt.  Luckily (for me, not for Burt) there's no Bertha around, so I won't be seeing green caterpillars on my soon-to-be started cabbage and broccoli seedlings!  But I'm hoping that my Burt care-taking might win me some cabbage-white brownie points, and maybe they'll leave my cabbages alone this year! 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sprouts on the Windowsill!

It's all of 1 °F outside, which is WAY too cold even for me to venture over to the garden plot!  But even in the dead of winter you can grow food for your table--honest!  With a wide-mouthed Mason jar, sprouting lids, sprouting seeds, and a few inches of space on a windowsill, you can grow tasty and extremely nutritious sprouts for your salads, sandwiches and stir-fries! I discovered these sprouting lids and seeds in the Pinetree Garden Seeds  catalog while I was putting together my seed order a few weeks ago, and thought, why not?  I've never grown my own sprouts before, but I've always enjoyed them on my salads.  Since they usually cost a pretty penny in the grocery store I assumed there must be some tricky technology involved in growing them.  There isn't!  Sprouting couldn't be easier.  Just measure out a couple of tablespoons of your sprouting seeds into a clean jar, cover them with water and put the screen lid on.  Let the seeds soak over night, and then pour out the water through the screen (which keeps the seeds inside the jar.)  Put the jar on its side on a windowsill.  Once a day rinse the seeds by filling the jar with water through the screen, and then dump it out again.  This takes all of about 10 seconds!  Within a week or so you'll have a quart jar full of ready-to-eat sprouts! How cool is that? 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

They're Here!

Thank goodness for the seed catalogs!  They arrive right at the darkest, coldest time of year to warm the hearts of gardeners everywhere and inspire hopes of the best harvests yet-to-come.  Yes, the virtual garden of January is always missing the weeds, insects, and any other plant-munching pests that the true garden season inevitably brings to vex our spirits.  But that's ok, because I for one need all the optimism I can get in January!  

There's something truly magical about starting plants from seeds.  Putting a cabbage seed the size of a pencil tip into soil, watching it sprout, and finally grow into a head of cabbage the size of a basketball never ceases to amaze me.  And harvesting that cabbage is all the more satisfying having been a part of its life from the very start.  Although I have to admit, I often have a hard time harvesting my "babies"!  (Honestly though, you do get over it!)  

Starting your own garden  plants from seed has more advantages than just the satisfaction of start-to-finish gardening however.  First, the selection of seeds available in the seed catalogs is vastly greater than what you can buy in plant starts from most garden centers.  And, by-the-way, the variety of seeds available in catalogs dwarfs what you can get in those seed displays at the "big" stores that are usually put out way too late to really get a decent start on the season anyway.  Second, you have far more control over when you can get your plants into the garden if you start them yourself from seed.  Most garden centers assume that the garden season starts around Mother's Day, and ends on Labor Day.  Well, if you're like me, the garden gate opens WAY before that, and if you want your early spring cabbage, peas, and fava beans, you'd best be gardening in March (and starting seeds in February!) So now is really the time to order your seeds and start planning that spring garden!  Believe it or not right now I've got some salad greens growing in my basement under lights, and sprouting jars on the window sill in the kitchen for fresh sprouts for my salads.  Year-round gardening in Pittsburgh?  Why not!

The third reason to start plants from seed is to protect the diversity of our food supply.  This is probably the most important reason of all.  There was a very interesting article in Countryside magazine that I read online recently that was more than a bit troubling.  In short what this article is about is the fact that huge agribusinesses like Monsanto are busy buying up the smaller seed suppliers and eliminating many of the open-pollinated, heirloom varieties being sold in favor of hybrid and other varieties these companies can patent.  Since 1981 there has been a reduction in the number of seed varieties available by catalog from 5000 down to 500!  And if the only varieties that are available are patented, that means that pretty soon saving your own seeds will be an illegal activity.  I don't want to get too political here, but I for one don't think companies should be allowed to patent living things.  And the only way to fight this is to purchase heirloom seeds from the small companies, grow them, save some seeds, and share them with your friends.  Seed Savers Exchange is an organization that has been doing just that.  They have a great web site, a beautiful catalog, and a truly wonderful collection of seeds for sale.  I can't wait to taste Good Mother Stallard beans and Aunt Molly's ground cherries (among the other wonderful-sounding vegetables I purchased seeds for).  In fact, I think I went a bit crazy on the seed orders considering the size of my garden plot!  Well, that's January optimism for you!  So, curl up in front of the fire with your seed catalogs and start planning YOUR garden!