Summer Gardening Workshops August 24, 2013 11:45

If you haven't made it out to one of our summer gardening workshops, you're missing out!

 Summer Harvest
A share for the DTES Neighborhood House

Last week everyone got to go home with a bag of mixed-variety tomatoes, some sprigs of rosemary, and one or two deliciously crunchy cukes. Participants learned all about plant sex and how it affects seed saving on a small scale.

 Snap peas are eaten whole--pod and all--and these were so sweet and delicious!
Snap peas are eaten whole--pod and all--and these were so sweet and delicious!
In July, we pigged out on super-sweet Oregon Giant snap peas; luckily, we overcame the urge to eat them all so we could save some for seeds, which we planted last week for a late fall crop.  Now, the question came up whether pea seeds need to be exposed to freezing temperatures before they'll germinate and I didn't honestly know the answer.  Essentially, would August be too soon to plant peas that had just been harvested in July?  In Nature, of course, most seeds dropped at the end of a plant's life cycle would be exposed to winter weather before conditions are right again for them to germinate.  Some seeds, like asparagus, seem to require this, but many others clearly do not or else seeds stored indoors over winter would never germinate.
 Planting peas for a late fall crop.
Planting peas for a late fall crop. These pea plants were harvested in July and hung upside-down to dry.

 Will the lack of a winter rest period prevent our peas from germinating or will we get a bumper crop because the seed we used was so fresh?  We'll see... Experimentation is part of the fun of gardening and the results can be surprising! I did consult one of my favorite gardening writers on this question of whether pea seeds need some freezing temperatures before they'll germinate.  In her book The Zero-Mile Diet, Carolyn Herriot does recommend freezing pea seeds after they're thoroughly dried out, as a way of killing the eggs of an annoying garden pest, the pea weevil; but she doesn't say freezing is necessary for germination.  

In looking through The Zero-Mile Diet I did, however, find the answer to another question that came up in the gardening workshop: what is the difference between snap peas and snow peas?  Basically, both are edible pea pods, differing from shelling peas in that you don't remove the peas from their pods.   Snow peas are harvested when the pods are full-sized but the peas inside have only just begun to swell, whereas snap peas are harvested and eaten with fully formed peas inside. Peas, by the way, are one of the easiest garden plants to save your own seed from because they have "perfect" flowers, meaning they're self-fertile.  

Participants at last week's gardening workshop got a lesson on flower anatomy and will remember that self-fertile plants reproduce true-to-type, meaning the next generation of plants will be like the plants from which seeds were saved.  Self-fertile plants like beans, peas, tomatoes and lettuces are the best place to start for small-scale gardeners wishing to save their own seeds. Participants at last week's workshop also went home with a list of things to do in their own gardens at this time of year.  Late summer garden chores include: Sow seeds for a fall crop and over-wintering for a spring crop Add compost or manure to top-off fertility for late-season fruit production "Deadhead" flowers and herbs to keep them producing longer Harvest herbs to use fresh or hang them to dry for later Leave some annuals to self-sow for next year Plant trees, shrubs and perennials and keep them well-watered Start saving seeds as they become ready

 The addition of a few ripe mangoes makes a great salsa out of home-grown tomatoes, onions, peppers, and herbs.
A few ripe mangoes makes a good salsa great!

To this list, you might add harvest-relevant food preservation projects.  If you're into home canning, you've probably already put up some jams or jellies since we're coming to the end of the season for all of the local berries--although you'll still be able to find lots of blackberries!  Mangoes are apparently in season somewhere since they're so plentiful and cheap right now at local markets; of course I'm a fan of local produce rather than imported, but I do love the way a few ripe mangoes dress up a home-grown salsa recipe.  We're now into tomato harvest season, so get your quart jars ready! I'll address in a later post the question of how to save seeds from tomatoes.  The farmer's market is brimming with interesting heirloom tomato varieties and since many of them won't be available from seed catalogues next year, saving the seeds from your favorites is sometimes the only way to be able to grow them yourself.  Stay tuned!