Homestead Junction

Home Avocado Nursery September 08, 2015 08:00

I love avocados, but I love buying local. Knowing how far they travel, I always feel a bit guilty about buying them. They're just so tasty, though, that sometimes I can't resist. And this spring, after a particularly delicious and intemperate avocado bender, I got to wondering whether I could start my own tropical perennial nursery!

Time to put away the youtube and give it a try! I used a method gleaned from watching about 6 videos from the above link:

1. poke three wooden skewers into the pit, each at a slightly upward angle. I used one bbq skewer broken into thirds. The original pointy end went neatly into the pit, but the other two (broken) ends needed some help from a paring knife. Note that the pointier end of the pit is pointing up in this picture.

sprouting an avocado seed

2. Set the pit with its wooden "legs" in a jar or cup of water. Fill the cup so the water comes about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the pit. It didn't seem to matter whether the poked holes were moist.

sprouting an avocado seed

3. figure that the success rate will not be 100%, and do this for a few pits. I placed them on my windowsill, one of the warmer spots in my kitchen. Unfortunately, it's also where my cat likes to sit, which is why this is the last photo with four jars in it.

the avocado nursery

4. Wait, and top up the water as needed to keep the level in the aforementioned range. Even in the warm weather we had in Vancouver this spring, it was a few weeks before the root started growing downward. Nearly 8 weeks elapsed between the previous photo (4 pits on a windowsill) and the next picture (pit with about 1.5 cm upward growth).

the avocado is sprouted!

another view from the same day.

great looking roots on this avocado seed

5. Wait some more. Interestingly, once the upward shoot started growing, it went pretty quick. The previous and next photo are only taken two days apart!

avocado seedling

6. keep waiting, and you'll end up with a beautiful seedling! These are the two that survived the ravages of my cat.

avocado seedlings

Not bad for a first effort, eh? These two seedlings are at about 14 weeks.

avocado seedlings

Heidi loves it!

Saving Tomato Seeds September 07, 2013 12:37 2 Comments

A few years ago I was a volunteer with the Vancouver Farmer's Market.  When the market held its annual Tomato Festival, I manned the sampling table where customers could see and taste some of the more unusual tomato varieties sold by market vendors.  The most frequently asked question was whether the farmers growing these heirloom tomatoes also sold seeds; people wanted to be able to grow these unusual tomatoes themselves.  Unfortunately, the answer was 'no' and many people were disappointed.
 Their fleshiness makes the German Red Strawberry a great eating and cooking tomato.
 Their fleshiness makes the German Red Strawberry a great eating and cooking tomato.

I was disappointed, too, because I had found an heirloom tomato variety that I really liked--the German Red Strawberry, which is large, pink and meaty, everything I ever wanted a tomato to be... and the flavor is delicious!   After four hours of slicing tomatoes and clearing my cutting board of gelatinous goo and seeds, it dawned on me that every tomato contains the seeds for growing more tomatoes like itself!  It sounds so obvious, but as a newbie gardener, I was used to buying seeds in a little paper envelope with detailed instructions.  Some seeds, like beans or peas, come out of their pods looking just like they would from a seed packet, but seeds straight out of a tomato are anything but clean and dry. Obviously there was some process required to save tomato seeds.  When I got home from the market that day, I decided to find out what that process was.  It turned out it was quite simple and when I worked the tomato booth at the next market, I shared what I'd learned with anyone who asked.  Then, I took my own advice: before leaving the market that day, I purchased several of the meatiest German Red Strawberry tomatoes I could find and I took them home to save their seeds.  That was five years ago and I have planted this unique variety of tomato every year since then and it is still my favorite tomato.

So, here's how you do it: 1. When choosing tomatoes to save seeds from, consider that you are selecting the genetic traits of your future tomato crop, so select fruits that are a good representation of the variety you've chosen.  Or, select fruits that display traits you are looking for in regards to size, color and disease resistance.

 If you're careful not to mangle your tomatoes when scooping out the seeds, you can still eat them for dinner. 
If you're careful not to mangle your tomatoes when scooping out the seeds, you can still eat them for dinner.

2. Cut each fruit in half across its middle and carefully scoop the seeds and goo into a jar or small dish.  I use the tip of my knife to do this.  If you're saving seeds from more than one variety, be sure to label your jars!

 Tomato seeds with germination-inhibiting goo.
Tomato seeds with germination-inhibiting goo.

3. If you don't have much goo in your jar, add a splash of water so the moisture won't evaporate during the next step, leaving you with a dried-out, stuck-on mess.

4. Cover the jar with a clean cloth and let it sit out at room temperature for 2-3 days, or until it smells like rotten tomatoes.  I know it's gross, so maybe find an out-of-the-way spot where the smell won't be too offensive, but the goo needs to ferment to come cleanly away from the seeds.  (Technically, the "goo" is a growth inhibitor, which keeps the seeds from germinating inside the tomato.)

 This tomato goo is broken down and ready to be rinsed.  Be glad you can't smell this!
This tomato goo is broken down and ready to be rinsed. Be glad you can't smell this!

Do not let your seeds soak in this mixture for more than 4 or 5 days or else they will start to germinate and it will be too late to dry and save them.

5. Once the goo has broken down, it's time to rinse your seeds.  Add some water to the jar and swirl it around gently.

 Viable seeds sink; duds and debris are rinsed away.
 Viable seeds sink; duds and debris are rinsed away.

Viable seeds will quickly settle to the bottom; duds and debris will float and can be poured off with the excess water.  Repeat this step a few times until no debris remains and the water pours off clear.

 These seeds are clean, dry and ready for storage.
These seeds are clean, dry and ready for storage.

6. Lay the seeds out on a paper plate or saucer lined with a paper towel.  After a day or two, separate any clumps of seeds by rubbing them between your fingers and allow to dry for another day or two.

7. Store clean, dry seeds in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place.  Be sure to label the container.  In addition to the variety name, record the year in which the seeds were saved as well as any notes that might be useful in the future (bush vs. vine, early vs. late, etc.).  Tomato seeds are viable for 3-5 years or more, with a declining germination rate after that.

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!