Winter Bulb Care

That is my favourite dahlia, growing in the chair in the picture above! It's a 'Keri Blue', called that because of the slight blue tint in the very center. It's beautiful and I take no chances with these during their winter rest in my cold cellar. Also wintered over in the cellar are other dahlias, cannas, glad, 4 O'clocks and geraniums (pelargoniums). Many winters, if left alone, the small dahlias will dry up. Some of the other ones do too. This has always been a great disappointment to me in the spring!

This year I decided to take steps to make sure that didn't happen! I read that it helps to take them out of storage in early January and soak them for a day or so, then dry well again and pack in cold storage for another couple of months.

I did that this past week. I took out the small dahlia divisions and small new dahlia bulbs, as well as the 4 o'clock roots and soaked them in room temp water for a few hours. I then laid them out on the kitchen floor on newspapers to dry for a few days. Today I repacked them in wood chips in plastic bags in the basement.

I had planned to leave them for a few more days but our wonky male cat, Shadow, who has cabin fever in the snowy winter, spent his morning attacking them and shredding the papers. lol! Since they were dry again, I put them away. It won't help him. He just attacks the little rugs and the furniture, rolling around on the floor and killing them with all four feet and teeth! lol! Abby, the female cat, prefers to play with and carry off any little hard things she finds around. Anything is fair game. Hubby swears that she has stolen a couple of his tiny wrenches from the desk. I have seen her batting other things to the floor and knocking them around, as well as finding wood pellets scattered all over the house in the morning! (I won't be the only one glad when spring comes! lol! We love them both dearly!)

I only soaked the small and new dahlias that would, in past years, be dried up in the spring. In past years I have tossed them down there to be completely forgotten until spring. This year I have new ones that are important to me, so I am tending them carefully, checking on them whenever I am down there and making sure they are not getting shriveled.

The geranium roots are hanging up, dry. This is the first year I have wintered them over in this fashion. Usually I pot them up and grow them as houseplants all winter, and I did do a few like that, also. Geraniums love spending their winter growing in a sunny window and bloom continuously, right up until they go outside in the spring. I didn't have room for all of them this year. I am considering soaking the bare geranium roots hanging in the basement, too. Has anyone done this and does it help or will they be fine hanging bare root in the cold cellar until spring without intervention?

I had calla lilies and some dwarf white cannas last year, but neither survived last winter in storage. I grew them all from seed and was very disappointed when they didn't make it.

Saving Seeds

Autumn is my favourite time of the year! I love the cool, crisp weather and the wonderully diverse, bright colour scheme. I also like the lack of thick undergrowth and weeds. Late summer and early fall are the time of year when the plants decide it is time to reproduce for next year. I try to prevent this stage in the weeds, but get excited when my favouite flowers seeds are ready to harvest.

In order to have flower seeds, a plant has to have flowers. No flowers, no seeds. The flowers also have to stay on the plant to develop into seed pods. If you cut off the flowers for bouquets or cut off the dead flowers, you won't have seeds. I know it looks a bit messy with dead flowers aging in the garden, but it is necessary in order to have seeds from those flowers. If you want pristine gardens, perhaps you should have your "seed gardens" somewhere out of sight where the long dead flowers and stalks will not be seen.

I also like to save my special vegetable seeds. We grow a very sweet and fat cucumber that we like a lot. We have grown it from our own seed for a few years now. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment in order to germinate the following spring. I will describe how to do that later in this post. This year I hand pollinated my squash to get more produce. I should have tied the male and female flowers closed before and after I hand pollinated them to keep the seed very pure, but I didn't. I will do that next year.

While I love my flowers and gardens, I also love seed collecting. Sometimes I have to remind myself that having a large and diverse collection of seeds is not the goal. I should be actually planting the seeds in order for them to be of any use. I not only plant the seeds for more plants in the garden, but use them for trading as well. This way I can trade all over the world for things I cannot buy here. It is very exciting to grow something rare and spectacular from a seed acquired by trading with another gardener from another country or even another continent.

I have a large unused field by the road that I plan to use as a repository for old flower seed. If the seed gets to be a year old and I still have it, I will scatter it in that field in the fall. This will be the first fall that I have done this. I am hoping for a field full of flowers next spring. I have a lot of cosmos, feverfew, calendula, peony poppy and pink yarrow seeds from three years ago to scatter in there soon. All are prolific reseeders. I am sure many will grow. I won't be using these old seeds for trade or sell, as the germination rates will not be as good as the newer seeds, but I can reap the harvest that does grow from those seeds for use the following year.

I started a seed bed this year for direct planting of seeds and to hold seedlings I started indoors until they are big enough to hold their own in the flower bed. I have helleborus seeds in there now, planted in July. They will need at least two months of moist warm summer temps planted in the ground and then two months of cold before they will germinate. I will be looking for these seedlings next spring. I did, also, plant some in trays on the front porch to bring in after their cold spell. I will put these indoors on the windowsill in Jan and hope for some tiny helleborus several weeks later. These are special seeds and must be sown while fresh, immediately after harvesting from the plant. If they are allowed to dry for very long, it will take several warm-cold spells to break dormancy and can take a long time. The seeds that I have were sent to me directly from the plant in a small plastic bag in damp perlite.

My flowers have been producing seed for a few weeks now. I have harvested many from the flowerbeds. These are the peony poppy seed pods drying. Each plant is labelled in the garden so I know what colour the seeds are, even though they are open pollinated. With seeds, you never know what you are going to get. With special seeds from a trade, I will plant all of them.

The poppy seed pods are cut to dry when the leaves turn brown and the plant starts to die. There is no point in trying to ripen the seeds any longer.

These are cranesbill geranium seed candles. They tend to pop when the seed is released and the seed will fly out of the container and into other seed containers drying various types of seed, so I keep them covered. The plant is covered with them now, but they are still green. Seed pods should not be picked until the pod turns brown to ensure that the seeds are ripe. Some seeds will ripen off the plant, but most of them need to grow into maturity on the live plant in order to be viable. There are many exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course.

I have just begun to get ripe ground cherries. This is the first year I have grown them and I will grow them again next year for jam. I think they are delicious! I will be saving my own seed from these this year. I have already used one ground cherry for seed harvest and dried them on a paper towel. I have read that they are prolific re-seeders, so I expect most of the seed to germinate next spring without any special preparation.

I also save the seed from our cucumbers as these are the best cucumbers we have found. They are big around and great for sandwiches. They are ripe when they are yellow, turning a bright orange-red when over ripe. When they are ripe, they are very sweet. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment to be viable the following year. The fruit needs to ripen completely before the seed is harvested. When it is ripe enough on the plant it can be picked and left at room temperature to ripen further. It should be left to ripen until it is soft and mushy before the seed is harvested. The seed is then put into a glass container and left to ferment even further for a few days. After another 2-3 days of fermentation, the seed can be washed, dried and stored for the following year.

Some seeds need a winter in the ground before they will germinate. These seeds are either planted in the ground in the fall or planted into flats and put on shelves on the front porch. They will have a month or two of warm weather, then they will be exposed to the fall and winter temps. I will bring them indoors in Dec-Jan and put in the south seed window to germinate. I have tried leaving them outdoors until spring to germinate in their containers when the weather warms up, but have had poor success with that. You can also put them into baggies with a little damp soil and put these into the freezer or the fridge for a couple of months, then plant in flats or pots for indoor starting.

All seed need to be dried before storing. I dry mine on an elevated screen on the front porch. The tiny seeds and smaller amounts I dry on a thin paper towel in a container with holes in it. A strainer or a plastic berry box from the grocery store are good containers for this. I always write the name of the plant on the paper towel or on a piece of paper drying with the seed. Seeds can take weeks to ripen and dry completely and I will forget what plant and variety they came from if they are not labelled.

After the seeds are completely dry, you can store it in a small plastic bag or glass jar. I prefer to store mine in labelled paper envelopes in a basket, ensuring that they stay dry and do not rot or mold in storage. Do not store them in the refrigerator or freezer unless the seed requires this for germination but do keep them in a cool, dry spot. On top of the refrigerator is too warm.

Wild Grapes

We have wild grapes! We have probably always had wild grapes and I just didn't know it. We have a large grapevine on our old TV antennae attached to the back of the house, but I have usually cut it down every year. Last year I left it alone, mostly due to a lack of time and energy to deal with it. (Last year was the "year of the dogs" and a lot of things got "left alone".) 

This year I discovered grapes on it and the world of wild grapes opened up! It is covered with them, but there are even more growing and fruiting on a few back fence areas that I didn't know were there. At this time of year our back fence is unapproachable due to the goldenrod and blackberry bushes. With the hope of wild grapes in mind I blazed a path through the weeds to the fence and found several enormous vines filled with grapes!

Half are ready now and half still need to ripen another week or so. Next week on Monday morning I will go grape picking again. The grapes growing in sunny areas are all ripe now. It is the ones in the shade against the woods that need to ripen a 
bit longer. 

The picture at the top is what I picked now. I will probably get at least half that again in another week! This is about 13 pounds of grapes. We weighed them at 11 pounds, then I found about 1/4 of a bucket more and added those. So I am estimating it at about 13 pounds. I will make some wild grape jelly (recipe below) but we don't eat much of it so I won't be making a lot. Some wild grape jelly I will make in fancy jars and use for gifts. The rest of the grapes will be frozen until winter, when I have the time make wine.

We have truly been blessed with an abundance of wealth here on the land The Lord has given us! He continually amazes me with His gifts daily! There is just so much here in the way of herbs, fruits, mushrooms and wildcrafting abundance!

Wild grape jelly recipe:

3 lbs wild grapes, stemmed
3 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (85 ml) package liquid pectin

  • In large saucepan, crush grapes with potato masher; pour in water and bring to boil.

  • Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until fruit is very soft.

  • Transfer to jelly bag or colander lined with a double thickness of fine cheesecloth and let drip overnight.

  • Measure juice (you should have 3 cups/750 ml) into a large heavy saucepan; stir in sugar.

  • Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

  • Stir in pectin.

  • Return to full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

  • Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon.

  • Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8 inch headspace.