Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swap seeds for more variety in your garden

I'm excited to have Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, as a guest blogger today. Kathy's article about collecting seeds for swapping, is a favorite topic of mine. Read on and enjoy!!


Get Free Plants to Grow and Share by Seed Saving

By Kathy Jentz

Autumn is harvest time in the garden and not just for your fruits vegetables. It is also time to start collecting your plant’s seeds. Many of your annual and perennial flowers are setting seed-heads and are about to burst open. Catch some of them before they do and you’ve got a head start on your garden for next year. Why go to the bother of collecting all those tiny seeds? The first reason is thriftiness. No need for anything in your garden to go to waste. Compost, recycle, and re-use. The second reason is frugality. Why buy new plants every year when you can grow your own for free? Even further, why buy unproven plants or seeds when you know the ones you are collecting from did well and obviously flourished in your yard.

Another reason to collect seeds is to ensure the propagation of heirloom varieties and rare, native plants that are not available through other means. Commercial growers and catalogs will often only carry the most popular plants and seeds. By collecting seeds from particular flowers and edibles, you are safe-guarding the future of these species. You are guaranteeing we will have a wide variety of genetic diversity in our future and not just the current “top growers.”

The final reason to collect seeds is to trade them. You may have 100s of Cleome seeds and another gardener has 100s of Poppy seeds. Why not trade a few hundred with each other? Again, you are getting new plants for free or close to it. Seed trading is a whole world unto itself. There are online groups, pen pal lists, and clubs for seed swapping.

Washington Gardener Seed Swap, January 29, 2011

This January, DC area gardeners will have the opportunity to meet up and swap seeds in person. Washington Gardener magazine is holdings its 6th Annual Seed Exchange on Saturday, January 29, 2011 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. The Seed Exchange will include seed swapping, door prizes, planting tips, and gardening workshops by local garden experts. Details will be online soon at

Seed collecting is easy. Just wait until the end of the growing season when your current flowers form seedpods. Check on them every few days. They are ready when the pods are dry, brittle, and just ready to open. Don’t wait too late or they’ll break open on their own and cast their seeds to the wind. Pick a day with little breeze and no rain. Go out in mid-morning, after the sun has dried out the air and dewdrops from the leaves. Take a piece of paper and put it under the seed heads then shake them gently. Be sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you put them in tightly closed jars or zipper-closed baggies. Label them right away and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.

That last step is the most important. Label them with the date and variety. Be specific as possible. Next spring you’ll be very glad you did – as many seeds look alike. The date is important as you will want to use up your seeds the next growing season or two.

A side note on seed collecting: not all plants can be propagated from seed. Many plants that you buy are hybrids or sterile. If you have hybrid flowers and vegetables, they may produce seeds. However, the seeds will often not produce offspring that is “true” to the parent plants. In other words, the seeds from hybrids are often a different variety than the plant you originally purchased and they are often inferior in quality.

A simple way to get started is to collect seeds from your common annual flowers that open-pollinate: zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. Then, as your gardening skills grow, move on to perennials and biennials.

So take a few minutes this harvest season to collect those plant seeds and you’ll be all set next spring for a bountiful crop of new blooms.

** Kathy is saving seeds this weekend from her hollyhocks which came to her garden from her grandmother’s seed collecting. Kathy Jentz is Editor of Washington Gardener Magazine, the only gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs. You can follow Washington Gardener on Twitter or follow their blog or Facebook page.

Abundant acorns a harbinger of good things to come?

"Every mighty oak started out as a nut that decided he wanted to stand for something."

I was just walking through our woods and got a pretty good conk on the head. No, it wasn't a dead branch falling on my head (thank goodness!). It was an acorn. I took it as a sign of great times ahead.

If you have oak trees, or live near oak trees, you probably have noticed the unusual abundance of acorns this year. We've lived on our property for ten years and we have NEVER seen anything like the record-breaking crop of acorns. They carpet the ground. They stain our driveway. They drop like rain from the sky. And they even wake us at night when they clank against the rain gutters or other metal fixtures outside. I love it, just because I love almost everything to do with nature. And oaks are some of my favorite trees.

Apparently, this bumper crop of acorns is occurring in many parts of the country, or at least all up and down the east coast. I found articles online from Florida to Pennsylvania talking about the phenomenon, what might cause it and what it might mean.

An article on said that :

"... the number of acorns falling on car hoods and driveways is at an all-time high in Allegany County, MD, which is located in the far western Maryland panhandle. There are an average of 25.65 acorns per oak branch. How is this fact known? Well, the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service keeps track of acorns on branches; this has been done every year since the 1970s."

The article went on to say " that lack of a major frost in the spring coupled with a dry summer helped the acorn crop breed furiously this year." 

Another article on, said that the reason for a bumper crop of acorns, also known as a "mast year" may or may not have a tie to weather.

"Dr. Marc Abrams, a professor of forestry at Penn State, said mast years occur when nut-producing trees such as a oaks "produce an overabundance of nuts in a particular year, maybe five or 10 times more than an average year." 

However, Abrams described the mast year phenomenon as "one of the amazing mysteries in nature that we still do not have a handle on." 

Mast years happen irregularly, which Abrams said can make it challenging for scientists to understand what causes a mast year. 

According to Abrams, a mast year can occur twice in a row or they might be several years in between. 

"There's no way to predict it," he said."

An article on said that the bumper crop of acorns will be the heaviest since 2003 and attributes the phenomenon to heavy rainfall early this year followed by a drier-than-normal spring.

But another article from 2006 said that a man had to take two pickup trucks full of acorns to the landfill!!

Interestingly enough, some experts think that the abundance of acorns will make deer hunting a challenge this year, since this year's deer are spoiled by a huge diet of acorns and will not have to come out of the woods in search of food.

Several articles stated that an old wife's tale says that an abundance of acorns also predicts a cold harsh winter. Other's refuted that legend.

But I figure if I'm going to go along with any superstition, I'll pick a more positive one.

There are many legends and symbols associated with acorns. Some of the more familiar are that acorns symbolize life, fertility, creativity, prosperity, immortality, patience, strength and good luck. It is believed that placing an acorn on every windowsill will protect the house from lightning and carrying an acorn in your pocket or purse will prevent aging. {I might not believe that one, but I'm putting a handful in my purse anyway!}

This article on had all sorts of fun facts:

Age-old traditions from the British Isles guarantee the carrier of an acorn in the pocket or the wearer of the symbol on their person long life, good luck, immortality, youth, ease of pain, protection from storms, from getting lost and from evil intent. Is it any wonder the motif has found it's way into jewelry design from ancient times through today?

Legend tells us that burying an acorn in the dark of the moon ensures you will receive money in the near future, linking acorn symbology with material prosperity. Why would anyone be out on a dark night gathering acorns? The belief is that acorns gathered at night are the strongest bringers of fertility.

And someone who is selling acorn jewely on says this about oaks and acorns:

Oak trees, their leaves, and their seeds (acorns) symbolize life, strength, endurance, immortality, power, honor and loyalty. Because acorns appear only on adult trees they're also a symbol of patience and fertility. Adding to the oak's mystique is the fact that they are struck by lightening more than any other type of tree. The ancient Celts and Norse believed this was because of the immense spiritual energy within these trees. Druids would swallow acorns, believing it would give them the power of prophesy. Acorns have been carried for protection and as good luck charms by many cultures, bestowing upon the bearer longevity, wisdom, youthfulness, prosperity, spiritual growth, and stability and strength in their life.

I don't have any problem with the acorns so I haven't tried to figure out how to get rid of them. In fact, we have been collecting them and just keeping jars of them around the house because we think they are pretty.....and just in case any of the legends for luck, prosperity and long life are true.

If you have a creative streak, I also found several sites that have crafts to make out of acorns.

How to make an acorn wreath
Acorn Crafts on Matha

For me, I'm going to assume that they mean something good. And every time I crunch, crunch, crunch them while walking through my yard or have one conk me on the head while I take a walk, I'm going to smile, look at all of the beautiful trees in our forest and think about all of the great things I have going on in my life right now. And then I'm going to spend some time thinking about how great NEXT year is going to be with all of the health, prosperity, creativity and good luck that will be coming our way.

Why not pick up a few acorns for yourself and keep them around to remind you of YOUR hopes and dreams? They might be just around the corner, ready to take root and start growing!

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