Monday, June 25, 2012

Family Heirloom Gardening

I have very fond memories of my dad spending the day with us on little projects around the house when we were growing up. It sounds so suburban-middle class, but that's what we were. I keep those lessons with me everyday. He would paint with us and teach us perspective; we would mow the lawn and he'd tell us about yard maintenance. One day, I remember it was just me and my Poppie. He told me about the California Golden Poppy. It was our state flower and he loved having them all over our yard!

This day, he had cut some of the flowers and was working with them over the dining room table. He had a plate with tiny black dots all over it. He was harvesting the seeds. I don't remember much of the lesson verbatim, but I can still remember the feeling of stretching across the table with my knees in my dinner chair. Stretching to see what he was doing with these tiny, little seeds. I remember him putting a clear glass bowl over the lot of seeds and telling me that they were going to POP! And that would be our next poppy flower.

This memory is why I call him Poppie today and one day my children will do the same. And when they ask why, I will tell them this story.

Fast forward to many, many years later, my cousin Katie starts up her own seed business. She is crafty, money smart and LOVES to garden. Last time we were in Michigan visiting, she had everyone, including our aunt, sitting on the floor over newspaper separating seeds from the dead heads of plants. She explained how she separated them, packaged them, labeled them and sold them at the farmer's market and on-line. She is crazy-imaginative and so meticulous.

In our garden this year, we have new tomato plants next to plants that re-sprouted from last year! We have some of cousin Katie's seeds and some plants we got from the local farmer's market. This year we started off with Bibb lettuce and a red Romain. We ate off the lettuce for a good month or so before it bolted. ARRRG! I tried different tricks to keep it from bolting so early but I just couldn't keep up with the growth. So, I pulled some plants to make way for new vegetables but I left some of the bolted lettuce to see if I could get seeds from them- Like cousin Katie does. ;)

After weeks of this over-grown lettuce, I saw flowers come and go and today noticed little tufts of fluff on the end of the old flowers. After searching the trusty Internet, I found out it was time to harvest the seeds.

I pulled the fluffy heads and collected them in a small dish. I brought them inside and, like my dad, I sat at the dining room table to separate the seeds from the rest of the plant. What a great haul!

I, of course, planted some right away in plastic cups and brought them inside to water and start growing. I labeled the rest of the seeds to plant later in the year or even next spring!

I'll be charting the progress to see how long it takes to germinate and harvest. I can't believe Katie does all this with TONS of plants!!

We'll see how it turns out! I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE: After a week or so of watering, I found only one sprout in my seven cups. I did some more research and it looks like lettuce seeds need a cold snap to become viable. So, I threw my other seeds in the fridge. We'll see what happens. ;)


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your written journal, Betsy. I am surprised how well and descriptive your words are and that history seems to repeat itself as we get older. You found great comfort in watching your dad manage his flowers and garden. You married a man who thoroughly enjoys the vegetation. You enjoyed and felt calm when helping your cousin Katie sort seeds and then tried doing some of it yourself. Now, someday you and Eli will probably pass that relaxation on to your own children and have already introduced it to your nieces. And the circle continues. Thanks for the story.

  2. Aww Betsy! I loved reading this post! I'm so happy that you're harvesting seeds - it's a lot of work but so worth it! Then you can share them with everyone :)

    I dry all of my seeds in newspaper, folding the chaff and seeds up in the newspaper from spring through fall, and just label the outside of the newspaper as to what's inside. I just keep throwing these newspaper packets into large boxes as the seeds become ripe. I then take a few days to organize all of my newspaper packets in the winter, and then start separating the chaff from the seeds all winter long to be packaged for the next year! If I separated all of the seeds now from the chaff (during the summer months), I don't think I'd be able to sleep, as separating the seeds from the chaff is the most time consuming! People always ask what I do during the winter, and I tell them that I'm just as busy, if not more busy, during that time preparing.

    I really loved reading the story about your dad and you harvesting poppy seeds. It is really amazing how such little seeds can produce such brilliant flowers.

    I hope everything is well with you, and keep harvesting those seeds! It gets addicting very fast :)