Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hilltown Seed Saving Network seedling swap from Saturday

The seed swap on Saturday was an amazing event, and unfortunately we didn't get the photos of it we should have. We also made the mistake of not getting photos of all of the plants we brought home with us before we set to planting them. Above is just what we have left after a couple rounds of planting. But I figured I'd just give a whole garden update.
First things first, what was the seedling swap? The Hilltown Seed Saving Network had a seedling swap this past Saturday. At the seedling swap folks brought seedlings they'd started and seeds they have and traded for things they didn't have. There was expert advice on hand from people like Tevis and Rachel from Crabapple Farm and Kathy Harrison from the Just In Case Book Blog. Having that expert help was invaluable for the Lady of the House and I who are first time gardeners. There was a good flow of visitors coming in, dropping off seedlings and leaving with seedlings. We were there from beginning to end, and ended up not only coming home with a good number of our seedlings, but lots more that we hadn't exactly been planning on. So let's start with what we already had.
The garlic is doing very well, and it's actually not just the garlic we planted. It's hard to tell even on the ground with it, but there are a few new garlic plants mixed in that we got at the swap. Why did we leave with garlic? Well, it was there, and it looked cool mostly. At least in this case we had plenty of room to put it in an already functioning bed! I don't honestly even remember what kinds of garlic we got, and in our "Get it in the ground" rush we didn't actually label it. So we'll have some surprises when it comes to using garlic time! Our radish and lettuce bed is doing well, and didn't get any additions because it is plenty full as is. We are actually getting to the point we can mulch it and that will be nice, less weeding work to do. Then there's the Kale. We brought the seedling tray Below nearly full with our kale. We also left with exactly the same amount of Kale. See, it turns out Kale grows really easily, and everyone already has Kale. So anyone in the area want some Kale seedlings? We have something like 40 extra.

We actually didn't have many of our seedlings taken. We had half a dozen amaranth taken and a few tomato plants, but for the most part our seedlings were left alone. Probably because they promptly wilted when they left the house. While we're doing fairly decently for first time gardeners, everyone else there seemed to be much more experienced. What that ended up meaning was that we brought home a WHOLE lot of good looking plants.

Right is a combination of plants we already had from the indoor herb garden. You can tell those because they're either brown in the bottom left, or exploding out of the dirt pots on the right. Center though are a bunch of things we got from the seedling swap. I know most of it is herbs in there, but there are chives which is delightful to cook with. The big thing we were really not expecting to pick up that we got was medicinal herbs.

Left is one of the things we got, Echinacea, which will be a very good thing to have around for helping ameliorate colds come winter time. Neither the Lady of the House nor I have any real experience with medicinal plants, so this wasn't really in our garden planning. We don't even really know how to properly use all of the medicinal plants so, I guess it's time for research! I know we got the echinacea, Valerian, comfrey, and many others.

Fortunately we are in a good area for learning how to use medicinal plants. Not only do a lot of our friends and acquaintances, but there are also a number of natural medicine classes offered through out the area. The Lady of the House and I aren't by any means anti modern medicine, but there is a good amount of self care one can do out of the garden safely as long as you know what you are doing. For instance, the Lady of the House did some research on comfrey. It turns out that it's been fairly thoroughly studied and that while it is somewhat poisonous if ingested in large quantities it definitely helps with bone mending. So, we don't eat the comfrey, feed it to the rabbits that love eating it, and when someone breaks a bone, we will have a plant in the garden that can help with that.
One of the things are are being careful of since we are already on the topic of comfrey is plants spreading out of control. Comfrey and nettles are two of the plants we got that can just spread and go wild. We are doing some research to see just how OK that is for our environment. We want to make sure we avoid doing things like the previous house owners did, and introduce something like barberry bushes. Thorn bushes that spread fast, have no value to the local environment, and actually significantly increase the chances of deer ticks. Invasive species often arrive in an area due to people planting them in a garden, and we'd like to avoid drowning out local species if we can.

One of the interesting plants we got has a reputation for spreading like that, but with a very easy way to control it. Right you can see a strange plant, the walking onion. This is an unusual plant that will, well, walk itself around. What it does is at the top of the stalk, (apparently called a top set) it produces another onion bulb, and when it falls over that onion propagates where it hits the ground. On a good year apparently they can spread many feet. How do you keep these little things from taking over completely? Rather un-creatively, one eats them! So this potentially invasive species isn't a problem as long as we just make sure we eat them semi regularly. That shouldn't be too much of a problem for us since we do like cooking with onion. Speaking of onion, we dug a whole new bed to plant all of the onion starts we ended up getting this year. You may notice the soil in that new bed Right is very different from any of our other soil. We had to replace basically all of the soil in the hole with rabbit poop and topsoil because there were three rocks in that bed that ended up being about the size of the hole. I got them out of the ground with much grunting and straining, along with all of those little rocks you see lining the bed. Unfortunately after all of the rocks came out, there wasn't dirt. So we shall see how that bed does with a complete soil transfusion.

Along with everything else we ended up coming home with we were convinced to bring home perennial scallions. I had no idea there was a difference between perennial and normal scallions, but there it is. We love scallion on our food so we were glad to pick these up. We planted them in the same front of house bed as the walking onions. We figure that whole bed has a deep set plastic border which should keep them from wandering too much.

The seedling swap was a really hugely valuable event for us for a lot of reasons. We got all of the plants you see above, and a couple dozen more besides. But that wasn't even close to the most valuable. We got to meet a lot of folks from the community and chat with them, learn more about growing in our particular area, and get a lot of really great ideas from people with similar interests. The more we work on our homesteading, the more we need to know, and people like those in the Hilltown Seed Saving Network have been invaluable to getting us the information we've needed to not just have repeated failures to share.


  1. Those walking onions look cool!

    As someone who used to be really into all things herbal (and still am, just on the culinary side now), make sure that your books on medicinal herbs are really recent. I have some older books (1960's) that say that some plants are perfectly fine (I wish I remember which ones!) but were later shown to be carcenogenic, or abortofactants, or otherwise terrible.

    1. Since the Lady of the House still has access to JSTOR and the like I believe she's been seeing what she can find of modern peer reviewed articles. Trying to have multiple sources of information is really useful. We will definitely keep that in mind though, it's amazing how fast knowledge changes when people are questioning and testing!