Today I Started My Garden

I’m sure some of you are wondering what kind of crazy garden gets started in mid-winter. Well, this is California and had I planned ahead (and not been a lazy bum and actually cleaned up the mess the back yard had become while I was off working in Florida and…) I could have had a garden going right now. In fact, this is the “wet season” in California and you simply can not grow a garden in summer without irrigation water, so I’ve had a “winter garden” just to assure I could grow things without power / pumped water. Things like Fava Beans, Peas, Kale, Chard all do great. But right now I’m starting my Spring Garden. (This will give me time to get motivated enough to clear the yard, prep the beds, and actually find what condition the place is in.)

The normal Planting Calendar for this area has a last frost date of mid April as pretty much guaranteed. In many (most) years you can push that back into March or sometimes even February. As long as you have excess seeds and don’t mind restarting if needed, it’s OK to start sprouting in January with setting out / hardening off in February, especially for things that have some frost tolerance (kale, if only I liked it ;-) and those Fava Beans…)

So what did I do? I put seeds for 2 fast growing fast maturing varieties of core foods into cups of warm water to “imbibe”. I’ll let them soak for a day or two, then plant them in little plastic cups that will sit under a lamp on the desk next to me. In a couple of weeks after sprouting, I’ll “plant them out”.

What prompted this was going through the freezer and hauling out a couple of jars of seeds. This is not the Seed Freezer outside. This is the house freezer. This was “overflow”. Well I’m not going to be packing “overflow” for shipment to Florida, so I decided to see what I’ve got in them. These were mostly some “cheap seeds” I’d bought at end of one “growing season” when they were on closeout pricing. See, places like Walmart and CVS Pharmacy (yes I bought seeds at the pharmacy of all places) don’t understand that California is a year round growing season. They assume it’s like Iowa and nobody buys seeds after August… Some of these were already “dirt cheap” and others made cheaper on sale.

I would buy a jar worth and chuck it in the freezer “for that day” and not care too much exactly what they were. I did tend to foods I like and short season or heirloom varieties if available (they are in opposite ends of the growth habits). Now, a decade later, opening the jar can be a bit of an adventure. I’ll also get to find out how well they stored after a decade of “defrost” cycles. (The seed freezer does not have a defrost cycle.)

So what am I starting?

Green Beans

Contender Green Beans:

These are in a package from American Seed company that IIRC was bought at Walmart. (Some were from CVS too I think). The package is priced at 30 ¢ but I likely paid half that on clearance. The date on the package is “Sell by 12/2008” so about a decade out of date. This will be a very good test of the home freezer and jar combo as an emergency seed bank.

Part of why I bought these batches of seeds were for exactly this use, testing a less than ideal storage, but one everyone has. Now it’s time to “run the experiment”.

The Contender is not my usual kind of bean. I very strongly prefer long season pole beans. Slower to start, but they give lots of beans for months on an easy to pick with little bending over trellis. These are a Bush Bean so “bending over required” I also prefer colored beans as they are much easier to find and pick. These are regular old green. Finally, the bush habit is preferred by commercial operations who push for “harvest once” all maturing rapidly and at the same time. I prefer the home garden “small part harvest every day” for months. I’m not canning my garden beans, I’m cooking and eating them as harvested. Picking 2 bushels on one day does not amuse…

So why in heck have these?

Well, they are very fast to maturity. In a real “aw shit” I’d like some ‘quick start’ things in the emergency seed package. These guys have a claimed “40 Days to Harvest”. Starting some in pots indoors, then setting them out when a week or two grown, in theory you could (maybe) get a harvest after just 2 to 3 weeks in the garden. Though more likely you will hit the 4 week mark; most seed companies seem “generous” on the speed to harvest…

You get a clue that these are fast to grow, and harvest all at once, from the description on the package:

One of the earliest varieties with an average maturity of just 40 days. Large crop of tender stringless 6-inch pods are produced for a concentrated harvest. The compact bush plants tolerate hot weather. Excellent for canning and for freezing.

Yeah, “concentrated harvest” sounds a lot better than “you will be picking these all in the same few days so hell yeah you better know how to can them up”. The way around that issue, of course, is just to start 2 to 4 plants each week. Now you will be getting 2 to 4 plants worth of harvest each week. Adjust the number of plants to match just how many green beans your family can eat without an uprising ;-)

My approach is to plan on a square of Bush Beans early, while the square of trellis beans gets going for the rest of the season. Then in 50 to 60 days (whenever they stop producing) plant something else in that square for the mid-summer grow (like hot season things: corn, tomatoes, etc.)

I’ve put a dozen seeds in to soak. Letting the seeds “imbibe” in a good soak gives better and faster sprouting, I’ll be planting them in cups of potting soil in a couple of days. Don’t go over 48 hours of soak or things can start to ferment. 24 is usually quite enough. Sometimes I’ll put soaked seeds on a mat of a folded paper towel in a “Tupperware” container with the lid loose but sitting on top. Then check daily to keep moist and observe germination rate. I’ve found that when they germinate you can fairly easily then put them in potting soil and they do fine mostly. By doing this you can only plant the good seeds that sprout quick AND save about a week of ‘pot of dirt sitting there’; but at the cost of a bit more labor. I mostly only do it on very old seed sample with low germination – but so far my freezer stock has not ended up in low germination. Only things not from the freezer have “had issues”.

Figure in a week I’ll have ten to a dozen “pots” going for setting out about the start of April (though I can “hold over” for a week or so if it’s too cold then by using fairly generous pots) then ought to have some beans end of April into early May, depending on warmth and growing speed.

Offset from them, and to be started a couple of weeks later to avoid crossing, I have a package of “Cherokee Wax” beans. A Yellow Bush bean. Days to harvest is given as 52 days. Also from American Seed company but price was marked as 10 ¢ for the package. Interesting to note that, like the Contender, the package planting map / calendar says they are for Sept-Feb. in California and across The South. I’d intended to trial these as a winter garden crop, but got busy with other stuff. So these will be started in a couple of weeks.

In theory, here in California, I could grow this kind of bean most of the year as long as water was available.

8 Ball Squash

I posted a description of these earlier. This particular package is from saved seeds. It is a “Pepo” type. There are 3 or 4 main types of squash that will all cross inside their type but not outside, so for seed saving you need to know not to plant two of the same type if you want to prevent odd crosses. I’ve gone ahead and let them cross to find out how it turns out. I.e. how many seasons until my seeds are crap. I’ve gotten several interesting new crosses, and all of them were fine to eat, just not as expected. So the answer is “one season to lose variety characteristics” and “several years+” of eating odd types but enjoying it.

This package is labeled:

Squash – Pepo – 8 BALL

8/2008 “Darwin’s Garden”
Center plant of 5 in one pot!
1 package of 3
Green w/ yellow ribs

Now the 8 Ball is smooth, green, round and without ribs. They make about a 5 to 7 inch mature squash for seed saving in ideal conditions. Closer to 3 to 4 in “Darwin’s Garden” ™. That is what I call my “way less than ideal hyper stressed” selection process. In this case I had a round tub of about 2 feet diameter with 5 of these plants in it. Occasionally watered, but nothing special in the way of fertilizer or placement. Next to the sidewalk on the way into the house. Shaded on one side (setting sun side) by a fence, so they got morning to noon sun.

I was growing some yellow zucchini over the years so the “yellow ribs” is a note that perhaps these guys have a bit of cross in them. It may also just be that at maturity they yellow a bit and get less spherical. As I like a bit of color in things, I’m fine with that, should these be some odd cross. So this will be a ‘bit of an adventure” as I find out what I’ve got.

I’ve again started soaking a dozen seeds, and will pot them up in a couple of days (though I might do a germination test pad on them…)

These will not get the Darwin’s Garden ™ treatment, but just planted out with decent spacing in a real garden square. Similar expected first harvest of April / early May. At which time I ought to have squash and beans in quite acceptable quantities ;-) With some kind of cloche or cold frame against the house wall I could likely grow these year round (the house providing enough warmth and the cloche keeping frost from biting).

The better method is to grow “Summer Squash” early in the season for eating fresh from the garden, with re-plantings until frost takes them. Then, mid-summer, plant some “winter Squash” that gives the usual hard squash full of seeds. These store very well over winter. Realize that the American Indians ate the seeds of these as the preferred product. That’s where the bulk of the nutrients are found. So for a “survival food” expect to eat the seeds. Learn to roast / shell / and turn them into flour. There are very large seed varieties for just that reason. (Not Pepo, but things like Maxima or Moschata are usually larger seeds). Note that you must look up the species name to know what you’ve got. It’s not enough to just say “Oh, it’s a pumpkin”…

Cucurbita pepo; C. maxima; C. moschata; C. mixta

Pumpkins and squash belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. Generally pumpkins belong to the Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, and C. moschata species. The C. pepo species are usually recognized as the true pumpkin. Pumpkin varieties within this group have orange-yellow flowers, and fruits with bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems. This group also includes gourds, vegetable marrow, Pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini and summer crookneck squash.

The maxima species also contains varieties that produce pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges and without an enlargement next to the fruit. They don’t really make good handles for jack-o’-lanterns. Varieties such as Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Show King are often listed as pumpkins but are more properly called pumpkin-squash or squash- type pumpkins. Other members of the maxima group are Hubbard squashes, banana squashes, buttercup squashes and turban squashes – in short, most autumn and winter squash.

The moschata species contain varieties that produce long and oblong fruits . Mature fruits have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged and enlarged next to the fruit. Members of this group are used for canned pumpkin pie production. The other non-pumpkin members include the squash-like cushaw, winter crookneck squash and butternut squash.

The mixta species contain varieties that have yellow to green or orange flowers, and produce cylindrical, curved fruits that are bulbous at the apex. The rinds are hard to soft , and they have hard, five angled, large fruit stem. Some of the white pumpkins, blue or blue-green pumpkins belong to this group. The other members of this group include Cushaw squash.

The Squash (and the pumpkin sub-set of squash) are a very interesting group! There’s even a squash native to Florida that can be grown up trees and are hard enough that the critters can’t get them! I hope to plant some once there.

By planting a rotation of summer type fast and early, winter type late and slow, you can have some squash food products year round. Similarly, green beans early and dry beans late to over winter. A Garden Calender is very important to ability to survive from a garden. IMHO that is why the ancient peoples spent so much time worrying the skies about what season it was. When live or die depends on having your planting rotations down to the ‘week or two’, a reliable calendar matters. Plant too early, the frost and birds get your seeds and seedlings. Plant to late, you look at frost kill and not enough produce (or drought kill in California – we have a drought every Summer as the rains stop about April – May and it’s a long time to November… It is called “The Golden State” for the golden color of the dead grasses on the hills all summer long.)

The Garden Status

I don’t know that I’ll plant any winter type squash this year. We’ll see how the garden project goes. Right now it is a 4 to 5 year established weed patch. The “kids” decided to “clean it out” and then let a mix of Bermuda grass and weeds and some Lilly type bulbs they planted take over. I came back from Florida a year later and was just not enthusiastic about starting over… Now there’s even a couple of trees growing in it. I posted a note about one of them a while back. An avocado relative, the California Bay Laurel or Oregon Myrtle. As it has a lot of uses, I’m not settled yet on leave it or remove it.

Historical usage

Umbellularia has long been valued for its many uses by Native Americans throughout the tree’s range, including the Cahuilla, Chumash, Pomo, Miwok, Yuki, Coos, and Salinan people. The Concow tribe call the plant sō-ē’-bä (Konkow language).

The leaf has been used as a cure for headache, toothache, and earache—though the volatile oils in the leaves may also cause headaches. Poultices of Umbellularia leaves were used to treat rheumatism and neuralgias. A tea was made from the leaves to treat stomach aches, colds, sore throats, and to clear up mucus in the lungs. The leaves were steeped in hot water to make an infusion that was used to wash sores. The Pomo and Yuki tribes of Mendocino County treated headaches by placing a single leaf in the nostril or bathing the head with a laurel leaf infusion.

The chemical responsible for the headache-inducing effects of Umbellularia is known as umbellulone.

Both the flesh and the inner kernel of the fruit have been used as food by Native Americans. The fatty outer flesh of the fruit, or mesocarp, is palatable raw for only a brief time when ripe; prior to this the volatile aromatic oils are too strong, and afterwards the flesh quickly becomes bruised, like that of an overripe avocado. Native Americans dried the fruits in the sun and ate only the lower third of the dried mesocarp, which is less pungent.

The hard inner seed underneath the fleshy mesocarp, like the pit of an avocado, cleaves readily in two when its thin shell is cracked. The pit itself was traditionally roasted to a dark chocolate-brown color, removing much of the pungency and leaving a spicy flavor. Roasted, shelled “bay nuts” were eaten whole, or ground into powder and prepared as a drink which resembles unsweetened chocolate. The flavor, depending on roast level, has been described variously as “roast coffee,” “dark chocolate” or “burnt popcorn”. The powder might also be used in cooking or pressed into cakes and dried for winter storage. It has been speculated that the nuts contain a stimulant; however this possible effect has been little documented by biologists.

Modern usage

The leaf can be used in cooking, but is spicier and “headier” than the Mediterranean bay leaf, and should be used in smaller quantity. Umbellularia leaf imparts a somewhat stronger camphor/cinnamon flavor compared to the Mediterranean bay.

Some modern-day foragers and wild food enthusiasts have revived Native American practices regarding the edible roasted fruit, the bay nut.

Umbellularia californica is also used in woodworking. It is considered a tonewood, used to construct the backs and sides of acoustic guitars. The wood is very hard and fine, and is also made into bowls, spoons, and other small items and sold as “myrtlewood”. It is also grown as an ornamental tree, both in its native area, and further north up the Pacific coast to Vancouver in Canada, and in western Europe. It is occasionally used for firewood.

According to a modern Miwok recipe for acorn soup, “it is essential that you add a generous amount of California laurel” when storing acorns to dry, to keep insects away from the acorns.

One popular use for the leaves is to put them between the bed mattresses to get rid of, or prevent, flea infestations.

The wood is used as lumber in furniture making, especially highly figured specimens.

As it looks to be everything from food to medicinal to insecticide to furniture and flutes, I’m leaning toward keeping it. But it does get rather big.

It presently shades the north 1/2 of the yard so shrinking my sun garden space by about 1/2. Then again, I’m mostly just “prepping for sale” and not doing a “feed the family garden”, so “whatever” comes to mind.

Most likely I’ll just trim it up to a nice central stem, thinning the mass of green around the trunk.

In Conclusion

I’m using the beans and squash start as a motivator to actually deal with what my garden area has become. Hopefully I’ll also get a load of beans and squash from it, and that will induce me to continue the clearing and cleaning effort.

I’ve got a few things that are way over grown. Several small shrubs that either ought not be there at all, or are no longer small. A couple of “weed trees” started. No idea what type, but persistent suckers. I’ve cut one down 3 times already… I think it will require toxins… Then there is a nice little clump of tall timber bamboo that was hiding an ugly pole but is now about 1/2 of the end of the garden. That needs a serious reduction. (I’ve given it one every couple of years, but it is winning at the moment… Anyone want’s a “carbon capture system”, just plant some bamboo…) I’m going to need some serious shovel and ax time in the yard, I fear.

Hopefully looking at some squash flowers being shaded bit too much by “something” will be enough encouragement to remove the something ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, Food, Plants - Seeds - Gardening and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Today I Started My Garden

  1. H.R. says:

    I have a garden that I fussed with from time to time, but work always seemed to interfere. Since I’m now retired, I have put in some plants the past two years.

    It’s raised, made by laying out four 6″ x 6″ x 8′ landscape timbers and divided down the middle. I’ve built up the soil over time with manure and organic waste, working it into the soil. Even the years I was too busy to mess with it, I would still till in the grasses and any volunteers that grew.

    There are two permanent plantings in opposite corners, asparagus in one corner and rhubarb in the other corner, so we at least get some of each every year if I plant nothing else.

    Last year I put in tomatoes and squash. We had way above average rainfall and decent warmth. The tomato plants went gangbusters and put out a good number of fruits, but then we’d get excess rain and a lot of the tomatoes split open. Oddly, I didn’t get blossom rot, which often happens with excess water. So I lost a lot of tomatoes to the excess rain.

    The tiny squash sets I bought turned out to be a vining variety of squash. They were mislabeled. I always like the ‘bush’ type yellow summer squash. The vining ones I got drowned. They did poorly. Too bad, because the summer squash would have done very well, they are up off the ground and would have bushed out and set like crazy. I’ll be more careful this year.

    The other problem we have is deer. For a few years, I had rabbit fencing which worked for keeping out rabbits. Short of a 6′-8′ cage, there’s nothing to be done about the deer. The rabbits aren’t particularly fond of tomatoes and squash, which is why I stick with them.

    I’ve talked parsnips a couple of times this year, so I’m going to put some in. There’s a spot by the asparagus where I think they will do well. Parsnips are surprisingly pricey when bought at the store, so a few pounds of them will be enough savings to pay for all the other plants.

    For a small garden like mine, I prefer a drier summer, because I can always water with the hose to keep the moisture up. A rainy summer is a bummer because you can’t take the water out of the ground.

    The high today was 18 (F) with winds 20-30 mph and snow squalls. I did not start my garden today ;o)

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Parsnips have a resin in the leaves that cause some folks to get welts and red rash. I seem to not react to it… but folks are advised to wear all manner of protective rubber gear if dealing with the foliage.

    Guess I’m one of the lucky ones with zero reaction.

    Hopefully it would also discourage deer. My bunnies ignored it.

    There are plants that do well with excess water – but I’ve spent more time looking for drought tolerant. I have some desert “Tepary beans” that I finally figured out how to not kill

    I was planting them in good soil and giving them OK water… they wanted sandy crap soil and hardly any water… After 3 or 4 tries I figured out the package directions were right ;-)

    Maybe you need to start a water cress garden :-)

    FWIW I failed miserably at green onions. They would always die and stunt. I eventually got a perennial variety to work OK. My “breakthrough” came when I set my starter pots in a large plastic tub and kept an inch of water in the bottom. They are shallow rooted. Here they would dry out the top few inches of soil during the week when I was at work, then fail. By having the bottom watering keeping the soil consistently watered, they did fine… Consider some green onions…

    My biggest takeaway from all the various years was just that each variety of each plant has a particular set of things it is picky about. It is essential to learn what it wants, and give it that; not to give it what you think is right…

    So peas do not get grown mid summer. They like it cool and damp, not hot and dry.
    Tepary beans get crap soil from July to September and sparse water.
    Fava beans get a wet cold fall / winter grow.
    Turnips MUST be left in the ground over winter here or they are fiery hot. A bit of frost and they are nice.
    Corn must be in a big block of all the same kind – it doesn’t like loneliness or strangers.

    and on and on.

    Why I like to remind folks that for a “survival / preparedness” gig, it’s not enough to just have a jar of seeds. You must learn what the plants want and how to give it to them. You must have soil already built up. You must have the equipment (including sprouting trays and pots and beds and…) and the experience of using it. You must already know what your Garden Calendar must be ( I spent a few decades planting “summer only” as that was what Dad did in Iowa – not right for California…)

    It isn’t necessary to produce 20 head of cabbage every year, but if you expect to grow cabbages, you need to grow a couple. I finally got decent with a Collard Cabbage cross of my own making. Here, in a hot climate, it was happy winter or summer, and makes a LOT of dusky bluish leaves. A Green Glaze collard crossed with a purple cabbage from the grocery store that refused to die after weeks (months?) in the fridge and started making roots instead – so I just planted it in the garden to reward that stubbornness. It crossed with the Green Glaze and gave me sweet collard like leaves, a bit thicker like cabbage, and didn’t give a damn about “conditions”. My kind of plant ;-) In theory I’ve got seeds in the archive still – provided nobody “cleaned” it ;-)

    My attempts at heading cabbages have been less than stellar. They tend to bolt in the heat. I think I need a more winter schedule for them… But that’s the point. I need to learn what is right for that plant in this place.

    I am also sure “Everything I know is wrong” once I’m in Florida. Sand not loamy adobe. Hot and humid not warm and dry. Lots of rain, not summer drought. Different bugs. The whole works. So I’ll get to start over with Southern Varieties. “Field Peas” not English Peas. But maybe during winter I could do English peas.

    I’ve planted a LOT of different varieties of things, just to get familiar with them and find out what I could do fast and easy in an Aw Shit. And learned things. Dry Beans grown a few years in a row were great. Then some bean weevils found them. After that all dry beans would sprout tiny weevils in storage that would make holes all through them (then die in the jar…). So running them through the freezer prevented that by freeze killing the eggs. Scarlet Runner beans did great spring and fall. Cool summers yes, hot summers they would sulk. Now I plan to skip years on dry beans. Never give the bugs a steady lunch… What works for one or two years can fail at 3 or 4…

    Oh, and one favorite is Horseradish. It just doesn’t give a damn and seems to survive all manner of neglect. The leaves have a kind of horseradish flavor, but milder. I like to munch on them when in the garden… Just took a chunk of root from the grocery store and stuck it in the dirt. Water and wait…

    So now I know that in a real Aw Shit, I may not have a lot of “the usual” foods, but I can have a lot of things that just won’t die. Horseradish and leaves, collards. Fava beans. Parsnips. Tepary beans in mid summer hot and dry. And maybe some of the more usual foods if the water situation permits… Runner beans and bean leaves as “greens”. Rutabaga over winter. Russian kale. The survivors of Darwin’s Garden ;-)

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    I ordered some seeds today. I like your plan EM, as a starting point, just plant a whole bunch of different things and see what dies and what likes your garden conditions and adapt from there. Take a few years to sort it out. Level 3 (now Century Link) built a community garden down the road a short walk (literally a couple hundred yards from the apartment complex). They have better sized garden plots than the puny little 1 yard square plots they offer here at the apartment complex. They are about 4′ x 6′ raised garden beds, Thinking of giving them a shot this year.

    Last time I did a garden here at the apartment, we had different management and in the fall they sent out a notice to clean up the garden plots (I was operating under the impression I had full use of the plot until the next spring when they put them up for people to claim). I had a bunch of turnips and I was waiting for the first good frost to see what they were like (have never eaten a turnip).

    While I was at work, they pulled up all the plants and tossed them in the dumpster – stupid city folk did not realize some plants are left in the ground after the tops die back. I raised hell with them for wasting a summers worth of my work because they had no clue about gardens. Luckily the new management seems not to do that, but the little plots are just not big enough to experiment with more than one or maybe two varieties of plants.

    If I am going to go to the effort to do a garden I would rather do a small garden plot like my parents did when I was a kid about 15′ x 20′, than try to cram everything together.

    Typically my Mom would plant 2 short rows of corn on the north end of the garden, then a couple rows a cucumbers and summer squash, and a couple rows of radishes and carrots, and maybe try a few tomato plants but they never did very well. The bell peppers also did not do very well where they built the garden because the plot was shaded in the afternoon by a big cottonwood tree, so the heat loving plants did not get the full sun they wanted and the soil was pretty heavy clay and we did not invest enough time in spading in peat and other organic matter to build a good gardening soil.
    The cucumbers and squash produced a lot though so we had quite a few vegetable only dinners made from the garden produce and a few ears of corn but the ears were not near as good as we could buy fresh at the farmers market a few miles south of the house.

  4. H.R. says:

    Three posts and it already makes E.M.’s point that “All gardening is local” right down to the place in your yard where you choose to plant.

    I’m working with a 4-season Midwest climate, Larry at elevation in Colorado, and E.M. in an arid, 3-season climate. Then we’ve yet to hear from our Alabama, N. Carolina, and Florida contingent as well as the UK and Oz denizens.

    Of course you should concentrate on learning about being successful in your current locale, but I think the SHTF grow-your-own preparation should include some seeds suited for a few different climate zones. That Sunset Gardening publication would be a must. I had one of those years ago but it got pitched in some move or other. I’ll have to pick one up this year. They are easy to find at garden stores, Lowes, or Home Depot.

    I also liked Larry’s idea of sealing seeds in vials. If you’re familiar with those decorative popcorn tins that are sold at Christmas, one of those seems to be the right size to hold a gardening book and enough seed vials to get something going in any location, There are better containers than a popcorn tin, but I bring it up for a size reference. Something that size – what, 2 gallons? – would hold a lot of seed plus a reference book.

    In a SHTF scenario, hunkering down in place is the likely scenario. Next is bugging out in some vehicle, in which case a container of seeds plus a reference would be small enough to toss in and take to wherever you have to go.

    For my temperament and inclinations, I think I’m going to start a SHTF seed bank by buying seed packets at the end of the season on clearance. I’ll toss the packets in a container and store it in the freezer, writing the date on each packet, and then sort and rotate the packets each year as I score more clearance packets of seeds.

    There’s no time invested in acquiring seeds as I’ll see them and snap them up while I’m out and about on other errands. Then it’s just a matter of pulling the container once a year and sorting through the packets. I’d imagine that if I cull packets after two years in the container, they’d be just fine for the current year’s garden.

    Oh, it should be interesting and entertaining to look for local varieties of common, useful veggies as we travel about the country. No harm in picking up a few packets for a couple of dollars here and there and tossing them in the freezer when I get home. That way I should at least have something no matter wherever I might wind up.

  5. ossqss says:

    Does it count if I plant myself in a beer garden? ;-)

  6. H.R. says:

    Just don’t let your ass root itself to the barstool, ossqss, and you’ll be fine.

    I noticed that to get to your shovel and rake on the garage wall, you had to go past the beer fridge. Was that intentional or just lucky?

  7. cdquarles says:

    Just had a freeze here. Fruit trees had bloomed and were leafing when it hit. We shall see if/where/how much damage was done. Local rule-of-thumb for planting is wait until after Easter. I virtually never freezes after that. That said, the latest Easter can be is circa April 19th; and the earliest circa March 21st. It has gotten cold after that (May, 1974) and even snowed (May 1968); but neither the cold nor the snow stuck around long. That’s for Central AL. For Northern AL, especially bordering TN, wait another week or two. For LA (Southern AL), you can start earlier, especially if you are close to the Gulf.

    Still, freezes down past Orlando have happened. Orlando is 5 or 6 degrees latitude south of me. Oak trees were just beginning to bloom. Pecans, peaches and apples typically bloom some time in April, and if cold, May. Blooming is more sun related than temperature. Cold weather will slow it but not stop it, as long as it is above freezing most of the day.

    Now is the time to finish prepping your bed. Planting, depending on cold tolerance, depends. If you can protect the sprouts, go ahead. Otherwise, wait. Wheat’s being planted now. Collards, too. Strawberries tend to not do well. Blueberries like it, particularly if the soil is acid. Most plants do not like acid soil. Locally, corn is a big crop. Good years can get two corn crops in before the cold resumes in mid to late October (first light freeze). First big freeze typically is around Thanksgiving. Much of the sun’s power is warming the ground, even if the air doesn’t feel like it. Noon sun’s about 50 degrees above the horizon locally. It’ll be about 60 degrees at the end of March/beginning of April. High point is just about 80 degrees in June and just below 35 degrees in December. Anything about 30 degrees is giving you about 500W/m2 around noon. At 45 degrees you’re getting about 700W/m2 peak.

    It is still rainy season here. That starts in November and lasts through May. Most of our 4.5 feet of rain (on average), happens then. Summer is June, July, August and September. A dry summer can be bad. A wet summer will be bad. Which kind we get depends on the weather, especially tropical weather. Dry season is short, typically parts of September and the month of October.

  8. cdquarles says:

    Oh, I forgot. The anniversary of the Blizzard of ’93 is about one week away. For mid-March, I think that is the record.

  9. H.R. says:

    p.g. has a slick homemade greenhouse that’s been discussed here. IIRC, he has a picture or two of his garden and the greenhouse on his site. It’s worth a look.

    Since I have that border of 6″ x 6″ timbers, it occurred to me that I could make something similar. All I have to do is auger a few holes down the timbers, Insert the pvc pipe ends to form an arch and cover with the construction plastic. It would buy me about a month’s head start.

    I complain about deer. He has to protect against deer… and bears. (Oh my!) So anybody carping about bunnies should just lighten up. It could be worse. ;o)

  10. Larry Ledwick says:

    On the protecting sprouts theme I got to thinking last night about putting aside some materials for an emergency green house over the garden bed. Something as simple as some small diameter PVC pipe you can bend into a quick hoop and throw plastic sheeting over would work. If you are trying to protect sprouts when they first break the ground they are probably too fragile to just drape plastic over the bed without some support structure, but the support does not need to be all that fancy. A more permanent option would be some plumbing pipe to make a couple square hoops one at each end of the garden plot and perhaps one in the middle. They could also be used for support to create string trellis for climbers, or to put shade fabric on in the peak heat of the summer to keep from frying your plants that like partial shade.

    Out at Bonneville one of the favorite techniques for some of the race teams is to go down to Harbor freight and get their mesh tarps. They are a fine mesh similar to window screen, and when stretched over head make a great partial shade. They are porous enough that hot air filters through them and does not accumulate under the tarp area and they cut the sun intensity enough that it does not fry you but you can still work comfortably.

    They produce less shading than the sun fabric you can buy at Lowes etc.

  11. E.M.Smith says:


    Why, yes! It has the word “garden” in it after all, and it IS made from plants – barley and hops. I’ve grown a small (as in 2 foot) test of barley. It’s easy. (Harvest not so much ;-) Not tried hops yet.

    Just consider your bit the “QA Department” ;-)

    Hmm…. Interesting name for a bar… “The QA Department”… Phone: “Where are you?” Answer: “I’m in The QA Department” ;-)


    Skip the drill and holes (crap accumulates in holes). Just get the metal pipe brackets and screw them to the wood… Faster and easier.

    BTW, seed packets already have a date stamp on them. It is almost universally the current year.

    The thaw / refreeze process takes a bit of life off the seeds. Not a whole lot, but some. It works best to just chuck them in the fridge and forget about them. Onion seeds are only good for one year (different seeds have different “durability” and I’ve sprouted lentils 16 years old NOT frozen). So I did some test packets of very cheap onion seed in the freezer. At about 10 years I stopped testing them… Near as I can tell, lifetime in the freezer is more than I’m ever going to need. Even those just in the ‘fridge portion have gone several years.

    Plastics are not as air / water tight as you want for seed storage. It is heat, light, and moister that cause seeds to fail. The packet blocks most light, then it’s dark in the freezer when closed anyway. It is, of course, quite cold in the freezer. That leaves moisture. I’ve found that jars just do not leak and have air tight seals. They are also “free” if you buy stuff like pickles or artichoke hearts in marinade from time to time. (The Costco Artichokes have got me hooked ;-)

    So, simple, easy and proven to work over decades: Eat something from a jar of quart size or so. Costco also has nice peaches in jars. Wash jar and lid. Dry it. Buy seeds. Stick packets in jar and secure lid. Chuck it into the freezer. Come back several years to decade+ later and plant…

    I’ve yet to have any seeds pulled from the freezer fail. Some are over 20 years along…

    A single 24 oz to quart jar holds more seeds than you can use in a couple of years. By then you ought to be saving your own seeds… The ideal size is the “wide mouth pint” jar for canning as you don’t need to squeeze past the small mouth top; but any jar works. The advantage of smaller jars is that you don’t need to put ALL the seeds in a big jar through a defrost, warm to room temp, and THEN open (to avoid condensing moisture on the seed packets) just to fish out 3 or 4 packets and then put the rest back through a freeze cycle again. While I’ve done that a few times with some jars and not seen a problem, it theoretically trims some life from the seeds.

    I have a few dozen jars just because I was really “into it” for a while. I put together different kinds of jars. Some are “winter garden”, some “summer garden”, some are “by type” with a bunch of different kinds of carrots or peas or whatever – as a deep archive not opened for decades.

    That way I can pull a generic “this season” jar, or I can just pull a jar with corn to pick out a particular variety I’m interested in. (Corn is one of those “stores for years anyway” seeds so a thaw refreeze cycle it just laughs at).

    Were I doing it as simple Prep Garden, I’d likely make 3 jars. One “summer” and one “winter” and then one of “misc odd stuff” – like herbs, flowers, spices, things for sprouts (alfalfa, etc.), medicinals. Once in the freezer, you don’t really need to do anything with it for years until you decide to play with it. In following years, I might make a new jar and then swap it in for the old one, use the old one in a garden. My “working jars” live in the refrigerator (door or “crisper”). I’ve planted things that have been just in the fridge for years and they were fine too. Eventually germination drops off, but it takes years and even then I’ve had enough grow from a 50% germination rate to make the garden.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that you don’t need to “dink around with it”. Just stuff the jar in the freezer and walk away for a few years… I’m an existence proof that it works.

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry L:

    I see you have had experience with folks who don’t “Get it” about a Gardening Calendar…

    For a SHTF moment you want a mix of ‘schedules’. Things that are up and edible in days to weeks. Other stuff that takes a month to get going, then produces all summer and into the fall. Then some things that make dry seeds for over winter.

    Some varieties do all of the above. Usually heirloom types. I have some Indian Corn that is OK as a “sweet corn” but also will run to flour corn if left to maturity. Similarly some peas are nice as “sweet peas” and also can make dry peas. I’ve got a Snow Pea like that. The whole pod is edible, then it makes large round dry peas if left to run.

    Learn to love the radish… (BTW, a “hot” turnip is rather like a “hot” radish… similar family too).

    The radish is always “first up”. About 20 to 25 days to maturity. The leaves, while rough and fibrous, are edible as “famine food”. (My bunnies loved them so I tried some – as cooked greens they are tolerable). Similarly some “fast beans” especially if over planted, give green bean pods quickly, but you can also eat the leaves as a “pot herb” or greens. A bit bland, but very high in protein and other goodies.

    So, were I starting out, I’d start with Beans, Squash, radishes, and peas (there are hundreds of kinds of peas and they can be both a vegetable and a legume – plus the leaves and stem tips are edible in salads… so you can find some pea that grows just about everywhere). Corn is “hard to do” since unless you plant a block about 12 feet on a side, the pollination can be spotty and you get small ears missing kernels. This can be fixed by taking pollen from the tops and dusting it on the tassels during tasseling but that’s not a beginner job… Otherwise corn would be on the list.

    Do not underestimate the value of some container gardening. As noted in other postings / comments, you can easily get load of potatoes from one plant in a big pot. I like small squash, like the 8 Ball, in a large container. Usually just one plant unless I’m deliberately running them through the gauntlet… You can usually put the pot anywhere there is cement (or over grass if you don’t mind a kill spot). The ‘pan’ under it lets you know when to water again (excess water ends up in the pan, then gets soaked back up into the root ball. When dry, re-water).

    I do NOT do the thing of a load of stones or “whatever” in the bottom of the pot. At most I’ll break up and toss in some twigs and such. Maybe 2 inches of it. Then just dump in a bag of potting soil or mixed compost and potting soil. On subsequent “fills” I’ll mix in about 1/2 dirt dug up in the garden just to get it more minerals and better water retention. Lets you put a plant anywhere you want, too. Even on a balcony.

    By doing a container you avoid all the hardest mechanical parts, and you can dodge some of the issues with things like the Management tossing your garden square…

    There are also long rectangular “window box” like plastic tubs that would do great for short carrot types. Just sayin’… ;-)

    Biggest gain for me was learning the water flow with the catch dish. How much water ended up just too much and running through. How much was too little and the tray didn’t get any at all (so bottom dirt was dry and roots don’t “go there”). Then, that the water in the bottom would keep the root ball moist better than I did. (Many potting soils just dry out way too fast. Adding some clay from regular dirt fixes that. Having the 1 to 2 inch puddle under the pot lets it drink as needed AND tells me when it is dry…)

    More than once the pots “reminded” me it was time to water the garden…

  13. cdquarles says:

    About corn tasseling, here, we would plant two rows of it; so about two feet by 60 feet. We never failed to get ears. That said, the variety mattered, too. We tried to grow some popcorn one year. We did get ears; but nowhere near as good as the normal sweet corn, whether mono-color or multi-color. I don’t remember granddad having to manually tassel it.

    We mostly didn’t have to water the garden. It generally rained enough. Dry summer years, though, we did.

  14. Larry Ledwick says:

    On the corn pollination I’d think you could assist pollination with nothing more complicated than a feather duster and a few walks down the corn rows, dusting the tops and tassels when the plants get to that stage. Might also be interesting to inter plant some climbing trellis beans with corn so that the flowers on the beans would encourage insects to help with the pollination. ( not to mention the nitrogen fixation).

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Corn pollen can drift for hundreds of yards to miles in a good blow, so it also depends on what is growing up-wind of you. If your neighborhood has a lot of folks growing sweet corn, pollination will be more complete even in a small block. Also, for a 2 row method: It will depend on your prevailing winds too. If “along the row” pollination will be better. If “across the row” poor.

    A square block does work better than rows since more of the corn has someone “just up wind” of them, and any variation in direction of wind gets all the edges covered too.

    The tendency of corn pollen to drift a long ways also makes saving seeds for pure types difficult…

    Where I am, urban Silicon Valley, there is essentially no corn inside the “upwind” wedge and the wind almost always comes from that direction and is not strong (a slight drift) so neighbor pollination is effectively zero and wind doesn’t help.

    I have successfully gotten corn off of 4 stalks by the expedient of hand pollinating. Just rub a bit of tassel with the hands and then rub them together over the tassels… In professional operations, a bag is put over the tassels, then moved to the silks at the proper time. It gets even more complicated than that if you want to make hybrids:

    Seed corn fields are planted in a repetitive pattern known as a “panel”, “block”, “frame”, “bay” or “set” depending on the area of the country. There are two main planting patterns for these panels. A panel may be planted in a 6:2 pattern where six “female” rows, the rows to be detasseled, are followed by two “male” or “bull” rows, the rows that will be used to pollinate the detasseled rows. Panels are also commonly planted in a 4:1 ratio with four female rows followed by a single male row. Other, less common, patterns are also used including 4:2 and 4:1:6:1. In all cases the pattern is continued throughout the corn field. (Smith 2004, pp. 584)

    All or portions of seed corn fields may be surrounded by extra rows of male plants if it is likely that wind may carry foreign pollen into the seed corn field. These extra rows are called “buffer” or “isolation” rows depending on the area of the country. Another important aspect to keeping undesirable pollen out of seed corn fields is a process known as roguing, a process that removes plants that differ from the variety intentionally planted.

    It is always better to plant your corn in a block or panel. Not required, just better.

  16. cdquarles says:

    That might have been it. Our rows were N – S. Winds vary; but were mostly along the rows. Winds tended to be light, outside of thunderstorms. Of course, thunderstorms are rather common.

  17. Larry Ledwick says:

    I just ordered a couple tomatoes to try – they are hybrid but I can’t find the characteristics I want in heirloom seeds.
    Short growing season (52 days) 4 to 6 ounce fruit earliest slicing tomato.
    High Vit A and C –

    Slightly longer growing season but highest vit C content and small fruit – prolific (will keep producing until frost if you keep picking the fruits) (65 days)

    I figured cooking for one the small salad type tomatoes might be ideal for my usage. Some of the huge varieties are just too much fruit for a single dish.

    Now all I have to do is get motivated to actually plant the garden, and start the seeds in time for planting.

  18. Bill in Oz says:

    E M do you like sweet potatoes ? They are easy to get started in late Winter indoors, and will go like stink once planted. The leaves are edible as well as the roots.

    I start my sweet potatoes by buying some at the store. I cut them up into 3-4 largish pieces and put in an ice cream tub filled with damp sand..Put the tub in a warm spot in your house and keep the san moist. After about 3-4 weeks there will be sweet potato shoots. I break the shoots off and put in a glass of water. They will root in about 5-6 days.. Then ready to plant if i’s warm outside. Excellent garden cropper for Florida !

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bill In Oz:

    I’m very fond of sweet potatoes and yams. I’ve grown some once (had a couple from the store that were sprouting so just stuck them in the dirt…) and they did OK. We’re a little cool here for them and I put them in some hard crap dirt; but they still grew a lot. Didn’t make many tubers though (probably my timing on planting was way off given no thought at all…)

    Yeah, they would be great in Florida…

    Had no idea the leaves were edible, but it makes sense. For most plants (but not all – like Rhubarb has toxic leaves…) if one part is edible more parts are. In a real famine event, having just a load of green bean leaves and sweet potato leaves would make for a decent survival “pot of greens” as an early harvest of “something”…

    @Larry L:

    Colorado is cool IIRC. Take a look at the Siberian tomatoes. Names like “Crimean” like Crimean Rose or Black Krim.

    While I like having heirloom seeds so that you can save seeds yourself, I’m also quite happy to use a hybrid for some special purpose. I typically have some of the very shortest types available in my Aw Shit Kit be they hybrids or not. Figure I’ll need the “quick start” only once ;-)

  20. Larry Ledwick says:

    Colorado is listed as hardiness zone 5a and 5b depending on where you are on the eastern plains.

    For short season stuff I was looking at zone 3 seeds, will have to check that out. Like you this batch of seeds is just going directly into the freezer, seeds are good for your own use but under a true Aw Shit situation might be highly valuable for trade as well. Anything that sprouts has value even if it is not suitable for actual growth to maturity.

    By the way Potato is another plant where you don’t want to eat the leaves or the fruits, being a member of the nightshade family.

  21. ossqss says:

    @EM, I think you overlooked one word in my comment above. “In” ;-)

    On another note, upon watching one of my educational documentaries on survival “The Walking Dead” , Sorghum was praised as a survival food. Gonna look into that as it is supposed to be easily cultivated and used as a food source, and for making beer!

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and on Tomatoes:

    I’ve said it elsewhere, but it bears repeating here… THE key limiting factor for Tomatoes in many areas (like where I am) is that almost ALL varieties only set fruit at 50F and above (with minor variation of a degree or so warmer for some very picky ones) at night when the low comes.

    So look at night time temperatures, by month, in your area and you know when they can first start to set fruit. They may flower before then, but you will only get blossom drop. No sense setting out any earlier than works. IIRC, the pollen needs 3 to 4 days to grow to complete the fertilization and that growth only happens over 50F. So you need 3 to 4 days in a row never below 50F or the pollen dies before it’s fertilized.

    This is where the Russian Tomato comes in. They, being frozen even in Crimea, developed some with colder fruit set. Like in the ’40s F. Well 5 to 8 F colder is just enough that I get fruit here in California when other types just sneer at me and make vines. They also set fruit earlier in the season before nights get up to 50+F. That is worth a good deal…

    The “physical” way around this is with a greenhouse or cloche to prevent night cooling and black plastic “mulch” under the plants to promote soil warmth during the early days of spring. So change the night time warmth or change the plant. Ether one works.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Nope, I saw “in”. I’m picturing you “IN” a beer garden doing QA on various grains and hops from microclimates world wide… one bottle or mug at a time… I know it will be hard work, and not without physical peril and risks to your health, but “somebody has to do it”!

    So, for example, how does a Russian Beer made from barley and hops from frozen Mah Russia compare to one with California Hops and fermented in, say, San Francisco? (Anchor Steam…)

    How will “climate change” affect Beers Of The World over time? Will we lose “steam beer” and warm climate Ales and only have Lager (as it is fermented cold)? (LIA Scenario). Or will we all be drinking Steam Beer and warm Ale as Lager can’t be made the traditional way? Or will refrigeration save us? How will this impact open fermented Belgian Beers? It must be studied!

    This is serious study and work that can ONLY be done by being “IN” the beer {place} and spending a good many hours at it – then getting a ride home … notes in hand, or dictated, or maybe your driver can take the notes while you ramble on about discuss each beer…

    I’m so glad you volunteered to conduct this study and save the rest of us from the perils involve! Perhaps you can even get a grant for it from the NSF / Beer Council (there MUST be a Beer Council somewhere…). It’s a $Billions industry after all… Surely a measly $1/4 Million to asses the impacts of CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!! is a small price to pay for a funding agency to get a road map of their future! Apply now!

    (I am available as understudy if needed… just sayin’…)

  24. ossqss says:

    I was pondering a question I was unsure of the answer to and found the answer. Interesting.

  25. ossqss says:

    Hummm, it seems the article kept my place. It put section 4 in the link. Here is the raw link so ya don’t have to scroll.

    @EM, I am up to the task assigned and am currently in my post-doctoral level of study on said subject. The good news is a warmer planet provides added capacity for beer creation!

    I will now proceed outside and flatulate with the cows to help the cause, after I finish my double bacon cheese burger ;-)

  26. Larry Ledwick says:

    So the best place to store your honey is in the root cellar at 50 deg F ground water temperatures.
    I currently buy honey in small plastic jugs holding 5 pounds of honey, and only open it to periodically decant some into a small table top squeeze bottle. Seems to keep very well.

  27. ossqss says:

    That is a bit of a trick here Larry. No root cellar, and the groundwater here is a few feet below and around 70-75F. The 10 year old honey in the pantry is still doing fine in the AC though. I just tested it.

  28. Larry Ledwick says:

    Well it works for most of the temperate northern and middle US ;)

  29. E.M.Smith says:


    Buy some Sorghum beer (Whole Foods has it) before you embrace the idea that it makes good beer.

    I did. I managed to finish a couple of bottles…


    Both Millet and Sorghum have the big feature that they just stop growing and wait for water if the rains don’t come. Corn stunts or dies and yield drops. If you look at the growing maps of Africa, up on the edge of the Sahara you find Millet as it has the least water demand of any common grain.

    A bit further away, you get Sorghum. Then even further into the warm & wet areas you get maize corn.

    There are also some perennial Sorghum varieties. I have a sorghum plant next to my BBQ (from some discarded bird seed or sloppy bird…) that is on it’s second year. It isn’t doing very well (not big) as I generally ignore it, the dog pees on it (killed another one with nitrogen burn I think), it rarely gets watered, and sometimes the mower has managed to give it a hair cut… plus it is half shaded (BBQ to the south, fence a foot away to the west…) and not that warm here really, plus it is in hard pack “builders soil”. But it survives and gets a bit bigger each warm season.

    Sorghum also comes in 3 major categories. “Broom corn” makes the “bristles” used in traditional brooms. (I have a packet in the freezer – must be tidy during the EOTWAWKI!). There is also syrup sorghum (that makes a passable pancake syrup when the stems are pressed). Sorghum is related to sugar cane and some varieties reflect that. (Yes, I have some of that in the freezer too…). Then there is grain Sorghum. That’s the big reddish seeds in bird seed mix. (The small white ones are millet). I’m not sure if the syrup or the grain is used to make Sorghum beer, or if any can be made worth drinking (i.e. is it only made by health nuts or do Real Beer Men make any and do it right?)

    Then again, in an EOTWAWKI scenario, I’d manage to get a 6 pack down ;-)

    THE major advantage of Sorghum over Maize corn is the drought tolerance. You WILL get a crop, even if the rains fail or especially if they just become irregular and you miss a month. Lose a month from Maize corn at the peak growing month, you crop is crap. Lose that month in Sorghum, it picks up again next month when the rain returns.

    It is also somewhat more heat tolerant.

    Look at growing patterns in Texas ( I did a tour from about Dallas south and this applies to that subset of Texas). Maize corn more north and east in the space below Dallas. Sorghum more south. In between it’s a constant issue to decide which to plant each year. Good years has corn paying more. Bad years you make money on Sorghum while the corn is a loss. Generally Sorghum sells for less than corn (per my Uncle there), btw, and that is part of the decision process. (Oddly, more Sorghum grown north of Dallas – see map link below)

    I’ve grown both Sorghum and Millet in the back yard in small batches. The millet (unless washed and processed) as a saponin on the surface that tastes bitter and most birds avoid it. The Sorghum they treat as candy… So “bird control” can enter into a decision of what to grow too.

    In a real SHTF event, I’d just park at the edge of the garden in a lawn chair with a BB gun ( I have a bucket of BBs left over from The Kid…) and pot each tweety bird as they found the sorghum. A dozen or two of them would make a decent addition to a stew… (skin & gut then into the pot – the tiny little bones will either dissolve or be easily crunched up with some chewing). “Pest” or “Pot”, depends on your attitude ;-)

    There are some Sorghum varieties that are supposedly less tasty to birds. I grew mine by planting some from “Bird Seed Mix”, so of course it was bird friendly….

    FWIW my overall conclusion was to make sure I had both some millet and some sorghum seeds in the freezer. Since the Ice Age Glacial history shows a lot of drought and marginal drought areas, that tolerance of irregular water matters. Then here in California, if the irrigation system breaks down, we are a semi-desert anyway… Though I’d likely take advantage of our winter rains and raise oats, barley, or winter wheat. Though realistically that would require I have a farm with 40 acres and a mule ;-) I worked out how to grow grains in small plots, but also worked out you don’t get much for a heck of a lot of work. (Hand harvesting, hulling, and winnowing is a bitch). Realistically Maize Corn is the better choice for the home garden scale. There’s an Indian Corn with a tap root for dry climates and it is much more drought tolerant; though harder to find. ( I have a few dozen Indian Corns in my freezer… even if I can’t eat them, the family can. My favorite s a Blue Corn that is sweet when young then makes a four type kernel at full ripe).

    On, and I actually like the look of Sorghum plants. Especially the big ones. I’ve thought of planting a batch along the fence just as decoration… and to see how well they do when the dog can’t abuse them and they actually get watered ;-)
    Interesting tid-bit I didn’t know until I hit the link:

    Sorghum is a genus of flowering plants in the grass family Poaceae. Seventeen of the 25 species are native to Australia, with the range of some extending to Africa, Asia, Mesoamerica, and certain islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. One species is grown for grain, while many others are used as fodder plants, either cultivated in warm climates worldwide or naturalized, in pasture lands. Sorghum is in the subfamily Panicoideae and the tribe Andropogoneae (the tribe of big bluestem and sugarcane).

    I recommend hort.purdue strongly for their info-base on crops.

    IV. Environment Requirements:
    A. Climate:

    Low temperature, not length of growing season, is the limiting factor for production in most of the Upper Midwest. Average temperatures of at least 80°F during July are needed for maximum grain sorghum yields, and day-time temperatures of at least 90°F are needed for maximum photosynthesis. For example, normal average temperatures for July are about 75°F in southern Wisconsin. Night temperatures below 55°F for a week at the heading and pollination stage may result in heads with very little grain. Normal night temperatures during August range from about 65°F in southern to 60°F in central Wisconsin. In September, the range is from 55°F in southern to 50°F in central Wisconsin. In southern and central Minnesota, July and August temperatures are similar to those for southern Wisconsin. Therefore, low temperatures may prevent successful production of grain sorghum in central and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota or as a late-planted emergency grain crop in southern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Plants should complete heading by early August to insure excellent grain set.

    Soil temperature at planting time is critical for grain sorghum. Sorghum seed needs soil temperatures of 60-65°F for good emergence.

    Three characteristics of sorghum give it a potential advantage over corn in dry areas:

    Corn is cross-pollinated. Severe drought at silking time may cause barren ears (no kernels). Sorghum is self-pollinated and produces heads over a longer time period because tillers develop over several weeks. Consequently, short periods of drought do not seriously damage pollination and fertilization. In a longer drought, sorghum produces fewer and smaller heads but they are rarely without kernels.

    An optimum relationship between plant population and moisture supply is often critical with corn but unimportant with sorghum. When soil moisture is plentiful, sorghum heads grow large and tillers produce heads. But if drought occurs, heads are small and fewer tillers develop. Consequently, sorghum growers can plant high populations for potentially high yields. Corn growers can choose between high populations for maximum yields or lower populations with less chance of serious loss from drought.

    Sorghum foliage resists drying. At equal moisture stress, corn leaves lose a greater percentage of their water content than do sorghum leaves. The waxy coating on sorghum leaves and stems may be an important cause. This coating often gives the leaf sheaths a sticky, frosty appearance.

    As noted, it really likes it hot, and where I am is not that hot…

    I does have a “deer problem”
    or feature, depending on your aim ;-)

    This map is interesting:
    in that it shows the center of Sorghum production in the Panhandle of Texas and on up into Colorado and Kansas.

    Kansas – 2.6 million acres
    Texas – 1.65 million acres
    Colorado– 410,000 acres
    Oklahoma – 315,000 acre
    South Dakota– 270,000 acres

    There’s also a patch in the driest part of the Central Valley of California..

    I suspect that’s the place where rains are most variable as the Rocky’s have scraped the moisture from the clouds and not yet into the Eastern thunderstorm / humid zone.

    Further down it shows about 1/3 goes to ethanol production and about 1/2 gets exported…

    I like this picture showing the different head colors:


    And yes, I’m very fond of Sorghum and you stepped on one of my interest buttons ;-)

  30. cdquarles says:

    Dang, what was that ‘sugar’ crop they grew in Sumter County? It’s too cold for cane. I do want to say sorghum, but it may have been something the locals called it yet it wasn’t. It sure wasn’t beets, if I am remembering correctly; nor was it grown for grain. Corn works better for that.

  31. Larry Ledwick says:

    Sweet sorghum is one of the crops grown for sugar.

  32. Bill in Oz says:

    Re Sweet potatoes again : There are different types. Some do better in cooler climate areas. Beauregarde the orange fleshed very sweet potato likes it hot. But I grow a purple skinned white fleshed type which copes with colder weather. I grew it one year & the Winter was cold with frosts but they came back in Spring from the smaller tubers I left in the ground.

    I’m now growing 5 different types. Beauregarde, Hawaian purple, Filipino, White fleshed purple skinned & Okinowa ( Probably the same as Hawaian ; white skin and nice purple flesh)

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    Sugar Beets grow in the most cold, then Sorghum for syrup & sugar in the medium latitudes medium heat, finally Sugar Cane in the tropics to semi-tropics. Only grown in Hawaii, Florida and just along the gulf coast in one of those States… or maybe a couple… Not much anymore as it’s not a high value crop. Even Hawaii is moving to planting condos instead of cane…

    @Bill In Oz:

    Didn’t know there were that many different sweet potatoes with temperature ranges. Ought to have figured it, but… Saw the “purple skin white flesh” at a local grocery. Didn’t buy it as I like orange in my sweet potatoes… But…. if it grows well in a climate like this I could change my mind ;-)


    Today I “potted on” the beans. All of 5 days post soak. A “couple of days ago” they had started to sprout a root, and today they were about 1/3 inch or 1 cm long. Really ought to have put them in pots yesterday… All 12 seeds sprouted nicely, for a 100% germination rate.

    That’s for decade old “sell by date” so likely about 12 year old seeds. The freezer works nicely for saving seeds, even the household fridge with defrost cycle freezer, it would seem.

    The squash have not yet broken dormancy, but they are often slower than the beans. I can see a dark spot inside each of them (through the slightly translucent shell) that I think is the embryo building up some expansion pressure. I’m guessing a couple of more days and they will be ready to pot.

    I usually soak seeds for a couple of days, then put them on a “sprouting mat” made of soggy folded paper towel in a sandwich tupper container – lid on but loose for ventilation. This lets me monitor germination rates. If a batch is a “dud”, I’m out one paper towel, nothing more. When the first root shows, I put them in potting soil in small pots, later to pot out into the garden. In this way I’m always using minimal “dirt time”.

    I now have 12 bean plants getting up a head of growth in a nice warm interior space… Once the leaves break the surface Ill need to do more light than just a florescent… but that’s OK. It ought to be sunny enough most days to just set the tray on the porch. That ought to get me to April, or at least after last frost risk (depending on how fast these guys grow…) I’m using roughly 1/2 liter pots so ought to get decent size before there’s a root ball issue.

    Sometime over the next couple of weeks I need to go “prep a garden square”… These guys will need a place to settle in…

  34. E.M.Smith says:

    The 8 Ball squash seeds started pushing out their little roots today. Looks like at least 1/2 already. I’ll be potting them up later. I don’t think I’ll wait for a full germination count (squash seems to have a few that are slower but still sprout) as it looks like it will be 100% also.

  35. E.M.Smith says:

    5 out ot the last 6 squash seeds have sent out a tiny root, so at a minimum 11/12 germination. I think the last one will “go” too, but it is slightly smaller than the other seeds so might be more reluctant to commit… (Larger seeds tend to germinate faster and with more vigor).

    At this point I’m going to put them in a “6 pack” plastic pot tray and call it done on this batch of seeds. Whenever they are big enough and the ground ready, then I’ll plant them out. Likely about month. Maybe 3 weeks.

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