What does one do on a day when the high temperature is 0F/-18C and the windchill makes it feel like -10F/-23C? Why, order garden seeds of course! I wasn’t planning on placing my order until next week but the need to think warm, green happy thoughts won out.

I ordered with three different companies. My biggest order went to Pinetree Garden Seeds. They are a great company, reliable, excellent prices and good quality seed. I love them. I got the usual sorts of seeds, carrots, beans, peas, cilantro, cumin, mustard, nasturtium. In addition I got some new varieties and some new for me to grow things. I got the Irish Cobbler potatoes we grew last year and a purple potato called “Adirondack Blue.” I got a Japanese turnip called “Shogoin” that is white and about the size of an extra large radish. It can be sliced up and eaten raw, pickled or stir fried. I also decided to try growing chicory this year, “Catalogna Emerald,” and it turns out it is a fancy Italian dandelion, but hey, I like dandelion greens so no hard feelings. In consultation with Bookman we decided to try growing cauliflower for the first time. I am getting seeds for a short season small headed heirloom variety called “Early Snowball.” We also decided to try and grow ground cherries, also known as tomatillos. The variety is “Pineapple” and the description promises high yields of fruit that have a pineapple flavor. I’ll let you know!

I also bought a little thing called a “seedmaster.” Not seeds but a seed distribution system for those tiny seeds that Bookman’s sausage fingers drop in huge clumps and that stick to my damp ones. The seedmaster looks kind of like a fat syringe without a needle. Fill it with seeds, push down the plunger and it will supposedly drop one tiny seed out at a time. It was about the price of a packet of seeds so if it doesn’t work, I haven’t lost much. But if it does work, the clouds will part and the angels will sing.

Baker Creek sells nothing but heirloom seeds and quite a few of them are for hard to find rare varieties like the Sakurajima radish. A variety of daikon radish, Sakurajima is the world’s largest radish. It typically weighs 13 pounds/6 kgs and can grow as large as 100 lbs/45 kgs! There is an article on the history of this radish with some photos at the link attached to the radish name. No, I did not order seeds for this!

What I did order was seeds for golden amaranth and elephant head amaranth, pink radishes of normal garden size, “Holstein” cowpeas —funny on several different levels, but Americans probably know cowpeas better as “black-eyed peas”— and a white seeded sunflower called “Tarahumara.”

One more order placed with Jung Seeds. They’ve been around since 1907, very reliable with good prices. They are based in Wisconsin, a neighboring northern state so when their catalog says something is cold hardy I can believe them. I like to get actual plants from them from time to time as well as garden supplies. This time I ordered a seedless red grape called “Somerset” that is supposed to be good eating and for jam or jelly. Bookman and I have tried growing grapes before and failed both times. The varieties we tried were different than this one and we planted them both in the same location, a rather exposed one at the back of the garden. This one is going to go in a small space on the south side of the house where it will get lots of hot summer sun and be protected in the winter from the cold north winds. I am not sure how long it takes for a grape to begin producing. If it survives the summer and next winter I will consider it a success.

I also ordered ten feet/3 m of nylon trellis that is guaranteed for five years and promised not to tangle. If there is the remotest possibility that it can tangle, in my garden it will. But as long as it is easy enough to untangle, that is all that matters to me. Also, that it is reusable year after year. This will save me having to buy the giant skein of jute string every spring and creating my own pea and bean trellis out of jute and sticks from tree prunings. This stuff is so upscale fancy in comparison I might not recognize my own garden!

These seeds are all in addition to ones I have left over from last year: several varieties of tomato, sweet peppers, hot peppers, pole beans, pumpkin, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets, cantaloupe, okra, basil, onion, and a whole bunch of other seeds it will take far too long for me to list out for you. Big garden? Oh yes! Bookman and I will start making paper sprouting pots in the next week or two. We’ll seed the onion around mid-February and the seed starting just scrolls out from there to peppers then tomatoes and more. Busy fun times ahead!

cover artWhile I am on the subject of seeds, I have to tell you about Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener. I mentioned last week that it is a really good book. I did not mention how hilarious it is. I was reading the section on flower anatomy yesterday because in order to properly cross plants you have to know all the sex parts of a flower. The author has some fun with this explaining that flower stamens are plant penises. The carpel is the female part of the flower. The ovaries live at the bottom of the carpel. The top of the carpel is where the stigma is. The stigma is the plant version of a vagina. He goes on to talk about plant sex and what happens when a flower gets pregnant.

But that’s not all. Because in order to make crosses, a gardener has to do a sort or artificial insemination thing. If the plant you want to cross has flowers with both male and female parts in one flower, one must first emasculate a flower so it does not self-pollinate by using tweezers to pull off its little plant penises. This procedure really is called emasculation and the author alludes to it as being like neutering!

Pollen of course is plant sperm and the gardener needs to transfer pollen from one flower to the other to make the desired cross. The author discusses various ways to do this and in the end recommends fingers and tweezers because they are easier to clean so you don’t risk spreading pollen where you don’t want it:

Between crosses, I clean pollen off my fingers and tweezers by rinsing them off with a little water or (if no one is looking) simply a quick swipe with my tongue—which really isn’t all that gross, people, you eat pollen every time you eat honey. Even if it is, erm, plant sperm.

I’m just going to leave that there for you to dwell on. No doubt I will also be seeing an uptick in pornographic spam.

Biking

So I am doing a six-week workout program in Zwift to improved my FTP (Functional Threshold Power, a measure of fitness). The first week went pretty well and I began the second week yesterday. Week one was only four days of various types of interval workouts. I took Wednesday as an easy ride day and Thursday I entered my first virtual bike race!

I entered in category D, the lowest ranked category. I could have raced category D women’s group but I was the only woman racing and besides the categories are based on watts per kilogram (how much power you produce per kg of weight) so on that ranking alone everyone should be fairly matched regardless of biology.

I was really nervous but excited. The A and B groups start first so they don’t get tangled up with the slower racers. The C and D groups start together two minutes later. It is a neutral start where we all get a chance to form a group. The real start of the race comes in a section of the course that is about five minutes from the start/finish line. There were about five other Ds that I fell in with and we pedaled along together in a group until we hit the first big hill. Then the group fell apart, I found myself in front of them, and by the time the hilly segment was over I had lost them completely.

But then I spied a D group person about 8 seconds ahead of me. Back at the start he must have been up at the front with a big group of Cs and I had not seen him. So I made it my goal to try and catch him.

The race is three laps and each lap is just a little over 10 miles/16kms. I caught the guy on the first hill on the second lap. We spent the rest of the race riding together. There are three hills on this course and they all come at the end of the lap; a long hill of about 6% grade with a few short spots of 8-10% grade followed by a downhill that turns a corner into a short, steep 10-12% grade hill that then has a nice longish descent that lets you catch your breath before the really long hill to the finish that ranges from a 3-8% grade. We hung together until that second hill on the final lap. He started to pull ahead and gained a 7-second lead on the descent that I could not make up.

Can't believe I won!

Can’t believe I won!

It was a great race and I had loads of fun and figured I came in second since the guy had crossed the finish line first. But it turns out that is not how the race finish is calculated. It is calculated by your actual start and finish times so, when the results were posted, it turns out I won my group by 2 seconds!

The guy I was racing against found me on Strava afterwards and thanked me for a great race, told me I had caused him some pain. I thanked him too and told him the feeling was mutual (I was a bit sore on Friday!). It turns out it was only his second race.

There is a race every Thursday night and I will be trying it again this week. My new racing friend will be out of town but he promises to be in the race the following Thursday for a rematch.

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