by Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent in Milwaukee County
Get a head start on next year’s vegetable garden by making seed tapes during the cold, wintry months. Start by selecting carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, turnips, and mustard that you want to sow directly into the garden. Ordering these in January avoids the possibility that they have sold out.
Use two-ply toilet tissue or thin paper towels to make narrow strips to glue the seeds to. Space seeds according to the sowing instructions on the seed packet. White school glue or a paste made of flour and water will hold the seeds in place. Place a second layer of paper on top, or fold the strip in half lengthwise so you can cover the seeds while the glue is still wet. Roll or fold the tapes into bundles for storage until spring. Of course, it is critical to label the bundles immediately to avoid unpleasant surprises once planted and growing in the garden.
Next spring, create a wide furrow at the proper planting depth for each crop, place the seed tape in it, and cover with soil. Water gently and keep watered until germination occurs. The whole objective is to be able to avoid the nasty job of thinning seedlings. Not only is thinning seedlings laborious, it disturbs the ones left behind, sometimes causing irreparable damage.
The holidays are behind us, the garden catalogs are arriving, and it’s time to start thinking about planting! It seems like gardeners tend to fall into one of two categories: vegetable gardeners (who don’t mind also having beautiful flowers), or flower gardeners who tuck in a few veggies and/or herbs here and there. To encourage everyone to add some edibles to their garden spaces (no matter how small), I thought we’d learn about herbs.
The little blue flowers of borage (borago officinalis) are favorite edible garnishes, adding color to everything from salad to cake. The taste is very delicate so you can use lots, assuming you have the patience to pick them. And borage leaves are delicious, tasting mostly of cucumber with a hint of lettuce sweetness. But the fine white hairs that give them their silvery glow are not so pleasant on the palate. To get around the problem, cooks either use very young leaves in salads, or employ larger ones as removable seasonings — stepping them in white wine punches is classic.
You can also add them to cooked dishes such as chicken soup, since heat destroys the prickly quality. And borage leaves are very tasty prepared like spinach or other tender greens. That sounds like a way to use up your whole windfall: creamed borage all around! Unfortunately, borage deserves its reputation as a natural laxative, so it can’t really be used as a solo vegetable. A handful of leaves mixed with other greens is the largest amount that is wise.
This is one of the most persistent self-sowers known to gardening so you’ll want to control it. The upper sections of full-grown borage plants, sparse of leaf and rich with flowers, make very pretty fillers for country-style bouquets.