Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three Favorite Garden Gifts

Here are three really useful, practical and functional tools that I truly appreciate and use with pleasure and satisfaction throughout the gardening season. I think all three make wonderful holiday gifts, so I wanted to share why I really like them and tell you where to get them as well. I really don't have any association with these companies, these are just my personal faves!

Sgarden gifts sport hatunday Afternoons Hat's "Sport hat" model
Great for comfort, looks, convenience and sun protection. I have always had a hard time finding a good garden hat because I find most hats to be uncomfortable and annoying. Several years ago, I discovered this one and everything changed. I actually own 3 of these hats so that I can have one stashed in the house, in the garden shed and in my car. The hat is so lightweight (2.2 ounces) that you forget you have it on. The design features a full crescent 4 inch sun protection brim that extends around the sides of the head, tapers over the ears, and includes an extension you can tuck up or wear down to cover your neck and it even accommodates a ponytail. I think it's still pretty good-looking even with all of this protection. The mesh air vents keep my head from getting too hot and the hat is adjustable for all head sizes and easily washed in the machine. I buy them right from the company's website, while not cheap at $34, they are often available for $19 on their sale page, although in more limited colors. Look for these hats at:

Joyce Chen "Never Dull" Scissors
garden gifts of all-purpose scissorsMy favorite go everywhere scissors for kitchen and garden.I carry these little handy all-purpose scissors when I go out in the garden. At 6 1/4 inches, they are especially well sized to work for a woman's hand and great for everything: trimming dead leaves, cutting bouquets, snipping lettuce and herbs and as a main workhorse tool for cutting bouquets and harvesting vegetables. The bright red scissor handles are made from soft vinyl, making them freely comfortable for heavy use. The well-balanced high carbon steel blades give excellent leverage and easily cut even woody stems. They "never dull" as their blades are electronically hardened and don't require sharpening over a lifetime of use. They fit easily in my jeans pocket and I think they're essential for every working gardener. I also keep another pair in the house to use for kitchen chores -- these well-made small scissors are truly multipurpose. Usually available for about $21-$25 from many websites -- just google Joyce Chen scissors and take your choice.

Bloomsaver Flower Harvest Caddy
Every Flower Gardener Should Have One
garden gifts flower caddyThe idea for the Bloomsaver began in the garden when two good gardening friends decided to design a tool making it easier to collect flowers for bouquets. The Bloomsaver Flower Caddy they came up with is a lightweight, three section container with a detachable handle. It allows you to harvest and collect large quantities of blooming flowers without wilting, crushing or bruising them and carry them around the garden as you harvest. With three different sections, you can sort your flowers by size color or type as you harvest them if you like. The base unit is molded of high-quality plastic and the detachable Lexan handle is shatterproof. I find the Bloomsaver easy to carry and very stable.

I found out about the Bloomsaver from one of my rose loving friends and now I wouldn't be without it. For flowers like sweet peas or zinnias are roses which can crush and bruise easily if you pack them together tightly, it really is a wonderful solution. Sometimes I just fill it up with flowers and don't even bother to transfer them to individual vases because it looks quite lovely as a casual arrangement. The Bloomsaver sells for about $28.95, but it's worth it and I've had mine for years. Still made by its original developers, it is only available on their small company website:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Receiving the Seed Harvest

freshly harvested seedsAt this time of year, our warehouse is getting filled to overflowing with new crops of seed that were just harvested this fall, carefully winnowed, sorted, cleaned, tested for germination and purity and finally shipped to us from all over the world. The warehouse floor is filled with the sweetly pungent odor of carrot seeds, the spicy scent of very fresh dill seed, and the simple physical beauty of dozens and dozens of different seed shapes, colors and sizes. In the old days, just 10 years ago, seeds were routinely shipped in muslin or linen sacks, but nowadays they come in airtight buckets or foil packages; not as romantic but probably much more moisture proof. When they arrive, we take out a sample and send it off to the seed lab to be sure that the germination rate has stayed as high as when we first arranged to purchase the crop.

Many of these purchase agreements were made long before the seed was planted last spring, so getting the seed into the warehouse means we finally can relax, knowing that variety has been successfully grown and we will have plenty of seed to fill our packets all season long. When we place our purchase orders to growers, there is no guarantee that a crop that meets our standards will result nine months later. Too much or too little rain; disease or pests; harvesting too early or too late; improper postharvest handling; all of these factors can mean we will get no crop that season and we never know for sure until the harvest is complete and the seed is inside our doors.

international rainbow of vegetablesAll of this involves lots of communications throughout the growing season with growers in very far-flung places. It reminds me again that in today's world, planting a garden can be a truly ecumenical act because we enable gardeners to grow vegetables and herbs from all the world's regional cuisines, and flowers from every continent. The seeds we are offering have been grown by producers both large and small in the US, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, England, Israel, China, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. All have their histories and stories in their home countries.

I think one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is the annual process of connecting with our growers to hear about their varieties and how they are used. california gardeningWhen I first started in this business, I really had to travel to far away places to find new varieties, but now the Internet has meant that I can more easily find out about new introductions and track down the varieties that we need from among the world community of seed producers. I have been working with many of these folks for over many years. The next step is getting and beginning the long process of growing them out and evaluating, first in our California trial garden and then in our other regional gardens. The end result is where I began -- the seeds coming to our warehouse so I can share them with all of you!
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