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Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Barnyard and Gardening info

Seed order catalogs:

Garden List

Inexpensive herb seeds

Ecologicals Gardens

Comstock Ferre Seeds

Hart Seed Co

For seed starting use Johnny's speed trays plants rows, product #9523

Seed Envelope patterns

On drying herbs in the microwave

I always dry my herbs in the microwave and there is no loss of anything IMO. Depending on the wattage, it can take anywhere from 1-2 minutes per batch.
I wash the herbs. Then dry them very well. Put them on paper towels. Cover with another sheet of PT and then COOK on HIGH for 1 minutes. Take off the top sheet of PT and check for crispness. If not crisp enough, COOK for another 20 seconds. keep going until crisp. You don't want them to be soft or moist.
Then I put them either in ziploc bags in the back of my cabinet or in a dark container in the basement. Remember to mark what is in the container or bag. Lasts quite a long time that way.
I find that drying woody herbs is easier by air, not microwave. So save the microwave for basil, oregano, sage, dill. Herbs like that. For thyme, rosemary and herbs like those, air dry. takes longer but worth it.
harvesting and drying herbs

Goat info:

THE CAPRINE CABIN - The Caprine Cabin offers many goat related items and crafts. There are handmade items by our own goat loving friends, soaps, lotions, bath salts, watercolors, collectors stamps and postcards, places to advertise your goats for sale, publications, lots and lots of stuff! So, please, stop by and check us out...we connect you straight to the dealer!

Chicken info!

Here's how to sex baby chickens

For broodiness, you can't beat Silkies (bantam sized) or Cochins (standard sized).

You might want to get a few Cochins to brood your eggs, and some "dual purpose" birds for eggs and meat.

BTW, if you sell eggs locally, or would like to, you might want to check out the PoultryProfits group at:

Lots of good info on how to help pay the feed bills for small flock owners. Hope the info helps.


Starting Seeds

There's no one way to start seeds but there are a few things that MUST be done or you tempt fate. Translate, you have lousy or dead seedlings.

First, you MUST use artificial soilless mix. Regular potting soil has lots of fungi in it and you increase the chances of your seedlings developing damping off which is characterized by the young seedlings developing a narrowed stem at the soil level and falling in DEAD. Rhizoctonia and other genera of fungi are responsible for this disease. Using a Benomyl drench or some folks say Chamomile tea, may deter it. So start with a good artificial mix like Jiffy Mix (my favorite), or Pro-Mix or Peter's, etc.

Don't plant seeds in a container that you'll use to grow the plant to maturity. You MUST transplant the seedlings at least once in order to get a decent plant, as I'll explain later, so plant your seeds in any container you like. I use Permanest seedling pans which are available all over the place and they work very well. Now I sow many varieties and you may be sowing for only a few. So you could use an egg carton and sow 4-5 seeds in a hole or a margarine tub or a small Dixie cup or what ever.

You must completely wet the artificial mix by putting it in a plastic tub and adding warm water. It will initially repel the water. Get in there and mix with your hands until it's all moistened nicely. Then pack it into the containers you're going to use. After I've packed into my Permanest trays I moisten it again, pour off the excess water and let it sit exposed to the air overnight. Tell you why I do that in a sec.

OK, now plant your seeds. Plant them about the same thickness as the thickness of the seed, that is shallowly. And if the seeds are fresh plant the seeds about 1/8 inch apart. If you goof and plant too many seeds you can thin out the minute they come up. Sowing too thickly and not thinning leads to spindly weak seedlings. You want each seedling to be quite separate. Sow CHERRY TOMATO seed a week later because they grow so fast.

After you sow the seeds slip a plastic baggie over the container making sure to leave an opening for air. You want to keep conditions moist so you DON'T have to water the seeds yet you MUST allow for air circulation or risk damping off and similar. I prop up the open end of the bag with one of my plastic labels. Now set the pan/tub/whatever, on top of something where there will be a tad of warmth. DO NOT PLACE under lights or you'll cook your seedlings. If you use one of those kits with a plastic dome make sure the dome is also propped up or you'll also cook the seeds, even better than with just a baggie over them.Tomatoes do not need bottom warmth for germination, as do most peppers, but they germinate faster that way. Place the pans on top of the light fixtures or on top of your fridge or on top of your water heater. Whatever. And when you see the first seedlings emerge, immediately take off the baggie and place the tray/tub, whatever, under the lights or in the light, etc.

If using lights you must keep the lights about two inches above the growing seedlings. Sometimes an inch is fine. Yes, it means you'll have to move the light fixtures often during early growth. It's hard to grow good seedlings without strong light. If you use a windowsill be sure there are no drafts because cold drafts and wet mix spell doom and death to the seedlings. And you must remember to turn the container each day so light reaches all sides of the plants.

OK, thin out the young ones if you sowed too thickly and you can do it just by pinching them or use a small pair of scissors. At this point you should not have watered you newly emerged seedlings because there was plenty of moisture in the mix covered by the baggie.

Added this after finishing the whole post. If you use lights do so with a timer. Leave them on for 14-16 hours per day and NEVER at night. The metabolism of plants is such that they need a dark period to make energy products to grow.

In a couple of days you'll see the mix drying out and you can water very gently. The first little green things that emerge are NOT leaves, they are called cotyledons. They are followed by the first set of leaves and then the second set of leaves at which point you MUST transplant the seedlings to another conatainer as described below.

Occasionally the seed coat doesn't come off one of the germinated seeds and if you don't remove it the plant will die. Surgery is called for. LOL Moisten a cotton ball and hold it to the seed coat for a few minutes. Then gently grasp the seed coat with your fingers and it should pop off. If it doesn't, you lose. Or shall we say the plant loses. Sure , I've snapped off the whole tops of the plants sometimes and then had a funeral service, but that's why you always plant a few more seeds than you need.

Now, have I said anything about fertilizing? NO NO NO. Do NOT fertilize. You risk burning the delicate rootlets and the seedlings don't need it anyway. They have the endosperm rich contents of the seed to grow on. Water your seedlings as they need it, but sparingly, and when the second set of leaves emerge it's time to transplant. The seedlings will usually be about two inches high at this point.Experienced folks transplant at even a younger plant age.And if you feel you MUST fertilize please use a very dilute preparation.

OK, now time to transplant. I use commercial trays with plastic cell type liners. Each tray has eight 4 cell units. Each cell is about1/1/2 inches in diameter and about two inches deep. There are then 32 cells per standard nursery tray that isabout22 by 11 inches. Don't go smaller than that on cell sizes.The seedlings will be grwon to maturity in these cells and I'll have beautiful, lovely stocky plants. Yes I will. LOL. It's best if you use the same soiless mix at this point, or if you have lots of plants you can use perlite and/or vermiculite and add one part of the latter to one part seed starting mix.. So rewet your unused mix or mix up a new batch and pack the cells with mix. If you want to use small individual pots at this point that's also just fine. But don't use, IMHO, a huge pot, like over three inches, or so. You don't want to grow huge transplants to put in the garden. And you want the major initial growth of the plant to be in the garden or container and not in a pot or cell.You want a plant about 9-12 inches tall. That's all. OK, so to transplant. Make sure the mix with the seedlings is moist. Delicately grasp a seedling by the LEAVES and, whoops, you would have poked a hole in your new container with mix before you pick up the seedling. Make that hole with a pencil. Works fine. And you're going to sink that seedling ALL THE WAY down so only the little leaves are above the soil line. That's important. Very important. Tomatoes form roots wherever the stems make contact with soil so you want to sink those plants way down. And then you don't have exposed stems to flop over either. Now water in the newly transplanted seedlings.

OK, why is it so important to transplant? Because it shocks the plant and retards foliage grwoth so that root growth can occur. If you don't do it you get huge leggy stupid seedlings that flop all over the place and are a disgrace to the genus Lycopersicon. That's why.

Put your transplants back under the lights keeping the lights no more than two inches, or so, from the leaves. I didn't mention it above, but your lights should be on a timer and be on for about 14-16 hours a day. They need a dark period for metabolism, so don't run the lights at night. Put your transplants back on the windowsill if not using lights and keep rotating the containers each day so they get even light.

Tomato plants develop best when grown at cool temps. Commercial growers will usually have one greenhouse set at about 55-60 F degrees. If you can duplicate that you're going to get a better plant. Warmth is needed for germination and early seedling growth but once you transplant you want cool conditions for optimum plant development. If you can't, you can't. So Don't worry. But don't compound the problem by trying to fertilize your transplants. DON't Fertilize. let the plants develop naturally, which they will. Don't risk burning the rootlets. When the plants are about 4-5 inches high if you want to fertilize with dilute something, go ahead. I suggest fertilizing with water. Bit of a joke there. But I assure you it's for your peace of mind, not the plant's benefit. Fertilizer at this point can cause too rapid growth and weak stems, so please don't do it. PLease? You aren't going to fertilize those plants until they're transplanted out in the garden, OK????????? And we'll get to that whole business later, not in this post.

You keep growing your plants until they get to be maybe about 10 inches high and it should be close to when you want to transplant them outside.If you want to run a fan near your growing plants that's fine also; good for air circulation. And if you want to run your hands or a ruler over the foliage a couple times a day that's fine too. The plants respond to touch, called thigmotropism,and that is sometimes reflected in even better growth.

Next you must harden off the seedlings. That means putting them outside for a few hours each day , initially in a shaded spot, and then increasing exposure to the sun as the days pass. Protect from harsh winds and bring the plants inside if cool weather appears, etc. you must toughen them up for the big cool cruel world out there. And withhold water as best you can. Starve them and don't water them until they start to wilt, then water a bit. Got to toughen them up.

And at this point REMOVE every single blossom on the plant, if there are any. The earliest growth of a tomato plant must be devoted to vegetative growth of leaves, stems and roots, not a sexual cycle of reproduction and setting fruit, etc. So get all those blossoms off the plants. Blossoms that develop once the plants are out in the garden are fine to leave on the plant.

When the weather seems settled it's OK to put out the plants. Remove the bottom leaves of the plant that have turned yellow. It's natural that they would have turned yellow and most of the time those yellow leaves will fall off naturally. If not, you take them off. Now set the plant into the hole so that the soil level is right up to the bottom green leaves. It is important, again, to set the plants deeply. After transplanting to the garden water them in.

NO NO NO, do NOT use dilute fertilizer at this point regardless of what you've read, etc. You've got new roots meeting new soil and you want to let the root system develop with out any interference. And you DON"t put anything into that hole. No Epsom Salts, no dead fish, no matchheads, etc. The only thing going into that hole should be the plant. Period.

OK, we've got the plants out there and you've put them where they'll recieve maximum sun and hopefully placed them where the AM sun will burn off the morning dew. That's important in terms of foliage diseses.

We haven't talked about spacing of plants because that means talking about HOW you're going to grow them. That is, staking, caging, sprawling, trellising, etc.

And that's an area we can explore separately. Plenty of time.

The above is a guide based on my own experiences of trying a variety of methods.I'm sure many of you have come up with methods that are different that might work better for you. The point is to experiment and see what works for you with your space limitations,light limitations, etc.

Seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before the last average frost date, for most folks. In the warmer zones that's not an issue. And we've already discussed planting two crops a year in zones 9 and 10. Cherry tomatoes should be seeded a week after the others because they grow more rapidly..

Saving Tomato Seeds

Seed can be saved from any tomato you're growing, but if it's an F1 hybrid the seed will not come true when planted the next year. So most folks save seed only from open-pollinated strains, where, if no cross-pollination or spontaneous mutations have taken place, the saved and sown seed does come true when planted the next year.

You can just take the seed, try to wash it well and dry it on a plate or towel, but that's not the best way to do it. All seed has the potential to carry along with it certain pathogens, or bacteria and fungi and viruses which can cause disease. All seed companies ferment their seed to lower the amount of pathogens,and fermentation is easily done at home. All seed companies also treat the fermented seed with a triphospahte solution to get rid of tobacco mosic virus (TMV), but the solution is very caustic and TMV is NOT a common tomato pathogen outside of a greenhouse setting. Your fermented seeds will be squeaky clean and fuzzy, just like purchased ones.

There is a right way and a wrong way to select fruit for seed saving. Doing it the right way you'd have at least 6 plants of one variety and you'd select firm, ripe fruit, if they're growing in a row, from the inner four plants, to lessen the chances of insect cross pollination of your selected fruit. You'd take fruit from all four plants and process it. Since every single plant is slightly different from the other plants of it's variety , this is the way to maintain what is called genetic diversity within the variety. But most folks don't have 6 plants. So. I'll tell you how to save seed the wrong way. LOL Select the best specimens you can, and never process just one or two fruit because you can't tell by just looking at the fruit whether or not an individual fruit has been cross-pollinated. If I'm processing White Queen I might have 10 white tomatoes in front of me. I'd like to think that all 10 were self-pollinated and the seed is pure. But I don't know that. Fruit that are cross-pollinated are identical to non-cross-pollinated fruit, so I must be sure to process enough fruit to maintain the variety.If you have only one plant of a variety, so be it. And also remember that if you are saving seed from varieties staked or caged next to each other your chances of cross-pollinated fruit are higher because of the closer physical proximity.

There are many variations as to how to do the fermentation. I'll tell you how I do it, and then mention a few of those variations. I get one lb clear deli containers at the store. Put tape on the container and label with the variety name. Squeeze enough pulp and seeds into the container so it's at least half full. If it's a Roma or paste type you usually don't have much juice and you'll have to add a tad of water. Place the containers out of the sun and where critters won't tip over the containers and where the smell and accumulated fruit flies won't drive you crazy. After 3-5 days you'll see a white mat of fungus develop over the top of the contents and if you look at the bottom of the gook you'll see little bubbles indicating the fermentation process is occurring. DO NOT STIR the mixture. Yes, I know, some folks say to stir it. They seem to forget that fermentation is a process which takes place in the absence of air (is anaerobic) and stirring introduces air.

Now what's happening in that container is that the acidic conditions are killing the viruses and the fungi and the mold is making antibiotics which kill the bacteria. Also, the gel capsules around the seeds are being destroyed and that's good because they have a germination inhibitor in them. So, it takes about 5 days for me before I can process the seed, longer or shorter depending primarily on the temperature. By trial and error you'll learn when the seed is ready to be processed. If you do it too soon the gel capsules are still sticky around the seeds and if you do it too late the seeds turn brown, although they still are viable.

So now you have your containers of stinking goop with fruit flies circling low. I sit down on the front porch steps. Between my legs I have a big bucket and in my left hand (I'm right-handed) I have a hose with a pistol type nozzle. I spritz some water into the container and swirl the contents. The good seeds will fall to the bottom and the immature seeds will float. I carefully pour off some of the goop. Usually the fungal mat goes in the first pour off. Yes, you'll lose some seeds that have stuck to it;not to worry. I continue this spritzing with water, swirling and pouring off until the water is perfectly clear and the seeds are at the bottom. Now I've prelabeled paper plates with the variety name. Don't use coated plates, just real paper because the coated ones won't absorb the water. Carefully drain off as much water as you can and dump out the seeds on the plate, Spread the seeds around with your finger so you have a single layer. If you don't do this you can get germination of the wet seeds on the plate. DO NOT DO THIS STEP OF DUMPING OUT THE SEEDS IF THE WIND IS BLOWING OR OFF GO THE PLATES INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER.Place the plates inside, where the seeds can dry. I festoon all the upstairs bedrooms at mom's place with the paper plates. When the seeds are thoroughly dry (takes about one week for me but depends on temps and humidity) I put them into little capped plastic vials that I "borrow" from work.

Any small airtight container is fine. Some good ones are sold at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Now if I were going to be doing this the absolute right way I would add silica gel to the seeds and dry them down to a moisture content of about 8%. I don't do that. And if I were going to be doing this the right way I'd store the seeds in the freezer or the fridge, but I can't because I have over 600 bottles of labelled seed. So they stay in my apartment where the temps in the summer can get up over 90 and the seed viability on most of my 5 year old seed is in excess of 80% and that's just fine with me.

Now you can scale down the containers to use large Dixie Cups. And you can pour the gook into a sieve and try to separate the seeds that way. That has NEVER worked well for me. The basic thing is to get the fermentation of those seeds done.

I've probably forgotten a bit here and there, but I think the main gist of the process I've described well enough. Sure it's a stinky messy procedure, but when you're done and see those beautiful fuzzy clean seeds it really gives you a sense of accomplisment.

Ah, yes, i forgot to say please cut your fingernails before you do this. Seeds can get caught under your nails and then you can transfer seed from batch to batch. And I mean here, primarily when you are squeezing the pulp and seeds into the containers, but also when you're going from variety to variety with the fermentation containers. AND RINSE YOUR HANDS WELL AND CHECK UNDER YOUR FINGERNAILS FOR SEEDS as you go from variety to variety.

On Root Pruning

We had a long running discussion on this subject in one of my gardening clubs last summer. A search of the idea of root pruning on the internet brought up no incidence of it being applied to vegetable growing. I have seen it once, in some forgotten gardening book, in a discussion of raising peppers. It was said that, in a case where the peppers seemed to be fat dumb and happy, at a standstill and only producing foiiage, they could be jolted out of their complacency by moderate root pruning. The suggested method was to use a garden spade and insert it vertically into the soil about six inches away from the plant stem, in only one single location, thus trimming some feeder roots at that point. It was said that the shock to the plant would spur new fruit set. I do not claim that this to be a workable solution to lazy plant syndrome, but offer it as information and not as a suggestion.

Planting by zone

There are 5 basic plant outs.
After the ground is workable
IE Cole crops, leaf and root crops
(Leaves on oaks/maples about the size of a mouses ear)

After danger of heavy frost, Potatoes, Apple blossom time

After all danger of frost. (Soil temp about 50F) or dogwood blossoms falling: Tomatoes, string beans,

After the soil has sufficently warmed. (soil at 60F) Peonies in full bloom, Limas, corn, peppers and eggplant

Fall plant out for overwintering, I start some garlic..

Try They have zone and seed starting info.


Carrots are not so hard. There's a few tricks to them and you do have to be patient. First, your soil needs to be loose and full of organics to a depth of about 18 inches. Prepare a bed with this depth about 3 feet by 4 feet. Make a small trench about 6 inches from the edge of the bed, about 2 inches wide and an inch deep. Fill this 3/4 full of sifted earth. Use a fine screen to sift, you want really fine soil. Sow your seeds thinly (about 3 per inch) on top of the sifted soil, the full width of the trench. Cover with 1/4 inch of more sifted soil. Using a fine spray, slowly dampen the soil until it is well watered to a depth of several inches. Cover the seed row with a 2 x 4 or other board. Press down lightly. Leave in place. About 1 week repeat the process about 9 inches over. When you are ready to dampen the soil, remove the first 2 x 4 and redampen that also. After 2 weeks, make a third planting and check under the first 2 x 4 for germination. If none is evident, replace the 2 x 4 for another 5-7 days and recheck. By the end of three weeks, your first row of seeds should all be sprouting up. Start thinning when they are several inches tall. Dont't walk on your carrot bed or you will get odd shaped carrots. They still taste good, but tend to grow branches, have bends in them etc. be patient with carrots. They take a while to start, then take even longer to grow. The wait is worth it.

GARLIC! I grew the Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Porcelain and Silver Stripe. My favorite was the Rocambole. I saved 2 bulbs to replant and that was hard, yes they were starting to grow already.
Here's a great website with everything you wanted to know about garlic varieties...... GARLIC

Causes of bitterness in Elephant Garlic: soil ph too low or high, (6.5 is perfect), pulling too early (when still green or even slightly green), letting them flower, curing time too short.

Let the tops dry completely before harvest. Stop watering immediately at the first sign of drying tops.

After the tops die back completely, I pull or gently dig the bulbs and let them dry, well separated, in flats on top of the soil, in the sun, for about 5 days. Then I take them into the barn for curing in flats on top of a bale or two of straw (or other well ventilated area with low light.)

I make sure it's a well-ventilated area , not a garage, but you have a great choice there, Carol, and let the bulbs dry with tops cut off, for at least 4 weeks, more is better. Wait until the roots are dry and falling off before you use the cloves. This means they are completely dry and ready to use.