Cycad Seed Starting

I was recently visiting my Mom in Arizona, and I noticed that her cycad was fruiting. I tried bringing home some of these seeds a couple of years ago and I had no luck, but these looked different: reddish, not brown, and they fell off in my hand like any other ripe fruit. So I brought a bag home and looked up what to do with them. What follows is an amalgamation of info out there online.

First, it’s important to see which ones are viable. To do this, you place the seeds into a bucket or bowl of water. The viable ones will sink. Last time, all my seeds floated, so I went no further. This year, they all stayed at the bottom of the bowl. Encouraging!

Then, procedures varied: some said to take the outer coating off with a paring knife, but I couldn’t do that easily and I was afraid I’d damage the seeds within. Some just breezily directed me to peel off the coating, but it was hard and quite adhered to the seed. Plus, I had some ladies over for mah jongg and got distracted. So I just let the seeds soak for until I could get to them. After two days, I donned rubber gloves (apparently all parts of the seed are toxic) and was easily able to peel off the reddish coating to reveal the large tan seeds within.

After soaking
After red seed coat is removed

Directions then said to lay the seeds on the surface of potting medium and slightly press them in, but not to cover them completely. Then I’m to keep them warm and moist until they sprout in a couple of months. Fingers crossed!

Keeping them warm and moist

Garden updates + monsters thwarted (maybe)

Warning: embarrassing photos ahead. IMG_8604Still fighting the good fight as weather and time allows, but as is evident, there’s a lot to go. I cleared out some in the very back – what a shameful mess – and am working my way to the south. It does look so much better, and some things that look bedraggled are actually supposed to be there – on the right in the photo. There’s a peony and some Virginia waterleaf, and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Nugget’ (Nugget Ninebark) that was buried. A bitten up Corylus ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’ is crying for attention, but at least I removed the suckers. Took out what I could of that native brome or whatever (I’ve forgotten) by the back fence. It’s actually kind of a monster and looks so messy. I don’t mind the “full” look but that is just Messy. It’s still there, but I can keep it from encroaching.


Speaking of which, that barren strawberry and creeping Charlie are trying to take over. (I can hardly bear to look at these photos.) I just pull, pull, pull and count on diminished chlorophyll to eventually win out. They both tend to crawl on top of the ground cover, so just pulling up handfuls actually works fairly well. For now. If only wishful thinking was effective.


I think I want my front garden to look a lot more manicured. That Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago) is so beautiful but it’s about a foot tall. Starting to bloom. There’s no real way to contain it, and it’s difficult to plant into, so I may start digging it out and putting some elsewhere, like in the far back. I’d like to be able to see the other nice plants buried in there!


The Lamium here in the back garden does VERY well but it also kind of takes over. So I think it could compete with the Ceratostigma. I don’t want either by the native area – and really, there’s no deterrent there except pulling. The gingers do help as a barrier there.

At the Synagogue garden we had to do surgery on all the squash plants because of my procrastination regarding the squash vine borer. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake on my own couple of plants, so I went out with the foil a couple of days ago, and THERE SHE WAS, scouting. I wrapped foil around the stems at the soil line and she didn’t seem to land anywhere. But I forgot about my 2 Boston Marrow squashes in the other garden! I saw the borer today and she was definitely starting to lay eggs. I shooed her away and wrapped the stems. *I haven’t seen any eggs on any of the plants, but I rubbed the stems just in case. I also wrapped the cuke stems in case.




*Well I was wrong again. See the 2 little dots? They look similar to squash bug eggs in color, though a bit duller. And they are spread apart on the stem, not clustered together beautifully (or terrifyingly) under a leaf. I rubbed these out of existence. Take that, Borer! I’ll have to check every day. Easy enough because I only have a few plants.

Also planted Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ in the front veg garden because I’m not going to plant that very intensively as other crops come out. I’m leaving room for the Boston Marrows.

Sprayed the peppers and potted chard and Edamame with Liquid Fence and I see new growth, so perhaps the rabbit was just conducting a taste test.


My Cephalanthus occidentalis ‘Sugar Shack’ (Button Bush) is my new fave. I don’t believe it has flowered before – too dry? Not an issue this year. I adore the flowers, and so do the butterflies. Many more butterflies this year, including Monarchs.

Summer. And one weird rabbit.

It’s a scorcher this summer. Had a “pleasant” morning pulling weeds for 1.5 hours and the perspiration was literally dripping off me. It’s nice to see increasingly weed-free area, no matter the personal cost. I will cover up the bare ground with compost ASAP because the Oxalis was already shooting seeds. For once I didn’t get one in my eye, so that must be a good omen.


All the Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Tall Russell’ seedlings that I winter sowed and planted out in the former nursery (now “Patio Garden”) have survived. Impressive! I got one bloom on the one plant that survived last year, so that bodes Very Well Indeed for next year’s display. I’ve been madly filling in this big space in a vain attempt to allow no room for the weeds (or rabbits). Next year it should be pretty glorious.

I do feel that I have to mention the rabbit. It doesn’t live at my house, but I find myself calling it “my” rabbit. No! This is the wrong attitude, I know. S/he is not actually welcome here! Despite all my frantic hollering and waving as I dash out in my pajamas and bare feet, s/he’s back every morning eating some new odd thing. Today I saw the Baptisia shuddering oddly and sure enough, there was the Bunny chowing down on the mature stalks. The other day Bunny was eating half dried milkweed leaves from a pile of stalks I’d pulled out. Bunny ignores the tender new parsley and eats the toughest old stalks it can find. It gets in my pots and strips the edamame bare, leaving the peas (what?) and also chomps the Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.  I hope this is not a trait being passed on to the inevitable lil bunnies about to appear.

One of the veggie garden sections is doing well; I’ve already harvested lots of peas and have started in on the broccoli DiCiccio and Piracicaba. Got the main heads and there will be side shoots galore. The Brussels sprouts are coming on nicely, as are the cabbages, although there have been a lot of inroads by cabbage loopers. I see wasps in there – are they drinking water droplets or are they getting the caterpillars? At any rate, the plants seem to be recovering. I am going out for BT just in case. I will need it at the garden I manage at Congregation Beth Shalom (


Planted one Tuscan Kale, which provides plenty for my husband and me. Carrots coming along well, pulling the first few thinnings of St. Valery and Nantes. Wow. I always forget until the first bite how much better homegrown is.


And why else would I garden except for Tomatoes and Peppers? I grow a LOT. Most of the maters are setting fruit, but the peppers are kind of sitting there. No idea why – that garden area usually is very productive. I will add more compost and some organic fertilizer and hope that helps.



Black Sea Man, Cosmonaut Volkov, Isis Candy Shop, Italian Heirloom, Mama Leone, Mikado, Paul Robeson, Principe Borghese, Pruden’s Purple and Rose Hill Pink.


Alma Paprika, Anaheim Hot, Ausilio Thin Skin Italian, Bridge to Paris, Chiltepin, Chimayo, Doe Hill, Feher Ozon, Gatherer’s Gold, Jalapeño Traveler, Jimmy Nardello’s, Lemon Drop, Mirasol, Petite Marseillais, Pippin’s Golden Honey, Quadrato Asti Giallo, and Shishito. This is NOT TOO MANY!



What about those winter sown seeds?

It was an interesting experiment that I’ll repeat next year, with some different varieties. Some things did really well, some weren’t worth it, but you can’t beat the “set it and forget it” aspect of this type of germination system.

This was the fancy set up for the project: these jugs sat out all winter, and some are STILL sitting there, waiting patiently for me to get to them.


One of the success stories was the sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Grandiflora Mixture’. I planted them out this week and they are taking off, not a moment too soon. (Note for those not living in the midwest: winter drags on and on and on and there’s few days where you wonder, “is this spring?” and then it’s summer.) Winter sown seedlings are automatically hardened off, so they go right from their cute little jugs to their final planting spot. Nice!


Probably the best result came from Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Tall Russell”. They germinated very early and I have planted them out as full sized seedlings. This picture (below) was taken April 16 and they were very hearty already. I have dreams of vast sweeps of this colorful lupine mixture populating the patio garden.


Bachelor Buttons, (Centaurea cyanus), a cool weather annual, was also a good candidate for winter sowing.


Viola ‘Bowles’ Black’ was one that I won’t repeat in this fashion, because they are still tiny and I really need them to be blooming size right about now! I planted them out into some containers by the front door and they’ll make a show a bit later, but it would have been better to start them indoors in January.

Snapdragons, Aster ‘Tiger Paw’ and Dianthus ‘Fringed Loveliness’ are still in the jugs and I am waiting for them to get a little bigger before they go to their final home. I was worried that they’d get too hot or dry out in the containers, but they are still doing fine, although I check them every day.

Next year I’ll try some more perennials, since it’s such an easy method unless you need big seedlings early.


Hope Springs Eternal: I hope my peas do too

Last year was such a disaster in many ways, not the least of which was the garden. However, even though 1-2″ of snow is forecast, I went out and planted the PEAS, (Green Arrow and Dwarf Gray Sugar) as well as some other cold tolerant things like Pak Choi ‘Green Fortune’, Cherry Belle radish, and 3 kinds of carrots: Nantes, Tonda di Parigi, (little round ones), and a new variety for me, St. Valery from Seed Savers.

For me, planting is an expression of faith and hope that this year there won’t be any family medical emergencies or weeks away like last year. Faith and hope that plants will be able to come up despite the million new weed seeds that were deposited thanks to my neglect. But really, every year is sort of like that (minus the weeds gone to seed). There’s not many things finer or more lush than the garden I picture in April. I have a feeling my garden will be more of a sanctuary than ever before. I’ve scaled it back considerably in an effort to reduce future stress. This creates a shopportunity for more perennials!! All good.

Back again!

That’s a looong time between posts. We had a family medical emergency which consumed most of the summer. But now all is well on the medical front. The garden.. well, that is another story.

Fortunately, I have friends and family near by who came over and weeded and tended while I was gone. Otherwise, it would have been a much sorrier situation all around. It’s interesting to see which vegetables toughed it out: Kale (NO surprise there), peppers, some tiny sprouts of echinacea I’d hurriedly stuck in the ground before I left, pawpaw seedlings and other natives. Those things are survivors and producing well. My tomatoes are putting on a brave, if spindly, show. Especially since I wanted to prune them to a single stem this year. I will try that again next year under better conditions! I am still getting tomatoes but as you can imagine, it’s not ideal.

Of course some weeds flourished and I am going to be paying for that for years to come. But events this summer have given me a philosophical attitude and perspective. I love my garden and I love to be out there digging around, weeding, and primping. There’ll be no shortage of that love for the rest of the summer! Most of all, I am grateful that we survived the emergency – a little battered but not bitter (like the kale – still good). Truly that’s all that matters.

Yeah, about that spring..

Wberefore art thou, O Spring? Come BACK we miss you!

Yes, we were spoiled by the warm weather and now reality sets in – this is Chicagoland, and we hardy souls don’t put our tomato plants out until at least Mother’s Day no matter what. Mine are still under the lights in the basement, repotted and waiting it out until they can be buried in blissfully warm soil up to their necks. Not now.

Not to say nothing is happening in my garden. The peas, spinach, arugula, mache, radishes, and bunching onions are up, as well as a few potatoes – mainly the ones in a container. I hope the others haven’t rotted in the cold and damp. I’ve set out broccoli, kale, onion and shallot sets and all are doing fine.

The biggest excitement for me is mini-clover. I had a lot of bare spots this year and since I am not a fan of grass, I decided to plant mini-clover and let it spread. I have large patches of regular lawn clover and it looks so lovely! Mini-clover is.. small.. and only gets about 3-4″ tall. Combining small delicate stature with deep green color, self-fertilizing super powers, drought tolerance and durability, this could be a real winner. I ordered one pound from and sowed it on my front lawn and parkway.

I broadcast the coated seeds in roughed up but bare areas on April 24 and it started coming up a few days later. With all the rain we’ve gotten, it’s off to a great start. Hoping it can outcompete undesirables. I can’t let dandelions get a foothold because I wouldn’t do that to my neighbors (whose lawns are seas of perfect emerald green) but I hope they don’t mind clover.