Lawn & Landscape Archives

Picking Boysenberries

Posted on May 16, 2016 by Leave a comment

Boysenberries bloom over about a month in the spring and the berries ripen over about the same period of time unless there is a sharp increase in temperatures, which will make the berries ripen quicker. The berries gradually change from green to pink, then red, deeper red, purple and then almost black. The berries have druplets like a raspberry, but have a core similar to a blackberry. The berries are sweetest and most flavorful when completely ripe. If picked when they are a deep purple, they still have a good flavor and are a little more tart.

Ripening Boysenberries

Ripening Boysenberries

Fully ripe boysenberries are very large, juicy and flavorful!!

Ripe Boysenberries are large, almost black, soft, and nearly fall off the vine

Ripe Boysenberries are large, almost black, soft, and nearly fall off the vine

We pruned the fruiting canes last summer so they cascade from the top of the trellis down to the ground. We have a combination of fabric and mulch at the base of the plants to keep the berries from getting soiled. There are two drip irrigation lines at the base of the boysenberry canes since these plants have the potential to dry out. Because the plants are large and lush, we give them double the water when we irrigate. The extra water also helps fill the berries during fruiting.

Boysenberries ripening and some ready to pick

Boysenberries ripening and some ready to pick

The berries should be picked in a low flat container so the berries are not “stacked” on top of each other more than 2 or 3 berries deep. This causes bruising and leakage. They do not have a long shelf life and should be eaten or preserved quickly while their quality is still high. Boysenberries are rarely seen in a supermarket because they do not ship or store well.

Fresh picked boysenberries

Fresh picked boysenberries

We have enjoyed our berries fresh with ice cream, made into jam, and made into pies. We have made both freezer jam and cooked jam using SURE-JELL fruit pectin. The jam and jelly recipes are in the SURE-JELL box. The pie we made was a Rhubarb/Boysenberry pie; exchanging one cup of rhubarb for one cup of boysenberries.

Rhubarb / Boysenberry Pie

Rhubarb / Boysenberry Pie

We found that using a food processor to “crush” the berries worked very well. Since boysenberries have a core in the center of the berry, similar to a blackberry, it is slightly more complicated to crush the berries efficiency. The berries crush easily in the food processor in just a few moments.

Crush boysenberries for jam, jelly or juice with a food processor

Crush boysenberries for jam, jelly or juice with a food processor

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Ramps

Posted on April 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Ramps (also called wild leeks) (Allium tricoccum) are a forest plant which grows in “patches” in the eastern United States. Our ramps grow in the mainly deciduous forest of western NY state. The ramps are in the onion family and taste similar to cultivated onions and garlic. We are fortunate to have them growing on our property, however we only harvest a few every couple years. They are really a novelty, in our opinion, for culinary use. This year we incorporated them into venison cheeseburgers and they were quite good. Some gourmet celebrity chefs could probably convince you they were the best tasting thing since Kale, but it is basically just a wild onion, and tastes like an onion.

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

We do enjoy seeing them grow in our forest, and we are glad they are a continuing part of our environment. They flower and go to seed shortly after they pop up in the spring. Then they go dormant, die back, and disappear from the forest floor until the following Spring, when they reappear. We believe mother nature has timed their life cycle this way because they come up before the leaves are on the trees, take advantage of the sunlight, and then go dormant after the trees are in full foliage. The spring is usually a damp time of year and the summer can be dry so the ramps survive this way by being dormant when the soil is dry and the other forest trees suck up all the available moisture. Energy and moisture is saved in the onion like bulb.

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

The ramps reproduce from seeds. The plant flowers in the early summer by sending up a leafless flower stalk. After the foliage has gone dormant, the plant flowers and seeds develop, falling near the mother plant later in the summer. Not every plant will flower. The seeds germinate when conditions are right in late summer or early fall. Not all the seeds will germinate and live.

This year we were lucky and the soil was quite dry when we dug our ramps. The soil crumbled away from the roots easily after we dug one shovel full. We separated the soil so it would stay in the woods. We tried to cut the roots off, but it seemed easier to just “snap” them off. A single ramp plant can be many years old and develop a root “stub” which is relatively easy to snap off.

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Since the ramps are quite a way out in the woods we took our tractor and wagon to go harvest the ramps. Now we are ready to take them back to the house and the kitchen where we will prepare them to eat.

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

If you should happen to go out to the forest to harvest some ramps, please remember this is a wild plant treasure that does not reproduce easily. It is important not to harvest more than 30% of the “patch”. That way you will always leave more than you take. Not every year is a good growing year for the ramps so it is important that you leave enough so the patch can continue to grow. If you want to make the effort to go back to the patch in late summer to harvest seeds and plant them, you may be able to start another patch in another spot in the forest. In some locations the ramps are being over harvested and are in danger of being eliminated from their home range. Harvest sustainably!!

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Soil Temperature – Soil Thermometer

Posted on March 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Soil Thermometer

One of the first things I learned as an agronomist, was the importance of soil temperature. Almost every seed has a specific temperature range where it will germinate best. If the soil temperature is colder or warmer than that temperature range, the seed may not germinate at all. This applies to both desirable plant seed and weed seed.

A soil thermometer can be purchased most easily online. There are now a large variety of options to choose from, but the inexpensive simple “dial and probe” soil thermometer is still as good any any. They are durable and can be left in the soil for months. Just be sure to put it where it won’t get stepped on!

Two examples of weed seeds that are sensitive to soil temperature in a lawn and landscape environment are common crabgrass and poa annua. Crabgrass germinates when spring soil temperatures rise to 55 degrees or above in the top 1-2 inches of soil. Poa annua germinates in late summer when soil temperatures fall to 70 degrees or below in the top 1-2 inches of soil. This is very important if you are applying lawn a herbicide which needs to be applied prior to the germination of these 2 weeds. The soil temperature needs to be closely monitored to make the decision when to apply.

The same is true for vegetable or flower gardens. It is important to read your seed packet or seed catalog information to glean the soil temperature range for the germination of the seed you wish to plant. An example of this is the difference between tomato seed germination and eggplant germination. Tomatoes need 60-70 degrees, and Eggplants need 75 to 80 degrees.

Fertilizers are broken down in the soil by soil microorganisms. Soil microorganisms and fungus organisms are more active at higher temperatures as long as moisture is present. Certain microorganisms thrive in different temperature ranges; some at 40-50 degrees, some at 50-60 degrees, some at 70-80 degrees, etc. In order for the fertilizer to be broken down, the microorganisms need to be active to convert the nutrients into forms usable by the plants. Did you ever notice mushrooms suddenly appearing in the fall all at once. This is an indication that the temperature and moisture conditions were just right to make them grow.

The take home message is that for a small investment in a soil thermometer, you can increase your ability to manage your soil related actives where knowing the soil temperature will make a difference.

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Boysenberries – Bringing a planting back to life

Posted on March 26, 2016 by Leave a comment

Boysenberries are a bramble berry that originated as a cross between a European raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and a common blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) an American Dewberry (Rubus aboriginum) and a Loganberry Rubus X loganobaccus). Rudolph Boysen gets credit for the boysenberry, but the heritage of the berry may have also been influenced by John Lubben (lubbenberry), and Luther Burbank. The boysenberry was somewhat lost to history, but was found and brought back to prominence by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame and George M. Darrow of USDA plant breeding fame. The Knott’s made a business out of making boysenberry pies and preserves. The boysenberry has now lost most of it’s prominence again to bramble berries that are more economical to produce.

To us, the boysenberry has the appearance of both the raspberry and the blackberry. The color, flavor and drupelets are more similar to a raspberry, but the berry has a “core” like a blackberry. A raspberry core is hollow. We picked just a handful of berries last year.

In late March, we rented our community garden plot in southern California, we inherited a planting of boysenberries. The boysenberries had been planted a year or two previously, a simple trellis installed and then left unattended. The planting had lacked for water and fertility and was overrun by bermudagrass.

We inherited a poorly maintained Boysenberry planting

We inherited a poorly maintained Boysenberry planting

The first thing we did was to apply a 30 day supply of Miracle-Gro fertilizer, and a 90 day supply of Osmocote fertilizer to the base of the plants. Next we installed two drip irrigation lines about 10 inches apart at the base of the plants. Then we installed black landscape fabric for weed control and covered it with about 4 inches of “weed” mulch. The weed mulch was from weeds we gathered as we cleared the rest of the garden plot.

Smothering the bermudagrass with "weed" straw

Smothering the bermudagrass with “weed” straw

After a few weeks of regular watering and renewed soil fertility, the plants responded with the appearance of vigorous new cane growth.

The extra water and fertilizer is starting to pay off

The extra water and fertilizer is starting to pay off

As the new growth became very vigorous we started to train the long canes to achieve a desired height and trained other canes over the top of the trellis to keep them off the ground.

Training the trailing vines

Training the trailing vines

As we approached the end of August, we stopped fertilizing to inhibit new growth and let the plants “harden” a little going into winter. The amount of established canes will be sufficient for full berry production next spring for the cane training system we used.

Late August - ready to go into winter!

Late August – ready to go into winter!

Sometime in November or December we cut the base of the canes, which had overflowed on the ground at the base of the trellis. We cut the canes about a foot above the ground. By doing this, it will improve air flow and disease prevention. It is possible that we did not cut the bottom cane growth high enough and we will need to observe what happens when the fruit matures for positive or negative results.

Winter trimming and drip fertilizing system

Winter trimming and drip fertilizing system

In late December, January and February, we made an application of liquid Miracle-Gro fertilizer through the drip irrigation system to encourage rooting during this cool, moist period. Our whole garden is connected to this drip fertilization method. We like this method of fertilizer application, although we cannot use it all the time, because not all our garden plants need to be fertilized at the same time.

Spring green-up!

Spring green-up!

As soon as temperatures began to rise late in February and early March, the dormant plants began to grow again and started to form flower buds. The plants looked very vigorous.

Blossoms opening!

Blossoms opening!

The volume and health of the boysenberry plants indicate that we will have an ample crop of berries.

Honeybees pollinating the blossoms!

Honeybees pollinating the blossoms!

We are fortunate to have a good population of honeybees in the area to help pollinate our blooms. We do not know where they come from in our urban setting, but we are glad they are visiting our garden.

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Making Homemade Lemonade

Posted on March 23, 2016 by Leave a comment

Our recipe makes one quart of lemonade.

Lemon trees in southern California are pretty common. Many people have them in their yards and sometimes they are located in public areas and are available for picking. If someone has a lemon tree on their property, there may be hundreds of lemons that all ripen over several months between late fall and early summer. One lemon tree can produce way more lemons than any family can handle and consequently they are given away to friends, neighbors and charitable organizations. In our case we picked a bunch of lemons from my son’s tree.

In order to make the lemonade, first we needed to have some type of juicer to extract the juice from the lemon. We went on Ebay and purchased a classic glass juicer for about $16.00, including shipping. It has a big reservoir for holding the juice and a great spout for pouring.

Making lemonade

Making lemonade

Ingredients
1) Two medium lemons
2) About 1/3 Cup of sugar
3) Water to fill the quart jar

Squeezing the lemons with a classic juicer

Squeezing the lemons with a classic juicer

Putting it all together
1) Cut the lemons in half and juice the lemons
2) Separate out any seeds that the lemon may have
3) Pour the lemon juice in a quart container
4) Add 1/3 cup of sugar to start. You can add more if you want the lemonade sweeter
5) Fill the rest of the jar with water and shake
6) Let the juice cool in the refrigerator or add ice to your glass of fresh lemonade

A quart mason jar and a glass of lemonade

A quart mason jar and a glass of lemonade

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Milk jug greenhouse for protecting young plants

Posted on March 2, 2016 by Leave a comment

Our goal is to establish summer plantings about 4 weeks earlier than normal. Much of this goal is accomplished by raising the soil temperature and holding the soil temperature higher where our plants are growing. We are basically accomplishing this by raising the temperature higher during the day by capturing the heat from the sunlight trapped by milk jugs and storage tubs. Under the caps we are insulating the heat loss from the soil to the atmosphere at night by using fabric or natural mulch. The storage tubs are superior at holding the heat because they cover a larger area.

In our spring garden, we are planting when there is still a chance of cool weather and an occasional frost. We wanted to create an inexpensive cap to hold heat to the ground on cool nights, while allowing ventilation during sunny days. We looked to something we throw out about once a week; milk jugs. We are also experimenting with using the bottom of the jug to aid in holding heat and providing some weed control under the cap.

Milk jug greenhouse

Milk jug greenhouse

For ventilation, you can remove the cap during warm weather periods. For cold, cloudy periods, we just drilled a hole in the cap to restrict heat loss. On really cold nights you could put a cap on without a ventilation hole.

Milk jug ventilation hole

Milk jug ventilation hole

We wanted to secure the jug from movement, like during high winds, without using the center hole (pour spout) of the jug. To to this, we cut a small hole in the handle and we slid a narrow, relatively short stake, down through the handle into the ground. The jug will slip up the stake and off to the side to check on the plant.

In place in the garden over drip tube

In place in the garden over drip tube

We are also experimenting with upside down storage tubs for the same reason. So far, both have worked well, except the storage containers cost $8.00 a piece. We have drilled ventilation holes in the top of the storage tubs. We hold them down with small bricks or stones. The advantage of the storage tubs is that they can be used over larger plants like potatoes. We used the tubs to get our potato crop through a few frosts.

The jug will slide up the short stake to check on the plant

The jug will slide up the short stake to check on the plant

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Planting Garlic using Bulbils (Bulblets)

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Leave a comment

We are not garlic experts by any means, but we wanted to share our current experience.

A neighbor gardener gave me a dried mature scape (the remnants of the garlic flower). The mature scape on this variety is like a little cluster of about 75, one quarter inch long miniature garlic cloves. Scape normally only develop on hardneck varieties of garlic, however occasionally an individual softneck plant will grow one. These can be planted to be increased into a future garlic crop. I just takes a year or three longer. From what we could research these little garlics are called either Bulbils or Bulblets. We are going to refer to them as bulbils. We are going to plant about a third of these bulbils in a potting soil six pack, 4 to a cell, for future transplanting. We will also plant the other 2/3 directly into garden soil.

Garlic Bulbils (or bulblets)

Garlic Bulbils (or bulblets)

Each bulbil has a rooting end which was attached to the scape and a shoot end which is the very pointed opposite end. When you plant these it probably doesn’t matter which way they are oriented since they are so small but we tried to orient them shoot end up and root end down. Why not save the plant a little energy and point it in the right direction. Who wants to do summersaults buried in the dark ground.

Bulbils (Bulblets) oriented like a large garlic bulb

Bulbils (Bulblets) oriented like a large garlic bulb

We like to use a pair of tweezers for planting seeds and now bulbils in the potting soil. Basically we use the pointed end to make a small depression in which to place the bulbil a little less than a half inch deep. This depth would vary by garlic variety as bulbil size varies by variety.

Bulbils (Bulblets) planted and ready to water

Bulbils (Bulblets) planted and ready to water

Watering:: You may have noticed the single hole in the bottle top lid our first photo. We attempted to make a dribbler watering bottle with this lid. It did not work because it did not have a vent hole to let the air enter. So we re-enginered the bottle top lid to have a large pouring hole and a smaller air vent hole. This worked extremely well for watering the potting soil in the six packs. We also added bottom water for the water to absorb through holes in the bottom the six-packs.

Two holes in the bottle cap for more controlled watering - the small hole lets in air!

Two holes in the bottle cap for more controlled watering – the small hole lets in air!

The bulbil should grow in the first season into a small garlic bulb which may be 1/4″ to one inch in diameter, that is not divided into cloves. The second year you may grow full size bulbs but it may mature in to a cluster of small cloves. Those cloves can be planted and hopefully mature into full size bulbs in the third year. The bulbs and cloves need to be replanted each year in the proper spacing for the size of the bulb or clove. This is a great way to share your garlic with a neighbor gardener or increase your own crop size. Across varieties the whole process can take from 2 to 5 years.

Germinating garlic bulbils

Germinating garlic bulbils

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Growing Seedlings for Spring Planting

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Leave a comment

We wanted to grow a few seedings. Some varieties that are hard to find, as transplants, at garden centers. We decided to purchase a Jiffy® seed starter kit and add our own potting soil to the six-packs. We chose this system for several reasons: 1) It has trays that will separate into six-packs; 2) It has a tray to hold the six-packs; 3) The tray will also hold any watering overflow; 4) It had a clear plastic cover. 5) The Jiffy kit was also reasonably priced and individuals parts could be purchased separately later.

Jiffy® Seed Starter

Jiffy® Seed Starter

We liked the idea of the clear plastic top, however this top rests very close to the top of the seedlings and has no ventilation holes. If the clear cover is left for very long in direct sunlight, the plants may overheat and be killed. This not only happen to us, but also with a neighbor gardener who tried the same set-up. We will discuss our solution below in the post.

Separating the seed trays

Separating the seed trays

It is important that the potting soil for seedlings has several attributes. The soil needs to be made of fine particles that will hold water around the seed. The soil needs to be sterile so that it will not have weed seeds, fungus organisms, or other organisms. Fertilizer needs to be contained in the potting soil or needs to be added to the soil, so that the plants have nutrients until the time of transplanting.

Picking a potting soil

Picking a potting soil

The potting soil needs to be added to the individual cells and packed enough to eliminate any air spaces in the potting soil. This will help ensure uniform water holding capacity and root penetration. The potting soil should then be leveled a little below the rim of the cells so that the water can soak in when watering without running off.

Filling the trays with potting soil

Filling the trays with potting soil

The next step is to plant the seeds at the depth required as described on the seed package. If you have a lot of seed you may decide to plant one or two extra seeds in each cell to ensure all the cells will have at least one seedling. If more than one seed germinates, the extra seedlings can be removed, leaving the healthiest seedling. If you are limited on seed, just plant one seed per cell. Sometimes it is a good idea to save some seeds in case you have to re-plant due to unforeseen circumstances. Once the seeds are planted be sure to add enough water so that all the potting soil is saturated with water. Add the water a little at a time to prevent overwatering.

The seeds have been planted and watering begins

The seeds have been planted and watering begins

Now that the seeds have been planted it is important to meet the germination temperature requirements for each seed type. This information is usually published on the seed package or can be looked up online. Most seeds will germinate at a soil temperature between 65 degrees and 80 degrees. Some seeds will germinate at cooler or warmer temperatures. In order to keep the soil surface moist, a barrier of some type will help to do this. This can be in the form of a plastic cover or possibly a light colored, coarse weave fabric cover. It is important to have ventilation to prevent overheating especially if using natural sunlight. If you intend to grow a lot of seedings a heating pad designed for seedlings can be purchased through an online gardening supplier. The heating pad can be set for the exact temperature that your seed needs for germination. For indoor growing, special growing lights can purchased and installed over the seedling trays.

Mini greenhouse made from an upside down storage tub

Mini greenhouse made from an upside down storage tub

We seem to have had the most success using an upside down clear plastic storage container with ventilation holes drilled in the bottom of the tub which becomes the top of the mini greenhouse. This top covers the entire planting tray. The holes can be drilled with larger or smaller holes depending on the outside temperature. We have about eight 1/4 inch holes drilled in our tub. For a tub that is in direct sunlight all day, we increased the hole size to 1/2 inch diameter. The height of the tub allows the heat to rise above the seedlings and venting the hot air out through the top. The tub still holds most of the moisture under the tub keeping the humidity high near the seedlings. The high humidity helps with germination and prevents the potting soil from drying out too quickly. We have found that this type of cover is heavy enough to resist light winds and can be further secured by placing a weight on top such as a small brick or stone.

We have cool nights here and sunny days, so we have been putting the seedlings outside during the day and bringing them in the house at night. The house temperature is at least 70 degrees. The outside sunlight has been raising the temperature under the tub higher than 70 degrees for most of the daylight hours.

Add ventilation holes

Add ventilation holes

Seeds will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to germinate. This information should be printed on the seed packet or can be looked up online. In our case, the tomato seedlings are up and growing after a week, but we are still waiting on the eggplant seedlings which will take at least another week to germinate.

The seedlings starting to germinate

The seedlings starting to germinate

Update – 3/26/16:
After trying several configurations of small or mini greenhouses, we like the Coke® bottle mini-greenhouses, with 2 inch peat pots the best. It is easiest to control the environment, one on one, with each seedling. The 2 inch peat pots are easy to remove for transplanting without damaging the transplants.

We liked the Coke® bottle mini greenhouses best

We liked the Coke® bottle mini greenhouses best

We did need to fertilize the seedlings several times. The amount of nutrients in the potting soil was not sufficient to supply the necessary fertility until the seedling was ready for transplanting. The seedlings do require a lot of daily maintenance, including watering, managing sunlight availably, daytime and nighttime temperatures and wind. The seedlings also need to be thinned, most often, to one plant per unit.

We tried a variety of growing configurations

We tried a variety of growing configurations

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Fun Growing Cabbage in a Winter Garden in Southern California

Posted on February 20, 2016 by Leave a comment

1/21/16

1/21/16

We planted some cute little miniature heads of cabbage November 1st, 2015 near Los Angeles in southern California. We purchased the transplants locally and we wished we had taken a photo of them. It frosts occasionally where the garden is located so we planted the cabbage along with some broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, romain lettuce and swiss chard transplants. These plants will tolerate temperatures above 25 degrees pretty well. We had not planted cabbage in a garden in many years and forgot what fun it is to watch. The plant seems to grow so slowly and gradually gets bigger and then seems to explode over the last few weeks before it is ready to cut the head.

2/5/16

2/5/16

Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower grow well together and require about the same care. These plants respond well to three heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer; once just after planting after they have recovered from transplant shock; a second time about a month after planting when they have developed a significant amount of foliage; and a third application just as the heads are starting to form. We also use osmocote at planting which in cool weather is a 90 day slow release fertilizer containing Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous(P), and Potassium (K). We grew several acres of pick-your-own broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower for two years back in the 1980s. We had great success doing this.

2/12/16

2/12/16

In our growing situation we built a “bunny fence” around the perimeter of the garden to keep out the rabbits. We also have squirrel and gophers. The squirrels don’t seem to be interested in the cole crops and the gophers seem to be under control at the moment. We also make an effort to control the cabbage looper worms.

Ready to cut - 2/18/16

Ready to cut – 2/18/16

We look forward to making fresh cole slaw, boiled cabbage, and cabbage rolls!!

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Seeds of Change® has the best seed packets!!

Posted on February 20, 2016 by Leave a comment

Seeds of Change® brand seeds are offered for sale at our local Home Depot. We also receive a catalog in the mail and you can order online at www.seedsofchange.com. This company markets organic seeds. Although we feel the benefits of organic farming are greatly exaggerated, they offer a large variety of seeds for sale and we love their seed packaging. We wish all seed companies packaged their seeds this way.

Resealable seed packets!

Resealable seed packets!

Here is a list of the benefits of we observe in their packaging.
1) Made of moisture proof plastic. If you get water on it the ink doesn’t run, the paper doesn’t get wet and the seeds stay dry.
2) Resealable so seeds are not lost unintentionally as long as the package has been resealed.
3) Easy to open with the simple tear-off strip.
4) The back of the package is bilingual and provides a graphic display to help gardeners who speak other languages.
5) Is hermetically sealed.
6) Great color photo graphs and print.

The tear-off is removed easily!

The tear-off is removed easily!

The seed packets cost more than some seed companies and less than others. We would expect to pay more for the organic seed which is justified and a premium for the superior packaging. The packaging is value added and we appreciate the extra effort to keep the seed viable even after the package has been opened. We often keep left over seed from year to year and this packaging helps preserve the germination potential.

Informative seed package backside

Informative seed package backside

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