something gets done

Greetings and salutations everyone; yes, once again it is I, Chess the purebred border collie, here to tell you all about my day in the garden. You may remember me from such delightful and astonishing posts as “Mister Always Right” (the one about whether or not Claude Barr had a telephone) and “The Two Of Us” (the one with me and my mommy together in the garden).

Here I am in a characteristic pose.2014012109Today’s post will be a didactic one, which to me means boring, but maybe starting off with an excellent picture of me will make it okay. In fact, I’m watching the guy I live with do what he did today. It was a really nice day, so I could sit outside and just watch.

He’s kind of a procrastinator. He didn’t used to be, but now, having nothing really important to do for weeks on end, he puts stuff off. He said yesterday that he had been putting off sowing seed and that he’d better get his act together pretty soon, so today he did. What needed sowing, he said, was seed of the bitterroot, Lewisia rediviva.

According to the guy I live with, bitterroot seeds should be sown at this time of year, or even a little earlier, because some of the seed will germinate when the temperature is below freezing and the little seedlings will be fine. The leaves of bitterroot, in the garden, come up about now, and he spent some time looking for the tiny green leaves, but couldn’t find them. He might have been looking in the wrong place.


Anyway, he started out with a mix of potting soil (peat free) and sand and some pumice. He says it doesn’t make much difference what you use so long as there isn’t too much organic matter. Otherwise things rot.2013012102

Then he got out his trusty B.E.F. Grower’s Pots, which cost twenty-five cents each about twenty-five years ago, and which you can’t get any more.


They’ve been outside ever since and have still retained their flexibility. 


The pots are filled with the soil-less mix and set in the dish pan.


The dish pan is then filled with water, and he waits until the soil-less mix has absorbed the water, and then sows the seed.


Sometimes, the guy I live with has a helper.


I don’t help, because my job is watching.

Once the seed is sown, by sprinkling the seed on top, gently tapping the open packet with a finger, the pots are topped off with squeegee. I don’t know why they call it squeegee, but they do; it’s smaller than pea gravel. He ran it through a sieve first, but only because he has horticultural sieves and felt like it.2014012108

All the pots are labeled and ready to be set out into the frames. He says to make sure I say that this process is called vernalization, and not stratification. With stratification the seeds go into the refrigerator. Here, we just wait until spring, and “stuff comes up”, he says. And the seedlings emerge into the same conditions in which they’ll be planted later.


Then, and this is the part that I find hard to believe, he carries the dish pan full of pots to the frame, so carefully and painstakingly slowly that it makes me think he turns into a different person. Maybe he does.


The guy I live with has been doing this for so long, about a quarter century, that it was unsettling, the times he didn’t do it, but there was a reason for that, and now, he says he has to be like a shark, always going forward, with seeds and plants and stuff. We don’t have sharks in Colorado, and I think I’m glad, but then, I don’t go swimming. When I was little and snuck up on my buddy Slipper, who would just be lying on the couch or something minding his own business, and I’d pounce on him, my mommy called me a “rug shark”, but I think that was something different. I don’t really know.

Well, that was my day. Mostly watching the guy I live with sow seeds. I hope you enjoyed this, in spite of that.

Until next time, then.


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20 Responses to something gets done

  1. Didactic works with me, especially about something of which I know nothing. And the pots are so cute! and result in such gorgeous blooms which your mommy’s photos show so well. Lovely end shot as well, birds in the sky, birds flying high (comes from some song).
    Looking at the guy you live with’s little helper – because he offers little help? – causes me to wonder if your guy has had his rabies shot. And that slow walk he was doing – the guy, not the squirrel – is a plant meditation walk, Chess, necessary to the stratification process.

    • paridevita says:

      Those are geese, at the end. We have lots of geese here at this time of year. I mean a lot of geese. They honk as they fly over me. I guess there’s going to be another round of seed sowing tomorrow, because it’s supposed to snow tomorrow night, which he says is good, because the seed pots are better with snow on them. Oh, and there’s a really good book on the bitterroot, called “Bitterroot”, by Jerry DeSanto.

  2. Susan ITPH says:

    Why is your soil mix furry? Is there coir in it?!

    • paridevita says:

      There is. It’s Maxfield’s potting soil. It was supposed to be their planting mix, but someone bought the wrong bags. It doesn’t make any difference. The theory is that this won’t break down into something soggy and gross like peat moss does, if the pots are left outdoors for more than a year, which is possible. With bitterroots, not likely, but with other seed, like penstemons, fairly likely.

      • Susan ITPH says:

        Not a fan of the coir myself. I’ve had bad experiences with coir vs. peat, namely stunted plants. Always presumed salt deposits in insufficiently rinsed coir was at fault.

      • paridevita says:

        Never used it before. Dislike peat moss, but not because it’s not “sustainable”, which apparently it really is if from Canada or Russia, but because of the extreme difficulty of re-wetting it once it dries out and its tendency to turn soil-less mixes into mush after a year or so. Maxfield’s is mostly compost, with coir, rice hulls, expanded shale, etc. And all sorts of biological things which are more for vegetable gardening.

      • KJinParker says:

        I usually mix a little coir in some potting soils that have a lot of peat. It absorbs water easily and can help re-wet the shrunken plug of peat that refuses to take up water. For plants that need a well-draining mix it can cause more problems if I use too much. Excess salts can be a problem too, if it’s not rinsed well.

      • paridevita says:

        Most tap water has a pH between 6.5 and 8.5, to prevent corrosion of pipes. (Read that somewhere) In order to keep peat from forming corrosive salts, it needs to be watered with acidulated water. Learned that the hard way. Otherwise, with pots left outside for a couple of years, and watered frequently, a peat-based soil-less mix turns into gunk which eats away at roots.
        Maxfield’s is made by Waste Farmers. (Don’t know if that means anything or not.)
        Some pots outside have been there since 2011. Patience, you know …

  3. Marcia Blum says:

    Do you bleach the pots? This is why I am so NOT motivated to get my seeds going – it is such a chore…

  4. Tracey says:

    Chess, it looks as though you are having a great day. Sun, friendly wildlife, weather warm enough to sit outside and watch some exciting but stress-free activity. Your mommy’s photos of the bitterroot are beautiful; I love the pink. We have a family of friendly black squirrels that sit on the tree outside my window and commune with my cats. However, your squirrel looks like the plump grey ones ones that live in the front of my building.

    I never realized the perils of planting with peat. This was a very informative post; it is keeping my mind off the freezing cold outside and causing me to reflect instead on spring, which will hopefully arrive early this year.

    • paridevita says:

      The guy I live with says it’s important to remember that we are talking long-term, outdoor seed sowing. Some of the penstemons being sowed may not come up until 2015 or 2016. You may well wonder why a person who says he doesn’t think about the future is sowing seeds which can have delayed germination, but that’s another story. Without going into much detail, there is a problem with being a fat squirrel in this neighborhood. “Possibly even if there weren’t so many predators”, says the guy I live with. He’s so funny.

  5. Deborah S. Farrell says:

    Oh, Chess — I have learned not to drink coffee or tea while reading your blog because I’ll be reading along, taking in all the description and didactery, and then all of a sudden you slip in a turn of phrase describing human behavior (of the guy you live with, usually) that makes me snort out said beverage. Humans seldom observe things so closely, let alone describe things so charmingly & truthfully, as only an exceptional dog can. Anyway, I have to quit drinking while I read your posts because I fear the spewed liquid will damage my computer.

    Does the guy you live with plant all the plants he starts from seed in your yard?

    I especially enjoyed seeing those pots. Gardeners have a strong relationship with their pots, don’t they? About 3 years ago, a group of gardeners were working on a garden at the local art institute. I had taken a couple of flats of things I had started from seed or cuttings, and I was very pointedly stacking the pots I’d brought out of the way because I reuse them until the plastic cracks (because they aren’t those nice, flexible ones in this post). As things were winding down, I see a woman grab my stack of pots, so I tell her they’re mine, and she says if it’s ok with me, she thought she would give them to ‘Joe’ because he uses them to start things from seed. I said no, it wasn’t ok because I was planning to reuse them myself. She gave them back, reluctantly, I thought. The whole thing made me feel both petty and indignant. Pots and buckets. Some of us just have to have them.

    • paridevita says:

      He does plant all the plants in our yard. Sometimes they even live. He does give away some–but not the pots–and usually, he says, what happens then is that the plants he planted in our garden die right away, and the ones he gave to other people grow big and are covered with flowers for years on end. Pots, buckets, dish pans. Those dish pans were here when I showed up. (You should see the guy I live with at a plant sale …..)

  6. Thanks for another educational post, with educational comments, and humour too, of course.

  7. KathyB says:

    They are not too many blogs I linger on, but yours is one of them. Any suggestions for rockery plants that would do well in the Pacific-Northwest? Yes it rains a lot but not all the time, we are actually in a dry spell this winter and the summers can be dry also. I have a rocked over area in my front yard which receives full sun (when there is full sun) most of the day.

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