We’re Ready…

Speed Star 1.0435379  00

Are you ready? Ready for what? Winter snow and ice to disappear for another year? Ready to have warmer temperatures so you can enjoy the outdoors? Ready to prepare the garden bed? Ready for spring?

We are here at the Rick’s Ranch/Midwest Homestead garden is waiting for my hands in it’s dirt. The pigs are busy eating weed roots, clearing the garden plots and providing it with natural, organic fertilizer. We’ve had so many seed catalogs come in this year that it’s actually given me a headache trying to keep up with what we wanted to order, needed to order for our seed sales business and for our homestead. We have wish lists, need lists,        ” have to have it or the homestead won’t survive lists”. Never mind that the snow is still 8 inches deep in some places. The sun is shining, it’s well above freezing, and the adrenalin is pumping in anticipation of this year’s gardens.

It’s time to pull the portable greenhouses in, clean them, and ready the seed start trays for planting. Wash, disinfect, air dry. It’s an annual event that most times takes place in our bathroom, under the spray of the shower head. Hopefully this spring the greenhouse will be completed and these chores can be taken outdoors, where they rightfully belong. And, it’s time to take note of which seeds we have, and teaching others, how to best pre-treat seeds for optimal germination and growth.

Seed Starting

Unlike the seeds of annuals, lots of perennial seeds require a period of moist cold (cold stratification) before they will germinate. In the wild, this occurs naturally by the wind scattering the seed, animals carrying the seeds on their feathers or coats then the seed is covered with grass, weeds and leaves and finally cold temperatures and/or snow. Without this natural process, many seeds simply will not germinate. It is called Mother Earth’s Cycle of Life. It’s continued from the very beginning, and shall continue until the end of days if allowed.

Human intervention has evolved to include artificial means of stratification. We have learned that soaking certain plant seeds in clear water, maybe using the addition of a natural, organic additive, sometimes helps germination to occur. We have learned to mimic Mother Nature’s way of cold stratification by sowing seeds in a planting medium, storing in a cold environment before planting. We have learned that some seeds need to have their shells scarified, or nicked or sanded down to the inner portion of the shell to allow the waiting embryo to emerge in it’s time. We have learned to mimic that which was natural, in order to hasten a plant’s growth. Should we? Absolutely! Some plant species are quickly becoming extinct due to mankind’s over zealous harvesting, land clearing or natural disasters. In order to save and propagate these species of plants, we should and do, intervene.

Some of the ways to hasten seeds to germinate are discussed below.

Cold Water Soaking:
You can use fresh tap water, preferably that which contains no chemicals. Rainwater is another good source of liquid for soaking. Adding liquid kelp (diluted per manufacturer’s instructions) to the water will hasten germination once the seed is planted.

Generally, seeds that appear wrinkly are seeds that need soaked for at least 24 hours before planting.

Seeds that need soaked before planting include:

Belladonna Henbane Black or White Mandrake
Monkshoods Okra Nasturtiums

Warm Stratification then Refrigeration:
You need something to hold the moisture in, such as a bit of sphagnum moss or peat moss for acid loving plants, clean sand, vermiculite that has been slightly moistened, paper towels for others. Slightly dampen the medium, place seeds in the medium and store in the refrigerator, in a zip lock bag, preferably for 3 months. If one doesn’t have that 3 month window, store at least 3 weeks. Liquid kelp diluted per the bottle’s instructions, will hasten germination for your seeds. Many seeds do better if placed in the dampened medium, kept in a warm place 59-68°F for 2 weeks then placed in the refrigerator. Check the bag’s contents weekly to look for signs of decay such as a musty smell, mold, or oozing seed matter. Most times that is as a result of improper packaging at the manufacturer’s, the seed is too old, seed may not have been stored properly during shipment or in the home, or contaminated seed. Remember that some seeds may not actually germinate until the second spring.

Even if the seeds germinate during this time period in the refrigerator, it is perfectly acceptable to plant, just as you would any other seed.

seed germination

Those seed would include:

Anise Hyssop Monkshood Masterwort
Belladonna Betony Motherwort
Mandrake (Black and White) Black cornflower Moonwort
Black Henbane Black nightshade Mugwort
Calamus Root Myrtle Pokeweed
Climbing Nightshade Cowslip Vervain
English Bluebells Red Pasque Flower Rose Milkweed
Green Wizard Coneflower Gray Sage Rowan
Harebell Russian belladonna Helebores
Heather Tansy Poppies
Valerian Hops Valerian
Jack in the Pulpit Old English lavendar Wolfsbane
Lily of the Valley Purple Coneflower Turtlehead
Meadowsweet Clematis Butterfly Bush
False Indigo Lady’s Mantle Bluebeard
Fuschias Foxtail Lily Peruvian Lily
German Status Ibiscus Sweet Peas
Catmint Evening Primrose Phlox (all)
Chinese Lantern Sweet Cicely Candytuft
Gloxinias Waxbells Bloodroot
prairie Mallow Speedwell Sedum
Stoke’s Aster Balloon Flower Viola
Globeflower Toad-lily Foamflower
Ironweed Black Eyed Susan Burnett
Soapwort Wild Rose Fruit tree seeds

Here is a link for all the seeds known to need stratification. It is listed by the genus and species names: It is written by seed expert Tom Clothier and is well worth the time to read. It contains multiple links for germination temperatures, stratification and scarification, garden pests, pollinators and such.

http://www.tomclothier.hort.net/page02.html (and) http://tomclothier.hort.net/index.html

A seed expert who’s works I enjoy reading, is Norm Deno. J Hudson seeds has multiple links to his seed starting methods written clearly and concisely. It contains vast information regarding all different types of plants including perennials, annuals trees, and vegetables.



Certain seeds with thick shells need to be scarified if they are going to be able to germinate. To do this, use a piece of sandpaper or a nail file to gently rub off part of the external shell. The best way to know how deep to rub is to rub until you can see a different color of shell appear. Do not rub all the way through the shell. It only needs to be rubbed down enough that water can get through the shell into the seed, and to allow the young, germinating embryo to emerge. Some seeds need both scarification and stratification.

How to scarify seeds.
seed scar with file

seed scar with sandpaper
Some examples of seed that need scarification are:

Morning Glory canna seeds purple hyacinth bean vine
Nut Tree Seeds Fruit tree seeds

Spring and direct planting:
Many seeds do not require special treatment such as soaking, scarification or stratification. They can be planted without inoculants, directly in the soil. For a complete list of these seeds, see the following link from Prairie Moon Nursery.



Fall Planting:
Fall planting may be an answer to having fresh produce all winter. Many old timers use this method, planting in cold frames, greenhouses, or on sunny, enclosed porches in containers. I’ve also seen used, cleaned old tractor tires

old tire planter   tire planterand livestock mineral lick buckets, containers covered with glass during the day…when the temperature is 35-45 degrees , and the glass covered with a piece of cardboard to maintain internal heat at nightfall. One newer gardener used clear Christmas tree lights inside his cold frame to provide warmth on the coldest days. This isn’t his light heated cold frame, but this picture conveys the general idea.

light heated cold frame

Some species of vegetables and flowers do well with fall (and early spring) planting. Brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, kale, radishes), Mustard Greens,  spinach,  and parsnips have a sweeter taste when grown in cooler weather.


Happy Winter! Now is the time to stratify and/or scarify those seeds!!

Speed Star 1.0455354  00








Medicinal Herb of the Day: Comfrey


Also known as:
– bone knit
– common comfrey,
– knitback
– knit bond
– Quaker comfrey
-black root
-slippery root
-wallwort. *Note: This should not be confused with salsify/oyster plant (Tragopogon porrifolius) , a garden root vegetable, which is not related.

Range and Identification of Comfrey
Comfrey is native to Europe through Siberia. It has been introduced to North America and other temperate regions, and can be found throughout much of the U.S. and up into Canada (see map). It prefers moist soil, and is often found as a garden escapee. Russian comfrey (S.x uplandicum) is a hybrid between common comfrey and prickly or rough comfrey and prefers drier ground.
The comfrey plant is a perennial, blooming in the spring/summer and dying back in fall/winter. It has a dense, clumping habit and grows up to 3 feet in height. Flowering stalks have leaves attached in an alternating pattern up the stem.

Comfrey flowers are borne in clusters at the top of the stem. They are delicate and bell-shaped, with only a slight aroma. The blooms measure about 1/2 ” in length, and come in an assortment of colors including white, pink and blue. The plant looks somewhat similar to foxglove, but foxglove flowers are larger and more showy.

Comfrey leaves are lance shaped, and may reach up to 1 1/2 feet in length. Like borage, the leaves are hairy and rough. (Comfrey is in the borage family.) As you can see, the veining is quite pronounced. On the leaf stem, there are small green wings that flair out on either side of the stem.

Comfrey roots have a branching habit, forming dense clusters and making them difficult to remove. They are brittle and break easily, and a new plant will regrow from the leftover bits. (Don’t plant them in a spot unless you’re sure you want them there.) The roots are dark brown on the outside and white on the inside and measure less than 1/2 inch in diameter.

Medicinal Uses of Comfrey
Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are naturally occurring plant toxins. As mentioned in the wildlife section, if consumed in large amounts, these can be toxic to the liver. There is a very detailed discussion of potential comfrey toxicity on the GardenWeb forums, in which the author states that based on available data, a human would need to consume nearly their weight in comfrey leaves to cause death. Clearly, this is not an issue under normal circumstances.

The leaves of comfrey have a much lower concentration of the toxins than the roots (almost none at certain times of the year) and are considered safer for internal use (comfrey root is no longer recommended by many herbalists for internal use). Backyard Medicine suggests that comfrey tea should not be used for more than six weeks at a time. It should also not be used if you are pregnant or nursing, or given to young children. *Note: Russian comfrey has higher pyrrolizidine alkaloid levels than common comfrey.

As its many folk names suggest, comfrey is one of the best herbs for healing broken bones, sprains, strains, bruises and tears. You can consume 1 2 cups of comfrey tea per day until the damage heals.

To make a fresh comfrey poultice to apply topically, dig up comfrey roots, clean and chop into short lengths. Blend with an equal amount of fresh comfrey leaf and just enough water to mix. Puree until relatively smooth. Apply to a piece of gauze and place over the affected body part and cover with breathable wrapping. Replace daily. (From Backyard Medicine.)

The leaves can also be dried and infused in olive oil, and this oil can be made into a salve. If you don’t have comfrey available, you can purchase a variety of comfrey products from a reputable herbal provider.

Comfrey may also be used to treat circulatory conditions such as varicose veins and spider veins. Backyard Medicine also suggest that it may be helpful for healing old wounds, such as surgical scars, and minor cuts. It is not recommended for topical treatment of deep cuts or puncture wounds, as it may cause the would to close at the top before it heal underneath, increasing the risk of abscess/infection.

One of the active compounds in comfrey is allantoin. This anti-inflammatory chemical stimulates cell proliferation and supports the immune system. The plant also contains tannins, mucilage, gum, resin and volatile oil. The roots were commonly used for bronchitis and other chest complaints, and for stomach issues such as ulcers, but now other herbs are generally recommended. The Holistic Herbal discusses more of these other uses.
As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.

-helps treat digestive tract ulcers when taken as a tea
-very widely known for it’s wound healing abilities
-used in treatment of respiratory ailments
-helps treat gallbladder disease
-helps heal burns
-doesn’t actually heal broken bones, but relieves inflammation and
pain of broken bones
-helps in regeneration of skin cells with wounds
-roots of the plant contain more healing properties than the leaves,
but leaves do contain great healing values.
-salves are wonderful in treatment of acne, especially when combined
with tea tree oil or lavendar
-acts as an expectorant for coughs
-as a tea, can be used as an earwash to help clear inflammed ear
-used for treating arthritis and gout
-Antispasmodic for treating cystitis
-when used as an oil, helps lessen scarring

** Be extremely cautious with using comfrey to heal wounds. It has a tendency to heal from “outside in” and will close the surface area of a wound while the inner area is still open.
**Do not use the roots when creating internal remedies. Use internally ONLY with the supervision of a certified herbal medical practitioner or healthcare practitioner!! Comfrey can be toxic if taken internally.

per: http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_comfrey.htm ***

Reconstituting Balm,
Macerate around three ounce or 100 gm of cut and dehydrated comfrey root and add 3 T or 50 ml of superior variety olive oil to it. Leave the substance as it is for around two weeks. You also need the following items to prepare the reconstituting ointment with comfrey roots:
· Twenty drops of lavender essential oil
· One cupful (250 ml) of castor oil
· One and a quarter ounce (40 gm) of beeswax

After two weeks, filter the liquid extract from comfrey roots and olive oil in a separate pot. Next, thaw the beeswax in a saucepan and add the two types of vegetable oils. Keep stirring the mixture on the oven and when they are properly blended, add 20 drops of the lavender essential oil. Decant the blend in a small dark green colored jar and allow it to cool. Store the balm in a cool dry place for use when necessary.