Storing and Saving Seeds

When you already have a garden, one of the best ways to benefit from it long-term is to save and store the seeds that your garden produces.  Instead of buying seeds every year to plant, why not just save a few from each plant and use them again next year?

Of course, some plant seeds stay and store better than others.  Also, letting certain plants get to the point where they are producing seeds can mean that they are not all that useful for consumption.  But you can always plant an extra one or two and allow them to go to seed.  Most plants produce more than enough seeds for you to have a viable garden the following year.

Aquatic plants and large-seeded plants (such as oak, avocado, etc) are very hard to store.  Larger seeds tend to need a fair amount of moisture to remain viable, and the amount of moisture required will lead to fungal growth and rot in a short period of time.  If you have oaks around, harvest the acorns and make nut butter right away.  Let the squirrels bury the seeds for you, and you’ll have some new trees in a few years.

These seeds, unfortunately, really need to be planted right away in order for them to germinate.  However, there are a wide variety of seeds that you can save all winter long, and maybe even for more than just a single winter.

Small seeded plants, like most garden vegetables, are relatively easy to save.  These seeds are what’s called desiccant-tolerant.   This means that they are able to survive and remain viable even when dried out.

Peas, carrots, beans, and herb seeds are all very hardy seeds that can handle being dried and stored for long periods of time before they lose their viability.  However, you do have to be careful how you handle, dry, and store the seeds.  You can’t just grab the seeds off of the plant, throw them in a baggie and then plant them next spring.  Well, you could, but there are ways to improve the chance that those seeds produce healthy plants for your garden.

Seeds, like any other organic matter, are subject to rot if not handled properly.  The reason an individual plant produces so many more seeds than is necessary is due to evolution.  This adaption takes into account that a large portion of any seeds produced will either be eaten, rot, or not survive until adulthood.

By properly drying and storing those same seeds, however, you can greatly increase the amount of usable seeds you have.  One individual plant will produce more seeds than you could possible use before the seeds are no longer any good.

The first and most important step in preserving seeds is drying them.  In nature, most seeds spend the winter months frozen in the ground, where the ice crystals actually make the ground very dry.  The seeds should be spread out in a shady, cool, dry place.  Also, don’t make a pile of seeds, spread them out thinly on paper towels or something similar.

Properly dried seeds will show basically no flexibility.  Beans and peas will be rock hard, and larger seeds will not bend.  Obviously, larger seeds need more time to dry than smaller seeds.

If you live in an area with high humidity, then you will probably want to use a desiccant.  Those little packages of silica gel that you get for free with a new pair of shoes are there for a reason:  They make it so that your new shoes are not all moldy.  They do the same thing for seeds, though you probably want to buy some silica gel instead of using the packages from your shoes.

Once the seeds are dry, place them in an air-tight container like a glass jar or baggie.  Store them slightly below freezing, and they should be good for a very long time.  Just try to think what a seed goes through before it germinates, and you can have an idea of what needs to be done to save them.

Saving and storing seeds is a long-running activity for those of us who garden and want to be self-sufficient.  By properly drying and storing seeds from your garden, you can almost guarantee that you will never have to buy seeds again.

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Cabin Life – #89

The fire is crackling, the dew is settling and the full moon is so bright that I Applescan clearly see the two does quietly munching on fallen apples in the lower field.  They don’t seem to mind that Pico and I are outside, and quite frankly, I’m happy that they don’t.

Fall is here.  About half of the hardwoods around have either lost all their leaves or are changing color as we speak.  I think it’ll be a poor year for fall colors.  Too many trees have already changed, and there are still plenty that are solid green.  The colors are changing too slowly for there to be any real “peak” this year.

The other very noticeable change is the amount of daylight we are having.  It’s starting to get dark around seven-thirty at night, as oppose to the nine or nine-fifteen of a few months ago.  It’s more tolerable now, with the solar panel powering a couple of nice LED lights.  But still, winter is coming and it won’t be all that long.

I’ve got a good stockpile of wood, well over two full cords, but I will still have to buy some to get me through.  A few face cords should cover me, and I’m hoping that once the new wood stove is installed, it will prove to be more efficient than the old on.  Even if it’s not, it will still be an improvement.

The shed is two-thirds full, and once it is really stocked up, I will feel much better.  There’s a certain comfort in knowing that no matter what, I will at least have enough wood to get me trough my third winter out here.  Plus, I have some extra in the old shed, acting as a security blanket, as well as insulation.

I’ve started picking some apples too.  They’re not all quite ripe yet, but those that are have for the most part been good.  Some are sweet and meaty, while two other trees are producing big apples that have a pleasant tartness to them.  It’s fun to taste and look for good apples, and to know that pretty soon I’ll be filling my weekends and evenings making apple sauce, butter, jelly, and cider.

Well, the peaceful serenity of a crackling fire and chirping crickets has come to an abrupt end.  Pico noticed (finally!) the two deer only a few hundred feet away.  He barked as he took off after them, like he always does.  He stood absolutely no chance of coming anywhere near catching a deer, but it was valiant, though loud, effort.  Luckily for him and them that he doesn’t need to hunt for food.

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Cabin Life – #80

I love it when a few moments of laziness lead to something good.  I had weed whacked all First Strawberriesaround the big fire pit and hammock a couple weeks ago, but there was one section of lawn that I just buzzed through quickly, and I did a poor job on about a ten square foot area.  Last night as I was moving some junk wood into the new wood rack, I caught a glimpse of some bright red in the slightly overgrown region:  two wild strawberries.

Only one of the very small strawberries was ripe, so after taking a couple pictures of the first strawberries of the season, I popped the ripe one in my mouth.  That was the first strawberry I’ve had in quite a while, and man was it delicious.  There was enough flavor packed in that little pea-sized berry to make all the rain worthwhile.

After I stacked the wood, I sat back on the porch with a beer and put my feet up on the chicken cage.  The little girls are getting bigger, and spend about a third of their time stretching their wings and preening the down feathers they’re losing.  The other two thirds of their days are split evenly between eating and sleeping.  They are having a good life so far.

When I brought them home earlier this week, I introduced Ed and Herbie to the chicks.  I held Herbie over their cage and let him sniff and watch for a few minutes.  He seemed to lose interest and eventually just wanted to get down out of my arms.  Ed, on the other hand, when confronted with the chicks for the first time, recoiled and was wary of the chicks.  They are tiny, but Ed was a little freaked out.  For all his posing as a killer, he’s still just my little man who would have no idea what to do if he saw the girls outside of their cage.

As I sat on the porch letting the beer wash away the taste of the strawberry, I glanced out over the yard.  The apple trees are starting to get heavy with small apples, and I can see the lime green berries starting to form on the blueberry bushes.  With the drought last year, I got no fruit off of the property, but this year is shaping up to be a banner year for all the strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry plants.  I know it’s early and anything could happen, but I have a feeling that I will have more wild food than I know what to do with.

I’m hoping that my friends with kids will come around later in the summer to help clear out some of the berries and apples.  Besides making jam, apple sauce, cider and hopefully some applejack, I don’t really have any idea what to do with the bounty of fruit coming my way.  Add to this the chicken eggs and garden veggies that will be appearing in the next couple of months, and I am facing a glut of food.  Obviously, this is not a problem that requires any serious deliberation.  I’m ok with apples and berries getting eaten by deer and other animals.  I just hope that some of the bears around don’t get too cozy here.  I may be facing a surplus of wild food, but a hungry bear could easily wipe out a lot of my apples, berries, and even the chickens.  I don’t mind sharing, but a bear coming in here and eating all my stuff is not something that I would forward to.

Cabin Life – #77

I have a love-hate relationships with the morning.  I am a morning person, The Wood Rackand like getting up early and maybe even accomplishing a few things before work.  On the other hand, I hate getting up.  I like lying in bed with the animals and listening to the birds chirp.  I like flipping the pillow over to get the cool side one more time before I roll out of bed.

During the winter, it’s easy for me to get a good night’s sleep.  The sun goes down before dinner, so by six or so in the evening, I’m ready for bed.  I struggle to stay awake, and light every candle and lantern in the cabin to keep myself up so I don’t end up sleeping twelve hours every day.  But now it’s tough to go to bed.  The sky is light until after nine and the sun is up so early that I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off.

Sometimes getting up early has its benefits.  Last week my days off were actually pretty nice.  Cool, but at least not rainy.  All of the piles of stuff in the yard that I can ignore all winter because they’re covered in snow were in full view, mocking my laziness in cleaning them up.  I don’t really need three huge piles of wood in the yard.  The bag of returnable bottles from two years ago should probably have been disposed of a long time ago.  And the fifteen or so shingles that were left on the porch roof before I rebuilt it actually had grass starting to grow up through them.  It was time for my spring cleaning.

I spend most of the winter inside the cabin.  Of course I go skiing and snow shoeing and have a social life, but I don’t hang out outside at my cabin all that much.  It’s cold and there’s snow everywhere, so being out in the yard is not that much fun.  But this week, I made the outside a little more usable doing what normal people call yard work.

That bag of returnable bottles?  Re-bagged and donated to charity.  The shingles?  Bagged and tossed in a proper disposal bin.  I could have dragged them up to one of the old dumps, but adding new stuff to the old dumps seems wrong.  And as for the three big piles of wood, I cleaned up one of them.  The other two are ok, but the one junk wood pile has been bugging me, and now it’s gone.  That makes me happy.

I have a huge stack of wood for outside fires in front of my cabin.  I have been looking at the same pieces of wood and blue tarps for two years, but the pile is stacked neatly, and it’s too big to move so, I have no choice but to be content with it where it is.  The other pile of good firewood for next winter is now sitting in the middle of a large weed-whacked area.  It seems out of place, but I’ll soon be building the new wood shed and this stack will be moved under a roof soon enough.  But the third pile was the ugly, unwanted bastard of my wood piles.

Rotting stumps, huge pieces of old driftwood, and even some forty year old plywood made up the third pile.  There’s still nails in the plywood and after sitting directly on the ground for the last couple years, the wood in this pile was not so choice.  I have an outside fire almost every night.  It’s a pleasant way to kill a few hours before bed, and also use some of the junk wood and clean it up a little bit.  After weed eating around the fire pits last week, I made a concerted effort to get rid of the bonfire pile.  Not by having a bonfire, but by cleaning it up.

There’s an old hitching post in the yard that had some old logs stacked in it.  I don’t know when the logs were placed there, but when I went to move them I found that they were more soil than wood.  I shoveled them out and wheeled it all into the woods.  Then I took a couple of old two-by-tens that I had laying around and attached them to the bottom of the hitching post to make a proper wood rack.  I pulled the plywood off the bonfire pile and started stacking the wood in the new rack.  I was left with three wheelbarrow loads of wood that was too rotten to burn, so back to the woods it went.

I threw an old chain on my chainsaw and ripped the plywood into burnable-sized pieces.  I then found an old sheet of tin roofing that was so bent and mangled that it would never sit flat again.  I screwed this to the top of the hitching post and stepped back to admire the new wood rack.  There’s a big ugly brown circle in the yard where the wood was, but that will be grown over in a year or two.

As I stood there approving of the job I had done, I realized that I had spent the entire morning moving a little firewood about twenty feet.  It seemed like a waste of time until the next night.  It rained all the next day but cleared up that night.  Instead of digging around for dry wood under the rotten and rusty-nail laden plywood, I casually walked up to the new rack and got a few pieces of dry wood for the fire.  The irony is that now that the rack is built and the wood neatly stacked, I don’t want to burn the wood anymore.  It just looks too nice where it is.

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Cabin Life – #76

I don’t usually think about snakes, but I’ve had a few run-ins in the last The Wounded Snakecouple of days, and I haven’t really had a choice but to think about them.  Now, I’m not one of those people who screams like a little girl when he sees a snake (anymore), and when I do happen to think about them, it’s usually because a garter snake is slithering away out in the driveway or curled up on one of the rocks out in the yard.

The other morning, I stepped out of the front door and was handed a small garter snake.  My friend had picked the ten inch snake up right outside the door.  We each let him run through our hands and then dropped him back into the grass.  Now, I know it’s bad to handle wild animals, but it’s nice to feel the soft motion of the snake on your hands.  It’s also a reminder that these guys aren’t out to do us any harm, and just want to eat the bugs around the garden.

Later that day, I was testing out the weed eater.  The recoil spring had come out of its housing, so after twenty minutes and an extremely cramped hand, I got the thing running and went to test it on some tall grass.  The weed eater worked fine, but as the grass fell to the ground, I noticed another snake slithering away pretty quickly.  He only went a few feet and as the weed eater ground to a halt, I checked the snake.  I was afraid I had hit him with the string and I was right.

There was blood coming from a small cut on his back, and the tip of the tail was bleeding as well.  I felt bad and considered grabbing him and putting a couple band-aids on, but that just didn’t seem right.  I hate to hurt animals, although I’m not opposed to eating venison and wild turkey.  But this snake, which was much larger, almost two feet long, wasn’t going to be dinner.  Luckily, the wounds hardly seemed fatal.   He slid under a board that was on the ground, and stayed there for a few hours.  I would see his head poke out every once in a while as I walked by, and just hoped that he wasn’t hurting too much.

I checked under the board the next morning, and he was gone.  I felt good that he hadn’t just died right there, even though I knew he could be dead ten feet away.  I worked all day and then in the evening walked over to the fire pit.  I thought I saw something on one of the rocks, and upon closer inspection, it was the same snake.  I could see the scabbed-over wounds, and he didn’t look any worse for the wear.  He hung out for a few minutes, and even let me take some pictures.  I was glad he was alive and appeared to be doing well.  And there’s not a doubt in my mind, that even though I hurt this snake, he’ll still stick around to eat the bugs and help me out.  And that is one very clear example of true forgiveness.

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Cabin Life – #75

Well, I woke up to pouring rain this morning.  It’s really coming down, to the Apple Blossomspoint where my alarm didn’t wake me up, the pounding of the rain on the tin shed roof did.  All the windows are even closed due to the cold temperatures, and the rain was still loud enough to break my slumber.  But at least it wasn’t snow coming down like this.  The forecast has called for a chance of snow for the next few days, and while it wouldn’t be a major inconvenience to get some snow, it would be a little depressing.  Plus, I’m worried about the apple trees.

Last spring when the warmth came early and was followed by a month of cold, all my apple blossoms were killed.  In October, I found a whopping grand total of seven or eight apples.  These meager offerings were spread out amongst almost twenty trees, and not a single one was edible.  I only found one apple that wasn’t obviously bad, but when I bit into it, there was no sweetness or crunch.  Just mush and blandness.

Last week, the apple trees really started to go crazy.  After some unseasonably hot and dry conditions, spring sort of normalled out for a few weeks and gave us warm days, cool nights, and plenty of rain.  Actually, up until the snow storm warnings, it’s been nice weather, and the plants are definitely noticing it.  I got no apples, blueberries or raspberries last year due to the drought.  The apple trees are white with flowers and the light green blossoms of the blueberry bushes are starting to emerge.

But now I’m worried about losing the entire apple crop yet again.  I’ve only been able to taste a few of the apples out here, but a lot of these trees bear very different fruit than you find in the supermarket.  Some were dull pink on the inside and others were bitter but smelled magnificent.  I’m looking forward to seeing the whole range of non-homogenized fruit that they’ll produce.

But if we get more stupid snow tonight, I’m afraid the blossoms will go un-pollinated or freeze altogether, and I’ll be left with a weak and pathetic harvest.  There are a few trees that haven’t bloomed yet, and I’m beginning to feel like those might be my safety backup supply.  Hopefully they won’t be the only ones I get.

When I moved in to the cabin a couple of falls ago, the apples were a little too far gone to be of much use, and I had a lot of other things to accomplish that were more important that eating apples.  I was excited with the variety but not prepared to take advantage of it.  Now it just seems like a cruel hoax.  I got that sweet first taste, and then they were taken from me without permission.  I hope that last year was payment enough for them to come through this year.

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Cabin Life – #74

Despite the half inch of snow we got earlier this week, spring is rolling The Water Barrel Spiggotalong.  I jerry-rigged a rain barrel, and I like not having to rely on small supply of drinking water to take care of the garden.  The thirty-five gallon barrel has a spigot on it and I set it up right next to the garden.  Unfortunately, I do not yet have the barrel set up properly.  I have a gutter that runs along the front porch, and a five gallon bucket that sits under the end of the gutter.  When we get rain and the bucket fills, I take the bucket a few feet to the barrel and dump the water in the top.  It’s not the best design, but it’s working well.

My tray of seedlings is doing ok, even though I forgot to pull them inside the other night during a frost.  Luckily all the seeds that had sprouted survived, but I have a few trays with nothing growing in them.  The carrots, spinach and tomatoes better get their acts together.

But the peas, lettuce and broccoli are doing well, and even though it would be nice to have a big garden full of food, I’m content to take what I can get.  Plus, my garden is pretty small, so I may have over done it on the seedlings.

In fact, I’m going to have to prep another area for a second garden.  The first garden is right next to the front porch, on the south side of the cabin, where it gets full sun all day long.  I figured it would be the perfect spot since animals are unlikely to bother it and I don’t have to walk to get to the garden.  I sometimes surprise myself with these little bouts of laziness that are only apparent when I write them down.  Having the garden right there seemed efficient to me, but now that I’m telling all of you my reason, it just seems lazy.

However, my laziness is not prevalent in my life and I know this because it took me almost four hours to get my two-foot by four-foot garden ready.  Amy had told me that the previous occupants had used this little section as an herb garden, and so I assumed, incorrectly, that I would be able to just weed the little area and then plant away.

I pulled a few inches of roots, grass, and other assorted weeds out of the bed and then grabbed a garden rake to start to loosen up the soil.  That didn’t work too well since it has been so long since this area has been used, and I moved up to a hoe.  With my first swing of the hoe, I heard that distinctive metal-on-rock sound.  I also heard that same sound with the next swing, and the next.

It soon became apparent that a hoe and rake were not going to be sufficient.  The soil that was in the garden was only a couple inches deep, and underneath was nothing but rocks.  Either the people who used this spot as a garden were full of it, or they only grew very small plants that did not need a lot dirt to work into.

I grabbed a shovel and rock bar and started to get to work.  For a little while, it went well, with me being able to pull out about twenty grapefruit-sized rocks.  Then I got to the big guy.  After removing as much dirt as I could, I grabbed the rock bar and started to find the edges.  This rock turned out to be big enough that if it had been closer to the foundation, I would not have removed it for fear of undermining my house.

When the rock was uncovered and I could see what I was dealing with, I knew that I still had a lot of work to do.  There was no way I was lifting this rock (technically I think it’s a boulder).  I dismantled a couple feet of stone wall and dug out the dirt.  Then using the rock bar and shovel, I was able to roll the big rock out through the whole I had made.  It rolled a couple feet down the little hill, and for now, that’s where it’s staying.  I figure it’s not doing any harm where it is, and that will be a little less grass I’ll have to mow this summer.  I admit, it’s lazy.  But that rock is one thing that I am more than happy to be lazy about.

Cabin Life – #73

The first clouds we’ve seen in a while are rolling in, and there have even Apple Budsbeen a couple drops of rain that have fallen from the sky.  So instead of writing this while lying in the hammock, I’m sitting in the old rocking chair on the front porch.  I can see the four-wheeler, the wood pile, and the lawn chairs that I’ve been too lazy to put away.  The grass is turning green except for the area where I almost always park.  That grass is dead and carries the color of dried wheat.  Other than that, the colors are coming out, and the rain we’re about to (hopefully) get will only make them brighter.

A coworker commented to me that the colors of spring are just as nice as the colors of fall, but no one seems to care or notice.  Sitting here looking out over the upper field and on to the slopes of the hill out back, I can see his point.  Everyone comes to the Adirondacks to enjoy the fall foliage.  They don’t know exactly when it’ll be, so they watch the news and try to time it right to hit the peak color season in early October or so.

But right now there is a bounty of color that, when you take the time to notice it, is really pretty.  Beyond the grass of the yard, the apple trees are starting to show a dull lime green as the tiny leaves emerge.  The little poplars are glowing, and the maples are covered in deep red flowers.  The white birch bark stands out against the dark balsam needles and even the brown of the trees that aren’t blooming adds to the ambiance.

Right now, I can see the colors.  My eyes aren’t being bothered by allergies, as mornings are usually when I suffer the worst.  I’m hoping that we get this rain and it washes some of the pollen out of the air.  My car, which is normally a nice dark green is now a pale disgusting green with streaks down the sides from where the washer fluid flows when I cleaned my windshield.  It’s odd having to clean it of the dead bugs that are starting to splatter their yellow guts on my glass.

Just now, I heard the first few drops of rain on the tin roof of the porch.  We desperately need some rain, as it’s been almost two weeks since we got any precipitation.  In fact, the last time anything other than pollen fell from the sky, it was snow.  The little stream that runs behind my cabin is dry in most spots, and the seeds I started for the garden could use a little natural precipitation.

It’s amazing to me that after complaining about the amount of snow we got this year, I am now anxious for some rain.  The last two weeks have been nice but hot and dry.  There have been a few forest fires, and I hope that this summer is not a replay of last year.  But as it stands now, we’ve had a pleasant transition from winter to spring, and even though I got my first black fly bite of the year, I’m happy at the changing of the seasons.

There’s more birds around including lots of grouse and turkey.  I was woken up by a big tom turkey walking through the yard this morning.  He was calling loudly, looking for love.  I got up early and snuck out onto the porch to watch him walk through.  It’s turkey season, and if I was a hunter, I could have gotten this guy with no problem at all.  Lucky for him I’m not, but I did enjoy listening to him and watching him walk from the left trail through the lower field and down the driveway.  His bright red waddle was swinging side to side as he tramped around, and to me, it was just one more color to add to the palate of spring.

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Cabin Life – #72

The last week has been nothing but sunshine and warmth.  The change in Daffodils and Plowseasons was quick, and it seems like we went from zero to sixty in the temperature department, but it’s been good for the mind.  The trees are blooming and the daffodils are shining bright yellow in the hot sun.  It’s a good time of year even though my nose won’t stop running and my eyes are always itchy.

The last time I got an allergy test was a few years ago in Jacksonville.  The doctor pricked both of my forearms with different allergens.  On my right forearm were things like dust mites and pet dander.  On my left arm were all the different types of pollen.  After about five minutes, the nurse checked in on me and saw my left arm.  She left and came back with the doctor, who decided that the red, swollen flesh necessitated immediate action.  He cleaned up my arm and handed me a bright red inhaler that he recommended I carry with me at all times.

Last year, my allergies weren’t so bad.  With everything blooming early in March and then getting frozen in April, the pollen never really went that crazy.  But now that we’re done with winter, I’m not really looking forward to seeing a wave of yellow air coming towards me.  I can only hope that in the next few weeks we get some rain.  It’s really dry up here, but my reason for wishing for rain is selfish.  A few well placed days of rain during the pollen onslaught can mean the difference between a normal spring and a horrible spring for me.

Hopefully this spring isn’t too bad.  But even if the pollen is yellowing the air, at least there’s no snow on the ground anymore.  I don’t have to hike into the cabin and I don’t have to worry about the woodstove.  It’s amazing how much of my time is spent handling and thinking about the stove though.  Even now, I’m starting to haul logs out of the woods down to the yard to buck and split for next year’s supply.  It’s been in the seventies for a week and I’m still working on firewood.

Even though the weather has turned and I actually enjoy working outside running the chainsaw, it’s a bit draining to already be preparing for winter.  It’s only May, and I’m thinking ahead to October, wondering if when all is said and done if I’ll have enough wood set aside or if I’ll have to buy some.  Will I be able to build a new wood shed or empty out the old one and fill it to the brim?  What kind of new wood stove am I going to buy?  Should I go with stainless steel or black chimney pipe?  These are the questions I’ll be working on all summer.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Sitting here now, with the sun burning off the morning chill, do I really want to spend the few nice months a year we get up here working on winter projects?  I don’t really have much of a choice I guess.  I just hope I can remember to enjoy the warmth while I work on winter projects.  Because a winter without a summer is nothing to look forward to.

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Ausable Marsh

Pico and I hiked the Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area trail a few weeks ago.  Here’s a few shots from the marsh.  I don’t know wildflowers, so if any of you know what these are please clue the rest of us in with a comment.