Cosmos and Zinnias and Tithonias, Oh My!

Now that the new year is in full swing, we are full steam ahead into this year’s farm planning and preparation. In 2019, we were so burnt out from all of our gardening and farm projects that we decided to take December “off”,  meaning that all we did in December was the day to day usual farm chores and upkeep. No new projects, no working past sunset, and only light planning for the year ahead. Not only was it refreshing for our minds and bodies, but we also realized that taking December “off” didn’t put us behind or stall our farm progress for the upcoming year. In contrast, taking a month “off” actually let us catch up on rest and truly enjoy the simple pleasures that the farm has to offer, such as spending actual quality time with the animals and admiring the winter garden without feeling the need to constantly be doing something. We started January 2020 refreshed and eager to do work and take on our various projects. We decided that from there on out we would allow ourselves to have December “off” each year to rest and recharge. So, following suit from the previous December, we took all of December 2020 “off” and (despite being sick for the last part of the month) we are feeling refreshed and we are happily hitting the ground running for all things hobby farming in 2021.

Because of the seed shortages last year, we ordered seeds much earlier for our 2021 garden than we usually do. This was the one real piece of farm planning that we allowed ourselves to do during December. Our seeds arrived safely a few weeks after ordering, and besides checking to make sure they were all there, they stayed in their original packaging envelope until this week when we finally went through and put them into their respective drawers in our seed organizer. Between seeds that we ordered and seeds that we saved from our 2020 garden, we already have all of the seeds that we need for our 2021 garden and of course some fun extras. That is a great feeling to have! We typically save seeds from our beans, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and eggplants. Last year, we also made a real effort to start collecting and saving more flower seeds. As we walked through the yard doing our daily garden checks, we would carry a small glass mason jar to collect any flower seeds and seed heads that we would come across. We collected zinnia, tithonia, marigold, cosmos, nasturtium, gaillardia, bachelors button, and agastache seeds (to name a few) and tossed them all into the jar and moved on. At the end of the year we ended up with numerous jars filled with an amalgamation of seeds. We’ve been spending many hours over the past week going through and separating the flower seeds into their own individual jars. We have also been processing two giant trays full of dried zinnia blooms.  

Zinnias are hands down our favorite flowers to grow. For starters, they are the easiest flowers that we’ve ever grown which automatically makes them a winning choice in our book!  If you’ve never grown zinnias, you should totally give it a shot. Odds are they will make you feel like a master flower gardener in no time. We also love zinnias because they produce large colorful blooms all season long, and the plants are very sturdy and pest tolerant. Another great reason to love them is they attract all sorts of pollinators like native bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Not only are zinnias super easy to grow, their seeds are super easy to save at the end of the growing season. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to save zinnia seeds.

How to Save Zinnia Seeds:

  1. Allow zinnia bloom to dry and start turning brown on the plant
  2. Once the bloom looks and feels pretty dry, make a cut at the base of the bloom to separate it from the stem of the plant
  3. Place cut blooms in a tray or container where they can air dry for at least a few weeks (I tend to forget about mine and leave them for a few months instead of weeks, and they turn out just fine!)
  4. After a few weeks (or more) of air drying, pull the petals out of the head of the bloom. At the very bottom of the petal you will find a brown colored arrowhead – this is the seed!
  5. Gently rip the dried petal just above where it meets the seed and compost the petal
  6. Some petals may have already separated from their respective seeds, so run your thumb across the seed head to loosen and collect any additional seeds that may be hiding
  7. Store the seeds in a jar, paper bag, or envelope in a cool dry place until you are ready to plant them in the spring

If you’ve yet to grow your own zinnias and would like a few of our saved seeds, send us a message! I saved more seeds than we could ever dream of planting and we would be happy to share.

Since we ended up saving so many of our own flower seeds from our 2020 garden, we haven’t had to purchase as many seeds for our 2021 garden which is exciting – we always feel good when we can do more for ourselves. We also have so many seeds (read: extras for if we mess up) that we decided we are going to try to direct sow the majority of our flowers this year. In the past, we have started our zinnias, cosmos, calendula, tithonia, and sunflowers in the greenhouse and then transplanted the seedlings into the raised beds. Although we have had relatively good success with this method, we noticed that our 2020 cosmos, calendula, gaillardia, and sunflower seeds that we direct sowed into our pollinator bed grew faster, taller, and sturdier than the seeds that we started in the greenhouse. If you grow flowers, do you direct sow them or do you start them in the house or in a greenhouse? Let us know in the comments below! We are located in gardening zone 8b, so we are able to direct sow seeds relatively early. For this year’s garden, if our direct sown seeds don’t germinate the first time around, we will either try a second round of direct sowing or start the second round in the greenhouse if all else fails. We are excited to try something different! And although I really love greenhouse gardening, it will be nice to have a few less plants to tend to in there so I can really focus on the veggies.

Besides all of the seed saving, we also spent some time with our hands in the dirt this week. It’s been a while, and it felt great! We are starting to slowly turn the garden over and prepare for spring. We pulled up some old ground cloth, pulled weeds, and completely overhauled the tomato area. Two years ago, we accidentally bought the worst ground cloth known to man – it virtually disintegrated right away and made a gigantic weedy mess of our tomato garden. We vowed to never use that type of ground cloth again, and I thought I had thrown it all away. Key word: thought.  Well, in the mix of preparing for last year’s garden, somehow the worst ground cloth known to man made its way into the collection of our good ground cloth and we ended up accidentally using it in our tomato area once again. Insert face-palm here. Needless to say, the worst ground cloth known to man quickly disintegrated and our tomato area was yet again a ridiculous mess of weeds and random pieces of ground cloth. After we pulled all of the tomatoes at the end of the season, the weeds completely took over and destroyed that whole area of our garden. The tomato area was so far gone that we ignored it for the rest of the year and hoped that all of the weeds would die in the cold weather and just go away. No such luck.

We ended up having to till the tomato area to get all of the weeds to come up which was a somewhat painful experience because we knew we would be massacring a bunch of worms (rest in peace wormies). After tilling the space, my mom and I went through the whole area on our hands and knees and removed the tilled weed pieces and pulled out any remaining weeds and roots that were still in the ground. We also collected an absurd amount of the half-disintegrated worst ground cloth known to man. I am happy to report that we both came across many healthy living worms while pulling the remaining weeds. Thank goodness we didn’t murder them all with the tiller! Now that the tomato area has been completely rehabbed, we plan to cover the area with our aged compost and let it sit until late march when we will mix the compost and soil together and put down good quality ground cloth. Although the weather was only in the 40s while we were out there, it felt so good to be in the garden under the sunny blue skies and to have our hands back in the dirt again. Before we know it we will be starting seeds and transplanting seedlings.  Garden season 2021 is right around the corner!

4 thoughts on “Cosmos and Zinnias and Tithonias, Oh My!

  1. What a great post Steph! So. I have big dreams of adding a cut flower garden to the homestead this year. I saved all the bouquets of flowers that I bought in 2020 (there were quite a few. I think I have a flower problem) and I decided to save all the seeds. Or what I could find. I know nothing about the flowers. I just thought, hmmm…I’m drying them, why not try to grow some from the seeds? We’ll see. I like a good experiment.

    I would love to see the details of your greenhouse, should you find the time to work that into your blog. I really, really want a greenhouse but don’t want to spend the money right now. Maybe one day if Chicken Librarian starts making money! haha.

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    1. Thank you! And Yay for flowers!!! Please blog about them so I can follow along! I definitely have lots of fails every year when it comes to growing flowers lol but some are super forgiving! So I keep trying. I’ll definitely be posting about the greenhouse at some point this spring. Not sure if I’ll do a complete dedicated post or just share pictures and cover parts of it in the weekly updates. Haven’t decided yet!

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  2. Wonderful post, Steph – thanks for sharing! I hope your flower gardens are lovely. Last year our “big add” was some Hostas under the front porch hangover (I love Hostas), but in the fall our nice neighbors offered up a bunch of Iris bulb/roots for planting all along the side of our house. We plotted them out and I’m so eager to see what comes up. Our neighbors brought over a wheelbarrow full and weren’t sure of the colors. This should be a fun surprise. We had so many roots leftover, I added a patch to the end of a small row of scrub and tall bushes in the side yard. A splash of color will be awesome.

    We have not had a lot of luck with direct sowing of flower seeds. It is extremely wet in our yard and I think that many seeds get “washed away.” I did have great results transplanting Sparky Marigold seedlings into the veggie garden one year – they were gorgeous.

    Here’s to patches of prettiness for our gardens in 2021! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhhh those irises will certainly be a fun surprise! That’s so awesome. And thank you so much!! We will see how the direct sowing goes. We will be direct sowing into raised beds so we are hoping that will help control some variables. We start marigolds in the greenhouse each year and transplant them into pots so that we can move them around the garden depending on what’s in season. It has worked pretty well for us!

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