Seeds in the Garden

All About Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Now that we’re at the peak of summer, you’ll start to notice that you’re likely to have more seeds in the garden than it has flowers.  The heat and long days of summer have stimulated seed formation in most plants and this is a good thing.  Don’t just deadhead the seeds and compost them… there are lots you can do with flowers gone to seed.

Collect the seeds to grow again.

Once seedheads have dried a bit (turned brown) and the seeds are loose, you can collect the seed…either to save in paper envelopes for next year or to spread around the garden now where you’d like them to grow next.  When collecting seeds to grow next year, pick the healthiest plants with the best color. You probably know that some plants are hybrid and don’t necessarily come true from seed…but sometimes they do, so I like to risk it.  This year we let a squash grow in the compost pile even though everybody knows squash don’t come true, but it was cute…and now we’ve been eating great acorn squash a month earlier than the garden’s because the plant didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to be good.

Eat the seeds.

This is especially yummy before the seeds mature when they are still green and tender.  Green herb seeds and cool season vegetable seeds are little flavor powerhouses.  It’s time to nibble on broccoli flowers or herb seeds – cilantro, dill, fennel, anise, even basil.  All the flax in my wildflower patch has gone to seed.  I’m gathering them to sprout and either put on salads or dehydrate into crackers.

Gather the dry seeds for birdseed in winter

Sunflower and flax seeds are some of the seeds that birds like, so I gather extra dry seed to put out in January for the chickadees. I leave most of the seed on the ground for them… but sometimes it’s hard for a tiny bird to find seeds through a foot of snow.  Besides, if I put the seeds in the bird feeder, I (and the cats) get the pleasure of watching through the kitchen window.

Let the seeds be.

You can grow perennial beds of annuals.  There’s a phrase to get your head around.  The plants don’t overwinter but by letting the seeds drop, they replant themselves.  Let the cilantro and dill and parsley and leeks seed themselves around and you never have to start those seeds again.  The little seedlings will produce good plants for you this fall and some will wait for Spring to grow.  I love it when Nature does all the work.

Squash Bees

Checkout These Wild Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

My friend and local pollinator expert Niki fretted greatly this Spring because there weren’t any bees in her yard.  She grows her native plants and large vegetable gardens in her yard that is surrounded by typical perfect looking suburban lawns. Despite her pleas with neighbors, they maintain suburban perfection by pouring pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on their lawns, and over time, the bee count in her yard has dropped precipitously.

But there was no fretting during a recent tour of her garden.  There were still very few honeybees but the garden was abuzz with many native bees and native fly pollinators.

Niki eagerly led us over to her huge squash patch.  She did the usual humble gardener thing of apologizing for her garden and how poorly the plants were doing.  Naturally, her plants were double the size of anything in our yards. We walked right into the squash bed as she gently lifted a giant leaf so we could see…a “Squash Bee.”  With great animation, she described how one bee comes early in the morning and throws itself completely over the pollen…and then proceeds to eat all day long.  This bee seems oblivious to us and looked like it was lounging in its own little opium den, covered in pollen and eating as much as it could. Niki lowered her voice and said, “Sometimes there are two bees.”  The male comes first and then is joined by a female…and the two of them spend the day in a frenzy of mating and eating, mating and eating (she watched). Once they finish one blossom, they moved to the next one.

There are two genera of native squash bees, Peponapis and Xenoglossa, and they are specialist bees. Cucurbits are all they pollinate.  And they are very resourceful and start pollinating earlier in the morning before the honey bees are even awake.  So take a look under your leaves one morning and peer deep into squash blossoms.  In areas with healthy squash bee populations, there can be as many as one bee per every five blossoms.  Another marvel of the natural world….hidden in plain view before us.

Of course, while you are peeking under giant squash leaves, don’t forget to look for that pest of the squash kingdom…the squash bug…and pick it off and throw it away.

The International squash bee survey: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=16595

 

What a Plant Knows

Get to Know the World of Plants

Back when I was a teenager, summer reading was all about pulp fiction and romantic novels, except for the summer when I read everything Arthur C. Clarke ever published.  Now that I use podcasts for pulp novels and nonfiction, I can spend summer on eccentric or unusual new books.  What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses is my latest extraordinary discovery.

Author Daniel Chamovitz points out that it has been over three decades(!) since Secret Lives of Plants was published and there has been lots of hard scientific research about plants since then.  Chamovitz emphasizes over and over that plants DON’T experience the world as humans do, but they do sense the world in their own ways.

Some tidbits from this provocative book:

Plants are aware of the world around them.

They can “see” in that they differentiate between red, blue, far-red and UV lights (better than we can, incidentally).

They can “smell” in that they are aware of aromas and minute amounts of chemical compounds in the air.

They can “touch” and respond differently to different kinds of touch.

They are aware of the past and can remember past infections and conditions and change their physiology based on those memories.

They can communicate with other plants and warn them of predators.

And my favorite:  plants dance…all plants move in a great spiral when they grow and when they adapt to their environment.Broccoli, Organic Romanesco

This book isn’t a metaphysical exploration of plants. It is a long scientific discussion of specific plant actions and reactions. For people like me who want to know why plants do things…why they thrive and survive sometimes and why they wither and die sometimes, ‘What a Plant Knows’ is a great treasure.

Walk on the Wild Side

We Can Forage!

by Sandy Swegel

Sometime every year mid-summer, when the weather is hot and the weeds so darn big, I start to think gardening is just dumb. Nature creates beautiful gardens all on her own without requiring WORK from me.  Why do I garden? Why does anyone garden?  Can’t we just go back to hunting and gathering?

The quickest remedy for mid-summer malaise is a nice walk on the wild side.  I head out into nature where, in the nearby foothills, I don’t have to pull thistles or cut dead branches.  It’s all part of the beauty of the natural world.  With 150,000 people in our county, there’s really not enough there for all of us to hunt and gather.  We’d mostly be eating a diet of raccoons and thistles…not an appealing lifestyle.

But we can FORAGE!  I now have three favorite foragers I follow online.  Wendy was the first modern-day forager I met at a local foraging dinner. In my urban mind, foragers were the wild men who lived in the swamps of southern Louisiana and hunted opossum and squirrel. Wendy is a city girl who spends every spare moment hiking and exploring nature all in pursuit of exquisite flavors…a delicate mushroom from secret forests, the explosive flavor of a high-bush cranberry at peak ripeness, or tender nettle and dock greens she slips into a goat cheese spread.  Everything about Wendy is a reminder of how voluptuously she regards wild food.  Her website name is Hunger and Thirst and her handle is butterpoweredbike.  This is just the kind of inspiration I need on a tedious summer day. Check out her “Wild Thing of the Month” purslane.  I know you have lots of purslane growing in your garden?  Do you know it’s high in healthy omega oils? http://hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com/

I’m a big fan of one of butterpoweredbike’s foraging buddies, WildFoodGirl.  Her website http://wildfoodgirl.com and facebook page has great recipes and her website has awesome links to other foragers. Plus if you sign up on her webpage she’ll send you a Wild Things Edible Notebook every month (or so) highlighting plants that can be foraged and recipes for them.  You too can make Wild Mustard Potato Chips.

Another great forager, on an epic scale, is Hank Shaw who travels the country hunting and gathering and hosting dinners in local restaurants with locally foraged food. Hank’s handle is Hunter Angler Gatherer Cook. His recipes are beyond compare.  Where else can you find recipes for “wild ginger ice cream” or  “barbequed wild turkey.”  Hank published a great book last year, Hunt, Gather, Cook.  Even his website address http://honest-food.net/ tells you about what it is we all crave:  honest food, wild tastes, vibrant living.

So if the tedium of gardening in mid-summer heat is wearing on you, head out to wild roads near you…or surf some great foraging websites.

What to do with Giant Zucchinis

What to do with Giant Zucchini?

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

It’s only July and already there is the challenge of the giant zucchini?  I’m remembering last winter when I paid
$2 for a tiny organic zucchini and resolved not to do that again this winter.  One treat I’ve grown fond of are vegetable “chips” and zucchini are great candidates.  Anything to sneak more vegetables into the day.  You can bake zucchini into chips but then you’d have to turn on the oven and heat the kitchen.  That’s why I like the raw food route of dehydrating the chips.  Here’s what I did today with two big zucchini:

I made one batch just plain to see how they taste.  The other batch I briefly marinated in balsamic vinegar.  There are so many other things you can sprinkle on the zucchini slices: salts, oils, ground peppers, and various herbs. But for my first run, I wanted as much zucchini-ness as possible.

I keep the dehydrator on low (about 105) to preserve enzymes and nutrients.  The plain zucchini chips were done to crunchiness in about 5 hours.  The marinated ones will need another 6 hours or so.

And here’s a bowl of simply finished zucchini chips.  Yum.

Mid-Season Garden Report Card

Mid-Season Garden Report Card

How is your garden faring?

by Sandy Swegel 

Here’s the report card for my garden. June had record high temperatures and little rainfall.  Lots of extra watering helped, but plants don’t grow as well without natural rainfall.

Lettuces and Spinach. The heat made them bolt early and they are all bitter or simply scorched and gone to seed. Time to pull them out and replant.

Chards and Kales.  The chards started to bolt but some judicious removal of seed stalks and they are still growing and yummy.  The kales look great.  I didn’t know they were so tough under stressful situations.

Peas.  Pod peas were done early…they went to seed almost instantly. Sugar peas actually were not too bad.  Not as tender as usual, but salvageable….although the season was very short. Like other crops in this heat wave, things just grew really fast and went to seed.

Cilantro. Long since gone to seed.

Dill and Leeks. Leeks have gone to seed but they are beautiful.  Dill has started to seed but still usable.

Beans. My beans are OK, but neighbors have had failures from pests.  There’s still time to replant and have beans this year.

Peppers. The superheroes in our heat.  Lots of irrigation combined with heat have made them flourish.  Tomatillos too.

Tomatoes. The verdict is still out.  They are growing and strong.  Not as many diseases as I feared in a stressful year.  But not so many tomatoes either. They quit flowering in extreme conditions.  The plants themselves are shorter than other years at this time, but I’m hoping a week of cooler temperatures will inspire them to start cranking out tomatoes.

Broccoli. Little heads early this year,  but they are still producing side shoots.

Bugs. Our warm winter enabled too many pests to survive the winter, so there is an abundance of flea beetles and slugs. The greens are ugly and holey….but perfectly good to eat.  Aphids and ladybugs balanced out.  There appear to be lots of young grasshoppers but I’m pretending not to think about them.

So how is your garden faring?  Just like in school, mid-term grades are just an indicator of how things are going…not the final grade.  So get out there and yank out the struggling plants and reseed and replant in their places.  There’s still plenty of time for producing lots of food

The Midsummer Lull

Preparing for Late Summer Harvest and Beyond

by Sandy Swegel

I was surfing the garden internet last night at Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2012/06/grazing-my-way-through-the-lull.html where blogger Michele Owens is lamenting the midsummer lull in her vegetable garden.  It’s so true, late June is a difficult time in both the vegetable and flower garden.  There was the wild early June flush of color on roses and spring perennials.  Mid-June brought peas and tons of chard and kale and spinach.  But the intense unusual heat of the last couple of weeks made the spinach and arugula bolt and the peas and fava beans quickly went hard in their shells.  Tomatoes are full of flowers and tiny green tomatoes, but there’s not much for eating.  The one exception is zucchini…The zucchini are pumping out a new zucchini or two a day….but it’s hard to find other vegetables for dinner. How can the basil be so small when I started them months ago?

The flower garden is similar. The hot season rudbeckias are finally starting but there isn’t the lushness the garden of a few weeks ago had.  First of July is a great time to notice what’s in bloom in your (or your neighbor’s) vegetable and flower garden and vow to plant that this year or next.  Ideas I’m stealing that look great in this otherwise lulling time:

Leek seed heads.  I let the leeks perennialize and plant themselves each year….so right now the flower heads are tall and a lovely pink, covered with bees.

Monarda.  Drifts of monarda are abloom…and full of bees and butterflies.

Echinacea.  Although some think of echinacea as a full sun xeric plant, it is at its prettiest with some shade and with irrigation. Some of the nicest echinaceas grow at the edge of apple trees where the extra coolness makes them vibrant.

Daylilies.  Get the camera out so you can document the daylilies you really like (in your yard or your neighbor’s) so you can make divisions next Spring.

It’s great anticipating the bounty that’s about to burst in mid-July.  Hard to believe during this lull that we’ll soon be leaving tomatoes on the vine because there are too many to eat.