1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

4 Fun Pumpkin Décor Ideas for Halloween

Who doesn’t love the bounty of fall? Particularly pumpkins! Pumpkins are versatile, fun, stylish, elegant and creative. Pumpkins can conform to the look and feel of just about every home décor personality.

Looking for a few ideas this Halloween? We’ve got you covered.

Mini Pumpkin Tablescape 

Elegant, festive and great use of those mini pumpkins, this fall tablescape can elevate any table! Just take your favorite mini-pumpkins and gourds, add some candles and fall foliage remnants. Check out the tutorial here.

Halloween to Thanksgiving Centerpiece


This amazing Halloween centerpiece is so elegant it would work straight through Thanksgiving. Carve out the center, choose your favorite flowers and voila! Find the entire DIY tutorial here.

 Jack-o’-Lantern Flower Vase


This pumpkin turned flower vase is spookily awesome! Perfect for celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1st and every day until then. Brighten up your jack-o’-lantern with a helping of Asters, Goldenrod, Sunflowers or anything you want to use to add fun fall color.  Grab this tutorial here.


Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

By Sandy Swegel

Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

The importance of seeds to life on Earth is growing in our consciousness. Have you noticed there are a number of new movies and other media about seeds? “Seeds” and “Sustainable Farming” are definitely “IN.” Many films are now available online for free and others are being screened in local communities.

Here are a few that I know about.

“Seeds of Time” 2013
SEEDS OF TIME follows agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler’s global journey to save the eroding foundation of our food supply in a new era of climate change. The reviews rave about great nature photography.

“Open Sesame” 2013
This film tells the story of seeds by following the challenges and triumphs of some of their most tireless stewards and advocates.

“Bitter Seeds” 2011
These are sad stories about farmers in India

“Harvest of Fear”
A Nova, Frontline PBC special about the GMO debates.

“The Vanishing Seeds Film Project.”
about seeds and deforestation in Africa.


Here are a few of the TV Programs:

“Farm Kings” about farmers in Pittsburg

A Reality TV program “The Farm” is popular in Europe.

And the newest show, Chipotle has sponsored
“Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu

Photo credit:http://www.mindful.org/the-mindful-society/activism/sprouting-seeds-of-compassion

Put Down the Shears

By Sandy Swegel

Put Down the Garden Shears.

That’s my mantra when I get out in the garden and start pruning or cleaning-up. I get involved in making a shrub or tree look perfect and pretty soon I’ve cut too much out. So my gardening buddy will use her best police officer type voice and say. “Put down the garden shears.”

That’s my command to you this week. Or as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (birds) advises people who want to help birds survive:

Don’t deadhead. Don’t rake up the leaves. Don’t tidy up.

They explain, “Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter.” So when you deadhead and compulsively clean your garden beds, you’re removing the food that enables birds to survive the winter. It’s a long time till Spring…and sometimes the bird is on a long migratory journey…they need calories.

So if you want your yard to be a natural habitat, leave the seed-heads on your plants. Birds see the seedhead from the sky and like to land on top of the seed head and then bend over to pick seeds out. On top of the plant, birds are safer from predators. Leave most of the leaves too. You can rake some if you must. But leave a good mulch of leaves to protect the plants, to hide seeds that fall for the birds, and to give beneficial insects a place to nest all winter.

Just be lazy. The birds have spoken.

Photo credit:




When Hard Frost Finally Comes

by Sandy Swegel

We’re supposed to get freezing temperatures soon, and it’s getting beyond the point where a bed sheet thrown over the tomatoes is going to help.  This is when it’s time to harvest those green tomatoes and put them in the house or cool garage.  I personally don’t start immediately making green tomato recipes because I’ve found most of the tomatoes will ripen and turn red if they’re big enough and don’t have wounds where mold will form before ripening happens.

I also harvested cucumbers and some late-season beans and three red peppers hiding under some tomato foliage.  A blanket is going over the big pumpkin that the neighbor’s kid (he’s 30 years old) wants to keep growing until it’s heavier than he is. Last year he made it with a 147 pounds of pumpkin!  All the greens and root crops and cabbages will be fine.

As I walked around the garden yesterday afternoon, I noticed the biggest threat to the remaining plants was drought.  The weather has been cool so I didn’t think about water, but the low humidity all week is sucking all the moisture out of the air and out of the plants.  So I do need to run the overhead sprinkler for an hour or two to return moisture to the leaves.  That extra water on leaf surfaces will freeze at night and help protect the plants.

Water is important now if you garden in an arid place because we tend to let the garden’s needs slip from our minds while we’re enjoying the fall colors.  When we see foliage browning we first assume it’s just the season, but as my poor limp Comfrey showed me, everything needed a good soak.  Rain a week ago has long evaporated from the surface of the topsoil.   A local plant expert told me once that he found the key to helping plants overwinter was making sure they went into winter well watered. Water in the soil will freeze and help protect roots.

One more thing I’ll do before it freezes tonight:  get out there with my camera and take pictures of the garden in its final days of glory. Something to warm my heart on dreary gray winter days.

The Ants Go Marching

by Sandy Swegel

Seeds have a big challenge this time of year. They’ve matured and are turning into the hard seeds we recognize in seed packets. Now their job is to disperse themselves near and far so they reproduce their species next year. This is a challenge because seeds have no feet for walking. So they have to get somebody else to do the work for them.

We know some of the most common ways that seeds get around. They get eaten by birds and pooped out in their next home. The wind takes some seeds and spreads them about. And then there are the workers who go a lot of trouble to disperse seed such as the humans who right now around the country are collecting seeds from plants so that we at BBB Seed can send the seeds to you.

Humans aren’t the only servants of our seed taskmasters. All over the world today, especially in woodland wild areas, ANTS are waking up this morning to disperse seeds. About five percent of flowering plants worldwide are dispersed by ants. There is a fifty-cent word to describe what is happening: Myrmecochory or seed dispersal by ants. Myrmecochorous plants coat their seeds with a fatty elaisomes (“food bodies” rich in lipids, amino acid, or other nutrients) that are excellent food for ants to eat and take back home for breakfast.

This is such an excellent survival method by the seed because the ants just eat the outside of the seed and then abandon the seed in the ant nest or under some nice decomposing leaves, slightly buried away from bird predators and covered with composting materials. A perfect place to germinate next Spring when temperatures rise.

So in my little part of the world, seeds on the move. Winds are blowing some. The birds are eating lots for winter. Some are being dispersed by the United States Postal Service delivering our seed packets. Squirrels burying bigger seeds in hidden treasure troves. And out in my neighbor’s garden where little cyclamen grow under pine trees, ants are lifting and pulling or pushing seeds across the yard down into their ant lairs. Right now I’m drinking coffee while little baby ant larvae are slurping yummy elaisomes all food of fats and sugars from the outside of the seeds.

The seeds. They’re enjoying the ride. They love to travel.


Best Wildflower Seeds

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Vegetable Seeds

Grass Mixes


A Positive Twist on Garden Problems

by Sandy Swegel

Gardening guru Elliot Coleman came to talk at the Denver Botanic Gardens last night. One message that he repeated consistently is that he doesn’t focus on problems but he does get excited to find solutions. One’s first thought might be, “Well he hasn’t seen my garden’s problems, then.” But as we asked questions about our problems, it was clear he was not someone burdened by problems in the garden.

One refreshing way to think more positively about the “opportunities for solutions” our garden gives us is how Elliot thinks about pests. He says, “Pests aren’t problems, they are indicators.”

In his greenhouse, for example, if he gets an aphid outbreak in January, he asks himself, “Why do I have aphids? What are they an indication of? What are they showing me about the health of my plants or soil.” In his cold greenhouse in January, there was often a Nitrogen buildup in the soil. He remedied that by starting irrigation even though the plants weren’t dry but because he wanted to wash away some of the nitrogen. And his aphid problem began to clear up.

For many of us who focus on getting rid of the problem…the pest, we don’t come to the solution that would have resolved the problem and we just have to keep getting rid of the pest.

So this year as you’re closing up your garden, or reflecting on the season, a list of problems is likely to come up in your mind. Re-phrase your approach and don’t think about the problems…ask your self what the problems are trying to indicate to you. Next time I see an aphid, I’m going to stop and ask, “What are you trying to tell me?”






Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Heirloom Vegetables

Grass Mixes



Let them Sweeten

by Sandy Swegel

I spent the week with my sister Anne.  It’s enough to make me doubt the entire idea or theory of DNA and genetics that suggest we are related in some cellular way.  Except for the fact that we look like sisters, we are so different, the family joke ran this way.  “You’re so weird.  You must have been switched at the hospital.” “No, you’re so weird. You were the one switched.”  After some bickering my mother would chime in, “I don’t know where either of you odd ducks came from.  I must have been the one switched at the hospital.

It was evident as we were sitting around the kitchen table that she is a finisher, somebody who gets projects finished.  I have to hold on to my coffee cup if I don’t want it cleared off the table half full.  She wants breakfast finished and the table cleared.

It can be hard to share a garden with a finisher.  Her idea of dealing with the garden as the leaves start to fall is to pull everything out right now and rake the soil nice and tidy and be done with it till next April.  So naturally, I was howling as she’s shoveled up the beets and yanked the kale.  “No, leave it alone. It’s finally getting really good. Don’t you know this is when the root vegetables get really good and sweet?!”  Fortunately, we are adults and I skipped the “how can you not know that” remark and she threw up her hands and walked away muttering “Whaaateverr.”

Cold-sweetening in vegetables is a real thing. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and store the sugars as starches.  But in cold temperatures, plant break down the starches into “free” sugars and store them in cells to protect against frost damage.  Scientists describe the process as “Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice.”


And it makes the vegetables taste so good too!  As long as you can pry the soil open before it freezes solid, you should leave the root vegetables like beets and carrots in the ground.  Kale, chard and spinach full of sugar can be frozen solid first thing in the morning and be delicious and undamaged to eat at dinnertime.  Cold-sweetened Brussels sprouts are worth fighting for.


The only vegetable you don’t want to cold-sweeten are potatoes, because you want them full of starch.  That’s why you don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator.  All the extra sugars make cold-sweetened potatoes turn brown during cooking. You reverse the process in potatoes by keeping them in a warmer room and the sugars convert back to starch.

Cold-sweetening is also why you store your winter squashes and root vegetables out in the unheated garage…someplace that doesn’t freeze but also isn’t as warm as the house.

Vegetables to cold sweeten:

Carrots, Beets, squash, kale and chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (Yes!), leeks, spinach, parsnips and radicchio, and best of all, Apples.  Leave those apples on the tree as long as you can…they get better every day in the fall.


Photo credit: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/storing-vegetables-for-the-winter

Sweeter After A Frost