One more thing Bees and Humans have in common: We’re Addicted.

Bees Have Their Addictions Too

by Sandy Swegel

Nature magazine published a scientific study with the odd news that bees, when given a choice, prefer nectar with the neonic pesticides in them. Given a choice, even though scientists don’t think bee can smell or taste the pesticide, bees opt for neonic-treated plants or neonic-treated sugar solutions. Why? It’s because of the “nics.” The nics in neonics are nicotine compounds. A bee sipping on a flower gets the same rush as human dragging on a cigarette. Wow! We really have to get this substance out of the environment.

The study looks at both honey bees and wild bees. Both wanted the nicotine hit.

Of course, it was just last year that Science magazine reported that bees get addicted to caffeine too and prefer nectar and flowers with caffeine over other nectar.


Bees and Humans both love our drugs.

Earlier in the week, I was feeling hopeful because about 90% of the plants at our local Home Depot were neonic-free. Last year virtually all of them had been treated with the pesticide, but Home Depot is requiring more and more of its growers to be neonic-free. That’s hundreds of thousands of plants in our area.

But the Nature article shows us that while we can enjoy the small victories, but we have to keep paying attention to who is silently poisoning our environment.

We know you are our allies with the bees. You use our untreated seeds and you plant our wildflower mixes. Let’s keep up the good fight.

My Number One Secret for Growing Tomatoes

It’s All in the Soil

by Sandy Swegel

A local grower and I were chatting today about all the ways people grow tomatoes. My friend was laughing at somebody who had an elaborate setup with walls of water in the snow. I don’t necessarily use walls of water, but I understand our local Zone 5 competitions to have tomatoes by the 4th of July. The walls of water help warm the soil and of course, entertain the gardener.

There are many “secrets” to growing tomatoes. Some people put their hope in fertilizers and supplements like Epsom salt. Others do a lot of pruning of “suckers.” And there is no substitute for regular consistent water that doesn’t let the soil dry out.

But for me, the most important part of growing tomatoes is digging and preparing the hole you’re going to plant in. I generally plant little plants…2-1/4 inch pots…somewhere around May 15th. And I do believe in planting deep so roots can grow all along the stem. But back to the importance of preparing the hole you’re going to plant in.

My secret for growing tomatoes is a big humongous hole at least half full of compost.

Step One. Take a five-gallon pot (a bucket can work too) and dig the hole so big that the bucket fits completely in the hole. That usually means you have to keep going back and widening the hole to get the bucket all the way down. And it’s usually a pain digging into that subsoil. If the soil is very clay like, I loosen up the bottom and sides by slicing cuts in both for draining. I fill at least half the hole with finished compost. I put in some finished composted manure if I have it. I throw in some rather unfinished compost too. I mix in an organic fertilizer that includes phosphorus. I’ll also add any other goodies I have like kelp or alfalfa meal. Leaf mulch if I have some. I don’t mind if a worm or two ends up in there too. I then fill the rest of the hole with original soil and mix it well. I water it.

Only now is the hole ready for the tomato. I pluck off its lower leaves and plant the tomato up to its neck. I put the trellis or whatever support I’ll need now. And that’s it. I personally run a drip line with a timer since it’s so dry here and I don’t want my sporadic memory to sporadically water. I’ve done comparison tests year after year with people who dig holes only large enough to squeeze the plant in. They never get the number of tomatoes I get. My large composted planting hole means the tomato puts out a huge rootball that gobbles up all that good compost and fertilizer food produces a huge crop of tomatoes. If you only have a shovel-sized hole in the ground for your tomato, you only have little roots to feed the plant. If you don’t believe me, when winter comes this year, pull up your tomato and see how big your rootball is.

So if you want a lot of healthy tomatoes this year, take out your shovel and work up a sweat preparing that soil!

Photo credit:

World Tomato Society


Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment

The Three Foods You Must Grow

by Sandy Swegel

There are so many vegetables you can grow in your garden. If only there was enough time. If you have limited time or space for your garden, think about what is the best return on your investment of time and money when you grow your own food as well as the best outcome of flavor and nutrition. Three things I grow even if I don’t have time to grow anything else are:

Salad greens.
Loose-leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, and arugula are up and ready to eat in as little as three weeks after planting. You can pick what you need for tonight’s salad, and let the plant continue to grow for another night’s salad. Baby greens and mixed lettuces cost $6 per pound (and up) at the grocery…and they aren’t necessarily that fresh…sometimes they’ve been traveling in a semi-trailer from California for a week already. Grow your own greens to get maximum nutrition and taste for a couple of bucks worth of seed.

You’ve tasted one of those grocery store tomatoes that look perfect and taste like absolutely nothing? Enough said. You have to grow tomatoes because home-grown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy. But tomatoes have also gotten really expensive. One or two tomato plants easily save you a couple hundred dollars if you regularly eat tomatoes in your salads and sandwiches. Cherry tomato plants are especially prolific.



Fresh herbs are the best way to give oomph to your cooking. They taste so much better than dried herbs and can often star in a simple dish …such as basil leaves served with mozzarella and tomato. Many herbs are perennial (like thyme and oregano) and only have to be planted once. Annual herbs, such as basil and dill produce lots and lots of flavorful leaves.

It’s always fun to grow everything there is to grow, but if you’re strapped for time or space, let the local farmers grow the long-season crops like winter squash, the root crops like onions and carrots, or the water-hogging melons. You’ll be enjoying your own magnificent home-grown healthful salads all season.

Trellis like a Pro

Trellis Tips

by Sandy Swegel

My tomatoes are only a few inches tall and still indoors, but this is the ideal time to start thinking about how to trellis them.  For years I fiddled with the dinky round tomato cages sold everywhere that just fall over when faced with a large indeterminate tomato. One year I even tried tying two cages on top of one another and it still fell over.

Market Farmers don’t use wussy home-gardening-type trellises.  They bring out the T-Posts and plastic baling twine or string. (This is one time you can’t use natural twines like jute or cotton…they are too stretchy.) The most common technique is called the Florida Weave. Basically, you place tall (7 foot min)  T-posts at each end of your tomato row. Every two or three plants, add a stake (or another T post). You will then “weave” the twine around the T-posts and tomatoes in a basic figure-eight shape.  T-posts are super sturdy and stay put once you pound them into the ground.  Ideally, you can string the T-posts before the tomatoes are tall or perhaps even planted.  As the tomatoes grow you can tuck the growing edge into one of the rows of string. The beauty of the Florida Weave is that even if you are late getting your trellising in place, you can still do a pretty good job pulling up the overgrown tomatoes.

Photo Credits and More Info:

Make your own seed tape

DIY Seed Tape

by Sandy Swegel

I’ve been toying with my new packet of the Cosmic purple carrot seeds. They are so colorful I can’t wait to see them in my garden. Or better, on my own plate. But the seeds are so darn small. Some years I’ve put the seeds in and forgotten to thin the hundreds of carrot seedlings coming up and I end up with really skinny carrots. Seed tape is an obvious solution but pricey…and I don’t want ordinary orange carrots…I want purple carrots! Never mind my recent googling discovery that carrots used to be purple until about the 17th century. Then growers in Holland, trying to be patriotic to the ruling “House of Orange” hybridized seed until they got “orange.” I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up. There is some thought the Dutch might have made it up, but that’s the official story told in the Netherlands.

It’s crazy easy to make your own seed tape.
Most of the DIY seed tapes involve dollops of glue and trying to drop a single seed onto to the glue.
My favorite technique is this:
Cut a length of thin toilet paper about one inch wide.
Put some seeds onto a flat plate
Put some glue into a tiny bowl.


Dip a toothpick into the glue and then use it to pick up a seed or two. Put the seed onto the paper. About an inch apart. That’s it. It’s not much glue so you don’t have a long drying time.

If you are going to plant soon, I don’t think you need to put on another piece of paper to hold the seeds in place. Just go out and plant.

Now, I don’t actually plant in single rows. I like to plant in swaths. So I skip cutting the toilet paper and just glue down three staggered rows of seed right onto the toilet paper.

I can’t wait for my swath of purple carrots to appear!


Photo credit:


Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator Mixes

Grass Seed


It’s dandelion season!

Dandelion Love

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.


Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.


Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: