Tomato Lovers: It’s Time! Make Your Decisions!

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

If you don’t already have your tomatoes growing….this is The Day. April 1st is my official day to start my tomatoes indoors. I’m in Zone 5 and last frost is six weeks away. You may start yours earlier if you live in a warmer place or have walls of water or other season extenders. No matter where you are, if you want tomatoes and haven’t seeded them yet…Do It Now. Or start a new variety or two because come late summer, we can’t possibly have too many tomatoes.

How to Decide What Tomato to grow.

Gardeners used to have only about five different varieties of tomatoes available to them. Now there are literally hundreds. Here are the tomato seeds we carry and the reason why you might grow each of them:

Beefsteak

Everybody knows this tomato. It’s the perfect big slice for hamburgers on the grill. It’s a manly tomato….a big sturdy tomato that holds up on the grill and on sandwiches.

Black Krim

This is my favorite tomato. It has a rich heirloom taste like many of the black tomatoes and it pumps out lots of medium-sized tomatoes. This makes it perfect for eating right off of the plant on a hot summer day. Earlier than some heirlooms.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee isn’t just a marketing name. This is an heirloom tomato saved by the Cherokee people pre-1890s. Another black tomato with great taste. Gnarly looking tomatoes, too, which makes it even more interesting.

Amish Paste, Organic

This is a “paste” tomato. It’s very meaty and not too watery. It’s ideal for making sauces. Because it is so meaty, it’s also excellent for sun-drying. It is determinate, so most of the fruit ripens at the same time which is perfect for canning.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green

Remember to label this one in your garden. I spent one year waiting for them to turn red. Why grow green tomatoes? Because they have a unique flavor that is fresh and sweet. The flavor is lighter than the dark tomatoes. Aunt Ruby’s German Green is often a winner is our back yard taste tests.

Pink Brandywine

Brandywine is well known as an heirloom that defines what tomatoes “used to taste like.” These are big delicious fruit. Their growing season is a little longer so you have to be patient….but then they produce lots of tomatoes. And give this plant more space. It’s a giant.

Red Pear

Red pears are smaller pear-shaped tomatoes and are an heirloom dating back to colonial times. Pear tomatoes taste like regular tomatoes but are really prolific. In the olden days, people preserved them as “tomato figs.”

 

Kelp: A Gardener’s Best Friend

Why to Use Kelp in Your Garden

by Sandy Swegel

Our local garden club invited a rose expert from Jackson and Perkins to give us some winter inspiration this week. Rose growers are like tomato growers….they have their own little secrets and rituals to make their roses the best and the biggest. Our expert showed us pictures from his own garden that made me a believer in kelp. His plants treated with kelp and fertilizer were bigger and more robust than plants treated with just fertilizer If you are going to use soil amendments in your garden, kelp should be at the top of the list right after organic fertilizer.

So what does kelp offer?

Sea Minerals.
Kelp and other seaweeds are good sources of trace minerals that are often deficient in ordinary garden soil. So kelp is a good ingredient as a fertilizer…but not a substitute for your regular fertilizer.

Plant Growth Hormones.
OK, this is the real reason gardeners love kelp. Its natural plant growth hormones (cytokinins) stimulate extra growth in our plants and in our soil microbes. This is the “secret weapon” part of using kelp in your garden. Kelp stimulates roots, plant growth, flower production by virtue of the hormones even more than because of the vitamins and minerals.

Plant Health and Resilience.
Plants treated with kelp showed more drought resistance and bug resistance. Aphids, in particular, don’t like the taste of kelp and avoided kelp sprayed leaves. Anecdotally, I have found that a kelp foliage spray reduces powdery mildew.

How to Use Kelp

Kelp comes as kelp meal and as a liquid. An interesting thing about kelp is that when you apply kelp changes what kelp does for your plant. If you want sturdier roots, add kelp meal when planting to stimulate root growth. If you want more flowers on roses or tomatoes, apply it as a spray when your plants were budding. (Thanks researchers from the marijuana industry for these studies.) Some tomato growers use kelp weekly once tomatoes start to flower. If you are trying to improve your soil, apply meal or liquid to the soil once soil temperatures are above 60 or so when soil microbes are active. I like to use a weak kelp liquid spray weekly during hot spells in summer and spray all over the tops and undersides of leaves. It perks the plants up and gives the garden a lovely ocean smell. Plants absorb kelp better through leaves than through roots.

How Not to Use Kelp

More kelp isn’t better than small amounts of kelp. Don’t just throw it on your garden thinking more is better. Think about what effect you want. Do you want more tomatoes? Then applying kelp when the tomato is growing leaves but not making flowers yet will give you more leafy growth, not more tomatoes. On the other hand, a little kelp spray on your greens will increase the number and vitality of leaves.

Do Your Own Experiment
If you are going to add kelp to your repertoire, try a science experiment. Select a plant that you give kelp to and one a little further away that doesn’t get kelp. Do they behave differently?

Why You HAVE to Grow Watermelon Radishes this Year

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Words barely do the watermelon radish justice. Vibrant. Brilliant fuchsia. Magic.

I’m not a big radish eater although I like them eaten raw with breakfast eggs as is common in some Persian cooking. I’ve always liked to grow them because they germinate so fast. I’ve done the old trick of seeding them with carrot seed because the radishes mark where the row is while you wait a long time for the carrots to germinate.

Watermelon radishes are a game changer. Yeah, sure they are super nutritious, full of lutein and beta-carotene. Broccoli family. Good for hydration. Low in fat. Etc. etc. But they are stunningly beautiful and fun to eat.

Jumpstart your Lettuce Garden

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Our new tricolor blend of romaine lettuces has me itching to get my salad garden started. I like Romaines because they are especially nutritious, comparable to kale. And I like this blend because it’s shiny and colorful. There’s a lovely gloss to the colorful Romaines that looks beautiful in the garden and on the plate. I want my food pretty!

It’s pretty easy to get lettuce ready to eat earlier than your standard growing season. If you’re either busy or lazy (or both as I often am) there are some almost no work ways to get your salad growing.

Almost No Extra Work: Row Cover

Direct seed as usual into your garden. Put a layer of row cover loosely over the area. Secure with anchors or with heavy rocks which will also capture a tiny bit of extra heat. The row cover alone will speed germinate the seeds if you have a spell of warmer weather. The row cover then will protect it if the warm weather is followed by frigid temps.

A Little Bit of Extra Work: Pots

Want to have lettuce even sooner? My friend Cathy seeds her lettuce in lightweight pots and brings them inside at night or when the weather is extreme. It’s easy for her because she has a south-facing sliding glass door and moving the pots in means sliding open the door and moving the pots two feet in or out. She has the extra satisfaction of going to the Farmer’s Market in April where market farmers are selling similar pots for $25.

Invest Work for the Future: Cold Frames

Cold frames are an awesome way of having more of your own fresh food. They do take some time and money….but you will quickly make up that investment with what you save on fresh greens.

Work like a Farmer for Lots of Lettuce: Plugs

Growing your own lettuce plugs is one way to get a garden of lettuce without thinning or empty spots. Start your seeds under lights in plug trays that you can plant out when it’s a bit warmer. Very satisfying to have a full evenly-space plot of lettuce plants in the hour or so it will take you to plant out the entire plug tray (100-200 plants).

Gardens at Monticello

What We Gardeners Have in Common with Thomas Jefferson

by Sandy Swegel

This Presidents’ Day led me to researching about the gardens of the White House. I expected to write about the many “heirlooms” that Jefferson gathered and preserved for us. He grew 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 varieties of fruit! I found myself instead captivated by the gardening relationship he shared with his oldest granddaughter Ann. His letters to the teenager Ann have been preserved and give us great insight into these talented gardeners.

There isn’t much about gardening that has changed much since the early 19th century. These are some of the things we know we have in common with the third US President and his granddaughter Ann.

We all want more flowers.

Jefferson was famous for collecting seeds from distant lands in order to grow more varieties at home. He quickly saw the natural consequence of his love of variety — running out of garden space — for he writes Anne in 1806:

“I find that the limited number of our flower beds will too much restrain the variety of flowers in which we might wish to indulge, and therefore I have resumed an idea…of a winding walk surrounding the lawn before the house, with a narrow border of flowers on each side.”

We know how to care for young plants.

In this late winter time of year, we gardeners always start too many young plants too early to actually plant and then have to prepare for their movement from my sunny light shelf to the cold outdoors. Ann too reports how careful she was with the many treasures her grandfather sent her in the winter of 1806.

“The grass, fowls, and flowers arrived safely on Monday afternoon. I planted the former in a box of rich earth and covered it for a few nights until I thought it had taken root and then by degrees, for fear of rendering it too delicate, exposed it again. I shall plant Governor Lewis’s peas as soon as the danger of frost is over.”

We watch the weather

When Ann was only 12 years old, Jefferson in the White House relied on her to report on the weather and its effects on the garden. “How stands the fruit with you in the neighborhood and at Monticello, and particularly the peas, as they are what will be in season when I come home. The figs also, have they been hurt?

We are never finished.

After Jefferson retired to Monticello, he and Ann continued to design and redesign the gardens. Ann’s younger sister Ellen described the delight the garden gave the entire family.

. . . Then when the flowers were in bloom, and we were in ecstasies over the rich purple and crimson, or pure white, or delicate lilac, or pale yellow of the blossoms, how he would sympathize in our admiration, or discuss with my mother and elder sister new groupings and combinations and contrasts. Oh, these were happy moments for us and for him!”

Jefferson on Happiness
Jefferson planned many years for his retirement to Monticello. When at last he was able to retire to the gardens Ann had nurtured in his absence, he wrote:

“the total change of occupation from the house & writing-table to constant employment in the garden & farm has added wonderfully to my happiness. it is seldom & with great reluctance I ever take up a pen. I read some, but not much.”
Fortunately for us as a nation, most of his life was not spent in the garden, but he knew, as we do, how special and sacred our gardens are.
The story of Monticello with 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 of fruit is a grand story. You can find out more here: https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jeffersons-legacy-gardening-and-food

Photocredit
https://flowergardengirl.wordpress.com
http://www.marthastewart.com/945486/monticellos-vegetable-garden#933708
https://www.monticello.org

Walla Walla Sweet Onions…You know you want them

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

It doesn’t take much effort to convince us we should grow Walla Walla sweet onions. Think about thick slices hot from the grill. Or cold on our hot cheeseburger. Dream of oven-roasted whole onions. Or be one of those brave people who bite into the Walla Walla like it’s an apple.

Onions are really easy to grow so when I heard the Walla Walla Sweet Onion seed had arrived at BBB Seed for the first time, I rushed over. There’s only one problem for me with Walla Walls….their growing season is 125 days…a little longer than I can count on in Colorado. So I start the seeds indoors in February and transplant the seedlings in April.

 

The most important rule of growing onions is you have to use fresh seed. After a year or so, germination rates drop down to “almost none” so you do need new seeds each year.

Onions grow happily in decent soil. They can handle hot sun and they’ve forgiven me letting the weeds get a little overrun. There’s not too much guesswork as to when they are ripe…their tops fall over. So you can grow onions off in a corner of your garden without too much extra effort. Although quite labor intensive for farmers, onions are pretty cheap at the grocery so we don’t grow them so much to save money as to capture the awesome flavor of fresh homegrown Walla Wallas.

 

For more pictures and recipes, go to the website of the annual Walla Walla festival!
OR go to the festival in June!

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
http://www.sweetonions.org/

http://www.wiveswithknives.net/2010/08/02/potato-walla-walla-onion-and-gruyere-galette/
http://savorthebest.com/roasted-sweet-baby-walla-walla-onions/

How to Grow Watercress Indoors

Grow Watercress Indoors

How to Grow Watercress Indoors

by Sandy Swegel

Watercress is another one of those unassuming, almost weedy, plants that is a superfood for humans. In the brassica family of heirloom vegetables, watercress (Nasturtium officianale) is rich in vitamins, minerals (especially calcium) and sulfides. It’s not just for watercress sandwiches and tea. It is a great addition to salads as either sprouts or leaves, excellent juiced or added to juices and makes a lovely pureed spring soup. And pretty yummy just for nibbling.

Watercress is a great plant to start at the beginning of the growing season, but you can also grow watercress indoors during winter. We’ll teach you how.

 

Sprouts

Watercress sprouts easily and you can grow it in a jar just like you do alfalfa seeds. Its spicy kick is great on sandwiches and salads.

Plants

Seeds are pretty easy to germinate. The biggest challenge to grow watercress indoors is that it needs to always be moist, especially during germination. You can accomplish this by starting the seeds in a small pot of clean potting mix and then setting the pot in a saucer of water. Misting is great or put a plastic cover over the seed mix if your air is dry. Someplace slightly warm like the top of the frig is a great germination spot. They don’t need light to germinate.

 

Once the seeds are growing, you just need to be sure the plants are moist with fresh water. Think about their ideal natural habitat in Europe: slow-moving creek edges in bright shade. Some people grow them in water tanks with aerators if you want to get fancy.

One secret to tasty watercress is to keep the growing plant cool and out of hot sun and to harvest it before it flowers. After flowering, the leaves become more bitter.

 

To grow watercress indoors in late winter is such a promise of Spring. But it doesn’t need to be an indoor plant. After your weather warms to above freezing, you can plant your watercress outside if you have a place that stays pretty moist. (Learn more about Zones and Frost Dates). If you have a pond or fountain the watercress is thrilled living in a pot in about an inch or two of water along the edge. I’ve seen it in a shade pot with impatiens and it was pretty happy.

And once you have nice succulent leaves, watercress, slivers of cold cucumber and butter on thin white bread is actually pretty awesome.

 

Not sure what heirloom vegetables are or why you should grow them? Read more from Gardening Know How.

Today is the Day we Worked all Year for…

Garden is at it’s Peak

by Sandy Swegel

Most of the time in the garden I’m analyzing and thinking about what to do. What has to be done before it’s too late (weed thistles before seed heads mature), What should be done today (harvest zucchini before it’s a full-sized bat), What to do this evening (do some small batch preserving or dehydrating),

What to do before tonight (have row cover ready for tomatoes if there’s a danger of frost), What to do before the end of the season (cover crops in), etc. etc.

But today here in zone 5 Boulder Colorado, everything in the garden is at its peak.  The nights are getting cooler so frost will kill things soon.  Leaves are just starting to turn and pumpkin stands are popping up on rural roads.  I realize how many great things are ripe in the garden.  This is the time when everything tastes best. Wow. Then I realized. This is it. This is the day I worked in the garden all year for. So I decided that just for today, I’m just going to appreciate the perfect bounty nature has given me and not try to improve it, process it, or save it for the future.

Just for today

I’m not going to do anything useful in the garden. Today is more a day for celebration. Like when you watch your kids graduate from school or get married,  today’s the day to feel proud and look at the accomplishment and bask in the success. Turmoil and trials, tears and laughter. In the end, it’s all worked out.

So here’s the plan just for today. (Or maybe just for all weekend.)

– Get the camera out and take some snapshots of the garden.  Get somebody else to take a picture of the gardener holding a basket of harvest.

– Pick some grapes one by one and just suck on them and spit the seeds out.  The flavor is perfect sweetness and tartness.

– Eat the most perfect tomato while it’s hot from the afternoon sun.

– Nibble on flowers of broccoli and arugula going to seed.

-Fix dinner by doing as little as possible to the food.  Heat up the grill to roast some vegetables:  small zucchini and patty pan squash, cloves of garlic, small red onions, tomatoes, a late-maturing ear of corn, an apple or pear. All on the grill with just some olive oil and salt.

– Chill the cucumbers and radish so they will be the perfect palate cleanser for the roasted vegetables.

– Spend the late afternoon looking at the garden as a work of art.  Just for today, golden leaves and even browning foliage are just color and texture. Not something to be cleaned up or composted.

Just for today, it’s all perfect.

The food is all good. The air is fresh. The sun is still warm. Wild asters are in full bloom. The sky is really really blue.  Today is the day we worked all year for. Today is the day the garden is just perfect. Nothing to add. Nothing to change. Nothing to do except enjoy and appreciate. And the gardener? Just for today, she’s perfect too.  She and Nature have had a great year spending time together.

Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Wildflower Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Fall Equinox

What Fall Equinox Means for your Garden

by Sandy Swegel

Fall Equinox is upon us which suddenly spurs me to lament all the gardening I didn’t get done this year. In particular, I don’t have much of a winter garden growing. Am I going to have to start buying store-bought greens? I thought maybe I could outsmart Mother Nature by using row cover and soil heating cables to get some lettuces and kales going, but a farmer friend broke the bad news to me. Can’t be done. Sure I can get some growth. But lettuce and other greens are affected more by photoperiodism, than heat. Huh? I asked. She said Farmers know to get all their Fall and Winter plants going well before Fall Equinox because once the days start getting shorter, plants don’t grow as vigorously. (This, of course, doesn’t apply if you are further South where your days stay longer.) The farmer said I can get the lettuce to grow, but I won’t have the vigor and growth I need to provide myself with enough food for Fall into Winter. Lettuce is what they call a “long-day” plant. This is also the reason, more so than heat, that lettuce goes to seed in the middle of summer….because the days are long.

Who knew? Well, farmers and people who live off the land know. They start their winter lettuce in late summer.

Besides me, there’s another group of people who want to outsmart Mother Nature. Astronauts. One of the obstacles to living in space and inhabiting other planets is food. NASA has run food experiments on the Space Station for years, but now for the first time, astronauts are growing their own lettuces to eat instead of just to experiment on. What a treat for them instead of all those dried space foods.

Photo credit
http://collectspace.com/
http://gardenofeaden.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/how-to-grow-winter-lettuce-from-seed.html

 

 

BBB Seed

Best organic heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Seed

Grass and Wildflower Mixes

Windowsill Basil

How to Have Basil in the Winter

by Sandy Swegel

Two Ways to Have Basil all Winter.

August heat is hard on basil. The plants keep producing seed heads and as fast as you try to cut them back, new flowers start with the warm weather. Once the basil goes to seed you can still use the leaves, but they often have a bitter flavor.

But there are ways to keep enjoying fresh sweet basil all winter, besides the obvious strategies of drying or freezing the herbs.

In order to have windowsill basil you need to start seeds in a small window box planter now. This planter starts outside and comes into a bright windowsill as soon as temperatures go below 40 or so. Strew an entire packet of seeds over the soil. You will be growing the basil to a size somewhere between micro-greens and full-sized. The seed should germinate quickly and with regular watering, young plants will start to develop and should be several inches high by frost. Once inside, you can cut them down to the bottom leaves with scissors and the young plants will keep regrowing. If it gets really cold outside, you have to move the plants away from the window because the basil will freeze if they are leaning again the glass. If the basil gets buggy with aphids, you can bring the entire container to the kitchen sink and give it a shower.

Mason Jar Basil
If you don’t have seeds but you have purchased one of those pricey basil plants with the roots still on from the grocery store, you can keep growing that plant indoors. These have been grown hydroponically so you can put them in a mason jar with water on a kitchen windowsill. It might wilt for a week or so adapting, but will usually revive. Change the water every week or two. Again, harvest down to the bottom couple of leaves and the plant keeps regrowing.

Other greens and herbs like cilantro and lettuce also do well if you seed containers now and bring them in before they freeze. By winter the plants will be much bigger than micro-greens and will provide you with lots of intense flavor!

 

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Wildflower and Grass Seed Mixes
Photocredits
http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-gardening/backyard-gardening/5-herbs-perfect-for-container-gardening.aspx
http://melissaknorris.com/2014/02/growbasilindoorsallwinter/