Food as Art. Art as Food.

Decorate for Fall with Delicious Foods

by Sandy Swegel

Thanksgiving week is almost upon us with endless opportunities for creative and artistic expression. Besides the creative recipes you’re cooking, you also get to decorate your table and your home with the many gifts from nature and use your food as art. A walk down the grocery store aisle and through the woods will give you all the raw materials you need to make Thanksgiving centerpieces and artful home decorations.

You know the raw materials:

All the beautiful gourds and squashes and pumpkins

Pine cones and berries and nuts

Colorful maple leaves and cool branches. 

Purple and orange vegetables

And finally, if it’s not enough to arrange your food into art…you can also take inspiration from that clever company Edible Arrangements, to cut your fruit appetizer trays into edible art! Slice fruit like cantaloupe and pineapple and apples into thin slices and use thanksgiving-themed cookie cutters to turn the fruit into decorative shapes.

Celebrate the harvest with joy and art!

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Let them Sweeten

All About Cold-Sweetening

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.”

Let them sweeten, 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.


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Is It Time?

Is There Still Time to Plant Seeds?

by Sandy Swegel

Is it time? Is it too late?  Can I still plant seeds?  These are the questions I heard this week.  In our Zone 5 area, garden centers are already starting to discount plants and seasonal workers will get laid off by the 4th of July. Does that mean it’s too late to plant seeds and you should just buy the biggest plant you can find?

Generally, the answer is, of course, there is still time to plant seeds…It’s only June!  For gardeners, the truest answer is always, “It Depends.”

There are a few seeds that it is too late to plant. In Zone 5 or other short growing season areas, it’s too late to plant watermelon or winter squash or tomatoes by seed.  The “days to maturity” info on the back of the seed package tells you that you need 90-100 days before the plant makes its first ripe fruit.  100 days from now is mid-September before you might get a watermelon…that doesn’t work when we might have frost by then…or at the very least cold nights.

The flip side of this question is, “Are there seeds I should plant rather than buy plants?”  Absolutely.  It makes no sense to buy a broccoli or cauliflower plant now for $4.00 when it’s just going to bolt in the summer heat.  It likes cooler weather.  And you could probably buy the broccoli itself cheaper.  But in a couple of weeks, market farmers are starting their broccoli seeds to get their fall crops going. Planting broccoli and cauliflower soon is a great idea!

Annuals are still a great bargain to plant.  I went into sticker shock when I went plant shopping this year.  Plant prices are up about 30 percent in my area.  For less than the price of a 4-inch pot with a marigold, I can get one seed packet of marigolds and have dozens and dozens of plants in bloom in only 45 days.  They’ll be super cute all over the garden and in the vegetable garden, they’ll help repel pests.

It’s the same for cosmos and California poppies and zinnias and all the annual wildflower mixes.  There’s still time.  For perennial seed, some plants might not bloom till next year, but the plants will be strong and it’s a lot easier to start seeds now in the garden where you want them to grow instead of inside under lights in the middle of winter.

Buying bedding plants is great for instant gratification, but gardeners know that if you want a garden full of hundreds of flowers (without breaking the bank), SEEDS are the way to go!

So there IS still time. Lots of time for annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers and bachelor buttons and zinnias and for big flowery herbs.  Then there all those vegetables to seed.  And the perennials you are admiring in bloom now. You get the idea. There is plenty of time to plant by seed and enjoy them this year.


Grass Mixes

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

What to Un-plant

How to Help Your Plants Stay Productive

by Sandy Swegel

I’ve been watching my neighbor Tory’s vegetable garden with great interest this year. She worked as a farm intern (ie. Full-time farming, almost no money) the last couple of years and has brought farm techniques to her home garden. Yesterday as we enjoyed the latest harvest of arugula she announced it was time to dig these up and plant something else.  I was surprised since she just seeded these arugula in early March.

From a market farming perspective, you grow greens to harvest a lot of food quickly.  She seeded the arugula early and when they are big enough to harvest she cuts them to just an inch or so above the soil level.  Then she lets them grow again and the cycle repeats.  Plants grown like this produce a lot of food, but they also get tired and worn out.  The plant itself is depleted.  Tory made her decision to dig under the arugula because the plants weren’t growing as vigorously as before and, the biggest factor, they didn’t taste as good. Whether it was the hard fast growth or a recent week of warm weather, the arugula was getting a little too spicy.  It seems harsh, but if you want to keep eating from your garden, you have to un-plant the less productive plants and know what to un-plant.

Things I’ve unplanted this week:
Arugula that has been harvested three times and is losing vigor.
Kale that had overwintered. It was great to have kale from last year’s plants, but the old woody stems are no longer producing as well as the new plants.
Radishes that got bitter.  A week of rain followed by a week of heat made huge bitter radishes. They look great but we crave sweet young vegetables.

Garden more productive and more beautiful.

In the perennial garden, I’ve been un-planting too.
Poppies that have spread everywhere.  They are at risk of becoming a weed.
Plants that have grown too big for where they are planted.
Plants that are blocking sprinkler heads.
Plants that I’ve never liked.

Gardeners are often loathe getting rid of plants. They feel sorry for them.  They’ve come to know them as friends.  But there is a time and season for every plant and a good gardener learns to be a little ruthless. If you want to have succession gardening, you have to create the empty space for the next plant. It may seem harsh, but you have to declutter and make space for new growth!



Aphids on your Kale – Ewwww

All About Handling AphidsImage by <a href="">Melani Marfeld</a> from <a href="">Pixabay</a>

by Sandy Swegel

A gardener I know recently went out to his cold frame to harvest some beautiful kale he could see pushing against the top of the frame.  Instead of an ecstatic reaction of joy to this spring treat, he quickly retreated with a big “Ewww.”  His kale was absolutely coated in aphids.  He had nursed it and even given it extra organic nitrogen fertilizer recently and this was the thanks he got.

Aphids are irritating pests.  They are very prolific and can have twenty generations in a season. And it could take a long time to rinse each one off a leaf of kale, so what’s a gardener to do if they are not ready to become an insectivore?

You Can Prevent Aphids

Our gardener probably got aphids for a couple of reasons: 

His cold frame was sealed pretty tight, so predators like birds and ladybugs couldn’t get in to control the aphids. Also, recent warm temperatures stressed the plants in the closed frame. Opening the cold frame on warmer days will help.

They are everywhere.  They overwinter on mustard weeds which are prolific in the spring garden. There’s no avoiding the aphids altogether on kale plants, but cleaning up the debris in the garden and weeding out the mustard weeds will remove many of the eggs from last year.

They adore nitrogen. The soluble nitrogen he had just added just enticed even more aphids to come eat over here!

Plant chard and spinach. Aphids don’t bother them as much.

You Can Treat Aphids

Aphids are super easy to treat: a blast from a garden hose washes them to the ground and they don’t easily crawl back.

Soapy water (a drop or two of dish soap or Dr. Bronner’s in your watering can or spray bottle) kills them easily.

Check the plants frequently: the aphids are often under the leaves or along the stems…hard places to reach.

You Can Clean the Kale

A sink full of water, most people agreed, was the best way to clean the aphids off so you don’t disgust your dinner guests.  Submerge the kale completely and squish it around a lot.  The aphids float to the surface. Repeat.

Someone else suggested dissolving some salt in hot water and then adding it to the sink of cold water, letting the kale sit for 30 minutes.  The salty water helps dislodge the aphids.

Don’t give up. Kale is incredibly nutritious not to mention tasty and easy to grow.


Read more about aphids here

For complete information on managing cabbage aphids,



First Things: Start More Seeds

Seed Starting

by Sandy Swegel

I had the good fortune to go backstage, so to speak, at a CSA farm this week. Lara’s farm is amazingly

small. On just over an acre she almost single-handedly feeds 35 families. She has an unheated greenhouse and a rototiller, but otherwise, that’s as high-tech as she goes. Trying to fathom how one person can feed so many people, I kept asking questions and observing what she did. One thing was obvious. Farmers don’t stand around with their arms folded gabbing, at least not at the beginning of the day.  We had a running conversation, but her hands were busy, filling planting trays or picking off dead foliage, watering here and there. But her primary motto, that she learned from a mentor farmer, was to keep starting seeds. Every day, every time you go into the garden, “she said” you should ask if seeds need to be started. Weeding, composting, deadheading and even watering can wait till later but if your seeds aren’t started and going, you aren’t going to have plants which means you won’t have enough food or enough flowers. Watering is second on the list. It doesn’t do much good to have started seeds last week if you let them dehydrate this week.

Growing a garden from seed is both miraculous and frustrating. Miraculous is obvious: you take this tiny seed and it becomes something magnificent: a pumpkin or a breathtaking flower. But the frustrating part is that there’s no catching up if you procrastinate getting your seeds started.  You can fiddle with heat mats and lots of extra plant food, but there’s really no way to do last minute cramming to get plants growing. They need time to grow. 

So let that be the first question in your garden today. Are there some new seeds I need to get started?

Here’s my answer of seeds I should start today:

Spent daffodils and tulips have left an empty spot in the flower garden. I should plant some cosmos seeds there to have flowers for the rest of the year.

We harvested the radishes in the square foot garden. I need to fill that square so I put a few kale seeds in.

Last year I learned how to roast butternut squash with olive oil and rosemary so I need to make sure I have lots of butternut squash saved up. I need to start six seeds on the window sill (the soil is still cold at my house.)

I visited a friend’s garden that was full of foxglove which often doesn’t bloom until the second year. I need to start those seeds so I have a beautiful flower garden like she does next year.

What seeds should you start today?





Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

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 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 add 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.

Tomatoes.  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 homegrown 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.

Herbs. 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 a 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 your own food and 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.

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Psychic Predictions 2014

Why We Should All Grow a Garden This Year

by Sandy Swegel

From my early morning dreams: Psychics around the world predict a new rise in human global consciousness this year.  In all catalog14_cover (Mobile)corners of the globe, human beings awake this year and realize the true path to enlightenment is eating good nutritious food especially leafy greens and root vegetables. Millions set up garden sacred spaces in their back yard to grow their own fresh, local healthy food.  In progressive states like Colorado, the new leaf available for sale on every street corner is kale.

Children born this year will be precocious and wise beyond their years.  Unlike the indigos, these “green” children are born knowing to avoid processed foods and wail and throw tantrums when force-fed orange macaroni or dried up Cheerios.

It may be a year of turmoil as hundreds of thousands gather in protests, strikes and boycotts of local governments threatening to occupy the streets until schools and hospitals and shopping malls provide truly healthy lunches.  The earth joins in the protests and sends tornadoes around the world sucking up factories that make the pesticides that poison our farms.  New earthquake faults form under any land that has been forced into mono-cropping. Hurricanes wipe out buildings and urban sprawl in tropical areas leaving only edible native vegetation and fruit trees.

On the celebrity front, new reality shows about farmers and foragers are in demand.  The new Dynasty is led by dads who stand up for values of clean food and air and who know how to grow a mean tomato.  The Real Housewives are moms tending backyard chickens and looking sexy carrying in armloads of fresh vegetables with just a smudge of dirt above their brow.

What a year it can be! So when you’re sitting this winter day dreamily looking at the shiny seed catalogs, follow your inner wisdom and grow a splendid vegetable garden this year.  It’s a wiser kinder world calling you.

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Two Midsummer Tasks

Taking Care of Your Plants in the Heat

July can be hot in the garden.  If you’ve kept up with weeding earlier in the season, there may not be too much work outside of harvesting veggies.  Two midsummer tasks are important now.

Fertilize plants that have been working hard.

Tomatoes….because I want lots of tomatoes and the plants are growing like crazy in the summer heat.  I fertilize with a liquid organic bloom fertilizer.

Roses….because they just finished their big summer grand blooming and will rest a bit….but I want another big flourish as soon as the weather cools a bit.  I like the organic granular fertilizers although if there are dogs in the yard who try to eat the blood meal and bone meal in them, you’ll need to use a liquid.

Greens and other vegetables.  The chard and kales have been working hard and I will treat them to a nice kelp foliar spray.  It also makes the garden smell like ocean breezes!

Start seeds for your Fall Garden. This is hard to remember in the summer heat.  But now is the time to start broccoli and cauliflower plants so they’ll be ready to mature and sweeten in crisp Fall nights.

And if you like peas….it’s a good time to get them started again.  I waited till August last year and didn’t get much of a Fall crop.

Of course, you should always keep up your succession planting….keep putting in new plants or seeds where you’re pulling old ones out.

Happy Summer Days!

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Bumblebees Love Purple

The Bees Favorite Flower

by Sandy Swegel


I visited one of my favorite suburban lawn alternative gardens yesterday.  It’s a true pollinator’s heaven of nectar and pollen, right on a neighborhood street. Full of perennial gaillardia and rudbeckia, and reseeding annual larkspur, cleome, and sunflower, the garden uses about the same amount of water as your average lawn.

Bees were everywhere.  Neighbors stop by in wonder at what can be done with a front yard instead of plain old grass.  In the median strips in front of the flowers, kales and lettuces produced greens for the neighboring. This time of year, gaillardia and rudbeckia are dominant with their yellows, oranges and reds.  But something different this year was a plethora of purple larkspur.  Curious, I  asked community urban farmers Scott and Wendy about the variation.  They and the landowner are all careful gardeners, unlikely to throw in something different without a reason.  Scott explained matter-of-factly, “Well it’s for the bumblebees. They prefer purple.”  I was skeptical since I see bumblebees all day on different colored flowers.  He assured me they had watched the field for the last couple of years. The bumblebees always went for purple flowers.  And walking on the path, huge fat bumblebees were on the purple larkspur, gorging away.

I couldn’t resist a little more research and sure enough, studies in Germany showed that baby bumblebees love purple flowers. Purple flowers are thought to contain more nectar than other colors and that baby bumblebees who chose purple flowers had a better chance of survival…they then passed the purple preference onto their offspring.

I’m not sure what most piqued my curiosity this day…I loved learning that bumblebees like purple flowers best.  But I think I was more intrigued by Wendy and Scott just noticing all season that the bumblebees liked one particular color.  In the end, though, I’m most impressed with the bumblebees who somehow got the humans to plant their favorite food.  Very clever bees.

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Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes