Going to Seed

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

After weeks of rainy days, we were rewarded with a week of hot sun. This is great news for the tomatoes, but it means all those cool season veggies started to bolt. When summer temperatures warm up, all the cilantro and spinach and lettuce put out lovely seed heads. That’s a sign there won’t be many more leafy greens growing but all the plants’ efforts will go into reproduction and making seeds.

Seed making in the leafy greens means the leaves are going to turn bitter. And once bitter, you never get the sweetness back on those spinaches and lettuces. You’ll have to yank the plants out and re-seed.

For us, that means big salads for dinner every night this week.

We took out our harvesting knives and cut the lettuces and spinach to the ground. Lots of cilantro was done also…so an armload of cilantro greens will go into awesome pesto this week. Dozens of flat edible pea pods were plucked for salad and stir-fry. As the evening cooled, we sat around the outdoor table and watched the tomato plants put out more yellow flowers.

Tomato season is now on the way.

Life is good.

Photo credit: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/cilantro/cilantro-bolting.htm

Five Perennial vegetables you only have to plant once.

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Two of my personal goals this year are Less Labor and Eat More Vegetables. Perennial vegetables are a great way to meet both these goals. Plant them once and year after year you can just meander out to the yard to harvesting whenever you are hungry.

Here are my must-have five Perennial Vegetables. They do best if you put them off somewhere in their own patch where they can spread. They also do well planted in a perennial flower garden where they are beautiful plants in their own right.

Asparagus. You know this one. Every Spring I wish I had planted more asparagus years ago. I could happily sit on the ground and just snap off all the tender growing tops and eat them raw. Asparagus is a gotta-have perennial vegetable.

Artichoke. Artichokes are such a winner. They are delicious and, if you let a few go to seed, they are beautiful. There are on the edge of perennial here in Zone 5 but a neighbor of mine throws a bag of leaves on hers in the Fall and they keep coming back.

Rhubarb. This is a standard in old-fashioned gardens. It’s very helpful if you also plant some strawberries so you can always have pie!

 

Greens.
There are so many perennial greens: Some of my favorites that are best in the coolers seasons of Spring and Fall are:
Arugula: These I cut to the ground in Fall and they come up on their own fresh and tender in Spring.
Sorrel: Put it in an out-of-the-way spot where it gets good moisture. Some shade is OK. Sorrel is pretty lemony, so not for everyone but it’s a lively addition to salads and soups. The red sorrels are great foliage in the flower garden.
Nettle: What? Touch those stinging plants? Young nettle leaves carefully picked with gloves on, are incredible in so many dishes. My current favorite is a Nettle Pesto served over angel hair pasta. Yum.
Almost-perennial greens include kales and chards that will keep coming back if you give them just a bit of protection in Zone 5.

Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes. A perennial patch of sunchokes means you are never out of a potato substitute for dinner. You can harvest them all year round. If you are watching your carbs, sunchokes give you a vegetable with a substance that has a low glycemic index. Good for you if you have to watch your blood sugar. Sunchokes also grow into beautiful sunflowers! Food and flowers.
Want to know what perennial vegetables will do well no matter where you live in the world: This is an awesome “Global Inventory” of perennial vegetables created by permaculturist Eric Toensmeier

 

 

Photo credit artichoke: www.garden.org/plantguide/?q=show&id=3371

Photo credit sunchoke: www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/sunchokes-jerusalem-artichoke-tubers-zbcz1312.aspx

Gratitude for a Holiday Feast

How to Be Grateful for Delicious Food

By Sandy Swegel

One cannot but be overwhelmed by gratitude at holiday tables made with so much scrumptious food. In this age of “spiritual, not religious,” it can be hard to say “Grace” in a way that includes everyone. Yet gratitude leaps from us as we stand before splendid banquets.

Speaking in praise of food or of the Earth which yields such bounty is a safe communal prayer that we all understand. We who garden know the hard work and miracles that have to happen to bring food to the hungry. We who cook know our gift is not just in making food edible but in making it sing with flavor and color. We who shop know food often comes from far-off fields, from people who may not speak our language but who know the language of plants. As you prepare for your holiday feasts, be ready to sing gratitude for the food, for the soil and rain, for the seed companies, for the growers, and for all the middle people–the truckers and stockers and cashiers–who worked together to make your table abundant.

My inspiration for a holiday “Grace” has started with a poem fragment from Stephen Levine.

The Salad. (Excerpt)

“There are truths among the frilly lettuce and the slick tomatoes; even the adzuki bean has its point of view. The truth apparently was born in the salad. Or maybe it was there before we started.”

— “The Salad” from Breaking the Drought by Stephen Levine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit:

www.abetterbagofgroceries.com/

www.crosscards.com

 

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.

 

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

Two Tips for Starting Seeds in the Ground in Spring

Seed Starting

by Sandy Swegel

 

Two weeks ago during a warm spell I had a little seeding frenzy and made tiny rows of lettuces and Micro Greens in a community garden plot along with the usual St. Patrick’s Day peas.  Every thing is coming up now (OK with their weed friends too).  There are two things I do whenever I put seeds directly into the ground to make sure I’m successful.

Here’s my basic process for starting seeds that works for me.

Weed and smooth soil out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil
Pat the seed lightly with my hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil.

TIP #1
ROW COVER
I lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seedbed.  You want it loosely so the plants can grow and the row covers lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks (of which there are many in our soil) to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away.  The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note…I water right on top of the row cover.  It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

Sometimes there are seeds that are slow to germinate.  That’s when I use

Tip #2
PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.
Seeds like peas or carrots respond well if you soak them overnight, drain them, let them sprout in a baggie with a damp paper towel for a day, then put them in the ground.  The peas get cute sprouts.

 

I get a high germination rate even from difficult seeds when I use these two tips.  Which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save a little money.

It’s Spring!  Enjoy playing in the Dirt!

Photo credit: http://frontrangefoodgardener.blogspot.com/
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/row-covers?page=0,1

I miss my garden

Benefits of Having Your Own Garden

by Sandy Swegel

 

I’m on the 6 a.m., red-eye flight from New Orleans and all I can say after a week in this great party town in that I miss my garden.  Sure, fried shrimp and stuffed crabs are great but after a week of culinary excess, I’m yearning for the crisp still frozen Swiss chard that I’ve harvested all winter underneath piles of leaves.  In big cities, you still get a lot of that pale white iceberg lettuce.

The other thing I missed in this big city are front yard gardens.  All those small urban front yard lawns are begging to be turned from turf to nice raised beds. Perfectly groomed shrubs are not nearly as pretty to this gardener as sprawling squash vines or trellises of peas would be.  The best I could do was slip some herbs between the roses and azaleas in my mom’s tiny condo garden.

 

So I salute, today, all of you who are growing your own food in cities or in neighborhoods controlled by HOAs that abhor anything untraditional.  I live in the fantasy land of Boulder where it’s trendy to grow your own food.  I have a new respect for you who garden in the city or where you’re the only gardener on the block.  And I’ve envied your fresh greens all week!

 

Photo Credits:

walkingberkeley.wordpress.com

blog.nilsenlandscape.com

 

 

 

3 Veggies You Gotta Grow at Home

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

These three veggies you gotta grow at home because they aren’t easy to find in grocery stores.  Even if you can buy them, they are so much better fresh out of the garden AND super easy to grow.

Broccoli Raab Rapini

This is a relative to big broccoli stalks. You get the same great taste and vitamins as the bigger broccoli except this is easier and faster to cook. You can buy raab in the grocery stores sometimes, but it’s often large and the leaves can be tougher. Clipped young out of the garden and sauteed with olive oil or in stir-fry, it’s tender and sweet.  And it’s easy to throw a little in your juicer without it overwhelming other vegetables.

Chioggia Beets

You can buy beets with greens attached, but again you don’t get the young tender sweet greens you can clip directly out of the garden that are great for stir-fry or slipped into a mixed salad.  Any beet would work, but the Chioggia have those super cool stripes that look great sliced very thin in a salad.

Anyone who has read this blog knows I’ve got a thing for peas. But the dwarf grey sugars reign above all the others.  First, the plant with its pretty pink flowers could pass for a sweet pea.  Second, even the leaves of this pea are tasty and you could grow these peas just for microgreens. Third, the young pod is sublime. Eaten young right off the plant it is sweet and tender. Grown a little more, it’s a great snack refrigerated or even to be used in the traditional way in a stir-fry.

Gardening is fun but also can take a lot of time and work. I like to grow food that I can’t just buy in the grocery store but is a delight when grown at home.

 

Photo Credits:http://www.karensgarden.net/ki_galleries/2009/PeaBlossom.jpg

http://green-artichoke.blogspot.com/2012/07/beet-and-lentil-salad.html

 

Best Supporting Actor – Dark Opal Basil

The Star of the Garden

by Sandy Swegel

Some plants are meant to be the star of the garden.  Dahlias, for example.  You can see them from across the yard and they elicit gasps of delight at their beauty.  While stars do make the garden, they only really dazzle when surrounded by a strong supporting cast. And that’s where Dark Opal Basil really shines. Its black shiny leaves provide a color background that makes white and brightly colored flowers in the garden “pop.” But as they say on late night TV, “That’s not all…”

Here are five more ways Dark Opal Basil really is a superstar.

Dark Opal Basil is super cute planted as a border in front of the tomato bed.  Brushing along the basil releases its great hot summer aroma.  Some say Dark Opal Basil, like all basils, helps repel tomato hornworm.

Its own pink to white flowers on dark purple bracts shine on their own.

Its dense foliage fills all the empty space in containers and display beds.  Visually, it pulls together a lot of other plants like zinnias and salvias that can look bare at the bottom.

It is yummy.  I like it growing near the cherry tomatoes so on a warm summer afternoon I pick one leaf of basil and wrap it around one cherry tomato for a refreshing flavor burst.

Dark Opal is said to be the favorite purple basil for cooks because of mild flavor and a tender leaf.  It looks and smells great in a salad, served with fresh mozzarella or use a sprig of it in a Bloody Mary.

Hurry up Springtime. I’m ready to plant Today!

Photo Credits:
gardening.ktsa.com/pages/7670364.php?
foodwineclick.com/2013/08/25/basil-tasting/

 

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.

It’s Always a New Beginning for Gardeners.

What To Start Now

Thinking about the beautiful creation stories explored in the services of the eve of Rosh Hashanah that our Jewish friends celebrated yesterday reminds me that for the gardener, things are never really at an end.  There’s always something new to begin in the endless cycles of life.  Whether it is Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Autumn Equinox or any of the lunar celebrations, every culmination or harvest is also a time to begin something new.

The need to keep beginning is especially true for the food gardener, especially if you want to keep eating.  It’s always a new beginning for gardeners, so many foods are dependent on seasons – cool season, warm season.  It may seem with the great ripening of tomatoes that the vegetable garden is complete this year, but if you want to keep eating, you need to keep planting: cool season crops, lettuces, sturdy greens that you can eat on all winter.

Some of the things it is time to begin:

Begin a hoop house or cold frame.
If you haven’t already seeded fall greens or carrots and beets, make haste and do it right away.  They need to grow to a good size before winter, so you can harvest even through the snow.

Begin a leaf pile.
Are you ready for collecting fall leaves and beginning again (or adding to) your leaf mulch pile?  Leaves are going to fall….and if you’re ready, your neighbors will bring you all the leaves you want.  A simple sign in your driveway that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted”  will catch the attention of your neighbors who want an easy way to recycle.  Our neighborhood gets over 2000 bags a year that people drop off.  The first year was only about 300 bags….but each year it has grown till we quit counting after 1000 or so.

Begin to fertilize perennials.
If you fertilize with natural fertilizers like blood and bone meal, now is a good time to begin fertilizing perennials and shrubs.  Natural fertilizers break down slowly so Fall is the best time to put them (and compost) out around your plants so they have time to soak in all winter.  Synthetic fertilizers like Miracle-Gro should wait until Spring because they’d stimulate a growth spurt now when the plants should be shutting down.

Begin to clean up.
Start cleaning up diseased leaves and broken plant debris.  Your plants will be healthier next year.

One thing NOT to begin:  Don’t cut down green growing plants because you’re anxious to put the garden to bed.  Some minor experiments have proven to me, that plants that are allowed to die in place and get cut down in later winter or early spring have a better survival rate than plants that get cut down in Fall.  This is especially true for Agastache one gardener I know discovered.

Begin to plant a TREE!
A REALLY IMPORTANT THING TO BEGIN NOW:  Plant a tree.  There are often healthy trees on deep discounts at garden centers.  The best time to begin a tree in your garden is always RIGHT NOW.