Bring More Color to Your Wild Areas

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

At this time of year when we’re mired in cold and snow, I yearn for two delights of Spring:  when the daffodils and tulips bloom and when the meadows burst with wildflowers.  One thing about wildflowers though, especially in our suburban gardens.  A few years after planting it seems that just a few wildflowers start to dominate.  Often it’s the bachelor buttons and California poppies, both beautiful flowers, but we need diversity and variety and wild color to really shake winter off.

The secret to a lush wildflower area (besides good rainfall) is to over-seed the area every once in a while with some of your favorite flowers.  I usually take the easy way and just throw out a packet of our mixed wildflower seeds to get an overall refreshing of the original mix I planted years ago.  But for one friend who has created a “hot colors” theme of red and orange in her garden, we throw out packets of red wildflowers.  This year we just did a search for Flowers by Color and picked out the flowers we liked with the truest red colors.  We settled on red columbines for Spring, red firecracker penstemons for early summer and red gaillardia for mid-summer.

Finally, my absolute favorite reseeding in the Spring is to seed the Parade of Poppies mix.  There just are never enough poppies of any sort in my mind.  This year I’ve slipped a seed packet in my coat pocket for some guerilla gardening during my sunny day walks along old abandoned properties and ditches that grows lots of weeds.  Poppies will brighten my path this year!

This year I’m also going to try taking a baggie full of our new StrawNet (pellets of straw) when I do my wild area guerilla gardening.  The biggest problem with just throwing seeds out onto abandoned land is that I can’t water them every day.  StrawNet absorbs water and helps create a little moist barrier for new seeds so I expect it to help more seedlings survive even if we have a dry Spring.  Sometimes nature needs a little help to be as beautiful as she can be.

Photo Credit: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/columbines/images/aschockleyi/aquilegia_schockleyi_habitat_katewalker_lg.jpg

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Save the Monarch Butterfly!

Doing Your Part to Save Nature

by Sandy Swegel

The big nature news this week was an article in the New York Times that 2013 is the first year anyone remembers that the monarchs didn’t appear in the central forests of Mexico for the Day of the Dead. It’s part of the cultural tradition there that the annual migration of monarchs to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico represents the souls of the dead.  Last year scientists were worried when only 60 million monarchs came back to Mexico, but this year a paltry 3 million struggled in weeks late.

A primary cause of the monarch’s disappearance is the destruction of milkweed in the Midwest, the monarch’s only food. Native habitat in which milkweed thrives has been destroyed as prairie turns to endless mono-crops of Roundup-drenched fields of corn.  There are other factors such as massive deforestation in Mexico and the transition of prairie land to suburbia. But no milkweed means the monarch starves.

It’s interesting that the New York Times has been a big supporter of the monarch.  This was the third article in the last year in which they have featured the decline of the monarch. They have seen the writing on the wall.

What can you do?  Keep up the usual things you do opposing GMO crops that rely on Roundup to wipe out all native “weeds.”  There’s political action work to reduce the corn subsidies that make Roundup profitable.  But as a gardener, you can plant some milkweed and other native plants that will feed the many native pollinators in dramatic decline.  The monarch might be the prettiest most dramatic victim of our prairie destruction, but there are many others.  Gardeners understand the delicate web of life that depends on native habitat.  Tell your friends.

New York Times on the Monarch: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/sunday-review/the-year-the-monarch-didnt-appear.html?_r=0http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/monarchs-fight-for-their-lives.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/science/earth/monarch-migration-plunges-to-lowest-level-in-decades.html

Photo Credit:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/science/12butterfly.html?pagewanted=all

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Plant Some Garlic!

Tips for Planting Garlic

by Sandy Swegel

A foot or two of snow on the garden may make it seem like the gardening season is over, but if your ground isn’t frozen yet, there’s still time to plant some garlic.  Fall is the best time to plant garlic (which needs a cooling cycle before growing) and even though it seems like winter already, the garlic will do a lot of root growth before the soil freezes.

Garlic is super easy to grow.  If you have garden soil that’s already in decent condition, you can be finished in less than an hour.

Get your garlic, preferably garlic sold for planting or organic garlic from the grocery.  There’s a chance that non-organic garlic has been treated to prevent sprouting in the supermarket….which would mean no sprouting or growing in the field.

Take your head of garlic and split it into cloves. Big cloves are better….they make bigger plants.

You’re already half done….that’s how easy garlic is.

Plant garlic 6 inches apart. Plant in a grid, not just a single line.  My beds that had lettuce until hard frost are three feet across so I plant in a grid…five cloves the width of the bed and then as long as my row has space.  I just had four feet available….so that’s 40 cloves of garlic that will equal 40 heads of garlic next June.

My soil is wet from two weeks of early snows, so I didn’t do a lot of digging because I didn’t want to ruin the soil texture (i.e. dig up clumps of clay).  I just took my yardstick to make a straight line and poked 40 holes the depth of my index finger.  Then I dropped a clove, pointed side up, in each hole. Press the soil closed around and over the hole. Done.

The two most useful tips that I learned from our local garlic expert Karen Beeman of WeeBee Farms is:

1. Put 2-4 inches of grass or hay (non-pesticide treated of course) as a mulch over the soil. It helps with protection from drying winds and cold.

2. Water very thoroughly, especially if you’re in a dry climate.  I don’t mean just stand there with a hose.  Put a sprinkler on the area and drench it thoroughly.  Or arrange an all-day rainstorm that puts a couple of inches of moisture into the soil.  I didn’t water the garlic in so much thinking winter snow would be enough, but my heads were pretty puny at harvest.  The cloves didn’t get growing soon enough in soil that was parched from a long hot summer.

There, you’re done for this season. You can harvest some scapes in spring and your fully grown garlic next June or July.

Not bad for an hour (or less) work today!

For more tips from Karen: http://weebeefarms.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-to-plant-garlic.html

Garlic-love Picture: http://lipmag.com/food-2/healthy-bytes-goodness-of-garlic/

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Which Foods are GMOs, Anyway?

Detecting These Foods and How to Avoid Them

by Sandy Swegel

We read a lot about GMO foods, but a recent reader question made me think about how little I know about which foods are genetically modified when I go shopping. I know I can avoid GMOs by eating only organic foods, but once I stray from the organic aisle, I’m going to run into the approximately 30,000 genetically modified products that are on grocery shelves. Where are those GMOs hiding?

Most of the GMO foods in the US are foods that are ingredients in other foods.  The top GMOs are corn, soy, cottonseed, milk, sugar beets and aspartame.

The bottom line is:

If your food is sweet, there’s likely a GMO involved. Sugar beets are common GMO products and the source for most granular sugar in the USA. Liquid sugar like high fructose corn syrup is made from corn and is often GMO.  Even if you go the artificial sweetener route, aspartame is often GMO. If your food is sweetened, whether, soda, juice, cookies or candy, GMOs probably are ingredients.

If your food is a protein, there’s a good chance GMOs are involved. Soy proteins are everywhere boosting protein content and 95% of US soy is GMO.  If you are eating beef or eggs, it’s likely the animals were fed GMO corn.  I paid extra for nice local eggs until I found out that standard chicken feed from the feed store was made of GMO corn.  GMO corn and alfalfa also fatten up your cows and pigs that produce beef and pork. And now that most fish are “farmed,” the most common food they live on is corn.  All those protein drinks and “smoothies” we love are GMO soy based.

If your food has a thick texture, GMOs could be helping.  The ubiquitous lecithin is made from GMO soy. Lecithin and beet sugar are prime ingredients in favorites like yogurt and ice cream.  GMO cottonseed oil and canola oil are common ingredients used in margarine, salad dressing or for frying potato chips and processed food. GM synthetic hormone rBGH is found in milk products unless they are labeled “no rBGH.”

The bottom line?  Eat like your great-grandparents.  Grow your own food when you can.  Buy organic vegetables and fruits when you shop. Get grass fed meats and wild caught fish.  And don’t waste your money on all those processed foods that aren’t real food anyway.

Sources: http://action.greenamerica.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=7608&gclid=CPm7q7Giy7oCFU1gMgod0DkArQ

Photo Credit: http://paleodesserts.com/avoiding-gmos-heres-how/

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Fall Gardening: Getting Ready

Preparing Your Garden For Fall

by Sandy Swegel

What a great time of year this is.  And not just because the harvest is upon us and tomatoes are ripening and winter squash are filling out.  It’s a great time because school is starting again and school supplies are in the stores bringing up great memories and nostalgia for the beginning of the school year.  Sure we all hated summer vacation ending, but getting new pencils and notebooks and going back to school and seeing old friends was invigorating. The slight nip in the night air that starts in August in Colorado stimulates a new enthusiasm, much like a new year or a new chance.

Going into the garden in August is a lot like getting ready for school again.  First, you have to get rid of the chaos and clutter of summer.  We’ve been vacationing or sneaking naps in hammocks and somehow, the weeds we were carefully hoeing when they were an inch tall in May, have grown taller than us and have seed heads. So the first step of getting ready for Fall Gardening is taking a deep breath and clearing out the weeds and debris that might have snuck into the garden.

On Your Marks First, you have to be able to see your marks.  Clear out the weeds that are choking things like the bindweed threatening to bring the corn to its knees. Pull out tough stalks of spring lettuce.  They’re done…let them go! Those radishes that have been baking in the summer heat…time to recycle them into compost. Any place with diseased-looking leaves:  clear out every last leaf to reduce the chances of trouble there in the future.

Get Ready. Get ready to meet old friends again…the cold-hardy or cool season crops.  These are all the sturdy plants that don’t mind a morning freeze.  Swiss Chard and Kale or Spinach can be frozen solid on an October morning and be perfect for dinner that night.  The secret to having fresh vegetables in the Fall and long into winter is to plant while the soil is warm so that the plant is full-grown by frost.  After it gets cold, plants don’t grow very quickly, but the garden will keep them ready to eat for months.  Get ready to plant a big garden.  It’s not the end of a garden season, but the beginning of one.

Get Set. Make a plan.  Think about how many salads you’ll want  (or how many pounds of greens you bought last year.)  For greens, you want two general different kinds:  the soft sweet salad greens that will last you until hard frost and the sturdy kales and chards and collards that will be good for cooking. The local farmers call it a “braising mix” that you can pick and stir-fry well into winter. Don’t forget carrots.   This is also time to make a plan if you want a cold frame or want to set up a row cover to extend the season.

Go. It’s just like Spring again…only this time your mind isn’t gaga over a million possible gardens.  So focus on the task at hand—growing enough food for you and your family and friends to eat all Fall and Winter. Prepare the soil. Dig out big weeds. Mix in compost or organic fertilizer. Smooth the surface. Water thoroughly. Let the soil sit for two weeks for soil activity to restore itself. Order the seed you don’t have. Try something a little different like the Asian greens or just something new. They should arrive by the time your soil has rested. Plan a season extender. You can stretch your fall garden into January or February even if you live in a cold place. You can use a cold frame, a hoop house, some row cover or just bags of Fall leaves thrown over plants on extra cold nights.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

After the Hail

How to Recover Your Garden After a Storm

by Sandy Swegel

“Gardening in Colorado sucks” is how my friend described her garden after a violent storm full of hail and tornadoes passed through the towns east of Boulder this week.  Much more vivid expletives were used by all as we surveyed the destruction brought by 2-1/2 inches of rain in less than a half hour and hail that had to be cleared by snow plows.  We were actually quite lucky.  Tornado sirens were going off all over town, but there weren’t many touchdowns.

But the garden is devastated.  Well, let me correct that. The xeric plants are doing fine.  They are thin-leaved and flexible and have adapted to millennia of hail on the high plains. Russian sage and grasses and Liatris look great. Cactus definitely didn’t care.  But the plants we love in our yards: the roses and deciduous trees had their leaves shredded by the hail and broken by the winds.  Thank God we don’t rely on our vegetable gardens as our only source of food.  Corn was broken, squash stems were ripped and shredded.  The zucchini has so many stems and leaves, it will survive, but we can forget winter squash and watermelons and pumpkins.

So what can a gardener do after hail? We cowered in our houses as tornado sirens wailing “Get to shelter immediately.” Unlike Dorothy and Auntie Em in the tornado shelter, we were in furnished basements with our wireless devices googling for webcams of what was going on outside. But once we emerged, the response was pretty much the same.  “Holy xxxx”

After the storm, gardeners have to take it easy.  Remove the huge broken branches to the curb. Clean up fallen leaves.  Get your roof patched.  But don’t start cutting back the garden.  Plants are going to need whatever leaves they have left to photosynthesize for the rest of the season.  Take a day or two off so you don’t overreact.  I spent hours picking up debris and cutting stems that were completely broken.

Perennials:  do as little as possible to let leaves keep making food.

Annuals:  Cut back broken parts of flowers like snapdragons and cosmos.  Leave trailing things like sweet potato vines be for a week or so. They will often make new leaves at each node.

Shrubs:  Cut broken parts and let them be.  Like trees, they will start putting out new leaves.  I’m not completely convinced fertilizing helps now because it will stimulate new growth.  I’ll do regular fall fertilizing with a slow-release natural fertilizer.

Trees:  The trees have had such a hard year.  They struggled with late frosts this spring that killed off their first set of leaves and they had to generate a second set of leaves.  Now the hail means they’ll start growing a third set of leaves.  They will really use their food reserves.  I hope it’s not a hard winter.  When the tree dies a year or two from now, we often forget that it was the hail this year that helped do them in.

About the only other thing to do besides keep filling the compost bins is to make sure everything is well watered and mulched going into winter. Don’t pull out plants that look dead…their capacity for regeneration is amazing.

Well, there is one more thing to do:  heal the gardener’s soul by planting some new plants to bring hope and beauty back into the landscape.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Black Swallowtails

Protect Your Dill and Parsley

by Sandy Swegel

I’m very proud of my mama.  At 80+ and on oxygen 24 hours a day, she’s still making valiant efforts to keep her brain functioning.  She led a busy life, but now that’s she’s older and can’t get around easily without oxygen tanks, she is learning to observe what is in front of her.  Today she called me very proudly and announced that she had found five huge caterpillars on her dill plant in her tiny courtyard garden down in New Orleans.  She was never a gardener but at this point in life she loves watching butterflies through the window and had watched over the last few weeks wondering why the butterflies were all over the dill plant.  She called because she wanted to know what would happen next and what she should do or not do.

I pretty much said do nothing except maybe to make sure the cat kept the birds from eating those fat plump caterpillars.  And then I googled and found these great pictures of what’s going to happen.  She’s going to have to look around because the butterflies might make their home on some sticks or weeds or even under a tiny fountain.  She’s promised to take pictures…but photographer Bob Moul made a great website about what you should look for if black swallowtails are all over your dill, parsley or fennel. http://www.pbase.com/rcm1840/lifecycleofblsw  It only takes a few weeks from huge caterpillar to new butterfly!

Usually, it’s the very young and the old who have the wisdom to notice nature’s miracles like butterflies…but I’m going to check the dill and parsley too. If you don’t have time to stalk your dill plants, here’s an awesome time-lapse video of caterpillar to butterfly!  The first part of the video is all about frenzied eating.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrowLvvmmds

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Make Your Own Mud Puddle

Do It For The Pollinators

I’m always in search of how to do things more easily and efficiently in the garden. Once again today I was at the garden center eavesdropping and heard a typical customer question: ”What should I plant to get pollinators to my yard?” The answer the garden center owner gave surprised me.  I was expecting a list of bright colorful flowers that were good sources of nectar and some host-specific plants for butterflies. Instead, I heard the best and simplest answer to this common question: “There are lots of good plants to use,  but the most important thing you can do is provide a good source of water.” He then elaborated that it couldn’t just be a birdbath or water fountain…it needed to be shallow and ideally have the minerals pollinators crave.

So the quick and easy way to get LOTS of pollinators to your yard is to make your own mud puddles.  Or if you’re a bit tidier, a water sand bath.

Any way to get small puddles of water will work. You’ve seen this when flying insects gather around a dripping spigot, or when there’s a ledge in your water feature that water flows slowly over. In nature, pollinators gather along the edges of streams and lakes.

To mimic nature, take a plant saucer and fill it half with sand and fill with water to just over the sand.  The sand is the source of minerals and gives an easy surface to rest upon.  Bees especially will drown in deeper water.  To make it extra nice, sprinkle compost over the sand to add extra nutrients.  If you’re out in the country, a nice flat cow patty will do the trick…Put it in a big round plant saucer and add water.

If you’re in a very dry climate like me, the water evaporates much too quickly in hot weather.  The customer I was eavesdropping on at the garden center had a burst of inspiration: “I’ll put one of my drip lines in it so when I water the plants, the “puddle” will get water.”

A less elegant solution is to take a one-gallon water bottle and put a pinhole in the bottom and place it on some bare soil. Fill the bottle and water will drip out slowly keeping a mud puddle going.

I’ve put out an attractive saucer with sand, and a water bottle over bare dirt to see which works better.  So far, the plain wet dirt is winning when they’ve got a choice. Now, why do I suspect they’d probably like the wet cow patty the best.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Name Your Garden!

Gardens Name Themselves

by Sandy Swegel

A friend told me years ago that everything should have a name, even inanimate objects. She was helping me garden one year and within just a couple of weeks, everything we might ever have a need to refer to had a name. The big orange wheelbarrow, of course, was “Pumpkin.” The red bargain shovel was “Scarlet.” My little hand shovel was “Scout.” Soon my old truck had a name (Zohar) and it just went on and on from there. Her premise was, that if you’ve named something, you take better care of it. This must be true because I lost my good pruners that season, most likely because they were anonymous.

I love gardens. In the past few months, I’ve become so infatuated with making my garden look as amazing as humanly possible, and I’ve even managed to get my friends doing the same. Just the other day a friend of mine had new composite fencing installed by Ecomposite, whose fences are made from recycled plastic and wood. However, out of all of my friends, none of them have the passion for gardens that I do, to the point where I even have names for the gardens that I see.

Gardens just begged to be named. They even name themselves. The wild area with the chokecherries and wild roses is “The Thicket.” A client’s garden that is full of lavender and has the best mountain view in town is “The Anti-Depression Garden.” The part of the yard with two apple trees and a cherry is “The Orchard.” My names aren’t particularly clever sometimes, but they either convey the essence of the garden to me or they are a convenient way to talk to other people. Or most other people. A gardener who happened to be an engineer left me a message once asking me to weed in the “Ovate” garden. The what? I said. But ovate was very clearly the proper technical name for the shape of the bed.

You get the idea. You can name your garden after the plants that live there or the shape of the bed or the emotion the garden evokes. Garden writer Lauren Springer coined the phrase “hell strip” years ago to describe the space between the sidewalk and the street. Everyone knows what you mean when you say “The Hell Strip.” For years a favorite area at the Denver Botanic Gardens was the Red Garden…every plant, every foliage and bloom, was red.

Other gardens I’ve named are the grassy area in the back where I threw the wildflower/grass mixture, “The Meadow.” The small bed near the entry door to my house is “The Nursery” where I heel in all the plants I acquire but don’t know where to put them. My very friend Rosemarie’s garden beds are very practical and organized like the busy engineer and supermom she is. Her favorite bed though is a small strip we named “The Diva Garden” where she can plant outrageous purples and reds and those “OMG I have to have that plant” purchases to nurture her wild side.

I think the plants in the named beds do thrive better. Maybe it’s because once garden areas have a name, I have a relationship with them and take better care of them. I named my new pruners “Snippy” so I won’t lose them so fast this time. Now if only there were a way to link them to the ICloud so I could just hit the button “Find my Pruners” and they’d ring until I found them.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes