Lupines

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

One way to design your garden is to plan ahead, make sketches and get all of your seeds started indoors 8 weeks before frost.  Another way, for those of us not quite so organized, is to add a plant you absolutely fall in love with, no matter what the time of year.  Lupines fit this latter category for me.  Until I see them bloom, I forget how amazing they are. When they come into bloom, I am awestruck.  They are so unusual and big and beautiful and colorful.  I envy those in New Hampshire who went last week to the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival where you could ride horse-drawn wagons through fields of lupine.  The festival continues this weekend if you live nearby.  Friends sent photos of lupines against the sea in Cape Cod and I knew it was time to get the packets of seeds of lupine that I’ve had unopened since February.

 

June is probably a little late to get flowers for this year from seed, but it is perfect timing for growing big plants that will put out big flowers next June.  Even if you already have some lupine growing, it is a good time to start some more.  Lupines are biennial or short-lived perennials so you need to keep starting new plants if they aren’t seeding themselves around.  They germinate pretty easily especially if you give them a cold stratification or just soak them overnight in warm water before seeding.  Lupines are easy to grow.  They like moist areas but tolerate drought.

 

There are good reasons to grow lupine other than their drop-dead gorgeousness.  Permaculturists value lupine as nitrogen fixers and phosphorus accumulators.  Bees and other nectar-eating pollinators value the abundant nectar from lupines.  Lacewings like to lay eggs on them. Birds eat their seeds. And we feast on their beauty.

Photo Credit

Lupines of Cape Cod, L Fulton, 2016

Perched Among the Lupines, Michael Carr of Somersworth, NH 2013

Rules You Can’t Break

Some Rules You Can’t Break

by Sandy Swegel

 

Nature is a fierce taskmaster. We can bend many rules by starting seeds in our basements under lights or planting tomatoes in Walls of Water in the snow. But there are definite limits to how much nature will bend to our will and when we’ve just gone too far. A warm early Spring and now a deadly April blizzard have brought to mind who really makes the rules here…and it’s not gardeners.

Laws of Time and Space that can’t be broken.

Six weeks before last frost
The rule of thumb for cool season plants is to seed six weeks before last frost. April 1st is 6 weeks before our last frost, but a warm spell had impatient gardeners planting peas in February. Some peas did come up but many more rotted under the sodden snows and rains. Others were eaten by birds and mice. Most people had to replant.

After danger of frost has past
Really. 72 degrees in early April is not a reason to break this law. My eager neighbor planted green beans a couple of weeks ago. It was very warm and they sprouted and started to grow. They all turned brown and died in our below-freezing temperatures this weekend.

 

 

Days to Harvest
Well, I’ve tried the squash planting experiments and learned what the seed packets say. It takes 100 days to get my favorite butternut squash ripe before killing frosts in the Fall. I cannot procrastinate and not get the seeds planted until June 14th like I did two years ago. No amount of heat or sun or fertilizer speeds up the natural process of development. The squashes were beautiful but immature and not edible. Nature doesn’t forgive procrastinators no matter how well-intentioned.

Fruit tree flowering
The law of time sadly broken this weekend was by people who plant trees that bloom early. In eastern Colorado, one of the frequently planted and least productive fruit trees is the apricot. It buds and blooms in very early Spring and hopes are raised for a grand harvest. Then inevitably there are April freezes and all the flowers freeze. We get apricots maybe every seven to ten years. It just doesn’t make sense to plant them. But now with more global warming-induced fluctuating temperatures, we are going to have the same problems with our reliable fruit trees: apples, plums and pears. A warm Spring brought all the fruit trees into full bloom last week….when the trees are most susceptible to killing frosts. It may be as cold as 24 degrees tonight which could me no backyard or local fruit this year…the second year in a row. We have to begin choosing very late budding trees to handle climate change.

 

There are many other laws that can’t be broken. Anyone who has forgotten to thin the carrots knows you can’t break Laws of Space and expect normal carrots….instead you have hundreds of carrots thinner than chopsticks. I tried breaking the Laws of Light and Dark by falling for beautiful pineapple sage at the garden center. It only blooms when the days get short. Our days get short about a week before Fall frost….so the plant sat without bloom most of the summer until a fabulous October display and then frost.

To be happy, successful gardeners, we must notice how nature works and try to work with her, not against her. Climate change is discouraging to say the least, but we can adapt.

 

Grow your own Thyme Plugs

Certified Organic Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

One of the more intrigue new seeds we are carrying is Creeping Thyme. We all love the romantic look of a stone path with thyme filling in the crevices between the stone. Thyme lawns have also become popular as a low-water way to have a patch of green. You can’t play soccer on your thyme lawn, but you can walk across it. The best part is that in most gardens, the thyme grows so thickly that only a few weeds pop through.

It can be quite a challenge to start a thyme lawn or patio though. The plants you purchase generally are in large pots and it’s not easy to shake off the dirt and try to smoosh the plant between the pavers. It’s also pretty expensive to cover a long walkway.

You can definitely try direct seeding and sprinkling the thyme seeds in the areas you want the groundcover to grow. This works well in England or in coastal areas. This hasn’t worked well for me because Colorado is arid and it takes daily watering to get the seeds to germinate. Naturally then, lots of weed seeds germinate before the thyme comes up. There is an easy solution for people who like to grow from seed. Grow your own thyme plant and thyme plugs.

Plug trays are the size of a normal planting flat but each flat has cells for 128 plants. Sometimes garden centers sell plug trays or you can find them on the internet. I got some that my garden center was throwing out….they use them to plant into the larger pots they sell. You can also use those little six packs annuals come in. Fill your plug tray with seed germinating mix and put one or two seeds into each cell. Grow under lights or outdoors if it’s warm enough. In just weeks after germinating you end up with an entire tray of perfect little well-rooted plants that easily fit into the spaces in your patio. If you’re planting a lawn, you can place the plugs on a grid 4-8 inches apart and they’ll grow to a mat this year. Each packet of thyme seeds has 600 seeds in it so you could a LOT of thyme plugs for a couple bucks!

Growing your own thyme plugs is easy. The hardest part is being sure to weed the area you are planting really well. But it’s the last time you’ll have to do such a big weeding there….once the thyme grows in, it blocks most weeds. Yippee. No weeding on your patio. Or if you’re planting a lawn…no more mowing.

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.”

 

Learning from Kid’s Gardens

What We Can Learn from Kids’ Gardens

Gardening Tips

There are tons of books and articles on how to teach kids about gardening. And it is lots of fun to teach young gardeners and show them how to pull a carrot or find an earthworm. But kids who like to garden do it for the fun of it…so there’s a lot that we serious grownups can learn about gardening from kids.

Forget the rules. (or hold them loosely.) Plants grow more easily for kids than for adults. The first time I helped with a children’s garden project, we were planting peas for a Peas (peace) Garden. I had prepped the soil along the fence and about 20 kids of all ages came in and willy-nilly planted their peas. I attempted to teach a few about how to plant peas, but everywhere I looked peas were being thrown about or stomped into the ground. After all the kids left, I asked their teacher if I should replant some of the peas so the kids wouldn’t be disappointed when their plants didn’t grow. The teacher laughed and said, “They’ll grow….they always do.” Plants will grow for kids while adults who do the same thing will have failures. Sure enough. Peas planted 4 inches in the ground, or peas barely touching the soil, all sprouted and grew. Adults who have a playful attitude toward their plants, get better results than some of us who follow the rules too much.

More “Garden Candy”

Garden Candy is what one of the kids called peas because it’s what her grandma called them. Truthfully, we all want more strawberries and fewer cabbages. But they don’t have to just be strawberries. Cherry tomatoes and little round carrots and side sprouts of broccoli all have excellent potential as “garden candy.” Think of raw veggies naturally sweet and little enough for nibbling by small mouths. It may take some encouragement on your part to get the kids to taste the fresh peas or carrots and recognize how different they are than the cooked veggies they know.

More Play

Besides colorful fences around the garden, kids know to mix art and plants together everywhere. And they know some plants aren’t just for eating. Beans for example. Sure you can grow them in little bushes or perfect t-post trellises, but they taste even yummier when grown on teepees trellises that you can also hide inside on a hot summer day. And why grow plain beans with white flowers when you can grow scarlet runner beans! Kids always choose our Festive Rainbow blends of carrots or radishes or lettuces. More color, please. More shiny, brightly colored sparkly things in the garden, please.

More Art

Sure, a Sharpie on an ice cream stick marks where your vegetables are. Adults don’t have time to make magnificent Martha Stewart plant labels. However, kids know garden markers from Michaels’ and little drawings on rocks make great art. So do a few “container gardens” planted in old boots and bright plastic flowers stuck in the ground.

Tall Sunflowers are a Must.

Even kids who aren’t all that into vegetables know instinctively that sunflowers are beautiful and make people smile.

Be Proud of your Garden.

Your friends come over and you start apologizing for your weeds. Your kids, however, are pulling on the adults saying, “Come see my garden” because there’s one lonely marigold in full bloom.

Only Plant what You Love.

You don’t see eight-year-olds planting some vegetable they hate because they know they should. They plant flowers based on their favorite colors and they plant peach pits and apple seeds. And they learn to love kale because the red curly one is so cool.

Don’t Forget to Invite the Fairies and Garden Sprites

A little fairy garden is a delight for all ages (and for the fairies.)

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits
https://www.parentmap.com/article/15-garden-crafts-for-kids
https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/love-our-scarlet-runner-bean-teepee/

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

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

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/