Attract Chickadees to Your Garden

All About Chickadees

by Sandy Swegel

Chickadees are out and about on warm winter days.  They are the tiny white birds with black heads that are flittering and chirping vocally on sunny January days.  I often see them in the top branches of evergreens.

Chickadees are small birds that don’t migrate but hunker down in tree cavities to survive the winter despite their tiny bodies.  You can have lots of chickadees in your garden if you keep a simple tube feeder with seeds (they love black sunflower seeds.). You can also feed them with your garden by leaving the seed heads on all the plants for the chickadees to sit on or hunt and peck for.  Chickadees need a lot of food …. the eat about a third of their body weight per day.

 

And that is why you want them to live in your garden.  They may rely on seeds in winter but come early spring and mating time, they get about 80% of their diet from insects.  They eat so many insects, some wildlife fans call them the pest exterminator of the forest.  And their favorite insect?  Aphids!  Tiny aphids are the perfect food for tiny chickadee beaks.  The birds are very systematic and will cling to a plant stem eating one aphid after another until they clear the entire stem. In spring before your plants are even sending up new stalks, the chickadees will pick in leaf litter finding the baby aphids just as they hatch or even just eating the yummy aphid eggs.

 

Photo credits

https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2016/Help-Birds-Stay-Warm.aspx

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-capped-chickadee

 

Why Grow From Seed

Seed Starting

by Sandy Swegel

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.

Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics (neonicitinoides)

There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.

If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a nearly infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers? My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

Keep Your Sunflowers Blooming

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Sunflowers inspire a primordial joy in us.  We may be rosarians, orchid specialists, rock plant lovers or even urban folk who barely see the outdoors, but sunflowers against a blue sky spark an inner gasp of delight.  Sunflowers often plant themselves on their own and can manage to grow without any attention from us, but if we have a nice little patch of sunflowers, we can nurture them so they last and last for weeks longer than their normal bloom.

What to do to get the most of your sunflowers?

Keep them deadheaded until the end of the season.

If you deadhead your sunflowers, they will keep pumping out new blossoms in their will to create seeds and more sunflowers.  Don’t cut the stalk way back, the next sunflower often forms just inches from the place you deadheaded.

Leave the very last batch of spent flowers for the birds and for next year’s flowers.

When it seems like the sunflowers are slowing down, do leave the last set on flower heads on the plant for the birds.  Even if its a little ugly going into Fall, birds like the seed heads right on the plant.  Little finches especially like to sit on top of the old brown seed head and bend over and pluck seeds out.

 

Give the sunflowers a splash of water

If your sunflowers have self-seeded into a dry back alley or someplace in hot sun, throw them a bucket of water once in a while during hot spells.  They’ll survive without the extra water, but thrive with it…and make more sunflowers just for you.

Photos:

www.pinterest.com/dreamwild/birds-bugs-butterflies-flowers-to-paint/

https://kanesonbikes.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/p9020895.jpg

http://www.lovethispic.com/uploaded_images/33858-Sunflower-Farm.jpg

The Flowers and the Bees – Why Bees Matter

The Flowers and the Bees
Why Bees Matter

contributed by Sarah Woodard (of  PerfectBee)

About the Author:  Sarah Woodard has three years experience as a beekeeper, loves constantly learning from her bees and helping others discover beekeeping. See some of her other writing at https://www.clippings.me/sarahwoodard

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As flower lovers, you already know that bees are attracted to some flowers more than others and that the more bees in your garden, the more beautiful your flowers. Did you also know that bees are responsible for pollinating 90% of our food supply?

With the introduction of chemicals and mono-agriculture practices, honeybees are increasingly under threat. If we lose the bees, we lose a lot more than food, flowers, and hive products like honey and wax. We also lose the natural antibacterial properties of products produced in the hive and, more importantly, and essential connection with nature.

 

The Importance of Native Bees

Just as other animals and plants develop differently in different parts of the world, so too, do bees. You’re familiar with invasive plant species and the detrimental effects they have. A similar phenomenon happens with bees. Killer bees, also known as Africanized bees, are not native to the U.S., but were brought to South America as part of an attempt to increase honey production. Gradually, they worked their way north and currently occupy much of the southern U.S. states, altering the genetics of the bee populations in those areas.

Unlike honeybees native to the U.S., Africanized bees are aggressive and don’t handle cool temperatures well. Honeybees native to the U.S. are docile and adapted to survive harsh winter conditions. Although Africanized bees will never overtake honeybee populations in northern states, most backyard beekeepers obtain their bee supply from the south. This means that northern “beekers” (as beekeepers call themselves) often wind up with aggressive bees who are unable to survive the climatic conditions. The best possible solution for bees and humanity is to focus on restoring native bee populations.

How Flower Lovers Can Help the Bees

If you’re like most flower gardeners, you plant the flowers that look good in your yard and make you happy to have in your outdoor space. In many instances that means there’s a lot of blooms at one time and few or none at others. You can extend honey flow, giving native bees more time to store up food for winter and increasing their chances of survival by planting flowers that bloom in a more staggered fashion.

Depending on your location, those plantings may be different and occur at different times. I live in New England and take an “un-managed” approach to plantings. In New England, the first food for bees appears around April and most people mow it down or spend lots of money trying to rid their lawn of them. Can you guess what it is? Dandelions! While I’m not suggesting you let your lawn become a meadow the way I have, perhaps it’s possible to have a dandelion patch. These “weeds” are not only great for bees, but also have tremendous medicinal properties and can be used to make wine.

Next up is clover. Bees love clover and these happy little flowers also make tasty honey. Around the same time the clover is blooming, crocuses and other early spring bulbs start to make their way above ground. Clover, if left to its own devices will take the bees through most of the summer and into the fall when asters appear. Summer bulbs and vegetable garden blooms slowly appear throughout the growing season.Alsike Clover, Trifolium hybridum

What’s the bloom schedule like in your area? Do you have a variety of plants blooming throughout the growing season? If you’d like to boost the bee population in your area there are seed mixes available. If you’re a beekeeper or you’d like to help the bees have more food for the winter, these seed mixes might be the way to go.

Two ways to have more birds in your yard

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

I was chatting with a local bird habitat specialist hoping for some tips on what I could plant or build that would attract more birds to my new garden. I was surprised as she struggled to think of flowers that might work. Then she blurted: “The biggest obstacle to birds in the garden is the humans.” If the humans would just quit “improving” the garden, more birds would automatically come.

Don’t deadhead so much.

She elaborated, the first most important thing to do for birds is to quit deadheading so much and leave the seed heads of spent flowers on the plant so the seeds can mature. You can do some deadheading to keep your plants making more flowers, but especially at the end of the plant’s season, you need to leave the seeds on. I used to throw the seed heads into a corner of the garden near a bird feeder, but I learned that birds don’t like to eat off the ground unless they are desperate. They like to land on the top of the seed stalk and bend over and pull the seeds out one by one. Up on top of the plant, they feel safer from predators and can fly off at a moment’s notice.

 

 

Learn to Tolerate Some Pests

The other mistake gardeners make that discourages birds is being too diligent about getting rid of all the pests and larvae in the garden. Leaving some pests may damage a few plants, but birds need caterpillars and bugs in the spring to feed their hungry babies. A pest-free garden is not a healthy habitat. And you won’t have to worry about the pests overtaking your garden in most cases because the birds are going to eat them!

So to attract more birds to your garden, let your garden look a little more unruly. I did get a couple of plant ideas of seeds birds particularly like: coreopsis, sunflowers, coneflowers and cosmos are all seed heads that birds consider especially yummy.

 

Photocredits

rachelinthegarden.wordpress.com
animalstime.com/what-feed-baby-bird-what-feed-baby-birds/
audubonportland.org/about/events/hidden-habitats
birdnote.org

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/

Cabbage and Clover Husbandry

Cover Crop Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

St Patrick’s Day is this week…a traditional day for planting peas. But you know that….so get ready to plant your peas. This year I’m thinking about Ireland and two plants usually associated with Ireland: cabbage and clover (not necessarily the four-leaf variety.) A little internet browsing led to an interesting connection to these two plants. One…they both like to grow in cool humidity like Spring and Fall. Cabbage is a cool season crop. Two… old country wisdom and modern science show that cabbage and clover are excellent companion crops.

Books in England dating back to the 1700s recommend cabbage “Husbandry” the old word for farming. Cabbage was highly regarded because it lasted well as a stored food for winter and because cows and sheep that ate cabbage in the winter made sweeter milk than those that ate turnips. Standard practice in England in the olden days was to plant a clover cover crop and follow that with cabbage or potatoes. Turns out that cabbage that grows in clover or where clover had been grown and tilled under are larger and have significantly fewer pests included the cabbage looper. Cabbage moths are still the bane of cabbage growers. Modern no-till farmers have adopted this centuries-old wisdom to plant cabbage right into a field of clover.

 

Besides being good for cows and sheep, cabbage is healthy for us and a staple in many cuisines. I am particularly fond of the red cabbages because they are pretty! Here are a few tips to grow cabbage:

It’s a cool season crop.
That means you have to get it in early. Or plant it in mid-summer for fall harvest.

They do well from transplants.
Start seeds indoors or in a cold frame 8 weeks before last Spring frost. Then transplant it about 2-4 weeks before last Spring frost. Cabbage is a “heavy feeder” so you need good soil or extra fertilization and regular irrigation.

Watch out for pests.
Cutworms and cabbage loopers love cabbage too…but they are pretty easy to pick off if you stay after them. Little paper collars protect transplants from the cutworms. If you don’t like to pick off the worms, it is good organic control.

Cabbage makes great microgreens.

Cabbage germinates in about two days in your warm kitchen. Another superfood from the brassica family.

 

For more on the science of winter-sowing clover and cabbage and other brassicas
http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/IP-27.pdf
http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/apps/blog/show/2015631-in-praise-of-cabbages
http://microgardening.newearthmicrogreens.com/red-cabbage-microgreens-vitamins/

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

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

Borage Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

  1. Bees love borage

Bees absolutely cover the plant when it is in bloom.  And bloom lasts a long time and repeats throughout the season.  Bees and other pollinators seem to prefer it to other nearby plants.  Must be extra tasty or sweet.

  1. Borage is super easy to grow

My neighbor lets her’s grow along her alleyway against chain link fence.  No water, no fertilizing….just run off from the grass and a bit of shade.  When the plants go to seed, she throws the seed heads a little further down the fence line.  Even in our arid climate, that’s hospitable enough for borage to grow.  No deadheading or fussing…just lots of plants. It’s is supposed to be an annual, but it acts like a perennial….plants grow back in the same place every year.

  1. Birds love borage

Borage makes a lot of flowers and seed heads.  In the Fall, the birds were hanging out on the sunflower heads nearby and I didn’t notice them in the borage.  But this Spring morning, about eight of those little birds that chatter so much in spring were digging and rooting in the borage patch.  Bird food in February is a good thing!

 

  1. Borage is edible for humans

The young greens can be added to mixed salads or steamed. (Older leaves are too hairy and not so yummy.)  The little flowers are adorable in salads. Pastry chefs candy the flowers for decorating desserts.

  1. Borage is medicinal. It has long been a medicinal herb for skin diseases, melancholy, diabetes and heart conditions. Borage oil is an important anti-inflammatory.
  2. And the number one reason to grow borage: They’re Blue!!!!!

OK, that’s the real reason I grow borage.  Blue flowers make me so happy and the blue of borage is one of the most amazing blues in the plant kingdom.

 

Photo Credits:

http://medicinalherbinfo.org

http://shop.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com/

http://kiwimana.co.nz/borage-good-for-bees/