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Mommies Who Garden

Different Ways to Garden

by Sandy Swegel

So we were hanging out at BBB Seed amid giant sacks of seeds waiting to be shipped all over the US this week talking about how many different kinds of people bought our seeds and how they all gardened in their own unique way. One definite trend we see is a joyful kind of gardening practice by moms with young kids.  I spend the evening googling “mommies who garden” and found myself by moms all over the country who garden and who make time to write about it!

Naturally, there is no one “mommy” way to garden since there are moms who work outside the home, moms who homestead, moms who use the garden as a classroom and babysitter, and moms who garden as a personal respite from the chaos that being a mommy can be.  But I saw two trends I want my own inner gardener to reconnect with:

Mommies who garden:
Don’t worry so much about having the picture-perfect garden but about whether the garden is a source of joy and fun for the family.  There’s a lot of mulch to keep the weeds down because moms don’t have so much time for weeding.  There are signs of home-made art projects everywhere: hand-painted rocks, cute makeshift fences, bowls with puddles of mud.   The garden isn’t just growing vegetables or flowers. It’s having fun and growing kids.

Mommies (and Daddies) who garden:
are totally psyched about the fact that they have planted seeds and fed their family yummy wholesome food from their own garden. It isn’t just about saving money or growing organic food, it’s about all the love that went into the garden and the joy about having provided for the whole family and shared the harvest together.

So that’s our inspiration this week as Spring is struggling to return.  Let us create gardens that are fun and playful. And let’s grow some amazing food to share with family and friends and strangers.  Go, Mommies!

Photo Credit: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1
http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1

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

How to Become a Great Gardener

Why You Should be a Self-Taught Gardner

by Sandy Swegel

I garden and landscape for a living.  I have accumulated a massive amount of information about the best ways to grow things, to take care of the soil, to encourage native plants and bees, etc.  When I’m talking to people, they naturally assume I have a degree in horticulture or botany.  So it surprises people to learn I have a BA in History and an MA in Theology. I’ve been thinking a lot about this because my friend’s kids are all starting college and trying to decide what to major in.  I had no idea when I was 18 that I would one day garden for a living.  But studying history taught me to think and analyze and reflect. And studying theology taught me the world is a mystery and it’s important to learn to observe and notice and simply “be” with nature.

So I encourage everyone to become self-taught gardening experts. You don’t have to go to school or even study.  You just need to start noticing what’s going on in the natural world. No teacher can tell you as much as your own personal experience will.  If you’re just a little systematic about it, you can be a much better gardener at the end of this year. Here’s some homework to learn how to become a great gardener:

Journal.

Keeping a garden journal of what you do, what you plant and what the weather is like is a great way to learn.  You may not know why what you are writing is important (when you planted, when plants started, days without rain, birds and insects observed, etc) but in hindsight, you can figure out when to plant so there are flowers for hummingbirds, or how much rain it takes to have big fungal outbreaks.  Even just being able to read the seed packet you glued into your journal when it’s time to harvest will be a big help.  Keep notes. Understand them later.

Pick a specialty this season.

One year I decided to learn herbs.  I bought seeds and plants of every herb I could think of and grew them in a tiny 4 x 6-foot garden. I learned tansy is a big space hog that kinda stinks and crowds out the other plants, that cilantro and dill practically grow themselves, and that ginger root from the grocery store grows beautiful plants and tons of free ginger.

Take pictures of everything that intrigues you.

Take shots of plants in other people’s yards, wildflowers on walks, blooming containers, weird plants you’ve never seen before. The photos will show you what you like and what really interests you.

Observe.

Just look and notice everywhere you go. Ask questions of gardeners. Wonder about the weather. Notice creepy crawly things or buzzing flying things.  Again. Just take notice with a sense of wonder. You’ll make sense of it eventually.

One thing I’ve noticed about our BBB Seed readers:  you notice the natural world. You stand in awe at beautiful landscapes, tiny birds in nests, and clever ways people arrange flowers in a shabby chic decoration.  Use these great powers of observation and really teach yourself something new this year.

Gift Wrap from Nature & the Recycling Bin!

Getting Creative With Nature

by Sandy Swegel

As always, necessity spurs creativity in my life. I had a party to go to last night and needed to wrap a simple gift, but had no wrapping paper much less any of those easy gift bags in the house.  Even though I love a nicely wrapped gift, I’m really cheap when it comes to buying wrapping paper, but wrapping gifts in newspaper comics is so 1970s that I can’t make myself do it anymore.

So in a panic, I headed out to the recycling bin where I found the box to put the gift in and some brown packing paper to use as a wrap.  The recycling bins happen to be next to the ancient spruce tree, so I pulled out my pruners and cut off some low little branches to use as a “bow.”  I thought I’d have to use a pine cone, but the cotoneasters had some great berries so another snip-snip and I had a red accent piece.  Jute twine from the junk drawer, a curl of orange rind from the compost and a couple of twistie ties later, I had a beautifully wrapped gift and it didn’t cost a penny, except for the stress of scurrying for a last-minute wrap.

You can do this even more artfully and gracefully if you plan a bit.  Keep a neighborhood mental map of where you can “forage” decorations from shrubs with berries, or soft cedar trees. Twigs and sticks work great too.  In a pinch, walnuts from the kitchen or even a tangerine make an edible wrap.  To my surprise, I got more praise for the wrapping than for the gift!

There are zillions of internet image ideas for “gift wrap” from nature.  If you live someplace warm, you can even follow the example of blogger Justina Blakeney and use big tropical leaves for the wrapping paper.

Photo Credits: http://blog.justinablakeney.com/2011/11/nature-wraps-diy-green-gift-wrap-for-the-holidays.htmlhttp://www.corinnavangerwen.com/2011/10/15/green-gift-wrapping-workshop/

A Gift for Wild Animals

What to Give all the Animals in Your Life
by Sandy Swegel

After the first big cold snow of the season, I find myself drinking coffee next to the window, captivated by the Wild Kingdom drama of the outdoors…watching the many different kinds of birds foraging or lurking near the bird feeder waiting their turn, or hearing the rustling of unknown small furry creatures in the garden debris.

The best gift for wild animals is a heated bird bath.  I might even put two out, one on the deck rail for the birds and one on the ground in a wild area for all the other thirsty creatures…rabbits, squirrels and even the field mice. When it’s super cold like it is now, snow doesn’t melt and there are no natural water sources near my house.  Maybe a water source will keep the squirrels from eating holes in my irrigation pipes.

Holiday Shopping List for all the Animals in Your Life

Dogs:  Plump baby carrots are the gift of choice for my dogs.   I had to fence off the main garden from their enthusiastic digging, but I leave an area of little round carrots and beets for them to “discover.” Cats:   Catnip of course. Don’t waste your time on anything else. Chickens:  Swiss Chard is my chickens’ most favorite food. I think they like its natural saltiness. I throw bags of dried leaves on the garden bed as insulation just so I can harvest some greens from under the bags all winter. Wild birds:  Sunflower Seeds naturally…and any seeds. I discovered dozens of little birds the other day in the snow in a patch of lambsquarter and tall weeds that I had foolishly allowed to go to seed. Bees:  Wildflower seeds of course. Rabbits:  A wild clover patch, anything green. Field Mice:  Any seeds left to fall on the ground.  Overgrown zucchini and pumpkins left to rot. Squirrels:  Pumpkins.  The Halloween pumpkin left out is the perfect squirrel buffet. Owls, hawks:  Any of the above-mentioned seeds left in the garden bring the mice and voles and other rodents that are the perfect gift for the birds of prey.  The rodents double as gifts for the snakes. Soil microbes: What else but moo poo tea is the ideal gift for the soil Earthworms:  Make them a compost pile.  And forget to harvest some of the root vegetables. As the vegetables decompose in place in early spring, hundreds of hungry earthworms show up for the feast. Humans:  All the vegetables are the perfect gift of health and vitality for the humans in your life, especially when packaged with the love you grew them with.

I wish to all this Winter:  abundant food and water and a warm place for all good creatures.

Photo Credit:

http://birdsandbloomsblog.com/2013/11/09/winter-bird-bath-tips/

http://dipperanch.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-last-purple-rattlesnake.html

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

Primping for Winter Interest

How to Prepare the Garden For Winter

by Sandy Swegel

As Fall proceeds at full speed, our tasks in the garden take a new direction as we start primping for winter interest.  There’s no longer time for flowers to set new buds to bloom before frost.  There won’t be any tomatoes that aren’t already on the vine.  A killing frost will come soon and kill off many of the annual flowers. So it’s time to start getting the garden ready to look good this winter.  Now instead of thinking about colorful flower displays, we turn our thoughts to structure and texture in the garden.  We want to leave tall flower seedheads to dramatically collect snow in winter as well as feed the birds.  There’s no more deadheading roses – now you want to see the rose hips mature and redden as the air gets cooler. Tall ornamental grasses will sway dramatically in winter winds.

In short, here are the things you don’t need to do anymore this year.

Stop deadheading flowers.

You want to see stately stems of echinacea and rudbeckia in the winter garden. Blooms of butterfly bush frozen in place will give a hint of color into the winter.  Small plants you thought were finished like scabiosa or dianthus will throw out a few final blooms that provide some late bee nectar.

Let dying foliage stay in place.

Earlier in the season, I’d pull off dead leaves from daylilies, so things would look their best.  Now, brown and golden foliage against green leaves is part of the vibrancy of Fall.

Let vines wander where they may.

I spend a good part of the summer garden season trying to prevent aggressive Virginia Creeper from pulling down branches of the wild plum and apple trees. Now the crisp red color of the Virginia Creeper delights me and I love seeing its leaves vining all throughout the garden.  Even the weedy self-sowing morning glories have beautiful golden tones as they twine up and down flower stalks.

Let your flowers reseed. 

The easiest way to garden is to let your flowers reseed themselves.  Bachelor Buttons and Mexican Hat and California Poppies are all dispersing their seeds to soak in the winter moisture and cold so they can burst forth again next Spring.  Some seeds I’ll collect for starting in pots next Spring, but it’s nicest when they just seed themselves in place.

Let the annual weeds be.

It’s always time to keep after perennial weeds like thistles and dandelions, but annual weeds that crop up now won’t usually have time to make flowers much less set seed before killing frost.  It’s usually safe to just leave them alone.

Let your vegetable garden reseed itself.

I’ve left the leek flower stalks in place.  Big seed heads of dill and parsley and anise are allowed to stand in the vegetable garden.  Even the lettuce and spinach and chard that bolted in summer heat now remain and drop their seeds to return next Spring.  I usually absentmindedly forget some of the garlic and potatoes….that will all return next year to be vigorous new plants.  Arugula has already multiplied itself a thousandfold in my lettuce bed.

The one task still to do?  WATER if needed.  The dry low humidity days of Fall can desiccate the garden.  If you don’t have rain, be sure to do some supplemental watering so that your perennial plants go into Winter well-watered.  Desiccation from dry air and winds is responsible for more winterkill than mere dry soil.  So give everything a good drink now before all the leaves fall.  You may have to water again in November and throughout the winter if it’s dry, but a well-watered Fall garden has an excellent chance of surviving even brutal winter conditions.

2 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year!

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Your task this week is to go stand in the part of your garden that has wildflower-y plants.  You’ll notice two things. The first thing is that there are lots of spent flowers and seed heads that need to be deadheaded. Everything from rudbeckia to dill to penstemon has mature seed heads. You can always collect these seeds and put them in little envelopes to save for spring or you can take my lazy way out and Snip off the seed head and Fling it in the general direction you’d like it to grow next year.  Flowering plants always seem to migrate to the edge of the garden bed and need some encouragement to move to the middle and back of the bed.  Keep flinging seeds knowing that some of them will germinate right in the place they fall…so Fling merrily.

Your second assignment is to find a spring or early summer bloomer and stand in front of it.  A Columbine or Penstemon, Agastache and Echinacea are good possibilities.  Often right at the feet of these now finished beauties are dozens of little plants or even seedlings that have germinated in the past month and are growing next year’s plants.  I take my hori-hori knife and gently dig or carve out (we have lots of clay soil) a nice plug of soil that keeps the baby plants roots intact and plant it where I’d like more plants.  If the plant is young and you didn’t disturb the roots much, there won’t be transplant shock…just a new perennial that will bloom next year.

Whether you are flinging seeds or digging up plant plugs, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and fussing with seed starting trays under lights and you’ve tricked Mother Nature into letting those perennials bloom giving you more flowers next year.  New plants easy, quick and free.  That’s my kind of gardening.

Make your own Apple Picker

DIY Gardening Tools

by Sandy Swegel

My beautiful orange apple picker came to a sad end last year under the wheels of a pick-up truck that smooshed it beyond recognition. We sadly have very few apples this year because of late frosts so more than ever I need a picker to reach the apples that are there.  My orange apple picker was very pretty, but its tiny basket area was a little frustrating. I could only pick a few apples before maneuvering the entire 12-foot pole down through the tree, take out 5 apples and wind it back up the tree.  The other problem was that sometimes the apples didn’t want to leave the tree and tugging threw other good apples to the ground, bruising them. So I started thinking about hacking my apple picker.

Well, in a digital world in which “apple” no longer means fruit from a tree, you can’t just google “hack my apple picker.” A search for DIY fruit pickers turns up lots of makeshift basket contraptions with water bottles which while clever and free, didn’t change the small basket problem.  I finally thought to look at what the commercial pickers do (besides bringing in big “cherry picker equipment” or precarious ladders.)  Somehow I couldn’t imagine teams of migrant workers with little orange baskets.

The answer is razor blades!  Rather than having a picker with wire fingers, razor blades at the end of your catching device slice the stems quickly.

So here are two possibilities for getting a better apple picker:  A DIY instructable with razor blades inside a narrow PVC pipe.  And the picker the pros use.  The DIY picker doesn’t include a bag….you have to catch the apples…so maybe you can think of a way to add a bag.  Look at the professional picker with its big sack as a model.

Apple picker: http://www.instructables.com/id/PVC-FRUIT-PICKER/

Berry pickerhttp://www.instructables.com/id/BERRY-PICKER/

Clip-n-pick fruit picker: http://frostproof.com/clip-n-pick-telescoping-fruit-picker-complete/

My Squash is Wilting

Trying To Get Along With the Squash Bug

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering from powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and die (Asana wilt).

Turns out squash is wilting often due to a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly, look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html

 http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva