Tag Archive for: Seeds

Oh, Sunflowers!

More About Sunflowers

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)

 

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

Garden Clean Up

by Sandy Swegel

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth can save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter, you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insect’s eggs

Slugs in your Hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds next Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photos: http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

Why Won’t my Garden do What I Say?

Tips for Garden Frustration

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the kind of questions I’m hearing these days.  Why won’t my plant bloom?  Why aren’t my tomatoes red? Why does my garden look so bad? Why is my tree dying?  Let’s tackle a few of these questions so you can figure out why it seems your garden is disobedient?

Why won’t my pineapple sage bloom?  It’s so beautiful in the magazines. Salvia elegans or pineapple sage smells deliciously of pineapple and hummingbirds flock to it.  Alas, what I discovered after a season of coaxing and fertilizing is that it will never look so beautiful in Colorado as it does in the Sunset magazine pictures of California.  It’s one of those plants that bloom according to day length and short days to stimulate blooming.  So no matter what we do, it simply is not going to put out blooms till late August.  Since our first frost can be in September, this is a very unsatisfying plant to grow in a northern area with long summer days.

The second part of this question is “Why did all the other fancy hybrid flowers I bought in Spring quit blooming?”  Some may be day length sensitive like the pineapple sage.  Most have issues with our hot dry summer heat.  If you keep deadheading as soon as the weather starts to cool, the blooms will restart.  And there’s no changing Nature’s mind with more fertilizer or water.

“Why won’t my watermelon plants get big?” a friend asked over afternoon tea.  The answer to most questions is to put my finger in the soil. It was dry, dry, dry.  There was one drip tube on the plant but that’s not nearly enough for a watermelon which needs lots of water.  I looked up. The garden was right next to a big spruce tree. The tree was on the north side so the plant had lots of sun, but the sneaky tree roots ran all through the garden sucking up irrigation water. If you’re going to grow a plant with a name like “water” melon…you have to put a lot of water in the system.

The second most-asked question is “Why do I have so many weeds?” The answer is, alas, because you didn’t spend enough time in July keeping after them.  Who wants to weed in the heat of summer?  And summer weeds grow really fast and tall.  You can’t even blink.

The most-asked question, of course, is “Why won’t my tomatoes turn red?”  This year everybody has lots of green tomatoes but not nearly enough red tomatoes. The truthful answer is “D***d if I know. I wish mine would turn red.”  A Google search shows thousands of people ask this question.  People who answer have all kinds of pet theories about leaves and fertilizer and pruning the plant etc. I’m just learning to wait and making a note to grow more early tomatoes next year.

Nature just doesn’t work the way we want sometimes.

Photo Credit: http://eugenebirds.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

Cool Off Fast! – Agua Fresca

Agua Fresca Recipe

by Sandy Swegel

My basic remedy for hot July days is to bend over and run the hose over my head, but a more attractive and effective way to cool off is to make an Agua Fresca (refreshing water), the great fruit or vegetable drink of Mexico and other southern regions. I’ve been making Agua Frescas all weekend.

The Agua Fresca I first enjoyed from my friend Alfredo’s family was cucumber and lime juice. Then one day we had watermelon Agua Fresca and I was in heaven. Both were very cooling and refreshing. What intrigued me most is that these were two of the foods my acupuncturist recommended to me. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has diagnoses of “heat” in the body. I often get this diagnosis and my doctor suggests three vegetables/fruits that are especially cooling to the body from a TCM energetic point of view…not just temperature: Cucumber, celery and watermelon. Turns out that ancient wisdom from TCM is the same as ancient wisdom from Mexican families. “Gotta love it” as a friend says.

There are lots of recipes on the web, but the concept is simple:

Blender 6 cups water 1 pound of Fruit or vegetable: cucumber, watermelon are traditional. Also try melon, raspberries, strawberries, celery, herbs like lemon balm or basil or mint. Sugar (to taste) 1/4  to 1/2 cup.  Lime to taste. Run the blender to pulverize the vegetables or fruit and lime.  Strain if needed. Pour over ice cubes and add mint or cucumber slice or lime slice garnish.

Variations: Slushy:  Use only half the water. Run the blender a second time filled with ice cubes to get a slushy drink. Sorbet:  Make an agua fresca and put it in the ice cream maker for 20 minutes to make sorbet. Alcohol:  Rum, tequila or vodka added make excellent drinks or sorbets!

Stay Cool and Be Happy.

Gardening as Winter Looms

How to Keep Up Gardening in the Winter

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like the first deeply freezing temperatures followed by a warm day to get people in Zone 5 areas asking if the gardening season is really over if they can still tackle their garden to do lists even though winter looms with Thanksgiving is around the corner.  We have two conflicting impulses…the really good bulbs are on sale at our local garden center AND there’s an inch of snow and refrozen ice on the garden bed.

What does happen to our soil in winter? Once soil temperatures are in the forties, all the creatures and denizens of the soil put themselves to sleep through dormancy or through laying lots of eggs or spores that will hatch when temperatures are warmer.  Seeds stop germinating or else require weeks and weeks at low temperature to come up.  They’re smart…no point in germinating if sub-zero temperatures in another few weeks are going to kill young growth. So the soil goes into stasis until the temperatures warm.

Here are some of the questions I hear people asking as our soil begins its freeze:

Can I still plant bulbs? Can I transplant daylilies now? Yes, if you can pry the soil open and get water to the plant, there’s a good chance your bulbs will bloom and the daylily will be fine. Daffodils especially prefer getting planted earlier to have some time to make roots. Sometimes blooming is delayed the first season, but I have had good success in planting bulbs too late…especially if I throw in some compost in the hole and don’t plant too shallowly. I’ve also had years when the bulbs just ended up being frozen mush…so plant earlier next year.

Can I put in a cover crop? In Zone 5, it’s too late.  The temperatures are too cold for seed germination.  Put lots of mulched leaves over the soil to cover it.

Do I have to water? Ideally, you got the garden well watered sometime in Fall through rain or irrigation.  If not or if there are long dry sunny spells, you should winter water.

What do I do with my Fall greens that are freezing solid? Keep eating…they get better every day.  Spinach frozen at 8 am is delicious at room temperature.  If you cover greens with row cover or a cold frame or even throw big bags of leaves over the plants, you can keep harvesting easily through January or longer if you haven’t eaten them all.

Can I still use herbs? Yep, remember where your herbs are and you can put your hand through a foot of snow for snippings of intensely flavored frozen thyme or oregano leaves.

Can I still fertilize? You can, but the soil organisms won’t be processing it.  Organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal stay on the soil and will eventually be used when things warm up next Spring.

Is there something I should plant?  Winter hardy violas and pansies don’t mind a little snow and ice.  In a sunny location, they’ll keep throwing up blooms all winter long…a surprise of color in a white or brown winter-scape. Plant well hardened off plants and keep them watered.

For more details on the science of soil in winter, check out this article from the Bountea compost tea company. http://www.bountea.com/articles/lifeinwintersoil.html

Plant more peas!

All About Planting Peas

by Sandy Swegel

Rev your garden engines folks.  Today is St. Patrick’s Day and the official start of pea season and there’s no need to wait.  You have jobs to do today — it’s time to plant more peas!

Make sure beds are weeded. Those mallows from last year are easy to spot….they’re the only green thing in parts of the beds.  But they weed easily this time of year. I lightly cultivate the top inch of the soil if I see lots of annual seeds starting. In my garden, every last larkspur seed that fell last year has germinated.  Cute…but not in the pea bed, please.

Put the Peas to Soak.  If your climate is high humidity, you may not need this step, but here in the arid foothills, I soak my peas overnight, rinse them tomorrow and then plant them.  Sometimes I even pre-sprout them (just like making mung bean sprouts) and plant them with the big white root already fattening up.

Put your trellis in place if you’re growing the kind of peas that need support.

Think about row cover. Decide if you want to use it to warm the peas and speed their growth.

Think about inoculant.  I’ve written about this before. Gardens that have grown happy peas before may not need inoculant but new raw beds with less than optimal soil would probably benefit.  If you forgot to buy it, you can always plant anyway and sprinkle the inoculant over the soil and water it in later.

Remember the flowers.  I’m so fond of peas for eating whether they are oriental peas  or snap peas or plain old shelling peas, that I forget about how beautiful and fragrant sweet peas are.  My neighbor plants sweet peas on trellises along the fence, at the base of vines, in a circle in the middle of the lettuce garden.  Her garden is so beautiful and fragrant come June that I get very jealous.  Time for me to plant more peas!

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

3 Veggies You Gotta Grow at Home

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

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

Broccoli Raab Rapini

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

Chioggia Beets

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

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

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

 

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

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

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Straw Bales, Legos for Gardeners

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Whenever I start to think about a new structure I need for the garden, straw bales are what first come to mind.  Having a bunch of straw bales is like having an entire box of Legos….there’s not much you can’t build. 

I started thinking about a cold frame today because I was a little over eager about starting perennial seeds.  They’re already emerging in my seed starting tray and the question did occur to me now, a little late, where was I going to stash all these plants when I have to plant them up in larger containers next month.  Then I remembered my first cold frame.   A rectangle of old straw bales with an old shower curtain secured on top by big rocks was a great cold frame.

I  tried storm windows one year in a community garden plot, but they are breakable if there are kids playing with rocks or loose dogs in the neighborhood.  I got a sheet of recycled tempered glass (old shower door) that worked great but was heavy for lifting.

The next great garden project is a compost bin.  I use spoiled hay bales from a nearby horse ranch because the bales are free and they also eventually become compost too.

Your imagination is your only limitation.  Think of any structure you’d like and do a Google Image Search with the name of the structure and “straw bale” and you’ll find someone who has done it already and posted a picture:  straw bale hoop-house, straw bale fort, straw bale lounge chair, straw bale chicken coop, straw bale bed, straw bale wind break, etc. etc.  Have Fun!

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Growing your Own Bird Feeder

If You Feed the Bugs, You Feed the Birds

by Sandy Swegel

I learned something really new this week. This week I learned that birds like to eat bugs. Well, duh, you say.  Think about it. One of the great images we have of spring is the mama bird dangling a worm over the gaping beaks of adorable baby birds. Then think about our typical bird feeders….full of sunflower seeds.

I was in the middle of converting a neglected path of weedy lawn into a flower bed and was thinking about “habitat” for birds. So I naturally considered sunflowers and plants with seeds or berries.  Then the teachable moment came at a talk our County biologist gave on native plants. She pointed us to Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”. Tallamy points out 96% of North American wild birds feed their young with insects and larvae (caterpillars). Now the adult birds – like humans — may like the high fat, high sugar treats (berries) we give them…but it’s the protein in the bugs that is so important to sustain our bird populations.

Previously, I thought the point of planting native plants was because they were adapted to our local soil and weather and would survive better. But the real reason to plant natives is to feed the local beneficial insects (lady bugs, lacewings, moths, and all the little tiny flying things you can barely see) that live here already and who do the hard work of eating pests like aphids and thrips. They also do a lot of the pollination in our garden along the way.  Lots of insects means more pollinators for our flowers and more food for the birds – in other words, a healthy habitat.

So if you want to feed the birds, you need to feed the bugs. Nice plump insects, worms, and larvae are what bring more birds to your yard. Yum, Worms…it’s what’s for breakfast!

Learn More:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants: http://tinyurl.com/a9voelq

The New York Times article on Tallamy: http://tinyurl.com/yqmlhx

Saving Birds Thru Habitat website: http://tinyurl.com/bfeljl2

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

 

Keeping Drought Tolerant Plants Happy

Taking Care of Your Wildflower Seeds When it’s Dry

by Sandy Swegel

One of the most popular mixes of wildflower seeds that we sell is the Drought Tolerant Mix.  It’s a good combination of both perennial and annual flowers that can handle some stressful situations and still make beautiful flowers.

Growing drought-tolerant plants may be different than gardening the way most of us are used to.  While supplemental water is helpful during germination and the early growth of the plant, too much water will most often cause the plants to have too much fast green growth that is weak. A heavily watered drought-tolerant plant will often produce few flowers and in rich moist garden soil can simply rot and die.

Understanding what it is that makes plants “drought tolerant” may help you understand better how to care for the plants.  Even drought-tolerant wildflowers still need water to thrive, (they are drought “tolerant” not drought “loving”), but they have adapted to drought conditions in several clever ways.

Some plants, especially ones that thrive in the prairie, grow very long tap roots that seek out water deep below the surface.  Coneflower and butterfly weed are two plants that have taproots. Dandelions too, that’s one reason they are so tough to get rid of.

Other plants learn to store water.  Cacti and yucca come to mind first, but other plants that store water in the leaves are succulents like sedums or hen and chicks.  Break open a leaf and gel-like water oozes out. Some sturdy wildflowers save water in their roots.  The tubers that Liatris makes are a good example.Tag for Drought-Tolerant Wildflower Mix packet.

A common adaptation to drought has been to conserve water by limiting the amount of water the plants lose to the air.   Plants typically lose water through their leaves, so drought-tolerant plants will have leaves that conserve water…by having narrow leaves like penstemon, or hairy leaves such as lamb’s ear. Other plants have silver or bluish leaves that reflect back the sunlight. Desert marigolds conserve water this way.

Once you understand how the plants are holding onto water, it makes sense that lots of water would stress drought-tolerant wildflowers.  They would have no way to get rid of the extra water.

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes