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Seed Starting in July

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener, I’m always surprised by the veggie seed sales in July.  I know from a marketing point of view the prime seed-buying season has past and companies have to move product still in inventory.  But from a gardening perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to give 50% discounts in July because a gardener should be starting lots of seeds now.  It’s the perfect time to start seeds!  Of course, I always think it’s the perfect time to start seeds.

How to know what to plant in July?  Stand in the garden and look around.

What do you not have enough of?  I don’t know why I thought ten chard plants would be enough when I love to eat the red-stemmed chard.  There’s barely enough to eat for this week much less into the Fall.  And kale?  I didn’t know last Spring that I’d get into juicing this summer….I’ve gone through all my kale and spinach.  And carrots add so much sweetness to juice I clearly need more.

What do you want to can? More beans, please.  More cucumbers.  Beets for pickling.

What do you want growing in Fall? Broccoli is so good in Fall.  Our CSAs are starting their broccolis now for Fall sales.

Typical plantings in July:

Beans Carrots Cucumbers Beets Kale Spinach Chard Scallions

You can try some of the atypical plantings too.  I’ve seen research from Iowa that says you can still plant corn up to the fourth of July and get a reasonable crop.

It’s probably too late for squash or tomatoes to grow from seed….but those seeds store for many years, so if there are varieties you know you’ll want to plant next year, it’s fine to buy the seeds now.

While you’re in the veggie garden, this is also a good time to plant perennial herbs and flowers that will last for years and bring pollinators.  This is also a great time to seed annuals that reseed themselves.  Cosmos and marigolds are good examples.

The biggest challenge to seed starting in July is making sure the seedbed stays moist during germination.  A sprinkler set with a timer to run just a short while every day helps.  Or my personal favorite and much written about helper:  row cover.  Put your seeds down. Water thoroughly. Lay some row cover over the seeded area with rocks to hold the row cover down.  That will give you some extra needed protection from the hot July sun.

How to get your Neighbors and Friends Interested in Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

You have finally come to understand how important pollinators are and why we need to protect them.  One of the challenges we who value pollinators face is how to get your neighbors and friends interested in pollinators too.  Unfortunately, we’ll start to ramble about how bad chemicals are or how GMO crops harm the environment and if we pay attention we’ll notice our listeners’ eyes are glazing over and they’re looking for a quick exit.  Even with other people interested in the same topics, it’s not long till people get that bored “You’re preaching to the choir” look. When you’re passionate you want other people to be passionate too, and maybe take to the streets in pursuit of your cause…but that rarely happens.

So what can you do to educate others about protecting pollinators?  I’ve learned a lot from watching Niki, a member of our garden group, over the years.  Over time she had inspired many people to put in pollinator habitats or at least to stop pouring chemicals on their lawns.  And she did it without preaching.  So taking inspiration from her over the years, here’s an action list on how to gently inspire others to protect pollinators and the environment.

Make a demo garden in your front yard.  It was a slow start for Niki.  She lived in a typical suburban neighborhood and her decision to turn her front yard from perfect green grass to a xeric native habitat caused some upset in the ‘hood. At first, people thought she was bringing property values down with all those weeds.  But she kept the garden tidy and explained every plant she grew to anyone who stopped by.  She invited the kids over to watch butterflies.  She explained to people who asked why she was doing what she did.  Her friendly attitude and a “come pick out of my garden anytime” attitude built relationships.  Neighbors on their mowers noticed they were out doing yard work every weekend and she wasn’t.  Then she started to tell people how much money she was saving by not watering the lawn and using chemicals.  That changed a few people’s minds. She added in the info that you could protect your trees without the expensive sprays the tree companies wanted to do. Soon the whole neighborhood was just a little more pollinator friendly.

Teach the kids Kids have open minds.  Have an inviting garden with butterflies everywhere, and kids will stop to look around.  They’ll ask questions and they’ll tell their families about the cool stuff they learned today.

Give away free stuff. It’s pretty easy to collect seed from native plants or to put seed you have in little envelopes to give away.  People in the neighborhood learned they could get free seeds for lots of low-water flowering plants if they stopped at Niki’s.  They also learned they could get free plants.  She started seeds in her living room or dug up self-seeding plants and put them in tiny pots and gave them to anyone who would learn how to take care of them. Soon, that’s native food sources up and down the block.

Offer Free Public Classes Soon the neighbors had all the free seeds and plants they could use.  So the next step was to offer free classes to the public. Our library offers meeting rooms for public groups for free so soon Niki was offering 2-hour Saturday classes on “Chemical-free gardening” or “Make your own natural cleaning products.” Another 2-hour Saturday project was the free Seed Swap in January which invited everyone to bring their extra seeds and swap with one another.  Gardeners meeting other gardeners is often all it takes.  Lots of people came to classes because they wanted to save money or have a safer environment for their kids.  They all left with that info and with an understanding of why chemicals can really hurt bees and other pollinators and how there’s an easier way to do things.  Not preachy…but well-researched information.  A heartfelt story about the impact of pesticides in Kansas on monarch butterflies all over the world helps people want to do the right thing.

Be generous with your time to talk to others Soon gardeners and community members learned Niki and now her gardening circle friends would come to talk to their neighborhood association or school about native bees and butterflies.  Or they’d look at your suffering tomato plant and suggest a natural home-made remedy.  Everyone got on an email group together and ended up teaching each other about natural gardening and making homes for pollinators. Local media people saw the library classes and now had someone to call when they needed a radio show or newspaper article.

Connecting with Wild Nature

by Sandy Swegel

Our gardens are grand places to be.  Assuming we don’t worry too much about weeds. Here are our favorite flowers to make us happy. And over there our favorite tomatoes are thinking about ripening.  We may cultivate some wildness by planting a pollinator meadow but for the most part, our own gardens are cultivated and maintained…a good thing.

But deep down, we human beings are also wild animals, yearning to connect with the Wild Nature of ancestral memory.  I went this week on a wildflower hike, just minutes from town, to be reminded of what plants looked like before they were tamed.  And maybe to feel like what humans felt before they were tamed.  I like to do a little nature hiking because unlike in my tended garden, in the wild I don’t know the name of every plant.  And I don’t think about how I have to pull the weeds when I’m walking in the wild. And plants don’t grow in shade or sun gardens but where happenstance put them — sometimes on the side of a boulder wall or the edge of a precipice.

I found this particular hike through meetup.com.  No matter where you live, if there are Meetups in your area, a search for “nature” meetup will provide you with some great opportunities to explore wildness near you.  Our meetup guide in Boulder, Lauren Kovsky, took us on a public trail and while she did the basics of any wildflower hike of naming flowers, she clearly had great fun teaching us to interact with nature by using all our senses.  We learned to identify the ponderosa pine trees by smelling their butterscotchy bark. We learned to look at shapes and feel textures of flowers to remember their names.  Mouse-ear chickweed did look like a bunch of mice in a circle looking up with ears perked.  Pussy toe ground covers felt soft just like cat toes.  After heeding admonitions never to eat wild plants without knowing exactly what the plant is, we formed strong memories of wild onions by biting the seeds and recognized the Earl Grey tea taste of wild bergamot. Mints reminded us of summer iced teas and wild mustard flowers felt hot and spicy on our tongues.

Lauren’s philosophy of why we were on this hike made good sense.  She told us that people often go off to far-away oceans or jungles to experience nature.  They swim with dolphins and feel one with the sea.  But then they return home and once again feel disconnected with the natural world.  She recommends finding little wild areas near your home and experiencing them with all of your senses. Learn how they taste and feel and smell. If you watch how the high water flows in Spring and feel how the harsh wind blows in January and taste the tiny wild raspberries in Summer, you will remember that you are part of nature and that no matter where you go, you are always connected.

Name Your Garden!

by Sandy Swegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less is More!

by Sandy Swegel

One of my favorite things to do is spend other people’s money.  Or better said, to go shopping with them and encourage them to buy the cool things they want to buy.  I always covet plants and yet I know I don’t have the time or space to buy as many as I want, so it is fun to live vicariously through others. “Yes that Japanese maple would look beautiful by your front door.”  “You just have to get this hand forged trellis, wooden ones are so dinky and break after awhile.” etc.

I’ll still encourage people to buy quality garden structures or funky garden art, but I’ve slowed down on encouraging them to buy lots of plants.  It was writing last week about biointensive gardening that reminded me. One of the themes of John Jeavons’ book is to create one garden bed and create it well (double dug, good soil amendments). Better to have one bed producing a lot of food than three beds barely eking out enough for dinner.

Plants need attention to establish, at least if you live in a difficult climate like Colorado.  You can’t just plant a bunch of plants and ignore them.  I know, I’ve accidentally killed a lot of plants that way.  You just end up guilty at the waste or feel like a failure as a gardener. So slow down before you buy out the garden center or plant out hundreds of seedlings. Just because it’s inexpensive to grow from seed doesn’t mean your work growing and planting isn’t valuable. We’ll leave for another day, and a bottle of scotch, the esoteric discussion of the karmic implications of killing plants.

How to Practice Less is More Focus on one section of your garden for new plantings Decide to spiff up just one area this year with new plants. I encouraged my friend to focus on the entry bed for now and later get plants for the rest of the yard. Many gardeners have “nursery” beds for new plants where they let them grow the first year.  They can remember to take care of the babies in the nursery.

Pick a learning theme of the year. I kept twenty new plants alive and thriving the year I made an herb bed and planted twenty different herbs just to learn how they grew. (FYI it’s easy to grow lots of ginger and one tansy plant is enough for the rest of your life.) Another year I focused on containers and planted containers of annuals each of one color in a matching pot.  So cute.  The focus on one kind of plant helped me be a better gardener.

Repetition I love one plant of every kind, but a designer friend showed me how cluttered and unattractive that can be.  Pick a few plants and repeat them and your garden will look professionally designed.  For example, in a perennial bed, plant one kind of grass as a “bones” of the bed and plant a few native flowers around the base of each grass.

So enjoy the season and the new plants…but make “Less is More” your mantra. Unless of course you have a full staff like Martha Stewart does.

How to Transplant your Veggie Starts

by Sandy Swegel

You’ve done all the work of getting little seedlings started.  Maybe you’ve already hardened them off.  Now, planting them in your garden has a few tricks that can make a big difference in how many vegetables you get to eat.

“Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner” was one of the things I learned from a “mature” gardener who took pity on me when he saw the pitifully few tomatoes I had in my first garden.  This was something taught by the great biointensive gardener, Alan Chadwick. His idea was that if you raised little seedlings in nice light soil with fertilizer, like most of our seedling mixes, and then put it into hard not too fertile garden soil, the plants did poorly.  Instead, he advocated starting seeds in a flat with a good planting mixture, “Breakfast.”  Then he transplanted into a second flat of fresh soil for “Lunch.” Finally, he treated his plants to “Dinner”  when he put them in his loamy, fertile intensive beds.  The plants got over their transplant trauma because they were so happy about all the yummy things in their new home.

Transplanting your veggie starts like this actually stimulates new growth.  So before you plant your loved and coddled transplants, make sure the soil in their new home has compost and fertilizer and the soil has been loosened up so little roots can find their way.  And make big holes. No fair hurrying up to get the plant in the ground and just carving out a spot only as big as the pot you’re planting. You can see in the photos how big vegetable roots can be…you need to make sure that the whole root zone has good soil with nutrients.

Lots of food and minerals in well-composted soil will make your vegetables give you bountiful food!

For more info on “biointensive” gardens, I recommend the garden bible I use every year: “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons.  His techniques really work.

Ode to Lavender

by Sandy Swegel

I awoke this morning dreaming of lavender. I adore everything about lavender.

The Fragrance: exotic yet tender and sweet.
The Blossoms: intense purples and blues and even dusty whites and pinks.
The Herbal Essence: healing, calming, sedating yet inspiring.
The Foliage: lavender plants paired with sages and blue fescue grasses in a blue border.
The Smudge Stick: foliage, stems and blossoms mixed with white sage purify home and heart.
The Oil:  condenses all its attributes and essences in a single drop.
The Woody Stems: reminders of the Mediterranean climate it adores and fragrant thrown on a campfire.
The Seed: easy to germinate and though perennial can often produce flowers the first year.
The Plant: low maintenance, sturdy, tolerates even thrives in drought.

Lavender is a wonderful plant to think about in the fall.  It continues to bloom a bit, even after killing freezes. Stalks of lavender blossoms erupt through mats of fallen leaves offering food to the bees and encouragement to the gardener.  Lavender reminds us in the fall how many home-crafted gifts from the garden we still can make.

Friends who don’t wait till the last minute to make holiday gifts have been busy turning lavender into treasures to be shared with friends.  Julia makes the most exotic of lavender gifts:  white chocolate lavender popcorn.  She also infuses jams with lavender.  Sarah takes lavender essential oil and mixes it with the unscented all natural body lotion from Costco or mixes the oil with rose oil and bath salts.  I mix the oil with spring water in a mister for spraying the bed linens. Elise grabs leaves and stems and flowers that have dried on the plant and with adjacent white sage and a little twine created those smudge sticks that cost $10 at the health food store.  A bit of purple ribbon for wrapping all these simple creations turns Lavender into a thoughtful gift from the heart.

May your dreams be so sweetly scented.

Popcorn recipe:http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/07/white-chocolate-lavender-vanilla-popcorn/

Ignoring what “they” say.

by Sandy Swegel

I visited a garden yesterday tended by my friend Lou.  Lou has gardened for other people for many years and the heavy shade garden I visited has lots of color despite being in shade and the fact that we’ve been in high temperature, drought conditions.

As we walked around and she told me some of the secrets of the garden’s success, I found myself thinking, “But “they” say not to do that.”  Things like “they” say native plants don’t want rich soil and shouldn’t be fertilized like other garden plants.  Hah. Her well-fed natives were twice the size of mine.  Or “they” say dahlias don’t do well in shade and need full sun.  She had twenty magnificent blooming dahlias that begged to differ.  And she used all kinds of plants the opposite of what the labels say:  Euonymous species, sold as shrubs, were tough interesting reliable groundcovers when kept short by pruning.

My favorite gardeners have always been the ones ignoring what “they” say and think about what might actually work.  My first experience was an older gentleman who had grown tomatoes for 70 years by the time I met him.  He had tried all the tomato techniques I ever heard of.  “Epsom salts,” he guffawed…”don’t do a thing except make the tomatoes taste salty.”  “Water has to be consistent.”  He had watered every day with soaker hoses since they had been invented.  So as I watched him fertilize, I expected some down-home advice.  Instead, I watched in horror as he just spooned tablespoons of dry Miracle Grow crystals right next to the tomato stem.  “But, but…” I stammered, “Aren’t you going to burn the plants and kill them?”  Nope….they just got watered in slow-release-like with each soaker hose watering and he had the best tomatoes in town.

That still didn’t match the shock of watching my friend Barbara.  She definitely walks her own path and is agreed by all to be the best gardener we know.  She never fertilized with fertilizers. She composts and mulches and puts goat manure and earthworm compost on everything, but she has never bought a bottle of something and put it on her yard. Geraniums bloomed in containers for fifteen years with only compost and maybe grass clippings in the bottom of the pot for the earthworms to eat. The most startling part of watching her garden was that she never treated pests.  Sawflies came two years in a row and ate every single leaf on her six-foot-tall gooseberries. They looked terrible.  She made sure the plants were watered and had lots of compost, but said the plants needed to figure it out if they wanted to survive. It was up to them to figure out how to defend themselves.  She just made sure the garden environment was good.  To my amazement, the plants survived and put out new leaves, and the third year the beetles didn’t return.  Who knew?

I still do lots of things “they” say because much is based on someone’s research and experience.  But I keep an open mind. Every time somebody gives me a lecture about the right way to garden or what “they” say I should be doing, I ask myself, “Who is this ‘they’?” “And who gave them all the power?”

 

Playing with Flowers

by Sandy Swegel

Even though I don’t have a cutting garden, I love to bring flowers into the house, especially delicate fragile ones that can disappear in a formal arrangement.  This morning on a walk through an abandoned lot, I saw some pretty blue flax.  I snipped them and a few lacy poppies that will only last the day, accompanied by a beautiful yellow salsify weed flower.  In a tall skinny vase that holds the weak stems up, this looks sweet and restful in the window over my kitchen sink and reminds me all day of the peace of the early morning walk.

It’s peony season here, and I adore a peony floating in some water.  I took one somewhat spent peony and floated it in an old circa 1960s blue glass ashtray.  I set it on the corner of my desk, to distract me from too much internet browsing.

Floating flowers is a favorite activity of mine and the many inexpensive hor d’ oeuvres serving plates Crate and Barrel sells.  Tiny shrub roses float along the curving ridges of the platter and make a beautiful dinner table centerpiece.  Sometimes I put in a floating candle or two amid the blossoms.

If all the rose blossoms are spent, I can do as a neighbor does: gather them up and put them in water bowls each day on both sides of the steps up her entryway. It gives a calm Zen-like presence to her door and brings a smile to the guests and the postman.

Finally, I return to my Southern roots where we always put flowers out in the “guest” bathroom or a tiny vase in the guest bedroom if someone was coming to visit.  Tall shot glasses sturdily hold a tiny rose bouquet.  These little delicacies of nature remind our guests how special we think they are.

Nature puts such beauty in our path in Summer.  How can we resist playing with all those flowers and bringing them indoors to visit with us?

First There Were Wildflowers

by Sandy Swegel

Cecilia posted a question on our Facebook page this week asking if we knew a website like ours for wildflowers.  Wait, I thought that’s us.  We’ve gotten very enamored of vegetables lately but we know our roots:  we started as a wildflower seed company.  BBB Seed’s name came from our original name, “Beauty Beyond Belief” which means the beauty of natural wildflowers that can be in your garden all year round.  Later BBB Seed also stood for Bounty Beyond Belief (heirloom vegetables!).  Once we added the great line of botanical products, it meant Botanicals Beyond Belief.  And I can imagine a time in the future, no doubt accompanied by a few margaritas after work when we’ll come up with some more BBB’s.

But wildflowers were our first love…and if you see the photos of our head honcho Mike’s house, you’ll see a wild meadow of wildflowers.

Wildflowers are really easy to grow.  There is an entire procedure you can follow to properly install a wildflower area:  kill all weeds first, spread seed in Fall or late winter and let spring rains gently bring them to life.  But sometimes life is busy and you don’t have time to do things properly.  I’m waiting with eager anticipation to see what happens with the package of Butterfly and Birds mix I gave my neighbor Dana.  She has over an acre of property and she’s in retirement, so can’t spend too much work in any one spot in her garden. But she loves wildflowers.  Last weekend I saw her with her hoe, scratching a six-inch path of bare soil along the entire length of her property.  She was removing grasses and weeds.  Then she sprinkled the seed mix the entire path of her narrow trough.  She followed with the hose watering everything in.  I heard her explaining to the seeds that she didn’t have a lot of time to make a fuss over them, but she’d make sure they got lots of water to germinate and grow and that she couldn’t wait until they made a beautiful fence of wildflowers along the edge of her property.

I think she’s going to be right.  A wildflower garden shouldn’t take more than that.  The consistent watering until the plants are established is important.  And weeds and grass will grow (and she’ll probably cut down the thistles that come up), but I’m pretty sure the wildflowers will prevail and make a natural fence of color and beauty for the butterflies and birds and especially for the people.