Go Play in the Dirt!

by Sandy Swegel

Two health articles came across my desk this week praising the virtues of getting in touch with dirt.  Now most gardeners know that one of the best things about gardening is getting to play in the dirt.  Spring gardens are always well dug and turned because it’s such a joy (weather permitting) to prepare the garden beds for first planting. Now, apparently, instead of just being fun, getting in close contact with dirt is good for you.

Dirt is Good for your Gut.
High-end probiotics now include soil bacteria in their mix of other ordinary acidophilus bacteria.  Scientists at the Sage Colleges of Troy, N.Y., have discovered that exposure to certain kinds of soil bacteria can reduce anxiety and increase learning capabilities when ingested or inhaled, reports Physorg.com.http://phys.org/news193928997.html

Dirt is Good for your Feet.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has a vast website of health information, wrote that “When walking on the earth barefoot, free electrons from the earth transfer into your body via the soles of your feet. These free electrons are some of the most potent antioxidants known to man. “ http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/04/29/james-oschman-on-earthing.aspx
Walking barefoot in the grass or on dirt is now known as “earthing” and everyone should do it every day.

Other studies have been done saying dirt is good for your skin, and that kids exposed at a young age to dirt have fewer allergy problems.

So enjoy getting dirty. Eat some vegetables with bits of dirt still clinging to it.  Let the free radicals of the earth heal your body.  Playing in the dirt is good for you!

 

The Versatile Dwarf Conifer

by Chris McLaughlin

Conifer trees are easy to recognize with their evergreen, needle-type leaves and the cones on their branches.

 In my opinion conifers offer some solid, reliable backbone to any yard — not to mention they’re handsome. I don’t know about you, but aside from the useful plants, I enjoy a little handsome in my yard, too. Standard conifers get big, like 50 or 70 feet tall, big. There’s a lot of us that can’t offer a proper home to such a monster, handsome or not.

Enter the dwarf conifers. You can fit a ton of these versatile mini-versions into a small landscape as they have a compact growth habit, which makes them container friendly, too. By using grafting techniques or rooted cuttings, dwarf conifers are reproduced asexually. By the way, when they’re grafted, it’s not onto dwarfed rootstock; they’re cultivars originating from mutations or seedling selections.

Unlike other plants that are grafted onto a smaller plant’s roots or “dwarf rootstock”, dwarf conifers or dwarf evergreens are simply tree or shrub varieties that are extremely slow-growing. In other words, they haven’t been bred to stop growing at a certain height. According to conifer nurseries, a regular hemlock will grow to reach 25′-30′ tall in 20 years time. While its dwarf hemlock cousin will reach 2′ in that same amount of time.
“Witches brooms” are another way to get a dwarf conifer. These mini conifers usually start as a bud that can be found anywhere on a regular conifer tree. Sometimes a bud’s genes will mutate and produce a clump of growth that’s dwarfed. They’re harvested from the parent plant and more plants are propagated from the brooms — creating more dwarf specimens.

Dwarf conifers bring year-round interest to the landscape and many perform seasonal color changes. Keep your eye out for variegated varieties and those in various shades of green, orange, blue, yellow, and lavender. Some also have patterned or bi-colored leaves, as well. Inside this conifer class are the yews and junipers that produce berries instead of cones. Also, along with the pines are firs, spruces, redwoods, cedars, cypresses, junipers, yews, and hemlock. Word of warning; cypresses do lose their leaves come fall.

Dwarf conifers come in many shapes and forms (just in case you can only picture a Christmas tree):

• Prostrate: These are plants that hug the ground like a carpet (and stay that way).

• Globose: These have a rounded, globe shape to them.

• Narrow upright: These plants grow taller than they do wide.

• Pendulous: These plants grow upright with branches that hang down or have a downward curving leader and require staking. Or they can have strictly descending branches from a central leader.

• Spreading: While these are upright, they grow wider than they do tall.

• Broad upright: These are all of the plants that grow upright but aren’t in the globose, narrow upright, or pendulous categories. Generally, these grow broader than they do tall.

• Irregular: These guys grow erratically without a pattern.

• Culturally altered: This means that someone made their own shape(s) with some pruning shears. Think topiary shapes.

Dwarf conifers are one of my favorite plant group of all time. If you’re interested in making them yours, check out The American Conifer Society’s website.

 

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.

 

How to Manipulate Your Microclimates

by Chris McLaughlin

Whoever said “You can’t fool Mother Nature,” never met a gardener. We can and we do fool her as often as we can get away with it.  Anyone living anywhere can learn to use their unique microclimates and to take the greatest advantage of their situation.

Permanent structures such as houses, walls, and neighboring buildings can have a huge effect on the immediate area surrounding them. For instance, all of these things can serve as wind barriers or conversely, create wind tunnels. But gardeners can take advantage of the very things that would otherwise seem to be in the way.

Walls made of brick, stone, cement, or stucco will absorb the heat and radiate it during the cool night hours. Walls not only hold heat effectively, but they can also provide shelter and be a protective wind-block for plants.

The sun’s exposure can also be the difference between a perennial plant making it through the winter or not — even when its tag says it won’t survive the cold months in your zone. Bougainvilleas, for example, don’t usually make it through a Northern California winter like they do in Southern California. But there are Bougainvilleas that are alive and well in the San Francisco Bay Area because they were planted against a wall with a southern exposure.

If you’re planting heat-loving vegetables this season, be sure to plant them on the south side of your house. If you’re planning on using a wall for vertical vegetables, plant them against any wall but the north-facing one, as they won’t get enough sun there to produce well.  A southern exposure sees the longest hours of sun; a west wall will get the intense afternoon sun; the east wall will have morning sun, and a (true) northern wall will receive no direct sun.  A word of caution here: the southern side is also one of the most drastic sides for perennial plants because of temperature fluctuation during the changing seasons — it can be a circle of freezing and thawing.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a cooler place to plant your lettuce, then go for the north side. The northern side of your house might also be the best place for early flowering fruit trees like cherries and peaches. A late spring frost will set fruit production back, and the idea here is that if fruit trees are planted where there’s a northern exposure, it can help suspend blossoming until the frost date has passed.

A good place for tender plants is on the eastern side of any structure because morning sun is the most gentle at that time of day. While sun-worshipping roses like the brilliance of the west side. Keep in mind that a southern exposure is no longer the hot spot that it could be if there’s a structure such as a neighboring building or large tree situated between your planting space and the sun. This is a perfect example of a man-made microclimate.

Use a wall’s upwind and downwind sides to your advantage by remembering the upwind side is the right place for water-loving plants as it’s going to receive more rain than the downwind side. Plants growing on the downwind side will be protected against a driving rain. This can be a handy little microclimate to have around. These are just a handful of ideas — other examples of creating microclimates is using mulch, paved surfaces, fences, balconies, and rooftops.

 

 

How to Make Garden Friends

by Sandy Swegel

Many of the ideas for this blog come from questions I hear from an email list of gardeners I belong to.  I introduced a new gardener to our group this week and she was so grateful to suddenly have a whole network of people she could turn to when she had a question.  She’ll soon realize what we all know:  that it is so cool to have so many plant-geek friends.

Our group started rather accidentally, but you can start your own low maintenance group of garden friends.  You’ll learn lots about gardening and many of your gardening buddies will turn into real friends because gardeners are really nice people.

Most of our group had gone once or twice to a local gardening club but didn’t really fit in because we were interested in growing food and the garden clubs here were more interested in flowers.  Our group started accidentally by one of us posting a note on the virtual bulletin board of one of those proper flower groups that said, “Tomato Seed Swap, Saturday. Email for details.”  We just wanted to try some new varieties of tomatoes without going broke by each person ordering 10 different packs of seeds. We’d just order seeds together.  Well, ten people showed up for that first meeting.  Then, of course, we had to trade emails so we could find out how everyone else’s seeds were doing.  Then someone brought up the topic of manure and if that made tomatoes grow better.  Soon one person took a truck to a local farm and we all showed up at his house with an empty bucket for manure.  Come harvest season, another person invited us to her place to see her tomatoes.  The key to us becoming a cohesive group was that Niki saw how much fun we were having and declared “We needed a name.” and She announced we were the “Boulder Culinary Gardeners.”  Soon we were having email discussions about zucchini and herbs and organic pest control.  Although we had all been gardening on our own and felt we didn’t know much,  collectively, we knew a lot about gardening.  Post a question on the list and one of our small group had an idea of the answer.  Since then 10 people has become 150 and we all know so much more now.  We haven’t saved much money on seeds though.  Turns out gardeners can never have enough seeds.  So we still share tomato seeds, but we take the money we saved on those to buy heirloom squash and watermelons and plants we had never heard of before like broccoli raab.

You can make new garden friends pretty easily using this method.  Or help others build a community of friends who grow food.  A friend belongs to an HOA where people didn’t know each other well but all of them belonged to an email list for HOA business.  My friend offered HOA members a  free Seed Starting class and Seed Swap. (Seed avarice seems to be the real secret to bringing gardeners together.) Five people showed up and now are making friendships across the high fences of the HOA.

Make some new friends today.  Everybody wants to grow food these days but don’t know for sure how to do it.  Just about everybody wishes they had more friends with similar interests and don’t really know how to do that.  Seeds can bring people together.

 

Earwigs

by Sandy Swegel

If I were making a low-budget movie about alien invaders, I’d definitely use close-ups of earwigs to make the scariest monsters with their pincers coming at you.  And no fan of Star Trek can help but shudder and remember the image of the earwiggy centipedy thing Khan puts into Mr. Chekov’s ear.  Earwigs actually get their name from going into ears of corn, not human ears, but there’s a primitive cringe factor that rises in us anyway.

Most people never notice earwigs, but if you do get an infestation, you’ll quickly find they can wipe out new seedlings by chewing the stems and leaves.  And in large numbers, they have no problem climbing corn stalks or fruit trees to get at yummy food.

It’s usually easy to catch earwigs…they gather under anything dark and damp such as mulch or an old board. Rolled up wet newspaper is pretty good because it’s a disposable container….just toss the whole thing in the trash.  I personally let a couple of chickens loose and they find the apparently delicious earwigs in minutes and eat them as fast as they can scratch them out.  If you have a serious infestation of earwigs, UC Davis has the best scientific integrated pest management protocol.http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74102.html

This week  I went to a bug talk by our local extension entomologist Carol O’Meara and learned a new tip about trapping earwigs. Trapping is usually the best way to deal with earwigs.  O’Meara’s twist to catch the critters is to put out little bowls of vegetable oil and soy sauce.  The soy sauce is an attractant and the earwigs are suffocated in the vegetable oil.  An old tuna can and a couple tablespoons each of soy sauce and oil (some people add a little molasses), and you have a great trap.  The folks at Deep Green Permaculture designed this little trap to give you an idea of the concept.

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/strange-brew-homemade-garden-sprays/

Happy Earwig Hunting!