Communicating with Plants

by Sandy Swegel

Reading through all the garden porn…uh I mean seed catalogs…I found myself quite transported this morning.  Looking at the beautiful pictures in the catalogs, I realized that when I considered getting seeds for a certain plant, my mind was quite filled with images of what the full grown plant in bloom would look like.  Thinking about what tomatoes to grow, my mouth began to salivate.  For gardeners, seeds aren’t just a tiny bit of hard matter, but a world of potential realized.  Somehow, I think the plants actually manage to communicate that to us.  We sit reading our catalogs and the seeds themselves seem to be shouting from the page, “Pick me!” Pick me!”  As I always tell people when I teach seed starting classes,  seed starting is easy….the plants want to grow.

I don’t think we need to be psychic to communicate with plants.  Human plant communication is something humans have done since the beginning. In a world with so many plants, how else did we figure out which ones are good for medicine and which ones are good for food.

So do a little experiment when you sit with your seed catalog or favorite seed website.  Settle yourself into a quiet place alone with your catalog and set the mental intention that you’d like to understand which plants you should grow this year.  Then calmly flip through the catalog and see what really gets your attention.  Or sometimes thoughts of a certain plant pop into your head.  Close your eyes for a moment and really see the plant. Use your imagination to smell the plant or feel its leaves.  Let an image come to your mind of where the plant might be physically in your garden.  Imagine it growing in that spot next June and notice if the plant looks healthy or weak when you think about it there.  If it doesn’t look strong, try to imagine it in a different place.  How’s it look there?  How do you feel when you see the plant there?

Whether we are accessing our own intuition or really communicating with the plant itself, I think we are tapping into our own inner gardener who knows exactly what plants we should grow to make both the plant and the gardener happy!

Photo Credit: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/can-talk-flowers-make-grow-76408.html

 

Bring More Color to Your Wild Areas

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 overseed 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 refreshening 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 everyday.  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

 

Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment.

by Sandy Swegel

There are so many vegetables you can grow in your garden. If only there was enough time. If you have limited time or space for your garden, think about what is the best return on your investment of time and money as well as the best outcome of  flavor and nutrition.  Three things I grow even if I don’t have time to grow anything else are:

Salad greens. Loose-leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, and arugula are up and ready to eat in as little as three weeks after01.20.14a planting.  You can pick what you need for tonight’s salad, and let the plant continue to grow for another night’s salad.  Baby greens and mixed lettuces cost $6 per pound add up at the grocery…and they aren’t necessarily that fresh…sometimes they’ve been traveling in a semi-trailer from California for a week already.  Grow your own greens to get maximum nutrition and taste for a couple of bucks worth of seed.

Tomatoes.  You’ve tasted one of those grocery store tomatoes that look perfect and taste like absolutely nothing?  Enough said. You have to grow tomatoes because home grown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy.  But tomatoes have also gotten really expensive.  One or two tomato plants easily save you a couple hundred dollars if you regularly eat tomatoes in your salads and sandwiches.  Cherry tomato plants are especially prolific.

Herbs. Fresh herbs are the best way to give oomph to your cooking.  They taste so much better than dried herbs and can often star in a simple dish …such as a basil leaves served with mozzarella and tomato.  Many herbs are perennial (like thyme and oregano) and only have to be planted once.  Annual herbs such as basil and dill produce lots and lots of flavorful leaves.

It’s always fun to grow everything there is to grow, but if you’re strapped for time or space, let the local farmers grow the long-season crops like winter squash, the root crops like onions and carrots, or the water-hogging melons.  You’ll be enjoying your own magnificent home-grown healthful salads all season.

Photo Credit: http://kgi.org/blogs/roger-doiron/home-garden-worth

 

How to Become a Great Gardener

by Sandy Swegel

I garden and landscape for a living.  I have accumulated a massive amount of information about best ways to grow things, to take care of soil, to encourage native plants and bees, etc.  When I’m talking to people, they naturally assume I have a degree in01.17.14a 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:

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.

PrintPick 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 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.

Photo Credits: http://khaanz.com/see-beauty-naturelove-nature/ http://quotespictures.com/

 

Seeds You Can Start Outdoors NOW!

by Sandy Swegel

Yes, most of the country has been caught up in a polar vortex. Snow and ice are on the ground and you, the gardener, are stuck with nothing to garden.

There are still two flower seeds that you can put out now!

Poppies and Calendula.

A friend who has gardened “naturally” for sixty years always has beautiful stands of poppies that I covet.  She shared her secret for poppies and it works great for calendula too.

“Anytime after the new year, preferably the night before a big snow, spread a packet of seeds where you want the flowers to grow.”

That’s it. That’s all it takes. In nature’s time, the seeds will germinate and grow. Putting the seeds out before a snow helps both with giving a little moisture and with hiding the seeds from birds.  But I’ve also had luck just throwing the seeds on hard snow.

Photo Credit Calendula: http://witwhim.wordpress.com/ Photo Credit Poppies: http://www.diggrowcompostblog.com/2009/06/loving-it-chicago-botanic-garden.html

 

Winter Sowing

by Sandy Swegel

My first packets of seeds have come in the mail and I’m so eager to start gardening, but the 10 inches of old snow that’s still all over my garden is a real obstacle.  My lights are reserved for tomatoes and peppers….but I want to Garden NOW.  When I’m in this predicament, there’s only one thing to do: head out to the recycling bins and dumpster dive for plastic milk jugs and salad containers and all other manner of clear plastic to start some seeds in.

Winter Sowing is my favorite way to start wildflower seeds but it works for all seeds.  Winter Sowing is all about starting your seeds outside and letting nature’s natural rhythms stir the seeds to life at the right time.  It’s also all about getting LOTS of plants practically free without having extravagant indoor light setups or greenhouses.

There’s lots of info online about Winter Sowing…a term coined by the Queen of Winter Sowing, Trudi Davidoff, back in the early days of the internet on the Garden Web forums.  Trudi has it all consolidated on her web page www.wintersown.org  with answers to every question you can possibly have. We all love Trudi because she took something rather mysterious…making new plants…and made it easy and almost foolproof.

To make it even easier for you, here’s your “Short Form” Winter Sowing Instructions:

1. Recycle a plastic container. I’m fond of the gallon water jugs but any container with a clear lid that you can put holes in the bottom works.

2. Label your container at least twice.  Sharpies aren’t really permanent so I use an art deco paint pen from Michael’s to write directly on the container or on a strip of duct tape.

3. Put in 2-4 inches of potting soil.  Wet the soil. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Lightly water the seeds into the soil or press them with your fingers.

4. Secure the top of the container with duct tape. Place the container outside where the wind won’t blow it over.

5. Check periodically (twice a month) for watering. This is really important.  If the soil dries out completely, this seeds will likely die because germination had already started. If you can see condensation on the  inside of the container you’re probably OK. A foot of snow on top is probably also a safe sign.

6. Beginning in April or May here in Zone 5, anytime after the seedlings come out you can plant them directly into the garden.

Timing is the beauty of this method…On cold winter days, you yearn for spring and have more time for starting seeds. In my experience, the plants started this way are much sturdier than ones started indoors under warm conditions.

Winter Sowing is an ideal technique for wildflowers.  You can start now and keep making containers when you have time until as late as March or April.

Enjoy!

For more info: www.wintersown.org http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/wtrsow/

 

Expand Your Vegetable Garden the Easy Way

by Sandy Swegel

Two forces collided around the kitchen table this week.  First I was oogling our seed catalog and indulging in winter snow day daydreams about summer gardens and how I might turn my tiny urban yard into a farm so I could grow one of everything. At that moment I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful shiny vegetables. Then the second force came.  I went grocery shopping for my favorite winter recipe:  a very simple roasted winter vegetable dish with squash and sweet potatoes and beets, marinated in olive oil and rosemary. Yum. The winter squash was even on sale.  Then sticker shock hit. A single large winter squash was $5, even on sale!

The force of wanting to buy more seed collided with the force of not wanting to pay retail prices for food.  The only natural outcome is I have to find more space to garden so I can plant more squash.

It’s too late for any of the summer or fall garden expansion methods of either tilling in land or doing some lasagna gardening.  So I will use the easy method my urban farmer friend Barbara taught me.  Out in a neglected corner of the yard where there’s just some old grass, I’ll dig a shallow hole next May and fill it to an overflowing mound with a bucket of compost.  I’ll plant squash seeds there and cover the surrounding grass with cardboard.  The squash plants will grow over the cardboard as it takes another year to make good garden soil underneath.  I can drape the burgeoning squash plants over the fence and maybe up an old ladder onto the shed roof. (I did mention the tiny yard, didn’t I?)  But the key to expanding my garden this way is that I’m not doing all the heavy work of putting in a new 10 x 10 garden bed for squash.  The squash roots and cardboard are going to help do that.  My yield won’t be as high this year as a full amended composted garden, but then the work will be almost nothing to grow a lot of $5 squash for the price of $1.89 seed packet.

The key to baking yummy winter vegetables is to cut them in 1-1/2 inch pieces, marinate them in olive oil, salt and rosemary, and bake them on flat cookie sheets.  The flat baking sheet is crucial to the outcome because then the sides of the vegetable get a nice crisp roasted texture.  Here’s a more formal recipe:

Photo Credit and Recipe:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-winter-vegetables-recipe/index.html

 

Psychic Predictions 2014

by Sandy Swegel

From my early morning dreams: Psychics around the world predict a new rise in human global consciousness this year.  In all catalog14_cover (Mobile)corners of the globe, human beings awake this year and realize the true path to enlightenment is eating good nutritious food especially leafy greens and root vegetables. Millions set up garden sacred spaces in their back yard to grow their own fresh, local healthy food.  In progressive states like Colorado, the new leaf available for sale on every street corner is kale.

Children born this year will be precocious and wise beyond their years.  Unlike the indigos, these “green” children are born knowing to avoid processed foods and wail and throw tantrums when force-fed orange macaroni or dried up Cheerios.

It may be a year of  turmoil as hundreds of thousands gather in protests, strikes and boycotts of local governments threatening to occupy the streets until schools and hospitals and shopping malls provide truly healthy lunches.  The earth joins in the protests and sends tornadoes around the world sucking up factories that make the pesticides that poison our farms.  New earthquake faults form under any land that has been forced into mono-cropping. Hurricanes wipe out buildings and urban sprawl in tropical areas leaving only edible native vegetation and fruit trees.

On the celebrity front, new reality shows about farmers and foragers are in demand.  The new Dynasty is led by dads who stand up for values of clean food and air and who know how to grow a mean tomato.  The Real Housewives are moms tending backyard chickens and looking sexy carrying in armloads of fresh vegetables with just a smudge of dirt above their brow.

What a year it can be! So when you’re sitting this winter day dreamily looking at the shiny seed catalogs, follow your inner wisdom and grow a splendid vegetable garden this year.  It’s a wiser kinder world calling you.