Carrot love

By Sandy Swegel07.27.15 bee-on-lambs-ear - Copy

 

I was noticing very happy pollinators this week: honey bees and native bees, tiny flies, lacewings.

And the air was abuzz with hummingbirds and their look-a-likes sphinx moth. Noticing that pollinators were all around is the first step. Then I looked for where they were gathered….because that meant I had somehow (accidentally) created a habitat that they loved.

The best habitat of the day was a patch of carrots abandoned last year in the back of the garden which had entirely gone to seed. There were dozens of different kinds of happy flying beneficials on it. It was at a slightly wet end of the row so that helped. I’ll never pull the last carrot again. What I didn’t know until this week is that carrot flowers are a pale pink. Very sweet in a big patch.

07.27.15 carrot-flower-pollinators

I like to leave carrots in the ground in winter. I eat them until the ground freezes because they get sweeter and sweeter each day. Then I’m happy for them to get frozen solid because many of them turn to mush and by the time I dig them in early spring, there are writhing masses of earthworms feast. But the carrots that don’t turn to mush, make beautiful flowers their second year.

There was another surprise areas abuzz yesterday. I headed out to a patch of fallen lambs ear that looked spent. From a distance the flowers were all brown. Lambs ear are beautiful and drought tolerant, but they will seed everywhere. I was about to pull out fifty or so plants that barely had any flowers left…but the bees had a strong opinion that they wanted the last of those flowers. So one more week for the lambs ears. I know they’ll drop seeds. But the bees had the final say. Everything for our bee overlords.

 

Photo Credits:

blog.growingwithscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/carrot-flower-pollinators.jpg
www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/07/texture-plants/

 

Start your Seeds…Again.

by Sandy Swegel07.20.15 seeds

This time it’s going to be a lot easier. You don’t need lights and cold frames. You don’t even have to use trays and little pots. You can put the seeds directly into the earth.  You don’t need much time.  Seeds germinate in warm soil really fast. All you really do need this time of year is water.  Seeds you start mid-summer are at risk of germinating and then drying out, so you have to remember to sprinkle them daily and keep the soil moist.  But that’s about it.

  1. Why Start Seeds Now?tips_seeds1

The least romantic reason is to Save Money.
The second least romantic reason is to Save Time.
The romantic reason is Beauty and Abundance.

Veggies
Lettuces. In most gardens your lettuces and even spinach has bolted and gone to seed.  You’re probably trying to salvage individual leaves here and there, but they are pretty bitter because of the heat.  Seeding new beds will give you young sweet leaves and plants that will feed you well into Fall and even Early Winter.

Cold Hardy Greens.  The key to being able to eat out of the winter garden is to have big plants with enough leaves to feed you all winter.  Chards and Kale and Spinach seeded now will be big enough come Fall that even in cold climates you can pile leaves on them and harvest from under the snow.  But you need big plants because come October and November the plants aren’t going to be re-growing much.

Peas.  Peas germinate and grow easily this time of year.  By the time they reach maturity, the chill of Fall nights will make them sweet and yummy.  In Colorado we kind of got cheated out of our peas this year because it became so hot so fast, the peas dried up.  But we have a second chance.

Root crops.  Carrots and beets planted in summer have time to grow to maturity and wait in the soil until cooling Fall weather turns them into sugar. As long as the ground isn’t frozen solid, you can continue to harvest delectable root veggies that taste much better than the spring and summer harvests.

Herbs.  Parsley and thyme are among the many herbs you can harvest all year.  Thyme can be frozen solid.  Even parsley that has frozen will plump and be bright green on warm sunny winter days.

Perennials
You know the adage about perennials. First they sleep, then they creep, then they leap.  Perennials need their first year to establish roots and many don’t even make flowers until the second year.  Perennials that you seed now will still consider this their first year and then be ready to bloom next year.  If you wait until next Spring to plant perennial seed….you won’t get flowers until 2016.  Planting perennials is one of the most thrifty things you can do in your gardens.  Foxglove and lupines are both underused magnificent bloomers in gardens.  And they can easily cost $8 each in garden centers. You can have dozens and dozens of them blooming next year if you seed now.  All those flowers for cutting you’ve always wanted — daisies and echinacea and rudbeckia – they are simple from seed. One packet of seed will give you dozens and dozens of flowers next year.

So save an entire year of time by planting perennial seeds now. And save a bundle of money by growing your own perennials and by having greens you can pick from for the next six months.

 

Photo credit:  www.modernfarmer.com

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed Mixes

 

 

 

It’s a Bug Eat Bug World

by Sandy Swegel07.17.15b

I met a new bug this week. And really a bug…an insect scientists call a “true bug” but whose common name is “Assassin Bug”! Someone on an email list caught a picture of the assassin bug eating a bee to which my first response was “Poor bee.”

But the is the way of the insect world. All the creatures we call “beneficial insects” are beneficial because they eat bugs we don’t like. Ladybugs eat all those aphids for us, and we cheer them on. We love the predators that eat thrips and whiteflies or all the beetle eggs on squash. We’re so happy so see the insects we like eating the babies of the insects we don’t like. But sometimes the top predators aren’t too picky and they eat bees and ladybugs and butterfly caterpillars too. Fortunately, they assassinate many more bad bugs than good bugs.

The bugs at the top of the food pyramid have some great names like assassin bugs or pirate bugs They are still beneficials in our book because they are eating lots of the bad guys. Of course they happily eat cute ladybugs and even their own siblings when they are ravenous after hatching. Keep an eye out in your garden for some of these more interesting creatures.07.17.15a

Beneficial Insects with Great Names:
Assassin Bugs
Pirate Bugs
Predatory Stink Bugs
Big Eyed Bugs
Damsel Bugs

See this link for more on these predators. http://insects.about.com/od/insectpests/tp/top10beneficialinsects.htm
Photo Credits
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthpicturegalleries/9927514/Bug-eyed-macro-photographs-of-insects-by-Ireneusz-Irass-Waledzik.html?frame=2508309
Vickers Myers

 

Cool Off Fast! – Agua Fresca

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.

WatermelonAquaFresca2

http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/WatermelonAquaFresca.htm

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.

Photo credits:

http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/raspberry-mint-agua-fresca.html

 

Choices… as your cool season veggies go to seed

by Sandy Swegel

Gardening is always about choices.

There are the early choices about what to plant. 07.10.15
Choices about whether to treat pests.
Choices about when to harvest.

Now as your cool season greens and herbs and alliums go to seed, you have some choices.

Your first choice is more food. If you are growing your garden primarily to feed yourself, you need to harvest like the market farmers do. When it’s time to cut kale, you don’t just take a few leaves, You get your knife and cut that plant to within two inches of the soil. That shocks leafy greens that they immediately triple leaf production and you will get two more big harvests out of each plant. Ruthless cutting produces more food.

Your other choice is for beauty and generosity. If you let some of those plants bolt and put out seed heads, you end up with a garden that generously feeds the pollinators and butterflies and birds with flowers and seed heads. The swallowtail butterflies ignored all the dill I planted for them and congregated on one old parsley plant to lay their eggs. The nature creatures have reasons for choosing we don’t always understand.

07.10.15b

But Beauty is why I make my choice this week for letting edibles go to seed.

With the rain this year, bolted lettuce are statuesque. They are four feet high and visible across the yard. Purple Merlot lettuce at this size is stunning next to the sweet peas. The dill are taller than me in the well-watered garden and surround all the tomatoes like protective warriors. Yellow mustard flowers and white arugula flowers lean out across the walk begging to be nibbled. Broccoli heads opening up into flowers are beguiling.07.10.15a

So once again you have a choice. You can go out in the hot sun and tidy up your garden, or you can let Nature’s idea of Beauty run amok.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit broccoli, Todd Dwyer www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/broccoli/bolting-broccoli-growing-broccoli-in-hot-weather.htm
Leeks: http://www.koanga.org.nz/category/all-blog-entries/
Lettuce: http://gardeninggonewild.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/dscf4311.JPG

 

It’s Time to Divide Iris

by Sandy Swegel07.06.15  Iris Garden by Nancy Baker

Bearded Iris meet many of my criteria for a flower garden.  Their flowers are big and colorful.  They are sturdy and withstand hail. Here in Colorado they are virtually disease free.

 

One of the best and the worst things about iris is that they reproduce like crazy.  Especially in rainy years like we’ve had the last couple of years.  You can ignore the massive clump of green blades, but if you want more flowers, you have to divide the iris every few years.

 

A few facts:

July to September is iris dividing season. After bloom but give the roots some time to reestablish.

The roots of iris are called rhizomes…big clunky and ginger-like.  Photosynthesis occurs in the rhizome.  If the rhizome doesn’t get some light, the plant rarely blooms.

The fan (the leaves) that bloomed this year will never bloom again. So you can cut it off and throw it away.  Two buds on either side of this fan will send up their own leaves and bloom next year.   Those are what you’ll be replanting.

07.06.15 Trimmed-Iris-480x322

Giving away iris is like giving away zucchini in August. Some gardeners are thrilled but others run when they see you coming.

 

The two most important things to remember when replanting iris:

Good drainage.  Iris will handle drought and bad soil, but standing water rots them.

The rhizome needs to be slightly above soil level.

 

Now iris come in many colors and there are definitely fads.  This year no one can give away purple iris.  They’ve somehow become common place.  But I  brought a huge clump of white iris to a garden meeting and grown women were fighting over single rhizomes.  Go figure.  Fortunately before digging from the mixed iris bed, we had used permanent marker to write on the leaves the color of the flower.

 

It’s a bit of work but there is one awesome secret about iris that means you have to grow them.  They smell just like their color.  Purple iris smell like grape snowballs.  Yellow iris smell exactly as you’d think yellow should smell.  Apricot iris have a delicate sweet aroma. What a delight to plant a walkway  with irises.

 

Photo credit txmg.org/elpaso/event/farmers-market-series-2014-07-26/

Art by Nancy Baker www.hear2heal.com/bearded-ladies-limited-edition-fine-art-iris-garden-nancy-baker-p-756.html

 

It’s Caterpillar Time!

by Sandy Swegelcaterpillar-emerging

Protect our friends. So many butterflies in our area have laid their eggs and their baby caterpillars are getting big and fat and chewing up plants. Be sure you know who your friends are before you squash any of them! You’ll love having the butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillars
I found these this week, not on the dozens of dill plants I planted for them but on a lone leftover parsley from last year. Next year, more parsley.

Monarch caterpillars9793003_orig
Also yellow stripey…they look a little more serious. I’m watching for these now. Quite a few eggs on the milkweed plants I let take over part of the back garden…so I’m hoping

caterillarPainted lady caterpillar
I almost never see these although I see lots of the butterflies. Skinny little black prickly caterpillars. Their host is the malva family like thistles or hollyhocks.

Cabbage looper   looper-caterpillar1(1)
Well this is one you’re probably seeing a lot of right now. Cute little white moths fluttering everywhere. Bright green little loopers inching along devouring your cabbages. If you want cabbages, you have to treat these as pests.

 

 

Photocredit:
lagbchbutterflies.weebly.com
www.monarch-butterfly.com
wildones.org