Five Spot: A wildflower for shade and for native bees

by Sandy SwegelFive Spot

I love blue flowers so naturally I am enthused about our new “Blue Blazes” collection of seeds for eight different blue wildflowers. What really caught my attention is a little flower I’ve never seen growing that now I just have to have.

Nemophila maculata is white with single blue-purple spots on the tips of each of its five petals. So cute. Such an unusual design is believed to have evolved to capture the attention of native solitary bees. “Five Spot,” the flower’s common name, is an early cool season annual flower that prefers shady moist areas. Although my garden in Colorado is pretty dry, shady areas under trees are well-watered in Spring where the snow is slow to melt in the shade. Perfect I think for a flower whose name Nemophila loosely translates as “woodland lover.”

Bee on Five Spot

I’m going to plant my five spots in an area with that has early Spring purple crocuses and early Summer blue columbine. I’m hoping Five Spot blooms just between those two.

Field of Five Spot

Five Spot finishes blooming once the weather gets hot, but it leaves seeds to reappear next Spring. Now I have a new travel destination on my list: California’s Sierra Nevada in early Spring when fields of this sweet wildflower bloom naturally.

 

 

 

 
Photo credit
http://www.thjardins.com.br/php/shopping_produtos_detalhe.php?produto=849&produto_nome=NEMOPHILA-MACULATA-NOME-FIVE-SPOT

https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/aug/bee

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemophila_maculata#

 

Attract chickadees to your garden

by Sandy SwegelChickadee

Chickadees are out and about on warm winter days.  They are the tiny white birds with black heads that are flittering and chirping vocally on sunny January days.  I often see them in the top branches of evergreens.

Chickadees are small birds that don’t migrate but hunker down in tree cavities to survive the winter despite their tiny bodies.  You can have lots of chickadees in your garden if you keep a simple tube feeder with seeds (they love black sunflower seeds.). You can also feed them with your garden by leaving the seed heads on all the plants for the chickadees to sit on or hunt and peck for.  Chickadees need a lot of food …. the eat about a third of their body weight per day.

Chickadee

And that is why you want them to live in your garden.  They may rely on seeds in winter but come early spring and mating time, they get about 80% of their diet from insects.  They eat so many insects, some wildlife fans call them the pest exterminator of the forest.  And their favorite insect?  Aphids!  Tiny aphids are the perfect food for tiny chickadee beaks.  The birds are very systematic and will cling to a plant stem eating one aphid after another until they clear the entire stem. In spring before your plants are even sending up new stalks, the chickadees will pick in leaf litter finding the baby aphids just as they hatch or even just eating the yummy aphid eggs.

 

Photo credits

https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2016/Help-Birds-Stay-Warm.aspx

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-capped-chickadee

 

 

Winter Smoothies

from the kitchen of Engrid Winslow

We know you can’t wait for spring and fresh veggies from your own garden – we can’t either! Here are a couple of smoothies and a juice drink made with readily available winter produce to tide you over. In addition they are paleo-friendly, gluten free, vegetarian and low in calories.

Tangy Apple Kale Smoothie (serves 1)Smoothies

1 cup water
2 Granny Smith apples, seeded and cut into chunks
2 cups baby kale
1 frozen banana

Combine everything and blend until smooth.

Cinnamon Squash Pear Smoothie (serves 1)

1 pear, seeded and cut into chunks
1/4 cup frozen, cooked winter squash
1 tsp. Honey (or 1/2 tsp Maple Syrup)
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

Combine everything and blend until smooth.

Early Riser Breakfast (serves 2)

1 beet
1/4 red cabbage
2 carrots
1/2 red bell pepper
1 orange, peeled
1 apple
1/2 lemon, peeled

Juice each item, combine and stir.

 

Grow for Flavor

by Sandy SwegelChioggia Beets

If you read just one gardening book this year, I have the perfect book for you. It’s a British gardening book and while growing conditions in merry old England aren’t anything like growing in hot arid Colorado, the advice here transcends climate. It’s about how to get the most flavor and nutrients by “how” you grow.

“Grow for Flavor: Tips and tricks to supercharge the flavor of homegrown harvests” doesn’t just repeat the advice on how to grow organically that is now found in many books or all over the internet. Author James Wong of the Royal Horticultural Society takes growing edibles to the next level by referencing scientific studies on how nutrient content and flavor molecules increase according to growing conditions and cooking methods.

Beets are one example.

If you want more antioxidants, roasting beets doubles their antioxidant levels compared to eating them raw.

If you want sweeter beets, sow them extra early. Sowing beets in cooler conditions leads to increased sweetness and more intense color.

If you aren’t fond of ‘earthy-tasting beets’ it’s the organic compound goesmin that gives that flavor. You can harvest early because young beets haven’t developed as much geosmin. Or you can put vinegar on the beets as my great grandparents did because the geosmin is degraded by acid.

Beets

If you juice beets for their cardiovascular benefits, the substances you want more of are nitrate and betalains. To get more of those, sow a mid-summer crop and fertilize with nitrogen to hike cardiovascular benefits by 300%

Another way to hike health benefits is to skimp on the water, Lack on water or ‘drought stress’ increases phytonutrients by 86% and makes beets richer in zinc and iron.

All this info is from just one page of the book so you can see why I love it. And I love my local librarian who procures such unusual books for our local library where I can read them for free!
Photo credits
http://www.blog.imperfectproduce.com/blog-1/2016/6/15/the-history-of-the-beet

 

Why Grow From Seed

by Sandy Swegel

Linaria maroccana

Linaria maroccana

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.
Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics
There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.
If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a near infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

 Linaria maroccana, Northern Lights

Linaria maroccana, Northern Lights

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers. My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables

January Recipe

from the kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Roasted Winter Vegetables

 

Even though your garden is sleeping, you can still enjoy this seasonal recipe.winter vegetables

  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Dice or chop equal amounts of the following:

Potatoes

Beets (chop a bit smaller because they take longer to reach doneness)

Butternut Squash

Parsnips

Onions

  1. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet large enough that they roast instead of steaming. Toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30-45 minutes, stirring at least once.

 

Variations:

  • Substitute or add other vegetables such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, turnips, sweet potatoes, kabocha, acorn, delicata or other winter squash.
  1. Drizzle with balsamic before serving.
  1. Add pumpkin seeds during last 20 minutes of roasting.
  1. Add dabs of goat cheese while still warm but not too hot.
  1. Add fresh sprigs of thyme or rosemary
 

Get a head start on leeks

by Sandy SwegelAmerican Flag Leek

Organic leeks were $3.99 a pound in my grocery store this week. I love leeks because they add a more rich and complex flavor to soups and sauces than onions do. They are more expensive than onions but just as easy to grow. The only challenge for gardeners in areas with winter is that leeks have a long growing season and it’s not as easy to find leek seedlings for sale come planting time. January is an ideal time to start some seedlings to transplant this spring.

Leek starts

The ideal germination conditions for leek seeds are about 70 degrees in moist soil. They will germinate in cooler temperatures but may take a few more weeks to emerge.

Even though the seeds are small, germinate them in containers at least four inches deep rather than in a very shallow tray. We gently push the seeds about half an inch deep into the light potting mix. The seedlings don’t need individual cells so you can grow them in one big container. Their roots will intertwine but easily tease apart without breaking come planting time.

Leeks

Once the leeks are growing they will continue to need light but easily handle cooler conditions if you need your indoor lights for something else. An unheated cold frame or a makeshift hoop house works great.

Come planting time, we plant the baby seedlings into six inch deep trenches (we want lots of long white stems). For now, just get those seeds started. The only thing to remember is not to let the soil dry out.

I always grow more leeks than I’m going to eat and leave them in the garden to flower. The leek flowers are beautiful and attract butterflies and bees!

Leek flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits
http://really-rose.blogspot.com/2011/04/leeks.html
http://www.lovethatimage.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/leek-flowers-4938.jpg
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/lovely-leeks

 

First seeds to plant in the New Year

Poppies

You can plant a whole field of one color

by Sandy Swegwel

Winter Solstice has come and gone, so it’s safe to start planting outdoors.

And the first seeds to plant outside in cold climates are POPPIES!

Poppies

You can sow a few seeds in a crevice

poppies

Or plant a mix in a pot

My farmer friend gave me the best advice on how to seed poppies: the night before a big snow go outside and strew the seeds on top of old snow or dry earth. Let Mother Nature do the rest.

 

Under the blanket of snow that’s about to fall, the poppy seeds will be insulated and get a nice cold spell. As the snow melts the seeds will be nicely hydrated. Warm spells will stimulate germination at exactly the right time. The first flowers show up for me in May. Plant a mix of different poppies like the “Parade of Poppies” and you’ll have poppies of some sort till frost.

poppies

Or sow a wildflower mix for your pollinators

Photo credits
https://www.99roots.com/en/plants/iceland-poppy-p40063
http://www.magazinzahrada.cz/galerie/krasne-zahrady-plne-barev/10.html#contentw
http://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/how-to-plant-a-poppy-container-garden