LAB GIRL

By:  Sandy Swegel

 

Hope Jahrens has helped me fall even more deeply with seeds and the natural world this week. Our book group just started to read her best selling book “Lab Girl.” Lab Girl is like two books in one….a marvelous account of her life as a woman in science AND a romantic ode to nature that waxes poetic about seeds and trees and vines that want to climb.

Here’s her excerpt about seeds:

“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow.

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.”

I love seeds. I love to walk up and down the aisles of the BBB Seed warehouse and touch the hundreds of thousands of seeds that are there, full of potential. To imagine just a single packet grown out and burst into bloom. Hope Jahrens has given me yet another vision: all those seeds there. Alive. As alive as the trees outdoors. Alive and waiting. Waiting patiently and calmly.

 

 

Photocredits:

www.opensesamemovie/heirloom-seeds-extinction/

 

Start Your 4th of July Party Now

By: Sandy Swegel

Get your Fireworks now.  One of my favorite things about perennials is that you plant them once and they bloom year after year.  Their appearance every year becomes one of the sweet rituals of the garden.  Bright red Firecracker Penstemon is a favorite neighborhood ritual of mine.  Some 15 years ago an older lady in the neighborhood planted red firecracker penstemons around her mailbox on the street.  She called it the 4th of July flower because the little stand of 3- ft tall red flowers that had grown around her mailbox in the hot beating sun were always in bloom on the 4th of July.  Over time, the display got more elaborate as purple salvia were planted at the base of the penstemon. Later white alyssum were growing all around in the rocks.  It was a true red white and blue extravaganza.

A few years later I noticed other mailboxes in this suburban neighborhood had firecracker penstemons growing up around them.  The whole street was decorated for the 4th of July.  I never did find out if everyone liked the idea and planted penstemon too or if some middle of the night guerilla gardener spread penstemon seed everywhere.

Firecracker penstemon is a good choice for mailboxes in the sun next to the street because it is tolerates high heat and drought which both plague mailboxes in the sun next to concrete sidewalks.  The only caveat is that penstemon is one of those perennials that doesn’t bloom until its second year, so you’ll have to wait a bit for the start of your annual your 4th of July explosion of red.

 

 

 

Photocredits:

https://nargs.org/forum/penstemon-eatoni-eaton-firecracker-or-firecracker-penstemon

http://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/htm/firecracker-penstemon

 

New Agricultural Products

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener I often say “Thank God.” The growing legality of growing marijuana has meant a proliferation of stores that sell amazing tools that make gardening easier and cheaper. Despite living in Colorado, I’ve never been interested in smoking pot. Even as a decadent college student I thought “Why smoke when you can drink?” I helped a friend trim some of her high end organic marijuana grown outside and declined the offer for some of the product. But I am endlessly interested in marijuana growing techniques. I have three products that might not have been available if it weren’t for the early mmj growers.

My EZ Clone aeroponic plant propagator.
These used to cost $400 but I got mine for $50 off of craigslist from a guy in a souped-up muscle car who had had dreams of getting rich by growing clones but lost interest when that didn’t happen overnight. Now you can buy new cloners for much less than $100 from Amazon or Home Depot if you aren’t brave enough to venture into a grow shop. These simple machines spray warm mist on the roots of cuttings and cause hardwood and softwood cuttings to grow roots in a very short time—days! This is my favorite way to root shrubs, tomatoes, small fruit plants and even roses. Should work great for trees too. I can have well-rooted plants in just a couple of weeks.

My LED grow light.
The first indoor light I tried were the big sodium ones that provided enough light to take indoor plants all the way to bloom. That was amazing but also an energy hog. This year for indoor seed starting, I’m loving my Costco LED shop light that is half the size of my old shop lights, lightweight, and uses almost no electricity.

 

My liquid all natural growing supplements.
I still rely on kelp and Superthrive as growth stimulants, but the organic, natural fertilizer concentrates produce some of the best growth and production I’ve seen, especially in tomatoes. Lots of research went into getting ideal growth out of marijuana plants. Marijuana and tomatoes are quite similar in plant needs. If you can grow one, you can grow the other.

There’s nothing like old fashioned common sense for growing using compost and time-honored natural techniques. But a few high-tech products can make your garden spectacular.

 

Photo Credits:

https://bigbudsguide/best-nutrients-cannabis/

 

 

Tiny homes in the winter landscape

by Sandy Swegel

A week of warm days meant it was time  to cut back the ornamental grasses that are so popular in Colorado.  What is winter interest in December and January now looks messy and broken by winter winds and snow load.  Cutting back big grasses can be a bear of a task but it has its unexpected rewards.

Feather reed grasses like Karl Forster should be cut first because they green up the earliest so look much nicer if they get their haircut while mostly dormant.  One secret to keeping your ornamental grasses looking good (so you don’t have to dig them up and divide them much) is to cut them very short to within an inch or two of the ground instead of the ugly foot high cut that’s don’t in urban medians.

And in that inch or two above the ground is where I found the tiny neighborhoods hidden in winter debris.  The noise and racket I made cutting and then raking brought out the inhabitants.

First, adult ladybugs flew up…a little surprised at the sudden sun but not too alarmed…mostly looking around for aphids to eat, maybe water to drink.

Next the young lime-green lacewings stirred, reluctant to be disturbed as the true adolescents they were.  They tried to just move a centimeter to the left under some other debris to go back to sleep.  The bug equivalent of pulling the blankets over their heads.

Finally I accidentally disturbed a solitary bee that was half an inch under the soil.  Poor bee was in a semi-dormant state and just lay on its side barely moving as the earthquake that was me had just thrown him to the surface. They reminded me more of the college student down in the basement on Spring Break.  The house needs to be burning down before they wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.   I learned the hard way  to be sure to wear gloves when because a groggy bee will reflexively sting you much like that surly college student is likely to throw something at you at 7 am.  I took a bit of loose dirt and debris and buried the bee again, hoping it would just settle down unharmed.  No point in waking up now before breakfast was ready. The dandelions don’t have flowers yet.

Nature in late winter hides most of her inhabitants.  They are in tiny nests under grasses and at the feet of willows or in debris under the shrubs.  The insects I saw in my first venture into the garden don’t bolt awake like we do on a Monday morning trying to get to work.  They’re more like cats, stretching and maybe yawning then turning around to find another comfy position to sleep in.   They are just adorable.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

https://closecritters.com/2016/11/27/trash-bugs-lacewing-larvae/

http://dallas.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/06-09-13-north-texas-farmer-garden-native-solitary-bees/

 

CARROT CAKE MUFFINS

Who doesn’t love Carrot Cake? Now you can have a less guilty version (no frosting) for breakfast.Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Carrot Cake Muffins (makes 12)

from the kitchen of Engrid Winslow

1 3/4 cup regular or gluten-free flour
2/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
Dash ground mace
1/2 cup crushed pineapple in juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 400 F and grease or line muffin tin cups. In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and mace. In another bowl, stir together pineapple, carrots, oil, egg and vanilla. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add pineapple mixture and stir just enough to combine.

Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes before removing muffins from cups. Finish cooling on rack. Serve warm or completely cooled.

These muffins freeze well.

 

 

Three Wild and Spicy reasons to grow Wild Arugula

by Sandy SwegelArugula

Wild arugula is my favorite spring green of the week and this year it’s the first thing I’ve seeded out into the garden during our warm spell.

Similar to regular arugula, wild arugula has a “wilder” taste and thinner leaf.  It looks quite like a mustard weed when young if you aren’t familiar with it.  Definitely a cool season crop as once the temps get to 80 wild arugula can be quite bitter.

It is very easy to grow, as mustards often are, and can handle less than ideal soil and water.  (Watch out…low water makes it even spicier.). I like to plant it somewhere it can establish itself as a perennial that I can just pick a few leaves now and then to add some zest to dinner.  But a Spring garden patch is essential to get cups and cups of the greens to use in making pesto.

Arugula

So here are my three favorite wild and spicy reasons to grow wild arugula.

SPRING SALADS.  Arugula has a nutrient profile similar to other spring tonic herbs like dandelion and nettles, but I like the taste even better for salads or lightly steamed.

Arugula

PESTO.  Wild arugula pesto is an absolute favorite.  Make it with garlic, olive oil, walnuts and Parmesan or goat cheese and you have a fantastic sauce for fettuccine noodles, topping for pizza or spread for appetizers.

POLLINATORS. Naturally foods that are favorites of pollinators are favorites of mine.  Once summer sets in, wild arugula bolts and sends up tall tiny spiky yellow flowers that pollinators love.  I’ve seen all kinds of bees and butterflies snacking on the wild arugula flowers from summer through late fall.  I also snack on them….I like the flavor of arugula flowers even better than the leaves.

polllinators

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

https://www.dherbs.com/articles/featured-articles/wild-arugula-pesto/

http://honest-food.net/arugula-pesto-recipe-pasta/

Wild Arugula; Delicious Low-Water Beauty

 

February Plant of the Month – Carrots

Plant of the Month

February 2017

 

Common Name: Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Scientific Name: Dacus carota var. sativus

 

Native Range: Mediterranean Region

Hardiness Zone: 4 to 10

Days to Maturity: 65-75

 

General Description: Scarlet Nantes Carrot is a standard market carrot that has a long, cylindrical shape and a rich reddish-orange color. Flavor is sweet and delicious. Roots are fine-grained, containing almost no core. High moisture content makes this variety perfect for juicing. Carrots can reach up to 7 inches long. To prevent diseases, rotate planting location every season.

 

Site Requirements:

  • Light: Full sun. Will tolerate very light shade.
  • Water: Moderate moisture. Crusted soil can suppress germinated sprouts.
  • Soil: Well-drained soil with organic matter. Area needs to be free of stones.

Seeding:

This cool-weather crop is easily over-planted due to its fine seeds. Sow seeds directly into loose soil in early spring 2-3 weeks before last frost date. Carrots are slow to germinate, emerging in 2-4 weeks. Cover seeds with ¼ inch of soil—no more than ½ an inch. Lightly water seeds everyday for best germination. Once sprouts emerge thinning is critical to reduce competition. Thin seedlings to 1/2 – 1 inch spacing. Best time for thinning is when soil is damp. Plant seeds every 2-3 weeks throughout midsummer for continuous harvest.

Harvest Time:

Start harvesting as soon as carrots have reached desired size (up to 7 inches). Try pulling up one at a time to check size. Watering the area before harvest can make pulling by hand easier. Harvest by mid-September to avoid pest damage.

Fun Facts:

  • Carrots are a great source of fiber, potassium and vitamin A.
  • Carrot greens can be used in soup stock, pesto, curries or tea.
  • Common pest: carrot rust fly
  • British gardeners plant sage around the area to repel the carrot fly
 

February Plant of the Month – Beets

Plant of the Month

February 2017

Common Name: Detroit Dark Red Beet

Scientific Name: Beta vulgaris var. crassa

 

Native Range: Europe & Asia

Hardiness Zone: 2-7. For zones 8-11 grow as a fall crop

Days to Maturity: 55-65

 

General Description: The Detroit Dark Red Beet is the most popular all-purpose red beet. It is globe-shaped, tender with blood-red flesh that is sweet and delicious. Beets are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of climates. Beets prefer cool weather; in zones 8-11 where summers can be hot, grow them as a fall, winter or early spring crop.

 

Site Requirements:

  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Water: Consistent moisture
  • Soil: Well-drained, sandy loam soil high in organic matter. Avoid acidic soil areas.

 

Seeding:

Sow seeds directly into soil in early spring as soon as soil can be worked. Beets tend to have spotty germination. Presoaking seeds for 1-2 hours will soften seed coat and speed germination. Plant seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart. Seeds need close contact with the soil; it is best practice to press down on soil after planting. Sprouts will emerge in 10-20 days. Thin seedlings when they reach 4-5 inch to 3 inches apart.

Harvest Time:

Pull up plants when exposed root tops are 2 inches across.

 

Fun Facts:

  • Reddish green leaves make a great addition to summer salads
  • Planting garlic and mint with your beets will improve the growth and flavor
  • Beets are very sensitive to toxic substances in the soil and may not germinate if planted near walnut trees or soils containing herbicides
 

Wildflower Forecasts 2017

by Sandy SwegelBluebonnets

It’s looking good this year.

Most of us are still languishing in winter, looking for signs of crocus sprouting or swelling buds on trees, but the deserts of the US are ramping up for their big annual show. When wildflower lovers need a dose of Spring, they don’t go to a beach in Mexico or Hawaii, they head for the desert. Many of the flowers in the desert bloom in the early cool season (February to Early May), then revert into dormancy during the heat of summer. Naturally there’s a website for reporting wildflower sightings. My favorite wildflower website for the Southwest is http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html where you’ll find regular updates of rainfall and sightings of emerging plants and first bloom,

Forecasts for wildflowers are made from meteorological reports of rainfall and snowfall and sometimes soil moisture. It’s pretty basic…a wet winter means higher seed germination rates and more wildflowers.

Here’s what’s coming first in the deserts:
First bluebonnet (lupine) in Texas Big Bend National Park now.Bluebonnet
What it will look like in southern Texas soon.

Bluebonnets

 

For your own wildflowers in your yard, you can tweak Nature a bit if you haven’t had much rain or snow this year. A little extra hand watering on your wildflowers if during dry spells this winter will boost your Spring bloom.

 

Photo credits
http://myphotomemries.blogspot.com/2015/04/abby-and-big-bend-bluebonnets.html
http://hadleycourt.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-6.15.35-AM.png

 

Eat More Pie

by Sandy SwegelBlue Berry Pie

Now that’s the kind of advice I like to hear from a scientific study.

Yesterday someone served me some organic “wild” blueberries (Woodstock brand, frozen) and I was immediately smitten with the intensely delicious flavor of these half-size berries.  I’ve been eating more blueberries lately for health reasons…good antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, protective against diabetes and cardiovascular problems but I like the idea of healthy and intensely flavored.

Since I’m still reading James Wong’s Grow for Flavor book, I wondered what he said about blueberries.  I could already guess that they shouldn’t be over-watered, but what other variables might there be?

James Wong

So here’s James Wong’s  scoop on blueberries:

The amount of anthocyanins (the good antioxidants in blue red and purple food) can vary dramatically from plant to plant, and from growing conditions, and from food preparations.

*Some cultivars like Rubel have more antioxidants…but we can only control for  that if we grow them ourselves or know the grower.

*Growing methods make a difference…research shows that blueberries grown organically without additional fertilizer can have twice as many anthocyanins.Blueberries

*And finally there’s food preparation.  Raw blueberries are amazingly healthy for you but their antioxidant levels double when they are lightly cooked.  As in pie!!!!

So the only sane conclusion we can reach is Eat More (Organic) Blueberry Pie!

 

 

 

Photo credits

http://www.jameswong.co.uk/blueberries/4588105999