WHY ARE NATIVE PLANTS IMPORTANT?

by Engrid WinslowNative Purple Coneflower seed packet.

Honey bees are not native to the United States but were imported in the 1600s by colonists from Europe. Already here when honey bees arrived were 50 species of bumblebees and over 4,400 species of native bees. Bumblebees are especially efficient at buzz pollination. (Check out this blog for more information on bumblebees: www.bbbseed.com/its-bumblebee-bonanza-time). Native bees specialize in pollinating native species of plants – including food – while honey bees are best described as generalists. Native plants evolved alongside the native bees and have a special relationship with them. Native bees do not have pollen bags on their legs but are often covered with a lot of bushy hairs on their bodies which gather and distribute pollen in a most excellent way. Also, native bees (bumblebees are the exception) live only about 6 weeks and their lives coincide with the bloom time of certain plants that they are specialists in pollinating. They are extremely docile and non-aggressive with some of them having a stinger that doesn’t even penetrate the skin.  Their sting also contains a different type of toxin which will not cause anaphylaxis in people who are allergic to honey bee stings.

The label for the Colorado Tansy Aster seed packet.

Alkali bees are essential for pollinating alfalfa. Alfalfa is a member of the pea family and the flowers have a lower lip which will snap closed and whack honeybees on the butt but Alkali bees have figured out how to get in and out of the flowers quickly and efficiently. Sunflower bees hatch late in the season to coincide with the bloom of sunflowers as do Long Horned bees which love asters as well as sunflowers. Mason bees are also commonly referred to as ‘orchard bees’ because they are so good at pollinating apples and stone fruits such as cherries. Sunflower bees hatch late in the season to coincide with the bloom of sunflowers as do Long Horned bees which love asters as well as sunflowers.  The tiny Mining bees which nest in bare spots in lawns are the first to wake up and pollinate maples and willows which bloom in spring.

 

Wild Sunflower

 

How do you know if a plant is a native? Well, if it’s a color (like bluish hybrid tea roses) or shape (lots of petals on the rose) that is unusual it is most likely a hybrid. Look for old-thyme classics like native roses (rosa woodsii or rosa glauca https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_woodsii) to support the natives in your garden.

Also remember to plant such natives as liatris, asters, sunflowers, penstemons, rabbitbrush and native bee plant. Anything with tubular flowers is always a good choice for the native bees and many of them bloom in should seasons when nothing else is available.

 

Liatris tag with photo of tall spikes of pink flowers

 

DON’T PASS ON PEAS

by Heather Stone

Green Sugar Snap peas on the vine.

Image by Reginal from Pixabay

Peas are one of the first crops we can plant in the spring. As soon as you can stick your finger into the soil you can plant peas. Whether you plant shelling, snap or snow peas this early crop loves the cool weather of spring, producing tender pods that are hard to resist.  More often than not, they are eaten straight off the vine right there in the garden, very few making it to the kitchen. Every year I always wish I would have planted more.

Plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked, about 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date. For best germination, soil temperatures should be around 50 degrees F. Do be cautious of excess moisture. You don’t want your seeds sitting in wet soil.

Before planting, soak your seeds overnight. This will help speed germination. Plant seeds about 1” deep and 2-3” apart in well-loosened soil in a sunny spot in your garden. Peas will also do well in part shade. Give your peas a trellis, as most peas need something to climb on. Keep the area moist until the seeds germinate, on average between 7-14 days.

Peas are an easy crop to grow. Keep the plants moist, especially once they start producing. When they reach 8-12” tall mulch your vines well to keep the soil cool and help retain moisture. Peas grow best in temperatures below 70 degrees F, so plant your seeds early. Once temperatures reach 80 degrees the vines tend to stop producing.  

When the peas begin to ripen, harvest daily and be sure to use two hands to pick. Use one hand to hold the vine and the other to pick the peas. This way you will avoid damaging the tender vines. For the crispiest peas, pick in the morning after the dew has dried. Peas will last about 5 days in the refrigerator (if they make it there) and any extra freeze well.

Like all legumes, peas fix nitrogen in the soil that other plants can use. When your peas are done for the season, remove the vines but leave the roots in the ground. Plant a nitrogen-loving plant in the area that can benefit from the extra nitrogen in the soil.

Don’t wait! Get out in the garden and plant some peas today! Try one of our tried and true varieties such as Sugar Ann, Oregon Sugar Pod or Green Arrow.

Packet of Oregon Sugar Pod Pea seeds. Pea, Sugar Ann Pea, Green Arrow

 

 

April Happenings in the Honeybee Hive

By Engrid Winslow

Image of a queen bee in a hive.

Image by Matthew Greger from Pixabay

 

Beginning in March, as the days lengthen and temperatures begin to warm (at least some of the time!) the bees are starting to raise brood again. April means the delivery of packages and nucs and towards the end of the month established overwintered hives begin to think of swarming. This is a very busy time for beekeepers and bees. With the vagaries of winter, some early pollen sources may not materialize and all good stewards of the bees will put sugar water and pollen patties in their hives. Pollen is critical in raising healthy brood and March is the time when the colonies are running out of the nectar and pollen they stored in the fall for surviving all winter. Losing a hive in the early spring can be caused by starvation although all factors such as mite loads, insecticidal poisoning and other issues should also be considered and evaluated.

As spring creeps ever closer, the most abundant sources of pollen and nectar are available during this time. Brood rearing continues in earnest and beekeepers must watch carefully for signs of swarming. Many beekeepers are eager to add to their hives by capturing swarms and add their names to lists with local and state beekeepers associations. (The swarm hotline number in Colorado if you spot a swarm is 1-844-spy- bees, 1-844-779-2337). Classic signs of swarming include large numbers of bees “bearding” or gathering on the outside of the hive. It’s getting crowded in the hive.

A cell holding the larva of a queen bee.

Image by Franz Schmid from Pixabay

Inside a hive that is beginning to swarm a new Queen is being raised. Queen larvae form in a peanut-shaped cell that is much larger than the cell used to raise worker bees and drones.  They are usually on the bottom or sticking off the side of a frame. Once the Queen cells form, the bees are already committed to swarming and half of the colony (mostly newly hatched workers who can help the most with producing wax for the honeycomb at the new location) will leave with the older Queen. The new queen is left behind but must leave the hive to fly into the “drone zone” for mating, return to the hive and begin laying eggs. Beekeepers can prevent swarming by “splitting” their hives. This involves removing a few frames with capped brood and plenty of “nurse bees” to take care of the newly hatched brood into a new hive body. Some of the honey stores and pollen should also be placed in the new hive. Some beekeepers move a capped queen cell with a larva inside to the new hive and others purchase a mated queen from a beekeeper in the queen-rearing business.

For more information about swarming check out these past blogs: www.bbbseed.com/honey-bee-swarms/ and www.bbbseed.com/19613-2/.

 

CELEBRATE ST. PATRICKS DAY WITH IRISH SODA BREAD

Photo of a round loaf of Irish soda bread

Image by HomeMaker from Pixabay

By Engrid Winslow

Picture of two shamrock leaves

Image by Rebekka D from Pixabay

The tradition of Irish soda bread is a much newer invention than the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day which began in 400 B.C.  A bread made without yeast to leaven it was first reported in the Americas when settlers and indigenous people used potash before the invention of baking soda in the mid-1800s. Due to Ireland’s financial strife and lack of access to ingredients, the inspiration for Irish Soda Bread was one of necessity. It made use of the most basic and inexpensive ingredients available: “soft” wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk. For soda bread, “soft” wheat flour, a low-gluten variety of flour used in most quick bread recipes, is ideal, rather than the hard wheat flour most likely to be found in a yeasted bread. And, since Ireland’s unique climate is only suitable to growing wheat of the soft variety, soda bread became a perfect match for Irish cooks.

Soda bread was also an ideal Irish recipe as even families who lived in the most isolated of areas with little access to cooking equipment were able to create this simple and filling dish. Since many of the lower-class and farmhouse kitchens had no ovens, the bread was cooked in iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This unique cooking method resulted in the signature dense texture, hard crust, and slight sourness that soda bread is known for.

The traditional mark of a cross on the top was adopted for superstitious reasons. It was believed that if a cross was cut on the top of the bread it would ward off evil and protect the household. The shape of the loaves varies by region. Southern Irish regions bake their loaves in the traditional fashion—round with a crossed top— and Northern regions divide their dough into four pieces and cook triangle-shaped flat breads (also known as Farl) on a griddle.

Modern recipes for Irish soda bread usually use buttermilk instead of sour milk and have other ingredients added such as butter, egg, currants, raisins, or nuts. Here is a traditional recipe followed by one that is richer due to some of those other mix-ins. Both recipes are a delicious accompaniment to green beer!

 

Traditional Irish Soda Bread                                        (one round loaf)

 4 cups unbleached white flour                                                   1 TBL salt

1 tsp baking soda                                                                             ¾ tsp baking powder

1 ½ – 2 cups buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly then add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes until velvety and smooth. Place in a well-buttered 8 inch cake pan. Cut a cross on the top with a serrated knife and bake at 375 for 40 to 50 minutes. The loaf should have a hollow sound when rapped on the bottom.

Irish Soda Bread                                                               (one round loaf)

  • 4 cups unbleached flour plus an extra tablespoon for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk
  • 1 extra-large egg , lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup dried currants
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
  4. With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
  5. Combine currants with flour and then add to the dough which will be quite wet.
  6. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf.
  7. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
  8. Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

Cherokee Purple Tomato

by Heather StoneTomato, Cherokee Purple

What’s your favorite tomato? All true tomato lovers and growers have a few tomato varieties that they just couldn’t imagine not growing and always recommend to their friends and fellow gardeners. One popular heirloom variety that continues to be a favorite among many and consistently wins taste tests across the country is the Cherokee Purple tomato.

 

Cherokee purple tomato is a beefsteak style tomato whose skin is a dusky rose- red color. When sliced its interior is an even darker red. The flavor is described as a “balance of sweet, acid and savory with a hint of smoke.” Cherokee Purple is best eaten fresh on sandwiches or in salads.

 

With a name like “Cherokee Purple” there has to be a story there somewhere. Craig LeHoullier, an heirloom tomato grower, connoisseur and author of the book Epic Tomatoes is who we can thank for bringing this delicious tomato to the masses. In 1990, Craig received a package from John D. Green of Sevierville, Tennessee containing seeds of an unnamed purple tomato. John explained that his neighbor had shared the seeds with him and that her family had been passing along the seeds since the late 1800’s when they were originally received from Cherokee Native Americans. Craig grew the seeds in his 1991 garden and gave this beauty the name Cherokee Purple. Next, Craig passed the seeds on to the folks at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They loved the taste of this tomato and first listed the seed in their catalog in 1993 and its popularity has continued to grow since.

 

Want to try this delicious variety in your garden this year? Grab some Cherokee Purple seeds today!

 

GO BEYOND ICEBERG LETTUCE

By Engrid Winslow

There are many different types of lettuce and perhaps you were wondering how to use these various types. Here’s a general description of some different types which will take you beyond the traditional iceberg followed by a quick tutorial on growing them.

Lettuce, Organic Bibb, Speckles Lettuce, Summer Bibb

  • Butterhead/Buttercrunch/Bibb/Boston – Any of the “B” lettuces form loose heads of large, softly ruffled leaves that range in color from bright yellow-green to magenta-tipped emerald. They have a slight crunch when you bite in, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth silkiness. The leaves are buttery and slightly sweet. They are perfect for use in sandwiches or salads and the largest outer leaves are great as a wrap for various fillings because of their pliability.

 

 

  • Romaine forms a long, straight head of crisp leaves with a prominent center stem. They come in the familiar crisp, tall, green heads to shorter and fluffier versions that range from dark red to lime green with red speckles. They can be harvested when young for a tender and delicate salad. They have a mild crunch from the center stem when mature and are the classic lettuce for a traditional Caesar salad since it’s a perfect contrast to the creamy, cheesy dressing. It can also be used as a scoop for dips and holds up on a burger.

Picture of the Tri-color Romaine lettuce package. Lettuce, Organic Romaine, Freckles Lettuce, Dark Green Romaine

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Oakleaf lettuce has unusually shaped leaves that form a loose cluster with tender, crunchy stems. The flavors can range from sweet when young to slightly bitter if left longer to mature. They come in gorgeous colors of green but the dark red is a version high in anthocyanin

with a powerful punch of antioxidants. They are great in salads and when mixed with other lettuce types or on a sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • With loose bunches of leaves connected at the base, the loose leaf lettuces are known as bunching or cutting lettuces. They are typically mild, savory to sweet and crisp-tender. They are generally more heat-tolerant and some, such as Black Seeded Simpson, are slower to bolt than other types of lettuces.

Front of the Red Deer Tongue Lettuce seed packet.

Lettuce, Organic Leaf, Tango

 

Lettuce, Black Seeded Simpson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best ways to use these lettuces is to combine them with other greens, such as arugula or baby kale in a salad and, lucky you, we have two blends that will do that for you.
Picture of a packet of Gourmet Salad Lettuce seeds.Picture of a packet of Heirloom Lettuce Blend seeds.

Lettuce is very easily started from seed, both indoors and out in your vegetable beds. They take about one week to germinate, depending on temperatures. If starting indoors, be sure the seeds stay moist by spraying them gently from a spray bottle or bottom-watering until they germinate and the seedlings are strong enough to handle overhead watering. A plastic dome over the tray really helps with this. The seeds are tiny and should be planted with a very light (no more than ¼ inch) layer of soil.             If planted outdoors in cooler temperatures and cold soil they may take longer to germinate. Thin the seedlings to 3 inches apart and pull every other one for early salads leaving the rest (now 6” apart) to reach full size. Successive sowings every 3 weeks in short rows provide these tasty plants throughout the season. All lettuces will bolt and then become bitter in the heat and long days of summer, but you can delay this by mulching to keep the soil cool.

 

Three Ways to Compost that Will Fit Your Lifestyle

by Sam Doll

Composting seems like all the rage right now! Taking some of your food and paper waste out of the landfill is a great way to reduce your waste, take care of the environment, and create an excellent supplement for your (or a lucky neighbor’s) garden! We’ll show you three ways to compost that will work with your lifestyle.

Composting Basics

 

No matter where or how you are composting, there are some basic guidelines to be aware of.

First off, if you are composting at home, you want to avoid any animal products like meat and dairy (eggshells are fine). These products can create unwanted odors and attract pests like raccoons!

You also want to be aware of how much brown and green material that is going into your compost. Brown material is any dry, carbon-rich material. This includes shredded paper, dried leaves, or old plant material. Green material is nitrogen-rich material like food scraps, eggshells, grass clippings, and coffee grounds.

When composting you want to include equal amounts of brown and green materials. If you are using an outdoor composting system, you’ll want to alternate layering brown and green materials, usually starting with brown.

Finally, you can’t let the compost just sit. Mix it and water it to keep the microbes happy and healthy. Mixing it incorporates oxygen and watering cools the pile and prevents it from drying out.

Indoors

You may have been reading this and thinking, “I have an apartment, I can’t compost!”. Composting inside can be difficult, but it’s not impossible!

The simplest solution is to find a neighbor, community garden, or farmer who would love to add your food scraps to their compost pile. Just store your scraps in a plastic bin with a lid and run over to the pile every few days.

If you don’t have a friend with a compost pile, you can still do it yourself. Many people have found great success in vermiculture, or “worm farming”! Vermiculture is a quick, odorless composting method that is great for those without access to a yard.

Check out this guide for various vermiculture methods and tips!

In-Vessel Composting

Have a little outdoor space, but don’t want to devote half your yard to composting? There are specialized composting bins that can handle all your household waste, speed up the composting time, and stay out of sight.

One of the fastest methods of composting is to use a tumbler. Tumblers are plastic drums that can be rotated to mix the compost easily without getting your hands dirty. They are contained and inconspicuous. We recommend double chambered rotating compost bins like this, which can turn scraps to finished compost in as little as two weeks.

There are also plastic compost bins. These bins are open at the top and bottom. You usually add fresh material to the top and wait for finished compost to be scooped out of the bottom. These bins require little work, just the occasional watering, but can take a while longer than the rotating drum. We recommend this classic Soil Saver from All Green.

These composters are great and beginner friendly, but they have limited capacity. They can handle an average household’s compost, at most, and that doesn’t include yard waste like grass clippings. If you want something that can handle a larger amount of compost, you’ll have to pursue more traditional methods.

 

BRING THE THREE COLORS OF MARDI GRAS TO YOUR TABLE

by Engrid WinslowFront of the Mardi Gras Bean Blend seed packet.

Have you ever wondered about the history of the official Mardi Gras colors? Well, we have answers for you. According to mardigrasneworleans.com, the Krewe of Rex selected the official Mardi Gras colors in 1872. In 1892 the Krewe of Rex Parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” gave meaning to the colors. Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. And Gold Represents Power. According to the website, Mardi Gras colors influenced the choice of school colors for arch-rivals Louisiana State University (located in Baton Rouge) and Tulane University New Orleans is the home for this school). They say when LSU was deciding on its colors, the shops in New Orleans had stocked up on purple, green, and gold material for the Mardi Gras season. LSU decided upon purple and gold, and bought much of it. Tulane bought much of the only remaining color — green!

You can grow our Mardi Gras Bean Blend easily in your garden. They grow best when planted in the early spring (just like peas, many gardeners chose St. Patrick’s Day as the date of planting). For better germination, purchase new bean and pea inoculant every year from your local garden center and sprinkle it in with your bean seeds. They are vigorous climbers so plan on providing some support as they grow. They are also referred to as snap beans and should be harvested when young before the beans inside develop. No matter what alchemy you try, the purple beans will turn green when cooked. They usually only need the stems snipped off before cooking. Beans are best eaten as soon as they are harvested but will keep in brown paper bags in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for up as long as two weeks.

GREEN BEANS WITH GARLIC              Serves 4-6

Place one lb. of Mardi Gras beans in steamer basket over one inch of boiling water, cover, and steam until crisp-tender (5-7 minutes).

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup of water, 2 cloves of unpeeled garlic to a boil. After simmering the garlic for 5 minutes, remove from the water, peel and mince.

Shock beans in cold water and then drain and set aside. Don’t chill them, but cover to keep them warm.

In a large bowl combine the garlic with one TBL. Red wine vinegar, one TBL olive or (better yet) walnut oil, salt and pepper to taste and toss in the green beans. You can serve at room temperature or warm them briefly in a microwave.

 

You can also use Mardi Gras Blend beans in this classic pot-luck and picnic salad:

MARDI GRAS BEAN SALAD        Serves 8-10

Over low heat in a medium saucepan combine ¾ cup sugar, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2/3 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar (white balsamic is also delicious in this), ½ tsp fresh ground pepper and 1 tsp. salt to a very low simmer.

Prepare 2-3 lbs of green beans as directed in the recipe, above. Also, rinse and drain one can of red beans and one can of garbanzo beans. Mix the beans together and pour heated dressing over them. Let marinate for at least 24 hours before serving. This bean salad keeps in the refrigerator for several days.