Six Reasons to Grow Borage

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

by Sandy Swegel

  1. Bees love borage

Bees absolutely cover the plant when it is in bloom.  And bloom lasts a long time and repeats throughout the season.  Bees and other pollinators seem to prefer it to other nearby plants.  Must be extra tasty or sweet.

  1. Borage is super easy to grow

My neighbor lets her’s grow along her alleyway against chain link fence.  No water, no fertilizing….just run off from the grass and a bit of shade.  When the plants go to seed, she throws the seed heads a little further down the fence line.  Even in our arid climate, that’s hospitable enough for borage to grow.  No deadheading or fussing…just lots of plants. It’s is supposed to be an annual, but it acts like a perennial….plants grow back in the same place every year.

  1. Birds love borage

Borage makes a lot of flowers and seed heads.  In the Fall, the birds were hanging out on the sunflower heads nearby and I didn’t notice them in the borage.  But this Spring morning, about eight of those little birds that chatter so much in spring were digging and rooting in the borage patch.  Bird food in February is a good thing!

 

  1. Borage is edible for humans

The young greens can be added to mixed salads or steamed. (Older leaves are too hairy and not so yummy.)  The little flowers are adorable in salads. Pastry chefs candy the flowers for decorating desserts.

  1. Borage is medicinal. It has long been a medicinal herb for skin diseases, melancholy, diabetes and heart conditions. Borage oil is an important anti-inflammatory.
  2. And the number one reason to grow borage: They’re Blue!!!!!

OK, that’s the real reason I grow borage.  Blue flowers make me so happy and the blue of borage is one of the most amazing blues in the plant kingdom.

 

Photo Credits:

http://medicinalherbinfo.org

http://shop.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com/

http://kiwimana.co.nz/borage-good-for-bees/

 

Start your Seeds…Again.

by Sandy Swegel

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?

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 have 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 to 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

 

 

 

Going to Seed

by Sandy Swegel

After weeks of rainy days, we were rewarded with a week of hot sun. This is great news for the tomatoes, but it means all those cool season veggies started to bolt. When summer temperatures warm up, all the cilantro and spinach and lettuce put out lovely seed heads. That’s a sign there won’t be many more leafy greens growing but all the plants’ efforts will go into reproduction and making seeds.

Seed making in the leafy greens means the leaves are going to turn bitter. And once bitter, you never get the sweetness back on those spinaches and lettuces. You’ll have to yank the plants out and re-seed.

For us, that means big salads for dinner every night this week.

We took out our harvesting knives and cut the lettuces and spinach to the ground. Lots of cilantro was done also…so an armload of cilantro greens will go into awesome pesto this week. Dozens of flat edible pea pods were plucked for salad and stir-fry. As the evening cooled, we sat around the outdoor table and watched the tomato plants put out more yellow flowers.

Tomato season is now on the way.

Life is good.

Photo credit: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/cilantro/cilantro-bolting.htm

 

Trellis like a Pro

by Sandy Swegel

My tomatoes are only a few inches tall and still indoors, but this is the ideal time to start thinking about how to trellis them.  For years I fiddled with the dinky round tomato cages sold everywhere that just fall over when faced with a large indeterminate tomato. One year I even tried tying two cages on top of one another and it still fell over.

Market Farmers don’t use wussy home-gardening-type trellises.  They bring out the T-Posts and plastic baling twine or string. (This is one time you can’t use natural twines like jute or cotton…they are too stretchy.) The most common technique is called the Florida Weave. Basically, you place tall (7 foot min)  T-posts at each end of your tomato row. Every two or three plants, add a stake (or another T post). You will then “weave” the twine around the T-posts and tomatoes in a basic figure-eight shape.  T-posts are super sturdy and stay put once you pound them into the ground.  Ideally, you can string the T-posts before the tomatoes are tall or perhaps even planted.  As the tomatoes grow you can tuck the growing edge into one of the rows of string. The beauty of the Florida Weave is that even if you are late getting your trellising in place, you can still do a pretty good job pulling up the overgrown tomatoes.

Photo Credits and More Info:

http://www.specialtycrops.colostate.edu/techniques/trellis.htm#tomatoes http://www.foogod.com/~torquill/barefoot/weave.html http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/cat-s-cradle-tomatoes http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/supporting-cast-for-tomatoes.aspx

 

It’s dandelion season!

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.

 

Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.

 

Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-06-19/dandelion-dinner
www.123rf.com/photo_3133074_the-word-bee-spelt-in-dandelions-on-grass.html
www.arkive.org/american-goldfinch/carduelis-tristis/image-G137972.html

 

It’s Spring. Oh, so Ephemeral!

by Sandy Swegel

Spring Equinox is officially upon us. All the joys of the season abound. Birds singing, Crocuses blooming, Baby lambs gamboling in the fields outside of town. Yet one of the dearest and most fleeting of Spring delights is the annual blooming of the spring ephemeral wildflowers.

This is a great season to walk through meadows and along forest trails to catch glimpses of great swaths of these very clever flowers. Ephemeral means lasting a very short time or transitory and these flowers that appear above ground for only a couple of months per year are very crafty. They grow in woodland areas and come to life in the brief interval between the end of winter and the time when the deciduous trees start to grow leaves again.  As the sun streams through the bare treetops, hundreds and thousands of flowers throw out wonderful blooms in celebration of their moment in the sun. Wait two months, and everything will be dark and shady in the woods.  But once you’ve walked and maybe danced among the spring ephemerals, you’ll always remember their hidden presence.

If cherry and apple blossoms are starting near you, make haste to the nearest wooded area.  Lots of botanic gardens and parks schedule hikes during these times. The Great Smoky Mountains are home to an especially large variety of ephemerals from February to April.  But even in your own neighborhood, walk along the creeks to find flowers with delightful names like Shooting Star or Trout Lily, Spring Beauty, Trillium and Bleeding Heart.  Keep an eye out for other spring flowers who aren’t officially ephemerals but thrive in the same conditions like Wild Geranium and Pasque Flowers.

William Cullina, author of Wildflowers: A Guide to Growing and Propagating Native Flowers of North America, suggests planting spring ephemerals in early spring or late summer in the shade of deciduous trees. He says to prepare the site by incorporating four to six inches of compost in four to six inches of soil. Well-drained soil, rich in organic matter is essential. And remember to plant as nature does…in broad swaths of color.

Life is ephemeral…. So get out there and enjoy Spring, our most hopeful season. Or as my favorite (if not most poetic) quotation about the season says:

 “Spring is Nature’s way of saying, Let’s Party!” – Robin Williams

Photo Credits:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcav0y/166313828/

 

2 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year

2 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year!

by Sandy Swegel

Your task this week is to go stand in the part of your garden that has wildflower-y plants.  You’ll notice two things. The first thing is that there are lots of spent flowers and seed heads that need to be deadheaded. Everything from rudbeckia to dill to penstemon has mature seed heads. You can always collect these seeds and put them in little envelopes to save for spring or you can take my lazy way out and Snip off the seed head and Fling it in the general direction you’d like it to grow next year.  Flowering plants always seem to migrate to the edge of the garden bed and need some encouragement to move to the middle and back of the bed.  Keep flinging seeds knowing that some of them will germinate right in the place they fall…so Fling merrily.

Your second assignment is to find a spring or early summer bloomer and stand in front of it.  A Columbine or Penstemon, Agastache and Echinacea are good possibilities.  Often right at the feet of these now finished beauties are dozens of little plants or even seedlings that have germinated in the past month and are growing next year’s plants.  I take my hori-hori knife and gently dig or carve out (we have lots of clay soil) a nice plug of soil that keeps the baby plants roots intact and plant it where I’d like more plants.  If the plant is young and you didn’t disturb the roots much, there won’t be transplant shock…just a new perennial that will bloom next year.

Whether you are flinging seeds or digging up plant plugs, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and fussing with seed starting trays under lights and you’ve tricked Mother Nature into letting those perennials bloom next year.  New plants easy, quick and free.  That’s my kind of gardening.

Photo Credits:
Columbine: http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/reap-the-rewards-of-self-sowers.aspx
Meadow: Sandy Swegel

 

 

 

Best Wildflower Seed

Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Organic Vegetable Seed

 

Is It Time?

by Sandy Swegel

Is it too late?  Can I still plant seeds?  These are the questions I heard this week.  In our Zone 5 area, garden centers are already starting to discount plants and seasonal workers will get laid off by the 4th of July. Does that mean it’s too late to plant seeds and you should just buy the biggest plant you can find?

Generally, the answer is, of course, there is still time to plant seeds…It’s only June!  For gardeners, the truest answer is always, “It Depends.”

There are a few seeds that it is too late to plant. In Zone 5 or other short growing season areas, it’s too late to plant watermelon or winter squash or tomatoes by seed.  The “days to maturity” info on the back of the seed package tells you that you need 90-100 days before the plant makes its first ripe fruit.  100 days from now is mid-September before you might get a watermelon…that doesn’t work when we might have frost by then…or at the very least cold nights.

The flip side of this question is, “Are there seeds I should plant rather than buy plants?”  Absolutely.  It makes no sense to buy a broccoli or cauliflower plant now for $4.00 when it’s just going to bolt in the summer heat.  It likes cooler weather.  And you could probably buy the broccoli itself cheaper.  But in a couple of weeks, market farmers are starting their broccoli seeds to get their fall crops going. Planting broccoli and cauliflower soon is a great idea!

Annuals are still a great bargain to plant.  I went into sticker shock when I went plant shopping this year.  Plant prices are up about 30 percent in my area.  For less than the price of a 4-inch pot with a marigold, I can get one seed packet of marigolds and have dozens and dozens of plants in bloom in only 45 days.  They’ll be super cute all over the garden and in the vegetable garden, they’ll help repel pests.

It’s the same for cosmos and California poppies and zinnias and all the annual wildflower mixes.  There’s still time.  For perennial seed, some plants might not bloom till next year, but the plants will be strong and it’s a lot easier to start seeds now in the garden where you want them to grow instead of inside under lights in the middle of winter.

Buying bedding plants is great for instant gratification, but gardeners know that if you want a garden full of hundreds of flowers (without breaking the bank), SEEDS are the way to go!

So there IS still time. Lots of time for annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers and bachelor buttons and zinnias and for big flowery herbs.  Then there all those vegetables to seed.  And the perennials you are admiring in bloom now. You get the idea. There is plenty of time to plant by seed and enjoy them this year.

 

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

 

Less is More

by Sandy Swegel

One of my favorite things to do is spend other people’s money.  Or better said, to go shopping with them and encourage them to buy the cool things they want to buy.  I always covet plants and yet I know I don’t have the time or space to buy as many as I want, so it is fun to live vicariously through others. “Yes that Japanese maple would look beautiful by your front door.”  “You just have to get this hand-forged trellis, wooden ones are so dinky and break after awhile.” etc.

I’ll still encourage people to buy quality garden structures or funky garden art, but I’ve slowed down on encouraging them to buy lots of plants.  It was writing last week about biointensive gardening that reminded me. One of the themes of John Jeavons’ book is to create one garden bed and create it well (double dug, good soil amendments). Better to have one bed producing a lot of food than three beds barely eking out enough for dinner.

Plants need attention to establish, at least if you live in a difficult climate like Colorado.  You can’t just plant a bunch of plants and ignore them.  I know, I’ve accidentally killed a lot of plants that way.  You just end up guilty at the waste or feel like a failure as a gardener. So slow down before you buy out the garden center or plant out hundreds of seedlings. Just because it’s inexpensive to grow from seed doesn’t mean your work growing and planting isn’t valuable. We’ll leave for another day, and a bottle of scotch, the esoteric discussion of the karmic implications of killing plants.

How to Practice Less is More
Focus on one section of your garden for new plantings
Decide to spiff up just one area this year with new plants. I encouraged my friend to focus on the entry bed for now and later get plants for the rest of the yard. Many gardeners have “nursery” beds for new plants where they let them grow the first year.  They can remember to take care of the babies in the nursery.

Pick a learning theme of the year.
I kept twenty new plants alive and thriving the year I made an herb bed and planted twenty different herbs just to learn how they grew. (FYI, it’s easy to grow lots of ginger and one tansy plant is enough for the rest of your life.) Another year I focused on containers and planted containers of annuals each of one color in a matching pot.  So cute.  The focus on one kind of plant helped me be a better gardener.

Repetition
I love one plant of every kind, but a designer friend showed me how cluttered and unattractive that can be.  Pick a few plants and repeat them and your garden will look professionally designed.  For example, in a perennial bed, plant one kind of grass as a “bones” of the bed and plant a few native flowers around the base of each grass.

So enjoy the season and the new plants…but make “Less is More” your mantra. Unless of course you have a full staff like Martha Stewart does.

Photo Credits:

http://justfood.coop/the-co-ops-mothers-day-plant-sale-starts-saturday/


http://www.king5.com/community/blogs/community/The-Fall-Plant-Sale-you-dont-want-to-miss-167857525.html

 

 

A Wild Thicket

by Sandy Swegel

When it comes to our gardens, we Americans are of a divided heart. Deep in our ancestral memories are the manicured gardens of Europe.  We swoon over the groomed roses and delphiniums of England, We admire the orderliness of rows of Tuscan poplars. We see the almost mathematical grid of Versailles echoed in Jefferson’s Monticello. We use raised beds to confine our vegetables just as the medieval cloister gardens were enclosed.

 

 At the same time, we Americans are a frontier people, dazzled by the wildness and grandeur of raw untamed nature.  Grassy plains and dense woodlands and mountains majesty tug at our hearts even as we tend our suburban plots.

 

To fill the needs of our wild nature souls, I think it’s always good to have a wild area in our yard. One that manages to thrive only on what nature provides and provides a haven for small wildlife.  Generally, there is some place in your yard that already refuses to be tamed. Someplace wild plums keep sprouting and sumacs come unbidden.   This is the area to encourage in your yard – your secret garden, if you’d like – or just the area you see from your kitchen window reminding you that beneath the dishes and chores and children and jobs, you have a wild spirit too.

 My favorite thicket started with the wild plums that kept coming back. Over time, a couple of chokecherries worked their way in, and the patch of lemon balm appeared all on its own.  Birds planted wild roses. Squirrels brought in nuts. I decided to play along with nature and seeded an unruly pollinators’ hedge filled with the nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants that bees and butterflies crave. I let the wild queen anne’s lace have some space in the back and I didn’t pull the dandelions. I did plant one of those tall dark purple butterfly bushes for structure and I seeded a buffer zone of grasses and wildflowers to create a neutral zone of sorts between “The Lawn” and “The Thicket.” 

 I don’t really “garden” the thicket but over time I’ve planted some naturalizing crocus and daffodils and a handful of seeds a decade ago that keep the spring display stunning.  About the only care I give the area is water during really dry spells and a birdbath of water because butterflies and birds and bees need something to drink.

 I am proudest of my tended garden…the showy beds of vegetables and annual flowers, the elegant stretches of roses and flowering shrubs and tulips in Spring. But deep down, it is my thicket that I love the most.