7 PLANTS TO KEEP THE MOSQUITOS AWAY

by Heather Stone

Purple lavender flowers attracting honey bees.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

The long, warm days of summer are meant to be enjoyed. Sitting poolside, bar-b-queuing with friends or just relaxing in the garden. But sometimes pesky mosquitoes have a way of taking the fun right out of our outdoor activities. Instead of dousing yourself and your loved ones in chemical bug sprays try planting some of these mosquito repellant plants around your garden and patio to help keep the bugs at bay.

 

  1. Lemongrass- Lemongrass is an ingredient in citronella oil and its strong lemon scent is a proven mosquito repellant. This tropical grass is best grown in pots as an annual or brought indoors during the winter months.
  2. Marigolds- The strongly scented flowers of marigolds repel mosquitos, flies and even rabbits. These beauties come in an array of colors that will brighten up any spot. Keep pots of marigolds near seating areas and doorways to deter mosquitos. In the vegetable garden, marigolds repel many of the insects that attack tomato plants.

    Bright orange marigold bloom.

    photo courtesy of pixabay

  3. Lavender- The aromatic, purple flower spikes of lavender not only repel mosquitoes but moths, flies and fleas too. Use the fresh or dried flowers directly on the skin or dry them and hang them indoors to repel moths and flies inside. Don’t forget, the bees love lavender!
  4. Basil- Who doesn’t enjoy the smell and taste of fresh basil? Mosquitos, it seems. Unlike many of the other mosquito repellant plants, you don’t have to crush the leaves or flowers of basil to receive the mosquito deterring properties.
  5. Catmint- Catnip and many other plants in the mint family are excellent at keeping the mosquitos at bay with their strong scent. Ticks and biting flies also avoid catmint. You can rub the leaves and flowers directly on your skin for added protection. Catmints are easy to grow plants that do well in sunny and dry spots in the garden. The lavender-blue flowers bloom all season and attract a wide array of pollinators.

    Fuzzy green catmint leaves.

    photo courtesy of pixabay.

  6. Rosemary- Cooking out? Toss a few sprigs of rosemary on the grill and let the aromatic smoke drive the mosquitos away.
  7. Peppermint– the strong scent of peppermint deters flies and mosquitos. Keep a few plants in pots on your patio to deter insects and enjoy the fresh leaves in your iced tea.

    Blue flowering rosemary plant.

    Photo courtesy of pixabay.

All these plants deserve a place in your garden or on your patio not just because they deter pesky insects, but for their beauty, fragrance and attractiveness to our pollinator friends.

 

 

Here is a simple herbal bug spray recipe you can make at home using essential oils (“eo”).

  • ½ white hazel
  • ½ cup of water
  • 20 drops Eucalyptus eo
  • 30 drops Citronella eo
  • 10 drops Rosemary eo
  • 20 drops Lavender eo
  • 20 drops Tea tree eo

If you don’t have one of these simply leave it out or substitute with another. A few other essential oils that will work include lemongrass, catnip, clove, mint and geranium.

 

 

 

Drying: An Easy Way to Preserve Your Herbs

A Jar of dried spice leaves.

Photo courtesy of monicore / pixabay

Leaves

If you’re harvesting leaves, the best time to pick is before the plant begins to flower.

Flowers
If you’re harvesting flowers, harvest the blossoms just before they are in full bloom.

Seeds
If you’re harvesting seeds, the seeds should remain on the plant until they are fully mature and begin to dry.

 

Here are three easy methods for drying your newly harvested herbs.

Air drying
Air drying is the easiest method of drying herbs and can be done in several ways. One way is to air dry in bundles. First, gather the stems in a loose bundle. You want good air circulation throughout and around the bundle. Next, hang them stem side up in an area that is warm, dry, dust- free and out of direct sunlight. Finally, your herbs are ready when they are dry and

crumbly to the touch. This can take anywhere from four days or

up to two weeks if temperatures are on the cooler side.

Drying seeds? Place a paper bag loosely over the bundle to catch any seeds that might fall.

If you are working with a smaller quantity or have plants with delicate leaves or flowers you can place them on a drying rack or screen. This can be a piece of cheesecloth, a window screen or a brown paper bag with holes punched in it. Just like drying in bundles you want good air circulation and to keep the herbs warm, dry and out of direct sunlight.

Preserving herbs by tying bundles of spices to hang from a beam.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Dehydrating
Using an electric food dehydrator is a great way to quickly dry your herbs, which can be helpful if you live in an area with high humidity. Keeping the dehydrator on the lowest temperature setting, follow the instructions on your dehydrator for how to place the leaves and recommended drying times.

Oven Drying
For oven drying, begin by placing individual leaves on a lined baking sheet. Set your oven to its lowest temperature and keep a close eye on them. You don’t want them to dry out too quickly.

Now that your herbs are thoroughly dry you want to store them properly to maintain their quality and taste. You can store your herbs in jars (glass or plastic) with tight-fitting lids or in well-sealed plastic bags. Make sure to label your containers with the herbs name and date. Keep your herbs in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness.

 

4 Tip for Keeping Your Basil Productive


Photo of basil leaves.

by Sam Doll

Fresh basil is one of the true treats of the garden. This sweet and savory herb can be used in anything from a fresh Caprese salad, a lovely pesto, or even chopped up as a flavor bomb on grilled meats and veggies!

However, it can be really hard to keep your basil productive, lush, and tasty throughout the summer. If you aren’t careful, your beautiful basil can become scraggly, short-lived, and bitter!

Don’t worry though. With these tips, whether it is classic sweet basil or spicy Thai basil you will have bushy, verdant basil all season long.

1.      Sun is Basil’s Friend

Basil originated from subtropical areas of ancient India. Due to its roots, it loves a lot of sun and a lot of water. Make sure your basil is getting at least 6-8 hours of full sun every day. If you are keeping your basil in a container indoors, make sure that it is near a south-facing window.

Check out our guide to growing windowsill basil!

2.      Water is Basil’s 2nd Best Friend

Basil likes to be well hydrated, so make sure that you are frequently watering and that the soil is well drained. There is no set schedule you should be watering during, just keep an eye on the soil and water when it first appears dry.

3.      The More You Take, the More the Plant Gives

If left to its own devices, the basil plant will grow tall and spindly. Unfortunately, a tall skinny plant does not provide many leaves for you to munch on. To make the basil bushy and bountiful, you need to consistently prune and harvest from the plant.

The key to harvesting basil is to not just pick off the leaves. You want to cut or pinch off the leaves at the stem, right above a set of two leaves or nodes, like bellow. These nodes will create two separate branches, so make sure to leave at least one or two of these below the trim spot on the stem. If you keep this up every one to two weeks, you will have a massive, bushy basil plant by late summer!

Photo of basil plant showing where to trim the stem.

Here is a helpful video guide to show you how to prune your basil

4.      Flowers are Your Enemy

When a leafy plant decides to produce seeds, it is known as bolting. Bolting, which often happens when the weather turns hot, is when the plant expects a period of high heat and little water, so it tries to produce seeds as quickly as possible. You can tell when your plant is bolting because it will have a period of rapid growth and flower production.

Once a basil plant goes to seed, the plant will start to wither away, and the remaining foliage will turn bitter and can take on an anise, or liquorice, flavor. If you let your basil get away from you, this can reduce your harvest season by months.

The easiest way to manage this is to cut off or pinch off any flower structures as soon as they appear. This will prevent the plant from bolting and, like with pruning, it will encourage the plant to branch off from where you trimmed it, making your plant even more productive and bushy.

 

If you want to get a little wild, try our Lemon Basil! It’s great in summer dishes and cocktails!

 

 

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/

 

 

Windowsill Basil

by Sandy Swegel

Two Ways to Have Basil all Winter.

August heat is hard on basil. The plants keep producing seed heads and as fast as you try to cut them back, new flowers start with the warm weather. Once the basil goes to seed you can still use the leaves, but they often have a bitter flavor.

But there are ways to keep enjoying fresh sweet basil all winter, besides the obvious strategies of drying or freezing the herbs.

Start seeds in a small window box planter now. This planter starts outside and comes into a bright windowsill as soon as temperatures go below 40 or so. Strew an entire packet of seeds over the soil. You will be growing the basil to a size somewhere between micro-greens and full-sized. The seed should germinate quickly and with regular watering, young plants will start to develop and should be several inches high by frost. Once inside, you can cut them down to the bottom leaves with scissors and the young plants will keep regrowing. If it gets really cold outside, you have to move the plants away from the window because the basil will freeze if they are leaning again the glass. If the basil gets buggy with aphids, you can bring the entire container to the kitchen sink and give it a shower.

Mason Jar Basil
If you don’t have seeds but you have purchased one of those pricey basil plants with the roots still on from the grocery store, you can keep growing that plant indoors. These have been grown hydroponically so you can put them in a mason jar with water on a kitchen windowsill. It might wilt for a week or so adapting, but will usually revive. Change the water every week or two. Again, harvest down to the bottom couple of leaves and the plant keeps regrowing.

Other greens and herbs like cilantro and lettuce also do well if you seed containers now and bring them in before they freeze. By winter the plants will be much bigger than micro-greens and will provide you with lots of intense flavor!

 

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Wildflower and Grass Seed Mixes
Photocredits
http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-gardening/backyard-gardening/5-herbs-perfect-for-container-gardening.aspx
http://melissaknorris.com/2014/02/growbasilindoorsallwinter/

 

Eat & Grow

By: Holly Keehn

Don’t throw out those kitchen scraps this Thanksgiving.  Instead, re-grow them!  Composting is great, but if you don’t have a bin this is an excellent way to get full use of your veggies, just as nature intended!

Re-grow these vegetables and save on many grocery bills to come:

Leeks, Onions, Lemongrass

  • Celery, Bok Choi, Romaine Lettuce, Cabbage, Root Vegetables
  • Ginger
  • Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes
  • Herbs
  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic

Onions are really easy to re-grow, indoors and out as long as they receive enough sunlight.  For bulb onions, take the root end and cover lightly with soil.  For green onions and lemongrass, simply place the root ends in enough water to cover the roots and harvest the new growth.

Celery, lettuce, cabbage, and root vegetables can all be re-grown by covering the roots with water leaving the tops exposed, then plant leaving the new growth leaves above the soil.

 

Ginger, oh ginger.  Simply soak the root in water overnight, cover with soil, and harvest as needed.  Repeat the process to ensure a constant supply.

If you’re like me and don’t use your potatoes quickly enough, you’ll see them starting to root, or form “eyes”.  Take advantage of this by cutting the potato into pieces with 1-2 eyes on each, leave them out for a few days until fully dry, plant them 12 inches apart and four inches deep, and continuously cover half of the new growth until harvest.

I never thought to re-grow herbs, what a fantastic idea!  They are super easy, too.  Keep a four-inch clipping in water with leaves exposed until you see significant root growth, then pot, and enjoy a constant supply of fresh herbs.

You can also re-grow mushrooms using a mixture of compost and soil.  Place the mushroom stalk in the soil, leaving only the top exposed.  If all goes as planned, you’ll have mushrooms in no time!

Garlic is truly one of the easiest to re-grow.  Simply place one clove root end down into the soil and watch it grow!

Use this season’s whirlwind of cooking to enjoy a constant supply of free, fresh, homegrown produce year round!

Happy cooking!

 

Photo Credit:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296885800406668715/

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/345510602636546064/

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/166422148703165573/

 

 

Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Grass and Wildflower Mixes

Wildflower Seeds

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

 

The Indecisive Gardener

by Sandy Swegel

Making decisions about where to plant things in the garden is one of my biggest challenges.  Hard to imagine when I spend most of my time in other people’s gardens. But because I rent, my own garden is a blank slate.  And that makes it really hard for me to know what to plant where. I know what the plants need but I can’t decide who should live next to whom or even make simple decisions about succession planting.

 If you’re an indecisive gardener, whether you’re a new gardener and aren’t sure where things go, or because like me there are so many possibilities you just can’t decide, here are a couple strategies I use:

Vegetables
Square Foot Gardening is the friend of new and indecisive gardeners.  You can just make the garden squares and plant whatever happens to be in your hand at the moment.  Mel Bartholomew who invented the idea of square foot gardening has simplified plant spacing in his latest refinements of the process.  Each square is still a 12-inch square.  Little plants go 16 to a square, medium plants 9 to a square. Large plants 4 to a square and really large plants 1 to a square.  I can just fill a square and move on to the next square.  Hardly any decisions except to remember to put the tomatoes to the back of the garden where they don’t block the sun.
http://www.squarefootgardening.org/#!__top10faqs/vstc20=page-4/vstc100=gardening

 Herbs
I love herbs but worry about where to put them so they are in the right conditions and so that the perennials ones survive without taking over. In my mind, I divide the herbs into categories: Mediterranean herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano), invasive herbs (mint, lemon balm), and tender herbs (basil).

 Mediterranean herbs go in the hottest driest part of the garden with more sun and not so much water because the flavors of these herbs are best if they aren’t pampered with too much good water and soil.  Invasive herbs go next to concrete…either a wall or a sidewalk….somewhere there is a natural limit to how far they can spread. Tender herbs go in the vegetable garden.

 Perennials
These are the most difficult ones to decide on. Many a perennial has languished in its tight pot waiting for me to decide where to put it.  I learned from another indecisive gardener that the perfect place is a “Nursery Bed.”  The nursery bed is for the plants that are young and need extra attention and for the ones that don’t yet have a home in a permanent bed.  They’ll eventually graduate to the grown-up garden, but now they at least have a home in the ground in the nursery bed where they get some extra attention too.

 Don’t let the desire to have a perfect garden or the fear of making a mistake keep you from having a great garden.  Set some simple rules like these. And if that doesn’t work…then the whole yard can be the “nursery bed!” 

 

Photo Credits:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_foot_gardening

http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/what-can%E2%80%99t-you-decide/attachment/indecisive/

 

 

 

I miss my garden

by Sandy Swegel

 

I’m on the 6 a.m., red-eye flight from New Orleans and all I can say after a week in this great party town in that I miss my garden.  Sure, fried shrimp and stuffed crabs are great but after a week of culinary excess, I’m yearning for the crisp still frozen Swiss chard that I’ve harvested all winter underneath piles of leaves.  In big cities, you still get a lot of that pale white iceberg lettuce.

The other thing I missed in this big city are front yard gardens.  All those small urban front yard lawns are begging to be turned from turf to nice raised beds. Perfectly groomed shrubs are not nearly as pretty to this gardener as sprawling squash vines or trellises of peas would be.  The best I could do was slip some herbs between the roses and azaleas in my mom’s tiny condo garden.

 

So I salute, today, all of you who are growing your own food in cities or in neighborhoods controlled by HOAs that abhor anything untraditional.  I live in the fantasy land of Boulder where it’s trendy to grow your own food.  I have a new respect for you who garden in the city or where you’re the only gardener on the block.  And I’ve envied your fresh greens all week!

 

Photo Credits:

walkingberkeley.wordpress.com

blog.nilsenlandscape.com

 

 

 

 

Basil and Chili: A Love Affair

by Sandy Swegel

Do you like chili peppers?  The plants are super easy to grow and tolerate a lot of droughts and benign neglect in the garden. The only problem I’ve ever had with peppers is that the seeds take forever to germinate. One year my seeds still hadn’t germinated for three weeks, so I gave up and bought plants…. only to have healthy seedlings come up the next week.  I decided I just hadn’t given the seedlings enough heat.

But new research this year taught me something new about seed germination that made me think maybe my pepper seedlings were just lonely.  Turns out that if you grow basil near peppers, the pepper seeds sprout faster and grow healthier plants than if you just grow peppers alone. Companion planting scientifically documented.  A controlled scientific study this year thinks it’s because the basil plants emit sound vibrations near the peppers.  We have no idea yet if the basil is just whispering encouraging words or playing a wild marimba tune.  But the chili plants come out and dance to the music.

Practically, here’s what I’m going to try.  I’m going to start my basil seeds in the tray next to the pepper seeds.  Basil always germinates first for me so I’m hoping they’ll come up and then peppers will come up faster.  I’ll plant both in the garden together too.  And finally, next August…I’ll fix a great salsa and eat them together. It’s a fiesta!

 Photo Credits and More Info:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/plants-talk-to-each-other-nanoscale-sound-waves-grow_n_3229021.html
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130507-talking-chili-plant-communication-science/