Seed Hoarders

Chipmunk sitting on a sunflower head eating seeds.

photo courtesy of pixabay -evitaochel

Thank goodness that “Hoarders” TV show doesn’t ever focus on seed hoarders. Gardeners who are very tidy and organized and otherwise not people who collect or hoard things can secretly have boxes full of seed from years and years of saving.  Sometimes the seeds are gifts from friends, or seeds ordered because you forgot you has some left over and bought more or just surplus seeds from generous seed packages. I knew my seed habit was getting out of hand once I started collecting seed myself – now I have paper bags full of saved seeds and had to move from the tiny shoebox to a big box.

This year, I’ve come up with a way to use those old seeds without feeling too guilty…and I’ll save some money, too.  Early Fall is the traditional time to put in cover crops…seeds that will germinate and grow some but die back with a freeze or simply be chopped down and turned into the soil to replenish it in the Spring.  Cover crops get lots of organic matter into the soil without much trouble. But there’s no reason you have to use an official “cover crop.”  The idea is just young plants that get chopped up and mixed in with the soil. This year, I decided to turn some of my seed hoards to cover my garden soil this winter. (Let’s not be ridiculous and use all those good seeds.)

So as I have clear patches of the garden after harvesting, I’m going to remove the big debris, lightly rake the soil and sprinkle out old and gathered seed.  Many of the old seeds won’t germinate but there’s enough that will make a good protective cover.  And as long as you PROMISE to turn the cover crop in before perennials establish themselves, you can even include old packets of grass seed.

My cover crop won’t be as cute as when I put in just winter rye and get a nice even green lawn effect….but it will be great fun to guess what is what!

My hoarded cover crop this year includes:

Years of half-used radish seeds, hybrid tomato seeds from 1996, leftover lawn patch seeds that got wet in the bag, cabbage seeds I forgot about and never gave garden space too, dill, cilantro, caraway and fennel seeds collected from previous years gardens, hollyhocks collected from alleyways. Lots of black-eyed susans, marigolds and cosmos.  While I’m on the seed purge, I’m cleaning out the kitchen pantry and throwing in old spices (coriander, dill, mustard seed) and old whole wheat berries that have bugs, or old beans I’ll never like. Talk about recycling!

You can decide which seeds are iffy by checking out this list of lifespans of vegetable seeds:

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html

Phew. Now that I understand which seeds will happily last until next year, I can order from the End of Year Seed Sale and have good viable fresh seed to save in my seed box for next Spring.

 

What Is Green Manure?

By Engrid WinslowBlooms of Alsike Clover.

So, you’ve heard of cover crops, right?  Green Manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while it is still green and alive.  There are many different types of plants that are used as cover crops but are most commonly peas, clovers, vetch, rye, oats, buckwheat, barley and mustard. Always trim them back before tilling in and before they go to seed. This green plant matter provides a burst of microbial life to the soil which is important in enriching your vegetable or flower beds in the spring. Different types of cover crops provide different benefits to the soil ranging from:

 

  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Stabilizing soil temperatures
  • Reducing water loss
  • Reducing weeds
  • Fixing soil nitrogen (peas and vetch)
  • Providing habitat and food for pollinators (clover, vetch and buckwheat)
  • Accumulating phosphorus in the soil
  • Reducing nutrient loss during the winter

 

When choosing a cover crop you should be aware that some form deep roots (i.e. rye) and can be more difficult to till into the soil.  Peas, barley and oats are much easier to work into your beds and never, ever let vetches go to seed or you will have a rampant weed on your hands.

 

A great time to plant cover crops also occurs in the fall after the first hard freeze and you have pulled out all those dead tomato and cucumber plants. Check out our Green Manure which contains a great mixture of peas, two types of vetch, rye and oats. You’ll be giving your soil something to do over the winter. Gardeners have become more aware in recent years that there are microbes living in the soil all year round. They have a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and need them to stay alive.

Package of Green Manure Seed Mix.

 

 

FarmHer

By Sandy SwegelFarmher

OMG I found the best show to binge watch!  No not a zillion episodes of an old sitcom from my youth. FarmHer is an internet-based show about women farming!  There are beautiful landscapes of Midwestern farms, and silly scenes of baby goats climbing all over the farmher.  Farmhers with good topsoil ground into the creases and wrinkles in their hands. Young urban farmhers in crowded cities..  This show is a delight and inspiration to anyone who has dreamed about farming or just growing a few vegetables in their yard.

Women have always been hard-working farmers.  No one female or male, old or young, lives on a farm without working…there’s just too much to be done. But women’s importance on the farm has often been hidden.  In my extended family, second cousins had a dairy farm in Wisconsin.  The family joke was that the husband spent all day sitting in the air-conditioned tractor with stereo while the wife grew all the family food, raised the chickens and the children, did all the preserving and the bookkeeping.

FarmHer is a nonprofit on-line community devoted to highlighting women in agriculture and helping them connect to each other and to their communities.  FarmHer especially does this with beautiful photos and video episodes and a blog.  You’ll love watching the dynamos who are growing your food.

New episodes come out Friday evenings at 8:30 C on RFD-TV.  https://www.farmher-episodes.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photocredits

https://farmher.com/

 

Cover the Earth

by Sandy SwegelCover the Earth

Intense heat waves this summer have inspired gardeners to think more about their soil and how to protect it now and in winter. Just looking at hot dry cracked soil. We can compensate by watering more but with the heat stress, the plants can’t take up water faster than they are losing it to the air. Two things often happen during a heat wave that tax the soil. In the plains or the west, the humidity drops way down and the soil gets so dry that irrigation has a hard time even soaking into the soil. It just rolls right off. The other thing that happens is that the soil heats up killing off soil microbes and earthworms. That top exposed layer of soil becomes hard and crusty from lack of life.

So what can we do in a heat wave besides water? We’ve got to get that soil covered. “Cover the Earth” is the mantra I repeat to myself. “Cover the Earth.”

What are some good ways to Cover the Earth?

1. Plant Intensively so that plant leaves overlap with one another and shade the soil underneath.

Cover with mulch

2. Mulch. You know how important mulch is, but during a heat wave it’s good to double up on mulch. Your mulch is not only keeping water from evaporating and adding organic matter and food for microbes, it is also insulation to reduce the soil temperature. Plant will be healthier if “their feet” are cooler during a heat wave. You can check this out by putting your finger in the soil somewhere there this thick mulch. If you are out of grass clippings or leaves, use cardboard or newspaper in a pinch. Just get that soil covered.

3. Plant Cover Crops now. You may think of cover crops as something to plant at the end of the season, but it can also be a good idea to start them now. Plant in areas of the garden that might be fallow such as where early season crops grew but you never got around to replanting. Or start cover crops in the spaces or rows between large plants like tomatoes or corn.Cover crops

DO BOTH: Mulch and Use Cover Crops.
Anytime you see bare soil, use grass clippings or last year’s left-over leaves to loosely and thinly cover the soil. Then seed in your cover crop. The combination of browns from leaves and greens from the cover crop will compost in place eventually.

One thing is for sure….all these steps to Cover the Earth and protect your soil now in the heat and this winter in the cold will help make your spring soil awesomely healthy!

 

Clover: More than a symbol of luck

Clover, more than a symbol of luck!

by Jessica of “The Bees Waggle

Clover is a symbol of luck.  You will see clovers all over the place, along with green, rainbows and pots of gold in the month of March.  Discovering a four leaf clover is truly lucky, as there is only 1 in 10,000 clovers!  However, clover is more than just a symbol of Irish luck. Clover brings many nutritional elements to the places it grows.

Bumblebee on clover blossom

Bumble bees are frequenters of red clover because their tongues are long enough to reach the nectar in these tubular flowers.  

Clover enriches the soil its roots take hold in by fixing nitrogen.  It is able to achieve this because it is host to a bacterium, Rhizobium.  The relationship between clover and Rhizobium is symbiotic, meaning they are mutual beneficiaries.  The bacteria is fed by the plant and the plant is fed by the bacteria.  Plants cannot use nitrogen the way it exists in the atmosphere.  Rhizobium converts atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form for plants and animals to utilize.  Rhizobium takes up residence in the plant’s root system and forms  nodules.  Clover and other legumes are susceptible to this type of bacterial “infection” and that is why these plants are great fertilizing plants!  Turns out not every bacterial infection is a bad thing!  As a result of nitrogen fixation, all plants surrounding clover benefit from the enriched soil conditions and thrive.  No need for artificial fertilizer with clover in the mix.

Weeds are no match for clover!  Clover grows harmoniously with many plants, but will crowd out weeds.  Wow!  A fertilizer and a weed control packed into one plant!!

Clover is also drought resistant and will remain green and beautiful through the heat of summer.

I wouldn’t want to let you down and forget to mention how attractive clover is to bees and many other beneficial insects.  As a result of this, clover works as pest control, by attracting many predators of harmful garden pests.

Clover depends on insect assisted pollination.  This is just another reason to join this movement to save our bees and all pollinators alike!  Clover is easy enough to grow from seed; give it a go this year and watch your garden thrive!

Cheers!

 

Grow your own Thyme Plugs

Grow your own Thyme PlugsGrow your own Thyme

by Sandy Swegel

One of the more intrigue new seeds we are carrying is Creeping Thyme. We all love the romantic look of a stone path with thyme filling in the crevices between the stone. Thyme lawns have also become popular as a low-water way to have a patch of green. You can’t play soccer on your thyme lawn, but you can walk across it. The best part is that in most gardens, the thyme grows so thickly that only a few weeds pop through.

It can be quite a challenge to start a thyme lawn or patio though. The plants you purchase generally are in large pots and it’s not easy to shake off the dirt and try to smoosh the plant between the pavers. It’s also pretty expensive to cover a long walkway.

You can definitely try direct seeding and sprinkling the thyme seeds in the areas you want the groundcover to grow. This works well in England or in coastal areas. This hasn’t worked well for me because Colorado is arid and it takes daily watering to get the seeds to germinate. Naturally then, lots of weed seeds germinate before the thyme comes up. There is an easy solution for people who like to grow from seed. Grow your own thyme plugs.

Grow your own thyme

Plug trays are the size of a normal planting flat but each flat has cells for 128 plants. Sometimes garden centers sell plug trays or you can find them on the internet. I got some that my garden center was throwing out….they use them to plant into the larger pots they sell. You can also use those little six packs annuals come in. Fill your plug tray with seed germinating mix and put one or two seeds into each cell. Grow under lights or outdoors if it’s warm enough. In just weeks after germinating you end up with an entire tray of perfect little well-rooted plants that easily fit into the spaces in your patio. If you’re planting a lawn, you can place the plugs on a grid 4-8 inches apart and they’ll grow to a mat this year. Each packet of thyme seeds has 600 seeds in it so you could a LOT of thyme plugs for a couple bucks!

Growing your own thyme plugs is easy. The hardest part is being sure to weed the area you are planting really well. But it’s the last time you’ll have to do such a big weeding there….once the thyme grows in, it blocks most weeds. Yippee. No weeding on your patio. Or if you’re planting a lawn…no more mowing.

Grow your own thyme
Photo Credits
http://blackthumbgardener.com/beauty-underfoot-plants-for-paths-and-walkways/
http://www.dream-yard.com/walkway-ideas.html
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/groundcoverthymes.htm

 

Cover Crops for Busy People

by Sandy Swegel

There’s one more thing to plant this year. Some of us are eager Fall gardeners and we’re still planting lots

of greens and crops for fall and winter harvest.  Most people though are feeling kind of done with the whole gardening thing for this year.  There are still lots of tomatoes to harvest, but attention has turned to the projects of Fall and the busy-ness of the school year.

The one more thing to plant is cover crops.  A cover crop mixture of winter rye and vetch seeded now will be up and growing by October and provide a pretty green cover on the garden bed well into winter, prevent weeds in the Spring, and greatly improve your soil over time.

There’s a lot more to know about cover crops, but if you’re one of the people who has gotten busy and are done with the garden for now, just throw some cover crop seeds over your empty garden bed space and let it start growing.  If you wait until the weather freezes and the garden is really done, the soil will be too cold for the cover crops to germinate.

Next Spring, you can start to think about whether to till in the crops or just let them die in place.  Right now….just get the seed in before it gets cold.

 

 

If you want to know more now, this fact sheet will help. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/244.html#fall

 

 

 

Photo credit: freshorganicgardening.com/sowing-and-tilling-cover-crops/

 

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Organic Vegetable Seed

 

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season  to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them  in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do with in Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the back yard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

10.31.14d

Photocredit http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

http://thehairpin.com/2011/02/youre-invited-to-a-goat-dance-party

 

Cover Crops

by Sandy Swegel

Here in watery sodden Colorado, our flood waters have mostly receded and people are busy with the arduous task of rebuilding after disaster.  Seen from above I imagine we would look much like an ant hill with thousands of workers scurrying about.  Homeowners dragging ruined carpet and drywall into massive dumpsters. State workers repairing 40 foot gaps in state mountain highways. Disaster recovery crews from Texas to Utah cleaning up this big mess.  1500 volunteers summoned by social media #boulderfloodrelief organized to go in teams to neighborhoods to provide physical labor to anyone who needed it. Food banks gathering enormous amounts of food and distributing it quickly to those in need.

Gardeners and farmers have quite a recovery job.  We have to repair any damage as quickly as possible.  More importantly, we have to keep on the schedule of regular garden tasks.  The regular task in Zones 5 and 6, if you haven’t done it yet, is to get winter cover crops in on bare soil.

Cover Crops are quick growing plants that protect and can provide many nutrients to the soil.  Some of the most common cover crops are grasses/grains such as Winter Rye.  The other favorites are legumes such as clover, vetch and peas that fix nitrogen in the soil.

Why plant cover crops? 1. They hold the soil in place.  Flood waters make this more real…There are few things sadder to a gardener than the spots where flash floods came through and took away the top soil, leaving only hard crusty subsoil.  Even without floods, hot winter sun dries out the top inches of soil and then winds blow it right away.  A good cover crop is easier than trying to hold some kind of mulch down. 2. They enrich the soil.  Producing food uses lots of nutrients from the soil. If you let the cover crops grow all winter and then till them in in Spring, you now have “green manure.”  All that organic matter from leaves and roots goes right into the soil. This is much easier than cleaning out a barn and hauling manures.  3. They provide additional bee food.  Clovers will often flower before you till them, giving bees and beneficial insects good early season food. 4. Cover crops are just beautiful. Winter rye stays green long after lawns have turned brown and stays green till really hard frosts kill the rye.  It’s beautiful in the cold brown landscape of December to see a mini field of winter rye out in the vegetable beds. 5. They suppress weeds.  By Spring, a fall-planted cover crop has shaded and covered the soil and those zillions of weeds that show up every year never germinate!  Less weeding work…my favorite reason to put in a cover crop.

Cover crops are effective whether you till or not.  In cold winter areas cover crops die on their own and are a good mulch in place even when dead.  Plant your cover crops under fruit trees and you can just mow them.  If you till, cover crops make a huge difference in your soil.

I used to have to give people lots of suggestions about where to find cover crop seeds or how to mix their own.  In the past I would have to get 10 pound bags from the feed store and find a lot of friends to share it with.  Fortunately for my small garden area, BBB Seed Head Honcho Mike added a green manure cover crop mixture to our catalog last year.  I didn’t even have to ask for it!

For more technical info on cover crops: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/244.html

Fall Planting Information:  https://bbbseed.com/fall-planting.htm

 

5 FREE Soil Amendments that you can Easily Find!

by Sandy Swegel

One of the problems with gardening is that you just can’t rush Mother Nature.  If you don’t get those tomato seeds planted early enough, there’s just no way to trick the plants into growing overnight. Compost is the same…you can’t just mix everything up today and use the compost tomorrow.  But there are things you can scavenge that you can add directly to your garden that help your garden a lot more than those sterile-looking bags of manure or compost they sell at the store. And they’re free!

1. Leaf Mold

Better even than regular compost for improving soil texture, leaf mold is what you end up with after a pile of leaves has rotted down to a dark earthy mix with only a few leaves still recognizable. This can take one or two years depending on how wet your climate is.  You can find leaf mold that’s been breaking down for months or years anywhere leaves collect:  where the wind blows them behind the garage or along the shady side of the fence.  Your neighbor’s yard is a good place to find it, or along stream beds or in shady woods.  Dig in to get the dark damp leaf mold next to the soil and leave the dry leaves for another year. Spread the leaf mold over your garden, at the bottom of planting holes, or along the trenches for your potatoes.  This is pure gold for your garden.

2. Coffee grounds

Coffee shops are often willing to give you their used coffee grounds for free. Starbucks packages them up for you in empty large coffee bags.  No need to do anything special with the grounds…just sprinkle them across your soil or at the base of plants.  The plants like the boost from caffeine almost as much as you do.

3. Weed Tea  

When I’m weeding, I keep two buckets with me…one for the green leaves (and roots) of weeds like dandelions, thistle, dock, lambsquarters and one for the seed heads or other garden debris I’m cleaning.  All those long tap roots that are so hard to dig out have been pulling up minerals and micronutrients from deep in the soil.  Once my bucket of green leaves is mostly full, I fill the rest with water and leave the bucket out to “steep.” After four days or longer, (ideally until it starts to smell bad), I use this nutrient rich water to water the garden. The leaves get thrown out or into the compost. Plants that get this water turn a nice dark green.

4. Grass Clippings

If you (or your neighbor) have a lawn (and you don’t use weed killer), the grass clippings are the perfect mulch for your garden.  Layer the clippings thinly on the surface of the soil near your plants. Keep adding it every week and it will keep breaking down at the soil line into compost.

5. Newspaper

Most newspapers are printed now with soy ink and safe to use in the garden.  Lay three or four sheets of newspaper over the soil in your walkways or between rows and cover with mulch.  The newspaper helps block weeds from coming up, and reduces evaporation.  Worms LOVE the taste of newspaper and will help break it down into rich soil.