Baby’s Breath

Baby’s Breath…growing for whimsy

by Sandy Swegel

Some plants aren’t the most efficient plants to grow, but you have to do it just because it’s fun.  Annual baby’s breath fits that category for me this week.  I visited a lovely garden where the perennial baby’s breath was allowed to grow and fall where it may and the rest of the flowers just grew up among them.   Very nice looking.  But the baby’s breath I’m interested in is the annual variety because it blooms very fast from seed and I don’t have a lot of time left this season to start new flower from seed. I want some fun and whimsy in my garden before the garden turns into Fall mums.

 

Gypsophilia elegans (annual baby’s breath) is a very short-lived plant.  Growing guides advise sowing every two weeks if you want the tiny white flowers all season.  That’s more work and irrigation than I need for the full season…but a fast-blooming flower sounds great for the end of the season.

So just for fun, I’m sowing some annual baby’s breath between the roses and hoping they end up looking just like flower arrangements.  I’m also sowing some in the “moon garden” where most of the flowers are white because what could more whimsical than baby’s breath under a full moon!

Have some fun and grow some flowers just for fun.

 

Photo:

www.sarahraven.com/gypsophila_elegans_covent_garden.htm

 

Keep Your Sunflowers Blooming

by Sandy Swegel

Sunflowers inspire a primordial joy in us.  We may be rosarians, orchid specialists, rock plant lovers or even urban folk who barely see the outdoors, but sunflowers against a blue sky spark an inner gasp of delight.  Sunflowers often plant themselves on their own and can manage to grow without any attention from us, but if we have a nice little patch of sunflowers, we can nurture them so they last and last for weeks longer than their normal bloom.

What to do to get the most of your sunflowers?

Keep them deadheaded until the end of the season.

If you deadhead your sunflowers, they will keep pumping out new blossoms in their will to create seeds and more sunflowers.  Don’t cut the stalk way back, the next sunflower often forms just inches from the place you deadheaded.

Leave the very last batch of spent flowers for the birds and for next year’s flowers.

When it seems like the sunflowers are slowing down, do leave the last set on flower heads on the plant for the birds.  Even if its a little ugly going into Fall, birds like the seed heads right on the plant.  Little finches especially like to sit on top of the old brown seed head and bend over and pluck seeds out.

 

Give the sunflowers a splash of water

If your sunflowers have self-seeded into a dry back alley or someplace in hot sun, throw them a bucket of water once in a while during hot spells.  They’ll survive without the extra water, but thrive with it…and make more sunflowers just for you.

Photos:

www.pinterest.com/dreamwild/birds-bugs-butterflies-flowers-to-paint/

https://kanesonbikes.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/p9020895.jpg

http://www.lovethispic.com/uploaded_images/33858-Sunflower-Farm.jpg

 

The Aster

The Aster

by Sandy Swegel

July is when the aster begins to shine in the garden.  We were walking around a hot drought xeric garden yesterday where many flowering plants were going to seed (ah, flax and larkspur we miss your blues already) or had complete browned and been cut back (goodbye poppies).  Amid the browning foliage, there were splashes of color we forget about each year like the amazing Zinnia grandiflora, a very short aster, native to plains and foothills, that thrives along hot concrete walkways.

 

Standing near this tiny aster, we could look up to the back of the garden where there was a bit of shade and moisture and see tall asters in full bud.  In the sunny grassy open space nearby, purple asters had already bloomed and were feeding pollinators and butterflies. We looked to a neighbor’s irrigated garden and saw a splendid patch of Michaelmas daisies ready to bloom with hundreds of flowers.  Aster may have small individual flowers, but they cram dozens of flowers onto each flower stalk.

 

Asters aren’t very picky about location and in cities, you’ll see they seed themselves into alleys and sometimes into your flower beds.  In fields, the purple asters often grow one plant here and one there out among uncut grasses.

The very best thing about asters:  butterflies love them.  And we definitely want to keep the butterflies happy.

Photos and information:

http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=1961

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

https://photoflurries.wordpress.com/2010/09/

 

Time to Reboot the Veggie Garden

by Sandy Swegel

We ate the last of the Spring Peas this week. They were gnarly and kinda tough, but I savored the sweet Spring memories. Even though the peas were planted in a little shade and watered regularly, a pea plant can only take so many blistering hot days. Pooped-out peas are a sure sign that it’s time to start thinking about the Fall Garden. It seems slightly absurd since we still don’t have a single red tomato here in zone 5, but if I want a lush fall and winter garden, the time to reboot the spent Spring garden is now.

But it is July and it’s hot, so let’s start the fall garden in nice easy baby steps. These week’s plan is simple:

1. Pull out the finished pea plants. Pull out the weeds. Scratch in some fresh compost and keep the area watered for a few days as the soil settles down.
2. Plant some seeds. Keep the patch well moistened (or throw some row cover over to keep the water from evaporating so fast.
3. Have something cold to drink and flip through your seed cache or favorite seed website to plan something new and different the next time a little patch of soil is ready for replanting.

Some excellent July planting choices:

Leafy greens: arugula, Asian greens, collards, more kale or chard
Cool-season herbs like cilantro and dill
Root crops you want to enjoy after frosts like carrots and beets
Rapini (Broccoli raab)

Don’t stress yourself in the heat….just plant that one little patch that’s just growing weeds now and reap the rewards in September.

Photos:
http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Healthy-Recipes-Winter-Vegetables-Fruits-21357784#photo-21357809

 

Today is the Day we Worked all Year for…

by Sandy Swegel

Most of the time in the garden I’m analyzing and thinking about what to do. What has to be done before it’s too late (weed thistles before seed heads mature), What should be done today (harvest zucchini before it’s a full-sized bat), What to do this evening (do some small batch preserving or dehydrating),

What to do before tonight (have row cover ready for tomatoes if there’s a danger of frost), What to do before the end of the season (cover crops in), etc. etc.

But today here in zone 5 Boulder Colorado, everything in the garden is at its peak.  The nights are getting cooler so frost will kill things soon.  Leaves are just starting to turn and pumpkin stands are popping up on rural roads.  I realize how many great things are ripe in the garden.  This is the time when everything tastes best. Wow. Then I realized. This is it. This is the day I worked in the garden all year for. So I decided that just for today, I’m just going to appreciate the perfect bounty nature has given me and not try to improve it, process it, or save it for the future.

Just for today
I’m not going to do anything useful in the garden. Today is more a day for celebration. Like when you watch your kids graduate from school or get married,  today’s the day to feel proud and look at the accomplishment and bask in the success. Turmoil and trials, tears and laughter. In the end, it’s all worked out.

So here’s the plan just for today. (Or maybe just for all weekend.)

– Get the camera out and take some snapshots of the garden.  Get somebody else to take a picture of the gardener holding a basket of harvest.

– Pick some grapes one by one and just suck on them and spit the seeds out.  The flavor is perfect sweetness and tartness.

– Eat the most perfect tomato while it’s hot from the afternoon sun.

– Nibble on flowers of broccoli and arugula going to seed.

-Fix dinner by doing as little as possible to the food.  Heat up the grill to roast some vegetables:  small zucchini and patty pan squash, cloves of garlic, small red onions, tomatoes, a late-maturing ear of corn, an apple or pear. All on the grill with just some olive oil and salt.

– Chill the cucumbers and radish so they will be the perfect palate cleanser for the roasted vegetables.

– Spend the late afternoon looking at the garden as a work of art.  Just for today, golden leaves and even browning foliage are just color and texture. Not something to be cleaned up or composted.

Just for today, it’s all perfect.

The food is all good. The air is fresh. The sun is still warm. Wild asters are in full bloom. The sky is really really blue.  Today is the day we worked all year for. Today is the day the garden is just perfect. Nothing to add. Nothing to change. Nothing to do except enjoy and appreciate. And the gardener? Just for today, she’s perfect too.  She and Nature have had a great year spending time together.

Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Wildflower Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

 

Saving Tomato Seed

by Sandy Swegel

To get the best tomato plants, you need the best seed.  If you want to save your own tomato seeds, you need to select from the very best tomatoes this year.

Timing is critical. My friend Frank is a wonderful market farmer who has taught many of us a lot about organic growing.http://www.fatherearthorganicfarm.com/aboutus.htm. Yesterday, he emailed us an alert saying,

“So pick your best, most ripe (even to the point of over-ripe) tomatopepper, etc., and save and dry the seed. Choosing an over-ripe veggie will ensure the seed has fully developed. If you wait for a frost or freeze before you pick the fruit or veggie, most of the seed will not be developed enough to be viable next year. “

That makes perfect sense, but many years it’s not been until the first frost that I remember that summer is over and I’d better save some seed.  Although I’m not as bad as my friend who had planted a mixed pack of heirloom seeds and just realized she had served the last of the best tasting of those tomatoes in a sandwich to her daughter.  Dear daughter still tells the story of crazy mom running across the room to yank the sandwich out of her hand and claim the tomato for its seeds.

Once you’ve selected an overripe tomato to be next year’s seeds, be sure to taste the tomato to make sure it’s the perfect tomato.  A restaurant critic I know calls this the Platonic Tomato….the tomato that in its very form and essence defines what a tomato is.

You’ve probably read lots of online info about saving tomato seeds…you need to let them ferment a bit in a saucer before letting the seed dry and then save it in a cool dry place for next year.  Even though this is easy, I have to admit most the time I let the organic farmers who grow for us at BBB Seed just do all that work and I buy the seed in the cute packet in January.

That said, I’m off for my morning breakfast of slices of tomatoes with my morning egg from my backyard chickens with some melted Swiss cheese.  It doesn’t get better than this!!!

 

 

 

 

Best Heirloom Vegetables

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed Mixes

 

Plant Some Mustards

by Sandy Swegel

Did you have fungus problems in your garden this year? Maybe powdery mildew on the squash? Or fungal blight on the tomatoes? One very natural way to treat your soil (rather than try to kill the fungus once it’s on next years’ leaves) is to plant mustard plants. Mustard planted now or in early spring, and then cut up and turned into the soil, acts as a “biofumigant” that can kill the unhealthy fungus that has made a home in your soil.

A big plus of planting it now is that you might get cute little plants now that will be a lush cover crop for winter. Some mustards turn a pretty purple once it gets cold. Some plants will die if you are in a very cold or dry area, but often mustards manage to survive and put out yellow flowers in Spring that are excellent first foods for bees.

Another excellent reason to plant mustards now is that just a few spicy leaves go a long way to making a salad interesting. I especially like the curls of the Japanese mustard mizuna. Mizuna pairs beautifully with the richness of feta cheese, some red onions, and a sweeter vegetable like cucumber. Yesterday a friend served a wonderful mustard salad with the last red raspberries of the year.

 

 

Photo credit: foodandstyle.com/mizuna-and-cucumber-salad-with-red-onions-feta-tarragon-and-champagne-vinaigrette/
http://www.megaminifarm.com/gardening/growing-mustard-greens/

 

Pruning for Holiday Decorations

by Sandy Swegel

I’m a big fan of multi-tasking so it’s natural that whenever there’s a garden chore to be done, I think about whether it might solve some other task that needs doing. In the Spring I schedule perennial weed digging so the roots can be thrown to the chickens for yummy spring greens.  In Summer I arrange to cut grass when I need the clippings to mulch the vegetable beds.  In Fall I pick up leaves when I need to insulate rose bushes and perennials.  One of the tasks I still want to do this year is “rejuvenation pruning” on shrubs or simple pruning on shrubs and trees that are poking me in the eye when I walk by or blocking the sidewalk.

Rejuvenation pruning is a great way to keep all your shrubs looking great.  Every year you simply cut back to the ground 1/4th to 1/3rd of the oldest branches in your bushes.  The shrub will put out new growth next spring to fill in and you’ll always have a self-rejuvenating plant.

So the multi-tasking solution here is to do some needed pruning on plants that happen to also look good, when cut, to decorate the house.  Some of the plants I’ll be pruning for Thanksgiving or Christmas are:

Branches with Berries: Pyracantha (orange berries) or Hawthorn (red berries)…be careful about thorns Cotoneaster with red berries Coral berry or porcelain berry

Branches with an interesting structure: Harry Lauder or curly willow both make nice twisty branches.  Birch stems can have interesting bark.  Yellow and redtwig dogwoods add great color.  Even simple wild plum branches can be put in the center of a flower arrangement to hold the flowers up

Evergreens: Early winter is a great time to prune those Mugo pines or spruce trees that block the driveway. Juniper and cedar trimmings offer great aroma as well as evergreen color.

So once again, twice the work in half the time or something like that.  The bushes have old wood removed, the shrubs and trees have a better shape, and the house is decorated for free with dramatic gifts from nature, brought indoors.

Photo Credit: http://liveatvillages.com/blog/?p=334http://ikebanalessons.blogspot.com/2012/10/ikebana-class-1052012.html

 

Four Ways to Winter Compost

by Sandy Swegel

 

Now that winter is setting in, what do we do with all our great food scraps?  My first winter in Colorado I decided to have a worm bin under the kitchen sink.  It actually worked great but some of my city housemates thought it was disgusting having worms inside the house in the kitchen.  I tried a worm bin in the unfinished basement, but out of sight, out of mind meant the worms got forgotten and went dry or anaerobic.  I know people who have success with keeping the worm bin in an unheated garage.

Over the years I’ve come up with three other great ways to compost in winter.

Compost Bin in a Protected Sunny Spot.

I kept one of those square black plastic bins against the house on the sunny side.  It was just outside the kitchen door.  I started with the bin half full of partially finished compost that I had put lots of kitchen scraps in so there were lots of worms.  The center of the pile near the ground stayed thawed even when it was -10 degrees so the worms stayed alive.  The compost didn’t process a lot during winter, but on sunny days, it would crank up.  The only con of this was the year the raccoons discovered the bin with fresh food.

 

Hilled Compost under a Tarp.

The tarp keeps moisture and some heat in.  You just slip the food under the tarp.  Worms show up.  There’s the varmint issue and some mice do move in for the winter. Come Spring the pile is partially composted and giving the pile a good turn sets it to work.

Trenches in the Garden.

Our soil freezes solid in winter, so I can’t just dig the scraps into the ground.  One Fall I dug about an 18-inch trench where I was going to plant the tomatoes next year.  I left the soil in a pile on the far side of the trench.  All winter, I’d go with a bucket of scraps, pour them in the trench and pull frozen chunks of soil on top of the scraps.  Snow fell and watered and insulated the trenches.  Worms in the garden flocked to the food scraps in Spring and by May when I wanted to plant tomatoes, the tomato holes were full of mostly finished compost….which tomatoes LOVE.

What’s your plan?

 

Photo credit:

http://blog.gaiam.com/winter-composting-should-i-just-scrap-it/

http://calypsoftp.tumblr.com

 

 

Bring the Outdoors In

by Sandy Swegel

If early freezes haven’t killed all your plants, there’s still time to think about bringing some of your favorite plants indoors. You can bring in plants that thrive indoors to live on a sunny windowsill or you can bring in plants that will otherwise die and that you don’t want to lose, to overwinter in your cold garage.

First things First.

The first thing before any plant comes indoors is to make sure it doesn’t have bugs or diseases.  Fall often brings outbreaks of aphids so if your plant is full of aphids, treat the pests first:  hose off the bugs, or soak the entire plant, roots and soil and all in some soapy water. Once cleaned up, you can cut it to size if needed and bring it to a sunny spot.

– Watering Inside is Different –

My rosemary plant needs almost no supplemental water when it’s growing outside in the ground.  I’ve killed more than a couple of rosemary by assuming that’s the same conditions indoors.  The stress of heat and dry air of being indoors in a pot demands that I coddle the rosemary indoors a little and never ever let the soil dry out.

 

Saving plants in the dark in the garage.

Dahlias can be lifted. Pots of bulbs for spring can be planted and stored.  Even geraniums can be kept in moist peat and overwintered to bloom again next year. That’s what the Swiss do…they aren’t about to repurchase all those geraniums that hang from balconies every year.  If you live in a very dry climate, you may have to water the dormant plants every month so the soil doesn’t desiccate.

Plants that thrive indoors for me.

Geraniums – Continual color, almost no bugs, and forgiving if I forget to water. Great in sunny windows.

Angel wing begonia – I keep these in an indirect sun situation and water weekly.  They bloom and bloom all winter.

 Coleus – All the wild colored coleus and other foliage plants will do well in bright conditions if you keep snipping off the seed heads.  They can handle lower light but might get buggy.

Bougainvillea – is my favorite. Its natural bloom time is winter and it is a stellar performer. Messy though since it drops a zillion dead blossoms.

Hibiscus – So pretty, so ever blooming in a sunny spot.  So likely to get hundreds of aphids. Keep washing the aphids off and hibiscus will make you smile all year.  Some dogs love to eat the spent flowers….they’re edible so it doesn’t hurt them unless you’re using chemicals to treat the aphids.

An Herb Pot – Nothing beats fresh herbs for winter roasted vegetables and savory dishes. Rosemary, oregano, thyme all thrive with light.

Winter doesn’t have to be cold and gray….bring in some outdoor color and pizazz.

 

 

Photo credits

http://www.finegardening.com/plants/articles/rosemary-outdoors-and-in.aspx

 

http://www.bananas.org/f8/growing-flowers-indoors-12847.html