DREAMING OF SPRING

Rows of Vegetables in a Garden.

By Engrid Winslow

Yes, it is still very cold and very dark but nothing fills the heart in the dead of winter than planning for spring. What should you be doing now that will keep those spirits up? Plan your vegetable and herb garden!

1. First of all, take a look at those vegetable and herb beds and decide what and how many varieties you want to plant next year. Do you want to start those peppers a bit earlier this year? Did you plant tomatoes there last year – rotate tomatoes every 3 years if at all possible to avoid depleted soil and issues with many diseases. What do you want to grow more of this year? Anything you want to try that’s new? What did you and your family really love? Want more tomatoes or basil for pesto or tomato sauce? [4 Tips For Keeping Your Basil Productive and Pesto Secrets] Were there any epic fails? Maybe it’s time to move on to buy those at your local Farmer’s Market and devote the precious real estate to something else.

2. Speaking of soil, this is a great time to start adding mushroom compost in a nice thick layer that can work its way into the soil during late winter freeze and thaw cycles and heavy periods of moisture. You can also cover the compost with a layer of seed-free straw that was grown organically.

3. Peruse the seed catalogs and websites. It is so fun to read those descriptions and they all sound wonderful but be aware of your space and climate when choosing seeds. Take stock of any seed that you saved from last year and organize and assess any leftover seed packets. Seed viability goes down over time. Onions, corn, parsnips, parsley and leeks should be refreshed every year, but tomatoes and lettuce can go 4-6 years and still germinate. Check out these charts if you have questions: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html/ and http://ottawahort.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Seed-Viability-Times.pdf/

4. Gather up your seed starting supplies and order more if needed. Dust off those grow lights, check the heat mats and make sure they still work and clean any seed starting containers that you plan to re-use with a weak bleach solution. Again, assess what worked and what didn’t in prior years. Did lettuce seeds that were direct-sown in the garden elude you? Try starting them indoors under a plastic dome which helps retain moisture until they are fully germinated.

5. Did friends and neighbors share anything they learned with you? Maybe it’s time to get everyone together for a Happy Hour, swap saved seeds and talk about their gardening experiences.

6. Review past blogs, books and articles that you might have saved for ideas, tips and new information. Here’s a good place to start: Care and Planting of Seedlings, Rules You Can’t Break, and Two Ways To Guarantee Your Seeds Grow

 

Decorating with Wildflowers

Summer is upon us and the wildflowers you planted are in full bloom and you have enough to spare, maybe, for a bouquet for your table!

Wildflowers are great candidates for cut flower arrangements.  Blooms can be freely cut without fear of ruining the manicured look of the typical flower bed and arrangements can be just as free and wild as the components.  Make a big multicolored arrangement with a relaxed informal design that will really light up your room and give the feel of walking through a meadow.  The components of your design will necessarily reflect the seasonal bloom times.  Try arranging flowers along with interesting textures of grasses, ferns or branches from bushes or trees.  Seed pods and even bird’s nests make great accents.  The small delicate size of most wildflowers allows for groupings of similar flowers together with open spaces.  Look for colors that compliment each other and a variety of textures.

 

Favorite flowers for bouquets are Bachelor’s Buttons in shades of pink and blue, spikey Purple Coneflower, fluffy towers of lavender Lupine, tall stalks of blue Larkspur, and the striking yellows of Black-eyed Susan and Gloriosa Daisy.  Think about including the multicolored warm hues of the Firewheel Gaillardia, native annual Sunflowers, and Plains Coreopsis.  Tall stalks of the brilliant white Shasta Daisy, the fuzzy spikes of Liatris or tall stalks of ferny-leafed Cosmos add eye-catching interest. Poppies, although brilliantly tempting, don’t have a very long vase life.  Their delicate petals tend to fall off with just a touch. Use the bobbing, white heads of annual Baby’s Breath to fill in the spaces and unite all components.  Lastly, add a few tall grass tassels reminiscent of meadows and forest glens.

Plan to cut your flowers for arranging in the morning hours.  This is when the plants have taken up the most water and are not in work mode of photosynthesis.  Choose the freshest flowers, even choosing some that are just beginning to open up, to ensure that your arrangements will last as long as possible.  Take a clean bucket, filled with 6” or so of warm water, out to the wildflower patch and cut the stems as long as possible on an angle with very sharp scissors or knife.  This will ensure that the flower stem will be able to take up water and nutrients for the longest time possible.  Any vessel can serve as a vase or container for displaying your bouquet.  Be creative, even a basket will work with a smaller cup or bowl inside that can hold water.  Keep in mind the scent of your flowers.  Some of those beautiful flowers in the wild may have a very strong or unpleasant scent when in a closed room.  Wildflowers with milky sap, such as poppies, release the sap into the water and stop the water uptake of the other flowers.  The stems can be sealed shut by holding a lit match to the cut end of each stem until the stem turns black.

Even a ‘wild’ flower arrangement starts with some basic arranging steps.

First, start with the base layer.  This can be some general greenery or the flowers that will provide the bulk of the contents.  Make sure to remove all vegetation that will be below the water level which would rot and increase the bacteria in the water and decrease the life of the arrangement.

Next, add the other flower choices to your display, working with one flower species at a time, placing them at differing angles and directions. Add the larger focal flowers in odd numbers, such as 1 very tall central flower or 3 or 5 large eye catchers.

Then, balance and fill holes with baby’s breath or greenery and last, add in odd numbers, the tall textural grasses or seed pods. Check the water level and add water daily with 1 tsp of household bleach per quart to inhibit bacteria growth.  You can revive wilted flowers by re-cutting the stem end and placing in hot water.

Create an arrangement for any room of the house or porch or even your favorite reading nook.  Remember to balance the size of the arrangement with the room and use, putting low arrangements on the dining table.  Don’t be afraid to bring the bounty of your own wildflower meadow into your home and feel free to upload a picture of your arrangement to our website!

 

 

BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds

 

All About Gourds

by Heather Stone

Photo of mixed gourds.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – Couleur

 

Fall is here and pumpkins and gourds can be found in abundance. From the farm stand to the local grocery store, these colorful and sometimes funny shaped fruits are part of the season. But, did you know that gourds are one of the oldest cultivated plants? Originally grown to make storage vessels and utensils, nowadays we largely use them for decoration. A member of the Cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash and melon, gourds grow on large, vigorous vines that can be trained along fences or up trellises.

 

Humans around the world have utilized gourds for a very long time for a variety of purposes. Most commonly, gourds were used for storage containers, utensils, dippers and dishes. Gourds were also used for creating musical instruments such as shakers, maracas, drums and various stringed instruments resembling a banjo. Some of the earliest guitars and violins in the United States were made from gourds by African slaves.

 

There are three types of gourds:

  • Cucurbita pepo are the colorful little ornamental gourds that make good decorations.
  • Lagenaria siceraria are the hard-shelled gourds . Varieties include the Speckled swan gourds, bottle gourds, dipper gourds, birdhouse gourds and powderhorn gourds. Hard-shelled gourds have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers, utensils and drinking vessels.
  • Luffa aegyptiaca is the well-known bath sponge. When dry, the outer shell is scraped off and the inner fiber is used as a sponge.

 

Gourds are easy to grow and come in a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes. Sow the seeds in a sunny location after all chance of frost has passed. Gourds will grow in almost any soil and under most conditions. Ideally, train the vines up a trellis or fence to keep the fruits off the ground while ripening and drying.  Most gourds reach maturity in 90-150 days. Harvest after the shells harden by cutting the fruits from the vines with 1-2 inches of stem attached. Cure them for a week in a warm, dry location with good air circulation.

Photo of dried gourds made into baskets.

photo courtesy of pixabay – mikegoad

To fully dry your gourds for crafting:

 

  • Place gourds in a warm, dark spot.
  • Regularly turn your gourds so air reaches all sides.
  • When you can hear the seeds rattle inside your gourd, it is fully dry and ready for use.
  • This drying period can take several weeks depending on the variety and size of the gourd.

 

You can create a number of things from your homegrown gourds.

 

Here’s the how-to for turning that birdhouse gourd into a birdhouse.

Want to make a bowl or two? Here’s a great tutorial.

Sources: http://indianagourdsociety.org/education/Gourds_In_American_History_2010.pdf

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/decorative-gourds-57941.html

https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/gourds-types-gourds-growing-gourds-curing-gourds

 

8 Edible Flowers to Spice Up Your Next Meal

Sign for edible flowers.

by Sam Doll

What could be more special than having a garden full of beautiful blossoms?

How about a plate full of them too! Here are our 8 favorite edible blossoms.

  1. Borage

Borage, or Starflower, is a delightful herb that has been in use since ancient Greece. The blossoms and leaves are both edible and have a pleasant, cucumber-like flavor.

The flowers are great in salads, soups, sandwiches, and drinks! We love using borage blossoms in a classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail or just infused in water with lemon!

  1. Lavender

This classic, sweet-scented bloom is excellent in sweet and savory dishes. When roasting meats, replace rosemary with lavener to give your dish a slight floral aroma. You can also add it to any desert to create an elegant twist on classic dishes. Try this Lemon-Lavender Pound Cake or use it in jam to create layers of flavors!

Unless you are using it as a garnish, we recommend you transform it by either infusing it into a liquid, like syrup, or grinding it into a sugar mixture so your food doesn’t have an unpleasant texture from the fibrous elements of the plant

Make sure you are using English Lavender. French and ornamental lavenders can have unpleasant flavors and higher levels or camphor, which can make you sick in large quantities. Also, unless you are growing it yourself, make sure it is labeled as “culinary lavender” to make sure there are no unwanted additives or toxins.

  1. Squash Blossoms

These classic summer treats can be enjoyed into early fall, depending on how well your squash are doing. Tender and delicate, these beautiful orange blossoms taste mildly like the squash they will produce.

If you are growing them yourself, make sure to only harvest the male blossoms, so you can leave all the female blossoms to grow into squash.

Here is a great guide on how to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms.

These blossoms are great stuffed, fried, or atop pizza and frittatas!

  1. Sage

Much more delicate than the leafy parts of the plant, sage blossoms can add a light, savory element to your dish. Usually too delicate to hold up to much cooking, sage blossoms do best when used raw. Garnish your dish with them or use them in a sage blossom pesto to highlight their flavor

  1. Chives

Like most alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, etc.), chive blossoms can add an intense oniony flavor to any dish. While they can be used the same as the green parts of the chive plant, we love to infuse them into rice vinegar to create a beautiful, pink onion vinegar!

  1. Rose

Rose petals are a classic way to add beauty and floral elements to a dish. Unlike a lot of blossoms, rose can hold up to strong flavors like cinnamon, coriander, and turmeric as well as more clean flavors like apple and cucumber. We love using rose petals to make the classic Indian beverage, Rose Milk.

 

  1. Bee Balm (Monarda)

This wildflower is member of the mint family native to North America. The leaves and petals are both edible and have a flavor that is a mix between peppermint, sage, and oregano.

The leaves can be dried and used to make an herbal tea that tastes similar to Earl Grey or the leaves and petals can be used fresh in a salad to add a bright, fresh element

  1. Calendula, AKA Pot Marigold

These beautiful, yellow blooms are excellent fresh and can range in flavor from peppery, tangy, bitter, and spicy. Most closely resembling the flavor of saffron, the petals can be used fresh to add a bit of life to any dish. The petals can also add a bright flavor to soup, eggs, and spreads.

 

 

Fall Blooming Plants for Pollinators

Photo of a honey bee on a purple aster bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – 1735564

by Heather Stone

As the days become shorter and the nights cooler and the season shifts from summer to fall many of us can find our gardens to be a little lackluster. Not much is blooming after the abundance of color throughout the spring and summer.

 

This is where fall blooming plants come in. There are many native and non-native plants that bloom in late summer and fall that can keep your garden filled with color.

 

But, autumn-blooming plants don’t just benefit the gardener. As the bountiful blossoms of spring and summer decrease, it is important to provide pollinators with plenty of food sources as they begin to prepare for winter. Hummingbirds and butterflies will need plenty to eat before heading south and the honeybees and native bees need to gather as much pollen and nectar as possible to create winter food stores.

 

Here is a list of fall blooming plants that make great additions to the garden.

 

Perennials:

  1. Asters-there are various species of asters native to different parts of North America. Most plants have flowers in shades of white, blue, purple and pink. They are drought tolerant, grow to around 2-3’ and do best in full sun to part shade. Attractive to various species of bees, including bumblebees and leafcutter bees. Some species help fuel monarch butterfly migration.Photo of purple aster blooms.
  2. Black-Eyed Susan-the brilliant yellow flowers of Black-eyed Susan are long blooming and loved by both bees and birds.
  3. Blanket Flower– this tough plant needs little water, blooms a long time and it’s orange, red and yellow flowers are beautiful. Of course, the pollinators love it too!

Want to know more about the pollinators that visit blanket flower? Check out this link: https://bit.ly/2BvEmj4

  1. Liatris-the tall pinkish-purple flower spikes bloom late summer and attract a plethora of bees and butterflies.
  2. Goldenrod– when the goldenrod starts to bloom I know fall is just around the corner. There are a variety of native goldenrods all being easy to grow, drought tolerant and excellent bee plants.
  3. Purple Coneflower– this long-lived perennial comes to life in late summer with a striking display of large purple flowers and attracts a variety of bees and butterflies.Photo of honey bee on purple coneflower bloom.
  4. Garlic Chives- when the white star-shaped flowers of garlic chives start to bloom they are abuzz with so many bees you won’t believe your eyes. They are a late season nectar source for butterflies too.

Photo of the white blooms of garlic chive.

Annuals:

These flowers have been working hard in the garden all summer and will continue to bloom until the first frost strikes.

  1. Cosmos– these drought-tolerant flowers come in shades of pink, white and red and will begin to bloom in late summer and last well into fall.
  2. Cleome-with ample nectar stores, the pink to lavender flowers of this western native are loved by bees and butterflies.
  3. Calendula-this long-time garden favorite loves the cooler weather of fall and its flowers of yellow, orange and gold add a great splash of color to the garden.
  4. Borage– the long-blooming, blue, star-shaped flowers are adored by the bees.

    Single blue Borage bloom.

    Photo courtesy of Pixabay virginie-I

Check out this blog post about borage- https://bit.ly/2MtXMKv

  1. Mexican Sunflower– loved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds the vibrant orange blooms will last until frost.
  2. Marigolds– this garden staple will add a blast of color to your border and looks great in pots.
  3. Sunflowers-nothing is more cheerful than a sunflower and the bees, butterflies and birds adore them.
  4. Zinnias– with blooms in every color of the rainbow these long-lasting flowers are a great addition to the garden and the bees love them.
  5. Pincushion Flower– both the perennial and annual varieties of the pincushion flower produce a sweet fragrance that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Regular deadheading of the spent blossoms will keep these beauties blooming all season long.
 

The Joy of Spinach

by Engrid WinslowSpinach, Organic Bloomsdale

There are two types of spinach available for eating:  flat leaf spinach is a smooth-leaved variety that is usually canned or frozen. Most of what gardeners grow is the sweeter savoy or curly leafed spinach. The leaves are wrinkled and are the ones used in pre-packaged spinach at the grocery store.  It is easy to start from seed, prefers cool temperatures and can be harvested as baby spinach or left to grow larger. There are hybrids that can tolerate more heat and combine the smooth and savoy-type leaf.

Does Spinach have other things going for it? Yes and YES! Spinach is high in carotenoids, which the body can turn into vitamin A. It packs a powerful punch of other vitamins and minerals including vitamins C, B6, B9, K1 and E, folic acid, calcium, potassium and magnesium.  It is also an excellent source of fiber and contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for eye health. Not to mention that spinach contains high amounts of nitrates, which may help regulate blood pressure levels. There are even studies showing that the antioxidants and other compounds in Spinach may suppress the growth of human cancer cells.

Best of all, Spinach is good raw and cooked.  There are so many ways to use it that it is almost miraculous. If someone says they don’t like Spinach, try sneaking it into meatloaf. In fact, Spinach can be “hidden” in soups, stews, scrambled eggs, quiche, lasagna, dips and smoothies.  It can stand alone when creamed, sautéed or made into a salad or swapped out for half of the basil to make a delicious pesto. It plays well with pasta, fruit such as strawberries, and cheese.  Endless possibilities.  Here are two recipes – one for the Spinach “lovers” and one for the (think they are) “haters”.

 

Puglia Sautéed Spinach

This recipe hails from Southern Italy where all manner of greens are very popular.  You can substitute Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards or even Chicory.  You can pile it on top of polenta, sip some Italian White wine, close your eyes and practice your Italian accent.

4 TBL olive oil                                                                     1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic                                                  14 oz. sliced Cremini mushrooms

10 oz. Spinach                                                                    ½ cup Pinot Grigio or other Italian White wine *

Salt and pepper                                                                   2 TBL Balsamic Vinegar

Fresh Italian parsley, Chopped

 

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in the oil until they soften and caramelize. Add the mushrooms, and fry for about 3 to 4 minutes. Toss in the spinach, and sauté stirring constantly until spinach is wilted.

Add the vinegar, stirring constantly until it is absorbed, then stir in the white wine. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until the wine has almost completely absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

*(or substitute vegetable or chicken stock, if desired)

 

VEGETABLE FRITTATA

¼ cup olive oil                                                                1 lb. potatoes*, cooked and sliced

1 small onion, very thinly sliced                                  1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly

1 clove minced garlic                                                      2 cups baby spinach

½ tsp. Salt                                                                        8 eggs, beaten

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper                                        3 TBL cubed butter

2 TBL thinly sliced basil

Turn on broiler. Heat oil in an ovenproof 12″ non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook garlic, pepper, and onion until soft, 3–4 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Stir in sliced potatoes, the butter, salt, and pepper. Stir in half the basil and the eggs and reduce heat to medium; cook until golden on the bottom, 8–10 minutes. Broil until set and golden on top, about 3 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil.

*use any small, waxy fleshed potato – not baking potatoes

 

GARDEN DESIGN 101

By Engrid WinslowPhoto of a beautiful garden path with flowers by Michael Drummond.

There are lots of professional landscape designers out there who can help you put together beautiful flower beds but most of us are on a budget that won’t accommodate such wonderful swaths of elegant beds.  So, for the rest of us, here are a few basics to consider when planning your spaces for lots of color for as long as possible.

Tall in Back, Short in Front

This is one of the three basic rules in landscape design that you should consider when deciding what to plant where.  This stems from the traditional English Cottage Garden look with Hollyhocks, tall grasses and climbing roses in the back and shorter flowers, (such as poppies) in the middles and even shorter ones (think thyme or even trailing plants like nasturtium),  closer to the front.

Color Combinations

Get out that school color wheel for some great ideas of combinations that are either across or next to each other. Some personal favorites are the unexpected ones, like orange and purple next to each other. If you prefer pastels, then pinks and pale blues and yellows are the way to go. Don’t neglect white because you don’t think that it is a real color. It highlights and adds accent next to some colors (such as red)  and adds softness to blues and pinks.

Bloom Time

If you want color in your flower beds all year long you have to think about when they bloom.  Some of the earliest flowers can be provided by Hellebores, Snowdrops, Crocus, Iris and early Daffodils (there are a huge range of choices in bulbs from Daffodils that will begin in early March and continue into late April and the same goes for some of the more “wild” or “species tulips”)  and the later ones being Sunflowers, asters and repeating roses.  There are options for all season bloomers such as pincushion flowers and the Frikartii Asters.  In the heat of July you can depend on Hummingbird Mint, Coneflowers, and Rudbeckia to provide cheerful blooms. Don’t forget to include grasses which can also range in the times when their inflorescences are at their peak depending on whether they are cool or warm season “bloomers”.  Grasses also create interest in the garden during the winter and provide food for small birds.

A Couple of Other Suggestions

  1. Consider planting in groups of odd numbers rather than just one plant which creates swaths and clumps of color.
  2. Repeat some of these groups several times in several places throughout the garden to give a sense of continuity.
  3. Use a larger perennial, some half-buried rocks or a shrub to anchor the scene.
  4. Add some annual flowers such as sunflowers, zinnias and annual poppies which bloom for a long time in bright, vibrant colors.
 

Square Foot Gardening

by Greta Dupuis

Do you have limited space to grow your vegetables in?  Small yard, only one raised bed, or even just containers on a porch or deck?  Way back when (1981, in fact), PBS ran a series of shows with Mel Bartholomew which showcased how he divided a 12-foot x 12-foot plot of raised or in-ground vegetable gardens into squares. There were many different possibilities for the size of these areas by making some of the squares either larger or smaller but the basic idea was to figure out how much room was needed for each type of plant and to adjust the squares accordingly. The cover of the book, "All new Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. For example, you might want more tomatoes and less lettuce or vice versa and would change the sizes of the squares to your personal preference. Some plants can be planted closer together which results in a more dense area of vegetables that maximizes space. The net result from gardening in this manner showed that the veggies were less expensive, used less water, took up less space, used fewer seeds and required less work on the gardener’s part as the squares were easier to reach and did not need as much weeding.  All in all, for gardeners with limited space, consider dividing your veggie beds into sections with your family’s favorites as you dream of all of those seed choices and plan your 2018 garden. The original book that started the revolution is still in print and there are several others with additional tips and tricks including one just for gardening in containers.