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.

GARDEN DESIGN 101

By Engrid Winslow

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.  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.

FarmHer

By Sandy Swegel

 

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 online 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/

A New Movie About Art and Gardens

Opening in independent theaters this week is a wonderful “gallery film” The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism. It is opening across the US and the U.K. beginning March 26th, so check out your local listings right away. Here’s the description of the film written by its producers more artistically than I can recreate:

“Taking its lead from French artists like Renoir and Monet, the American impressionist movement followed its own path which over a forty-year period reveals as much about America as a nation as it does about its art as a creative powerhouse. It’s a story closely tied to a love of gardens and a desire to preserve nature in a rapidly urbanizing nation. Traveling to studios, gardens and iconic locations throughout the United States, UK and France, this mesmerizing film is a feast for the eyes.”

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cfvWwluoB9E

You can find a screening near you here: http://www.exhibitiononscreen.com/en-uk/find-a-screening?cmbCountry=United+States#

ILLITERATE GARDEN

By: Sandy Swegel

“My garden is illiterate.  It didn’t read the book about what it can’t do.”

That was the wisecracking opening remark at a gardening talk I attended recently.  We all laughed and during the break we started talking about some of the stupidest plants we know.

Looking at wild plants, we laughed about orchids native to cold, arid Colorado.  But the most illiterate plants are the ones we humans planted because we didn’t know better.

The plants that don’t know they can’t survive in Zone 5.

Pineapple sage don’t you know anything? You like living in semi-tropics.  What are you doing living another year in the Colorado clay soil iris garden with 70 mph winds?

The plants that don’t know that being an annual means can’t live longer than one year.

Yep Verbena bonariensis I’m talking about you.  The books say you are an annual but I’ve watched you survive for three years in a row.  Ditto snapdragons…I have trees younger than you.

Plants that don’t know they are supposed to be invasive.

I’m waiting for you, bamboo. Any day now you’re supposed to fill in that entire border between my yard and my neighbor’s ugly garage.  Sure, four years ago I saw one runner into the grass…but what have you done lately?

Codependent plants.

These are the plants that not only don’t know they can’t survive but also put up with terrible abuse.  Don’t be sweet-talking me Japanese Maple.  You know who you are.  You croaked all those times I planted you in protected areas and nurtured you with extra mulch in winter and water in summer.  But the year I put you, a tree, in a pot with six other plants on a third-floor deck without protection from the cold and without winter watering…that’s the year you survive?

If it were up to humans, we’d never have surprises in the garden or tulips blooming in July or scabiosa blooming in December literally under the snow.  Or the gallardia that blooms in my driveway. We won’t even mention the weed that seeded and bloomed in my truck bumper the December I was driving around Louisiana.

What a relief that our plants are so darn illiterate.

 

Photocredits:

fullycoolpix.blogspot.com/2014/08/plants-live-everywhere.html

www.boredpanda.com/plants-flowers-versus-concrete-asphalt-pavement/

 

The Windy Garden

By: Sandy Swegel

This could be a perfectly beautiful early Spring. We’ve had a week of warm sunny weather that is waking up the daffodils and tulips. Birds are flitting about and energetically singing out mating calls. It’s a joyful break from dark winter days. But then there’s the wind. Chinook winds. Or as they were called the year I lived in the Alps, “scheiss foen.” Everyone understood if the foen had arrived that you could be in a foul mood because of the irritability and headaches from the air pressure changes these mountain-made winds caused.

Wind can have devastating effects on a garden. Sure the strong winds can break stems and tree branches, but the greatest stressors comes from the drying effects of the winds. Plants close their stomata (leaf pores) to reduce water loss, but that slows the plants’ ability to grow. The winds desiccate the plant tissue and dry out the top inches of the soil meaning the plants need more water. Even plants under snow cover can get very drought stressed because the winds evaporate the snow before it can melt.

If it’s going to be a windy season, I make a few mental changes in my garden plans. Here’s things to consider if you have a windy garden:

Use more drought tolerant plants.
Increase your watering after the winds die down.
Grow shorter plants.
Grow plants like lavender with thinner leaves that won’t desiccate so easily.
Plant some tall ornamental grasses through the flower garden. They look beautiful in the wind and provide some wind break protection.
Plant evergreens as windbreaks.
Consider a garden wall.

And take an aspirin for your sinus headache.

 

Photocredits:

http://clarenbridgegardencentre.ie/
Top Tips for Windy Gardens
http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/ne/ne-galerie-gallery-2.aspx?a=1&photo=%7Bdfae32e8-4d1e-47e4-a909-08c9ea68dd13%7D

Crevice Gardens

By: Sandy Swegel

Some crevice gardens look like regular gardens where flowering plants cover all the rocks. Others look more like rocky alpine mountainsides. The Denver Botanic Gardens latest crevice gardens combine sculptural placement of the rocks with native plants.

So keep at eye out for a crevice garden near you. Botanic Gardens around the world are investing millions of dollars installing crevice gardens that highlight the art of stone and alpine gardens, and that provide us with ideas of how we will keep growing beautiful plants and flowers even as global warming reduces our available water in some places.

 

 

Photo credits :
www.nargs.org
www.rockstarplants.com/
www.architectureartdesigns.com/18-effective-ideas-how-to-make-small-outdoor-seating-area/
www.yampariverbotanicpark.org/gardens.php

Give your House Plants a Spa Day

By: Sandy Swegel

Right about this time of year is when your indoor plants are all stressed out. It’s been months of winter and dry heated air. Outdoors in nature, wild plants are enjoying spring rains that clean off their leaves and freshen their soil.

Once again, we plant lovers know to mimic nature if we want our plant friends to thrive in the odd conditions we try to grow them in. Growing plants under a roof without moving air or overhead moisture is definitely odd.

The plants I’m wintering over are the most stressed. The hibiscus has aphids. White fly that I thought I eradicated shows up in the sunroom. Scale is appearing on the underside of waxy leaves.

Time for a Spa Day.

Take any plants that are moveable and bring them into your shower. Don’t forget a good drain catch…you don’t need perlite in your sewer pipes. Bring in the non-buggy plants first. You don’t need to spread pests and disease. Clean off dead or diseased leaves and give the whole plant a good overhead shower. Use the hand sprayer to get the underside of leaves.

Pretend you are a spring thunderstorm and really soak the soil so that water runs out the bottom taking away some of the built up salts. Use soapy water to treat any soft-bodied pests. Use your fingernail or a Q-tip with alcohol to remove scale sacs.

After the bathing and dripping dry, add a layer of clean compost — earthworm castings work great. Then douse the soil with a good natural liquid fertilizer—I like seaweed based fertilizers because then everything smells ocean fresh.

Your plants will be grateful for their Spa Day and perk right up from all that moisture and a good meal.

Of course, you might need your own Spa Day after you finish cleaning up the mess. But we all enjoy a good Spring shower.

 

Photos:
www.ourhouseplants.com/guides/cleaning-your-plants
www.thesmallgarden.com.au/blogpages/how-to-holiday-proof-your-garden-this-summer

 

Take a Listening Walk

By: Sandy Swegel

The skies were gray this morning.  The landscape was brown and dead.  I kept looking for Spring but at best there were just the green tips of bulbs appearing among dead leaves. Maybe the buds were swelling on trees.  It was cold, but it still felt like Spring.  How could that be?

The loud demanding chirping of some birds interrupted my thoughts and I realized I could HEAR Spring. So I took a walk to a nearby pond and while I couldn’t really see Spring…the pond scenery was just as brown as my yard was…but now I knew…nature is waking up.

I could hear the male birds in rapt mating calls…doing their best to make some new baby birds.  Lots of mating and birthing going on in Spring.  I could hear some tiny chirps that I think were baby sparrows or finches.  There was rustling in the winter leaf debris.  I couldn’t see anything but I could guess there were baby caterpillars and insects under there that the birds were scratching to find.  I suspect there were little mice in there too.  Which meant that snakes were waking up and slithering in the grasses.

There wasn’t much to see, but I could hear nature erupting in new life. Spring is noisy.   A nature walk in January is pretty quiet except for some chickadees and perhaps large animals running off, startled by a human invading their wild territory.  But Spring makes an absolute racket.  Even the water is noisy.  A week of warm weather had melted ice and brooks were babbling again.

Very early Spring is subtle.  I know from the sounds that new life is starting.  But it’s a slow lazy waking up.  Snow is coming later in the week and I’m reminded of the adage that March is the snowiest month.

The avid gardener has just a few tasks in early Spring.  One is to enjoy nature without having to work to weed or control it.  Another is to do some pruning while the trees and shrubs are still dormant.  But after a cold morning walk, the best thing this gardener can do is go inside and start some more seeds under the lights.  Outside, Mother Nature can call the shots.  Inside, I’m getting a head start on all those seeds that I want to grow now!

Photo credits:

cuddlesandmuddles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/world-book-day-activities-taking-a-listening-walk/

www.twrcwildlifecenter.org/volunteer/baby-bird-program/