It’s Caterpillar Time!

by Sandy Swegel

Protect our friends. So many butterflies in our area have laid their eggs and their baby caterpillars are getting big and fat and chewing up plants. Be sure you know who your friends are before you squash any of them! You’ll love having the butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillars
I found these this week, not on the dozens of dill plants I planted for them but on a leftover parsley from last year. Next year, more parsley.

Monarch caterpillars
Also yellow stripey…they look a little more serious. I’m watching for these now. Quite a few eggs on the milkweed plants I let take over part of the back garden…so I’m hoping

Painted lady caterpillar
I almost never see these although I see lots of the butterflies. Skinny little black prickly caterpillars. Their host is the Malva family like thistles or hollyhocks.

Cabbage looper
Well, this is one you’re probably seeing a lot of right now. Cute little white moths fluttering everywhere. Bright green little loopers inching along devouring your cabbages. If you want cabbages, you have to treat these as pests.

 

 

Photocredit:
lagbchbutterflies.weebly.com
www.monarch-butterfly.com
wildones.org

 

Pill Bugs, Sow Bugs, Roly Polys, Doodle Bugs

by Sandy Swegel

Kids love roly polys. There is no end to the fun of having these cute little non-biting bugs roll up in their hands. So cute.

Teachers love roly polys too. It’s a great teaching opportunity for a critter that is everywhere and the kids can open the rolled-up bug and count legs. Teachers can build terrariums. Amazon sells roly poly playgrounds! It’s a great entertaining moment when the kids learn the roly polys eat their own poop. “Ewww” or “Cool” depending on the kid.

 

Gardeners aren’t so impressed. In a year with a lot of spring rain, as much of the U.S. just had, pill bugs are the bane of our existence. In one night, a whole row of young beans can be toppled. Lettuce seedlings are so riddled with holes there’s no hope of a crop.

This is not a time to be entertained by stories that roly polys are related to crawfish. The gardener needs to watch out for pillbug infestations and act quickly if you want to save your veggies.

While there are poisons to use, it’s fairly simple to discourage the little beasties.

One, Keep the top of the soil dry.

Two, Remove all the leaf litter or mulch.

If you still have a lot of pill bugs, there are two more advanced techniques:

Trap them with Beer (little containers of beer buried to soil level).

Vacuum them up. One friend with a really infested garden went out each night after dark with her shop vac and sucked up hundreds of them one wet spring. After a week or so the numbers were down although the neighbors were puzzled.

Good luck with the garden this year. All the extra spring rains inspired population explosions of critters.

 

 

Photo credits:

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t2380-pill-bugs

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Playing-with-Pill-Bugs-Lab-Pack-with-Pill-Bug-Information-Lab-Sheets-FREE-1328929

 

It’s dandelion season!

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.

 

Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.

 

Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-06-19/dandelion-dinner
www.123rf.com/photo_3133074_the-word-bee-spelt-in-dandelions-on-grass.html
www.arkive.org/american-goldfinch/carduelis-tristis/image-G137972.html

 

Cute food you gotta grow

by Sandy Swegel Oregano 952700-BBB

One of the new seeds we’re carrying this year ranks number one on my cute food meter and in my top three best and fastest cute appetizers. This wonder food? The little mini-sweet bell peppers sold in grocery stores in mixed bags of red, yellow and orange. They are wonderfully sweet and colorful. You can make an entire appetizer plate in less than five minutes if you stuff them with goat cheese or cream cheese.

Mini Sweet pepper appetizer recipe:
Slice peppers vertically. Fill with goat cheese, cream cheese or egg salad. Serve

 

 

Grilled Mini Sweet Pepper recipe.
Put peppers on a skewer. Coat with olive oil. 4 minutes each side of a preheated grill.

Are these easy and quick recipes or what?!

If you don’t have that much time, the mini-peppers are great for nibbling fresh just like cherry tomatoes or carrots. Chopped, they also make a plain lettuce salad beautifully colorful.

Fortunately, mini sweet peppers are also easy to grow. You need a warm growing season and you need to start the seeds indoors in most places, but peppers take up a very small footprint in the garden. They forgive you forgetting to water them. They love miserable hot sunny days. It’s easy to tell when they are ripe….you can see the bright red, yellow or orange colors from across the yard.

http://www.dadcooksdinner.com/2013/06/grilled-mini-sweet-peppers.html

 

 

 

 

Best Heirloom Vegetables

Grass and Wildflower Mixes

 

 

Gardening as Winter Looms

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like the first deeply freezing temperatures followed by a warm day to get people in Zone 5 areas asking if the gardening season is really over if they can still tackle their garden to do lists even though Thanksgiving is around the corner.  We have two conflicting impulses…the really good bulbs are on sale at our local garden center AND there’s an inch of snow and refrozen ice on the garden bed.

What does happen to our soil in winter? Once soil temperatures are in the forties, all the creatures and denizens of the soil put themselves to sleep through dormancy or through laying lots of eggs or spores that will hatch when temperatures are warmer.  Seeds stop germinating or else require weeks and weeks at low temperature to come up.  They’re smart…no point in germinating if sub-zero temperatures in another few weeks are going to kill young growth. So the soil goes into stasis until the temperatures warm.

Here are some of the questions I hear people asking as our soil begins its freeze:

Can I still plant bulbs? Can I transplant daylilies now? Yes, if you can pry the soil open and get water to the plant, there’s a good chance your bulbs will bloom and the daylily will be fine. Daffodils especially prefer getting planted earlier to have some time to make roots. Sometimes blooming is delayed the first season, but I have had good success in planting bulbs too late…especially if I throw in some compost in the hole and don’t plant too shallowly. I’ve also had years when the bulbs just ended up being frozen mush…so plant earlier next year.

Can I put in a cover crop? In Zone 5, it’s too late.  The temperatures are too cold for seed germination.  Put lots of mulched leaves over the soil to cover it.

Do I have to water? Ideally, you got the garden well watered sometime in Fall through rain or irrigation.  If not or if there are long dry sunny spells, you should winter water.

What do I do with my Fall greens that are freezing solid? Keep eating…they get better every day.  Spinach frozen at 8 am is delicious at room temperature.  If you cover greens with row cover or a cold frame or even throw big bags of leaves over the plants, you can keep harvesting easily through January or longer if you haven’t eaten them all.

Can I still use herbs? Yep, remember where your herbs are and you can put your hand through a foot of snow for snippings of intensely flavored frozen thyme or oregano leaves.

Can I still fertilize? You can, but the soil organisms won’t be processing it.  Organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal stay on the soil and will eventually be used when things warm up next Spring.

Is there something I should plant?  Winter hardy violas and pansies don’t mind a little snow and ice.  In a sunny location, they’ll keep throwing up blooms all winter long…a surprise of color in a white or brown winter-scape. Plant well hardened off plants and keep them watered.

For more details on the science of soil in winter, check out this article from the Bountea compost tea company. http://www.bountea.com/articles/lifeinwintersoil.html

Photo Credit:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/focusonflowers/year/;

Truffles – Orange Frost Fest

 

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

 

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 the 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 within 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 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 backyard.

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

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

 

Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

By Sandy Swegel

Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

The importance of seeds to life on Earth is growing in our consciousness. Have you noticed there are a number of new movies and other media about seeds? “Seeds” and “Sustainable Farming” are definitely “IN.” Many films are now available online for free and others are being screened in local communities.

Here are a few that I know about.

“Seeds of Time” 2013
SEEDS OF TIME follows agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler’s global journey to save the eroding foundation of our food supply in a new era of climate change. The reviews rave about great nature photography.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2962826/

“Open Sesame” 2013
This film tells the story of seeds by following the challenges and triumphs of some of their most tireless stewards and advocates.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2962826/

“Bitter Seeds” 2011
These are sad stories about farmers in India
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2306473/

“Harvest of Fear”
A Nova, Frontline PBC special about the GMO debates.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/

“The Vanishing Seeds Film Project.”
about seeds and deforestation in Africa.
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vanishing-Seeds-Film-Project/127333317308892

 

Here are a few of the TV Programs:

“Farm Kings” about farmers in Pittsburg
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2962826/

A Reality TV program “The Farm” is popular in Europe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Farm_(TV_series)

And the newest show, Chipotle has sponsored
“Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2852872/

Photo credit:http://www.mindful.org/the-mindful-society/activism/sprouting-seeds-of-compassion

 

How to Grow Baby Kale

by Sandy Swegel

Mixed baby kales are the current darlings of the produce section…and in my refrigerator are Lacinato Kale, Organic Lacinato Kale, and Organic Red Russian Kale. Several companies now sell thrice-washed baby kales that are ready to use in salads, stir-fries, soups or juices.  As cute as these greens are, their prices are pretty steep…we pay $4 for five ounces and then there’s all that wasteful packaging.

You can easily grow your own baby kales (or any mixed greens). Here’s how market farmers do it:

The key is succession planting. 

About every three weeks, you should seed a patch of kale seeds fairly close together in intensive planting style. 

First Cutting
Once the leaves are about 4 inches high, use scissors or knife to cut them off about an inch above soil level.

Second Cutting
Let the patch you just cut off continue to grow as regular kale and you can harvest again in a month.  Cut those off again about an inch above soil.  The second cutting isn’t as tender as the first but still great for braising.

Third Cutting
Let the patch keep growing for the third cutting of mature kale.  Fertilize lightly.  The third cutting usually leaves the plant depleted and it’s time to pull those plants and reseed.

Because you kept making a new planting of kale every three weeks in a different section of your garden, you will regularly have both the tender young greens and mature leaves.

It’s that easy. Each packet of kale has over 200 seeds so this is a really thrifty way to get a lot of kale.  You can plant one kind of kale at a time, or mix red russian and lacinto together for a colorful mixture.

Eat more Kale! Yum.

Photo Credit and More info:
http://sixburnersue.com/cooking-fresh-eating-green/2013/03/new-at-the-grocery-store-baby-kale-10-ways-to-use-it/
http://www.fastcoexist.com/3016068/the-largest-urban-orchard-in-north-america-is-now-open-for-business

 

 

Mommies Who Garden

by Sandy Swegel

So we were hanging out at BBB Seed amid giant sacks of seeds waiting to be shipped all over the US this week talking about how many different kinds of people bought our seeds and how they all gardened in their own unique way. One definite trend we see is a joyful kind of gardening practice by moms with young kids.  I spend the evening googling “mommies who garden” and found myself by moms all over the country who garden and who make time to write about it!

Naturally, there is no one “mommy” way to garden since there are moms who work outside the home, moms who homestead, moms who use the garden as a classroom and babysitter, and moms who garden as a personal respite from the chaos that being a mommy can be.  But I saw two trends I want my own inner gardener to reconnect with:

Mommies who garden:
Don’t worry so much about having the picture-perfect garden but about whether the garden is a source of joy and fun for the family.  There’s a lot of mulch to keep the weeds down because moms don’t have so much time for weeding.  There are signs of home-made art projects everywhere: hand-painted rocks, cute makeshift fences, bowls with puddles of mud.   The garden isn’t just growing vegetables or flowers. It’s having fun and growing kids.

Mommies (and Daddies) who garden:
are totally psyched about the fact that they have planted seeds and fed their family yummy wholesome food from their own garden. It isn’t just about saving money or growing organic food, it’s about all the love that went into the garden and the joy about having provided for the whole family and shared the harvest together.

So that’s our inspiration this week as Spring is struggling to return.  Let us create gardens that are fun and playful. And let’s grow some amazing food to share with family and friends and strangers.  Go, Mommies!

Photo Credit: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1
http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1