LAB GIRL

By:  Sandy SwegelClose-up photo of Calendula seeds.

 

Hope Jahren has helped me fall even more deeply with seeds and the natural world this week. Our book group just started to read her best selling book “Lab Girl.” Lab Girl is like two books in one….a marvelous account of her life as a woman in science AND a romantic ode to nature that waxes poetic about seeds and trees and vines that want to climb.

Here’s her excerpt about seeds:

“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow.

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.”

I love seeds. I love to walk up and down the aisles of the BBB Seed warehouse and touch the hundreds of thousands of seeds that are there, full of potential. To imagine just a single packet grown out and burst into bloom. Hope Jahren has given me yet another vision: all those seeds there. Alive. As alive as the trees outdoors. Alive and waiting. Waiting patiently and calmly.Close-up photo of the seeds in BBB Seed's Honey Source Mix.

 

 

Photocredits:

www.opensesamemovie/heirloom-seeds-extinction/

 

New Agricultural Products

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener I often say “Thank God.” The growing legality of growing marijuana has meant a proliferation of stores that sell amazing tools that make gardening easier and cheaper. Despite living in Colorado, I’ve never been interested in smoking pot. Even as a decadent college student I thought “Why smoke when you can drink?” I helped a friend trim some of her high end organic marijuana grown outside and declined the offer for some of the product. But I am endlessly interested in marijuana growing techniques. I have three products that might not have been available if it weren’t for the early mmj growers.

My EZ Clone aeroponic plant propagator.
These used to cost $400 but I got mine for $50 off of craigslist from a guy in a souped-up muscle car who had had dreams of getting rich by growing clones but lost interest when that didn’t happen overnight. Now you can buy new cloners for much less than $100 from Amazon or Home Depot if you aren’t brave enough to venture into a grow shop. These simple machines spray warm mist on the roots of cuttings and cause hardwood and softwood cuttings to grow roots in a very short time—days! This is my favorite way to root shrubs, tomatoes, small fruit plants and even roses. Should work great for trees too. I can have well-rooted plants in just a couple of weeks.

My LED grow light.
The first indoor light I tried were the big sodium ones that provided enough light to take indoor plants all the way to bloom. That was amazing but also an energy hog. This year for indoor seed starting, I’m loving my Costco LED shop light that is half the size of my old shop lights, lightweight, and uses almost no electricity.

 

My liquid all natural growing supplements.
I still rely on kelp and Superthrive as growth stimulants, but the organic, natural fertilizer concentrates produce some of the best growth and production I’ve seen, especially in tomatoes. Lots of research went into getting ideal growth out of marijuana plants. Marijuana and tomatoes are quite similar in plant needs. If you can grow one, you can grow the other.

There’s nothing like old fashioned common sense for growing using compost and time-honored natural techniques. But a few high-tech products can make your garden spectacular.

 

Photo Credits:

https://bigbudsguide/best-nutrients-cannabis/

 

 

Eat More Pie

by Sandy Swegel

Now that’s the kind of advice I like to hear from a scientific study.

Yesterday someone served me some organic “wild” blueberries (Woodstock brand, frozen) and I was immediately smitten with the intensely delicious flavor of these half-size berries.  I’ve been eating more blueberries lately for health reasons…good antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, protective against diabetes and cardiovascular problems but I like the idea of healthy and intensely flavored.

Since I’m still reading James Wong’s Grow for Flavor book, I wondered what he said about blueberries.  I could already guess that they shouldn’t be over-watered, but what other variables might there be?

 

So here’s James Wong’s  scoop on blueberries:

The amount of anthocyanins (the good antioxidants in blue red and purple food) can vary dramatically from plant to plant, and from growing conditions, and from food preparations.

*Some cultivars like Rubel have more antioxidants…but we can only control for that if we grow them ourselves or know the grower.

*Growing methods make a difference…research shows that blueberries grown organically without additional fertilizer can have twice as many anthocyanins.

*And finally there’s food preparation.  Raw blueberries are amazingly healthy for you but their antioxidant levels double when they are lightly cooked.  As in pie!!!!

So the only sane conclusion we can reach is Eat More (Organic) Blueberry Pie!

 

 

 

Photo credits

http://www.jameswong.co.uk/blueberries/4588105999

 

Drought again?!

by Sandy Swegel

Unseasonably warm weather means I finally had time to get some more bulbs planted this week.  It has been warm and sunny this fall but I didn’t fully realize how drought had snuck up on us until I went to dig the deep holes for the daffodils.  In decent garden soil that has had regular if modest irrigation all year, the soil below six inches was dry dry dry.  Pulverized dirt dry.  During times of drought, the soil all over dries down.  The water table recedes and deep-rooted trees and grasses have used up whatever water is available.  We can keep irrigating with an inch of water a week on the surface, but it’s not possible to water enough to keep the soil moist deep in the ground if there’s no natural rainfall.

Drought really snuck up on lots of the US this year.  Except for poor southern California, most of the country started the year with good water.  Now significant parts of the plains and southeast (as well as southern California which started the year dry) are experiencing moderate to severe drought.  See the drought monitor for your area.  http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu  In my area, we went from an awesome spring to virtually no rain since July.

So what’s happening in your garden now?  Here’s what happens in moderate drought:

Soil with clay in it turns hard and cracks open.  (The clay shrinks when it dries out.)

Soil critters go into self-preservation mode.   During times of drought, they have varying survival techniques from as simple as laying eggs for the next generation once conditions improve.  Earthworms go into a hibernation-like state called estivation.  Balled up little earthworms are what I found in my garden bed when I was planting bulbs.

What can you do besides pray for rain or snow or freeze?

Give your trees and shrubs a good long slow-watering now.  Trees need 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter once a month.  If your irrigation is still turn on, you can run it longer than usual.  Or put a light sprinkler on for several hours.  Here’s a great fact-sheet on ways to water trees during drought.   http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Trees/caring.htm

Otherwise, leave the soil alone.  Digging in too dry soil ruins soil texture just like digging in too wet soil.  The soil I had dug for the daffodils was like dust when I filled the holes back in.

Pay attention to rain or snow this month.  If you aren’t getting significant precipitation, water the trees and shrubs once a month even if the ground is frozen.

And pray for rain.

 

Moth Night

by Sandy Swegel

I love the things humans find to celebrate. Partying really is in our DNA. It turns out that nature lovers in East Brunswick, New Jersey actually celebrate moths for an entire WEEK and have proclaimed July 23-31 National Moth Week. At first, I thought this was a quirky group of nature lovers reliving childhood adventures of going out at night with flashlights, but Moth Nights are an international event (US, UK, Europe, Asia, Africa)! The UK has celebrated Moth Night for hundreds of years. Switzerland and Hungary have European Moth nights and I’ll bet if your town doesn’t have Moth Night now, park services will be sponsoring them soon. It’s fun (all you need are bedsheets and flashlights, maybe some blacklights), environmentally conscious (moth counts and keeping track of endangered species) and a great family event.

 

Why moths? This is what the National Moth Week people promote:

* Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.

* Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.

* Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.

* Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.

* Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.

And here at BBB Seed we add one very important reason to celebrate moths: they are POLLINATORS for night-opening flowers!

 

Take a look at moths this week. In my garden this week there is the ubiquitous pretty but destructive cabbage moth and the amazing hummingbird hawkmoth, both visible in the daylight. You can have your own “Moth Night” by hanging up a bed sheet on your clothesline and propping a UV black light behind it. Or just sit on the front porch with the light on!

Photocredits and more info:
nationalmothweek.org/
twitter.com/mothnight
www.komar.org/faq/travel/hummingbirds/moth/
http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=18448

 

Pesticide Applicators CAN Protect Pollinators

By Sandy Swegel

Most of the visitors to our Facebook page and website are already among the converted. We know how important pollinators are and we’re doing everything we can from avoiding pesticides to planting pollinator gardens in hope of preserving our pollinators.

Sometimes as activists for the things we feel passionate about, we human beings have a tendency to make the people who oppose our opinion into our enemy. The reality is that right now, everyone isn’t going to quit using pesticides no matter how much we want that. We all have spouses or neighbors or friends who are going to use pesticides no matter what we say. Garden and tree businesses are going to spray. So what the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is doing is bringing together government agencies like the EPA, pesticide manufacturers, licensed pesticide applicators, and non-profits like beekeeping associations to develop guidelines to teach pesticide applicators how to choose pesticides and how to spray while causing the least harm to bees and pollinators that end up as collateral damage.

A couple of obvious things pesticide users can do:

Schedule your pesticide application when bees aren’t active. Saturday morning or in the evenings after dinner before dark are the worse time to apply pesticides. Bees and pollinators are foraging then and likely to get sprayed or eat pollen or nectar that has just been sprayed. For some pesticides, simply applying it at night protects the pollinators while still killing the pests. You have to wake up before the bees or stay up after they go to sleep.

Plan your pesticide applications when plants aren’t in bloom. This isn’t always possible but some bloom times are short and you might find that waiting another week until the bloom is finished will still kill your pests and protect the pollinators.

Avoid drift and runoff.
Don’t spray on windy days. The wind carries the pesticide into neighboring areas or into your nose and eyes.
Don’t spray when it is about to rain. Many pesticides will dry within a few hours of application and be less toxic to pollinators. If you spray when rain is coming, those pesticides are going to be washed away into storm drains or rivers.

Keep the pesticide spray on the problem area….don’t keep spraying the rocks or sidewalk because you’re walking from one area to another. Use only as much pesticide as needed to achieve your goal. Drenching everything isn’t necessary.

Read and re-read labels. The formulations of your favorite pesticides can change Some are very toxic to bees. Others are only toxic under certain conditions. Know exactly what you are spraying and how it affects bees.

Pesticide applicators aren’t out there spraying because they hate bees. They want to get rid of their pests in the most efficient way. Print out this brochure for friends and neighbors and even companies you see applying pesticides. Help the people who INSIST on using pesticides learn that they can still protect pollinators.

Photos and more information:

 

www.Environmentalleader.com/2013/08/16/epa-launches-bee-protecting-pesticide-label/

 

Gardening to Save Your Life

by Sandy Swegel

My heart is breaking this week with the stories coming out of Venezuela of severe food shortages and 5000 ordinary people looting food warehouses on Wednesday because they and their families were starving. They are right to be desperate. At the end of April, the government announced it only had a 15-day inventory of food left. The president has suggested people should grow their own food and maybe keep some chickens. That’s not very likely in the ultra-urban capital city of 5.4 million people in Caracas.

Venezuela’s problems are mostly political and socioeconomic, exacerbated by the fact that they import most (65-80% depending on who is counting) of their food. Once an agricultural nation, they shifted most land to the easy money of oil production. Now as oil prices have dropped significantly, there’s no money left to pay to import food.

 

Which all led me to some serious questions.

Could I grow enough food to save my life if our groceries shelves went empty?

Do I know enough about growing food that I could teach desperate neighbors to grow their own food in small urban areas?

Assuming I couldn’t purchase seeds or fertilizer, could I really grow a zero import garden?

It is frustrating when there is news of famine and human beings starving in the world. Most of the time it’s political. Increasingly, climate change has brought on severe drought. We have all come to hate the evening news with the latest story of suffering in the world. What can we do?

 

We can educate ourselves more. We can learn to grow food really well. For me this year, I’m going to focus on learning more about growing high calorie and high protein foods. I’ve grown potatoes and onions a couple of times with mediocre production and figure it’s cheaper to buy those and use my garden for more kale. But a hungry community needs calories and needs protein.

My goals this year are to get better at growing potatoes and dry beans…foods for survival.

What can you learn this year in case one day you had to feed yourself and teach others?

If you need a place to start to learn, this book is a great way to start:

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Photocredits
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/09/on-urban-farms-a-sense-of-place/26675/

 

 

Gardens at Monticello

What We Gardeners Have in Common with Thomas Jefferson

by Sandy Swegel

This Presidents’ Day led me to researching about the gardens of the White House. I expected to write about the many “heirlooms” that Jefferson gathered and preserved for us. He grew 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 varieties of fruit! I found myself instead captivated by the gardening relationship he shared with his oldest granddaughter Ann. His letters to the teenager Ann have been preserved and give us great insight into these talented gardeners.

There isn’t much about gardening that has changed much since the early 19th century. These are some of the things we know we have in common with the third US President and his granddaughter Ann.
We all want more flowers.

Jefferson was famous for collecting seeds from distant lands in order to grow more varieties at home. He quickly saw the natural consequence of his love of variety — running out of garden space — for he writes Anne in 1806:

“I find that the limited number of our flower beds will too much restrain the variety of flowers in which we might wish to indulge, and therefore I have resumed an idea…of a winding walk surrounding the lawn before the house, with a narrow border of flowers on each side.”

We know how to care for young plants.

In this late winter time of year, we gardeners always start too many young plants too early to actually plant and then have to prepare for their movement from my sunny light shelf to the cold outdoors. Ann too reports how careful she was with the many treasures her grandfather sent her in the winter of 1806.

“The grass, fowls, and flowers arrived safely on Monday afternoon. I planted the former in a box of rich earth and covered it for a few nights until I thought it had taken root and then by degrees, for fear of rendering it too delicate, exposed it again. I shall plant Governor Lewis’s peas as soon as the danger of frost is over.”

We watch the weather

When Ann was only 12 years old, Jefferson in the White House relied on her to report on the weather and its effects on the garden. “How stands the fruit with you in the neighborhood and at Monticello, and particularly the peas, as they are what will be in season when I come home. The figs also, have they been hurt?
We are never finished.

After Jefferson retired to Monticello, he and Ann continued to design and redesign the gardens. Ann’s younger sister Ellen described the delight the garden gave the entire family.

. . . Then when the flowers were in bloom, and we were in ecstasies over the rich purple and crimson, or pure white, or delicate lilac, or pale yellow of the blossoms, how he would sympathize in our admiration, or discuss with my mother and elder sister new groupings and combinations and contrasts. Oh, these were happy moments for us and for him!”

Jefferson on Happiness
Jefferson planned many years for his retirement to Monticello. When at last he was able to retire to the gardens Ann had nurtured in his absence, he wrote:

“the total change of occupation from the house & writing-table to constant employment in the garden & farm has added wonderfully to my happiness. it is seldom & with great reluctance I ever take up a pen. I read some, but not much.”
Fortunately for us as a nation, most of his life was not spent in the garden, but he knew, as we do, how special and sacred our gardens are.
The story of Monticello with 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 of fruit is a grand story. You can find out more here: https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jeffersons-legacy-gardening-and-food

Photocredit
https://flowergardengirl.wordpress.com
http://www.marthastewart.com/945486/monticellos-vegetable-garden#933708
https://www.monticello.org

 

Straw in the Garden: Be Careful!

by Sandy Swegel

Straw bales are one of my favorite garden tools.  They are useful to the gardener in so many ways.  All nicely tied up, straw bales are like giant Lego blocks that can be stacked to make so many things. I’m using the term “straw” bale, but old “hay” bales have the same great features.  Three bales make a great compost bin.  A row of bales makes excellent walls that double as sitting places.  Open the bales up and you have the perfect mulch to keep strawberries or squash off the ground or to make a path protected from mud.  Give the chickens one bale and an hour later they have spread it evenly over the coop floor in their pursuit of worms or food in the bale.  A square of bales with some plastic thrown over is an excellent cold frame.  And I haven’t even begun to touch on the usefulness of bales as a fort.

So it was distressing this week to be reminded that we can no longer just trust the wonderful bales that we scavenged in the past because modern agriculture has rendered hay, straw, and even the gardener’s best friend, manure, unsafe for growing food.

This conversation came up because tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicide damage.  The most common cause of herbicide damage extension agents used to see was from “herbicide drift” where chemicals sprayed nearby go airborne and are spread by the wind onto your garden.  But my experience this week was with tomato plants, a very susceptible plant – sort of the canary in the mine.  After considering dozens of diseases from virus and fungus and bacteria that might be stunting a friend’s tomatoes and keeping them from setting fruit, we had to face the likelihood that the culprit was last year’s straw that was liberally mulched throughout the garden.

Hay and straw become hidden poison bombs in the garden when farmers use the new generation of weed killers (that are very effective on weeds) like Milestone or Forefront or Curtail.  Milestone is aminopyralid it is a very persistent killer of broad-leaf plants.  Farmers like it because it kills weeds and because unlike other weedkillers, they can feed treated pasture to their animals without any waiting time.  The label says clearly that while animals can still feed on the pasture, the herbicide survives being eaten by the animals, and it survives composting.  So even year old hay that you’ve composted or nice old manure from free-range animals on pasture still has enough herbicide in it to kill your tomato crop.

The bottom line is you can’t just get straw at the feed store or old hay or manure from a neighbor’s barn to use in your garden unless you know how the original pasture was treated this year and last year.  It’s another sad but true example of the destructive environmental impact even small actions such as applying some weedkiller can have. And it’s not even just the farmer who has to take care.  Grass clippings are a gardener’s favorite mulch…and some of the new weed killers or weed and feed products contain these long-lasting poison time bombs.  It’s easy to want to kill some thistle…but you have to read the very tiny small print to see if you are destroying your own garden by using the organic practices of mulching with grass or hay or straw that generations of gardeners have sworn by.  It’s not your father’s straw bale anymore.

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/ncorganic/special-pubs/herbicide_carryover.pdf
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Grow-It/Milestone-Herbicide-Contamination-Creates-Dangerous-Toxic-Compost.aspx

 

One more thing Bees and Humans have in common: We’re Addicted.

by Sandy Swegel

Nature magazine published a scientific study with the odd news that bees, when given a choice, prefer nectar with the neonic pesticides in them. Given a choice, even though scientists don’t think bee can smell or taste the pesticide, bees opt for neonic-treated plants or neonic-treated sugar solutions. Why? It’s because of the “nics.” The nics in neonics are nicotine compounds. A bee sipping on a flower gets the same rush as human dragging on a cigarette. Wow! We really have to get this substance out of the environment.

The study looks at both honey bees and wild bees. Both wanted the nicotine hit.

Of course, it was just last year that Science magazine reported that bees get addicted to caffeine too and prefer nectar and flowers with caffeine over other nectar.

 

Bees and Humans both love our drugs.

Earlier in the week, I was feeling hopeful because about 90% of the plants at our local Home Depot were neonic-free. Last year virtually all of them had been treated with the pesticide, but Home Depot is requiring more and more of its growers to be neonic-free. That’s hundreds of thousands of plants in our area.

But the Nature article shows us that while we can enjoy the small victories, but we have to keep paying attention to who is silently poisoning our environment.

We know you are our allies with the bees. You use our untreated seeds and you plant our wildflower mixes. Let’s keep up the good fight.

 

 

http://mappingignorance.org/2014/01/27/bees-are-coffee-addicts-too/

http://www.tattoojohnny.com/search/cigarette