Grow for Flavor

by Sandy SwegelChioggia Beets

If you read just one gardening book this year, I have the perfect book for you. It’s a British gardening book and while growing conditions in merry old England aren’t anything like growing in hot arid Colorado, the advice here transcends climate. It’s about how to get the most flavor and nutrients by “how” you grow.

“Grow for Flavor: Tips and tricks to supercharge the flavor of homegrown harvests” doesn’t just repeat the advice on how to grow organically that is now found in many books or all over the internet. Author James Wong of the Royal Horticultural Society takes growing edibles to the next level by referencing scientific studies on how nutrient content and flavor molecules increase according to growing conditions and cooking methods.

Beets are one example.

If you want more antioxidants, roasting beets doubles their antioxidant levels compared to eating them raw.

If you want sweeter beets, sow them extra early. Sowing beets in cooler conditions leads to increased sweetness and more intense color.

If you aren’t fond of ‘earthy-tasting beets’ it’s the organic compound geosmin that gives that flavor. You can harvest early because young beets haven’t developed as much geosmin. Or you can put vinegar on the beets as my great grandparents did because the geosmin is degraded by acid.

 

If you juice beets for their cardiovascular benefits, the substances you want more of are nitrate and betalains. To get more of those, sow a mid-summer crop and fertilize with nitrogen to hike cardiovascular benefits by 300%

Another way to hike health benefits is to skimp on the water, Lack of water or ‘drought stress’ increases phytonutrients by 86% and makes beets richer in zinc and iron.

All this info is from just one page of the book so you can see why I love it. And I love my local librarian who procures such unusual books for our local library where I can read them for free!
Photo credits
http://www.blog.imperfectproduce.com/blog-1/2016/6/15/the-history-of-the-beet

Why Grow From Seed

by Sandy Swegel

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.
Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics
There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.
If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a nearly infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers? My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

Get a head start on leeks

by Sandy SwegelAmerican Flag Leek

Organic leeks were $3.99 a pound in my grocery store this week. I love leeks because they add a more rich and complex flavor to soups and sauces than onions do. They are more expensive than onions but just as easy to grow. The only challenge for gardeners in areas with winter is that leeks have a long growing season and it’s not as easy to find leek seedlings for sale come planting time. January is an ideal time to start some seedlings to transplant this spring.

 

The ideal germination conditions for leek seeds are about 70 degrees in moist soil. They will germinate in cooler temperatures but may take a few more weeks to emerge.

Even though the seeds are small, germinate them in containers at least four inches deep rather than in a very shallow tray. We gently push the seeds about half an inch deep into the light potting mix. The seedlings don’t need individual cells so you can grow them in one big container. Their roots will intertwine but easily tease apart without breaking come planting time.

 

Once the leeks are growing they will continue to need light but easily handle cooler conditions if you need your indoor lights for something else. An unheated cold frame or a makeshift hoop house works great.

Come planting time, we plant the baby seedlings into six inch deep trenches (we want lots of long white stems). For now, just get those seeds started. The only thing to remember is not to let the soil dry out.

I always grow more leeks than I’m going to eat and leave them in the garden to flower. The leek flowers are beautiful and attract butterflies and bees!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits
http://really-rose.blogspot.com/2011/04/leeks.html
http://www.lovethatimage.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/leek-flowers-4938.jpg
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/lovely-leeks

Apples

by Sandy Swegel

Two things I learned about apples this year.

Reduce codling moths in your trees.
A few years ago, I started following the advice of a local organic farmer to pick up the bad apples under my apple trees. I’ve always left them there to compost in place or waited until they were all down to pick them up. My delicious McIntosh apple tree had lots of codling moths which left unappealing frass in the apples as well as the occasional worm. The tree was too tall to spray clay and I didn’t want to use anything toxic. So I did start religiously picking up the apples as they fell. Now, some five years later, I’ve noticed that while codling moths still attack the apples, they are MUCH fewer in number affecting maybe only 10-20% of the apples. What a difference sanitation made.

 

Bake awesomely easy gluten-free Apple Crisp
The second thing I learned came from the new “problem” of what to do with so many apples. If you pick up the apples soon after they fall from the tree, then you notice the apples are in pretty good shape if you cut out the bad parts right away. So now I had a surplus of apples. The freezer was full of sauce and still, the apples came. Fortunately, I gave the apples to a baker friend who made a gluten-free apple crisp that was better than anything I had ever had. And that’s when she taught me a professional secret. You have to bake the apples first before you put the crisp topping on. When you just layer apple pieces in a pan and sprinkle with your crisp mixture, you can end up with apples that are too crunchy and/or a burnt crisp top.

So here’s the basic recipe:

Cut up apples into pan. Bake until mostly soft.

Crisp topping:
Oats, cinnamon, nuts (almond meal, tiny pecan pieces) Optional: butter, brown sugar.
Sprinkle topping on baked apples. Put the pan back in the oven until the crisp is browned and crispy. Twice-baked apples melt in your mouth (without lots of extra sugar) and the topping is crispy delicious. The perfect foil for vanilla ice cream.

So now I spend more time working to clean up apples…..but am rewarded with more apple crisp!

Photos:

http://utahpests.usu.edu/ipm/htm/fruits/fruit-insect-disease/apple-pear-control03
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/229088/apple-crisp-with-oat-topping/

Natural Weed and Pest Control

by Jessica of TheBeesWaggle.com

Honey Bee on Dandylion

Weeds do have value to pollinators, as most produce blooms that carry highly nutritious contents for pollinators.  However, they can be overwhelming in their growing power, and we need ways to control them without poisoning the soil and the things that feed on them.  I would like to begin by saying I pull each and every weed that I do not want growing in specific places.  I never use chemicals, not even vinegar and salt.  I would like to urge you to do the same, but I am providing you with some choices that are nontoxic.

  1.  Boiling water.  Pouring boiling water over weeds cooks them, and kills them.  Water is only water, so it’s okay for it to get into the soil and groundwater.
  2. Spray straight White Vinegar on the leaves of weeds being careful not to go overboard.  Too much vinegar in the soil isn’t good for the pH of the soil so it will affect the balance of the existing underground ecosystem if it is applied excessively.
  3. Spray a mixture of salt and vinegar…and then maybe pull them, roast them, and eat them?  Just a joke.  The recipe is 1 cup of salt into 1 gallon of vinegar

Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are the other most popular topic of seasonal pests.  I don’t consider them much of a  pest because they eat other insects, which makes them a very important part of the food chain.  So, instead of finding ways to kill them, I find ways to coexist.  They do not like peppermint oil, lavender oil, or eucalyptus oil.  So, the best prevention is to spray a mixture of these oils with water around the areas you’d rather them not set up shop.  The recipe is as follows:  1 tsp of peppermint oil; 1/2 tsp lavender oil; 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil into 2 cups of water.  Use a good spray bottle to apply this mixture anywhere you do not want them present.  I suggest daily application, and the smell is pleasant, at least I think so.

Bald Faced Hornet

Remember that every living thing has a purpose, so frugally controlling them is in our best interest! I hope you all are having a wonderful summer so far! Thank you for being part of this very important movement to save our bees!

Jessica

Here are a couple of links to steps to control pests using non-chemical controls and least toxic methods, and a link to a great video from BeyondPesticides.org website.

Manage Safe

Organic Land Managment Practical Tools and Techniques

 

Pollinators Support Biodiversity

by Jessica of The Bees Waggle

Biodiversity is the variety of life.  It showcases the relationships between all life forms on Earth.  It is the web of life, connecting all life on Earth in an interdependent web of function, purpose, and necessity.   It can be a protective mechanism against catastrophic failure of life.

Biodiversity provides:

A wide array of foods and materials, which contributes to the survival of all.  Examples include: medicines derived from plants; 7000 species of plants are also food sources for other species.

Genetic diversity, which defends against diseases and pests.

Example:  Monoculture crops are not diverse, genetically or otherwise,  and are thus susceptible to influxes of pests and disease, which is one reason why farmers of these crops are so dependent on chemicals to sustain crops. Planting hedgerows with a variety of plants encourages natural pest control for crops via predatory insects and birds.

Ecological services, which are functions performed by many species that result in sustaining life on Earth, and are a supported by biodiversity. Within each ecological service, there are many species at play.

Some examples of ecological services are:

Decomposition of waste

       Water purification

       Pest control

       Flood moderation

       Soil fertility

       Pollination

Adaptability to disturbances, which is achieved by a concerted effort of many life forms repairing the damage done by a natural disaster, or another form of disturbance.

Every piece of every ecosystem is important and each piece depends on the other pieces. We, as humans, are part of a planet-wide ecosystem, and we depend on many different systems for our survival.  One extremely important web we depend on is that of the pollinators.

Pollination supports biodiversity!  It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinator and the pollinated. One without the other would be catastrophic. Pollination supports diversity of plants, as well as the animals that feed on those plants.  This beneficial relationship reaches broadly to birds, small mammals, large mammals, other insects, and us!  If this relationship were lost, many ecosystems would implode.

Pollinators contribute to biodiversity and life on Earth in ways that are significant to every ecosystem existing today.  Roughly 90 % of all flowering plant species are specialized for animal-assisted pollination!  7000 plant species are a form of food for other species.  Many of these flowering plants develop food only as a result of visiting pollinators, and this food supports the lives of countless species, including humans!  The disappearance of pollinators would inflict catastrophic consequences on the entire planet.

The diversity of pollinators alone is staggering!  There are 20,000 bee species accounted for on Earth, and there are likely more. This number does not account for the hundreds of thousands of species of flies, moths, butterflies, birds, bats, and beetles who also pollinate flowering plants.

Our pollinators are struggling.  Some populations of butterflies have declined as much as 90%!  Honeybee colony losses are at an all time high!  What do you think that means for our native bee species?  I can tell you it isn’t good.  The struggle is due to: loss of habitat, lack of food, and pesticide use.  

The fact that pollinators are broadly struggling threatens the balance of biodiversity, and life on Earth!

You can help by doing the following: add back habitat (shelter, food, and water), plant flowering plants, and please stop the use of all pesticides (including: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides).  

Aphid-Eating Wasps

by Sandy Swegel

There’s yet another reason not to try to kill off aphids outside, even with “safe” organic treatments like soapy water. If you kill the aphids, the aphid-eating wasps, another of those native beneficial insects, won’t have anything to eat and they’ll leave your garden.

Aphids are eaten by so many beneficial insects that it’s rather amazing that we see any aphids at all. Yet there are so many aphids on our plants sometimes. This week I’m seeing thousands on the new growth of roses. And while my first instinct is to kill the aphids in some way, I have finally learned to just watch them. I know what I am seeing is a mini population explosion of aphids that will usually be followed in a week or so by mini-population explosions of predators that eat aphids. If we try to kill off the aphids which are the bottom of the beneficial insect food chain, then the beneficials will fly away to another garden.

 

I knew about many of the predators of aphids like ladybugs and lacewings, but I learned yesterday that tiny native aphid-eating wasps eat a LOT of aphids. In addition to wasps that just eat the aphids, there are the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the aphids. When the eggs hatch the tiny larvae eat their way out of the aphid. A bit gory, but effective guaranteeing enough food for baby wasps.

So I challenge you to a two-week experiment. Leave the aphids be when they show up and just watch the plants for a few days. See who shows up to dine on your aphids. Some possibilities include wasps, both large and small, hoverflies, ladybugs and lacewings. It will be a fascinating discovery of how many small beings live in your garden, there to help you keep everything in balance.

Photo credits
http://www.small-farm-permaculture-and-sustainable-living.com/natural_pest_control_aphids.html
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.com/2013/06/1088-why-closely-related-species-do-not.html
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060925070245.htm

Hummingbird Love

By Sandy Swegel

We, humans, are crazy in love with hummingbirds. I received so many emails and messages about hummingbirds this week, I have to pass on the things I’m learning.

Spring migration is happening all over the US and there are hundreds of citizen scientists who report their sightings. You can check your area to see if Ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived. http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html  This week they are showing up in Canada and at higher elevations. Hummingbirds showed up in Colorado about three weeks ago.

I learned we should keep an eye out for hummingbird nests. They are so tiny. The eggs are the size of jellybeans. The Denver Post newspaper had a whole article on how to recognize the nests so you don’t hurt the eggs when you are doing spring pruning.

Most hummingbird lovers find one feeder isn’t nearly enough. You should have more than one feeder so the birds don’t have to fight over it. Or a big feeder with multiple feeding stations. Some people go totally crazy and fill their yard with feeders. Sugar water isn’t the only food hummingbirds rely on in spring. They eat lots of nectar from flowers, pollen, bugs including mosquitoes, and even tree sap. But their metabolism is so high, they need to eat constantly.

The most important thing I learned about hummingbirds this week is that you have to wash out the feeders and change the water every few days. Old sugar-water grows mold which can kill the hummingbirds. Our neighborhood feeders get drained pretty quickly…but it’s still a good idea to rinse the feeder with vinegar water before refilling.

The most fun hummingbird thing I did this week was watching YouTube videos on hummingbird babies. Cuteness overload. I have quite a few flowers planted that hummingbirds like, but now I see that I need some feeders outside the window by the breakfast table!

The oddest thing I did for hummingbirds this week is to buy a new garden hat. My old hat was a bright orange-pink color, and hummingbirds would dive bomb my head thinking I guess that I was a big flower. I have a more subdued lavender hat now…and so far I’m safe.

I recommend highly putting up a few feeders yourself so you can enjoy the show!

Photo credits

Photo credit: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/hummingbirds-have-arrived-in-colorado-check-your-trees-and-shrubs-before-trimming

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/16/animals-nests-weird-animal-questions-science-birds/

How To Deal with Troublesome Pests In Container Gardens

by Angela Thomas04.20.16a

Many gardeners choose to grow plants in containers for the ease of planting and for the convenience of placing the containers anywhere they want. Maintaining healthy plants in a container garden is no different from plants in a garden.

However, container plants need more care. Taking care of them slightly differs from regular plants. They have limited soil volume and are subject to more stress than garden plants which requires constant monitoring for pests. If you’re looking to save time and the stress of having to find the pests that may of intruded into your garden. It could it be worth checking out the best home security camera deals on the market to make finding the pests and what they’ve left behind easier for you.

You must regularly inspect the foliage, bloom, and fruits to find out signs of infestation. You must also examine the underside of the leaves and stems as some insects hide in those places.
If the plants have any infected or dead leaves, you must immediately remove them. If you find few yellow leaves are on the bottom of the stem, do not worry as they naturally occur when the plants grow.

Mix a few drops of mild detergent in water and wash the foliage. Container plants will benefit from this if you repeat it every month.

If the infestation does not respond to soapy water, you may have to use commercial pesticides that are designed to control specific pests. These days manufacturers offer alternatives to chemical pesticides so visit the local store and buy the products if infestation continues. While using such products, you must always follow the instructions, and they must be kept out of reach of children.

To avoid pest infestations, do not reuse the soil especially if the plants were affected by bacteria. Even though the soil looks fine, it might be contaminated or have insect eggs which are hard to see. This infographic on natural pest control methods can give you the ideas to get it done on your own. However, if you would prefer to get some professional help, rather then do it by yourself, then you could always check out someone like pest control Des Moines.

04.20.16b

Clean containers will be helpful to prevent problems. When you are going to start a new planting, scrub the pots and containers using liquid detergent and water. To reuse an infested pot, soak it in a solution of one part household bleach to ten parts water for about an hour. Rinse all the pots thoroughly and dry them in sunlight before planting. Keep in mind that the area around the containers should also be clean as dirty surroundings is a way through which pests attack plants. After using the tools to treat the infested plant, thoroughly wash them, before you use it on other plants.

Healthy plants can fight off pests that attack them. So make sure you give the plants adequate sunlight, organic fertilizers, and water. There must be proper space between plants so that there will be enough air circulation. If pests infest a plant, keep them away from the rest of the plants because they will infest the healthy ones too.Many pests infect container grown plants especially spider mites. Stressed plants are most likely to be attacked by pests than healthy ones. So regularly monitor plants so that you will be able to detect problems in the early stages.

[http://i.imgur.com/RXdrB4W.jpg] (Plants in containers)

[http://i.imgur.com/QjYu9XV.jpg] (Cleaning container)

Two Ways to Guarantee Your Outdoor Seeds Grow

by Sandy SwegelPre-sprouting seeds

The next few weeks are crucial for new gardeners. Every year in Spring, first-time gardeners buy some seeds and dig up a garden on the first really warm weekend and sprinkle the seeds out. Then they wait. For some, within the month, weather conditions will be good and they’ll have their first garden seedlings and they will be totally hooked on the magic of gardening.

For others, something bad happens that the newbies don’t know about. They don’t realize they have to water. Or a couple of hot days come and burn the new seedlings to a crisp. Maybe the neighborhood crows watch you plant and come to eat every last pea. Sometimes the soil is cold and it’s just too early to germinate seeds. These newbie gardeners lose hope and say they just have a black thumb and give up gardening.

If you’ve had failures but are still willing to give a garden from seed a try, I have two techniques that virtually guarantee your seeds will germinate outdoors. These are especially good ideas if you’ve given up trying to grow some things because they never work for you. For years I just thought I was broccoli-impaired until I tried these hints.

First of course, you have to start your garden bed.

HOW TO START A GARDEN BED.

You can till and/or turn the soil by hand but you don’t have too if the soil is not solid concrete.
Dig out the weeds. Get the roots if you can.
Take a rake and make the soil level and a bit smoothed out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil. How much seed and how far apart is written in the little print on the packet.
Pat the seed lightly with your hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil. Bury the seed slightly if the packet says so.

If you live in someplace humid and warm, that’s enough. Your seeds should come up.

If you live someplace dry or with fluctuating temperature or you’ve had failures in the past, try these two success techniques:

Sprouts

#1 ROW COVER

Lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seeded bed. You want it nice and loose so the plants can grow and the row cover lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away. The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note….I water right on top of the row cover. You don’t have to lift it to water underneath often causing the seeds to float away. It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

#2 PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.

Pea sproutsSeeds like peas or carrots respond well if soak them in warm water in a bowl overnight, drain them, then plant. The soaking activates the enzymes that break the seed coat and speeds up germination. If it’s a seed you really have trouble with, you can put the seeds on a wet paper towel in a baggie and wait a few days until you see the sprouts.

These two shortcuts…pre-germination and row cover…work for me all the time. And I get better germination which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save even more money.

Now go out and grow some food and flowers!

 

Photo credits:
http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html
http://learningandyearning.com/tag/pre-sprouting/