IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SNAPDRAGON IN 2019

Photo of many snapdragon flowers in bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay

By Engrid Winslow

 

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are one of the most widely grown and well-known flowers in the garden for many reasons. Children adore them because of the distinctive bloom of the dragon’s head shaped flowers with mouths that open and close when squeezed from both sides. Many gardeners associate them with memories of their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens and they come in every color of the rainbow and beyond with shades from white to a purple so deep it almost looks black. They can be short or tall, bloom for a really long time and are easy to grow in full sun to part shade. Usually blooming in cooler weather in the spring and fall, they can bloom in hotter months if given additional water and deadheaded regularly. Snapdragons are useful as perennials because they often overwinter or as annuals in planters. They are a lovely addition to a cottage-style garden, pretty in bouquets and are not too fussy about soil type, although they do better with the addition of organic matter. They can even tolerate dry conditions. On top of all that, bumble bees love them and they are lightly fragrant. The National Garden Bureau has named the Snapdragon one of its 2019 plants of the year: ww.https://ngb.org/year-of-the-snapdragon/

Snapdragons are readily available as plants but they are so easy to grow yourself from seed if you decide to give them a try. They germinate better if placed in the freezer for a couple of days before planting and should be started sometime in February for spring planting. They do need light to germinate and since the seeds are tiny, press them into the top of the soil and water them from the bottom. They take 1 to 2 weeks to germinate and should be pinched back once they have 6-8 leaves to encourage a stronger stem. Plant your starts outdoors about the time of the last frost once they have been hardened off. https://www.bbbseed.com/care-planting-seedlings/

For additional helpful information about starting flowers and vegetables from seed check out this past blog: https://www.bbbseed.com/ez-indoor-seed-starting/

 

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

 

Saving Seed

by Rebecca Hansen

What are “heirloom” vegetables? An heirloom vegetable is a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation and, in some cases, can be traced back hundreds of years.  These seed lines have been carefully selected to maintain uniformity and consistency for germination.  Heirloom seeds become ‘heirloom’ because they exhibit exceptional traits desired by the gardener.  Often this means the plants are more colorful, flavorful, unique, or have great germination and vigor.  Often the traits are location dependent.  Meaning, seeds planted in one garden will not produce in the same manner in another location.  We encourage you to try heirloom seeds, see which have the qualities for your area to become your favorites and make them into your own very special seed line.  Saving seeds is easy and fun.

Gardeners have found that as seeds are selected and saved over many years, production is increased and the quality is improved, creating plants that will produce best for that locale and will resist diseases and pests of that locale.  Contributing to genetic diversity strengthens the ecosystem. Historically farmers and local gardeners have created and sustained this rich genetic heritage by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems.  The current trend toward mono crops where only one seed type is used to produce a crop worldwide is eliminating the ability to be able to find genetic variations that will withstand emerging pathogens and climate changes.

Planting your crop:  Start with good Heirloom Seed varieties.  Keep in mind that to allow the plants to produce seed and to allow the seed to fully mature, you will have to allow for a longer growing season.  This can be done by starting plants indoors and arranging for protection from frost in the late season. You will be growing some for food or flower harvest and some for seed production.  Fully mature seeds will be viable (able to germinate) and produce vigorous plants.  You may want to do some research on the different flower types for proper pollination techniques and plant with row/species separation in mind, to prevent cross-pollination.  You may look into caging procedures to isolate species that are in flower at the same time.  By caging different plants on alternate days, you can take advantage of the pollinators to do the work without cross-pollinating your crop.  Cage one plant or group on one day and early the next day, before the bees wake, transfer your cage to a different plant or group.  Some crops are biennial and do not produce seed until the next year, so you will need to determine whether you should leave the roots in the ground over the winter or dig and store them.

There are many publications with detailed information on seed saving and growing techniques for each species.  “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, 2002 by Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. is a good way to get started. www.seedsavers.org.  Also, Easy instructions for seed saving, written by the International Seed Saving Institute, a non-profit established to teach seed saving, can be found at:http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

Harvesting and collecting seed:  When selecting plants for saving seeds, look for favorable characteristics such as; freeze and cold tolerance, heat tolerance, adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor (strong germination and growth), flavor, color, size, texture, etc. Also, look for desirable traits such as; vine or plant type, seed type, specific disease resistance.  Plan to be ready to harvest the seed as they mature.  Often the pods will pop open when you are not around to collect the seed and it will be lost.

Allow the seed pods to remain on the plant in the ground for as long as possible.  Usually, the seed will not continue to mature after the pods are cut from the plant.  The process of cleaning and separating (thresh) the seeds from the chaff (pods and stems) is easy for a small home gardener.  Break apart the pods by crushing or breaking the pods and collecting the seed.  Sometimes the chaff can be blown away from the seed, by pouring the seed onto a pan in front of a small fan or by using cleaning screens that come with different sized openings.

 

Grow Your Own Sprouts in 6 Easy Steps

Photo of seeds sprouting.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

by Heather Stone

  1. Choose a container and lid                Sprouting seeds in a jar is easy and convenient. Make sure to choose a jar that is large enough to accommodate the seeds when sprouted. I find a quart jar with a wide mouth to work well.  You will also need a mesh lid of some kind or thick cheesecloth to easily drain your sprouts after rinsing.  Sprouting lids can be purchased at most health food stores, online or you can easily make your own.

 

  1. Rinse and pick over your seeds

Carefully rinse and pick through your seeds removing any stones or debris.

 

  1. Soak your seeds

Fill your jar about ¾ full with cool water.  Soak your seeds overnight (8-12 hours). Soaking time will vary depending on the size of your seeds.

 

Sprouted seeds

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

 

 

  1. Drain your seeds

After soaking you will want to thoroughly drain your seeds. Tip your jar on its side and let it drain for several hours to be sure all liquid is removed.

 

  1. Continue to rinse and drain

For the next 2-4 days, you will rinse and drain your seeds three times a day. Using cool water, gently rinse your seeds so you don’t damage any sprouts and drain well.

 

  1. Final rinse and drain

When your seeds have sprouted and reached the desired length give them one final rinse and drain well.  Enjoy in salads, on sandwiches or stirred into soups. Sprouts can be stored for several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

 

Some great seeds for sprouting include:

Beans (lentils, mung beans and chickpeas)

Alfalfa

Broccoli

Sunflower

Radish

Clover

 

Additional resources:

https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sprouting/how-to-sprout-seeds-jar/

https://boulderlocavore.com/sprouting-101-homemade-sprouting-jars-tutorial-diy-mason-jars-giveaway/

 

 

5 Easy Tips for Successfully Planting Grass Seed

Five easy tips for successfully planting grass seed.

 

by Sam Doll

Now that fall is nearly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about planting grass seeds! Don’t know what you are doing? Don’t worry. We are here to help. Here are our 5 tips to successfully plant grass seed this season!

1.      The Season Matters

While some warm-weather grasses, like bermudagrass, should be planted in early summer, most grasses need mild weather to successfully germinate and survive. Freezes and harsh heat can kill off you baby grass before it has a chance to become established. Late Spring and early Fall, when the soil temperature is between 50 to 80 degrees, is the best time to plant most grass seeds.

2.      Find the Right Seed

Find the grass that will suit your lifestyle and location. Some grass mixes, like our Green Manure, are great for restoring the soil nutrients in your soil. Some, like our Colorado Supreme Turf Grass Mix , are better for heavy foot traffic. Native and drought tolerant grasses are great for creating a sustainable and low-maintenance landscapes. Make sure to consider you soil type, climate, amount of sun, and intended use when picking a grass mix.

We have a wide variety of grass mixes that will suit all your needs.

3.      Prepare Your Soil

Once you’ve chosen your site, use a shovel or a sod cutter to remove the existing plants and grass from the area. Remove any debris and rocks you see, till the soil, and fill in any low spots. You want your soil to be broken into pebble sized particles.

Rake the site to even out the soil and remove small debris. Be careful when bringing in new topsoil to make sure it doesn’t contain unwanted seeds.

Optional: You can send a soil sample to your local extension office to have it tested to see if you need any soil amendments. As for pH, you generally want to keep the soil between 6.0 and 7.0.

4.      Seed and Fertilize

Once your site is prepped, it’s time to seed. Using a drop spreader or a broadcast spreader, spread half the seed lengthwise over your site, then use the other half and spread crosswise over your site.  A recommended seeding rate will be listed on the seed tag.

Feeding with starter fertilizer the same day as you seed will provide proper nutrients for early growth and establishment. Make sure the site stays moist, but not soggy, through germination.

5.      Maintenance

Different mixes require different maintenance. Generally, once the grass reaches a certain height, it is recommended to cut it to encourage even growth. Water and fertilize as needed.

 

 

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.

 

Care and Planting of Seedlings

by Engrid WinslowArugula seedlings.

If you purchased seedlings such as vegetables or annual herbs and flowers there are a few things that you have to keep in mind. They are way too tender to be planted outside unless they are “hardened off” and if they came from a nursery or greenhouse that has definitely not happened yet. Here are some guidelines to follow:

• Place them in a spot indoors where they can get at least ten hours of sun or use grow lights to keep them healthy.
• Move them outdoors gradually so they are exposed to sun and wind over a week to ten days (This is what is known as hardening off).
• Start slowly when temperatures are above 60 degrees and only leave them in the sun for 1-2 hours. Then move them into the shade if the temperatures continue to be mild enough.
• Increase the amount of sunshine each day and gradually expose them to more sun in 2-hour increments each day.
• Be aware of the last frost date in your area. Don’t plant until after that date and be prepared to cover them if the weather gets cold and snowy.
• Don’t forget to check your seedlings at least once a day for signs of wilting and water them well. Small pots with new seedlings can get dry very quickly.

 

The Importance of Soil

by Engrid Winslow

Let’s talk about getting your vegetable and flower beds ready for planting by preparing the soil. No matter how great your soil seems to be, your new plants will welcome a boost of vital nutrients. Tomatoes, onions, peppers and other vegetables are known as “heavy feeders”. This means they need (and therefore remove) lots of minerals from the soil they grow in. Without fertile soil, many plants will struggle to produce those tasty fruits and vegetables, and beautiful blooms.

5 Tips to Improve Your SoilHands full of rich soil.

1. Add compost: Make your own or purchase a quality one such as mushroom compost. You may also like chicken manure based, beer industry bi-products or even dairy cow manure. Avoid compost made from curbside recycling (who knows what is really in there) or anything with steer manure, usually very high in salt. Spend a little extra on better quality and your garden will thank you with beautiful vegetables and flowers.

2. Use fertilizers: A mild, organic fertilizer is best and can range from fish emulsion to compost tea or kelp. Seek out a liquid fertilizer that is a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Look for a label with low numbers for each of these 3 minerals. See below for an example (3-3-2).Age Old Fish and Seaweed Liquid Fertilizer

3. Cover the soil all year: Use mulch (shredded leaves are perfect) and cover crops when you are not growing vegetables. This will help keep weeds at bay and adds nutrients to the soil.

4. Rotate vegetables: Don’t grow the same vegetables in the same place every year, especially those “heavy feeders” (mentioned above). It’s best to give the soil a three-year break between them to avoid diseases and soil depletion. Remember that some crops (peas and beans in particular) actually add nutrients to the soil they are grown in.

5. Encourage worms: Worm castings are expensive but have such great qualities that even a little bit is well worth it. The more you amend your soil over time, the better it becomes and somehow worms find their way to worthy soil.

A large bag of UNCO Industries Worm Castings.

 

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.

 

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/