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/

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/

 

February Plant of the Month – Carrots

Plant of the Month

February 2017

 

Common Name: Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Scientific Name: Dacus carota var. sativus

 

Native Range: Mediterranean Region

Hardiness Zone: 4 to 10

Days to Maturity: 65-75

 

General Description: Scarlet Nantes Carrot is a standard market carrot that has a long, cylindrical shape and a rich reddish-orange color. The flavor is sweet and delicious. Roots are fine-grained, containing almost no core. High moisture content makes this variety perfect for juicing. Carrots can reach up to 7 inches long. To prevent diseases, rotate planting location every season.

 

Site Requirements:

  • Light: Full sun. Will tolerate very light shade.
  • Water: Moderate moisture. Crusted soil can suppress germinated sprouts.
  • Soil: Well-drained soil with organic matter. The area needs to be free of stones.

Seeding:

This cool-weather crop is easily over-planted due to its fine seeds. Sow seeds directly into loose soil in early spring 2-3 weeks before last frost date. Carrots are slow to germinate, emerging in 2-4 weeks. Cover seeds with a ¼ inch of soil—no more than ½ an inch. Lightly water seeds every day for best germination. Once sprouts emerge thinning is critical to reducing competition. Thin seedlings to 1/2 – 1-inch spacing. Best time for thinning is when soil is damp. Plant seeds every 2-3 weeks throughout midsummer for continuous harvest.

 

Harvest Time:

Start harvesting as soon as carrots have reached the desired size (up to 7 inches). Try pulling up one at a time to check the size. Watering the area before harvest can make pulling by hand easier. Harvest by mid-September to avoid pest damage.

Fun Facts:

  • Carrots are a great source of fiber, potassium and vitamin A.
  • Carrot greens can be used in soup stock, pesto, curries or tea.
  • Common pest: carrot rust fly
  • British gardeners plant sage around the area to repel the carrot fly

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

Time to Reboot the Veggie Garden

by Sandy Swegel

We ate the last of the Spring Peas this week. They were gnarly and kinda tough, but I savored the sweet Spring memories. Even though the peas were planted in a little shade and watered regularly, a pea plant can only take so many blistering hot days. Pooped-out peas are a sure sign that it’s time to start thinking about the Fall Garden. It seems slightly absurd since we still don’t have a single red tomato here in zone 5, but if I want a lush fall and winter garden, the time to reboot the spent Spring garden is now.

But it is July and it’s hot, so let’s start the fall garden in nice easy baby steps. These week’s plan is simple:

1. Pull out the finished pea plants. Pull out the weeds. Scratch in some fresh compost and keep the area watered for a few days as the soil settles down.
2. Plant some seeds. Keep the patch well moistened (or throw some row cover over to keep the water from evaporating so fast.
3. Have something cold to drink and flip through your seed cache or favorite seed website to plan something new and different the next time a little patch of soil is ready for replanting.

Some excellent July planting choices:

Leafy greens: arugula, Asian greens, collards, more kale or chard
Cool-season herbs like cilantro and dill
Root crops you want to enjoy after frosts like carrots and beets
Rapini (Broccoli raab)

Don’t stress yourself in the heat….just plant that one little patch that’s just growing weeds now and reap the rewards in September.

Photos:
http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Healthy-Recipes-Winter-Vegetables-Fruits-21357784#photo-21357809

Lupines

by Sandy Swegel

One way to design your garden is to plan ahead, make sketches and get all of your seeds started indoors 8 weeks before frost.  Another way, for those of us not quite so organized, is to add a plant you absolutely fall in love with, no matter what the time of year.  Lupines fit this latter category for me.  Until I see them bloom, I forget how amazing they are. When they come into bloom, I am awestruck.  They are so unusual and big and beautiful and colorful.  I envy those in New Hampshire who went last week to the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival where you could ride horse-drawn wagons through fields of lupine.  The festival continues this weekend if you live nearby.  Friends sent photos of lupines against the sea in Cape Cod and I knew it was time to get the packets of seeds of lupine that I’ve had unopened since February.

 

June is probably a little late to get flowers for this year from seed, but it is perfect timing for growing big plants that will put out big flowers next June.  Even if you already have some lupine growing, it is a good time to start some more.  Lupines are biennial or short-lived perennials so you need to keep starting new plants if they aren’t seeding themselves around.  They germinate pretty easily especially if you give them a cold stratification or just soak them overnight in warm water before seeding.  Lupines are easy to grow.  They like moist areas but tolerate drought.

 

There are good reasons to grow lupine other than their drop-dead gorgeousness.  Permaculturists value lupine as nitrogen fixers and phosphorus accumulators.  Bees and other nectar-eating pollinators value the abundant nectar from lupines.  Lacewings like to lay eggs on them. Birds eat their seeds. And we feast on their beauty.

Photo Credit

Lupines of Cape Cod, L Fulton, 2016

Perched Among the Lupines, Michael Carr of Somersworth, NH 2013

Rules You Can’t Break

Some Rules You Can’t Break

by Sandy Swegel

Snow on Blossoms

Nature is a fierce taskmaster. We can bend many rules by starting seeds in our basements under lights or planting tomatoes in Walls of Water in the snow. But there are definite limits to how much nature will bend to our will and when we’ve just gone too far. A warm early Spring and now a deadly April blizzard have brought to mind who really makes the rules here…and it’s not gardeners.

Laws of Time and Space that can’t be broken.

Six weeks before last frost
The rule of thumb for cool season plants is to seed six weeks before last frost. April 1st is 6 weeks before our last frost, but a warm spell had impatient gardeners planting peas in February. Some peas did come up but many more rotted under the sodden snows and rains. Others were eaten by birds and mice. Most people had to replant.

After danger of frost has past
Really. 72 degrees in early April is not a reason to break this law. My eager neighbor planted green beans a couple of weeks ago. It was very warm and they sprouted and started to grow. They all turned brown and died in our below-freezing temperatures this weekend.

Snow on Crabapple Blossoms

 

Days to Harvest
Well I’ve tried the squash planting experiments and learned what the seed packets say. It takes 100 days to get my favorite butternut squash ripe before killing frosts in the Fall. I cannot procrastinate and not get the seeds planted until June 14th like I did two years ago. No amount of heat or sun or fertilizer speeds up the natural process of development. Squash were beautiful but immature and not edible. Nature doesn’t forgive procrastinators no matter how well intentioned.

Fruit tree flowering
The law of time sadly broken this weekend was by people who plant trees that bloom early. In eastern Colorado, one of the frequently planted and least productive fruit trees is the apricot. It buds and blooms in very early Spring and hopes are raised for a grand harvest. Then inevitably there are April freezes and all the flowers freeze. We get apricots maybe every seven to ten years. It just doesn’t make sense to plant them. But now with more global warming-induced fluctuating temperatures, we are going to have the same problems with our reliable fruit trees: apples, plums and pears. A warm Spring brought all the fruit trees into full bloom last week….when the trees are most susceptible to killing frosts. It may be as cold as 24 degrees tonight which could me no backyard or local fruit this year…the second year in a row. We have to begin choosing very late budding trees to handle climate change.

4.18.16c

There are many other laws that can’t be broken. Anyone who has forgotten to thin the carrots knows you can’t break Laws of Space and expect normal carrots….instead you have hundreds of carrots thinner than chopsticks. I tried breaking the Laws of Light and Dark by falling for beautiful pineapple sage at the garden center. It only blooms when the days get short. Our days get short about a week before Fall frost….so the plant sat without bloom most of the summer until a fabulous October display and then frost.

To be happy, successful gardeners, we must notice how nature works and try to work with her, not against her. Climate change is discouraging to say the least, but we can adapt.

 

Grow your own Thyme Plugs

Grow your own Thyme Plugs

by Sandy Swegel

One of the more intrigue new seeds we are carrying is Creeping Thyme. We all love the romantic look of a stone path with thyme filling in the crevices between the stone. Thyme lawns have also become popular as a low-water way to have a patch of green. You can’t play soccer on your thyme lawn, but you can walk across it. The best part is that in most gardens, the thyme grows so thickly that only a few weeds pop through.

It can be quite a challenge to start a thyme lawn or patio though. The plants you purchase generally are in large pots and it’s not easy to shake off the dirt and try to smoosh the plant between the pavers. It’s also pretty expensive to cover a long walkway.

You can definitely try direct seeding and sprinkling the thyme seeds in the areas you want the groundcover to grow. This works well in England or in coastal areas. This hasn’t worked well for me because Colorado is arid and it takes daily watering to get the seeds to germinate. Naturally then, lots of weed seeds germinate before the thyme comes up. There is an easy solution for people who like to grow from seed. Grow your own thyme plant and thyme plugs.

 

Plug trays are the size of a normal planting flat but each flat has cells for 128 plants. Sometimes garden centers sell plug trays or you can find them on the internet. I got some that my garden center was throwing out….they use them to plant into the larger pots they sell. You can also use those little six packs annuals come in. Fill your plug tray with seed germinating mix and put one or two seeds into each cell. Grow under lights or outdoors if it’s warm enough. In just weeks after germinating you end up with an entire tray of perfect little well-rooted plants that easily fit into the spaces in your patio. If you’re planting a lawn, you can place the plugs on a grid 4-8 inches apart and they’ll grow to a mat this year. Each packet of thyme seeds has 600 seeds in it so you could a LOT of thyme plugs for a couple bucks!

Growing your own thyme plugs is easy. The hardest part is being sure to weed the area you are planting really well. But it’s the last time you’ll have to do such a big weeding there….once the thyme grows in, it blocks most weeds. Yippee. No weeding on your patio. Or if you’re planting a lawn…no more mowing.

Photo Credits
http://blackthumbgardener.com/beauty-underfoot-plants-for-paths-and-walkways/
http://www.dream-yard.com/walkway-ideas.html
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/groundcoverthymes.htm