Tomato Lovers: It’s Time! Make Your Decisions!

by Sandy Swegel

If you don’t already have your tomatoes growing….this is The Day. April 1st is my official day to start my tomatoes indoors. I’m in Zone 5 and last frost is six weeks away. You may start yours earlier if you live in a warmer place or have walls of water or other season extenders. No matter where you are, if you want tomatoes and haven’t seeded them yet…Do It Now. Or start a new variety or two because come late summer, we can’t possibly have too many tomatoes.

How to Decide What Tomato to grow.

Gardeners used to have only about five different varieties of tomatoes available to them. Now there are literally hundreds. Here are the tomato seeds we carry and the reason why you might grow each of them:
Beefsteak
Everybody knows this tomato. It’s the perfect big slice for hamburgers on the grill. It’s a manly tomato….a big sturdy tomato that holds up on the grill and on sandwiches.

Black Krim
This is my favorite tomato. It has a rich heirloom taste like many of the black tomatoes and it pumps out lots of medium-sized tomatoes. This makes it perfect for eating right off of the plant on a hot summer day. Earlier than some heirlooms.

Cherokee Purple
Cherokee isn’t just a marketing name. This is an heirloom tomato saved by the Cherokee people pre-1890s. Another black tomato with great taste. Gnarly looking tomatoes, too, which makes it even more interesting.

Amish Paste, Organic
This is a “paste” tomato. It’s very meaty and not too watery. It’s ideal for making sauces. Because it is so meaty, it’s also excellent for sun-drying. It is determinate, so most of the fruit ripens at the same time which is perfect for canning.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Remember to label this one in your garden. I spent one year waiting for them to turn red. Why grow green tomatoes? Because they have a unique flavor that is fresh and sweet. The flavor is lighter than the dark tomatoes. Aunt Ruby’s German Green is often a winner is our back yard taste tests.

Pink Brandywine
Brandywine is well known as an heirloom that defines what tomatoes “used to taste like.” These are big delicious fruit. Their growing season is a little longer so you have to be patient….but then they produce lots of tomatoes. And give this plant more space. It’s a giant.

Red Pear
Red pears are smaller pear-shaped tomatoes and are an heirloom dating back to colonial times. Pear tomatoes taste like regular tomatoes but are really prolific. In the olden days, people preserved them as “tomato figs.”

 

 

Learning from Kid’s Gardens

What We Can Learn from Kids’ Gardens

 

There are tons of books and articles on how to teach kids about gardening. And it is lots of fun to teach young gardeners and show them how to pull a carrot or find an earthworm. But kids who like to garden do it for the fun of it…so there’s a lot that we serious grownups can learn about gardening from kids.

Forget the rules. (or hold them loosely.) Plants grow more easily for kids than for adults. The first time I helped with a children’s garden project, we were planting peas for a Peas (peace) Garden. I had prepped the soil along the fence and about 20 kids of all ages came in and willy-nilly planted their peas. I attempted to teach a few about how to plant peas, but everywhere I looked peas were being thrown about or stomped into the ground. After all the kids left, I asked their teacher if I should replant some of the peas so the kids wouldn’t be disappointed when their plants didn’t grow. The teacher laughed and said, “They’ll grow….they always do.” Plants will grow for kids while adults who do the same thing will have failures. Sure enough. Peas planted 4 inches in the ground, or peas barely touching the soil, all sprouted and grew. Adults who have a playful attitude toward their plants, get better results than some of us who follow the rules too much.

More “Garden Candy”
Garden Candy is what one of the kids called peas because it’s what her grandma called them. Truthfully, we all want more strawberries and fewer cabbages. But they don’t have to just be strawberries. Cherry tomatoes and little round carrots and side sprouts of broccoli all have excellent potential as “garden candy.” Think of raw veggies naturally sweet and little enough for nibbling by small mouths. It may take some encouragement on your part to get the kids to taste the fresh peas or carrots and recognize how different they are than the cooked veggies they know.

More Play
Besides colorful fences around the garden, kids know to mix art and plants together everywhere. And they know some plants aren’t just for eating. Beans for example. Sure you can grow them in little bushes or perfect t-post trellises, but they taste even yummier when grown on teepees trellises that you can also hide inside on a hot summer day. And why grow plain beans with white flowers when you can grow scarlet runner beans! Kids always choose our Festive Rainbow blends of carrots or radishes or lettuces. More color, please. More shiny, brightly colored sparkly things in the garden, please.

 

 

More Art
Sure, a Sharpie on an ice cream stick marks where your vegetables are. Adults don’t have time to make magnificent Martha Stewart plant labels. However, kids know garden markers from Michaels’ and little drawings on rocks make great art. So do a few “container gardens” planted in old boots and bright plastic flowers stuck in the ground.

Tall Sunflowers are a Must.
Even kids who aren’t all that into vegetables know instinctively that sunflowers are beautiful and make people smile.

Be Proud of your Garden.
Your friends come over and you start apologizing for your weeds. Your kids, however, are pulling on the adults saying, “Come see my garden” because there’s one lonely marigold in full bloom.

 

Only Plant what You Love.
You don’t see eight-year-olds planting some vegetable they hate because they know they should. They plant flowers based on their favorite colors and they plant peach pits and apple seeds. And they learn to love kale because the red curly one is so cool.

Don’t Forget to Invite the Fairies and Garden Sprites
A little fairy garden is a delight for all ages (and for the fairies.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits
https://www.parentmap.com/article/15-garden-crafts-for-kids
https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/love-our-scarlet-runner-bean-teepee/

 

Why You HAVE to Grow Watermelon Radishes this Year

Words barely do the watermelon radish justice.
Virant. Brilliant fuchsia. Magic.OrgRadishWatermelon_BBB

We just started carrying the watermelon radish seed this year and it is one of the first seed packets I snagged this Spring. I’m not a big radish eater although I like them eaten raw with breakfast eggs as is common in some Persian cooking. I’ve always liked to grow them because they germinate so fast. I’ve done the old trick of seeding them with carrot seed because the radishes mark where the row is while you wait a long time for the carrots to germinate.

Watermelon radishes are a game changer. Yeah, sure they are super nutritious, full of lutein and beta-carotene. Broccoli family. Good for hydration. Low in fat. Etc. etc. But they are stunningly beautiful and fun to eat.

These pictures are the reason I’m growing watermelon radish this year. Seed them and in only 50 days you can be having these great meals.

 

What’s a watermelon radish, and what do I do with it?

http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitchen-assistant/roasted-vegetables/roasted-vegetables_5

 

Jumpstart your Lettuce Garden

Jumpstart your Lettuce Garden

Our new tricolor blend of romaine lettuces has me itching to get my salad garden started. I like Romaines because they are especially nutritious, comparable to kale. And I like this blend because it’s shiny and colorful. There’s a lovely gloss to the colorful Romaines that looks beautiful in the garden and on the plate. I want my food pretty!

OrgLettuceRoamaineTri_BBB

It’s pretty easy to get lettuce ready to eat earlier than your standard growing season. If you’re either busy or lazy (or both as I often am) there are some almost no work ways to get your salad growing.

Almost No Extra Work: Row Cover
Direct seed as usual into your garden. Put a layer of row cover loosely over the area. Secure with anchors or with heavy rocks which will also capture a tiny bit of extra heat. The row cover alone will speed germinate the seeds if you have a spell of warmer weather. The row cover then will protect it if the warm weather is followed by frigid temps.

A Little Bit of Extra Work: Pots
Want to have lettuce even sooner? My friend Cathy seeds her lettuce in lightweight pots and brings them inside at night or when the weather is extreme. It’s easy for her because she has a south-facing sliding glass door and moving the pots in means sliding open the door and moving the pots two feet in or out. She has the extra satisfaction of going to the Farmer’s Market in April where market farmers are selling similar pots for $25.

Invest Work for the Future: Cold Frames

Cold frames are an awesome way of having more of your own fresh food. They do take some time and money….but you will quickly make up that investment with what you save on fresh greens.

Work like a Farmer for Lots of Lettuce: Plugs
Growing your own lettuce plugs is one way to get a garden of lettuce without thinning or empty spots. Start your seeds under lights in plug trays that you can plant out when it’s a bit warmer. Very satisfying to have a full evenly-space plot of lettuce plants in the hour or so it will take you to plant out the entire plug tray (100-200 plants).

http://wcfcourier.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/gardening/lettuce-plant-some-frilly-fun-veggie-can-be-grown-in/article_2a856188-c725-5af2-960d-9fd1d89f4896.html

http://thefoxplot.com/tag/beekeeping/

 

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

 

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

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Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

 

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2

 

 

Walla Walla Sweet Onions…You know you want them

by Sandy Swegel

Walla Walla Sweet Onions

It doesn’t take much effort to convince us we should grow Walla Walla sweet onions. Think about thick slices hot from the grill. Or cold on our hot cheeseburger. Dream of oven-roasted whole onions. Or be one of those brave people who bite into the Walla Walla like it’s an apple.

Onions are really easy to grow so when I heard the Walla Walla Sweet Onion seed had arrived at BBB Seed for the first time, I rushed over. There’s only one problem for me with Walla Walls….their growing season is 125 days…a little longer than I can count on in Colorado. So I start the seeds indoors in February and transplant the seedlings in April.

 

The most important rule of growing onions is you have to use fresh seed. After a year or so, germination rates drop down to “almost none” so you do need new seeds each year.

Onions grow happily in decent soil. They can handle hot sun and they’ve forgiven me letting the weeds get a little overrun. There’s not too much guesswork as to when they are ripe…their tops fall over. So you can grow onions off in a corner of your garden without too much extra effort. Although quite labor intensive for farmers, onions are pretty cheap at the grocery so we don’t grow them so much to save money as to capture the awesome flavor of fresh homegrown Walla Wallas.

 

For more pictures and recipes, go to the website of the annual Walla Walla festival!
OR go to the festival in June!

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
http://www.sweetonions.org/

http://www.wiveswithknives.net/2010/08/02/potato-walla-walla-onion-and-gruyere-galette/
http://savorthebest.com/roasted-sweet-baby-walla-walla-onions/

 

Fall Equinox

by Sandy Swegel

Fall Equinox is upon us which suddenly spurs me to lament all the gardening I didn’t get done this year. In particular, I don’t have much of a winter garden growing. Am I going to have to start buying store-bought greens? I thought maybe I could outsmart Mother Nature by using row cover and soil heating cables to get some lettuces and kales going, but a farmer friend broke the bad news to me. Can’t be done. Sure I can get some growth. But lettuce and other greens are affected more by photoperiodism, than heat. Huh? I asked. She said Farmers know to get all their Fall and Winter plants going well before Fall Equinox because once the days start getting shorter, plants don’t grow as vigorously. (This, of course, doesn’t apply if you are further South where your days stay longer.) The farmer said I can get the lettuce to grow, but I won’t have the vigor and growth I need to provide myself with enough food for Fall into Winter. Lettuce is what they call a “long-day” plant. This is also the reason, more so than heat, that lettuce goes to seed in the middle of summer….because the days are long.

Who knew? Well, farmers and people who live off the land know. They start their winter lettuce in late summer.

Besides me, there’s another group of people who want to outsmart Mother Nature. Astronauts. One of the obstacles to living in space and inhabiting other planets is food. NASA has run food experiments on the Space Station for years, but now for the first time, astronauts are growing their own lettuces to eat instead of just to experiment on. What a treat for them instead of all those dried space foods.

Photo credit
http://collectspace.com/
http://gardenofeaden.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/how-to-grow-winter-lettuce-from-seed.html

 

 

BBB Seed

Best organic heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Seed

Grass and Wildflower Mixes

 

Cover Crops for Busy People

by Sandy Swegel

There’s one more thing to plant this year. Some of us are eager Fall gardeners and we’re still planting lots

of greens and crops for fall and winter harvest.  Most people though are feeling kind of done with the whole gardening thing for this year.  There are still lots of tomatoes to harvest, but attention has turned to the projects of Fall and the busy-ness of the school year.

The one more thing to plant is cover crops.  A cover crop mixture of winter rye and vetch seeded now will be up and growing by October and provide a pretty green cover on the garden bed well into winter, prevent weeds in the Spring, and greatly improve your soil over time.

There’s a lot more to know about cover crops, but if you’re one of the people who has gotten busy and is done with the garden for now, just throw some cover crop seeds over your empty garden bed space and let it start growing.  If you wait until the weather freezes and the garden is really done, the soil will be too cold for the cover crops to germinate.

Next Spring, you can start to think about whether to till in the crops or just let them die in place.  Right now….just get the seed in before it gets cold.

If you want to know more now, this fact sheet will help. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/244.html#fall

 

Photo credit: freshorganicgardening.com/sowing-and-tilling-cover-crops/

 

 

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Organic Vegetable Seed

 

Windowsill Basil

by Sandy Swegel

Two Ways to Have Basil all Winter.

August heat is hard on basil. The plants keep producing seed heads and as fast as you try to cut them back, new flowers start with the warm weather. Once the basil goes to seed you can still use the leaves, but they often have a bitter flavor.

But there are ways to keep enjoying fresh sweet basil all winter, besides the obvious strategies of drying or freezing the herbs.

Start seeds in a small window box planter now. This planter starts outside and comes into a bright windowsill as soon as temperatures go below 40 or so. Strew an entire packet of seeds over the soil. You will be growing the basil to a size somewhere between micro-greens and full-sized. The seed should germinate quickly and with regular watering, young plants will start to develop and should be several inches high by frost. Once inside, you can cut them down to the bottom leaves with scissors and the young plants will keep regrowing. If it gets really cold outside, you have to move the plants away from the window because the basil will freeze if they are leaning again the glass. If the basil gets buggy with aphids, you can bring the entire container to the kitchen sink and give it a shower.

Mason Jar Basil
If you don’t have seeds but you have purchased one of those pricey basil plants with the roots still on from the grocery store, you can keep growing that plant indoors. These have been grown hydroponically so you can put them in a mason jar with water on a kitchen windowsill. It might wilt for a week or so adapting, but will usually revive. Change the water every week or two. Again, harvest down to the bottom couple of leaves and the plant keeps regrowing.

Other greens and herbs like cilantro and lettuce also do well if you seed containers now and bring them in before they freeze. By winter the plants will be much bigger than micro-greens and will provide you with lots of intense flavor!

 

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Wildflower and Grass Seed Mixes
Photocredits
http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-gardening/backyard-gardening/5-herbs-perfect-for-container-gardening.aspx
http://melissaknorris.com/2014/02/growbasilindoorsallwinter/