Start your Seeds…Again.

by Sandy Swegel

This time it’s going to be a lot easier. You don’t need lights and cold frames. You don’t even have to use trays and little pots. You can put the seeds directly into the earth.  You don’t need much time.  Seeds germinate in warm soil really fast. All you really do need this time of year is water.  Seeds you start mid-summer are at risk of germinating and then drying out, so you have to remember to sprinkle them daily and keep the soil moist.  But that’s about it.

  1. Why Start Seeds Now?

The least romantic reason is to Save Money.
The second least romantic reason is to Save Time.
The romantic reason is Beauty and Abundance.

Lettuces. In most gardens, your lettuces and even spinach have bolted and gone to seed.  You’re probably trying to salvage individual leaves here and there, but they are pretty bitter because of the heat.  Seeding new beds will give you young sweet leaves and plants that will feed you well into Fall and even Early Winter.

Cold Hardy Greens.  The key to being able to eat out of the winter garden is to have big plants with enough leaves to feed you all winter.  Chards and Kale and Spinach seeded now will be big enough come to Fall that even in cold climates you can pile leaves on them and harvest from under the snow.  But you need big plants because come October and November the plants aren’t going to be re-growing much.

Peas.  Peas germinate and grow easily this time of year.  By the time they reach maturity, the chill of Fall nights will make them sweet and yummy.  In Colorado we kind of got cheated out of our peas this year because it became so hot so fast, the peas dried up.  But we have a second chance.

Root crops.  Carrots and beets planted in summer have time to grow to maturity and wait in the soil until cooling Fall weather turns them into sugar. As long as the ground isn’t frozen solid, you can continue to harvest delectable root veggies that taste much better than the spring and summer harvests.

Herbs.  Parsley and thyme are among the many herbs you can harvest all year.  Thyme can be frozen solid.  Even parsley that has frozen will plump and be bright green on warm sunny winter days.

You know the adage about perennials. First, they sleep, then they creep, then they leap.  Perennials need their first year to establish roots and many don’t even make flowers until the second year.  Perennials that you seed now will still consider this their first year and then be ready to bloom next year.  If you wait until next Spring to plant perennial seed….you won’t get flowers until 2016.  Planting perennials is one of the most thrifty things you can do in your gardens.  Foxglove and lupines are both underused magnificent bloomers in gardens.  And they can easily cost $8 each in garden centers. You can have dozens and dozens of them blooming next year if you seed now.  All those flowers for cutting you’ve always wanted — daisies and echinacea and rudbeckia – they are simple from seed. One packet of seed will give you dozens and dozens of flowers next year.

So save an entire year of time by planting perennial seeds now. And save a bundle of money by growing your own perennials and by having greens you can pick from for the next six months.


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Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

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Grass Seed Mixes



Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment

by Sandy Swegel


There are so many vegetables you can grow in your garden. If only there was enough time. If you have limited time or space for your garden, think about what is the best return on your investment of time and money as well as the best outcome of flavor and nutrition. Three things I grow even if I don’t have time to grow anything else are:

Salad greens.
Loose-leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, and arugula are up and ready to eat in as little as three weeks after planting. You can pick what you need for tonight’s salad, and let the plant continue to grow for another night’s salad. Baby greens and mixed lettuces cost $6 per pound (and up) at the grocery…and they aren’t necessarily that fresh…sometimes they’ve been traveling in a semi-trailer from California for a week already. Grow your own greens to get maximum nutrition and taste for a couple of bucks worth of seed.

You’ve tasted one of those grocery store tomatoes that look perfect and taste like absolutely nothing? Enough said. You have to grow tomatoes because home-grown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy. But tomatoes have also gotten really expensive. One or two tomato plants easily save you a couple hundred dollars if you regularly eat tomatoes in your salads and sandwiches. Cherry tomato plants are especially prolific.



Fresh herbs are the best way to give oomph to your cooking. They taste so much better than dried herbs and can often star in a simple dish …such as basil leaves served with mozzarella and tomato. Many herbs are perennial (like thyme and oregano) and only have to be planted once. Annual herbs, such as basil and dill produce lots and lots of flavorful leaves.

It’s always fun to grow everything there is to grow, but if you’re strapped for time or space, let the local farmers grow the long-season crops like winter squash, the root crops like onions and carrots, or the water-hogging melons. You’ll be enjoying your own magnificent home-grown healthful salads all season.

Make your own seed tape

by Sandy Swegel

I’ve been toying with my new packet of the Cosmic purple carrot seeds. They are so colorful I can’t wait to see them in my garden. Or better, on my own plate. But the seeds are so darn small. Some years I’ve put the seeds in and forgotten to thin the hundreds of carrot seedlings coming up and I end up with really skinny carrots. Seed tape is an obvious solution but pricey…and I don’t want ordinary orange carrots…I want purple carrots! Never mind my recent googling discovery that carrots used to be purple until about the 17th century. Then growers in Holland, trying to be patriotic to the ruling “House of Orange” hybridized seed until they got “orange.” I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up. There is some thought the Dutch might have made it up, but that’s the official story told in the Netherlands.

It’s crazy easy to make your own seed tape.
Most of the DIY seed tapes involve dollops of glue and trying to drop a single seed onto to the glue.
My favorite technique is this:
Cut a length of thin toilet paper about one inch wide.
Put some seeds onto a flat plate
Put some glue into a tiny bowl.


Dip a toothpick into the glue and then use it to pick up a seed or two. Put the seed onto the paper. About an inch apart. That’s it. It’s not much glue so you don’t have a long drying time.

If you are going to plant soon, I don’t think you need to put on another piece of paper to hold the seeds in place. Just go out and plant.

Now, I don’t actually plant in single rows. I like to plant in swaths. So I skip cutting the toilet paper and just glue down three staggered rows of seed right onto the toilet paper.

I can’t wait for my swath of purple carrots to appear!


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Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator Mixes

Grass Seed


Design Your Garden with Collages

by Sandy Swegel

The snow is still deep. Temperatures still below ten degrees. Seeds are ordered. Poppies and wildflowers were strewn on last week’s snow. Garden magazines are read. It’s starting to get hard to occupy the impatient gardener. My irritation with being bored is at about the same level as my neighbor’s 3-year old whose delightful need for attention and distraction sends her knocking on all the neighbor’s doors. Oh to be a pre-schooler again.

I’m past the age where I’m happy playing with crayons or Barbie. But as I watch the clever neighborhood moms coming up with a million games and projects to occupy snowbound children, I decided there was a way I could almost be a pre-schooler again. I could make a collage.

Only in the grown-up world, it’s not called a “collage.” It’s called a “visioning board.” The movie “The Secret” made visioning boards popular. I’m not too big on just having pictures of a perfect garden because, well, I know me. I’m never going to have a perfect garden. I’ll get too distracted by turning the compost pile or watching the bees or running off to do errands to get my garden perfect.


But a Garden Vision Board or Garden Collage is great for keeping track of new ideas and creating imaginary gardens. And all my pretty seed catalogs and magazines have perfect-sized pictures for cutting out small images of flowers and plants that I can paste on my board.

It’s easy to get started.
*Piece of paper, poster board or old cardboard. An old dry erase board and magnets work too
*Scissors (you’re grown up…you can have the pointy ones now)
*Gluestick or tape.
*magazines and catalogs.

So simple but the whole point of visioning is that the process does make your ideas happen. This year some of the favorite flowers or vegetable you collage with now will be growing for real in your yard or pots.

Collage Ideas:
Flowers. Everybody wants more flowers and more color in their yard. Gather pictures of your favorite flowers. Put pictures of flower arrangements so you can remember to grow those flowers.

Garden design. You can collect photos of designs you like. One day you’ll get around to it. My father collected pictures of gazebos for twenty years before he finally retired and had time to build one. I know I will make an herb knot garden one day.

Tweak your mature garden. If you’re ambitious with a printer you can print out a picture of your garden to use as the base of your collage and try out what flowers bring some added pizazz to the nice garden you already have.

Vegetable gardens. The preschooler next door has an electronic game that lets her plant carrots and tomatoes. She’s too young to know we used to design our vegetable gardens with pen and paper in the olden days. Gather pictures of your favorite foods.

Gardening Friends. Or you can just cut out pictures of bees and dragonflies and hummingbirds and all the other pollinators to remind you of your gardening companions.

Vacation Gardens. A collage of all the gardens I could have had if I hadn’t moved to Zone 5 Colorado. Bananas and tropical flowers.

Mostly, I’m collaging to have a little tactile fun and inspiration in the middle of a snowstorm. We have to remember that the reason we started gardening is that it’s fun and beautiful and creative. Not just work to be checked off a to-do list, but a place to nurture our spirit.

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Cute food you gotta grow

by Sandy Swegel Oregano 952700-BBB

One of the new seeds we’re carrying this year ranks number one on my cute food meter and in my top three best and fastest cute appetizers. This wonder food? The little mini-sweet bell peppers sold in grocery stores in mixed bags of red, yellow and orange. They are wonderfully sweet and colorful. You can make an entire appetizer plate in less than five minutes if you stuff them with goat cheese or cream cheese.

Mini Sweet pepper appetizer recipe:
Slice peppers vertically. Fill with goat cheese, cream cheese or egg salad. Serve



Grilled Mini Sweet Pepper recipe.
Put peppers on a skewer. Coat with olive oil. 4 minutes each side of a preheated grill.

Are these easy and quick recipes or what?!

If you don’t have that much time, the mini-peppers are great for nibbling fresh just like cherry tomatoes or carrots. Chopped, they also make a plain lettuce salad beautifully colorful.

Fortunately, mini sweet peppers are also easy to grow. You need a warm growing season and you need to start the seeds indoors in most places, but peppers take up a very small footprint in the garden. They forgive you forgetting to water them. They love miserable hot sunny days. It’s easy to tell when they are ripe….you can see the bright red, yellow or orange colors from across the yard.





Best Heirloom Vegetables

Grass and Wildflower Mixes


Best Free Seed Starting Container Ever

By Sandy Swegel

If truth be told, growing seeds and especially food is really just a hobby for me. I do it quite earnestly and often obsessively, but it’s not like I’m not going to eat if I don’t grow my own food. That has not always been true for my ancestors or for people around the world. If they don’t grow their own gardens, they don’t eat. And they don’t have extra money to buy fancy seed-germinating setups.

A great-grandmother I met described for me how she grew seeds back in the Depression of the 1930s living on the plains in Colorado. It’s a method that she still uses because it works so well and costs nothing. In her retirement she lives in a city townhome and but she still gardens in big pots on her patio…and each Spring she has egg-carton trays full of eggs with seedlings on her windowsill.

We’ve often heard of putting potting soil right into egg cartons. But if you plant right into the eggshell, you don’t end up with broken soggy cartons…and you putting calcium right into the garden where you need it. People who keep earthworms know that earthworms need calcium for reproduction. Eggshells in compost and in the soil make for more earthworms and better soil.

It’s super simple to start your seeds in eggshells. Save some egg shells. You’ll want to rinse them out or you’ll get that nasty sulfur smell if you leave old egg inside. Use a pin to pierce a hole or two in the bottom. Fill with some clean potting or germinating soil. That’s it. Absolutely free. Put the eggs into an egg carton on a bright warm windowsill. The eggs keep moisture in much better than the carton would. When it’s time to plant just crumble the base of the eggshell right into the garden before planting.

I sometimes get the clear plastic egg cartons. Those are really useful because the closed plastic makes a great tiny greenhouse.

You already know how to save money if you’re growing seeds. Growing from seed means each plant costs you pennies instead of dollars when you buy plants. Now you don’t have to pay for the seed containers either.

And if you time it right, you can have super cute eggs full of tiny seedlings for table decorations.



Photo Credits

Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

Wildflower Seed

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Mixes



Gardening as Winter Looms

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like the first deeply freezing temperatures followed by a warm day to get people in Zone 5 areas asking if the gardening season is really over if they can still tackle their garden to do lists even though Thanksgiving is around the corner.  We have two conflicting impulses…the really good bulbs are on sale at our local garden center AND there’s an inch of snow and refrozen ice on the garden bed.

What does happen to our soil in winter? Once soil temperatures are in the forties, all the creatures and denizens of the soil put themselves to sleep through dormancy or through laying lots of eggs or spores that will hatch when temperatures are warmer.  Seeds stop germinating or else require weeks and weeks at low temperature to come up.  They’re smart…no point in germinating if sub-zero temperatures in another few weeks are going to kill young growth. So the soil goes into stasis until the temperatures warm.

Here are some of the questions I hear people asking as our soil begins its freeze:

Can I still plant bulbs? Can I transplant daylilies now? Yes, if you can pry the soil open and get water to the plant, there’s a good chance your bulbs will bloom and the daylily will be fine. Daffodils especially prefer getting planted earlier to have some time to make roots. Sometimes blooming is delayed the first season, but I have had good success in planting bulbs too late…especially if I throw in some compost in the hole and don’t plant too shallowly. I’ve also had years when the bulbs just ended up being frozen mush…so plant earlier next year.

Can I put in a cover crop? In Zone 5, it’s too late.  The temperatures are too cold for seed germination.  Put lots of mulched leaves over the soil to cover it.

Do I have to water? Ideally, you got the garden well watered sometime in Fall through rain or irrigation.  If not or if there are long dry sunny spells, you should winter water.

What do I do with my Fall greens that are freezing solid? Keep eating…they get better every day.  Spinach frozen at 8 am is delicious at room temperature.  If you cover greens with row cover or a cold frame or even throw big bags of leaves over the plants, you can keep harvesting easily through January or longer if you haven’t eaten them all.

Can I still use herbs? Yep, remember where your herbs are and you can put your hand through a foot of snow for snippings of intensely flavored frozen thyme or oregano leaves.

Can I still fertilize? You can, but the soil organisms won’t be processing it.  Organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal stay on the soil and will eventually be used when things warm up next Spring.

Is there something I should plant?  Winter hardy violas and pansies don’t mind a little snow and ice.  In a sunny location, they’ll keep throwing up blooms all winter long…a surprise of color in a white or brown winter-scape. Plant well hardened off plants and keep them watered.

For more details on the science of soil in winter, check out this article from the Bountea compost tea company.

Photo Credit:;

Truffles – Orange Frost Fest

Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

By Sandy Swegel

Seeds are the New Hollywood Celebrities

The importance of seeds to life on Earth is growing in our consciousness. Have you noticed there are a number of new movies and other media about seeds? “Seeds” and “Sustainable Farming” are definitely “IN.” Many films are now available online for free and others are being screened in local communities.

Here are a few that I know about.

“Seeds of Time” 2013
SEEDS OF TIME follows agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler’s global journey to save the eroding foundation of our food supply in a new era of climate change. The reviews rave about great nature photography.

“Open Sesame” 2013
This film tells the story of seeds by following the challenges and triumphs of some of their most tireless stewards and advocates.

“Bitter Seeds” 2011
These are sad stories about farmers in India

“Harvest of Fear”
A Nova, Frontline PBC special about the GMO debates.

“The Vanishing Seeds Film Project.”
about seeds and deforestation in Africa.


Here are a few of the TV Programs:

“Farm Kings” about farmers in Pittsburg

A Reality TV program “The Farm” is popular in Europe.

And the newest show, Chipotle has sponsored
“Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu

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Is It Time?

by Sandy Swegel

Is it too late?  Can I still plant seeds?  These are the questions I heard this week.  In our Zone 5 area, garden centers are already starting to discount plants and seasonal workers will get laid off by the 4th of July. Does that mean it’s too late to plant seeds and you should just buy the biggest plant you can find?

Generally, the answer is, of course, there is still time to plant seeds…It’s only June!  For gardeners, the truest answer is always, “It Depends.”

There are a few seeds that it is too late to plant. In Zone 5 or other short growing season areas, it’s too late to plant watermelon or winter squash or tomatoes by seed.  The “days to maturity” info on the back of the seed package tells you that you need 90-100 days before the plant makes its first ripe fruit.  100 days from now is mid-September before you might get a watermelon…that doesn’t work when we might have frost by then…or at the very least cold nights.

The flip side of this question is, “Are there seeds I should plant rather than buy plants?”  Absolutely.  It makes no sense to buy a broccoli or cauliflower plant now for $4.00 when it’s just going to bolt in the summer heat.  It likes cooler weather.  And you could probably buy the broccoli itself cheaper.  But in a couple of weeks, market farmers are starting their broccoli seeds to get their fall crops going. Planting broccoli and cauliflower soon is a great idea!

Annuals are still a great bargain to plant.  I went into sticker shock when I went plant shopping this year.  Plant prices are up about 30 percent in my area.  For less than the price of a 4-inch pot with a marigold, I can get one seed packet of marigolds and have dozens and dozens of plants in bloom in only 45 days.  They’ll be super cute all over the garden and in the vegetable garden, they’ll help repel pests.

It’s the same for cosmos and California poppies and zinnias and all the annual wildflower mixes.  There’s still time.  For perennial seed, some plants might not bloom till next year, but the plants will be strong and it’s a lot easier to start seeds now in the garden where you want them to grow instead of inside under lights in the middle of winter.

Buying bedding plants is great for instant gratification, but gardeners know that if you want a garden full of hundreds of flowers (without breaking the bank), SEEDS are the way to go!

So there IS still time. Lots of time for annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers and bachelor buttons and zinnias and for big flowery herbs.  Then there all those vegetables to seed.  And the perennials you are admiring in bloom now. You get the idea. There is plenty of time to plant by seed and enjoy them this year.


Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

First Things: Start More Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

I had the good fortune to go backstage, so to speak, at a CSA farm this week.  Lara’s farm is amazingly

small. On just over an acre she almost single-handedly feeds 35 families.  She has an unheated greenhouse and a rototiller, but otherwise, that’s as high-tech as she goes.  Trying to fathom how one person can feed so many people, I kept asking questions and observing what she did.  One thing was obvious.  Farmers don’t stand around with their arms folded gabbing, at least not at the beginning of the day.  We had a running conversation, but her hands were busy, filling planting trays or picking off dead foliage, watering here and there.  But her primary motto, that she learned from a mentor farmer, was to keep starting seeds.  Every day, every time you go into the garden, “she said” you should ask if seeds need to be started.  Weeding, composting, deadheading and even watering can wait till later but if your seeds aren’t started and going, you aren’t going to have plants which means you won’t have enough food or enough flowers.  Watering is second on the list.  It doesn’t do much good to have started seeds last week if you let them dehydrate this week.

Growing a garden from seed is both miraculous and frustrating.  Miraculous is obvious:  you take this tiny seed and it becomes something magnificent: a pumpkin or a breathtaking flower.  But the frustrating part is that there’s no catching up if you procrastinate getting your seeds started.  You can fiddle with heat mats and lots of extra plant food, but there’s really no way to do last minute cramming to get plants growing.  They need time to grow. 

So let that be the first question in your garden today. Are there some new seeds I need to get started?

Here’s my answer of seeds I should start today:


 Spent daffodils and tulips have left an empty spot in the flower garden.  I should plant some cosmos seeds there to have flowers for the rest of the year.

 We harvested the radishes in the square foot garden.  I need to fill that square so I put a few kale seeds in.

 Last year I learned how to roast butternut squash with olive oil and rosemary so I need to make sure I have lots of butternut squash saved up. I need to start six seeds on the window sill (the soil is still cold at my house.)

 I visited a friend’s garden that was full of foxglove which often doesn’t bloom until the second year.  I need to start those seeds so I have a beautiful flower garden like she does next year.

What seeds should you start today?