Musings on Responsibility

by Rebecca HansenBBB Seed's "Never GMO's!" carrot man.

Here at BBB Seed, we are fortunate for the opportunity to talk with so many interesting people and to hear their philosophies on life, living, and gardening.  As we have learned from our customers, there are many different but equally valid views on sustainable agriculture, organic versus non-organic gardening, uses for wildflowers, and just about everything else. The BBB Seed staff is no exception – our opinions are just as varied as those of our customers.

Some people think that using plant species that are native to a specific area is the best way to re-create the way life used to be.  Others just want to grow a beautiful bed of flowers or the perfect heirloom tomato.   Some are excited by the simple emergence of a green shoot above a moist bed of soil, regardless of what lies below.  Some come from farming families while others have been born and raised in an urban environment.  The varied ideas and ideals in our workplace and of our customers help to make our work both fun and interesting.

safe seed pledge logo

Though we celebrate these diverse views and thoughts, we at BBB Seed have one goal that brings us together: to be personally responsible for providing a high-quality product which, to the very best of our knowledge, is environmentally sound.  We make our choices based on seed test information that is provided by the growers and collectors of our wildflower seeds as required by law.  We only purchase seed that, by the results of testing, has a noxious weed content of 0 (zero).  We carefully follow the ever-expanding list of noxious and invasive species lists to ensure that we don’t knowingly distribute varieties to areas where they might be considered invasive.  BBB Seed provides quality products and information to any and all of our customers that they may use for their own purposes.  We cannot control how our seeds are used once they leave the shop, but we hope that our products are put to use in an environmentally sound, agriculturally sustainable manner.  Given the discussions we have had with our customers, we are confident that this will be the case.  After all, in the end, we are all personally responsible for our own actions. Hence the statement on our packages:

“Beauty Beyond Belief Wildflower seeds, Heirloom Vegetable Seeds, and seed mixes are of superior quality and are carefully chosen based on purity and viability standards, essential elements for a successful, beautiful and self-sufficient landscape. Our seed mixes include no fillers or inert materials.”

 

 

The Windy Garden

By: Sandy Swegel

This could be a perfectly beautiful early Spring. We’ve had a week of warm sunny weather that is waking up the daffodils and tulips. Birds are flitting about and energetically singing out mating calls. It’s a joyful break from dark winter days. But then there’s the wind. Chinook winds. Or as they were called the year I lived in the Alps, “scheiss foen.” Everyone understood if the foen had arrived that you could be in a foul mood because of the irritability and headaches from the air pressure changes these mountain-made winds caused.

Wind can have devastating effects on a garden. Sure the strong winds can break stems and tree branches, but the greatest stressors comes from the drying effects of the winds. Plants close their stomata (leaf pores) to reduce water loss, but that slows the plants’ ability to grow. The winds desiccate the plant tissue and dry out the top inches of the soil meaning the plants need more water. Even plants under snow cover can get very drought stressed because the winds evaporate the snow before it can melt.

If it’s going to be a windy season, I make a few mental changes in my garden plans. Here’s things to consider if you have a windy garden:

Use more drought tolerant plants.
Increase your watering after the winds die down.
Grow shorter plants.
Grow plants like lavender with thinner leaves that won’t desiccate so easily.
Plant some tall ornamental grasses through the flower garden. They look beautiful in the wind and provide some wind break protection.
Plant evergreens as windbreaks.
Consider a garden wall.

And take an aspirin for your sinus headache.

 

Photocredits:

http://clarenbridgegardencentre.ie/
Top Tips for Windy Gardens
http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/ne/ne-galerie-gallery-2.aspx?a=1&photo=%7Bdfae32e8-4d1e-47e4-a909-08c9ea68dd13%7D

 

Fall Berries

Fall Berries

 

We think of maple leaves when we think of Fall color, but berries that ripen in the Fall offer vivid color that lasts well into winter.  They also provide food for birds and small mammals when there’s not much else to eat in winter.  Words cannot adequately describe the wild colors you’ll enjoy once all those showy leaves fall.  All these plants grow in Zone 5 with some irrigation.  (Some are quite xeric but then stay small.)

Orange and red berries
Pyracantha, mountain ash, cotoneaster, hawthorn

 

Blues and purples and blacks

Chokecherries, viburnum, juniper

 

And finally, the outrageous pinks!!!

Beauty berry

 

Photos:

http://extension.illinois.edu/ShrubSelector/detail_plant.cfm?PlantID=421

http://www.sunset.com/garden/flowers-plants/plants-with-beautiful-fall-berries

http://www.onlinenurseryco.com/mountain-ash-trees/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juniper_berries_lush.jpg

http://lathamsnursery.com/?product=viburnum-blue-muffin-3g-viburnum-dentatum-christom

http://www.onlyfoods.net/chokecherry.html

 

 

Clover: More than a symbol of luck

Clover, more than a symbol of luck!

by Jessica of “The Bees Waggle

Clover is a symbol of luck.  You will see clovers all over the place, along with green, rainbows and pots of gold in the month of March.  Discovering a four leaf clover is truly lucky, as there is only 1 in 10,000 clovers!  However, clover is more than just a symbol of Irish luck. Clover brings many nutritional elements to the places it grows.

 

Bumblebees are frequenters of red clover because their tongues are long enough to reach the nectar in these tubular flowers.  

Clover enriches the soil its roots take hold in by fixing nitrogen.  It is able to achieve this because it is host to a bacterium, Rhizobium.  The relationship between clover and Rhizobium is symbiotic, meaning they are mutual beneficiaries.  The bacteria are fed by the plant and the plant is fed by the bacteria.  Plants cannot use nitrogen the way it exists in the atmosphere.  Rhizobium converts atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form for plants and animals to utilize.  Rhizobium takes up residence in the plant’s root system and forms nodules.  Clover and other legumes are susceptible to this type of bacterial “infection” and that is why these plants are great fertilizing plants!  Turns out not every bacterial infection is a bad thing!  As a result of nitrogen fixation, all plants surrounding clover benefit from the enriched soil conditions and thrive.  No need for artificial fertilizer with clover in the mix.

Weeds are no match for clover!  Clover grows harmoniously with many plants but will crowd out weeds.  Wow!  Fertilizer and a weed control packed into one plant!!

Clover is also drought resistant and will remain green and beautiful through the heat of summer.

I wouldn’t want to let you down and forget to mention how attractive clover is to bees and many other beneficial insects.  As a result of this, clover works as pest control, by attracting many predators of harmful garden pests.

Clover depends on insect assisted pollination.  This is just another reason to join this movement to save our bees and all pollinators alike!  Clover is easy enough to grow from seed; give it a go this year and watch your garden thrive!

Cheers!

 

Bumblebees Love Purple

by Sandy Swegel

 

I visited one of my favorite suburban lawn alternative gardens yesterday.  It’s a true pollinator’s heaven of nectar and pollen, right on a neighborhood street. Full of perennial gaillardia and rudbeckia, and reseeding annual larkspur, cleome and sunflower, the garden uses about the same amount of water as your average lawn.

Bees were everywhere.  Neighbors stop by in wonder at what can be done with a front yard instead of plain old grass.  In the median strips in front of the flowers, kales and lettuces produced greens for the neighbors. This time of year, gaillardia and rudbeckia are dominant with their yellows, oranges and reds.  But something different this year was a plethora of purple larkspur.  Curious, I  asked community urban farmers Scott and Wendy about the variation.  They and the landowner are all careful gardeners, unlikely to throw in something different without a reason.  Scott explained matter-of-factly, “Well it’s for the bumblebees. They prefer purple.”  I was skeptical since I see bumblebees all day on different colored flowers.  He assured me they had watched the field the last couple of years. The bumblebees always went for the purple flowers.  And walking on the path, huge fat bumblebees were on the purple larkspur, gorging away.

 

I couldn’t resist a little more research and sure enough, studies in Germany showed that baby bumblebees preferred purple flowers. Purple flowers are thought to contain more nectar than other colors and that baby bumblebees who chose purple flowers had a better chance of survival…they then passed the purple preference onto their offspring.

I’m not sure what most piqued my curiosity this day…I loved learning that bumblebees like purple flowers best.  But I think I was more intrigued by Wendy and Scott just noticing all season that the bumblebees liked one particular color.  In the end, though, I’m most impressed with the bumblebees who somehow got the humans to plant their favorite food.  Very clever bees.

Photo credits:
http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/21/bees-can-sense-the-electric-fields-of-flowers/

 

 

Stalking the Wild Monarch

by Sandy Swegel

It’s Show and Tell time.
It’s time to take the kids or some curious adults outside and prove your superior knowledge of the ways of nature and introduce them to butterfly eggs.  It’s been a good milkweed year in the wild this year. Lots of spring rains followed by warm days have made the perfect home for milkweed plants.  Milkweeds are growing in my garden and along roadsides and ditches.  If milkweed plants are fully grown…mine are in tight bud about to bloom…you can walk up to almost any plant and look under the leaves and find little tiny white monarch butterfly eggs.

Milkweed plants, Asclepias, as you probably know are the ONLY host plant for the monarch butterfly.  The butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch hungry little larvae that chew up the leaves.

The larvae get big and fat and eventually form pupae, also on the underneath side of a milkweed plant.

Finally, “ta-da” a monarch butterfly emerges.

I have two favorite kinds of milkweed plants in my garden.  The “showy milkweed” Asclepias speciosa with the big pink seed head you’ve seen in fields, and “Butterfly weed” Asclepias tuberosa which is my favorite because it’s bright orange and looks good in the dry August garden next to the Black-eyed Susans.  It also makes a great picture to see a Monarch butterfly on one of the orange flowers.

Monarchs are happy to choose either of these two “milkweeds” or any of the other more than 100 different species of milkweeds around the world. So you can pick the flower you like and grow it in your own garden. Grow it and the monarchs WILL come.  I’ve had good luck with fall or winter direct sowing of the seeds that easily grow into blooming plants the next year.  After that, they reseed themselves gently.

Video links
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=9Q2eORu1hP8

http://www1.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?title=Monarch_butterfly_laying_eggs_on_milkweed&video_id=51640

And, just in case there are any monarch butterflies out there that don’t know how to do this, here is an instructable!

http://www.instructables.com/id/Monarch-Butterflies-Egg-to-Butterfly/

 

 

 

How to Get all the Seeds you Want and Not go Broke

by Sandy Swegel

My happy group of gardening buddies first got to know each other because of our great avarice for more seeds. We had all joined a local gardening email list so we could talk more about plants and gardening, but the more we talked with each other, the more seeds and plants we wanted.  Every time someone mentioned a new variety of tomato or annual flower or ground cover, we had to have one of those.  The first year, we decided to meet in person and share seed packets.  Armed with dozens of recycled envelopes, we doled out tiny seeds to each other, taking home three Cherokee purple tomato seeds or six cosmos seeds.  This quickly became confusing and chaotic and required so many tags in our seed trays.  So the next year we decided to become more economical.  We’d each buy a packet of seeds and grow out all the plants…and then swap plants.  We definitely got more plants than we would have grown on our own and we each had unusual varieties you can’t buy in stores.

But the third year of our avarice proved to be the year we figured out that we could get as many seeds as we wanted…and they practically paid for themselves.  All we had to do was start our seeds and sell 2-month-old plant starts to each other and to the other greedy gardeners who envied our ever more diverse gardens.  We learned that anyone can sell healthy organic heirloom tomato starts, especially if you have pictures of last year’s garden.

You can try your own mini plant exchange and sale. We price our seedlings cheap ($1 or $2 at most).  I can afford all the heirloom tomato plants I want if I just sell three seedlings for $1 from each seed packet.  Throw in some herbs and flowers and soon the plants barely fit in the car. Our little group now has a giant plant sale every May where everyone brings their plants to sell to each other, but thanks to free advertising on Craigslist and neighborhood electric poles, we also sell our humble little plants to the public.  Avarice never ends, of course, and now we have to grow more plants so we can make money so we can afford backyard greenhouses. Last year our small group of about 12 home gardeners sold some $4000 worth of plants that they started in closets and on top of refrigerators just two months before. Not enough to get rich, but enough to buy more seeds, build hoop houses and season extenders, and have a load of precious organic sheep manure delivered to our gardens.

So enjoy your seed shopping and think about swapping some of the plants you start with others.  We learned that while there is no end to avarice among gardeners, there is also no end to generosity. It is a great joy to have an abundance of little plants to share with friends and strangers.

http://dirthappy.blogspot.com

 

Communicating with Plants

by Sandy Swegel

Reading through all the garden porn…uh I mean seed catalogs…I found myself quite transported this morning.  Looking at the beautiful pictures in the catalogs, I realized that when I considered getting seeds for a certain plant, my mind was quite filled with images of what the full-grown plant in bloom would look like.  Thinking about what tomatoes to grow, my mouth began to salivate.  For gardeners, seeds aren’t just a tiny bit of hard matter, but a world of potential realized.  Somehow, I think the plants actually manage to communicate that to us.  We sit reading our catalogs and the seeds themselves seem to be shouting from the page, “Pick me!” Pick me!”  As I always tell people when I teach seed starting classes,  seed starting is easy….the plants want to grow.

I don’t think we need to be psychic to communicate with plants.  Human-plant communication is something humans have done since the beginning. In a world with so many plants, how else did we figure out which ones are good for medicine and which ones are good for food?

So do a little experiment when you sit with your seed catalog or favorite seed website.  Settle yourself into a quiet place alone with your catalog and set the mental intention that you’d like to understand which plants you should grow this year.  Then calmly flip through the catalog and see what really gets your attention.  Or sometimes thoughts of a certain plant pop into your head.  Close your eyes for a moment and really see the plant. Use your imagination to smell the plant or feel its leaves.  Let an image come to your mind of where the plant might be physically in your garden.  Imagine it growing in that spot next June and notice if the plant looks healthy or weak when you think about it there.  If it doesn’t look strong, try to imagine it in a different place.  How’s it look there?  How do you feel when you see the plant there?

Whether we are accessing our own intuition or really communicating with the plant itself, I think we are tapping into our own inner gardener who knows exactly what plants we should grow to make both the plant and the gardener happy!

Photo Credit: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/can-talk-flowers-make-grow-76408.html

 

How to Become a Great Gardener

by Sandy Swegel

I garden and landscape for a living.  I have accumulated a massive amount of information about the best ways to grow things, to take care of the soil, to encourage native plants and bees, etc.  When I’m talking to people, they naturally assume I have a degree in horticulture or botany.  So it surprises people to learn I have a BA in History and an MA in Theology. I’ve been thinking a lot about this because my friend’s kids are all starting college and trying to decide what to major in.  I had no idea when I was 18 that I would one day garden for a living.  But studying history taught me to think and analyze and reflect. And studying theology taught me the world is a mystery and it’s important to learn to observe and notice and simply “be” with nature.

So I encourage everyone to become self-taught gardening experts. You don’t have to go to school or even study.  You just need to start noticing what’s going on in the natural world. No teacher can tell you as much as your own personal experience will.  If you’re just a little systematic about it, you can be a much better gardener at the end of this year. Here’s some homework:

Journal. Keeping a garden journal of what you do, what you plant and what the weather is like is a great way to learn.  You may not know why what you are writing is important (when you planted, when plants started, days without rain, birds and insects observed, etc) but in hindsight, you can figure out when to plant so there are flowers for hummingbirds, or how much rain it takes to have big fungal outbreaks.  Even just being able to read the seed packet you glued into your journal when it’s time to harvest will be a big help.  Keep notes. Understand them later.

Pick a specialty this season. One year I decided to learn herbs.  I bought seeds and plants of every herb I could think of and grew them in a tiny 4 x 6-foot garden. I learned tansy is a big space hog that kinda stinks and crowds out the other plants, that cilantro and dill practically grow themselves, and that ginger root from the grocery store grows beautiful plants and tons of free ginger.

Take pictures of everything that intrigues you. Take shots of plants in other people’s yards, wildflowers on walks, blooming containers, weird plants you’ve never seen before. The photos will show you what you like and what really interests you.

Observe. Just look and notice everywhere you go. Ask questions of gardeners. Wonder about the weather. Notice creepy crawly things or buzzing flying things.  Again. Just take notice with a sense of wonder. You’ll make sense of it eventually.

One thing I’ve noticed about our BBB Seed readers:  you notice the natural world. You stand in awe at beautiful landscapes, tiny birds in nests, and clever ways people arrange flowers in a shabby chic decoration.  Use these great powers of observation and really teach yourself something new this year.

 

Seeds You Can Start Outdoors NOW!

by Sandy Swegel

Yes, most of the country has been caught up in a polar vortex. Snow and ice are on the ground and you, the gardener, are stuck with nothing to garden.

There are still two flower seeds that you can put out now!

Poppies and Calendula.

A friend who has gardened “naturally” for sixty years always has beautiful stands of poppies that I covet.  She shared her secret for poppies and it works great for calendula too.

“Anytime after the new year, preferably the night before a big snow, spread a packet of seeds where you want the flowers to grow.”

That’s it. That’s all it takes. In nature’s time, the seeds will germinate and grow. Putting the seeds out before a snow helps both with giving a little moisture and with hiding the seeds from birds.  But I’ve also had luck just throwing the seeds on hard snow.