Name that Seedling

 

by Sandy Swegel

Everything’s greening up in your garden and there are so many interesting baby plants.  Can you recognize what’s a friend or a foe?  Here are some clues to help you identify little seedlings that are coming up in my garden right now!

 

  1. I’m a weed, but I’m a nutritious and yummy green for salads or saute. Wait too long, and I may grow to four feet tall.
  2. I’m volunteering in your herb garden.  I look a lot like other other herbs, flowers and weeds, but crush a leaf and smell it…and you’ll know exactly who I am.
  3. Did you plant your cool season vegetable seeds recently? I’m always up the fastest!
  4. I don’t mind cold and snow.  A lot of people plant me on St., Patrick’s Day.
  5. Don’t I look healthy!  Let me grow and I’ll be in your garden FOREVER.
  6. Did you plant annual wildflowers last year?  I may have a hard time making a commitment, but I’ll be back every year.
  7. Nobody remembers planting me, but I love to grow in surprising places.  I may be all green now, but come back in a week and I’ll be jumping to see you.

 

Answer Key

  1. lambs quarter
  2. cilantro
  3. radish
  4. pea
  5. bindweed
  6. bachelor’s button
  7. johnny jump up

How to Get Rid of Weeds

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the question I hear most often in Spring.

The question comes most often from my friends who are very smart and successful in busy lives.  Their garden is one aspect of their beautiful complicated lives but it’s always a challenge because it’s not easy to make nature conform to what you want with one big weekend cleanup.

So there was an animated discussion about the best digging tools and homemade vinegar solutions. Everyone wants to protect the earth and the bees but frankly feel they have failed when the same weeds overwhelm their garden every season.  You know the weeds I mean, the ones that have grown very tall when you walk into your yard in late June and see that they just went to seed, making thousands of new baby weeds.

At some point, someone asks me what my tool is as a professional gardener.  My friends never find my answers very entertaining, so they usually return to a discussion of their latest internet surefire natural weed killer.  Nevertheless, here is my answer from years of experience of dealing with weeds.

 

The best tool is diligence.  Weeds have a strong will to live and procreate.  You have to be vigilant for them and keep after them.

After setting a firm determination about what weeds are permissible and which aren’t, then here are some techniques.

Get them when they are little.

Right now in your gardens, there are thousands of tiny weed seedlings you could control with one stroke of your hand hoe.  Off with their heads:  tiny seedlings don’t survive if they loose their leaves. Learn what young weeds look like.  Bindweed babies are cute little heart shapes.

 

Learn to love them. 

Dandelions are the best example of a “weed” you can learn to love.  In moderation of course.

They are very cute…children love them.  They are one of the first foods of hungry bees each Spring.  You will have more time and less frustration in your garden if you don’t have to eradicate all the dandelions.

 

If you do decide to get rid of perennial weeds…be smart and determined.  Don’t just hack it up in frustration every Spring and let it grow and strengthen the rest of the year.  You can’t get nasty perennials all at once….but you can wear it down and weaken it.  I have a sharp hori-hori knife and dig out at least four inches of root.  If the weed reappears, I recognize it and dig a little deeper the next time.  Soon it will exhaust itself and give up.

 

Finally, have a cup of tea.

Or at least get the electric kettle out.  Boiling water or hotter steam does an excellent job in rocks and walkways,  especially when weeds are young. And it is very satisfying.

 

Photocredits

https://weedecology.css.cornell.edu/weed/weed.php?id=6

http://www.blikk.hu/eletmod/tippek/elleptek-a-kertjet-a-gazok-igy-szabadulhat-meg-toluk/f38r539

 

ILLITERATE GARDEN

By: Sandy Swegel

“My garden is illiterate.  It didn’t read the book about what it can’t do.”

That was the wisecracking opening remark at a gardening talk I attended recently.  We all laughed and during the break we started talking about some of the stupidest plants we know.

Looking at wild plants, we laughed about orchids native to cold, arid Colorado.  But the most illiterate plants are the ones we humans planted because we didn’t know better.

The plants that don’t know they can’t survive in Zone 5.

Pineapple sage don’t you know anything? You like living in semi-tropics.  What are you doing living another year in the Colorado clay soil iris garden with 70 mph winds?

The plants that don’t know that being an annual means can’t live longer than one year.

Yep Verbena bonariensis I’m talking about you.  The books say you are an annual but I’ve watched you survive for three years in a row.  Ditto snapdragons…I have trees younger than you.

Plants that don’t know they are supposed to be invasive.

I’m waiting for you, bamboo. Any day now you’re supposed to fill in that entire border between my yard and my neighbor’s ugly garage.  Sure, four years ago I saw one runner into the grass…but what have you done lately?

Codependent plants.

These are the plants that not only don’t know they can’t survive but also put up with terrible abuse.  Don’t be sweet-talking me Japanese Maple.  You know who you are.  You croaked all those times I planted you in protected areas and nurtured you with extra mulch in winter and water in summer.  But the year I put you, a tree, in a pot with six other plants on a third-floor deck without protection from the cold and without winter watering…that’s the year you survive?

If it were up to humans, we’d never have surprises in the garden or tulips blooming in July or scabiosa blooming in December literally under the snow.  Or the gallardia that blooms in my driveway. We won’t even mention the weed that seeded and bloomed in my truck bumper the December I was driving around Louisiana.

What a relief that our plants are so darn illiterate.

 

Photocredits:

fullycoolpix.blogspot.com/2014/08/plants-live-everywhere.html

www.boredpanda.com/plants-flowers-versus-concrete-asphalt-pavement/

 

Weeds Are Our Friends

by Sandy Swegel 

Say what? Well, Spring weeds ARE my friends. August weeds not so much. But Spring is finally overcoming winter and the big leafy weeds are the proof.

So what’s to love about Spring Weeds? The most important thing is they are an abundant source of food for pollinators. They are also delightfully pretty if you don’t think of them as weeds. I especially love the wild mustards. Invasive in lawns and on bare garden soils, blue mustards’ very tiny blue flowers are everywhere and are an excellent food source for awakening bees. Bees can’t live on dandelions alone you know.

To a gardener, the best part about spring weeds is WEED TEA and COMPOST.

Weeds, especially the perennial ones like dock and thistle, are an excellent source of nutrients because of their deep tap roots. To capture these nutrients in a usable form, you have to break down the plant tissue. The easiest thing to do is just keep throwing the leaves on the compost pile. This time of year your compost bin has too many “browns” anyway with all the dead winter material. The “greens” of spring coupled with warm weather jump-starts your pile.

But if you want to really get all those nutrients available to your plants and soil, you’ll want to make some Weed Tea.

Weed Tea Recipe

Get a big container.  A Rubbermaid garbage can will work, or make a small batch in a 5-gallon bucket. Put in all the weeds you can gather. I throw in cut leaves and whole plants. Put this container someway far away from your back door where you can’t smell it!

Here’s what’s going in my bucket:
Yellow dock leaves…these are everywhere.
Pulled or dug thistles.
Comfrey if you have it….these are especially full of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Nettles. Wear gloves.
Crabgrass with clumps of dirt still attached.
Dandelions, salsify, prickly lettuce, even bindweed if it’s up already. Nothing’s going to survive this stew.
Pond scum.

 

Now fill your container with water at least 12 inches over the plant material. And let stand until it is a disgusting gooey stew of fermented and stinking rotted material. Stir weekly. That smell is anaerobic decomposition. If the weather is warm, this takes maybe 10 days or as long as 4 weeks if it’s cooler. That’s it. You’ve made the best fertilizer you will ever use. Capture the liquid to use to pour directly (I dilute about 1 part weed tea to 4 parts water) on your garden beds. Strain some and put it in a sprayer for foliar feeding. Hold your breath and throw the stinking mess of weed material on your compost pile.

My favorite use of weed tea is to use it as a foliar feed and watch the treated plants green up overnight. This is especially good on tomatoes.  Spring Weeds really are a gardener’s friend!

Photo credits

http://wildfoodgirl.com/2013/denver-mustard-mania/

http://permaculturenews.org/2013/12/06/simple-recipe-fertilizer-tea/

 

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

TX-OK-1oz

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

 

De-weeding the Compost Pile

by Sandy Swegel

Playing in the dirt is, of course, the most fun reason to garden. This week I’ve been playing in the compost which is doubly fun because I get to play with the earthworms too.

De-weeding the compost pile

My compost style is very passive. I keep three big bins going. Starting the bin is easy. I make sure there’s a couple of inches of finished compost at the bottom to inoculate the pile. Every week I clean up something in the garden and throw it on top of the compost. I generally don’t put in sticks unless I feel like cutting them up into smaller pieces. The most important addition to the pile is vegetable scraps and greens like grass clippings. I put those in the middle and tuck them down under the dried up spent foliage. The vegetable and green scraps invite earthworms in so my pile is breaking down in the traditional way that browns and greens break down and earthworms are doing their thing at the same time. Sometimes if there’s too much organic matter, I throw in a shovel or two of soil. I water the pile if we haven’t had rain. In Fall I throw some leaves on but also have separate bins for straight leaf mulch.

 

This is Cold (or Warm) Composting. This is not the fancy layering and turning that extension services advise composters do to kill all the seeds and disease. The pile gets hot in the middle, but without the regular turning and fine-tuning of ratios of browns and greens, my weed seeds don’t all get killed. I don’t put diseased foliage into the pile. But with a minimum of work, I get a lot of compost.

So what do I do about the weed seeds?
Basically, I get them to germinate then cut their heads off. De-weeding the compost pile.

Sometime in August or September, I scrape off the completely uncomposted material and put them into another bin. Then I vigorously turn my pile and mix it together. It’s about 80% finished. I leave it alone except to water it if needed. Each week all the weed seeds germinate into little green plants and I shovel up that top two inches of little weeds, breaking their necks and put them back into the compost pile. The next week, more seeds have germinated and I break them up too. Usually, after about three weeks, the weed seeds have mostly all grown out and the compost is ready to get spread on the garden after the soil freezes.

Easy and not much work.

 

 

http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost-info/tutorial/methods.shtml
http://tncns.com/winter-time-composting

It’s dandelion season!

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.

 

Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.

 

Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-06-19/dandelion-dinner
www.123rf.com/photo_3133074_the-word-bee-spelt-in-dandelions-on-grass.html
www.arkive.org/american-goldfinch/carduelis-tristis/image-G137972.html

No Neonics: Three Easy Ways to Help

by Sandy Swegel

Just a moment to be serious now. Spring has arrived and stores are filling with bedding plants and seeds. At the same time, homeowners are noticing all the weeds in yards and some still go out to buy weed killer.

There are three easy quick things you can do that make a difference to help protect bees and yourself from the “neonic” pesticides.

Learn One Name
Imidacloprid
That’s the neonic most likely in retail products. If you’re an overachiever, the other names are Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran. These are ingredients in weed killers, especially products marked Bayer or with names like Systemic or Max. Just check your labels and don’t buy these.

Watch For the Label
Customer pressure led Home Depot and Lowe’s last year to agree to put labels on all plants treated with neonics. The label is deceptive….makes it sound like neonics are better…but watch for the label.

Ask Your Retailer
There’s no government regulation (Alas!) that says neonics have to be labeled. The best thing you can do is ask at the garden center if the plants you are buying have been treated with neonics. If they don’t know…then you can probably assume the plants have been sprayed. The treatments can last up to two months in your garden…making your pretty flowers potentially lethal to bees that land on them.

Every time you ask a garden center employee or a grower if their plants have been treated with neonics, you are educating them. That’s what we are after. Nobody really wants to harm bees or the environment. Two years ago when I asked a major grower here in the Denver area if they used neonics, the owner looked at me like I was some crazy Boulder liberal. Which of course I am. He said, “Bah humbug, there’s no way to grow plants without neonics.” But last week, his greenhouse (Welby) had an open house in which they proudly said that most of their plants were grown without neonics and they were continuing to work on how to get neonic-free.

Oh, and of course there’s a fourth thing to do to help the bees. Grow your own plants from good non-pesticide treated, non-GMO, often organic, often heirloom, always neonic-free seeds like ours!
For lots of info on neonics in consumer products, you can read this pdf put out by Xerces.
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NeonicsInYourGarden.pdf

Photo Credit
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/10/global-ban-bee-killing-neonics/

 

How to Become a Plant Nerd

by Sandy Swegel

You know you are a Plant Nerd When…
(Or How to Become a Plant Nerd)

You know every garden starts with graph paper. You draw a scale drawing with trees and fences.

You create an Excel file listing the times to seed and days to harvest. Your file shows when to plant second crops for fall veggies.

You automate your garden
You put a timer on for watering. Your smartphone calendar alerts you six weeks before the last frost. You have to use a moisture sensor to know when to water.

You know the scientific names of your weeds.

You make the most of what you have.
You never plant in rows…you know it’s more efficient to plant densely in quadrants. If space is limited, you grow vertically. If all you have is a balcony to grow on you figure out how to make a hydroponic system out of a Rubbermaid container.

Your garden is full of experiments.
You test everything before you believe it. You have one section of peas planted with inoculant and one section planted without inoculant to see if it matters. You plant carrots with tomatoes and measure yield to see if it made a differences

You collect data.
You have a max-min thermometer to see the actual temperature in your yard. You write down how many days it took pepper seeds to germinate. You record when the apple trees blossomed and when you got your first tomato. You weigh your giant pumpkin to see if it weighs more than you do.

You make use of technology.
You use frost cloth and low tunnels to extend your season, and red plastic mulch to increase tomato yield.

 

You have taste testings to see which tomato tastes better.

You know the variety names of the vegetables you eat.

You love problems in the garden because it means you get to come up with a solution!

In other words, you garden smarter not harder.

You’re my superhero.

 

Photo Credit:  http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174796029262705028/

 

 

 

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/