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DREAMING OF SPRING

Rows of Vegetables in a Garden.

By Engrid Winslow

Yes, it is still very cold and very dark but nothing fills the heart in the dead of winter than planning for spring. What should you be doing now that will keep those spirits up? Plan your vegetable and herb garden!

1. First of all, take a look at those vegetable and herb beds and decide what and how many varieties you want to plant next year. Do you want to start those peppers a bit earlier this year? Did you plant tomatoes there last year – rotate tomatoes every 3 years if at all possible to avoid depleted soil and issues with many diseases. What do you want to grow more of this year? Anything you want to try that’s new? What did you and your family really love? Want more tomatoes or basil for pesto or tomato sauce? [4 Tips For Keeping Your Basil Productive and Pesto Secrets] Were there any epic fails? Maybe it’s time to move on to buy those at your local Farmer’s Market and devote the precious real estate to something else.

2. Speaking of soil, this is a great time to start adding mushroom compost in a nice thick layer that can work its way into the soil during late winter freeze and thaw cycles and heavy periods of moisture. You can also cover the compost with a layer of seed-free straw that was grown organically.

3. Peruse the seed catalogs and websites. It is so fun to read those descriptions and they all sound wonderful but be aware of your space and climate when choosing seeds. Take stock of any seed that you saved from last year and organize and assess any leftover seed packets. Seed viability goes down over time. Onions, corn, parsnips, parsley and leeks should be refreshed every year, but tomatoes and lettuce can go 4-6 years and still germinate. Check out these charts if you have questions: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html/ and http://ottawahort.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Seed-Viability-Times.pdf/

4. Gather up your seed starting supplies and order more if needed. Dust off those grow lights, check the heat mats and make sure they still work and clean any seed starting containers that you plan to re-use with a weak bleach solution. Again, assess what worked and what didn’t in prior years. Did lettuce seeds that were direct-sown in the garden elude you? Try starting them indoors under a plastic dome which helps retain moisture until they are fully germinated.

5. Did friends and neighbors share anything they learned with you? Maybe it’s time to get everyone together for a Happy Hour, swap saved seeds and talk about their gardening experiences.

6. Review past blogs, books and articles that you might have saved for ideas, tips and new information. Here’s a good place to start: Care and Planting of Seedlings, Rules You Can’t Break, and Two Ways To Guarantee Your Seeds Grow

Back To School

by Sam Doll
Back to School Learning Gardens.

What do you think of when you imagine a classroom? Do you think of rows of desks, educational posters, a whiteboard with a professionally dressed teacher at the front? There may be a few toys or tablets with games designed to teach kids their alphabet or basic math.

That traditional classroom is useful for certain things, like learning grammar and division, but it is really inadequate for teaching kids about the world they live in and interact with every day. This is especially true with food.

Most kids, especially those from low-income or urban areas have very little understanding of what food actually is or where it comes from. Kids learn through their senses, so when they aren’t given the opportunity to actually see and touch and understand how food comes from the earth to their plate, it is hard for them to have a deep understanding of the food system and it is harder for them to make healthy choices. Ketchup has no connection to a tomato and the tomato has no connection to the earth.

We know that good nutrition is linked to higher academic achievement. We also know that gardening has many positive outcomes for children, including better nutrition, social skills, and academic achievement.

That is why school learning gardens are such a powerful education tool. These outdoor classrooms can be installed either on school campuses or remotely and provide a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to learn lessons in nutrition, science, and community while getting a tasty, healthy snack right from the garden!

One of the biggest organizations pushing for school learning gardens is Big Green. Started by Kimbal Musk, food entrepreneur and brother of Elon Musk. Big Green installs learning gardens at low-income schools across the country.

They provide dedicated garden instructors, so teachers aren’t being asked to do more than they already are and kids are getting information straight from the experts. Started in Boulder, Colorado (BBB Seed’s hometown), Big Green has built learning gardens at over 378 schools in seven states.

At BBB Seed, we are dedicated to educating people of all ages about the benefits of eating healthy, protecting our pollinators, and gardening with organic methods. To get educational materials sent straight to your email, make sure to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the ‘home’ page.

 

Gardening for the Native Bees: 4 Easy Tips For Making Your Garden Solitary Bee Friendly

by Sam DollA cavity-nesting native bee.

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States alone! With the exception of bumblebees, nearly every native bee species in North America are solitary. They come in a variety of shapes in sizes, from enormous carpenter bees to the tiny Perdita genus.

If you want to learn more about bumblebees, check out our blog about how you can make your garden bumblebee friendly!

Unlike European honeybees or bumblebees, solitary bees are stingless, do not have a queen, live in a colony, or make honey and wax. Instead, female solitary bees build tunnels to use as nests, where they lay their eggs in a series of chambers packed with a pollen and nectar “paste” for their young to munch on when they hatch. Since males will hatch and emerge from the nest first, the mamma bee will lay the females in the deepest portion of the nest and males in the front.

Around 70% of solitary bees are known as “mining bees” because they tunnel underground to build their nests. The other 30% of bees are cavity-nesting bees and will nest in anything from hollow or pithy stems to dead wood, or even abandoned snail shells!

Native bees are incredibly important pollinators. Unlike honeybees, which carry pollen in a “pollen pouch” on their legs, native bees are a bit less tidy, covering their whole bodies in pollen to carry it home. This messiness means they lose much more pollen as they go flower to flower and it actually makes them much more efficient pollinators. Some plants actually need native bees to be pollinated at all! Squash and gourds and any other members of the Cucurbita genus all rely on very specialized Squash Bees!

For more on the Squash Bees, check out our Blog on the topic!

These bees are pretty neat! Here are some tips for Making your garden a native bee paradise!

1.    Preserve and manage nesting sites

One of the most important things you can do to help protect your local native bees is to make sure that your yard is full of potential nesting sites. For mining bees, leave sunny patches of bare earth for nest sites and try to avoid laying down anything that could be a barrier (like landscaping cloth, gravel, or mulch) for bees accessing or emerging from potential existing nest sites. Also, leave unused areas of your garden with old wood, stones, or branches undisturbed as a cavity-nesting bee haven.

You can also install a bee hotel in your yard. Often made from wood or bamboo, these hotels are great for cavity-nesting bees like the Blue Orchard Mason Bee or Leafcutter Bee! You can build one yourself or buy them from reputable suppliers like our friends at The Bees Waggle.

2.    Make your garden a bee buffet

To ensure that your garden is a Mecca for bees of all shapes and sizes, you need to make sure that there is a diversity of forage as well. Plant a mix of perennials and annuals so that you will have a mix of different blooms at the same time throughout the entire growing season. Also, try to have blocks of color in your garden so bees can easily find their way to the flowers they like over and over again, without having to hunt all around for them. Of course, native bees like native plants, so make sure to dedicate a portion (or all) of your garden to wildflowers. The Xerces Society has a variety of region-specific plant guides for pollinators that can get you started toward planting for native bees.

We did the hard work for you and made our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix that will provide great season-long forage for both native and honeybees!

3.    Lay off the pesticides

Pesticides can’t discriminate between the bad and good bugs. These insecticides pose a particular danger to mining bees since they are often applied to bare ground areas around structures that are ideal nesting sites for these bees. These insecticides also pose the risk of washing into other areas of the garden and contaminating nest sites.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systematic pesticides that live inside the plants that they are trying to protect. These have been particularly harmful to our various pollinator species because they work their way up through the plant into the nectar and pollen that various pollinators are attracted to. Flowers with neonics applied are actually luring bees and other insect pollinators to their deaths!

For tips on how to protect your garden and the bees in it, check out our eBook on Organic Pest Control!

4.    Take a closer look

One of the most important things your can do to protect native bees is to learn! Take some time to watch all the bees that visit and live in your garden. Visit the Xerces Society website and use their identification guides to try to figure out which bees you are seeing. Most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD! Educate your friends and family about all the bees that don’t make the nightly news and how vital they are to our future!

Other Resources

Check out these resources for more about pollinators and how you can help them

Hooray for Hummingbirds!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

Hummingbirds may be cute little-winged creatures, but really they are tough as nails! These extremely important pollinators have the highest metabolic rate of any other animal on earth. They also have a high breathing rate, high heart rate and high body temperature. Their wings flap up to 90 times per second and their heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute. In order to maintain their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds have to eat up to 10-14 times their body weight in food every day for fuel. In preparation for migration, they have to eat twice this amount in order to fly thousands of miles.
A huge portion of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sugar that they acquire from flower nectar, tree sap and hummingbird feeders. They also have to eat plenty of insects and pollen for protein to build muscle. Hummingbirds cross-pollinate flowers while they are feeding on nectar because their heads become covered with pollen and they carry the pollen to the next bloom as they continue to feed. Several native plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination and would not be here today if it wasn’t for these efficient pollinators.
Hummingbirds are found in several different habitats, including wooded and forested areas, grasslands and desert environments. They also occur at altitudes ranging up to 14,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains.
The male hummingbirds are usually brightly colored while the females are dull colored in order to camouflage them while nesting. Female hummingbirds rely on males for mating only and after that, they build the nest and raise their young as single parents. They have been known to fearlessly protect their young against large birds of prey, such as hawks and have even attacked humans that get too close to their nests. They usually lay up to two eggs which hatch within a few weeks. Hummingbirds can live 3-5 years in the wild, which varies by species, but making it through their first year of life is a challenge. Fledglings are particularly vulnerable between the time that they hatch and the time that they leave the nest. Larger species may live up to a decade.
In order to conserve energy at night, because they lack downy feathers to hold in body heat, hummingbirds enter a state of semi-hibernation called “torpor”. This allows them to lower their metabolic rate by almost 95% and also lower their body temperature to an almost hypothermic rate. During this time, hummingbirds perch on a branch and appear to be asleep. When the sun comes up and starts to warm the earth, it takes about 20 minutes, but the tiny birds will awake from their torpor state and start their feeding rituals.
Planting a lot of reds and purples in your garden and hanging hummingbird feeders around your yard will attract and help feed these little pollinator friends. In fact, BBB Seed has a Hummingbird Wildflower Mix specifically designed with these little guys in mind.  Please help to support these amazing creatures in your own backyard!  Pollinator Week is a reminder to support pollinators all year long!

Hummingbird Favorites:
• Penstemon• Columbine • Delphinium • Autumn Sage • Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) • Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.) • Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea) • Chuparosa • Ocotillo • Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) • Baja Fairy (Calliandra californica) • Bottlebrush • Desert Willow • Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) • Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) • Lantana • Agave • Lily of the Nile

FUN LINKS:

How to make a Hummingbird Feeder with your Kids!

Video on Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Coloring Pages for Children

Baby Hummingbirds

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

by Sandy Swegel

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth can save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter, you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insect’s eggs

Slugs in your hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds next Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photos: http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

Why Won’t my Garden do What I Say?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the kind of questions I’m hearing these days.  Why won’t my plant bloom?  Why aren’t my tomatoes red? Why does my garden look so bad? Why is my tree dying?  Let’s tackle a few of these questions so you can figure out why it seems your garden is disobedient?

Why won’t my pineapple sage bloom?  It’s so beautiful in the magazines. Salvia elegans or pineapple sage smells deliciously of pineapple and hummingbirds flock to it.  Alas, what I discovered after a season of coaxing and fertilizing is that it will never look so beautiful in Colorado as it does in the Sunset magazine pictures of California.  It’s one of those plants that bloom according to day length and short days to stimulate blooming.  So no matter what we do, it simply is not going to put out blooms till late August.  Since our first frost can be in September, this is a very unsatisfying plant to grow in a northern area with long summer days.

The second part of this question is “Why did all the other fancy hybrid flowers I bought in Spring quit blooming?”  Some may be day length sensitive like the pineapple sage.  Most have issues with our hot dry summer heat.  If you keep deadheading as soon as the weather starts to cool, the blooms will restart.  And there’s no changing Nature’s mind with more fertilizer or water.

“Why won’t my watermelon plants get big?” a friend asked over afternoon tea.  The answer to most questions is to put my finger in the soil. It was dry, dry, dry.  There was one drip tube on the plant but that’s not nearly enough for a watermelon which needs lots of water.  I looked up. The garden was right next to a big spruce tree. The tree was on the north side so the plant had lots of sun, but the sneaky tree roots ran all through the garden sucking up irrigation water. If you’re going to grow a plant with a name like “water” melon…you have to put a lot of water in the system.

The second most-asked question is “Why do I have so many weeds?” The answer is, alas, because you didn’t spend enough time in July keeping after them.  Who wants to weed in the heat of summer?  And summer weeds grow really fast and tall.  You can’t even blink.

The most-asked question, of course, is “Why won’t my tomatoes turn red?”  This year everybody has lots of green tomatoes but not nearly enough red tomatoes. The truthful answer is “D***d if I know. I wish mine would turn red.”  A Google search shows thousands of people ask this question.  People who answer have all kinds of pet theories about leaves and fertilizer and pruning the plant etc. I’m just learning to wait and making a note to grow more early tomatoes next year.

Nature just doesn’t work the way we want sometimes.

Photo Credit: http://eugenebirds.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

Cool Off Fast! – Agua Fresca

by Sandy Swegel

My basic remedy for hot July days is to bend over and run the hose over my head, but a more attractive and effective way to cool off is to make an Agua Fresca (refreshing water), the great fruit or vegetable drink of Mexico and other southern regions. I’ve been making Agua Frescas all weekend.

The Agua Fresca I first enjoyed from my friend Alfredo’s family was cucumber and lime juice.  Then one day we had watermelon Agua Fresca and I was in heaven.  Both were very cooling and refreshing.  What intrigued me most is that these were two of the foods my acupuncturist recommended to me.  TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has diagnoses of “heat” in the body.  I often get this diagnosis and my doctor suggests three vegetables/fruits that are especially cooling to the body from a TCM energetic point of view…not just temperature:  Cucumber, celery and watermelon.  Turns out that ancient wisdom from TCM is the same as ancient wisdom from Mexican families. “Gotta love it” as a friend says.

There are lots of recipes on the web, but the concept is simple:

Blender 6 cups water 1 pound of Fruit or vegetable:  cucumber, watermelon are traditional. Also try melon, raspberries, strawberries, celery, herbs like lemon balm or basil or mint. Sugar (to taste) 1/4  to 1/2 cup.  Lime to taste. Run the blender to pulverize the vegetables or fruit and lime.  Strain if needed. Pour over ice cubes and add mint or cucumber slice or lime slice garnish.

Variations: Slushy:  Use only half the water. Run the blender a second time filled with ice cubes to get a slushy drink. Sorbet:  Make an agua fresca and put it in the ice cream maker for 20 minutes to make sorbet. Alcohol:  Rum, tequila or vodka added make excellent drinks or sorbets!

Stay Cool and Be Happy.

Photo credits:

http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/raspberry-mint-agua-fresca.html

Our Native Bees

by Sandy Swegel

 

Ever feel like you’re doing all the work and everybody else is getting all the credit?  That was the great scenario I watched unfold yesterday.  It was a warm sunny day and there were hundreds of honey bees buzzing loudly in a hot pink crab apple tree.  Such a sight and sound is a crowning point of Spring and gives us hope for honeybees.  But I was working in the rock garden nearby pulling weeds out of a mini-hedge of yellow Basket of Gold. (Aurinia saxatilis)  While everybody else was watching the crab apple full of honey bees, there was one solitary native bee happily feeding and pollinating an entire row of bright yellow alyssum growing over the rocks.  This native bee wasn’t getting all the glory but he was a Rock Star.

Native bees are often much smaller than honey bees. They don’t make honey for us.  They have evolved alongside native plants so they prefer to feed on native plants rather than human-made hybrids.  The native bee I watched wasn’t a hive builder but makes a solitary nest just for itself in the dirt or somewhere in a little hole in an old dead tree.

 

You can encourage native bees to live in your garden by planting native plants and by building little nests the native bee likes.  You can make a small practical native bee nest out of a box and hollow tubes, or you can go all out and make some garden art as we see in these pictures.

Or just honor the native bee by noticing it.  Next time you’re in the garden, look for the little bee that’s at least half the size of all the other bees you see.  That’s one of our unsung pollinator heroes.

How to Build your Own Native Bee Nest:
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/nests_for_native_bees_fact_sheet_xerces_society.pdf

Photo Credits
http://landscaping.about.com/od/Deer-Proof-Plants/tp/deer-resistant-perennials.htm
nativebeeconservancy.org

 

 

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. http://www.bountea.com/articles/lifeinwintersoil.html

Photo Credit:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/focusonflowers/year/;

Truffles – Orange Frost Fest