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What is your favorite tomato?

by Heather StoneTomato, Cherokee Purple

What’s your favorite tomato? All true tomato lovers and growers have a few tomato varieties that they just couldn’t imagine not growing and always recommend to their friends and fellow gardeners. One popular heirloom variety that continues to be a favorite among many and consistently wins taste tests across the country is the Cherokee Purple tomato.

Cherokee purple tomato is a beefsteak style tomato whose skin is a dusky rose- red color. When sliced its interior is an even darker red. The flavor is described as a “balance of sweet, acid and savory with a hint of smoke.” Cherokee Purple is best eaten fresh on sandwiches or in salads.

With a name like “Cherokee Purple,” there has to be a story there somewhere. Craig LeHoullier, an heirloom tomato grower, connoisseur and author of the book Epic Tomatoes is who we can thank for bringing this delicious tomato to the masses. In 1990, Craig received a package from John D. Green of Sevierville, Tennessee containing seeds of an unnamed purple tomato. John explained that his neighbor had shared the seeds with him and that her family had been passing along the seeds since the late 1800s when they were originally received from Cherokee Native Americans. Craig grew the seeds in his 1991 garden and gave this beauty the name Cherokee Purple. Next, Craig passed the seeds on to the folks at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They loved the taste of this tomato and first listed the seed in their catalog in 1993 and its popularity has continued to grow since.

Want to try this delicious variety in your garden this year? Grab some Cherokee Purple seeds today!

DON’T PASS ON PEAS

by Heather Stone

Green Sugar Snap peas on the vine.

Image by Reginal from Pixabay

Peas are one of the first crops we can plant in the spring. As soon as you can stick your finger into the soil you can plant peas. Whether you plant shelling, snap or snow peas this early crop loves the cool weather of spring, producing tender pods that are hard to resist.  More often than not, they are eaten straight off the vine right there in the garden, very few making it to the kitchen. Every year I always wish I would have planted more.

Plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked, about 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date. For best germination, soil temperatures should be around 50 degrees F. Do be cautious of excess moisture. You don’t want your seeds sitting in wet soil.

Before planting, soak your seeds overnight. This will help speed germination. Plant seeds about 1” deep and 2-3” apart in well-loosened soil in a sunny spot in your garden. Peas will also do well in part shade. Give your peas a trellis, as most peas need something to climb on. Keep the area moist until the seeds germinate, on average between 7-14 days.

Peas are an easy crop to grow. Keep the plants moist, especially once they start producing. When they reach 8-12” tall mulch your vines well to keep the soil cool and help retain moisture. Peas grow best in temperatures below 70 degrees F, so plant your seeds early. Once temperatures reach 80 degrees the vines tend to stop producing.  

When the peas begin to ripen, harvest daily and be sure to use two hands to pick. Use one hand to hold the vine and the other to pick the peas. This way you will avoid damaging the tender vines. For the crispiest peas, pick in the morning after the dew has dried. Peas will last about 5 days in the refrigerator (if they make it there) and any extra freeze well.

Like all legumes, peas fix nitrogen in the soil that other plants can use. When your peas are done for the season, remove the vines but leave the roots in the ground. Plant a nitrogen-loving plant in the area that can benefit from the extra nitrogen in the soil.

Don’t wait! Get out in the garden and plant some peas today! Try one of our tried and true varieties such as Sugar Ann, Oregon Sugar Pod or Green Arrow.

Packet of Oregon Sugar Pod Pea seeds. Pea, Sugar Ann Pea, Green Arrow

 

7 Stocking Stuffers Under $25 for Gardeners

by Sam Doll

Here are 7 must-have tools to keep in mind if you are looking for great garden gifts for your favorite gardener.

–Nisaku Japanese Hori Hori Garden Knife for 24.95 on amazon.com

Photo of a garden knife and sheath to give as a garden gift.

photo courtesy of Nisaku

 

These compact garden tools feature serrated and straight edges that are perfect for a variety of garden needs, including cutting back weeds at the root. They also feature handy measuring marks, so you know the exact depth when planting and sowing. Get this handy little tool for the gardener who can appreciate a tool that can get the job done!

 

Photo of tan leather gardening gloves.

Photo courtesy of Home Depot

–Leather Gardening Gloves for $10.98 at homedepot.com

 

Upgrade your favorite gardener’s glove game with some stylish and comfortable leather gloves. The more your green thumb works in these, the better they’ll fit! These pigskin gloves from Home Depot will last for years.

 

 

 

–Wildflower Seed Mixes from $5.79 at bbbseed.com

The front of the Monarch Rescue seed mix.

Wildflower mixes can provide season-long color and important forage for bees and butterflies. BBB Seed has a variety of regional and specialty wildflower seed mixes that will make any gardener, novice or expert, smile all season long!

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Gardening Knee Pads for $8.49 at amazon.com

Photo of green strap-on gardeners knee pads.

Photo courtesy of Fiskar’s

 

Save your friends knees with these waterproof and forgiving knee pads. These knee pads are designed specifically for getting your hands dirty in the backyard.

 

 

 

–Garden-Themed Jewelry from Etsy

Silver watering can earrings.

Photo courtesy of Glitterartijewellry.

 

 

A little costume jewelry can show a personal touch for someone you care about! We love how many cute, garden themed charms, pendants and earrings you can find on Etsy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Snips from $11.99 at Fiskars

Photo of gardener's snips.

Photo Courtesy of Fiskar’s

You can always use new snips. Especially nice ones from Fiskars.

 

 

 

 

–A BBB Seed Gift Card

Gift Card from BBB Seed.

 

 

Still don’t know what to get someone? Don’t worry about it. Just get them a gift card to bbbseed.com and they can get whatever they want!

Oh, Sunflowers!

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)

 

3 Easy Way to Get More Plants

by Sandy Swegel

No this isn’t about how to sneak into your neighbor’s yard at night with a shovel and bucket.  Although stopping by at your neighbor’s when she’s in full gardening mode can often score a few plants that she’s getting rid of.  But Spring is a time when plants are vigorously growing… so they easily transplant or divide or root.

Root in Water
The easiest new plants this week were the forsythia and viburnum blooms and curly willows I cut to put in vases in the house.  By the time they were finished being beautiful, little rootlets were forming at the bottom of the stems…so I’ll leave them in water another week or so and then plant them directly in the garden.

When I’m weeding out plants that are in places I don’t want them to be, but I don’t have time to save each little plant if I want to finish the cleanup, I keep a bucket of water with me and throw in stragglers that might survive till I have time to deal with them.  Got some nice yarrows, perennial geraniums and veronicas this week.

Annuals like geraniums root easily in water. I’ve also gotten fuschias and the wing begonias to root easily.

I’m not saying rooting in water is the best way to propagate plants….but before I knew much about gardening, I rooted lots of plants this way and it’s fun to watch the roots grow in the kitchen window while I wash dishes.

Cut off divisions
For plants one is traditionally taught to dig up, divide and transplant, (Shasta daisies, Veronica, salviaphlox, among many more) I’ve found great success just taking a shovel or my trusty soil knife and slicing through about a 3-inch piece on the edge.  I leave the mother plant undisturbed so its growth and bloom is normal.  The division transplants easily although it may bloom later.  This works great with hostas and I’ve gotten dozens of baby hosta plants this way.

Direct seed.
I was hanging out in the parking lot at the local garden center drooling over all the perfect annuals being unloaded.  And such a deal.  $2 or $3 for a four-pack…how can one resist?  However, by the time I get to the checkout stand, all those couple-of-dollars added up to a lot of money that wasn’t in my budget.  Then I remembered my first garden as an adult.  We sprinkled one pack of marigold seeds.  True, they didn’t look like much in early May….but come June, they were blooming and there were dozens and dozens of little marigold plants for less than the cost of that four pack. Come mid-summer the tiny field of marigolds were much prettier than that four-pack would have been.  PLANT MORE SEEDS.  :)

The Versatile Dwarf Conifer

by Chris McLaughlin

Conifer trees are easy to recognize with their evergreen, needle-type leaves and the cones on their branches.

 In my opinion conifers offer some solid, reliable backbone to any yard — not to mention they’re handsome. I don’t know about you, but aside from the useful plants, I enjoy a little handsome in my yard, too. Standard conifers get big, like 50 or 70 feet tall, big. There’s a lot of us that can’t offer a proper home to such a monster, handsome or not.

Enter the dwarf conifers. You can fit a ton of these versatile mini-versions into a small landscape as they have a compact growth habit, which makes them container friendly, too. By using grafting techniques or rooted cuttings, dwarf conifers are reproduced asexually. By the way, when they’re grafted, it’s not onto dwarfed rootstock; they’re cultivars originating from mutations or seedling selections.

Unlike other plants that are grafted onto a smaller plant’s roots or “dwarf rootstock”, dwarf conifers or dwarf evergreens are simply tree or shrub varieties that are extremely slow-growing. In other words, they haven’t been bred to stop growing at a certain height. According to conifer nurseries, a regular hemlock will grow to reach 25′-30′ tall in 20 years time. While its dwarf hemlock cousin will reach 2′ in that same amount of time.
“Witches brooms” are another way to get a dwarf conifer. These mini conifers usually start as a bud that can be found anywhere on a regular conifer tree. Sometimes a bud’s genes will mutate and produce a clump of growth that’s dwarfed. They’re harvested from the parent plant and more plants are propagated from the brooms — creating more dwarf specimens.

Dwarf conifers bring year-round interest to the landscape and many perform seasonal color changes. Keep your eye out for variegated varieties and those in various shades of green, orange, blue, yellow, and lavender. Some also have patterned or bi-colored leaves, as well. Inside this conifer class are the yews and junipers that produce berries instead of cones. Also, along with the pines are firs, spruces, redwoods, cedars, cypresses, junipers, yews, and hemlock. Word of warning; cypresses do lose their leaves come fall.

Dwarf conifers come in many shapes and forms (just in case you can only picture a Christmas tree):

• Prostrate: These are plants that hug the ground like a carpet (and stay that way).

• Globose: These have a rounded, globe shape to them.

• Narrow upright: These plants grow taller than they do wide.

• Pendulous: These plants grow upright with branches that hang down or have a downward curving leader and require staking. Or they can have strictly descending branches from a central leader.

• Spreading: While these are upright, they grow wider than they do tall.

• Broad upright: These are all of the plants that grow upright but aren’t in the globose, narrow upright, or pendulous categories. Generally, these grow broader than they do tall.

• Irregular: These guys grow erratically without a pattern.

• Culturally altered: This means that someone made their own shape(s) with some pruning shears. Think topiary shapes.

Dwarf conifers are one of my favorite plant group of all time. If you’re interested in making them yours, check out The American Conifer Society’s website.