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OUR ULTIMATE MILKWEED GROWING GUIDE

Growing milkweed graphic with a Butterfly on a milkweed flower.

by Sam Doll

Some tips for planting and growing Milkweed successfully

Milkweeds are hardy, perennial wildflowers found throughout North America. Some species can grow up to six feet tall and they produce beautiful, fragrant flower clusters. Since they’re common ingredients in traditional medicine, their genus name, Asclepias, comes from the Greek god of medicine.

Milkweed has gotten a bad rap over the years. Allergies and perceptions of the wildflower as a weed have caused it to be wiped out throughout large portions of North America.

This is bad news for the Monarch Butterfly. Monarch mothers will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants (genus Asclepias) and, once hatched, their caterpillars exclusively live on and eat the leaves of those same plants. They cannot survive without them.  The prevalence of pesticides has not helped and the loss of milkweed, wildflowers, and other floral resources has devastated the monarch butterfly population. However, by restoring Milkweed to urban and wild landscapes, we can begin the process of saving the Monarch Butterfly!

Don’t have your seeds yet? Check out our Complete Milkweed Buying Guide for all you need to know about our Milkweed Products!

Why all these steps?

Milkweed seed has a high percentage of dormancy, which means many of the seeds won’t germinate without a little special treatment or might need to age for a season. Since we want to make sure you have complete success with our seeds, here are some tips!

Prep:

Milkweed seeds need to be exposed to cold temperatures that normally occur in winter to help break their natural dormancy and begin to soften their hard outer casing. If you are planning to start your Milkweeds indoors, you will need to do this cold stratification yourself.

You can do this by putting your Milkweed seed in a damp paper towel, folding it to fit into a sealed plastic bag, then placing the bag into the refrigerator. Keep it there for 4-6 weeks before planting.

Planting:

Plant your seeds in small 2-4″ peat pots (recommended) or tall plastic pots. Make sure to use ‘seed-starting’ soil or medium. Moisten the soil, place 1-2 seeds into each pot and cover with no more than 1/6″ damp soil or medium.

Place the pots where they can drain. Water gently or fill a tray with 1/2” of water to be absorbed from the bottom of the peat pots. Dump the excess water after absorption.  Water when the top of the soil is dry and be mindful to not overwater.

Milkweed seeds germinate in warm conditions, so place your tray of pots in a warm spot like a sunny window, greenhouse, or under a grow light. Germination usually occurs after 10-15 days for cold-stratified seeds. To encourage sturdy stems, place your grow light bulb close to the soil. Sometimes a small fan blowing gently towards the new seedlings will encourage sturdier stems.

Other planting methods: Plant non-stratified seed into peat pots filled with seed-starting soil or medium. Moisten, and place in a greenhouse or under a grow light. Germination in this scenario might take several months.

If planting outside, seed in late fall. Let the Milkweed seed remain over the winter. This will accomplish the cold-stratification, needed. Germination should occur when the soil warms and the days are longer.

Oh, and while you’re at it, check out our Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix. It has Butterfly Milkweed and a mix of other wildflower seeds to provide a nectar-rich place for Monarch Butterflies to fuel up and raise their young! Find it here!

Transplanting:

When the danger of frost is past and your plants reach 2-3″ tall, you can transplant outdoors. Choose a location in full sun if possible.

Milkweed produces a long taproot, so take care to not disturb the roots. Plant peat pots so that the top edge of the small pot is underground to avoid drying out. If your Milkweed seedlings were planted in plastic pots, be extremely careful with the roots. Continue to water after planting until plants become established. Once they are established, you can taper off your watering unless the season is extremely dry. The newly planted Milkweed seedlings may lose all their leaves due to transplant shock but should grow them back again.

Congratulations!

You’re now a proud Milkweed parent! Now just sit back and watch the Monarch Butterflies arrive!

*Note that all Milkweed contains cardiac glycosides, chemicals that are toxic when eaten. These chemicals, in turn, make the Monarch Butterflies toxic to any would-be predators. Avoid letting livestock and small children eat milkweed and wash any skin that comes in contact with the sap to avoid irritation.

Learn more about the Monarch Butterfly Migration by checking out this Blog post!

Monarch graphic.

 

Nasturtiums!

by Heather StonePhoto of red nasturtium blooms.

The bright, rich colors of nasturtium flowers make an impact along the edge of the border, in a pot or climbing a wall or trellis. Their gorgeous rounded leaves, much like a water lily, are a vibrant shade of green with a few varieties having variegated leaves. These easy to grow annuals deserve a place in any garden.

 

Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed. Sow directly in the garden starting in late spring after all chances of frost have passed. If you want to get a head start you can plant seeds indoors 3-4 weeks before your last frost date. Plant the seeds ½- 1” deep and about 10” apart. Nasturtium seeds are large and germinate quickly (5-7 days) which makes them a great seed to plant with children. Nasturtiums can be grown in full sun or part shade. They prefer a leaner soil and do not need to be fertilized. Keep them watered during dry spells and remove spent blossoms to encourage prolonged blooming.

 

Flower colors range from orange to red to yellow, peach and even burgundy. Both the flowers and leaves of the nasturtium plant are edible. The flowers have a peppery flavor and make a bright addition to any salad. They are delicious stuffed with soft cheese or can be used to make an infused vinegar.

Photo of red nasturtium blooms.

Nasturtiums make great edging plants. I especially like to use them along the edges in my vegetable garden where they spill over the sides of my raised beds and attract the bumblebees. They are also great tucked into bare spots in the garden. The climbing varieties can share space with roses and clematis in the perennial garden or beans and cucumbers in the vegetable garden.

 

Bring these gorgeous and tasty flowers to your garden by planting our Alaska Mix Nasturtium

 

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

 

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SNAPDRAGON IN 2019

Photo of many snapdragon flowers in bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay

By Engrid Winslow

 

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are one of the most widely grown and well-known flowers in the garden for many reasons. Children adore them because of the distinctive bloom of the dragon’s head shaped flowers with mouths that open and close when squeezed from both sides. Many gardeners associate them with memories of their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens and they come in every color of the rainbow and beyond with shades from white to a purple so deep it almost looks black. They can be short or tall, bloom for a really long time and are easy to grow in full sun to part shade. Usually blooming in cooler weather in the spring and fall, they can bloom in hotter months if given additional water and deadheaded regularly. Snapdragons are useful as perennials because they often overwinter or as annuals in planters. They are a lovely addition to a cottage-style garden, pretty in bouquets and are not too fussy about soil type, although they do better with the addition of organic matter. They can even tolerate dry conditions. On top of all that, bumble bees love them and they are lightly fragrant. The National Garden Bureau has named the Snapdragon one of its 2019 plants of the year: ww.https://ngb.org/year-of-the-snapdragon/

Snapdragons are readily available as plants but they are so easy to grow yourself from seed if you decide to give them a try. They germinate better if placed in the freezer for a couple of days before planting and should be started sometime in February for spring planting. They do need light to germinate and since the seeds are tiny, press them into the top of the soil and water them from the bottom. They take 1 to 2 weeks to germinate and should be pinched back once they have 6-8 leaves to encourage a stronger stem. Plant your starts outdoors about the time of the last frost once they have been hardened off. https://www.bbbseed.com/care-planting-seedlings/

For additional helpful information about starting flowers and vegetables from seed check out this past blog: https://www.bbbseed.com/ez-indoor-seed-starting/

 

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

 

Saving Seed

by Rebecca Hansen

What are “heirloom” vegetables? An heirloom vegetable is a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation and, in some cases, can be traced back hundreds of years.  These seed lines have been carefully selected to maintain uniformity and consistency for germination.  Heirloom seeds become ‘heirloom’ because they exhibit exceptional traits desired by the gardener.  Often this means the plants are more colorful, flavorful, unique, or have great germination and vigor.  Often the traits are location dependent.  Meaning, seeds planted in one garden will not produce in the same manner in another location.  We encourage you to try heirloom seeds, see which have the qualities for your area to become your favorites and make them into your own very special seed line.  Saving seeds is easy and fun.

Gardeners have found that as seeds are selected and saved over many years, production is increased and the quality is improved, creating plants that will produce best for that locale and will resist diseases and pests of that locale.  Contributing to genetic diversity strengthens the ecosystem. Historically farmers and local gardeners have created and sustained this rich genetic heritage by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems.  The current trend toward mono crops where only one seed type is used to produce a crop worldwide is eliminating the ability to be able to find genetic variations that will withstand emerging pathogens and climate changes.

Planting your crop:  Start with good Heirloom Seed varieties.  Keep in mind that to allow the plants to produce seed and to allow the seed to fully mature, you will have to allow for a longer growing season.  This can be done by starting plants indoors and arranging for protection from frost in the late season. You will be growing some for food or flower harvest and some for seed production.  Fully mature seeds will be viable (able to germinate) and produce vigorous plants.  You may want to do some research on the different flower types for proper pollination techniques and plant with row/species separation in mind, to prevent cross-pollination.  You may look into caging procedures to isolate species that are in flower at the same time.  By caging different plants on alternate days, you can take advantage of the pollinators to do the work without cross-pollinating your crop.  Cage one plant or group on one day and early the next day, before the bees wake, transfer your cage to a different plant or group.  Some crops are biennial and do not produce seed until the next year, so you will need to determine whether you should leave the roots in the ground over the winter or dig and store them.

There are many publications with detailed information on seed saving and growing techniques for each species.  “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, 2002 by Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. is a good way to get started. www.seedsavers.org.  Also, Easy instructions for seed saving, written by the International Seed Saving Institute, a non-profit established to teach seed saving, can be found at:http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

Harvesting and collecting seed:  When selecting plants for saving seeds, look for favorable characteristics such as; freeze and cold tolerance, heat tolerance, adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor (strong germination and growth), flavor, color, size, texture, etc. Also, look for desirable traits such as; vine or plant type, seed type, specific disease resistance.  Plan to be ready to harvest the seed as they mature.  Often the pods will pop open when you are not around to collect the seed and it will be lost.

Allow the seed pods to remain on the plant in the ground for as long as possible.  Usually, the seed will not continue to mature after the pods are cut from the plant.  The process of cleaning and separating (thresh) the seeds from the chaff (pods and stems) is easy for a small home gardener.  Break apart the pods by crushing or breaking the pods and collecting the seed.  Sometimes the chaff can be blown away from the seed, by pouring the seed onto a pan in front of a small fan or by using cleaning screens that come with different sized openings.

 

Grow Your Own Sprouts in 6 Easy Steps

Photo of seeds sprouting.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

by Heather Stone

  1. Choose a container and lid                Sprouting seeds in a jar is easy and convenient. Make sure to choose a jar that is large enough to accommodate the seeds when sprouted. I find a quart jar with a wide mouth to work well.  You will also need a mesh lid of some kind or thick cheesecloth to easily drain your sprouts after rinsing.  Sprouting lids can be purchased at most health food stores, online or you can easily make your own.

 

  1. Rinse and pick over your seeds

Carefully rinse and pick through your seeds removing any stones or debris.

 

  1. Soak your seeds

Fill your jar about ¾ full with cool water.  Soak your seeds overnight (8-12 hours). Soaking time will vary depending on the size of your seeds.

 

Sprouted seeds

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

 

 

  1. Drain your seeds

After soaking you will want to thoroughly drain your seeds. Tip your jar on its side and let it drain for several hours to be sure all liquid is removed.

 

  1. Continue to rinse and drain

For the next 2-4 days, you will rinse and drain your seeds three times a day. Using cool water, gently rinse your seeds so you don’t damage any sprouts and drain well.

 

  1. Final rinse and drain

When your seeds have sprouted and reached the desired length give them one final rinse and drain well.  Enjoy in salads, on sandwiches or stirred into soups. Sprouts can be stored for several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

 

Some great seeds for sprouting include:

Beans (lentils, mung beans and chickpeas)

Alfalfa

Broccoli

Sunflower

Radish

Clover

 

Additional resources:

https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sprouting/how-to-sprout-seeds-jar/

https://boulderlocavore.com/sprouting-101-homemade-sprouting-jars-tutorial-diy-mason-jars-giveaway/

 

 

Walla Walla Sweet Onions…You know you want them

by Sandy Swegel

Walla Walla Sweet Onions

It doesn’t take much effort to convince us we should grow Walla Walla sweet onions. Think about thick slices hot from the grill. Or cold on our hot cheeseburger. Dream of oven-roasted whole onions. Or be one of those brave people who bite into the Walla Walla like it’s an apple.

Onions are really easy to grow so when I heard the Walla Walla Sweet Onion seed had arrived at BBB Seed for the first time, I rushed over. There’s only one problem for me with Walla Walls….their growing season is 125 days…a little longer than I can count on in Colorado. So I start the seeds indoors in February and transplant the seedlings in April.

 

The most important rule of growing onions is you have to use fresh seed. After a year or so, germination rates drop down to “almost none” so you do need new seeds each year.

Onions grow happily in decent soil. They can handle hot sun and they’ve forgiven me letting the weeds get a little overrun. There’s not too much guesswork as to when they are ripe…their tops fall over. So you can grow onions off in a corner of your garden without too much extra effort. Although quite labor intensive for farmers, onions are pretty cheap at the grocery so we don’t grow them so much to save money as to capture the awesome flavor of fresh homegrown Walla Wallas.

 

For more pictures and recipes, go to the website of the annual Walla Walla festival!
OR go to the festival in June!

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
http://www.sweetonions.org/

http://www.wiveswithknives.net/2010/08/02/potato-walla-walla-onion-and-gruyere-galette/
http://savorthebest.com/roasted-sweet-baby-walla-walla-onions/

 

EZ Indoor Seed Starting

EZ Indoor Seed Starting Setup

Indoor Seed starting is really easy and cheap.  You get so many more plants by starting your own seeds.  My mantra in my seed starting classes is “Seeds Wanna Grow.”  You just have to give them a little help to mimic outdoor conditions.

All seed-starting setups are pretty simple, once you know the basics.  I just finished designing a new setup for myself this year because BBB Seed Head Honcho Mike added so many new varieties of seeds this year, that I need more space to try them all.

Design your own setup by remembering these basics.

Light

 

You need long hours of bright light.  I run the lights for at least 14 hours a day. I used a timer because I’m forgetful.  For seed starting, you don’t need special full-spectrum lights…simple fluorescents or LEDs will do.  The full-spectrum is needed for adult plants that you want to bloom.  I like the new T-5 fluorescents that use less energy, but my old shop lights worked great for many a year.

 

 

 

 

 

Warmth

Temps need to be in the 70-degree zone for most seeds to germinate quickly and evenly.  In the bookshelf setup I’ve used, the lights themselves made enough heat.  In my cold basement, I put a heat mat under the seed tray.

Soil and container

 

Seeds will germinate happily anywhere, but to develop their root system they need some kind of substrate.  I used new germinating soil to avoid fungal problems.  Containers can be anything. Last year’s pots, egg cartons, yogurt containers, etc.  It just needs to drain.

Water

Even watering is the key.  I water from the bottom by filling a container underneath my seed starting tray. Humidity helps.  The most important thing to avoid is the surface of the soil drying out during germination or early growth.  That is death to the new baby plants.

Air

I always have a fan near my seedlings.  You don’t often see air mentioned, but the gentle movement of the air reduces mold and stimulates growth.  You can get by without moving air, but I get sturdier plants and less disease.

 

 

Picture credits:

https://littlehouseontheurbanprairie.wordpress.com/category/seed-starting/

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/10376/diy-pvc-grow-light-stand

http://www.harvesttotable.com/2011/04/vegetable_seed_and_seedling_pr/

 

Best Heirloom Vegetable seed

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass and Wildflower Seed Mixes

 

Straw Bales, Legos for Gardeners

by Sandy Swegel

Whenever I start to think about a new structure I need for the garden, straw bales are what first come to mind.  Having a bunch of straw bales is like having an entire box of Legos….there’s not much you can’t build. 

I started thinking about a cold frame today because I was a little over eager about starting perennial seeds.  They’re already emerging in my seed starting tray and the question did occur to me now, a little late, where was I going to stash all these plants when I have to plant them up in larger containers next month.  Then I remembered my first cold frame.   A rectangle of old straw bales with an old shower curtain secured on top by big rocks was a great cold frame.

I  tried storm windows one year in a community garden plot, but they are breakable if there are kids playing with rocks or loose dogs in the neighborhood.  I got a sheet of recycled tempered glass (old shower door) that worked great but was heavy for lifting.

The next great garden project is a compost bin.  I use spoiled hay bales from a nearby horse ranch because the bales are free and they also eventually become compost too.

Your imagination is your only limitation.  Think of any structure you’d like and do a Google Image Search with the name of the structure and “straw bale” and you’ll find someone who has done it already and posted a picture:  straw bale hoophouse, straw bale fort, straw bale lounge chair, straw bale chicken coop, straw bale bed, straw bale wind break, etc. etc.  Have Fun!