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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/

 

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.

 

BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds

 

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/

 

 

Tools to be a Better Gardener

by Sandy Swegel Photo of the bbbseed $25 gift card.

Today I’ve been thinking about how the tools I use have made me a better gardener. I have spent a lot of money over the years on tools that break or tools that seemed clever but end up unused. I garden at least twenty hours a week for other people, so my tools need to be effective and efficient as well as durable. 

(Keep these in mind if you are trying to figure out a good holiday or birthday gift for a gardener friend or relative!  One of these and a great gift card for seeds is sure to be useful and welcome!)

My Must-Have Tools include:


Good Hand Pruners naturally. Felco pruners are great if you can afford them. A sharp edge is the more important feature of a hand pruners and you need a high-end pruner that does have cheapo soft metal that dulls the first time you use it. I like Felcos, but Corona and Fiskars both have high-end pruners that are good. For my use, I need a replaceable blade because no matter how much you sharpen, at some point you need a fresh blade. I have hand pruners in two sizes…a smaller pair for perennial maintenance because they are lighter weight and a larger pair for shrubs, roses and trees. Last year Costco had a great deal on a generic version of Felcos in a two-pack.

A Soil Knife. The original name of this tool was a hori-hori knife and my first one came right fromSoil knife with orange handle Japan. Now I like the bright orange soil knife from AM Leonard. The plastic resin handle holds up better than wood and the bright orange is easier to find when I lose it. You have to be careful of the extremely sharp edges (one side serrated and one side flat) but this is my combo trowel, weed digger, shovel, tool for dividing perennials etc.
Pruning loppersFiskars Power Gear Bypass Lopper 15 or 18 inches. I love the Fiskars PowerGear line. They really do give you more power per effort than any other lopper. I use the smaller loppers the most because they are lightweight and because they fit more easily between dense branches.

Black and Decker cordless (18V) sweeper. They don’t call this a vac because it’s not strong enough for big piles of leaves…but it ‘s the perfect quick cleanup at the end of working in the garden whetherCordless Yard Sweeper you’re “sweeping” a path or blowing debris lightly off of rock mulch. I also use it to sweep my kitchen floor. Sawsall pruning blade

Milwaukee Sawzall pruning blade. This vicious jagged blade is one of the secret weapons that let me do the work of your average 20-year-old male landscaper. Perfect for cutting trees or cutting right in the soil through old roots.

Mini Shovel and Mini Mattock Pickaxe. OK, laugh if you want, my friends do….but then they goMini Pickaxe out and get these mini tools when they see how much work they let me do. They are the same tools the aforementioned 20-year olds use in full-sized versions, but lightweight enough for me to use without ruining my rotator cuff, a common gardening injury. I use both while kneeling in the soil up close and personal to my job. Don’t get a wussy camping pick or a garden pick made of thin metal…get the real thing in the hardware store.

Those tools and a colorful TubTrug or two, (those bendable colorful garden buckets that are worth every nickel) and you’ll find yourself able to work faster and stronger in the garden without trying too hard.

Orange garden trug

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Graphic that says, "This Pumpkin Seed Recipe Is Scary Delicious."

by Sam Doll

There are so many reasons to enjoy the month of October, but one of the truly special traditions is carving spooky jack-o-lanterns for Halloween! While making funny faces and creative carvings can be a blast, I get most excited for turning the slimy guts of the pumpkins into crispy, salty, roasted pumpkin seeds.

If you are interested in other Halloween Crafts, check out these 9 great craft ideas!

Pick the Right Pumpkin

Pumpkin seeds are a delicious, healthy seasonal snack that can be as creatively flavored any way you want!  The first thing you need to do is pick a pumpkin!

Want to grow your own pumpkins? The Jack-O-Lantern Variety are perfect for eating and carving.

Wandering through a pumpkin patch, it might seem impossible to know which pumpkin would be good for carving and roasting seeds. Lucky for you, the easy part is figuring out which ones are chock full of seeds. Just pick it up! The heavier the pumpkin, the more likely it is to be full of seeds.

If you need help picking out a perfect pumpkin for carving, check out this guide.

Harvest the Seeds

This is the fun part! Once you cut the top of your jack-o-lantern off, it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Set up two bowls. Scoop out as much of the guts and seeds as you can with your hands. Separate as many of the seeds from the pulp as you can and put them in one bowl. It’s okay if they are still slimy and still have a little pulp on them, you’ll clean that off later.

As you get near the end, use a large metal spoon to scrape down the inside walls of the pumpkin to clean out any remaining strands and straggling seeds. Wash up and finish carving your pumpkins!

If you need ideas or templates for carving, here are all you could ask for!

Prepare the Seeds

Place the seeds in a colander and rinse the seeds under cold, running water. Use your hands to remove any pulp still attached. Once clean, remove them and set aside

Here are four other great pumpkin craft ideas.

Boil the Seeds

Depending on how many seeds you have, fill a sauce pan or pot with water and salt it until it tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil and add the cleaned seeds.

Boil for 5-8 minutes until the seeds begin to look translucent. Remove the seeds to a baking sheet and pat them dry.

The boiling gives the seeds a pleasant salty flavor throughout and ensures that they cook evenly and without burning in the oven.

Roast ‘Em

Pre-heat the oven to 400-425 (this isn’t an exact science) and add the seeds. Roast until golden, crispy and delicious (about 10-15 minutes).

Remove them from the oven and add them immediately to a clean mixing bowl for seasoning.

Check out these incredibly delicious pumpkin recipes while you’re at it!

Season ‘Em

This is the fun part. No matter what seasoning you go with, you’ll probably want to use 1 tbsp of high-quality olive oil and some course kosher salt as a base. The oil helps the seasoning stick to the seeds and the salt helps elevate the other flavors.

Now, you can keep them simple and enjoy these classic fall snacks! If you are feeling a little wild, here are some other delicious flavoring suggestions.

The amount of seasoning will depend on how many seeds and what size you have, so start with a little and keep adding until it is just perfect

  • Sugar and Cinnamon: I like a mixture of 4 to 1 white sugar to cinnamon (here is more information if you are curious). If you want it a little hotter, add more cinnamon to the mixture
  • Curry: Any pre-made curry powder will work here, but you can make your own if you are feeling ambitious. I like this Thai Curry Powder
  • South of the Border: Use a 1:1 cumin to red chili flake mix. If you like it really spicy, add some cayenne powder.
  • Spicy and Savory: Use a 2:2:1 garlic salt (omit the kosher salt above if using this or just use garlic powder), lemon pepper, and cayenne to create a savory and hot mix.
 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

 

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

 

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)

 

 

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