And the Award Goes To…

swiss chard bright lights
‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard in Judy’s Garden

For me, gardening is a labor of love. I make a thoughtful plan every year and try different tricks (like my grandpa “Pop’s” advice to soak beet and morning glory seeds), but even after all that, sometimes I get a less-than-desired result. It’s been one of my missions to share my passion for gardening, helping home gardeners be successful no matter what level of gardener they imagine themselves to be. That’s why offering varieties that are proven performers is a must! All-America Selections (AAS) winners and other Botanical Interests-tested, reliable varieties are essential to ensuring our customers have the best choices for home gardening.

In 1932, W. Ray Hastings, the Southern Seedsmen’s Association of Atlanta’s president, suggested that a network of trial gardens be grown and evaluated by skilled, unbiased judges in different U.S. climates. With this evaluation process, gardeners could truly know if a new cultivar was actually improved and how it might perform in their area. Industry leaders must have thought that was a great idea because from this, AAS was born, and began announcing winning varieties the very next year.

The AAS objectively trials and chooses reliable, high-performance winners. They judge varieties on yield, novelty, earliness to bloom or harvest, pest and disease tolerance, and overall performance. In more recent years, they have added that varieties need to have at least two improved qualities and cannot be genetically engineered (commonly referred to as GMO). AAS is still the only national, non-profit agency evaluating plant varieties, and we are so grateful for their work!

At Botanical Interests, we strive to inspire and educate our fellow gardeners, supplying varieties you can trust because we value your trust! Just in case your Pops didn’t give you all the tips you need, we research sowing and growing tips for easy-to-follow instructions inside each seed packet, so you can simply get growing! 

The Value of Gardening from Seed

garden with seedsThere is nothing like harvesting supper right from the garden. One of my favorite memories is of one of my daughters’ sleepovers. I handed out some old wooden bowls to the girls and told them to go get something from the garden for dinner. They were so surprised to get food right from the back yard! The fresh flavor and high-nutrient value of just-harvested food cannot be denied, but there is also something so special about eating something that minutes before, was growing in our garden, having been tended with loving kindness, and is free of pesticides and GMOs. Seeing those young ladies use the same bowls I harvested in as a child really brought it all full circle, and that they wanted to repeat the tradition every time after, made my heart soar!

So for me, the real value in growing from seed isn’t just “dollars and cents”—it is in the quality of my food, the joy of fresh air and productive exercise, and even a bit of a spiritual connection to the earth, definitely a kind of therapy. 

Costs less. Growing from seed costs exponentially less than purchasing plants and produce. For example, a 4″ tomato plant can run you $4, while a plant sown from seed costs 35 cents or less on average. A bunch of colorful, organic carrots is typically priced around $4, while a packet of the same organic carrot seeds is about $2.99, and typically results in about 160 carrots, even after thinning!

Diverse varieties. Don’t limit your bouquets and cuisine to the mainstream! We frequently hear from new gardeners that they never even knew they liked tomatoes until they grew a variety bred for flavor, and not shelf life. Botanical Interests offers over 600 proven varieties so you can sow and grow exactly what you are looking for. 

Organic garden. The choice of organic food and goods is a lifestyle path that many have adopted. Whether you want to support organically-grown food for health concerns, reasons of environmental stewardship, or aiding pollinators, growing your own food and flowers using organic methods ensures you know exactly what goes onto and into your plants, where your food came from, how fresh and nutritious it is, and green; you simply cannot get more local! When goodness and love go in, goodness and love come out in the harvest.

Size matters. While buying big, beautiful, ready-to-transplant plants gives us instant gratification, studies show there is an ideal amount of time from germination to transplant, so when roots overgrow their little “cells” it causes stress on the plants, leading to lower yields, bolting (premature flowering), and bitter flavors. Bigger isn’t always better!  Starting from seed allows you to choose the ideal transplanting time frame for your area, which is based on your average last spring frost date. Also, ornamental plants (especially tall varieties) grown in small cell packs may have been sprayed with growth inhibitors that result in cute, stout plants, unnaturally flowering in tiny cell packs. While the look draws you in, that inhibitor lasts, meaning plants won’t be as big and beautiful in the landscape as those grown from seed.

No root disturbance. Nature direct-sows and so should we, in many cases. Many varieties perform best when direct-sown. Plants sown in place experience less stress, and because of that, mature more quickly. This is especially true of quick-to-mature crops like mesclun and cilantro, or  root crops, sunflowers, and those in the Cucurbit (cucumbers, squash) and bean and pea families to name a few.

Growing from seed is a skill anyone can learn that gives back “in spades”; the pinnacle of freshness, pride in the harvest and beauty, and natural therapy, not to mention cost savings,  plus, you get food and flowers!

 

 

 

 

Giving Back All Year

all-sorts-of-veggies-and-fruit
Donation thank-you card from Lower Columbia School Gardens in Washington.

This time of year reminds us of what we are continually grateful for—our customers! We are always looking for ways to give back to the community to show our gratitude, not just at this time of year, but all year long. A few years ago, we began cultivating relationships with local schools and community outreach programs that may be interested in donations of seed packets for their gardens. The recipients were delighted, and soon the word spread, growing the program organically. 

As our company expanded, so did the amount of available seed without a home. Thus began our nation-wide seed donation program. We have been happy to provide seed for non-profits all over the U.S. that promote the joy of seed gardening—not only school gardens and community outreach gardens, but also 4H clubs, master gardener conferences, university sustainability centers, Earth Day urban garden projects, correctional-facility gardens, foster care gardens, and many more! We also donate seed-starting guides to schools, master gardener programs, and other educational programs.

It is truly inspiring to hear the wonderful feedback from those who have harvested from our donated seed. We love getting photos of 6-year-olds in the school garden who have just pulled their first carrot from the earth, or baskets full of home-grown veggies at the community outreach garden. One thing that especially touched our hearts this year was a heart-felt ‘thank-you’ from a correctional-facility garden.

So far this year, Botanical Interests has donated almost 50,000 seed packets! We love our donation program because it’s a great way for us to give, to educate, and to inspire, growing the gardener community!

We would like to thank everyone who has accepted our seed, and taken the time and effort to share their experiences, showing others just what pleasures come from planting a garden.

10 Essential Fall Garden Tasks

fall in the garden

  1. Compost disease-free or frost-killed annual plant material, or work it into the garden soil to decompose before spring. Simply cut disease-free plants off at the ground, leaving the soil intact. The root material will decompose and feed the soil. Diseased plant material should be removed from garden altogether and disposed of, preventing disease from re-entering the garden as compost or mulch. Clear out any other garden debris, too, eliminating pest habitat.
  2. Weed. Weeds are a haven for certain diseases to survive the winter, later spreading to your spring garden through soil, contact, or pests.
  3. Add fresh or aged, weed-free compost or manures to the fall garden soil so they have time to mellow before spring planting, feeding beneficial soil microorganisms over winter.
  4. Mulch fallen leaves with a mower (bagger on) or a leaf sucker, so they break down more quickly. Incorporate mulched leaves into beds or compost. Leaves increase organic matter, which helps soil absorb and hold water, as well as feed soil organisms. Save some mowed leaves for applying a 3″–4″ mulch to any overwintering plants like carrots, garlic, or perennials you may have in the garden (or save it for next year). Mulching bare winter beds can also help protect beds from wind erosion and keep cool weather weeds from germinating during winter. In addition to stifling weed germination, mulch reduces evaporation, saving water and keeping roots moist, and temperatures consistent.
  5. Cut back perennials. If you live in a wet winter climate, cutting back in fall can help plants from staying too wet and rotting. Because I live in a dry climate, I leave perennials standing because the stems gather leaves and snow, which keeps roots moist, and the seed heads draw birds to my yard.
  6. Clean tools. Remove any soil left on tools with a stiff, steel-bristle brush. Remove rust by scrubbing your tools with steel wool until the signs of rust are gone. Then rub the metal and wood with mineral oil, and store in a dry area.
  7. Make notes. As gardeners, we’re already thinking about what to do differently next year. For example, my oldest child ate cherry tomatoes faster than I could harvest; add one more plant! In your notes, record where vegetable crops were so you can rotate properly, not growing the same family in that bed but once in three years. Proper rotation reduces disease and pests.
  8. Soil test. Fall is a great time to do a soil test. For around $20–$30, a soil test will tell you what macro- and micronutrients your soil needs, how close you are to the ideal 5– 6% organic matter, pH, and other information that can help you get your garden in prime form next spring. Look to your local county Cooperative Extension Service, which often performs soil tests, or can advise you on a local place to submit your test.
  9. Store seeds in a cool, dry area. This is a good time to take inventory, creating a reorder for next year. Also, any liquid garden fertilizers and organic pesticides should be stored in an indoor area that won’t freeze, preserving the quality of these items.
  10. Request a Botanical Interests catalog!

Tidying up the garden is so satisfying, and also appreciated next spring. Fall garden, get ready for a sprucing up—here I come!

5 Tips for Long-Lasting Pumpkins

pumpkin carving

Autumn is here, and nothing says October like “pumpkin”—pumpkin lattes, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin ravioli, and roasted pumpkin seeds. In addition to delicious food dishes, there are so many creative ways to decorate pumpkins for fall, and I feel inspired!  (Speaking of pumpkin decorations—did you know that the Jack O’Lantern came from an Irish myth? In the myth, Jack put an ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and he became known as “Jack of the Lantern” which was shortened to Jack O’Lantern over time. The full story can be found inside our carving pumpkin seed packets along with other facts and organic gardening tips.) No matter what your creative inspiration, here are some tips to enjoy your creations longer.

  1. Choose your pumpkin carefully. A soft stem, nicks, or bruises are indications that they may have started rotting, so these pumpkins will not hold up as long.
  2. Decorate pumpkins. Painted, glittered, and stenciled pumpkins are beautiful and hold up much longer than carved pumpkins. Painting pumpkins is a creative, interactive, and fun project for your “little pumpkins”, too!
  3. Carve only a few days ahead: All carved pumpkins look their best in the first three days, so schedule your carving party accordingly. Keep carved pumpkins clean and sanitized to prevent mold from taking over. Soaking your carved pumpkin in a diluted bleach solution has proven to be the most effective method for keeping a carved pumpkin fresh and rot-free for a full week (possibly a little longer). Read our article for more tips on this method: Keeping Carved Pumpkins Fresh.
  4. Do nothing. Really! For carved pumpkins, several so-called remedies like glue and hairspray actually cause mold to build up more quickly than doing nothing. An all-natural pumpkin can last up to a week, too, although the carving may shrivel a little bit (a great asset for a spooky, witch face carving!).
  5. Be sure to bring pumpkins inside (carved or not) if the temperatures drop below freezing, as they could be damaged.

Inspire us! We would love to see your pumpkin photos! Enter them in our photo contest for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Botanical Interests online.

Extend your season with containers

container gardening - vegetables

Apples are ripening, mornings are cool, and weeds have slowed, which is natures’ way of telling me that frost is only a few weeks away. As fall approaches, vegetable gardeners are sowing their last cool season crops, ordering garlic for planting in the next month or so, and hoping for a long, moderate fall, so the harvest will continue.

If you don’t have a cold frame or row cover, sowing some cool season veggies in containers is just about the easiest way to extend your season. Manageable containers can be moved to a protected area if frost threatens. Cool season crops thrive in cooler weather and so are the ideal varieties to sow in containers. “Days to maturity” is helpful information, but when growing cool season crops in the fall when the days are shorter and cooler, growth slows, and maturity may take longer, so quick-maturing varieties are a good choice.

Today I sowed some easy-peasy Farmer’s Market Blend mesclun lettuce seed tape, and cute-as-button, round, small Tona di Parigi carrots in some long, window box-style containers. Usually, sowing carrots in containers isn’t recommended, but these small, ball-type heirloom carrots don’t need nearly as much root space as other carrots. They also look adorable at Thanksgiving dinner! My window box containers are light enough for me to move indoors and out for cooler weather if I need to, and also, big enough to keep in moisture. Both of the varieties I sowed can handle a light frost (down to 28°F), but if I am concerned, I can just push these containers up against the house and there is enough radiant heat to keep them warm. Hard freezes (below 28°F) will prompt me to bring them into a garage, porch, or shed for more protection. After being indoors overnight, the soil holds some warmth, and so most of the time, the following morning I can just push these back outside to get fresh air and sunshine before heading off to work. Frost tolerance varies among species, so we wrote a frost tolerance article to offer some guidelines.

Here are some tips on choosing or mixing container soil and choosing a container.

I am an optimist at heart, and at this time of year especially, it shows, or should I say it sows! I sow seeds like frost may never come, because though it may be late, I may continue to bring fresh veggies to our table into late fall. Even if the seeds don’t germinate in fall, I often see them as the first, delicious green things up in spring, so my efforts still pay off.

Happy sowing and harvesting, everyone! Share your late season sowing tips with us!

Carrot Tonda di Parigi   Lettuce Mesclun Farmer's Market Blend

 

Botanical “Outback” (out back in the trial garden)

BI Trial GardenWe love what we do. We love to “play” in the dirt, and watch things grow, reveling in the fact that a cucumber was produced by a tiny seed we tucked into the ground; marveling at the beauty of a blossom from a seed that we casually scattered about in the joy of spring.

To ensure that the seeds we offer are keeping up to our standards, and producing the best specimens, we have trial gardens. One trial garden is right in back of our warehouse in Broomfield, Colorado, where we can keep a close eye on the progress of our gardening endeavors. Many of our employees have been known to sneak out there for a quick, refreshing encounter with nature.

The broomcorn is “high as an elephant’s eye”, as Brandon from our marketing department is demonstrating.
HollyhockWatchman
The Watchman hollyhock with its stunning color is a sight to behold.
SunflrTeddyBear
We wonder how many people don’t know that sunflowers can be this cute. This is “Teddy Bear”, a dwarf, fully double charmer.
Alyssum
Sweet Allure Pastel Blend alyssum is happy as can be in this hot spot. There must be hundreds of blooms.
Zinnia Thumbelina
This is an eye-popping patch of Thumbelina zinnias. They are so prolific, you can’t even tell that we’ve been cutting them for bouquets.
gourd
The birdhouse gourds have spilled over the garden wall and are returning the parking lot to paradise!
PoppiesMission bells
Mission Bells California poppies are especially delightful with their silky petals waving in the breezes.
HyacinthBean
Hyacinth bean pods are really this brilliant! They are excellent as an enhancement to cut flower bouquets, especially white and blue flowers.
Nicotiana Peace Pipe
Indian Peace Pipe nicotiana is an unusual, eye-catching plant with its huge leaves and most interesting flower stalks.
Flower Mat
We are so pleased with the Sunshine Flower Mix flower mat, which we grew in our container trial garden. So many beautiful blossoms; so little effort!
Bulb Companions
Bulb Companions Flower Mix—gorgeous blooms, excellent for covering up browning bulb leaves.

 

What’s so great about seed tape?

seed disc collage
Of course I love gardening and the feel of seeds in my hand, but I also love tools that simplify or make gardening more efficient, like seed tape!

Seed tape, disks, and mats contain high-quality seeds incased in fine, biodegradable tissue paper, which keeps seeds in place, and makes thinning minimal. The seeds are distributed throughout the paper to make spacing a snap, which is helpful for small seeds like lettuce and carrots that are hard to grab. This is especially ideal for children, as it can be difficult and time consuming to sow one seed at a time. Creating a straight line with tape keeps my garden beds looking like a professional did it! The 4″ and 8″ discs fill pots fully in one effort, and the flower mat brings easy color and diversity to planters or garden beds! Tips for using seed tape and disks:

  • Pre-moisten the soil/media, then sow at the correct depth, cover the seed tape with soil/media, and water. Water dissolves the seed tape, making way for the sprouting seed.
  • Tape, disks, and mats should be completely covered with soil/media.
  • Be sure to keep seeds and seedlings moist.
  • Garden soil will still require preparation before sowing seed tape.

See how easy it is!

Four new varieties!

Noveau Fines Herbes Disk Carrot Seed Tape Parsley Seed Disk Viola Seed Tape

Fall sowing made easy!

romanesco broccoli

Summer! I’ve been harvesting my spring-sown crops, and already looking toward the bounty of fall. At our mile-high elevation, our average first fall frost date is near the end of September, just a little over 2 short months away. For a couple of reasons, there are many cool season crops that are more dependable in the fall than in the spring: 1. Fall weather is more reliably cool; 2. Some varieties, like winter radishes, need the shortening days of fall to create a crop; and 3. Many cool season varieties like parsnips and broccoli are sweeter when they have been kissed by frost.

Timing and planning is everything, partly because in our busy lives we will forget to sow the cauliflower and broccoli of our fall dreams, and also because some of these crops need 100 days to grow before harvest. Here is my method to ensure I don’t forget about fall sowing:

  1. Mark your average first fall frost date on a calendar.
  2. Look on your seed packet for “Days to Maturity” or use our Outdoor Sowing Guide for Late Summer/Fall. Soils may be hot, and quick to dry in summer, so you may consider starting some fall crops indoors or creating some shade over the garden bed. Some cool season crops like lettuce and spinach will not germinate in soils over 80°F or 85°F respectively, so you may want to start them inside if the soil is still too warm. However, root crops should always be direct-sown.
  3. From your average first fall frost date, count backwards the number of days to maturity, which will bring you to your ideal sowing date. Move your sowing date up 1 to 2 weeks to accommodate cool growing temperatures and shorter days that may slow growth, unless you plan to use season extension techniques like row covers. Most cool season varieties have a sweeter flavor after a frost, as cool weather increases the sugar content in these varieties in order the help them survive cool temperatures.
  4. Mark your calendar with variety sowing dates, and use it year after year.

Now that we created a handy, reusable schedule, all that is left is the fun part—sowing!

I am so excited about our new, eco-friendly recycled paper pots that I am using them for all my fall indoor sowing. While outdoor sowing is ideal, it is not always practical (as mentioned above), so I am starting some varieties indoors this fall— broccoli, cauliflower, kale, leeks, and fennel, to name a few. These pots are ideal not only because they are made from 100% recycled, biodegradable materials, but also because they are transplanted directly into the ground with the plant! This avoids transplant stress and root disturbance, and I have easy clean up! Romanesco broccoli and fennel are at the top of my culinary wish-list, and they take a bit more time so I started them inside, allowing me to better regulate moisture and temperature. Romanesco has this awe-inspiring, natural fractal pattern, and when cooked, it has a nutty flavor that reminds me of a cross between asparagus and cauliflower. Fennel elevates many flavors in a dish; we even love it grilled (here is a recipe). Once these seeds sprout, I right away start the hardening-off process or put them in the ground, under a row cover for 1 to 2 weeks.

 

On this hot summer day, I sow, and daydream about cool, fall mornings, harvesting a colorful bounty to enjoy even into the holidays.

As gardeners we are always growing; share your fall sowing tips with us!

Sow Your Love

butterfly 2014 (2)

From the food they help produce to the flowers they pollinate that become seeds in our packets, I love pollinators! This year I decided Botanical Interests would take a bigger step in helping pollinators. In addition to our annual contributions to the National Wildlife Federation’s Be a Butterfly Hero Campaign, this year we created a seed packet for the Pollinator Partnership.

The I Love Pollinators packet includes* certified organic, pollinator friendly, and easy-to-grow varieties that bloom throughout the growing season, and all proceeds go to the Pollinator Partnership. Our goal is to help them further their mission of promoting the health of pollinators critical to our food and ecosystems through conservation, education, and research. We appreciate the work this organization does, and we love how their education and outreach makes helping pollinators attainable for anyone, in the same way we like to make gardening approachable and enjoyable for anyone.

The Pollinator Partnership initiated, and now manages, National Pollinator Week, June 20–26, 2016, a week dedicated to raising awareness for pollinators. See their website for events, educational materials, and to donate. Pollinator stewards like you and me can use National Pollinator Week to bring attention to and help pollinators through gardening and other simple actions.

Join us in celebrating pollinators by sowing your love for pollinators with pollinator habitat plants, the I Love Pollinators seed packet that benefits the Pollinator Partnership, or National Wildlife Federation regional Butterfly Collections.

No patch of soil is too small to help pollinators; you can even sow a window box or patio container! Together, our small efforts can make a big impact for pollinator populations!

I Heart Pollinator Packet

*I Love Pollinators contains a mix of certified organic annual and perennial flowers and herbs that provide food and shelter for pollinators throughout the growing season.
In each packet:
Bachelor’s Buttons: Reseeding annual, blooms summer
Borage: Reseeding annual, blooms spring to fall
Dill: Reseeding annual, blooms spring to fall (if allowed to reseed)
Hollyhock: Reseeding biennial, blooms summer
Hyssop: Perennial, blooms summer
Marigold: Annual, blooms summer to fall
Sunflower: Re-seeding annual, blooms summer to fall
Zinnia: Annual, blooms summer to fall