Stop and Enjoy the Wildflowers

In the words of the late, great Tom Petty, “You belong among the wildflowers… Far away from your trouble and worries / You belong somewhere you feel free.” Whenever I hear this song, I picture myself among gently swaying blooms that form a new, unique tapestry, every day, without fail. Wildflowers are the details along a well-beaten path that make it seem somehow different and interesting every time you visit, not only by their blossoms, but through the rainbow of pollinators and other wildlife visitors they call in and sustain.

I have been reflecting on how our lives have become so busy, and I wish I could slow us all down so we could experience the wildflowers hitting that reset button in our brains. I may not have figured out how to slow down the entire world, but what I can do is provide native wildflower seeds (and easy growing instructions) so you can create a little retreat of your own.

Native plants are among the most care-free of any blooms you can grow. They are tough and able to grow without much attention, including being drought tolerant, which gives you more time to enjoy them. Natives provide pollinators with high-quality pollen and nectar too, so a native garden bed is also a pollinator garden.

For me, fall is naturally the time to think about revamping an area or filling in an empty space. Wildflowers are inherently adapted to being sown now—how convenient for me! Plants in their native habitat bloom, form seeds, drop those seeds sometime from summer to fall (depending on the species), and then the seeds rest until spring when conditions are just right for germination. Fall sowing is done!

When prepping your own, native retreat, do thoroughly weed and loosen the soil surface and place or rake seeds in. Winter snow and rain will work the seeds into the soil, so no need to work the soil too deeply. Our late spring storms are usually enough so I don’t have to water, but if you have a dry spell in spring keep an eye on the soil moisture and water as needed. Natives wildflowers grow well in average or even poor soils, so there is no need to amend most soils. You can choose a number of species with different bloom times so your space is always colorful, but be sure to put full-sun varieties in 6 or more hours of sun so they stand tall, rather than reaching for more light.  Once seedlings are all up and have put on some growth, say the end of June, I like to toss some mulch around the sprouted plants to help keep weeds down.

After that, I add a chair, and give myself some time to stop and smell the wildflowers.

Do you have any native garden tips? Please share them in the comments!

Plentiful Pleasing Poppies Next Spring

‘Black Swan’ Poppy

Fall is a great time of the year to reflect on your garden and write down some new ideas for next year. And I have poppies on the brain! What’s great about poppies is their diversity—all shapes, colors, sizes, perennial, annual— I love them all! Regardless of their annual or perennial status, they do best when sown in place, and by sowing this fall, seeds are primed for the earliest possible germination next spring. Poppies are quite cold tolerant and you may be surprised how early they come up.

Mission Bells Poppy Blend

Sowing Poppies
Choose a full-sun to part-sun area and consider the height of the poppies and any neighboring plants so none of the flowers get overshadowed. All I really need to do for soil prep is to get rid of weeds, dig out rooted perennials, and scrape away wimpy annuals. Poppies are happy with near neglect; they are drought tolerant, and do fine in poor soils but need good drainage. I scratch the surface of the soil with a hard rake to loosen the top ½”–1″, leaving the surface fluffy but level. Then I’m ready to sow! Poppy seeds need light to germinate, which means they need to be close to or on the soil surface. I usually just broadcast the seeds (adding a few extra in case birds find them), rake them in very lightly, and I’m done! Late winter and spring precipitation usually provides enough moisture to germinate seeds next year, but if I have a dry winter I will water these seeds come spring. (P.S. You can also sow in raised beds to improve the drainage of your soil.)

Oriental Blend Poppy

I am already imagining all the beautiful blooms I will be seeing next spring and summer! Poppies aren’t the only flowers that germinate best after the chill of winter. Read more about Fall Sown Flowers for ideas on what you can sow now.

Endless Harvests: Inspiration for All Those Veggies

It happens every year. Each spring I am so excited to garden that I grow more than my family could ever eat. I realize this is a bonus, so I try to make the absolute most out of every single vegetable I harvest. If you are also fortunate enough to have too many veggies, try these preparing and sharing ideas.

  1. Freezing. Greens (kale, spinach, collards), onions, peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash can be frozen without blanching (boiled quickly and then cooled in ice water to preserve nutrients and color). Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans maintain a better quality when blanched before freezing.
  1. Batch meals. Cook up a big batch of tomato sauce, eggplant cutlets, or even a whole casserole and freeze the extra portions in well-marked, freezer-safe containers.
  1. Canning. Preserve the bounty by canning. Be sure to follow a tested recipe (like these from the USDA) to avoid any chance of food-borne illness.
  1. Meet your neighbors. You’ll not only make new friends (or delight the old ones), but you may even turn some into gardeners! The more gardens in a neighborhood, the higher everyone’s sense of pride, too. So bring over that extra zucchini, flower bouquet, or basil.
  1. Donate. Do you know that food banks around our nation find it difficult to consistently provide fresh vegetables to their communities? Find your local food bank and share the harvest.

For more ideas see our article Preserve the Harvest. Share your creative uses for extra garden goodies in the comments!

Summer Fun in the Trial Garden

Every year we go to garden shows where we “ooh” and “aah” at the gorgeous, the unusual, and the unique, and yearn for a big enough space to grow them all. Alas, we must choose only those that most capture our attention, and bring back the seed with growing anticipation. Then, when the time is right, we sow them in our trial gardens, to see for ourselves how they perform.

Our seed buyer, Alex, has a rich history of market farming, so he is our guy for our on-site trial garden. He “fixes” the soil, sows the seeds, and tends the plot, with a little help from other staff members. We all provide encouragement, of course! And there is no shortage of volunteers to test out that new tomato, or corn, or pepper.

We’re growing some of our new varieties this year to make sure we deliver the high-quality product we promise. These can be found in our 2017 catalog, or on our website:

Hollyhock Outhouse Several of us couldn’t run fast enough for the seed after seeing this glorious display of old-fashioned hollyhocks.

Pea Sugar Magnolia What a beautiful color in a snap pea, and the blossoms are equally as appealing.

Sunflower Schock O Lat Shockingly beautiful, isn’t it? And sunflowers are so easy to grow, everyone should!

This summer we are also trialing some special things that look very promising for a future season. Color and form are catching our attention in a mix of burgundy and lime green celosia with red and golden plumes bursting forth; a small, adorable zinnia with quite bold colors; gomphrena in hot pink and creamy white; an interesting grass that is reminiscent of fireworks; and a stunning sweet corn that has striking, deep burgundy stems, tassels and husks, with contrasting white kernels!

Stay tuned!

 

10 Crops in Under Two Months

August has arrived and it has me thinking about all the tasty fall crops I can still sow and enjoy in two months time before a frost is likely in my area. So if you are also right up against the two-month mark and want to squeeze in just a little more gardening, I suggest trying cool-season crops (frost tolerant)! Several of the cool-season crops I grow are even more enjoyable in late summer because I can worry less about pests and bolting, while the cool temperatures of fall will sweeten my leafy greens (kale is particularly improved by a kiss of fall frost). But you may notice that these crops seem to take longer–and you’re correct! Late summer/early fall warm-season crops may take a couple of more weeks to reach maturity than usual as day length wanes and temperatures cool.

Try 10 of my favorite varieties to sow in late summer. They will not disappoint!

  1. Arugula sown in late summer/fall provides a mellower flavor, and attracts flea beetles less than spring-sown crops.
  2. Beets are silky, earthy, and delicious. We love them roasted, pickled, or raw. Our new, white, ‘Avalanche’ beet has a mild flavor that is a hit and better for juicing without the stains of red beets.
  3. Broccoli Raab is so fast, and what a delicacy! You can cut it 2-3 times and keep enjoying the delicate, slightly spicy flavor for weeks.
  4. Collards are heat tolerant and survive to 20°F, which lends to my love of this productive, heirloom green.
  5. Kale just keeps on going past first frost, getting sweeter, and adding depths to soups, and diversity to fall salads. ‘Dwarf Blue’ and ‘Redbor’ are exceptionally cold tolerant and the latter’s purple color intensifies after frost. ‘Nero Toscana‘ is my favorite!
  6. Kohlrabi has the crunch of an apple, is mildly sweet, and has a touch of a mild radish flavor. I love it raw with a sprinkle of salt.
  7. Lettuce is a staple in my garden all summer long, and I love to grow a bunch of different varieties, but always the ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’ which glows cranberry red as the days shorten, and ‘Little Gem’ that forms a perfect head. Both are more heat tolerant and frost tolerant than others.
  8. Peas are for fall too! ‘Cascadia’ is my favorite snap pea for fall because it is not only delicious, but also mildew resistant, an issue I often battle in the late summer.
  9. Radishes are always welcome in our kitchen, and late summer is the time to sow winter radishes which only form during shortening days. I grow daikon (if you’ve never tried daikon you are missing out!), black radishes, and the stunning, scarlet centered, watermelon radish. When you remove (and eat) the greens these radishes store for a month or more in the crisper.
  10. Spinach is also sweetened with cooling temperatures and can over-winter, even in my climate (USDA zone 5B). I like to sow a little extra for freezing.

There’s more to grow, too! Check out other quick crops like cucumbers, mustards, summer squash, and turnips. Get the full list and read more about our most frost tolerant crops. Well, those garden beds aren’t going to prep themselves; I better get sowing!

What are you sowing now for fall? Share with us in the comments below.

 

Advice From a First-Time Gardener

 

sunflower

Usually, I write to share my gardening loves and experiences. We’ve been thinking about new gardeners and how best to give them the tools they need. Jennifer, our marketing manager, has just started gardening since working at Botanical Interests, and I’m excited about her progress! So I thought, who better to give advice to a novice gardener, than a novice gardener herself? I think you’ll find her thoughts on hope and patience helpful no matter what level gardener you consider yourself.  — Judy

My grandfather gardened and my mother gardened; I, however, did not. But I love to cook, so the thought of running to my backyard for fresh ingredients just before dinner was very exciting. Working at an awesome seed company didn’t hurt either.

Last season was my first garden. My space isn’t big–only a 6′ x 7′ raised bed, but I was determined to get the most out of it. My season started out strong; all the seeds germinated (thanks, Botanical Interests!), so I immediately thought I was “a natural”. I took pictures of my seedlings and showed them off to Judy and our horticulturist, April, like my preschooler does with her macaroni necklaces. Imagine my disappointment, though, when mid-season, slugs skeletonized my pea leaves, my herbs were wilting, and I had only a handful of tiny tomatoes, which had blossom-end-rot to boot. I did have some success with Bunny Tails grass, growing the cut fluffs at the top, but it was certainly not the dramatic flowerbed I had planned. And while I did harvest four zucchini, two handfuls of Sun Gold tomatoes, and one sprig of cilantro, it again was certainly not the glorious bounty I had imagined.

But I am not a quitter. I was excited again this past spring, but a little more determined and “grounded” (pun intended) about my goals. Even though we’re only at mid-season here in Colorado, my garden is already growing better than last year. Here’s what I learned:

Stay hopeful. Some plants are more forgiving than you may think. If it seems like you killed it, try more or less water, fertilizer, or sun. More water and sun revived even my wilting herbs. And, of course, there’s always next year! Which brings me to my next lesson…

Be patient. New gardeners always hear this. I’m not exactly a patient person, but nevertheless, it’s true. When I’m in awe of another’s beautiful and bountiful garden, I remind myself that that garden has probably taken years to perfect. And speaking of perfecting…

Focus. Improve one thing at a time. Because I was fruitless and bloomless last year, this year I focused on amending my soil with phosphorous (that’s the middle number on the fertilizer container) so that I will get more out of what I sowed. And last but not least…

Use your resources. I know that I’m lucky to work with a slew of garden nerds, but ask any gardener–chances are they love to talk plants. They’ll share their immeasurably valuable experiences, especially how to grow in local conditions. Last shameless plug–I refer to the helpful information our seed packets regularly, and it works!

garden pepper tomato bean

I have to admit, I’m still not doing everything right this year, but I do have gorgeous, bright yellow sunflowers, and lots of budding jalapenos, tomatoes, and green beans, and I wake up every morning wondering if something new grew overnight (that actually happens, by the way). So even if you’re like me, impatient and most definitely not a natural, you can sow one seed and turn it into a salad, sauce, or bouquet, and that on it’s own is pretty spectacular.

Tomatoes: To Prune or Not to Prune

I hear these questions every year: Should I prune my tomatoes? When? How do I do it?

First things first, only indeterminate-type tomatoes should be pruned. Because indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce tomatoes throughout the season, you can prune their side shoots (also known as “suckers”), whereas if you pruned determinate tomatoes that produce only once a season, you would be reducing the overall yield.

Pruning indeterminate tomatoes can, however, increase fruit size, help tomatoes ripen faster, and help reduce disease. It will not increase the number of tomatoes you get, but you will probably get more “perfectly” shaped and sized tomatoes. Even though I love even the small or ugly tomatoes, I prune some of my tomato plants for the sheer beauty of a big, hearty tomato.

There are 3 different strategies for pruning suckers off  tomatoes:

Minimal
Prune only those suckers below the first flower/fruit cluster.

Moderate
Wait until suckers have four leaves and prune off the top two, leaving the first two leaves to protect fruit from the sun. This is a more common practice in the south, where they are cautious about the intense summer sun.

Aggressive
Prune off all suckers.

Once you decide which way you’re going to go, keep these “rules” in mind:

  • Wait until plants are almost 2′ tall before pruning.
  • Leaves should be dry. Touching wet plants can quickly spread disease.
  • Tools should be clean and sharp. I wipe mine down with rubbing alcohol to make sure I don’t accidentally spread disease.
  • Prune prudently. Leaves create shade for fruit, which prevents sun damage. Leaves also make food for the plant, including sugars, resulting in energy to produce more quantities of sweeter fruit.
  • Prune early when suckers are small. This reduces the wound size and also saves the plant’s energy, which can be used toward developing fruit.

Here’s a tip I’ve gotten from one of my gardener friends: Late in the season, you can cut the top off of the plants (“topping”) to prevent more flower and fruit production, directing energy to ripen the existing fruit on the vine.

By the way, I still love the tomato supports I started using used two years ago. Re-read the blog as I have made some updates for improvement!

Share your tomato tips in the comments!

10 Flowers for Quick Color

2014-07-07 10.12.12

The growing season has arrived in Colorado, and I couldn’t be happier! The garden calls, so I have been making a list of some varieties that can be direct sown and flower quickly adding some new bursts of color this summer. I am always able to find a little bare patch here and there between my long-standing perennials that can use a punch of color. You probably already know about bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, and zinnias. Here are more of my favorite, throw and grow, last-minute lovelies.

  1. Sweet Alyssum is oh so fragrant, attracts beneficial insects, and ever-blooming in my climate. In hot areas, expect it to take a mid-summer siesta.
  2. California Bluebells remind me of hiking amid the dazzling wildflowers of California. I sowed these in a rock wall bordering the garden and fell in love with the color!
  3. Calendula accepts neglect and keeps producing sunny flowers all season, and year after year if you let them reseed. ‘Oopsy Daisy’ is really compact and cute as a button!
  4. Flax flowers quickly and handles dry, hot conditions with ease. Expect them to reseed for years of color!
  5. Moss Rose Portulaca creates a carpet of color that doesn’t flinch at hot, droughty conditions.  Expect these practically care-free flowers to reseed too.
  6. Nasturtiums, which I affectionately call “nasties” (partly because one of our warehouse managers couldn’t pronounce “nasturtium”), have not only lovely blooms, but also gorgeous foliage. But don’t let the nickname fool you, they add a nice peppery kick and wonderful color to salads.
  7. Poppies are so easy to grow; just scatter seeds! With so many shapes and sizes, it’s easy to fall in love with them. They’re drought tolerant, too! The color of ‘Mikado’ is really eye catching and ‘Lauren’s Grape’ is a dramatic purple!
  8. Sunflowers seem to go from seed to towering flower in almost no time and they feed the birds in the fall!
  9. ‘Striped Japonica’ Ornamental Corn adds big, bold texture and colors with its striped magenta, white, and green leaves. At 5’–6′ tall it makes an excellent backdrop for other flowers or a lovely privacy screen.
  10. Violas are the first and last to bloom, since they thrive in cooler weather. I love the royal purple faces of ‘King Henry’ or and the tri-colored ‘Johnny-Jump-Up’ always makes me smile. Violas  I love these edible cuties in a salad!

    Violets in Judy's Salad
    Violas in my salad!

Flower mixes are also as easy as throwing and growing. With some watering of course, they provide endless color all growing season! Flower mixes may be sown as early as 4 weeks before your average last frost until the end of May.

Use the comments to let us know what quick color you are sowing in your garden. Wishing you a colorful spring!

Patio Gardening is Easier Than you Think!

Banner Patio 2

I do not remember a time when I haven’t gardened. Even as a 20-something living in an apartment with a small balcony, I gardened. I suppose I am the epitome of “If there is a will, there is a way.” With some creativity (most gardeners’ middle name) and some specially selected varieties, my containers became absolutely beautiful, productive, and, as a thrifty 20-something, I was able to do it on a budget.

These are the essentials:

  • At least 4 hours of sun
  • Water
  • Containers with drainage. (Think outside the box! You can use 5 gallon pickle buckets from the local sub shop as long as you drill holes in the bottom.)
  • Potting Soil
  • Liquid Fertilizer
  • Most importantly, if your space is really limited, narrow down your list by choosing only the plants you love to eat & flowers to attract pollinators.

With 4 hours of sun you can grow leafy crops like lettuce, rainbow colored Swiss chard, mustards, and herbs. Leafy crops are beautiful with so many textures and colors; they almost look ornamental. Leafy greens and herbs will be happy even in short or smaller pots; however, the smaller the pot, the more often you may need to water. I would recommend pots that are around 8″ deep or greater.

Garden at the balcony

With 6 or more hours of sun, the possibilities with fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, melon, eggplant, beans, and cucumbers are nearly endless! In the case of tomatoes, determinate types or semi-determinate types stay shorter, but if you have a trellis that can support a 6′ indeterminate tomato, go for it! Tomatoes, in particular, need a good amount of root space; I would recommend a 5-gallon, bucket-sized pot. Peppers and eggplant do well in a 3-gallon pot. Beans (pole or bush) cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash need at least 1.5’ or so. Left untrellised, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash will appreciate about a 2′ wide pot to support plants.

Typically, cucumbers, squashes, melons, tomatoes and pumpkins are generally thought of as space hogs, so we intentionally carry some real space-efficient choices. ‘Spacemaster’ is an excellent bushy, rather than vining cucumber especially for small spaces. The same is true of ‘Gold Nugget’ winter squash, which is very compact, and I love that each squash is a perfectly delicious serving for two! ‘Emerald Delight’ gives and gives dark green, tasty zucchini all summer from productive, compact plants that are resistant to powdery mildew and other diseases. ‘Minnesota Midget’ is also a space saver and produces the most delectable, 4”, sweet melons in no time! ‘Lizzano’ is a well-behaved cherry tomato, perfect for hanging baskets or other small spaces. ‘Jack Be Little’ is the cutest little pumpkin you have ever seen, and the flavor is actually amazing. These diminutive pumpkins make perfect bowls for pumpkin soup, or beautiful, long-lasting fall décor.

Young Cucumbers on vine

Here’s another great tip I learned: Growing vertically gives you more room! Use wall planters, hanging baskets, or trellises. A piece of lattice, cattle panel, or remesh (the less expensive option) is sturdy enough to hold up tomatoes, small winter squash, and cucumbers. Create your own vertical planters using pallets, gutters, or sticks and strings to help you bring your garden to new “heights”. If you build it, plants will climb it.

Remember, no matter the space, the miracle is in the seed. Seeds are programmed to grow, they just need you to give them that little bit of soil, sun, water, and love.

We love to hear what and how you are growing! Please share your patio garden tips with us in the comments below.

 

4 Transplanting Steps

Planting vegetable garden

The precious seedlings you started indoors need time to adapt to life outdoors. Their climate-controlled environment and perfect growing medium has given them a great start, with little to no stress, but now it’s time to give them a new home in the garden.

No stress here! To reduce any transplant stress, harden off your seedlings to help them adjust to the outdoor conditions. Gradually expose your plants to more sunshine and elements each day until they are acclimated. (Read complete instructions in our article, 5 Steps to Hardening Off Seedlings.)

Get ready! I dig a hole with my transplanter, the same depth as my starter pot, but three times as wide. The transplanter has measurements on it, making this task really easy. I’ve found that this is also a good time to mix in some compost if needed (two parts soil to one part compost is a good ratio). Water seedlings before transplanting them so that their roots are more flexible and less likely to tear. A dilute mixture of liquid kelp or seaweed fertilizer in the water can help them handle the stress of moving, too.

 Time to transplant. I usually transplant in the evening or on a cloudy day to ease the seedlings into their new home. You will find that even well-hardened-off seedlings may wilt if they are transplanted in the heat of the day. They will recover, but the stress can slow progress. I love how our paper pots reduce stress at transplanting, so I use them every chance I get. I’ve found that if I soak the bottom, the perforation tears even easier. I just place my seedlings in the hole and backfill, making sure the garden soil level matches the soil level in the pot and cover the top of the pot with soil. You really only want to bury a lot of the stem of plants like leeks or tomatoes.

Grow baby grow! While the seedlings are growing new roots in their new home, they need lots of water, so for the next few weeks after transplanting, I’m diligent about their moisture levels. I poke a finger in the soil (just far enough away so that I’m not disturbing roots) every couple days and make sure not to let them dry out.

It’s that simple! By following these transplanting tips and more organic gardening tips found inside Botanical Interests’ seed packets you are well on your way to enjoying a beautiful and bountiful garden season!

As always, we welcome your trusty tips and tricks in the comments section!