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!

 

 

 

 

Caramelized Red Onions

Caramelized red onions

Red onions have a high sugar content already, so when you slow cook them with honey and apple cider vinegar, they get even sweeter! Make this versatile garnish to enjoy on cheese and crackers, in a grilled cheese sandwich, atop burgers, or over roasted chicken.

 INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter 
3 thinly sliced red onions (we used our new ‘Cabernet’ onion)
3 minced garlic cloves
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
fresh thyme leaves from 3-4 sprigs
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat butter and olive oil over medium to low heat. Add onions and cook for 20 minutes until translucent, stirring regularly so as not to brown the onions.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, and stir to incorporate.
  3. Cook down another 20 minutes until sauce thickens, and onions are dark.

Makes about 1 cup of caramelized onions.

Red Onion cabernet Botanical Interests

Giving Back All Year

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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.

Decorated Gourds

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Curing gourds for craft purposes is easy. Some gardeners have found success with curing gourds by just leaving them on the vines through winter, but results can be variable. To pick your gourds for drying, as soon as the vines are dead and the gourds’ skin has begun to turn an ivory color, cut them from the vine, leaving 2”–3” of stem attached to the fruit. Don’t try to save any gourds that have cracked or broken skin, since they will eventually rot. Keep gourds in a cool, well-ventilated place. Bring indoors as a last resort, as curing gourds often develop a strong smell. Clean off any soil from the surface, and wipe the gourds with a mild bleach solution (1 oz. bleach to 2 quarts water). Store them on a wire mesh, not touching each other, out of direct sunlight. It can take up to 6 months to completely dry inside. When gourds are finished drying, they will feel much lighter, the seeds will rattle around inside, and the outer skin will peel away to reveal a brown or tan shell.

Once cured, hard-shelled gourds have a thin, hard, waterproof shell, which is treated just like wood (carved, cut, and/or painted). They grow in many sizes and shapes and thus have endless uses and last indefinitely.

For our project, we chose the spinning gourd, since it is the perfect size for a tree ornament.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Cured spinning gourds
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Very fine drill or burr
  • Wood burner
  • Twine
  • Scissors
  • Face maskdecorated_gourd_1
  1. Use the sandpaper to remove blemishes and areas of discoloration.
  2. Use the drill or burr to pierce a hole in the stem of the gourd. This is a delicate area of the gourd so you need to be sure to use something sharp. Do this before decorating, as it is possible to crack the gourd during this process.
  3. Heat up your wood burner according to instructions. Put on your face mask, and start burning patterns and shapes into your gourd. You may find it useful to draw shapes with a pencil onto your gourd prior to burning.
  4. If you decide to paint your gourd, be sure to do so after burning, as burning paint could produce harmful fumes and dust.
  5. Tie a piece of twine through the hole in your gourd and display.

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We’d love to see how creative you get! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

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!

Warm Baby Greens Salad

Warm baby greens salad

We’re loving all the microgreens and baby greens we grow in our Kitchen Garden Kit. While chilled, crisp salads are cool and refreshing in the summer, we like to warm it up in the winter, still using nutritious, baby greens in this colorful, tummy-warming dish.

INGREDIENTS:
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
2–3 teaspoons of garlic salt
1 cup of quinoa (cooked by package directions)
3 cups of spinach baby greens or Superfoods baby greens
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss sweet potato cubes with 2 tbsp. olive oil and the garlic salt. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes until tender and browned. Mix potatoes with cooked quinoa and baby greens; salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Serves 2.

 Baby Greens Superfoods 7321_l-babygreen-spinach_rgblr

Distressed Pumpkins

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Pumpkins are such a versatile fruit! They can be eaten, carved, decorated, or simply displayed. They conjure warm thoughts of harvest, autumn, and yummy pies, and are the quintessential icon of Halloween. This year we want to keep our pumpkins around beyond Halloween and into late fall, so we are decorating instead of carving them. We love the way distressed furniture invokes a farmhouse feel, so we’re transferring that look to our decorated pumpkins.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pumpkins with ridges
  • Spray paint primer
  • Gold, silver mirror-, or metallic paint
  • Gray or white, flat, latex paint
  • Water
  • Paint brush
  • Rag
  1. Thoroughly clean pumpkins and allow to dry.
  2. Spray pumpkins with primer in a well-ventilated area, coating entire surface. Be sure to protect surrounding area from over-spray. Allow primer to dry for recommended amount before proceeding to next step.img_1381
  3. Spray metallic paint according to label instructions and allow to dry at least 24 hours in a well-ventilated area.img_1385
  4. Using paint brush, apply one coat of gray or white, flat, latex paint to entire surface. Allow to dry for 30 minutes.painted pumpkin
  5. Using a damp cloth, wipe away portions of the paint to allow metallic paint to show through. Wipe away paint until desired effect is achieved. The more paint you wipe away, the more metallic paint will show.img_1399img_1404

We’d love to see how creative you get! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

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.

Herb Salt

herb salt cilantro

We’ve recently discovered herb salts as savory, mouth-watering additions to recipes, and also as an ingenious way to prolong the life of fresh herbs. Salt preserves the herbs, and the herbs infuse the salts, making a flavor combo you can’t resist. Try herb salts on meats, roasted vegetables, popcorn, garlic bread, and even in your cocktails! With the holidays around the corner, you’ll want this new ingredient in your culinary arsenal.

Ingredients
3 cups loosely packed, fresh herbs
½ cup coarse salt

Directions
1.      Wash and dry herbs thoroughly.
2.      Either pulse herbs and salt in a food processor (careful not to create a paste), or finely chop herbs and salt together with a knife.

Store your herb salt in a glass jar in the fridge. Shake periodically over 7 to 10 days while flavors blend. Herb salts will last about 6 months or longer in the refrigerator.

Blend ideas:

Italian blend: Basil, oregano, parsley, and salt
Summer blend: Dill, parsley, and salt
Thanksgiving blend: Sage, thyme, parsley, and salt
Salsa blend: Cilantro and salt
Bloody Mary blend: Celery leaves and salt

As you can see, the possibilities are endless!

Parsley Italian Dark Green Flat

Thyme English

Sage Garden Broadleaf OrganicDill Bouquet Organic

Pumpkin on a Stick Bouquet

Pumpkin on a stick

Few people will guess what type of plant it is, but everyone loves the cute, pumpkin-shaped fruits of ornamental eggplant. When added to a fall floral bouquet, Pumpkin on a Stick makes a striking statement that will surely be a conversation piece!

First, decide which fall color scheme you’d like to use, and choose foliage and flowers that complement each other. We’ve chosen a classic autumnal palette with hues of red, burgundy, yellow, orange, and brown.

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To create your fresh floral arragment you’ll need:

  1. Using pruning sheers, cut floral and foliage stems to desired length. We cut the stems for the center of the vase longer and the stems for the outer edge of the vase shorter.
  2. Remove all foliage that would sit below the water line in vase.
  3. Fill 1/3 of the vase with room-temperature, clean water.
  4. Distribute foliage and flowers evenly throughout the vase. Avoid large clumps of the same type.
  5. Replace water, and cut ½” from stems every other day.

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We’d love to see how creative you get! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.