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.

Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Heirloom Tomato Sauce

When your garden tomatoes get into high gear and start producing, start saucing! We used heirloom tomatoes in this recipe, creating more color and flavor diversity. We enjoy Black Krim, Brandywine, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Pineapple, and Oxheart, but any tomato will make delicious sauce.

Ingredients:

5 lbs. fresh heirloom tomatoes
2 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup sweet peppers, finely chopped (like Italian Marconi)
1/8 cup mild to medium hot peppers, finely chopped (like Hungarian Wax – optional)
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. dried oregano leaf
1 1/2 tbs. honey, agave, or sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1.Using a paring knife, gently cut out the top of your tomatoes, where the stem was connected to the fruit.

heirloom tomato

2. Slit an “X” into the bottom of each tomato, and drop them into boiling water in batches. In about 60 to 90 seconds (larger tomatoes may take a bit longer), the skins will begin to wrinkle and split. Remove tomatoes and plunge into ice water, allowing them to soak for another 60 to 90 seconds. Remove from ice water and gently peel skins away from the tomato.

heirloom tomatoes

3. Using a blender or food processor, pulse the skinned tomatoes to the consistency that you prefer (chunky or smooth).

4. Pour the tomato sauce and the garlic and peppers in a saucepan. Bring to a low boil, adding remaining ingredients as it heats.

heirloom tomato sauce

 

5. Reduce the sauce to almost half, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes.

6. Allow your sauce to cool, and continue to thicken before using or freezing. Tomato sauce can stay fresh up to a week in the refrigerator or up to several months if frozen.

Broom Corn Door Swag

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Broomfield, Colorado, the home of Botanical Interests, was named after the broom corn plant around 1900 when a lot of farmland was devoted to growing it. Brooms were traditionally made from the straw-like fibers after stripping off the seeds. ‘Broom Corn’ is not related to corn, but is actually a sorghum, a member of the grass family. Instead of growing tassels and ears, it is topped by richly colored shiny seeds.

This year, we grew a patch of broom corn in our trial garden. It performed beautifully and produced plentiful tassels. Instead of making a broom, we made a fall-inspired door swag that will greet guests with the hues of fall and the wonder of harvest.

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To create your broom corn door swag, you’ll need the following:

  • Several tassels of broom corn
  • Thick gauge wire
  • Wired ribbon (we used two colors)
  • Garden sheers
  • Wire cutters
  • Scissors
  • Door knocker or hook for hanging
  1. Using garden sheers, cut broom corn stalks from plants to desired length. We cut ours to about 18″ from the tips of the tassels to the end of the stalks.
  2. Using thick gauge wire, tie tassels of broom corn together leaving at least 6″ of wire. You will use the extra wire to attach the swag to a door knocker or hook.
  3. Dry the broom corn by hanging the bunches upside-down for at least two weeks.
  4. Gently lay broom corn stalks on a flat surface and tie a bow around the stalks. We used two ribbons for a two-layered bow. Using a wired ribbon helps the bow keep its shape.
  5. Using excess wire, attach your swag to a door knocker or hook.

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

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