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!

Creative Catnip Cover

catnip cover

Catnip is a multi-purpose plant. The tea is very pleasant with a lemon-mint flavor and fragrance. Along with indoor containers of catnip plants, toys filled with dried catnip leaves will provide your feline friends with hours of fun. But be warned; they may ignore you for a while! Grow indoors for fresh catnip year-round, or plant it outdoors in the garden; catnip is very hardy and grows in almost any soil.

The minty aroma of catnip is very appealing to most cats, so you’ll need to protect seedlings from being eaten or crushed by enthusiastic cats. You may also want to limit the access your cat has to the fully grown plants.

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What you’ll need:

  • Small bird cage, or a tall fruit basket, or any tall container with openings that are no wider than 2”
  • Small container of catnip plant

Place your catnip plant in the container under the protective cover and set near a bright window. If desired, trim the plant regularly to keep a tidy appearance and out of kitty’s reach.

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If you are growing catnip outside, cover seedlings with a tent of row cover or chicken wire. Remove when plants are 10”-12” tall. Alternatively, roll chicken wire to form a cage and place around seeds when sown. Bury at least 3″ of the cage in the ground to prevent it from being knocked over. Cut back up to 50% of plant after flowering to prevent seed formation and control the size of the plant for a tidier appearance. Established plants can reach 3′ wide.

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

Candied Flowers

candied borage

Candied flowers are delicious, and can last for several months. Use them as edible decorations on desserts, or even savory dishes like quiche.

What you’ll need*:
1 egg white, slightly beaten until just frothy.
1 small paint brush
¼ cup super fine sugar
freshly picked, edible flowers

Using the paint brush, brush egg whites onto flower petals front and back. Sprinkle sugar over all painted parts of the flower. Let dry on wax paper for 12 to 24 hours. Flowers should be hard and brittle to the touch. Store them in an airtight container until ready to use.

* Amounts depend on how many flowers you wish to candy. This is based on making only a few.

Flower Mix Edible BeautiesFlower Mix Edible Beauties

3 Grilled Veggie Recipes

3 grilled veggies

Try something new on the grill this weekend! Everyone enjoys the smoky sweetness of grilled peppers, onions, and tomatoes. But if you want to try a new side dish and wow your guests and family, grill cauliflower, carrots, and green beans!

Grilled Cauliflower “Steaks”

Whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside. Remove leaves from the cauliflower head and cut the cauliflower into thick slices. Brush marinade mixture over cauliflower “steaks” and marinate for 10 to 15 minutes. Place on grill over high heat for five minutes on each side. Enjoy their tangy, sweet flavor with a hint of spice as a vegetarian entrée or side dish.

Grilled Italian Carrots

Peel 5 or 6 whole carrots. Whisk 1/4 cup each olive oil and balsamic vinegar together. Stir in 1 or 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic and dried rosemary. Brush mixture over carrots. Grill carrots on high heat 15 min, and then turn off flame and leave in grill, covered, for another 5 to 10 minutes to make sure they are tender. The sweet char created on the carrots makes a flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes.

Grilled Lemon Pepper Green Beans

Whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon pepper seasoning (lemon juice and crushed black pepper), and 1 teaspoon granulated garlic. Toss with trimmed green beans in large bowl. Pour the coated beans into a grill pan (or use aluminum foil with holes poked in the bottom) on the grill on high heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The slight tartness perfectly complements the rich smokiness from the grill marks.

 

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Easy Bee Watering Station

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Bees get thirsty too! They work hard each day pollinating our vegetables and flowers. It’s not always easy for them to find a shallow water source to drink from. Providing a bee watering station near your flowers and vegetables is easy, fun, and will help the bees quench their thirst.

What you’ll need:

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  • A clean, shallow basin such as a saucer or other dish.
  • Marbles or small rocks
  • Fresh water
  • Cut flowers for decoration (optional)

First, fill shallow basin with rocks or marbles. Be sure to spread out material evenly to avoid deeper sections of water. Bees can drown in water that is too deep.

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Next, fill container with fresh water.

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Add cut flowers for decoration and your bee water garden will be a garden centerpiece!

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Place the bee water garden near varieties that attract bees, including bachelor’s button, bee balm, butterfly flower, calendula, cosmos, echinacea, hyssop, larkspur, morning glory, poppies, rudbeckia, salvia, sunflowers, and zinnias.

Keep your bee water garden out of direct sun. Clean and refill often.

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

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

Bread and Butter Refrigerator Pickles

refrigerator pickles

Cucumber plants can be prolific. So when we’re done putting cucumbers in salads, sandwiches, and vegetables trays, try this quick, refrigerator pickle recipe. They’re ready to eat in less than 24 hours, so make them ahead of your next barbeque or gift them to dad this Father’s Day.

2 large cucumbers
½ onion
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 ½ cups white vinegar
1 ½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon turmeric

1.      Thinly slice cucumbers and onion. Tightly pack pint mason jars with cucumber slices, onions, and two garlic gloves in each jar. 

2.      In a pot over high heat, bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery salt, and turmeric to a boil. Allow the liquid to cool.

3.      Fill jars with liquid. Seal with lids and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Will last up to two months in the refrigerator.

This recipe will fill 4 pint mason jars, depending on how tightly you pack the jars. 

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Bringing the Outside in with Cut Flowers

vase with forget-me on the window

Bring your garden inside! Cut flowers brighten homes, dress up events, and make delightful gifts with their fragrance and beauty.

Many plants benefit from having their blooms cut back before the flowers fade. Removing flowers sends signals to the plants to produce more flowers rather than putting energy into seed production. Once a plant has begun making seeds, its flower production can dwindle.

When deciding which flowers to take from your garden there are several questions you should ask yourself such as:

  • How long do you want the arrangement to last?
  • How large or tall is the vase in which the flowers will be displayed?
  • Do you want a simple or complex arragement?

If you want the arrangment to last a day or two for a single event then most flowers will work fine, as most will last at least 24 hours. Other flowers can last a long time in a vase, such as asters, baby’s breath, carnations, delphiniums, echinacea, lavender, sunflowers, and zinnias. See a complete list of cut flowers here.

The size of the vase will help determine which flowers to pick from the garden. Some flowers like larkspur and lupines will need a tall vase while other flowers like baby’s breath and sweet peas could be displayed in a short vase. Be sure to leave enough room on the stalk to allow for multiple trimmings at the base. You should also consider the size of the room. Larger vases or a grouping of smaller vases look better in big/open rooms while smaller vases look better in small spaces.

If you want your cut flowers to command attention, consider a complex arrangement. Use the same guidelines as you would for creating a container—add thrillers, spillers, and fillers. Thrillers are center-stage flowers like snapdragons and delphiniums. Spillers are flowers that hang over the vase’s edge, like love-lies-bleeding and sweet peas. This draws the eye downward and increases the overall size of the arrangement. Fillers serve to fill the empty space between the thrillers and spillers. These varieties include baby’s breath, amaranth, bachelor’s button, and canterbury bells.

TIPS: Don’t forget to strip the folliage to the water line and change the water completely every two days. For more tips on preserving cut flowers, see our article, Making Cut Flowers Last Longer.

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

The Virtues of Buckwheat

Buckwheat blossomMy seeds are sown; in some cases, a second and third succession is in. The warm season crops I started indoors have been transplanted out. We are already happily harvesting spring lettuces, greens, perennial herbs, and garlic greens. The birds are joyfully singing and so am I as I dig out my flip-flops and start a jar of sun tea. I am so ready for warm, sunny days.

I usually have a raised bed or two that I leave unplanted or sow a cover crop in every year, allowing the soil (and me) to rest. This year I am going to sow buckwheat both to attract beneficial insects, and as a summer cover crop. Buckwheat needs warm soil (over 55°F) to germinate and warm air temperatures to grow, so it is sown once the soil warms in spring, summer, or early fall, even late fall in the south. I will sow two successions of buckwheat two weeks apart to provide a longer flowering period for beneficial insects.

Buckwheat flowers are valuable to bees; in fact, it has been identified as one of the top 20 honey-producing flowers, and honeybees use it to make delicious, distinctively flavored buckwheat honey. Its flowers may appear as early as 3 weeks after sowing and continue for up to 10 weeks! Buckwheat also attracts predatory insects like ladybugs, hover flies, and minute pirate bugs that feed on pests like aphids and mites. After all, you can’t have a healthy population of predatory insects without something for them to eat!

Buckwheat is fast growing, and unlike other cover crops, it thrives in poor soils. It is particularly good at mining phosphorous from the soil ̶ a micronutrient essential for root, flower, and fruit development. As buckwheat breaks down, it helps existing nutrients become more available to future crops. Buckwheat also works to smother weeds, such as lambsquarters, pigweed, thistle, spurge, and even tough quackgrass. Not only does buckwheat shade and out-compete these weeds and others, but it also stifles nearby weeds’ root and shoot growth by exuding naturally-occurring chemicals. Buckwheat’s fine roots dig down 10” and loosen topsoil, making a nice seedbed with very little labor on my part.

While I would not claim buckwheat to be drought-tolerant, it doesn’t require much water to get established and grow. It’s ready to be cut down and worked into the soil (or mowed) just 30 to 40 days from sowing. If mowed, it will regrow, producing more abundant, enriching, organic material. As with any cover crop, it is best to cut it down before its seeds mature (in this case, harden and turn brown) so it doesn’t reseed where you want to sow food crops.

See why I love this cover crop? By adding a buckwheat to my raised garden beds, I am not only creating an inviting habitat for helper insects, but I am enriching the soil, eliminating time and energy I would otherwise spend weeding. How cool is that? All of the cover crops we offer, including Crimson Clover and Soil Builder Peas/Oats, are great for enriching the soil and are easy for the home gardener to manage.

Those who know me know I love a plant that has so much to offer, and I am always looking for ways to bring more diversity into the garden! I should also mention buckwheat makes a great cut flower. For now, the flip-flops will need to be on standby while I get the buckwheat sown, but this should take even less time than the sun tea will to brew! Happy sowing everyone!

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Big “Dill” Salads

 

Dill Chicken Salad

With spring here and summer just around the corner, we’re getting ready for outdoor brunches and barbeques. Dill can be whipped into a dressing for chicken salad served in croissants or pitas, or poured over fork-tender, boiled potatoes for a side dish at your next summer event. It’s (just about) the same recipe, too!

INGREDIENTS for chicken salad:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded chicken

INGREDIENTS for potato salad:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound fork-tender boiled fingerling potatoes

DIRECTIONS:
Whisk all the dressing ingredients until well blended. Stir in chicken or potatoes. Chill for about an hour to let flavors blend.

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