Broomcorn-a little history lesson

In honor of fall, we thought it would be fun to post some information about one of our favorite fall decorations- Broomcorn! Not only is our headquarters in Broomfield Colorado named after the plant, it also has a rather interesting history in the United States.

Benjamin Franklin brought the first broomcorn seeds to American in 1725 after finding them on a hat brush in England. A new broom industry was created shortly thereafter when it was discovered that broomcornmade a more efficient broom, whisking away more dust than brooms made from twigs or straw. In 1781, Thomas Jefferson listed it as one of the most important crops of that time. This type of sorghum was not called “Broom Corn” until the early 1800’s. At that time, the British called all seed-bearing plants ‘corn.’ In modern times, Arcola, Illinois is known as the “Broom Corn Capital of the World”. Broomfield Colorado, where our offices are located, was named after the broomcorn plant around 1900 when a lot of farmland was devoted to growing it.

Is it Past Your Garden’s Bedtime?

Preparing your garden for the winter is an important task that will help it recharge for next spring’s planting.  Though it’s December, it’s technically still autumn, and not too late to tuck your garden in for the winter if you haven’t already.

Clean Your Room:

Annuals and any dead plant material should be cleaned up to prevent over-wintering pests. They can be put in the compost pile. (Never compost diseased or infested plants.)

Perennials should be mulched with leaves and evergreen branches (boughs from junipers, firs, pines, spruces, or branches from your discarded Christmas tree) after the ground freezes to prevent their roots from heaving out of the ground during the freeze/thaw cycles of winter and early spring.

Check for ‘Bedbugs’:

Turn the soil over in your empty veggie beds with a pitchfork. This will help expose and kill any over-wintering pests that have burrowed in by exposing them to birds and cold temperatures. Fall is a good time to till, because the soil may be too damp in spring.

Provide a Bedtime Snack:

Then, spread 4″-6″ of manure or compost over the bed, or top with organic fertilizer like a balanced 10-10-10. (This is optional. You could wait and turn in compost in the spring.)

Tuck It In:

After a few hard freezes, spread 2″-6″ of shredded leaves, straw, pine needles, or bark mulch over your garden beds. (You can shred leaves by running a lawn mower over them. Using shredded leaves is important, because whole leaves may not decompose and may mat down, preventing the soil from warming up in spring.) Waiting to do this until the ground is frozen will prevent unwanted rodents from burrowing in and nesting.Arugula

(If you don’t use all of your leaves, save some containers of them in the garage or shed to use as ‘brown’ layering material in your compost pile next spring and summer. They will keep well as long as they remain dry.)

Put Away Your Dishes

Containers: If the plants inside have died, dump the container in the compost pile and chop up the root ball. Plastic containers can be stored outdoors, but terra cotta or ceramic containers should be cleaned out and stored in a dry location like a shed or garage to prevent them from cracking during the winter.

Tools: Clean dirt and rust off garden tools. Put a light coating of vegetable oil or inexpensive motor oil on them or plunge them into a bucket filled with sand and oil to prevent rust.

Hoses: Drain and disconnect all garden hoses.

Give Thanks:

Some of us in cold climates go through withdrawal when the garden goes to sleep for a few months. (Holistic remedies involve growing herbs on sunny windowsills and turning your house into a tropical oasis with houseplants.) Others are thankful for the break. For them, winter is the time to kick back and rest from gardening chores for a while. Most of us fall a little into both personality types. Then, by mid-winter we are hungering for something green and we go to bed at night dreaming of sugarplums and next season’s garden. Whichever category you are in, once your garden is tucked in for the winter, you can be thankful that it will sleep peacefully for the next few months…and be there for you in spring when you can greet it again with a crazed smile, a trowel, and a few seed packets in hand.

Michelle DePaepe
Botanical Interests, Inc.
(photo by Judy Seaborn)

Using Cold Frames to Extend the Garden Season

Cold frames can allow you to harvest fresh vegetables throughout much of the year, even if you live in a cold climate.Cold frames are essentially mini-greenhouses that you can purchase from a garden supply company or make yourself. The temperature inside a cold frame is at least 7 to 10 degrees (F) warmer than the surrounding air, protecting plants from frost and wind, making them invaluable for:

· starting plants outdoors in spring

· transitioning plants outdoors

· extending the fall garden season

· overwintering plants that are not quite hardy in your zone.

(Cold frames are great protection for cool season crops and tender perennials in all parts of the country, but they aren’t recommended for protecting warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and beans unless you are in a fairly mild climate or you are just trying to get these plants through the first few spring or early fall light frosts.)

The typical cold frame is a box made of wood, bricks, cinder blocks, or hay bales with no bottom, so you can place it directly over growing vegetables or start seedlings inside. It is fitted with an angled glass lid to let in the maximum amount of light and can be opened and closed to control temperature. You can make a simple one yourself or purchase one from a garden supply company. (Some manufactured cold frames from garden supply companies even have temperature gauges and solar-powered vent openers.)

Tips for Success with your Cold Frame:

  • Cold frames should be oriented towards the south to allow the greatest amount of light inside.
  • Put a thermometer inside to monitor temperature. When temperatures are above freezing during the day, keep the lid open. Then, be sure to close it again before nightfall. (The lid should always be opened to allow heat to escape when temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees F)
    • If temperatures dip below the mid 20’s, you may need to add additional protection by covering your cold frame with blankets or burlap.
    • Mulch plants inside with dry leaves or straw.
    • Don’t let too much moisture build up inside the cold frame which could rot plant roots or cause mold to grow.
    • Watch for aphids and other pests that might survive in the cold frame.

To use a cold frame to extend your vegetable growing season into winter:

Cool-season autumn crops that you want to keep eating into winter should be planted in late summer or early fall to establish a good root system before the first fall frost. You can place a cold frame over them when frost threatens or direct seed them in the cold frame (keeping the lid off or open when temperatures are warm).

These include: Arugula, Beets, Carrots, Green Onions, Kale, Lettuce, Mache, Mesclun, Mustard, Spinach, Endive, Escarole, Parsley, *Parsnips, Radicchio, Radishes, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Turnips

(*Very winter hardy. May not need the cover of a cold frame. Harvest at any time when ground is not frozen.)

Most crops will be dormant when temperatures are below 40 degrees. But, they will stay at the peak of freshness until you are ready to harvest.

To use a cold frame to harden off plants started indoors and transition them outside in the spring:

Seedlings can be moved outdoors weeks earlier than the recommended date on the seed packet if they are protected by a cold frame. A heating cable underneath may provide additional warmth if needed. Be sure to open the lid and allow ventilation when days are warm enough to prevent damping off young seedlings and to keep plants from overheating.

Pumpkin Disposal

Over a billion pounds of pumpkins are produced every year in the United States. Most of these are sold in October and used as holiday decorations or for baking.

That’s a lot of pumpkins that can end up in landfills!

After Halloween, the most ‘green’ thing you can do is to compost your pumpkin.

If you already have a compost bin or pile, chop up the pumpkin into smaller pieces so decomposition will be faster. (Be sure to remove any candles or wax inside first.) Cover the pumpkin with a layer of dried leaves or shredded paper.

If you don’t have a compost pile you can bury the whole or diced pumpkin directly into your garden soil. The winter freeze/thaw cycle and bacteria will likely break it down by spring. (You may end up with a few pumpkin seedlings sprouting if seeds remain in the soil.)

However, a pumpkin that naturally decomposes by either method creates nutrient-rich compost that can help you grow vigorous, healthy garden plants and provides food for earthworms.

Other Ideas for Using Pumpkins

Roast the Seeds

You can save the seeds from your carved pumpkin.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in Vitamins B, E, and fiber. Homemade baked pumpkin seeds often taste better and are healthier than the ones you buy in the store, because they have less salt.

Remove as much pulp as you can from the seeds. Rinse the seeds and spread out to dry on a clean dish towel. Spread seeds out evenly on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with a little olive oil or melted butter and salt. (Additional seasonings can be added like garlic powder, chili powder, seasoned salt, or Parmesan cheese.) Bake at 350 degrees in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until they just start to turn brown. Remove and cool. Store in an airtight container.

Freeze the Flesh for Baking

Save the flesh from your pumpkin for baking later in pies or other recipes. (Carved pumpkins can be cut up and frozen for baking if they are still firm and not moldy and have not have had any petroleum jelly applied to the cut areas.)

Save Uncarved Pumpkins for Decor

Uncarved pumpkins, kept cool, dry, and indoors (away from heat and frost) may last as décor until Thanksgiving.

Michelle DePaepe
Botanical Interests, Inc.

Pumpkin season

Editors Note: Obviously, this is not the right time of year to be planting pumpkins but pumpkins are on everyone’s mind (along with the economic meltdown!)! We wanted to introduce you to our pumpkin varieties so that you can start planning for spring! Because of a cool spring over some of the USA, pumpkins were more expensive this year … grow your own! They are a lot of fun to watch grow!)

Giant Pumpkins & BI Varieties

At this time of year, there are scary Hollywood monsters and then there are
vegetable monsters.

The largest pumpkin on record was grown by Joe Jutras of Rhode Island. On September 29, 2007, he brought a 1689 pound pumpkin to the Topsfield Fair in Massachussetts. His pumpkin beat the previous world record by a whopping 187 pounds!

Huge Pumpkin
Seeds from such gargantuan pumpkins fetch a high price. Competitive growers only allow one fruit to grow per vine. When they’ve selected their prize-winning choice, they may put a makeshift greenhouse over the top and guard it day and night. Giant pumpkins like these can gain as much as 6″ in circumference in one day!

Many of us don’t have room to grow a pumpkin that only Godzilla could love, but while we’re in the prime pumpkin season, it’s a great time to make your wish list for planting in the spring. Botanical Interests carries a wide range of varieties. (Short season climates should choose pumpkin varieties with shorter maturity days.)

Little pumpkins for mini-servings or décor:

Jack Be Little (95 days) – miniature 3″-4″ flattened ribbed fruits
Little October (95 days) – miniature 3″-4″ round fruits

Spooky, unusual pumpkins:

Lumina (90 days) – 8″-10″ diameter with bone white skin and orange flesh
Jarrahdale (100 days) – 10″, flattened ribbed, with slate gray skin and orange flesh

Best pumpkin for pie;

Sugar Pie (100 days) – 6″-7″ round. Bred for cooking.

Best pumpkins for carving;

Pumpkin Jack O’Lantern (105 days) – 10″ round (the size of a human head!), great for carving
Howden Organic (110 days, New for 2009!) – 12″ round, best-selling pumpkin in U.S.

Most like a fairytale pumpkin:

Cinderella(110 days) – 1′-2′ diameter, flattened, ribbed French Heirloom (looks like Cinderella’s coach!). A beautiful orangish/red.

Largest Pumpkin:

Big Max (120 days) – 20″ or larger. Can reach 100 lbs.! Perfect for the home gardener who wants to grow a BIG, well shaped pumpkin, but not necessarily a contest-winning, blob-shaped monster.

IN OTHER NEWS …
We are discontinuing a few varieties … and would like to offer them to you at a discounted price! Check out those varieties …Discounted Seeds
We now have a gardening blog! Check out to see our posts: BI Blog
And again, don’t forget our shopping bags … a great Christmas item! Canvas Shopping Bags with Artwork
Thank you for your time!
The Botanical Interests Family
Curtis Jones, President
Botanical Interests, Inc.

Fall gardening- What to do in the garden

Have you been watching the weather forecasts lately? Though, most of the country is still having warm afternoons, the temperatures are starting to drop at night. Here are some tips for when to harvest your vegetables if frost threatens, and ideas for preserving those delectable homegrown tomatoes.

Light Frost – Temperatures 28-33 degrees F.
Hard Frost – Temperatures below 28 degrees F.

May be damaged by light frost: Beans, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Muskmelon, New Zealand Spinach, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkins, Summer Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Watermelon

Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, Beets, Calendula, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Pansies, Parsnips, Peas, Snapdragons, Sweet Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Swiss Chard

Can withstand hard frost: Broccoli, Cabbage, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips

Tomatoes

About 1 month before the first average fall frost, clip off all blossoms (so the plant will put energy into ripening existing fruit, instead of growing new fruit that won’t have time to ripen).
Cutting roots with a shovel may stress the plant and hasten maturity of unripe fruits.
For best flavor, allow fruit to ripen on the plant. Vine-ripened tomatoes always have the best flavor! They also taste best at room temperature. You can store a few in the refrigerator for a few days to preserve overly ripe fruit, but for best flavor bring to room temperature before eating.
If light frost threatens: cover plants with a sheet or blanket.
If hard frost threatens: pull up entire plants and hang upside down in a dark basement or frost-free garage. In either case, you can pick unripe green tomatoes and put between sheets of newspaper in a cool basement or garage and check daily for ripeness. You could also place a few on a windowsill or in a paper bag on the kitchen counter for fast ripening.
When you are lucky enough to have more tomatoes than you or your family can eat at the peak of ripeness, here are some suggestions:
Can them for use in sauces and casseroles
Freeze them whole (skins will slip off easily in boiling water after taking them out of the freezer)
Slice thinly and dehydrate them in a dehydrator (or dry them outside on baking sheets, covered with cheesecloth for several days when temperatures are at least 85 degrees)
You can make Fried Green Tomatoes with fruits that aren’t quite ripe! (Cut large green tomatoes into ½” slices, lay on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and leave for 15 minutes to reduce moisture content, dip slices in milk, then flour, then beaten eggs, then dry bread crumbs. Fry in olive oil until slightly brown.)