Corn on the Cob? Yes, please!

corn on the stalk in the fieldNothing says summer like fresh corn from the garden, so sweet you can eat it right off the stalk. Corn of any kind (sweet, popcorn, ornamental, or dent) can be easy to grow if you have sun, plenty of water, and rich soil. Having an understanding of corn pollination helps, too.

Like other grasses, wind, rather than insects, pollinates corn, so it needs to be sown in blocks or parallel rows rather than single rows. This planting technique, along with some wind, ensures the pollen from the tassel will reach each and every silk on the ear. The tassel grows from the very top of the stalk and eventually opens, releasing pollen at about the same time the silks are emerging. This magical timing of tassel and silk emerging to shed and accept pollen is called “nick”, as in, “in the nick of time” (the exact instant at which something has to take place.) Each silk, when pollinated, forms an individual kernel on your soon-to-be succulent ear of corn. If every silk is not pollinated, you’ll see some holes or skips on the ears. To ensure that each silk is pollinated, you can always hand-pollinate. Once the silks emerge and the tassel begins dropping pollen, snap off the tassel and brush it on multiple plants’ silks, and voilá!—pollination has occurred. Sweet corn will be ready to eat about 3 weeks after the silks appear. Look for brown silks (not dried) and, plump ears. Then you can pull back a small portion of the husk to see how things are progressing. Sweet corn is at its peak when the liquid in the kernels turn from clear to a milky color.

Even among sweet corns there are several types. Here is some handy information, which can help you choose the right fit for your palate: Sugary (su) sweet corn is the original type of sweet corn with higher amounts of short-lived sugar than flint or dent corn. Sugary Enhanced (se) sweet corn has higher amounts of sugar and is tenderer than su types. Shrunken/Supersweet (sh) sweet corn seeds are smaller or “shrunken”, and are even sweeter, holding their sweetness the longest.

I don’t stop at sweet corn! I am not one to follow convention, and every year I also add corn to my flower beds as an ornamental; their big strappy leaves add lush texture, and the Striped Japonica variety adds big flare with its striped pink, green, and white leaves. Once I am done using the beautiful Strawberry and Dakota Black popcorn ears for autumn decorations, they get put into the popcorn pan, popping up into traditional snowflake-shaped popcorn. Our newest popcorn is Robust Pop 400MR, a variety that pops up into little mushroom-shaped popcorn, the kind you use for kettle corn. The kids really get a kick out of pulling the jewel-like kernels off the cob and popping them over the stove. I can just about smell the kettle corn now!

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Thinning: I don’t carrot for it.

Buddy eating carrotsWe gardeners love our sweet, emerging baby plants. It is so encouraging to see masses of vibrant green shoot up so willingly. As a new gardener I remember thinking, “I did it! It worked!” I waited three weeks for these carrot leaves to emerge, how can I possibly choose who lives and who doesn’t? From experience I can tell you, just do it! Get those scissors out and thin for the greater good.

Without thinning, plants get crowded. Crowding causes competition for light, moisture, and nutrients, yielding a stressed, stretched, and sometimes mangled crop—especially true for carrots. Crowding also reduces airflow, which is a real problem ‒ it encourages fungal disease. You may be tempted to just reach in and pull plants out, but when seedlings are close, it is best to pinch or cut them at the soil line, reducing disturbance to their neighbor’s roots.

Thinning doesn’t need to be an exact science; it just needs to get done. After losing my tape measure somewhere in the garden, I realized I could use two fingers to equal an inch; my fingers spread wide is eight inches thumb to pinkie tip; and my fingers held flat and tight together took the space of four inches near the knuckles… instant ruler! Some of my cleverer gardener friends mark up spare boards with common spacings on each side so they always have a ruler close by. On each packet, we suggest thinning when plants are about 1” or so, to help determine when true leaves may emerge.

I am sowing carrots this time of year (as soon as this last blast of snow melts). Carrots, like most root crops, are best sown in place outdoors. They take about three weeks to emerge. Often I will grow radishes next to carrots because radishes sprout more quickly, reminding me to keep watering an otherwise uneventful brown soil. Radishes are ready a month or more ahead of carrots, so I can safely pull the nearby row before carrots need the space. The holes that radishes leave behind help water get deep down to the sugary, orange roots of carrots. There are a few different ways to sow and thin carrots.

  • Sow 1” apart, and thin carrots to 1 every 3″, when 1” tall, in rows 6” apart.
  • Make planting holes 3″ apart on a square grid system. Sow 2 seeds per hole; thin to 1.
  • Sow every 1 1/2”, harvesting every other baby carrot in a couple weeks, allowing the remaining crop to get full size. Using this method, I am able to harvest twice (baby and full-sized carrots), using the same amount of space, weeding, and watering.

Two of my favorite things about carrots: They are sooo delicious immediately out of the garden—a flavor that is lost within an hour or so; and carrots can overwinter right in the ground! You can sow carrots two months before your average last frost and store them in the ground over winter, harvesting during warm winter days or in spring/early summer. If you’re going to sow carrots in the fall, they need enough time to half-way mature (keep in mind growing slows with cool temperatures and shorter days); mulch seedlings to help keep them warm, and then they’ll survive the winter. They’ll be waiting for you in the spring! Pulling carrots in spring is a fun way start to the season; even our dog, Buddy gets in on the fun!

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Bring back the fava bean!

fava bean windsorWhat has beautiful flowers, delicious leaves, pods of delightful protein, and makes a great cover crop? Fava beans! This year I am sowing fava beans (also called broad beans) in my garden beds for an early season edible crop, and for soil amendment. Dual-purpose plants? That’s my favorite kind!

Did you know fava beans have been cultivated since the Bronze Age? In the Middle Ages, there was a drought in Sicily that gave fava beans a mystical status. After Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph, they discovered fava beans were the only crop to survive, saving Sicilians, and making favas part of St. Joseph’s day traditions on March 19th. Dried favas carried in pockets and placed in pantries are believed to encourage bounty (you may want to try this also, if you have teenagers).

While they are a staple in Europe, they are quite elusive in the U.S. In my experience, fava beans are relegated to gourmet restaurants and limited availability at specialty grocers and farmer’s markets. They are typically hard to come by because they are fresh for only a short period of time, and because they need cool weather to produce/grow, making them quite seasonal. By growing them at home, I can enjoy them at their peak. Their flavor is nothing like the canned or dried beans. I find fresh fava beans to be a true delight, and I love sharing this incredible crop with friends.

You can eat almost every part of the fava plant. Young, tender pods are edible at 2” and can be enjoyed fresh, much like a snap bean. For mature sized fresh beans, harvest when pods are green and the seeds inside are light green. At this stage, fava beans have a delicately nutty, buttery, and light pea flavor. Boil bean seeds briefly (30 to 60 seconds), then peel the bean’s outer layer, and voila! Beans are delicious simply sautéed in butter with herbs and salt and pepper. Similar to pea shoots, the leaves and stunning flowers are also edible with a sweeter, milder flavor. Cutting or pinching the top leaves off encourages plants to branch. If you know you won’t be able to eat all your favas fresh, you can let them dry right on the plant. Dried beans are ready when pods are dry and brown, and the seeds inside are dry. Harvest the beans and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you are ready to use them.

Favas, especially small seeded types like Sweet Lorane Improved, can be used as an excellent cover crop to enrich the soil with nitrogen. Favas and peas literally pull nitrogen out of the air and make it available to other plants in the soil. If you are using favas only for cover crop, cut them down just as flower buds appear, and work them into the soil 3 weeks before planting your garden. You can also cut plants down and add them to your compost pile so that you can sow right away. If you are planning on eating favas, you can work plants into the garden bed or compost pile after harvesting.

Fava beans are cool season champions. They germinate in soils as cool as 35°F and their foliage can handle temperatures in the 20s. I sow favas directly in my garden or an outdoor container 4 to 6 weeks before the average last spring frost or in the fall, 4 to 6 weeks ahead of the first fall frost. Soaking seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours ahead of time helps germination. Their roots are sensitive to transplanting, so we don’t recommend starting fava beans indoors. Fava beans are actually more closely related to a pea than a bean. Their pea-like flowers are white with black specks and whiskers. Plants can reach 2’–4’ tall depending on the conditions. If they get large, you may want to stake them in case of wind.

Windsor fava bean is a heirloom type, which produces 6”–8” beans, each with up to 8 large, light green beans per pod. Sweet Lorane Improved is a small-seeded type with about 6 tanish green seeds in 4”–6” pods. I like to sow both because Sweet Lorane matures slightly faster giving me a longer harvest period between the two.

There is so much to love about favas—from their history, to improving your soil and being delicious. Give fava beans another chance! You won’t be disappointed.

CAUTION: People deficient in an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) should not handle seeds, consume fava beans, or inhale its pollen.

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The Year of the Delphinium

Delphinium - Curtis Jones

My snow covered flowerbeds look like a black and white photograph. I love the serenity of winter, but I am also eager for the activity of color to come. Direct sowing is the easiest way to sow but starting flowers early (indoors) satisfies my gardening mind and pays off with early color in the garden. This is especially true when it comes to perennial flowers, specifically delphiniums.

The National Garden Bureau is calling 2016 “The Year of the Delphinium”, and I agree. Delphiniums bring coveted blues, deep purples, pinks and whites to the garden, not to mention they are pollinator magnets. These stand-out perennials (hardy to USDA zone 2) got their name because ancient Greeks thought the spur on the back of the flower resembled a dolphin’s snout (the Greek word for dolphin is delfini.) In the south, these flowers are grown as annuals because they don’t perform well in prolonged heat and humidity (much like myself). Delphiniums are excellent cut flowers with a variety for every application. I love both heirlooms we carry—the traditionally tall 3’–6’ Pacific Giant, and the short and sweet Butterfly Blend that reaches just 12”–16”. Both are deer-resistant. Their close, more delicate cousin, larkspur, can be used similarly, and also comes in some hotter pinks and reds.

I prefer to start most perennials, including delphiniums, early and indoors, because I am more likely to get blooms the first season. You can start most perennials extra early (10 to 12 weeks ahead of your average last spring frost), although they may need to be potted up into larger containers once or twice before you transplant them outside. Delphiniums in particular should be started no later than 6 weeks ahead of your average last spring frost. Soaking seed for 8 to 12 hours can help speed germination, as well as darkness; so bury seeds ¼” when you sow. Also, delphiniums germinate best in soil temperatures of 70°–80°F—a tall order for our cool spring soil, which is another good argument for starting them indoors. Delphinium seeds should be fresh, as they are a species that doesn’t hold over as long as some others.

These extra steps will reward you come late spring! Pacific Giant spires look stately planted in odd numbers of clumps in the back of my sunny flowerbed. Their sculptural form adds structure to the bed and helps guide the eye. Despite being straight and tall, the petals and leaves are lacy and soft, adding a delicate touch. I prefer to stake mine since we can get some big winds here on the Colorado Front Range. After they flower, you should cut them back, fertilize with a phosphorous-rich, liquid fertilizer, and you will often get a second flush of flowers. I cut them down again at the end of the season and thank them for their spectacular display one last time. Next spring, look for the strongest 2–3 shoots in a crown and cut out the others; this is a good time to fertilize with a balanced, or phosphorous-rich liquid fertilizer. Dividing clumps every 1 to 3 years or so can also keep these cool-hued beauties from overcrowding so they can look their best.

Perennials are known for demanding a little more patience to see their full potential, but the up-front effort has long lasting results. Remember, if you don’t want to wait a year for blooms, sow extra early indoors to increase your chances of seeing that first year color. Once established, perennials give years of beauty with minimal maintenance, and are great when used to give a garden consistent structure. Growing perennials from seed is also advantageous because it gives plants time to grow up in your garden and adapt rather than being spoiled in a greenhouse, and in my case, shocked by the real world garden. Plus, buying seed versus potted plants really stretches one’s garden budget! The countdown to spring continues!

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Garden Planning Time!

onion starters

When I lived in California, I would joke that I gardened until Thanksgiving, rested until New Year, and then started gardening again. Gardening in Colorado is a completely different ball game! The ground is frozen, the air is cold, and we’re not even through the worst of it. With these cold temperatures, it is sometimes hard (even for me) to remember to start sowing seeds now—spring will be here before I know it!

The new catalog is out, and I have been enjoying it (and our new coloring book) cozied up by the fireplace with the dogs but, goodness, I need to get planning and sowing! This year, I want to add foxgloves, Canterbury Bells, and delphiniums to my flower beds; artichokes, celery, and onions in my vegetable garden; and I would hate to miss out on our pumpkin on a stick ornamental eggplant for fall décor. But, if I want to enjoy these plants in June, I need to start planning now. Here are a few things that benefit from an early start indoors (10 to 12 weeks before our average last spring frost):

Artichoke Columbine
Celery Echinacea
Eggplant Little Bluestem Grass
Onion Heliotrope
Rosemary Lavender
Penstemon barbatus
Verbena

I use several of the printable charts available online to help with the planning process. They keep me so organized! Our sowing guides are also extremely helpful. I will get out my planning charts and a calendar, mark my average last frost date, organize my seed packets by number of weeks until average last frost, and get to sowing!

when to sow

If you don’t know your average last frost date, contact your county extension office or a reputable local garden center to find out. Using that frost date, I can count the weeks back to know when to sow or stratify and mark it on our handy Indoor Seed Starting Worksheet. So here I go, coloring book down (for now); let the planning and sowing begin.

 

 

Judy’s “Under-Appreciated Treasures”

Canterbury Bells

 

We all have things that we see beauty in, while others may not yet—a vintage sweater, an independent film, or a local band. For me, it’s plants. There are a few “under-appreciated treasures” in our line that, from a business point of view, I should have dropped years ago. I still offer them because I think they are fabulous, and I know everyone will eventually think so, too! These varieties are in my garden every season and hopefully, they will find their way into yours.

My favorite annual flowers are so easy to grow, and display beautiful, showy colors! California Bluebells bloom a near true blue within weeks of sowing. I love a scented garden, and for me, Sweet Pea High Scent is a must! Sunflower Vanilla Ice is a pale yellow showstopper during summer, and a fall bird magnet. Hyacinth Bean Ruby Moon not only attracts hummingbirds to its purple flowers, but the lilac/purple pods that follow are also strikingly beautiful . Marigold Signet Lemon/Tangerine Gems bloom non-stop, and are covered in cute, yellow and orange edible flowers summer until frost. Add them to your vegetable garden near the tomatoes!

In general, biennials are under-utilized likely because they don’t bloom until their second year, but if you sow them every year, you can enjoy them every year! I grow Canterbury Bells because they are dramatic, elegant, and make excellent spring cut flowers. Foxglove Gloxiniiflora Blend is a winner for areas of part sun, and blooms in spectacular multi-flower spikes, each flower having its own beautiful, speckled detail on the inside.

It’s true that perennials require a little more commitment and patience, but I wouldn’t have a summer pass without Chocolate Flower, Nicotiana Indian Peace Pipe, Painted Daisy Robinson’s Blend or Penstemon Dazzler Blend. Chocolate Flower is native, loved by beneficial insects, drought tolerant, and literally smells like chocolate. Need I say more? Nicotiana Indian Peace Pipe reliably returns next to my porch wafting it’s intoxicating scent through the screen, inviting me outside. The white flowers glisten in the moonlight—very romantic. Painted Daisy Robinson’s Blend is a cheery long-lasting cut flower that also attracts butterflies. Penstemon Dazzler Blend is a striking blend of pinks, blues, and purples and is usually humming with hummingbirds. It’s native, drought tolerant, and looks stunning in a rock garden. I love the upright habit and beautiful colors.

These days, culinary palates are more open to the new and unusual, so I can think of only a few little-known and undervalued veggies. Beans are a must in my garden—the fresh flavor is so superior to store-bought. French Filet Beans are thin, tender, and always sweet and succulent.  For a standard bush bean, Jade shines. Jade is disease resistant, a beautiful deep green, and a consistent producer. Orient Wonder Yard Long Bean is also a favorite. Yard Long beans are just beginning to be seen at farmer’s markets. Talk about bang for your buck, the 1-3 foot pods are so delicious, and a definite conversation starter/curiosity. My favorite beet is given an unfortunate name, which may be influencing its lack of popularity—Bull’s Blood beet. It is truly a gross name, but it has brilliant red roots, and the greens are gorgeous in the garden and on the plate.

They might not be Botanical Interests’ top sellers, but luckily gardening isn’t a popularity contest. I’m keeping these varieties for their uniqueness, their high value to me, and to be able to share them with those of you who love them as much as I do.

Your Gardening Stories Inspire Us

Judy catalogI’ve been a gardener since I was little. My Mom and Grandfather were my mentors. I loved to weed and go to John’s Garden Center in San Jose, CA with my Mom. Gardeners aren’t all the same. Sure, we share a common interest, but everyone has their own gardening story—why they started gardening and why they continue to garden today.

Curtis and I, and the whole Botanical Interests team, wanted to know your stories, so we asked, “What is your gardening story in four words or less?” The overwhelming response (hundreds!) made us happy to see that so many people share our passion. Being inspired by just the four words, we asked for the whole story. And boy did we receive them! As we read through your thoughts and memories, a mosaic emerged of different experiences and personalities.

Throughout the catalog, you’ll read a handful of these personal gardening stories, and you may even recognize yourself in them—we certainly did! Some want to ensure their family eats clean, organic food, while others enjoy creating a beautiful landscape like an artist. Many of you were taught to garden by grandparents and continue that legacy by feeding your own families and building gardening communities. Like us, almost all gardeners shared their love of nature and how communing with the earth centers their soul. You’ll read these gardener’s stories and more! Thank you for taking the time to share your lives with us.

This year, we’re excited to share with you, 47 new varieties with something for everyone. We added two new basils, Lemon and Sweet Thai, for the experimental cooks; the stunning Night and Day snapdragon for ornamental gardeners; Showy and Common Milkweeds for pollinator-friendly gardens; and two popcorns, Dakota Black and Robust Pop 400MR, for something fun and unique to grow. We also increased our organic selections; over half of the new varieties are either organic, heirloom, or both. And for those with larger areas, we even added seven new large packets.

Just as we were inspired by each narrative, personal history, anecdote, and even a poem or two, we hope to continue to inspire and educate the gardeners within all of you.

We’re very proud of 2016 catalog. Request a copy today and discover new and unique varieties, read stories from our customers on why they garden, and learn about sowing temperatures, Scoville Heat units, and more.

Fall Gardening is for the Birds

broom corn

Over the years, I’ve noticed there is a pattern to my gardening. In the spring, gardening is full of excitement, so much so that my big yard even feels small as I search for spaces to poke in new varieties or add more color. By summer, however, my yard feels so large that keeping up with deadheading is nearly impossible. While deadheading spring and summer flowers keeps plants blooming and branching, at the end of summer, you can leave seed heads on for migrating and over-wintering birds, who gladly consume the seeds for much needed calories and nutrition.

Leaving seed heads doesn’t just cure your late-summer gardener guilt, it is also beneficial to the plants, too. By waiting until the following spring to do your clean-up, any still living tissue is saved, preventing a wound which can be a weak point for possible infection. Those branches also collect leaves and snow, naturally mulching the crown of the plant, and in turn providing cold protection and moisture. The sculptural aesthetic of standing stems and seed heads is referred to as “winter interest” by landscape professionals; a term you can use freely if you are accused of being a messy gardener.

As we think about fall-sowing flowers, here are some tips if you want to design your garden to be more inviting to birds next year.

  • Live on the edge. Edges are the spaces where two habitats meet, like where shrubs meet a garden, or where shrubs meet trees, creating varying heights. Birds love the edge because there they find protection from the elements and predators, usually a diversity of food, and a lot of different perches. If you are designing a new edge or hedgerow, consider a meandering natural line instead of a straight line, and adding shrubs that hold fruit in winter. Add a border of perennials and annuals from the list below to these edges to provide winter seeds.
  • Leave a few snags. A few dead branches (provided they are safely away from structures and high traffic areas) attract birds for nesting, feeding, and perching, and offer winter protection from the elements.
  • Winter water. Give birds water in the winter by providing a heated birdbath or place an immersible de-icer in a birdbath or shallow dish. A low-tech option is a covered black container with a small hole in the top for birds to sip out of. The container collects solar energy keeping water from turning into ice until temperatures dip below 20°F.

If the winter interest method just doesn’t fit your comfort zone, do your usual fall clean-up, but save some seed heads to create a bird feeder wreath, or simply bundle and hang them near a safe perching place for the birds to enjoy.

Here are some flowering plants that you and the birds are sure to enjoy.

Amaranth
Aster
Bachelor’s Button
Broom Corn
Columbine
Cosmos
Dill
Echinacea
Fennel
Four O’Clock
Hollyhock
Larkspur
Lavender
Love-Lies-Bleeding
Ornamental Grasses
Poppy
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
Pincushion Flower Scabiosa
Sunflower
Verbena
Zinnia

These are excellent flower mixes for feeding the birds and providing a feast for the eyes during the growing season.
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Garden Journal Notes to the Future

Botanical Interests Trial garden

Fall is approaching. The angle of the afternoon sun creates a beautiful glow in the garden. I love this time of year; it is a great time to sit in my garden and reflect on what I like and what I want to change. I need to divide my crowded delphiniums and give them to a neighbor, sow more leeks next year, remember to sow a fall succession of peas, and plan for more color in June. While my landscape boasts every color of the rainbow in April and May, come last June it was ablaze with yellow, and only yellow. So now I sit, enjoy, and make these notes in my trusty garden journal.

Taking some time this fall to review what you did or didn’t like in your garden will make a world of difference for next year. Having firm ideas of what to change will make seed ordering a snap when you receive our catalog this winter. Not only do I make notes to remind myself what to do differently next year, but I also use garden stakes to mark the space noting the variety I want to add and its bloom period (you can search by bloom period or color on our website, too!). I also like to print out a photograph of my garden and draw in plants to add, leaving a little room for new varieties. These techniques really help me visualize the changes I want next year, and get started on this fall. That’s right, this fall. In addition to dividing and moving established plants, I will sow some flower seeds now, as several annuals and perennials perform best when sown in the fall.

The coming of fall usually feels slightly bittersweet, but after a hour of dreaming and journaling in the garden, and watching my goldfinch friends enjoy the sunflowers, I feel excited for the changes to come, and the garden feels like a fresh palette.

Enjoying my bee garden

been on lavender

While my garden is my reprieve­­­­­—a place to recharge—I like to share it with my sweet, bee friends, and at this time of year the garden is a-buzzzz with bees. I need these hard working, fuzzy heroes to pollinate. Did you know that there are over 4,000 native species of bees in North America? Talk about diversity! Some bees are generalists, like the European Honey Bee, collecting pollen from a number of various plants, while other bees are specialists, pollinating specific plants–like squash bees with squash and pumpkins.

Over the years, I have made little improvements to make my garden more inviting to bees—a few seeds here and there, larkspur, borage, thyme, and asters to name a few, which keep the garden humming. A well-placed shallow water dish with rocks placed on it for landings, provides needed water for busy, thirsty bees (and butterflies), keeping them in the garden longer. Growing flowering plants that bloom from early spring to frost gives bees year-round food in the form of pollen and nectar. I also added a smattering of natives, which generally provide the highest quality food for these fuzzy foragers. Your space doesn’t have to be large; a container on a high-rise patio or a window box can still attract a plethora of pollinators.

Bee population decline is a serious issue that we can all help to remedy by providing food, water, and habitat. Most Botanical Interests flowering plants provide bee food and our Save the Bees specific flower blend provides color and food for foraging bees from spring until fall. We bee-lieve a small seed can make a big improvement in bee populations.

 

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Bee Happy Seed Collection includes flowers that attract and nurture bees in your garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Save the Bees Flower Mix provides food for many of the over 4,000 bee species in North America. With so many gorgeous flowers and tasty herbs you’ll appreciate this bountiful mix as much as the bees! Available in regular and large packet.