Tomatoes Three Ways

Different varieties of tomatoes

Choosing a tomato for your needs can be easy! Tomatoes are often categorized as slicer, paste, or cherry/grape. Each is delicious, but best used for different cooking methods. We have a recipe for each!

Slicer tomatoes are thick and sturdy for slicing and enjoying in BLT sandwiches, Caprese salads, and chopped atop bruchetta, among many other dishes. Try Red Pride, Beefsteak, and Black Krim.

Mom’s Yummy Tomato Snack

Slice 3 or 4 tomatoes thickly, pat dry with a paper towel, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Mix ½ tsp. salt, 1 c. sour cream, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. flour,  2 tbsp. chopped green onions, and 2 tbsp. chopped green chiles. Spoon about 1 tbsp. of the mixture on each tomato slice, and then top with cheddar cheese. Broil for 4 to 6 minutes or until lightly browned. The Paste tomato, also known as saladette, is a drier tomato with less seeds and rich flavor, ideal for cooking down into a sauce, paste, or for drying. Try Supremo, San Marzano, and Speckled Roman.

Tomato Paste

Preheat the oven to 350°F and chop about 5–10 pounds of tomatoes. Simmer tomatoes with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sautée pan until they are soft. Pass the cooked tomatoes through a food mill to filter out the skins and seeds. Pour the tomato pulp onto two large, rimmed baking sheets and place in the oven. Bake until the tomatoes have reduced by half, usually about 3 to 4 hours. Freeze paste or keep in refrigerator for up to four weeks.

Cherry/Grape tomatoes are sweet, juicy, and small, perfect for snacking! Try roasting them with some olive oil until they burst. Try Gardener’s Delight, Rainbow Blend, and Jelly Bean Red & Yellow.

Tomato Tart

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll a pastry or pie crust into a standard pie dish. Toss 2–3 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes in olive oil, and mound into prepared pie dish. Bake in oven until crust is browned, about 20 to 30 minutes. Top with fresh basil and Parmesean cheese.

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Natural Dye for Wool Fiber

Natural Dye for Wool Fiber

by Debbie Davis, IT Coordinator Botanical Interests

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It’s February. It’s cold. There’s snow, and I’m missing summer warmth and colors. Lucky me, I have a bag of zinnia flowers (sans stems) in the freezer! I harvested the zinnias from the Botanical Interests test garden last fall, just before the first frost when they were still in their glory.end of season zinnias

Here’s a simple recipe for dyeing wool yarn with flowers. You can pick the flowers when their color is at its peak, de-stem, and use them right away, or you can enjoy the blooms until they get a bit tired and then pick, de-stem, and pop into the freezer (until a cold, grey winter day). It’s very difficult to match outcomes of different dyebaths, even with the same type flower; much depends upon the freshness of the petals, the weather, astrology—it’s not a science. Have fun, enjoy, and be sure to dye enough yarn for your project. Adjust your measurements by multiplying up or down from my recipe.

Ingredients

One skein 100% wool yarn: 3.5 oz (100 gm)

2 tablespoons alum (Aluminum Potassium Sulfate; this is grocery store pickling alum)

1 tablespoon cream of tartar (this can be omitted if you don’t have it on hand, but it helps the alum)

6 cups of flower petals (see below for suggested varieties)

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Directions:

  1. Prepare the wool. Gently hand wash the skein of wool in lukewarm water with neutral soap. (I use Synthrapol.) Although this is referred to as “scouring”, be very gentle with the yarn.
  2. Prepare the mordant* bath. Add 1 cup of boiling water to the alum and cream of tartar. Fill a pot with enough water to cover the yarn, add the mordant and the yarn, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove yarn, rinse, and either hang dry to use later or pop into the dyebath.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the dyebath. Put flower petals into a pot and double the volume with water. For 6 cups of petals, use 12 cups of water. It does not have to be exact. Simmer for 1 hour. Strain.
  4. Dye your yarn. Heat the dyebath to a gentle simmer, add the yarn, which has been wetted, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and gently. Let the yarn cool in the dyebath. The longer the yarn is in the dyebath, the darker the color. (I’ve let yarn sit overnight.) Rinse, wash gently with neutral soap, and hang in the shade to dry.

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petals in the pot

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Try any of these Botanical Interests’ favorites for creating natural dye.

Blue Boy Bachelor’s Buttons

Common Sorrel

Spinach leaves

Rudbeckia

English Tall Lavender

Crimson Clover Cover crop

Most sunflowers (Not Mexican Torch or Vanilla Ice)

Onions (skins)

Celery (leaves)

Carrot (roots)

Double Sunburst Coreopsis

Hollyhocks

Beets (roots)

Marigolds (flowers)

Calendula (flowers)

* A mordant (the word is derived from the latin, meaning “to bite”) is simply a process that helps the dye stick to the yarn, reducing color fade and color bleed. The mordant you use (e.g., alum, vinegar, salt, chrome, tin, iron) affects the color, and my preference is to use alum because it is safe, in the pantry, and does not smell. It is not necessary to use a mordant, especially when dyeing with berries and some vegetables, but it’s a good idea if you want to ensure lasting color.

Debbie restored Native American textiles for over twenty years. She is a weaver and tapestry artist as well as the IT coordinator for Botanical Interests.

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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Broncos Orange Pepper Jelly

orange pepper jellyHere in Colorado, we’re thinking about the Broncos and the big game on Sunday. We’re also thinking about starting our gardens, specifically peppers. So what better way to celebrate both than with some Bronco Orange Pepper Jelly! This recipe is a sweet and spicy addition to toast, cream cheese and crackers, or even mixed with your favorite vegetable (delicious on green beans!). Our version is mildly spicy, but if you like it hot, increase the number of habanero peppers.

Ingredients:
3 sweet orange bell peppers, like our new variety, Coral Belle
2 habanero peppers
6 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of distilled white vinegar
3 oz pouch of liquid pectin

Directions

  1. Purée peppers in a food processor.
  2. Add all ingredients to a large pot, stir to dissolve sugar, and bring to a boil. Contents can boil over quickly, so watch carefully.
  3. Boil for 4 minutes while constantly stirring. Let rest 5 minutes, pour into jars, and let cool on the counter or in the fridge overnight.

pepper jelly

 

Cool Season Planters

Cool Season Planter

It may be the middle of winter, but that’s no reason to not think about gardening.

Mid-winter is the perfect time to start a cool season planter that can be set out on the patio during the day and brought inside on evenings or days that dip below freezing. If you start a planter now, it will look great as a centerpiece for Easter dinner!

Kale

There are many varieties that will tolerate cooler temperatures and do well in containers, including pansies, violas, kale, alyssum, snapdragons, dianthus and lettuce.

You can change things up by adding some cool season and container friendly edibles that are beautiful and delicious like Tom Thumb Shelling Peas, Swiss Chard, Ruby Streaks Mustard, Bull’s Blood Beets and many others.

What you’ll need:

  • Grow lights or a window with bright, indirect light
  • Seeds
  • Small, movable container with a drainage hole and saucer
  • Container soil
  • Plastic wrap

Sow seeds into container according to packet instructions. Check out our article with help for seed starting indoors.

Cover your container with clear plastic wrap to maintain humidity during germination, and place under grow lights or in a well-lit window but not in direct sunlight.

When seedlings have emerged, remove plastic wrap and keep soil evenly moist but not soggy.

When plants have matured, move your container outside to a warm sunny spot. (They need to harden off before going from no direct sun to a sunny spot.)Move inside if temperatures drop below freezing.

If you’ve sown any edible varieties such as pansies or lettuce, you can harvest them as desired. They will grow back, and periodic harvesting will keep your planter looking tidy.

If you care for your planter properly, it will attract pollinators and other beneficial insects when spring arrives. Check out our article Small Space and Container Gardening for more information.

pansies

We’d love to see your cool season planters! Hashtag your photos with #botanicalinterests.

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.

 

 

DIY Holiday Décor

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Garland

Save money and de-stress your life with some creative time this holiday season!

Making your own holiday decorations can be a fun family activity, while making something beautiful and unique for your tree, wreath, or centerpiece.

What you’ll need:

  • Cranberries
  • Popcorn
  • Tomatillo husks
  • Pinecones
  • Craft glue
  • Mother-of-pearl craft paint
  • Clear glitter
  • Ornament hangers
  • Unwaxed dental floss
  • Large sewing needle
  • Small paint brush

To make the garland:

First, thread unwaxed dental floss through a sewing needle.

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Next, thread the cranberries and popcorn onto the strand of dental floss.

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Next, tie each end around the last cranberry to keep the threaded items in place.

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Discard the garland after a few weeks.

To make the tomatillo husk ornaments:

Using a small paint brush, paint a thin coat of mother-of-pearl paint on the tomatillo husk.

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After the paint has dried, attach a metal ornament hanger. Attach to a tree, wreath, garland or place in a centerpiece.

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To make the frosted pinecones:

Using a small paint brush, paint a thick layer of craft glue onto each tip of the pinecone.

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Next, pour a generous amount of glitter on the pinecone

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We’d love to see your holiday creations! Hashtag your photos with #botanicalinterests.

Happy holidays from your friends at Botanical Interests!

 

 

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.

Sweet and Savory Popcorn

popcorn

Popcorn is one of the quickest snacks to prepare, that’s why it’s great for the busy holiday season or for watching the big game on Turkey Day. There’s no special equipment needed for our recipe. Just 10 minutes and your creative flavor combinations!

Pour about 3 tablespoons of vegetable or coconut oil and 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels into a pan over medium-high heat. Cover with a lid and wait for the popping to begin! Shake the pan over the heat until the popcorn is almost done popping, then remove it from the heat until the popping stops. Remove the lid and mix with your favorite flavor profile. We used Italian seasoning for one batch, and cinnamon and sugar for another, but we also enjoy Cajun seasoning for a spicy kick, dill and celery salt for a salty, tart treat, or classic ranch flavor.

Garlic Bread Popcorn: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Pour over the popcorn and turn to coat. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of garlic salt, 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning mix (usually dried oregano, basil, parsley, and rosemary), and 2 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan cheese evenly over the popcorn, and mix thoroughly.

Cinnamon Toast Popcorn: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Pour over the popcorn and turn to coat. Sprinkle 1–2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon evenly over the popcorn and mix thoroughly.

flavored popcorn

DIY Indoor Compost Bin

 

Indoor Compost Bin in less than one hour!

Finished worm bin

Vermiculture is a fancy word for worm farming. Recycling waste into fabulous fertilizer is efficient, fun, and one step closer to sustainability. Indoor composting is perfect for apartment dwellers, small space gardeners, or any compost enthusiasts who want to reduce their environmental footprint.

Worms are exothermic, meaning their environment dictates their temperature, how fast their metabolism is, and therefore how quickly they turn food scraps into fertilizer. So, while you can have worms outside, in cold winter areas they are far more efficient out of freezing temperatures.

collage

What you’ll need:

  • Two opaque containers (we use plastic but untreated wood can also be used)
  • Bricks or untreated wood blocks for spacers
  • Drill
  • Bedding (straw, shredded paper, dried leaves, or sawdust)
  • Waste Scraps (no meat, no dairy, egg shells okay, avoid vinegar and oils)
  • Red Wiggler Worms (ask a friend, a garden center, or look online for a local worm exchange or garden club)

Container tips: Worms are sensitive to sunlight. Use an opaque container and keep the bin out of direct sunlight, ideally between 50°-75°F. Surface area is important, chose a container that is a shallow and wide vs. a bucket, which is narrow and tall.

 

First, drill at least at least 10 small holes in the lid, sides and bottom of one bin (the second bin will stay intact). The holes are essential for proper air circulation and drainage; both are key to the worms’ health.

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Next, place the bricks or untreated wood blocks in the bottom (intact) bin and stack the drilled bin on top. The bottom bin will catch any compost tea that filters through the top bin, which is a great liquid fertilizer for your plants.

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Next, line the bottom of the bin with paper. This will absorb moisture and provide a barrier above the drainage holes.

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Worms work together with microbes to create compost. Add a few cups of garden soil to the new bin on top of the paper layer to introduce other composting microorganisms, and to give the bin a kick-start.

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Next, fill the bin approximately 2/3 full with shredded paper, dried leaves, saw dust or straw. This will create a bedding area in which the worms find scraps of food.

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Next, moisten the bedding and organic material and bedding to about 75% moisture, which feels like a lightly wrung out sponge.

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Next, gently pour the worms on top of the moistened bedding. They will find their way down on their own.

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Finally, feed your worms. One pound of red wiggler worms can consume 3 1/2 pounds of waste a week! Feed your worms by burying food waste under the bedding (tip: the smaller the pieces the faster they can eat it). As the worms turn the bedding and waste into compost, push compost to one side and add food scraps and bedding to the other side. The worms will migrate to the fresh food and bedding over time allowing you to harvest the compost.

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How many worms do you need? A general suggestion is 1 pound of worms per one square foot of space. Worms do multiply quickly and they will create their own perfect population size given time. Err on the side of less worms to encourage new generations.