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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Quickly Aged Clay Pots

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When kept in the shade watered and fertilized often, clay pots will develop a beautiful patina with shades of white and green. If you don’t want to wait a few years for this to happen you can speed up the process and achieve very similar results in just about a month.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Unglazed clay pot, clean and dry.
  • Foam brush
  • Unflavored, unsweeted yogurt

Directions:

  1. Stir yogurt until smooth
  2. With your foam brush, cover entire surface of clay pot with a coat of yogurt.IMG_1291IMG_1292
  3. Place the pot in a protected location out of direct sunlight until desired look is         attained. Usually about one month. Keep pot moist by lightly spritzing with a spray bottle a few times a week.IMG_1280

Once your pot has a beautiful natural looking patina, fill it with container friendly varieties from Botanical Interests such as: sweet alyssum, calendula, coleus, daisy yellow buttons, dusty miller, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, pansies, snapdragons, violas, and dwarf zinnias.

Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

Everything’s Coming up Sunflowers

Sunflower with bees

Ah yes, summery, sunny, sunflowers—something my garden cannot go without! Sunflowers are excellent for pollinators, drought tolerant, and native to boot! They also make a great introduction to gardening for children, because the seeds are large and easy to handle, quick to germinate, and they can identify the resulting flower.

Native sunflowers have been bred for generations, giving us varieties that produce a single, huge, beautiful head, pollenless varieties for cut flowers, dwarf varieties for containers or the middle of the flower bed, and blooms in many shades of wonderful. Single head sunflowers, (Mammoth Grey Stripe, Mammoth Russian, Snacker, Sunspot) put out one, large to downright giant (14″!) bloom. Because these sunflowers produce only one big bloom, successively sow every 4 weeks for continual color. If you plan to use these as cut flowers, a tighter spacing of 6” rather than 1’ produces longer stems but slightly smaller flowers. Multi-branching types (Autumn Beauty, Drop Dead Red, Elves Blend, Evening Sun, Flash Blend, Florist’s Sunny Bouquet, Goldy Honey Bear, Lemon Queen, Moulin Rouge, Peach Passion, Teddy Bear, Two Queens, Vanilla Ice) display many smaller blooms over a longer period. They also do best with 1 ½’–2’ of space, and have a longer bloom period, which is further extended with deadheading or successive sowing. When harvesting for cut flowers, cutting just as the first petals begin to open will make your cut flower last the longest. I love this stage; the flowers look like they are winking at me! Don’t forget that a clean vase and frequent water changes are key to the life of any cut flower.

Speaking of cut flowers, pollenless varieties (Drop Dead Red, Florist’s Sunny Bouquet, Moulin Rouge, Peach Passion) are perfect for the dining room table, as they have no messy pollen to dirty your tablecloth. They do still provide valuable nectar for bees and butterflies, though. Pollenless sunflowers cannot create seeds on their own, but if you grow them next to pollen-producing types, seeds will still be produced. The flowers I have not cut for bouquets, I leave in the garden for the birds in fall migration.

No matter which sunflower I choose each year, I prefer to wait until a week or two after the average last frost date to direct-sow seeds, since they are sensitive to root disturbance. You can, however, start them indoors in recycled paper pots 2 to 4 weeks before your average last frost, as these pots can be planted directly in the ground, minimizing transplant shock. Starting sunflowers indoors does result in earlier blooms, and avoids having vulnerable, tiny seedlings gobbled up by hungry spring birds. If you direct sow, like I do, protect little sprouts with row cover or another translucent barrier until seedlings are 6” tall, when birds will no longer bother them.

Although it’s commonly believed that all sunflowers turn their heads to follow the sun from east to west each day, actually only the immature and still developing flower heads do that. Once the flowers have fully opened, they stay facing east most likely to protect the seeds from possible sun-scald resulting from the harsh rays of the afternoon sun. Understanding this alone, can help you plan your sunflower bed so your sunny sunflower faces will open toward a space you can really enjoy them, like the kitchen window or a patio.

Happy sowing!

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