Fun Garden Craft for Kids: Fairy Garden

Creating a fairy garden is a fun and constructive activity for the whole family, and a great way to introduce children to gardening, teach them about the design process, inspire their creativity, and teach them how to properly care for plants.

Many local garden centers feature beautifully made fairy garden furniture, décor, and dwarf plants. You can also try crafting your own miniature furniture from wire or recycled aluminum cans, and weaving place mats out of twigs or stems you have pruned in the garden. Fill acorn caps to the brim with tiny seeds from your flowers to make fairy seed buckets.

What you’ll need:

  • A large container (at least 24” in diameter if round; at least 24” wide and long if square or rectangle)
  • Fairy-garden props: furniture, fairies, decorations, small stones, etc…
  • Potting soil
  • Seeds for low-growing container plants such as; sweet alyssum, bluebells, Yellow Buttons daisies, forget-me-not, impatiens, lobelia, pansies, portulaca, and violas.
  • Fairy garden plants from your local garden center such as; dwarf ferns, scotch moss, polka-dot plant, dwarf thyme, and ripple peperomia.

First, select where you want to place your fairy garden based on the exposure needed by the plants you choose. You can build your fairy garden in a large container or directly in the ground.

Next, head to your local garden center and pick up some fairy garden décor. We are using a small house, mushrooms, fairies, gnomes, and some pebbles. You can also build some natural décor from twigs and other stuff around the garden. Check out this blog for more info: Nature Inspired Fairy Garden

Fill your container with potting soil, and sow seeds or transplant plants directly into the container.

Next, get creative! Place fairy garden décor among the plants, or places where the seedlings will emerge, to fashion an enchanted garden that will delight and attract fairies.

Water, watch and wonder. As your plants grow, keep them trimmed to a tidy, small size. Once you’ve made a fairy garden, you’ll be drawn to it every day, and want to share the pleasure with friends and family. Enjoy!

We’d love to see how creative you get with your fairy garden. Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Advice From a First-Time Gardener

 

sunflower

Usually, I write to share my gardening loves and experiences. We’ve been thinking about new gardeners and how best to give them the tools they need. Jennifer, our marketing manager, has just started gardening since working at Botanical Interests, and I’m excited about her progress! So I thought, who better to give advice to a novice gardener, than a novice gardener herself? I think you’ll find her thoughts on hope and patience helpful no matter what level gardener you consider yourself.  — Judy

My grandfather gardened and my mother gardened; I, however, did not. But I love to cook, so the thought of running to my backyard for fresh ingredients just before dinner was very exciting. Working at an awesome seed company didn’t hurt either.

Last season was my first garden. My space isn’t big–only a 6′ x 7′ raised bed, but I was determined to get the most out of it. My season started out strong; all the seeds germinated (thanks, Botanical Interests!), so I immediately thought I was “a natural”. I took pictures of my seedlings and showed them off to Judy and our horticulturist, April, like my preschooler does with her macaroni necklaces. Imagine my disappointment, though, when mid-season, slugs skeletonized my pea leaves, my herbs were wilting, and I had only a handful of tiny tomatoes, which had blossom-end-rot to boot. I did have some success with Bunny Tails grass, growing the cut fluffs at the top, but it was certainly not the dramatic flowerbed I had planned. And while I did harvest four zucchini, two handfuls of Sun Gold tomatoes, and one sprig of cilantro, it again was certainly not the glorious bounty I had imagined.

But I am not a quitter. I was excited again this past spring, but a little more determined and “grounded” (pun intended) about my goals. Even though we’re only at mid-season here in Colorado, my garden is already growing better than last year. Here’s what I learned:

Stay hopeful. Some plants are more forgiving than you may think. If it seems like you killed it, try more or less water, fertilizer, or sun. More water and sun revived even my wilting herbs. And, of course, there’s always next year! Which brings me to my next lesson…

Be patient. New gardeners always hear this. I’m not exactly a patient person, but nevertheless, it’s true. When I’m in awe of another’s beautiful and bountiful garden, I remind myself that that garden has probably taken years to perfect. And speaking of perfecting…

Focus. Improve one thing at a time. Because I was fruitless and bloomless last year, this year I focused on amending my soil with phosphorous (that’s the middle number on the fertilizer container) so that I will get more out of what I sowed. And last but not least…

Use your resources. I know that I’m lucky to work with a slew of garden nerds, but ask any gardener–chances are they love to talk plants. They’ll share their immeasurably valuable experiences, especially how to grow in local conditions. Last shameless plug–I refer to the helpful information our seed packets regularly, and it works!

garden pepper tomato bean

I have to admit, I’m still not doing everything right this year, but I do have gorgeous, bright yellow sunflowers, and lots of budding jalapenos, tomatoes, and green beans, and I wake up every morning wondering if something new grew overnight (that actually happens, by the way). So even if you’re like me, impatient and most definitely not a natural, you can sow one seed and turn it into a salad, sauce, or bouquet, and that on it’s own is pretty spectacular.

Honey & Orange Glazed Rutabaga with Fresh Thyme

Rutabagas have a mild flavor and are often cooked and used like potatoes. In this dish, we use citrus and fresh thyme to lend bright, fresh flavor to these cold-hardy roots. This recipe also works wells with turnips. Sow them in early spring for summer harvest or summer fall harvest; they store for months!
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 lbs rutabaga or turnip, greens removed (we used rutabaga)
1–2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 orange, for juice and zest (about ½ cup juice, 1–2 tablespoons zest
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon fresh thyme

1. Peel roots and cut them into ½” pieces.
2. Put roots in a heavy-bottomed skillet or pot with about 1¼ cups of water, or enough to cover the roots halfway. Add butter, salt, and honey. Heat on medium high and cover, simmering until roots are soft, 8–10 minutes.
3. Remove lid, add the orange juice and vinegar, and simmer for another 12–15 minutes until sauce has reduced.
4. Remove from heat and toss roots with fresh thyme and orange zest.

Enjoy!

Use the comments to share your root cooking tips.

Collard Greens Enchiladas

Collard plants can take the heat and also are among the most cold-tolerant crops, surviving to 20°F.
This delicious and healthful play on enchiladas is gluten-free, full of garden veggies, and easy to adapt to be paleo or vegan by leaving out the cheese. To save time, you could use store-bought enchilada sauce, but we love this thicker, homemade, garden-fresh sauce.

Yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
3 cups fresh tomato, diced (reserve 1 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4–1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (1/2 teaspoon creates medium spice)
1 teaspoon red wine or apple cider vinegar

Wraps:
8–12 large collard leaves (more if small)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for oiling a baking dish
½ medium onion, diced
2 poblano peppers, diced (substitute 1 bell pepper if you want the dish to be mild)
1 jalapeño, diced (omit if you want the dish to be mild)
1 medium zucchini or other summer squash (we used ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ Summer Squash)
1 large clove garlic, minced
Protein: 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed OR ¾ lb. ground turkey, beef, or meat alternative
salt & pepper to taste

Optional:
1 cup grated cheese (we used sharp, white cheddar, but Cotija would also be tasty)

Prepare Sauce
1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan on medium to medium-high heat.
2. Once the oil is hot, add onion, 2 cups diced tomato, garlic, oregano, cumin, and chipotle.
3. Cook tomato mixture until liquid has evaporated, 15–25 minutes depending on the tomatoes used and heat. We used paste tomatoes, which have less liquid than others, and it took about 15 minutes on medium–high for them to start to stick to the pan. Meanwhile, you can prepare the collard greens and filling.
4. Transfer tomato mixture to a blender or food processor, add the vinegar, and the reserved, diced tomatoes as needed to thin sauce creating a pasta-sauce thickness.

Prepare Collard Wraps
5. Steam collard greens for 1.5 minutes to 4 minutes depending on thickness. Once leaves have turned bright green and are wilted, place them in ice water to stop them from cooking further.
6. Remove the midribs on large leaves, cutting the leaves in half. For smaller leaves you can remove the largest part of the midrib by running a knife horizontally along the leaf base.

Filling
7. Heat a pan on medium to medium high;, add 1 tablespoon olive oil.
8. Once oil is hot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes before adding the rest of the filling ingredients. If you are using black beans, add these in a later step.
9. Cook filling until done—when any ground meat or meat alternative is browned and veggies are cooked through, about 7–10 minutes. Remove from heat. If you are using beans as the protein, mix them into the rest of the filling now.
10. Preheat oven to 400°F
11. Oil an 11”x7” or 9”x9” baking dish.

Assemble enchiladas
12. Place several spoonfuls filling in collard leaves and roll, placing them in the oiled baking dish. Keep rolling filling into leaves until filling is used up.


13. Cover rolled leaves with sauce. 
14. Bake uncovered for 20–25 minutes. If you would like top with cheese, do this when there is 10–12 minutes left to bake.

Enjoy!

Please share your favorite garden fresh recipes in the comments below!

Tomatoes: To Prune or Not to Prune

I hear these questions every year: Should I prune my tomatoes? When? How do I do it?

First things first, only indeterminate-type tomatoes should be pruned. Because indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce tomatoes throughout the season, you can prune their side shoots (also known as “suckers”), whereas if you pruned determinate tomatoes that produce only once a season, you would be reducing the overall yield.

Pruning indeterminate tomatoes can, however, increase fruit size, help tomatoes ripen faster, and help reduce disease. It will not increase the number of tomatoes you get, but you will probably get more “perfectly” shaped and sized tomatoes. Even though I love even the small or ugly tomatoes, I prune some of my tomato plants for the sheer beauty of a big, hearty tomato.

There are 3 different strategies for pruning suckers off  tomatoes:

Minimal
Prune only those suckers below the first flower/fruit cluster.

Moderate
Wait until suckers have four leaves and prune off the top two, leaving the first two leaves to protect fruit from the sun. This is a more common practice in the south, where they are cautious about the intense summer sun.

Aggressive
Prune off all suckers.

Once you decide which way you’re going to go, keep these “rules” in mind:

  • Wait until plants are almost 2′ tall before pruning.
  • Leaves should be dry. Touching wet plants can quickly spread disease.
  • Tools should be clean and sharp. I wipe mine down with rubbing alcohol to make sure I don’t accidentally spread disease.
  • Prune prudently. Leaves create shade for fruit, which prevents sun damage. Leaves also make food for the plant, including sugars, resulting in energy to produce more quantities of sweeter fruit.
  • Prune early when suckers are small. This reduces the wound size and also saves the plant’s energy, which can be used toward developing fruit.

Here’s a tip I’ve gotten from one of my gardener friends: Late in the season, you can cut the top off of the plants (“topping”) to prevent more flower and fruit production, directing energy to ripen the existing fruit on the vine.

By the way, I still love the tomato supports I started using used two years ago. Re-read the blog as I have made some updates for improvement!

Share your tomato tips in the comments!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Green Beans

vegetable salad

The warm weather is finally here in Colorado! That means fresh vegetables and outside dining. We’ve whipped up this salad that is the perfect side dish for alfresco meals; mix in chilled rotisserie chicken or tofu for a main dish.

Ingredients:
1 cup cooked quinoa
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh green beans, chopped
½ cup grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

vegetable salad

Dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
splash of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Mix quinoa, vegetables and feta cheese. Whisk dressing ingredients, and pour over salad. Chill and enjoy!

Flea Market Street Corn

street corn recipe

When summer arrives, one of our favorite activities is visiting the Mile High Flea Market in Denver, Colorado. But this is no ordinary flea market; besides garage sale stuff, antiques and fresh produce, it also has great food stands! We never miss their “famous” (at least to us) street corn—steaming, grilled corn on the cob covered with butter, mayonnaise (trust us, it’s delicious), cheese and chili powder. We love it so much, we recreated the recipe, just in time for Memorial Day barbeque!

4 ears of corn
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup of mayonnaise
1 cup queso fresco (cheese)
2 teaspoons chili powder
¼ cup chopped, fresh cilantro (optional)
2 limes cut into wedges

  1. Remove husks from corn. Brush corn with butter and grill for 5–7 minutes, turning occasionally for even grill marks.
  2. While corn is hot, brush with mayonnaise, sprinkle with cheese and chili powder, and top with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

So easy and delicious!

Corn Sweet (se) ButtergoldCorn Sweet (se) Sugarbaby

 

3 Ways to Upcycle Seed Packets

Botanical Interests seed packets are creative, informative, and unique. We commission local Colorado artists to illustrate each variety. The illustrations are beautiful, and convey the best qualities of each variety.

Seed packet decoration

There are many ways to decorate your home, office or garden with the beautiful packet illustrations once your seeds have been sown.

Three decorating ideas for used seed packets:

Supplies

  • Empty seed packets
  • Vintage spoons
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • Small shadow box or picture frame
  • Mod Podge® waterbase sealer
  • Small paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick

Idea #1: Spoon Art

Spoon art is a great way to add vintage décor to your garden while also identifying what has been sown. These spoons can be placed outside  in patio containers or directly in the garden. They should last through the season and will require new packet art if you wish to display them the following year, as the sun will fade the art over time.

2017-04-23 09.04.04

To make these, simply cut a spoon-shaped portion of artwork from the seed packet and use a glue stick to adhere it to the inside of a spoon. Press out any bubbles that form and allow to dry. Apply 3 to 5 coats of Mod Podge®  allowing 10 to 15 minutes dry time per coat.

Idea #2: Seed Packet Magnets

Seed packet magnets are a fun way to dress up your refrigerator at home or your file cabinet at work! You can find blank magnets at craft stores, or recover magnets that you already have.

Simply trace along the magnet’s edge on that portion of the seed packet you wish to use. Use a glue stick to adhere the packet to the magnet. If you are having trouble getting the packet to adhere to the magnet, try using rubber cement in place of the glue stick.

Idea #3: Framed Seed Packet

Seed packets displayed in a picture frame or shadow box will embellish the walls in your home, office or garden shed. They also make fabulous gifts! What chef wouldn’t love beautiful, framed tomato artwork  for their kitchen?

 2017-05-19 07.28.21

To make this craft, cut the fronts from the seed packets and place them inside a shadow box or picture frame. To keep them in place in the shadow box you can glue them to the back of box, or use decorative pins.

We’d love to see how creative you get with your vegetable dyed eggs! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

 

 

10 Flowers for Quick Color

2014-07-07 10.12.12

The growing season has arrived in Colorado, and I couldn’t be happier! The garden calls, so I have been making a list of some varieties that can be direct sown and flower quickly adding some new bursts of color this summer. I am always able to find a little bare patch here and there between my long-standing perennials that can use a punch of color. You probably already know about bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, and zinnias. Here are more of my favorite, throw and grow, last-minute lovelies.

  1. Sweet Alyssum is oh so fragrant, attracts beneficial insects, and ever-blooming in my climate. In hot areas, expect it to take a mid-summer siesta.
  2. California Bluebells remind me of hiking amid the dazzling wildflowers of California. I sowed these in a rock wall bordering the garden and fell in love with the color!
  3. Calendula accepts neglect and keeps producing sunny flowers all season, and year after year if you let them reseed. ‘Oopsy Daisy’ is really compact and cute as a button!
  4. Flax flowers quickly and handles dry, hot conditions with ease. Expect them to reseed for years of color!
  5. Moss Rose Portulaca creates a carpet of color that doesn’t flinch at hot, droughty conditions.  Expect these practically care-free flowers to reseed too.
  6. Nasturtiums, which I affectionately call “nasties” (partly because one of our warehouse managers couldn’t pronounce “nasturtium”), have not only lovely blooms, but also gorgeous foliage. But don’t let the nickname fool you, they add a nice peppery kick and wonderful color to salads.
  7. Poppies are so easy to grow; just scatter seeds! With so many shapes and sizes, it’s easy to fall in love with them. They’re drought tolerant, too! The color of ‘Mikado’ is really eye catching and ‘Lauren’s Grape’ is a dramatic purple!
  8. Sunflowers seem to go from seed to towering flower in almost no time and they feed the birds in the fall!
  9. ‘Striped Japonica’ Ornamental Corn adds big, bold texture and colors with its striped magenta, white, and green leaves. At 5’–6′ tall it makes an excellent backdrop for other flowers or a lovely privacy screen.
  10. Violas are the first and last to bloom, since they thrive in cooler weather. I love the royal purple faces of ‘King Henry’ or and the tri-colored ‘Johnny-Jump-Up’ always makes me smile. Violas  I love these edible cuties in a salad!

    Violets in Judy's Salad
    Violas in my salad!

Flower mixes are also as easy as throwing and growing. With some watering of course, they provide endless color all growing season! Flower mixes may be sown as early as 4 weeks before your average last frost until the end of May.

Use the comments to let us know what quick color you are sowing in your garden. Wishing you a colorful spring!

Homegrown Salsa

homegrown salsa

While we are always touting the fresh flavors of homegrown vegetables, we cannot emphasize enough how much this is true for salsa made from homegrown ingredients. The freshest, brightest flavors are found when tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers are grown at home and blended into your personalized salsa. Here’s our favorite recipe!

½ white onion
2 jalapeños (we left the seeds in for a spicy kick)
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro
2 ½ lbs. Roma tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
splash of lime juice

fresh salsa ingredients

  1. Pulse the onion, jalapenos, and garlic into small chunks in a food processor or blender.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until well blended.
  3. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour for flavors to marry.

That’s it! Serve with tortilla chips or with your favorite Latin foods.