DIY Self-Watering Seed-Starting Tray

Self-watering trays provide seedlings with the ideal amount of moisture while saving time that can be better spent prepping the garden for spring!

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These systems can also be expensive. We’ll show you how to make your own trays for a fraction of the cost, in as little as 5 minutes.

You can find all of these items at your local home improvement store and garden center:

  • Reservoir tray
  • Seedling cells
  • Felt fabric
  • PVC elbow fittings (L-shaped, in the plumbing section of a hardware store. To save money, you can cut your own sections of 1” diameter PVC pipe to fit lengthwise in tray.
  • Plastic light grid ( one piece can make up to 4 trays. In the lighting section of a hardware store).
  • Kitchen plastic wrap
  • Metal, all purpose cutter, such as a wire cutter.
  • Scissors
  • Seed starting media
  • Seeds

Start by measuring and marking the plastic grid so that it will fit into the reservoir.

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Use the all purpose cutter to cut grid to shape.

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Place L-shaped PVC pipes at each corner of the reservoir. This will keep the grid above the bottom of the reservoir. **UPDATE** We added two additional L-shaped PVC pipes in the center. The heavier trays were causing the plastic grid to sag in the center.

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Place grid inside reservoir on top of pipes. It should sit comfortably with a slight distance from the top of the reservoir.

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Cut felt so that it lays on top of the grid, and also folds down the sides and touches the bottom. The felt will absorb water and carry it to the base of the planting cells.

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Fill cells with pre-moistened growing media and sow your favorite Botanical Interests varieties according to packet instructions.

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Place planting cells on top of the felt. Fill reservoir with water to just below the grid.

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Cover the cells with plastic wrap until seeds have germinated, then remove.

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Keep reservoir water level below the plastic grid.

 

Share your creations with us with hashtag #botanicalinterests!

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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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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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.

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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.

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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.