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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Nasturtium Pesto

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Bright green and full of garlic, traditional pesto is as versatile as it is delicious. Basil doesn’t have to be the only star of pesto. Try adding nasturtium leaves from your flower garden! Nasturtium adds a fresh, peppery kick to your pasta, pizza, or even eggs!

1 c. packed nasturtium leaves and stems, washed and dried
15–20 basil leaves
4 garlic cloves
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ cup or more of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:
Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scraping the sides periodically to fully incorporate ingredients. Add more olive oil for desired consistency.

 

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DIY Native Bee House

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Mason bees are native, excellent pollinators, and easy to attract. North America has about 140 different Mason bee species. They are active in early spring to late summer. These solitary bees make their homes in narrow openings, such as holes in trees and hollow reeds, protecting eggs by building mud walls around them, thus, the name, “Mason” bee. Since Mason bees do not protect a hive, they are docile and very rarely sting, making them easier to keep in urban neighborhoods.

Celebrate Earth Day by making a bee house for these productive native pollinators. Here’s how:

You can find all of these items at most garden centers and craft stores:

  • ½ to ¾-inch diameter bamboo reeds
  • One 3” Hose clamp
  • Fine-tooth pruning saw

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Directions:

  1. Cut bamboo reed into several 6”–8” inch lengths using a sharp, fine-tooth pruning saw. Cut after a node to ensure that one end is closed or nearly so.
  2. Secure hose clamp around bamboo bundle. Vary the placement of tubes so that the ends are not perfectly flush with each other.
  3. Place bee house in a protected area with reed openings facing east or southest, so they get morning sun. Secure the bee house so it won’t shake in the wind, reeds oriented horizontally with the openings slightly downward to shed water. Ensure that there is a patch of bare ground nearby, as the female bees will need mud to build their nest within the reeds. It is also best to have food within 300’ of the nest. You can further protect the nest from birds and squirrels by creating an orb around it using chicken wire, hardware cloth, or other mesh with an opening of at least ½”.

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Clean or replace nesting tubes each spring after the new bees have hatched, to prevent pests and disease.

We’d love to see you get creative with other components! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

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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Springtime Melon Cocktails (and Mocktails)

melon cocktails

The weather is finally warming in Colorado, and our seedlings are emerging. We’re dreaming about lazy summer Sunday afternoons outside, listening to bees buzz and watching our flowers grow. We may as well enjoy a refreshing beverage to get us ready for summer fun! Melon is an especially fresh-tasting ingredient to add to cocktails (or non-alcoholic “mocktails”). Try our recipes below and feel like it’s summer already.

Cilantro-Melon Fizz
Make cilantro simple syrup by bringing to a boil, ½ c. water, ½ c. sugar, and 3 or 4 cilantro sprigs; let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Strain and cool. Purée 1 cup of cut melon in a blender. Strain and pour into a short glass. Add 1 oz. of vodka and 2 tbsp. of the cilantro simple syrup. Stir gently. Top with club soda and a sprig of cilantro.
For a mocktail: Replace vodka with club soda or lime seltzer water.

Melon Beer
Salt the rim of a pint glass (tip: use lemon juice instead of water; the salt will stick better to the juice). Purée 1 cup of cut melon in a blender. Strain and pour into the salted glass. Add one bottle of ale. Sprinkle with cayenne for a kick.
For a mocktail: Replace beer with ginger ale.

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DIY Lavender and Rosemary Sugar Scrub

Sugar scrubs can be expensive and filled with unwanted additivies. Making your own will ensure that it is made of natural ingredients and you’ll get a lot more for your money. Especially if you grow the lavender and rosemary from seed!

lavender scrub

Lavender and rosemary have wonderful aromatic and cleansing properties. Dried leaves and flowers can be added to sugar and coconut oil to produce a cost-effective skin exfoliator and cleanser.

You can find all of these items either in your garden or at your local grocery store. Here’s what you’ll need:

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  • ½ Cup coconut oil
  • ½ Cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon dried rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • ¼ Teaspoon lavender essential oil (optional)
  • Small mason jar or other storage container

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Fill mason jar or other storage container.

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Use on face, hands, body, and feet. Be careful when applying it in the shower, as the coconut oil can be slippery.

You can substitute other flowers and herbs such as calendula, chamomile, sage, or echinacea.

Give as a gift for Mother’s Day or keep it for yourself! Hashtag your creations with #botanicalinterests.

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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Peas for Shoots Microgreens

stir fried pea shoots with garlic, chinese cuisineIn our neck of the woods, we’re sowing peas right around St. Patrick’s Day. But we can’t wait for our peas! So we’re growing Peas for Shoots Microgreens. Pea shoots taste like sweet, spring garden peas, but are lighter and more floral. Start some this week and make these recipes in as little a two weeks. Easy peas-y!

Pea Shoots and Garlic
1–2 cups of pea shoots
1 teaspoon olive oil
2–5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
 
Rinse pea shoots and pat dry. In a wok or skillet, heat olive oil. Add garlic and pea shoots. Cook for about 20 to 30 seconds and add 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar. Steam, covered, until shoots are wilted, usually about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove shoots from the pan and serve.

 
Pea Shoot Pesto
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts (can also substitute walnuts)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 green onions, diced
3 cups pea shoots

In a blender or food processor, mix olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, green onions, and pea shoots. Blend until smooth. Fold in Parmesan cheese, and add salt if desired. Serve with pasta, on pizza, with toasted bread or crackers, or as a dip. Variation: Add some mint leaves or a dash of lemon juice when blending the pesto.

Peas for shoots packet

 

 

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!