All posts by Botanical Interests

Top 5 Reasons to Garden from Seed

Gardening from seedGardening from seed has big advantages

Even though I have gardened from seed since childhood, the experience of taking what looks like a tiny stone, sowing it, and watching it grow still seems magical; it is faith realized, and it nurtures me as I nurture it. While sometimes that inspiration is all I need to garden from seed, there are some other very important reasons, too.

  1. Know what you grow. Did you know that many of the conventionally-grown vegetables at the grocery store test positive for pesticide residue even after washing and peeling? Growing your own allows you to choose what goes into your family’s food. Here is a list of vegetables that are the worst offenders when it comes to pesticide residue.
  2. Save money. Growing from seed is much less expensive than buying plants or produce, especially organic choices. For example, most food gardeners I know grow green beans because the quality is so much better than the grocery store and they are a pretty easy crop (they also add nitrogen to the soil!). A seed packet of bush beans sows about 12 feet of bean plants which will yield about 5 lb. of beans. The cost of the packet is $2.39. A six pack of plants will run you $3-4 and plants 2′ (pssst green beans don’t transplant well so expect lower yields). Five pounds of (less than fresh) green beans at the grocery store will cost around $11. Did we mention the seeds in our example are certified organic?
  3. More choices. Grocery stores and garden centers offer only a fraction of available selections. Gardening from seed gives you the option to grow something unique, exotic, or rare.
  4. Reduce plant stress. In many cases sowing seeds in place versus transplanting from greenhouse-started plants leads to quick, stress-free growth, meaning faster, and often more flowers and more fruit, especially in the case of root crops of plants sensitive to root disturbance.
  5. Perfect timing. There are advantages to starting some crops early, usually vegetables that tolerate transplanting and take a long time to mature, like peppers, onions, or tomatoes. Starting these indoors gives me a head start in my shorter growing season, as I would never see a pepper if I sowed it directly outdoors.

I can’t tell you how many times I have wandered out to the garden saying, “Let’s see what’s for dinner.” I slow down from my busy day when I stroll out to the garden with a glass of wine and my favorite wooden bowl to see what peaks my culinary interest that evening. Such a personal reward for all my elbow grease in the garden!

What inspires you to grow from seed? Share your inspiration with our growing community in the comments below.

Choosing a Container

Container gardening is a growing trend as new gardeners start out, and veteran gardeners look to expand their growing opportunities. We answer a lot of questions on this topic, like which varieties to sow, or where to place them, but many gardeners want to know how to choose a container. There are a lot of factors that could inform one’s choice for a container. And really, almost anything can be a container. Upcycling buckets, watering cans, and wine barrels are great ideas. But I’ve seen some great containers made from tree stumps, baking pans, bags, and nylons! Just be sure they’re clean, have drainage, and are the right size and material for your needs.

growing containers

SIZE. Simply put, size matters. Bigger containers are often better. They hold more soil, and therefore, potentially more water and nutrients. This gives your plants more resources and room to grow. This also gives you a bigger margin for error…always a good idea when dealing with living things.

What’s the right size? When is it big enough? I like to use some common comparisons to help answer this. Most people are familiar with a ½ wine barrel. This is big enough for 1 large, or 2 small tomato plants, or about 10 bush bean plants, or 6-8 heads of lettuce, or about 3 pepper plants. Flowers are another story. There are so many types of flowers that grow to so many different sizes, that it’s hard to say. Look at the final size of the plants to start. If you want an airy look, give them a little more space. If you want your container more or less overflowing, then give them a little less space. I tend to over-ambitiously jam them in, fertilize, and let them fight it out.

Lastly, size has two dimensions—volume and depth. If you are growing long- or deep-rooted things, like carrots or Echinacea, in a container, then your plants will be better served by a deep pot than a wide, shallow one.

DRAINAGE. Let me say it again, DRAINAGE. Make sure that your containers have a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Containers that don’t drain lead to soggy soil that suffocates plants’ roots. If your container is watertight (and it’s not a water garden) put some holes in it. If your container sits very close to the ground or some other surface, you may want to raise the container up slightly or add some holes to the side of the container very near the bottom. I drilled some holes in the side of the bottom of a huge pot I had that I couldn’t put on risers and it made a big difference.

MATERIAL. Almost anything can be a container. That being said, you need to consider how what it’s made of will affect its performance. Porous containers, like terra cotta, allow water to escape through the side of the container. This may be good if you live in a wet area or tend to over-water. This may be challenging if your containers are small or you live in a windy or dry area. You can line the inside of porous containers with a layer of plastic and reduce water loss. Just remember to maintain drainage.

growing containers

Think about whether you plan to move your container in case of frost. If not, make sure it is made of a frost-proof material.

If you are choosing wood, remember to use a rot-resistant wood like cedar or oak. Just be sure not to use pressure-treated wood if you are growing edibles. You don’t want the chemicals to affect the quality of your food.

CLEANLINESS. If you are reusing or repurposing a container, be sure to clean it thoroughly. Scrub away all dirt and debris. Wash it well and if you want to get it really clean, rinse it with hydrogen peroxide or a 1:10 bleach solution. One of the best sanitizing agents is the sun. If you have the time, let your clean containers bake in the sun for a week before filling them with soil.

 Once you’re set up, you’ll be a container gardener in no time!

 

Baked Whole Pumpkin Soup

This whole pumpkin soup recipe creates a deliciously-elegant display on the dinner table. As is, the recipe is gluten free and simple to adapt for a paleo or vegan diet. Serves 4-6.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 whole pumpkin (or other round, winter squash), approximately 4–5 pounds, washed (we used a ‘Red Warty Thing’ winter squash)
  • 1–2 teaspoons unflavored oil for greasing pumpkin and baking dish
  • 1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil
  • 2 medium-large leeks, sliced (substitute 1/4 cup onion, diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • ½–3/4 cup heavy cream or full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, optional
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (or other seasoning of choice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

 Make a lid on the top of the pumpkin by cutting around the stem at an inward, 45° angle. The lid should leave a large enough hole so you can fit your hand in, and work inside the pumpkin. Remove and discard (or save for roasting) the seeds and long fibers by scraping the sides of the pumpkin with a metal spoon. Apply a bit of oil to the outside of your pumpkin and to a baking dish it can sit in, using a brush or paper towel.

Put the butter or oil, leeks, garlic, apple, broth, and salt in the hollow pumpkin. Replace the lid of the pumpkin to cover. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Remove the pumpkin from the oven. Using a hot pad, remove the lid, and wait until the pumpkin is cool enough to work in. Using a metal spoon scrape the pumpkin flesh into the soup mixture, being careful not to puncture the pumpkin shell. If you are using an immersion blender add the cream, goat cheese, and garam masala (or chosen seasoning) to the pumpkin and purée, being careful to avoid puncturing the pumpkin wall. If using a blender, put all ingredients in the blender in small batches, blend until smooth, and return soup to the pumpkin shell. Add pepper and check seasonings. If you are not serving the soup right away, store the pumpkin and soup separately in the refrigerator. Reheat soup inside the pumpkin at 375°F.

Stop and Enjoy the Wildflowers

In the words of the late, great Tom Petty, “You belong among the wildflowers… Far away from your trouble and worries / You belong somewhere you feel free.” Whenever I hear this song, I picture myself among gently swaying blooms that form a new, unique tapestry, every day, without fail. Wildflowers are the details along a well-beaten path that make it seem somehow different and interesting every time you visit, not only by their blossoms, but through the rainbow of pollinators and other wildlife visitors they call in and sustain.

I have been reflecting on how our lives have become so busy, and I wish I could slow us all down so we could experience the wildflowers hitting that reset button in our brains. I may not have figured out how to slow down the entire world, but what I can do is provide native wildflower seeds (and easy growing instructions) so you can create a little retreat of your own.

Native plants are among the most care-free of any blooms you can grow. They are tough and able to grow without much attention, including being drought tolerant, which gives you more time to enjoy them. Natives provide pollinators with high-quality pollen and nectar too, so a native garden bed is also a pollinator garden.

For me, fall is naturally the time to think about revamping an area or filling in an empty space. Wildflowers are inherently adapted to being sown now—how convenient for me! Plants in their native habitat bloom, form seeds, drop those seeds sometime from summer to fall (depending on the species), and then the seeds rest until spring when conditions are just right for germination. Fall sowing is done!

When prepping your own, native retreat, do thoroughly weed and loosen the soil surface and place or rake seeds in. Winter snow and rain will work the seeds into the soil, so no need to work the soil too deeply. Our late spring storms are usually enough so I don’t have to water, but if you have a dry spell in spring keep an eye on the soil moisture and water as needed. Natives wildflowers grow well in average or even poor soils, so there is no need to amend most soils. You can choose a number of species with different bloom times so your space is always colorful, but be sure to put full-sun varieties in 6 or more hours of sun so they stand tall, rather than reaching for more light.  Once seedlings are all up and have put on some growth, say the end of June, I like to toss some mulch around the sprouted plants to help keep weeds down.

After that, I add a chair, and give myself some time to stop and smell the wildflowers.

Do you have any native garden tips? Please share them in the comments!

Plentiful Pleasing Poppies Next Spring

‘Black Swan’ Poppy

Fall is a great time of the year to reflect on your garden and write down some new ideas for next year. And I have poppies on the brain! What’s great about poppies is their diversity—all shapes, colors, sizes, perennial, annual— I love them all! Regardless of their annual or perennial status, they do best when sown in place, and by sowing this fall, seeds are primed for the earliest possible germination next spring. Poppies are quite cold tolerant and you may be surprised how early they come up.

Mission Bells Poppy Blend

Sowing Poppies
Choose a full-sun to part-sun area and consider the height of the poppies and any neighboring plants so none of the flowers get overshadowed. All I really need to do for soil prep is to get rid of weeds, dig out rooted perennials, and scrape away wimpy annuals. Poppies are happy with near neglect; they are drought tolerant, and do fine in poor soils but need good drainage. I scratch the surface of the soil with a hard rake to loosen the top ½”–1″, leaving the surface fluffy but level. Then I’m ready to sow! Poppy seeds need light to germinate, which means they need to be close to or on the soil surface. I usually just broadcast the seeds (adding a few extra in case birds find them), rake them in very lightly, and I’m done! Late winter and spring precipitation usually provides enough moisture to germinate seeds next year, but if I have a dry winter I will water these seeds come spring. (P.S. You can also sow in raised beds to improve the drainage of your soil.)

Oriental Blend Poppy

I am already imagining all the beautiful blooms I will be seeing next spring and summer! Poppies aren’t the only flowers that germinate best after the chill of winter. Read more about Fall Sown Flowers for ideas on what you can sow now.

Endless Harvests: Inspiration for All Those Veggies

It happens every year. Each spring I am so excited to garden that I grow more than my family could ever eat. I realize this is a bonus, so I try to make the absolute most out of every single vegetable I harvest. If you are also fortunate enough to have too many veggies, try these preparing and sharing ideas.

  1. Freezing. Greens (kale, spinach, collards), onions, peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash can be frozen without blanching (boiled quickly and then cooled in ice water to preserve nutrients and color). Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans maintain a better quality when blanched before freezing.
  1. Batch meals. Cook up a big batch of tomato sauce, eggplant cutlets, or even a whole casserole and freeze the extra portions in well-marked, freezer-safe containers.
  1. Canning. Preserve the bounty by canning. Be sure to follow a tested recipe (like these from the USDA) to avoid any chance of food-borne illness.
  1. Meet your neighbors. You’ll not only make new friends (or delight the old ones), but you may even turn some into gardeners! The more gardens in a neighborhood, the higher everyone’s sense of pride, too. So bring over that extra zucchini, flower bouquet, or basil.
  1. Donate. Do you know that food banks around our nation find it difficult to consistently provide fresh vegetables to their communities? Find your local food bank and share the harvest.

For more ideas see our article Preserve the Harvest. Share your creative uses for extra garden goodies in the comments!

10 Crops in Under Two Months

August has arrived and it has me thinking about all the tasty fall crops I can still sow and enjoy in two months time before a frost is likely in my area. So if you are also right up against the two-month mark and want to squeeze in just a little more gardening, I suggest trying cool-season crops (frost tolerant)! Several of the cool-season crops I grow are even more enjoyable in late summer because I can worry less about pests and bolting, while the cool temperatures of fall will sweeten my leafy greens (kale is particularly improved by a kiss of fall frost). But you may notice that these crops seem to take longer–and you’re correct! Late summer/early fall warm-season crops may take a couple of more weeks to reach maturity than usual as day length wanes and temperatures cool.

Try 10 of my favorite varieties to sow in late summer. They will not disappoint!

  1. Arugula sown in late summer/fall provides a mellower flavor, and attracts flea beetles less than spring-sown crops.
  2. Beets are silky, earthy, and delicious. We love them roasted, pickled, or raw. Our new, white, ‘Avalanche’ beet has a mild flavor that is a hit and better for juicing without the stains of red beets.
  3. Broccoli Raab is so fast, and what a delicacy! You can cut it 2-3 times and keep enjoying the delicate, slightly spicy flavor for weeks.
  4. Collards are heat tolerant and survive to 20°F, which lends to my love of this productive, heirloom green.
  5. Kale just keeps on going past first frost, getting sweeter, and adding depths to soups, and diversity to fall salads. ‘Dwarf Blue’ and ‘Redbor’ are exceptionally cold tolerant and the latter’s purple color intensifies after frost. ‘Nero Toscana‘ is my favorite!
  6. Kohlrabi has the crunch of an apple, is mildly sweet, and has a touch of a mild radish flavor. I love it raw with a sprinkle of salt.
  7. Lettuce is a staple in my garden all summer long, and I love to grow a bunch of different varieties, but always the ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’ which glows cranberry red as the days shorten, and ‘Little Gem’ that forms a perfect head. Both are more heat tolerant and frost tolerant than others.
  8. Peas are for fall too! ‘Cascadia’ is my favorite snap pea for fall because it is not only delicious, but also mildew resistant, an issue I often battle in the late summer.
  9. Radishes are always welcome in our kitchen, and late summer is the time to sow winter radishes which only form during shortening days. I grow daikon (if you’ve never tried daikon you are missing out!), black radishes, and the stunning, scarlet centered, watermelon radish. When you remove (and eat) the greens these radishes store for a month or more in the crisper.
  10. Spinach is also sweetened with cooling temperatures and can over-winter, even in my climate (USDA zone 5B). I like to sow a little extra for freezing.

There’s more to grow, too! Check out other quick crops like cucumbers, mustards, summer squash, and turnips. Get the full list and read more about our most frost tolerant crops. Well, those garden beds aren’t going to prep themselves; I better get sowing!

What are you sowing now for fall? Share with us in the comments below.

 

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!