All posts by Botanical Interests

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.

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

 

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.

DIY Chive Oil and Vinegar

DIY chive oil and vinegarWith beautiful, edible flowers and delicate onion-flavored foliage, chives are at home anywhere—even in the flower bed! But chives don’t have to be just a garnish on your baked potato. Chive blossom vinegar or chive-infused oil work deliciously in a salad dressing. Try cooking your morning eggs in chive oil for a subtle, yet scrumptious, onion flavor, or add chive vinegar to your potato salad recipe. Chives are so easy to grow because they require little maintenance, and they are perennial!

Chive-Infused Oil: Blend one bunch (10–15 stems) of chives with 1 cup of light oil like vegetable or grapeseed oil in a blender until puréed. Cook over medium-high heat in a saucepan for about 10 minutes. Cool and strain over two layers of cheesecloth overnight. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Chive-Blossom Vinegar: When flower heads begin to fade from bright pink to a rosy color, harvest them for vinegar. Fill a glass jar loosely with flower heads, then fill with white vinegar. Put the lid on and place on a sunny windowsill. In 1 to 2 weeks, strain off flowers. Dilute with more white vinegar if the chive taste is too strong.

Chives Common Organic

Squash and Spinach Quesadillas

squash and spinach qusadillas

These quesadillas are both sweet and savory thanks to our ‘Sweet Meat’ winter squash. Super quick and easy to make, you can even prepare the filling ahead and keep in the refrigerator for a healthful dinner in minutes!

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
3 bunching onions (green), chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup canned black beans, rinsed
1 cup roasted winter squash (Sweet Meat or Waltham Butternut)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces goat cheese
6 whole wheat flour tortillas
cooking oil

Directions:

squash and spinach quesadillas

  1. Sauté spinach, onions, and garlic in olive oil for about 3 minutes, just until leaves are wilted.
  2. Add black beans and roasted squash. Cook until heated through, adding salt and pepper to taste. Cook 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, spread goat cheese on two tortillas.
  4. When filling is heated, add to one tortilla, then stack the other on top.
  5. Brown in pan with another teaspoon of cooking oil.
  6. Repeat for remaining tortillas.
  7. Serve warm with cilantro, sour cream, and salsa on the side.

You Can’t “Beet” These Chips

beet chipsHome-grown beets are delicious root vegetables, and the leaves are considered by some to be the best of all greens!  Roasting and pickling are traditional ways to prepare beets, but we’re marching to a different “beet” with these oven-baked beet chips! So quick and easy to make, you’ll even get the kiddos to enjoy them. 

INGREDIENTS:

2–3 whole beets (or however many you wish to make)
A couple tablespoons of olive oil
salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Peel beets, but remember, red beets stain! We use gloves or paper towels to protect our hands. (Or you could use Golden Boy beets that don’t stain!
  3. Slice into thin rounds. A mandoline will make this much easier (see photo). 
  4. Spread out on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt to draw out excess moisture. After about 15 minutes, blot dry with clean paper towels. 
  5. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with oil. Place beet rounds on baking sheet and add a pinch more of salt or any other herb or seasoning you’d like. 
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes or until crisp.

beet chips

Beet Chioggia Organic Beet Golden Boy   Beet Detroit Dark Red

 

And the Award Goes To…

swiss chard bright lights
‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard in Judy’s Garden

For me, gardening is a labor of love. I make a thoughtful plan every year and try different tricks (like my grandpa “Pop’s” advice to soak beet and morning glory seeds), but even after all that, sometimes I get a less-than-desired result. It’s been one of my missions to share my passion for gardening, helping home gardeners be successful no matter what level of gardener they imagine themselves to be. That’s why offering varieties that are proven performers is a must! All-America Selections (AAS) winners and other Botanical Interests-tested, reliable varieties are essential to ensuring our customers have the best choices for home gardening.

In 1932, W. Ray Hastings, the Southern Seedsmen’s Association of Atlanta’s president, suggested that a network of trial gardens be grown and evaluated by skilled, unbiased judges in different U.S. climates. With this evaluation process, gardeners could truly know if a new cultivar was actually improved and how it might perform in their area. Industry leaders must have thought that was a great idea because from this, AAS was born, and began announcing winning varieties the very next year.

The AAS objectively trials and chooses reliable, high-performance winners. They judge varieties on yield, novelty, earliness to bloom or harvest, pest and disease tolerance, and overall performance. In more recent years, they have added that varieties need to have at least two improved qualities and cannot be genetically engineered (commonly referred to as GMO). AAS is still the only national, non-profit agency evaluating plant varieties, and we are so grateful for their work!

At Botanical Interests, we strive to inspire and educate our fellow gardeners, supplying varieties you can trust because we value your trust! Just in case your Pops didn’t give you all the tips you need, we research sowing and growing tips for easy-to-follow instructions inside each seed packet, so you can simply get growing! 

Baked Cauliflower Tots

cauliflower tots

What are cauliflower tots? The answer to your tater-tot yearnings without all the fat, carbs and starch! So good for you, simple to prepare, and a great way to sneak more vegetables onto your kids’ plates.

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups of steamed cauliflower
2 eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
 

DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Mash steamed cauliflower and mix in all other ingredients.
  • Form into tots and place on greased cookie sheet.
  • Chill in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.

Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned.

cauliflower tots

Serve with your favorite condiment (chipotle mayonnaise shown in picture).

The Value of Gardening from Seed

garden with seedsThere is nothing like harvesting supper right from the garden. One of my favorite memories is of one of my daughters’ sleepovers. I handed out some old wooden bowls to the girls and told them to go get something from the garden for dinner. They were so surprised to get food right from the back yard! The fresh flavor and high-nutrient value of just-harvested food cannot be denied, but there is also something so special about eating something that minutes before, was growing in our garden, having been tended with loving kindness, and is free of pesticides and GMOs. Seeing those young ladies use the same bowls I harvested in as a child really brought it all full circle, and that they wanted to repeat the tradition every time after, made my heart soar!

So for me, the real value in growing from seed isn’t just “dollars and cents”—it is in the quality of my food, the joy of fresh air and productive exercise, and even a bit of a spiritual connection to the earth, definitely a kind of therapy. 

Costs less. Growing from seed costs exponentially less than purchasing plants and produce. For example, a 4″ tomato plant can run you $4, while a plant sown from seed costs 35 cents or less on average. A bunch of colorful, organic carrots is typically priced around $4, while a packet of the same organic carrot seeds is about $2.99, and typically results in about 160 carrots, even after thinning!

Diverse varieties. Don’t limit your bouquets and cuisine to the mainstream! We frequently hear from new gardeners that they never even knew they liked tomatoes until they grew a variety bred for flavor, and not shelf life. Botanical Interests offers over 600 proven varieties so you can sow and grow exactly what you are looking for. 

Organic garden. The choice of organic food and goods is a lifestyle path that many have adopted. Whether you want to support organically-grown food for health concerns, reasons of environmental stewardship, or aiding pollinators, growing your own food and flowers using organic methods ensures you know exactly what goes onto and into your plants, where your food came from, how fresh and nutritious it is, and green; you simply cannot get more local! When goodness and love go in, goodness and love come out in the harvest.

Size matters. While buying big, beautiful, ready-to-transplant plants gives us instant gratification, studies show there is an ideal amount of time from germination to transplant, so when roots overgrow their little “cells” it causes stress on the plants, leading to lower yields, bolting (premature flowering), and bitter flavors. Bigger isn’t always better!  Starting from seed allows you to choose the ideal transplanting time frame for your area, which is based on your average last spring frost date. Also, ornamental plants (especially tall varieties) grown in small cell packs may have been sprayed with growth inhibitors that result in cute, stout plants, unnaturally flowering in tiny cell packs. While the look draws you in, that inhibitor lasts, meaning plants won’t be as big and beautiful in the landscape as those grown from seed.

No root disturbance. Nature direct-sows and so should we, in many cases. Many varieties perform best when direct-sown. Plants sown in place experience less stress, and because of that, mature more quickly. This is especially true of quick-to-mature crops like mesclun and cilantro, or  root crops, sunflowers, and those in the Cucurbit (cucumbers, squash) and bean and pea families to name a few.

Growing from seed is a skill anyone can learn that gives back “in spades”; the pinnacle of freshness, pride in the harvest and beauty, and natural therapy, not to mention cost savings,  plus, you get food and flowers!