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!

Summer Fun in the Trial Garden

Every year we go to garden shows where we “ooh” and “aah” at the gorgeous, the unusual, and the unique, and yearn for a big enough space to grow them all. Alas, we must choose only those that most capture our attention, and bring back the seed with growing anticipation. Then, when the time is right, we sow them in our trial gardens, to see for ourselves how they perform.

Our seed buyer, Alex, has a rich history of market farming, so he is our guy for our on-site trial garden. He “fixes” the soil, sows the seeds, and tends the plot, with a little help from other staff members. We all provide encouragement, of course! And there is no shortage of volunteers to test out that new tomato, or corn, or pepper.

We’re growing some of our new varieties this year to make sure we deliver the high-quality product we promise. These can be found in our 2017 catalog, or on our website:

Hollyhock Outhouse Several of us couldn’t run fast enough for the seed after seeing this glorious display of old-fashioned hollyhocks.

Pea Sugar Magnolia What a beautiful color in a snap pea, and the blossoms are equally as appealing.

Sunflower Schock O Lat Shockingly beautiful, isn’t it? And sunflowers are so easy to grow, everyone should!

This summer we are also trialing some special things that look very promising for a future season. Color and form are catching our attention in a mix of burgundy and lime green celosia with red and golden plumes bursting forth; a small, adorable zinnia with quite bold colors; gomphrena in hot pink and creamy white; an interesting grass that is reminiscent of fireworks; and a stunning sweet corn that has striking, deep burgundy stems, tassels and husks, with contrasting white kernels!

Stay tuned!

 

Hollyhock Dolls

Hollyhock dolls have been enchanting folks for generations. They make delightful table decorations and are fun for the whole family to make. This old-fashioned craft is easy, requiring only blooms from a hollyhock plant and some toothpicks! Here’s how to create a hollyhock doll.

Supplies

Instructions

Break off an open bloom including the green sepal, and invert it for the skirt. You can use multiple blooms for a layered effect.

Push a toothpick horizontally through the sepal to form arms.

For the face, push a toothpick vertically through the middle of a green (unripened) seed pod, with the seedpod in the middle of the toothpick; then attach to body by pushing it down through the middle of the sepal.

For the hair/hat, attach a small, barely opened bloom to the toothpick sticking up past the face.

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

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.

 

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!