Growing Tulips in Colorado


Growing Tulips in Colorful Colorado

An Abundance of Tulips Bloom on Boulder Colorado's "Pearl Street Mall"

“I guess he’d rather be in Colorado
He’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain”

John Denver

Growing Tulips in Colorado

Tulips are part of the Tulipa genus which has over 100 species of flowers.  Tulips are perennials (many tulips are planted in late fall as annuals) and are a welcome emergence of color to your garden every spring.  Tulips thrive in climates where there are long cool springs and dry summers, making them an ideal plant for gardens in Colorado.

When and Where to Plant

For tulip growers in Colorado, the best results are typically achieved by planting the bulbs in late September through October and even as late as December depending on when and where you want them to bloom.   Even though tulips grow well in both sun and shade, you will want to avoid planting tulips in a southerly exposure too early in the year, in order to avoid premature blooming.

If you plant your bulbs too early in the year, at a shallow depth, the heat from a south exposure can make the bulbs bloom in the early heat only to be killed off by an inevitable freeze.  Conversely, if you are late to plant your bulbs you can make up the time by planting your bulbs in a southerly exposure and at a more shallow depth thus allowing the bulbs a better chance of warming up and blooming.  An average depth of 4 to 8 inches should do the trick.  The best rule of thumb for the proper depth is to plant the bulb at a depth three times as deep as the height of the bulb.  For example, if the bulb is one and ½ inches tall, dig a hole 4 and ½ inches deep and place the bulb at the bottom with 3 inches of soil on top of the bulb.   You can group the bulbs together according to a similar guideline.  Spacing the bulbs at a width two times the width of the bulb allows for close grouping and spectacular blooming in the spring.  If the bulb is one inch wide space the bulb two inches from the next bulb and proceed accordingly.

For all of the procrastinators out there don’t worry, if you miss the time window of fall you can still plant late in the year.   To achieve the proper blooming schedule, plant the bulbs at a slightly more shallow depth than normal and pick a space in your yard where the sun will assure warmth throughout the proceeding season.

Planting Tulip Bulbs

Spacing and location are important factors to consider when planting your bulbs

Picking the Best Tulip Bulbs

An all important step to great tulips is picking the best Tulip bulbs.  You want to pick the biggest, firmest, fullest bulbs available.  In the case of bulb picking size does matter, and bigger is definitely better.  You do not want bulbs that are soft to the touch as they may contain mold and thus might lead to bulb rot.

Buying Tulip Bulbs

When choosing your bulbs, select bulbs that are firm and blemish free

Preparing the Soil

Once you have picked the biggest and best bulbs it is time to prepare the soil in which you have decided to plant.  The soil should be quick draining and well aerated as this is where tulips will thrive.  Dig your holes and then begin placing your bulbs.  The bulbs need to be planted with the point up and the flat part of the bulb sitting at the bottom of you hole.  You will only need to water if you feel the ground is particularly dry.

If you follow these simple steps to planting Tulips, you can expect an amazing burst of color come spring and you can enjoy your Tulips for many years!

Growing Tulips

Posted on September 9th, 2011 by Dr. Greenthumb  |  3 Comments »

Thoughts on Extending your Garden for Fall

Fall harvest!

Enjoy planting your Fall garden as you continue to enjoy your Summer harvest!

Summer’s lease hath all to short a date.

-   William Shakespeare

With the dog days of summer in full swing, it may be hard to imagine fall as being right around the corner. In fact, late July through September is the best  time to extend your home garden’ s growing season by planting a fall garden. If you have been enjoying the fruits of your labor in your garden through the spring and summer you’re in for a double treat with your fall garden. Fall gardens take less time and work because the soil has already been worked up in the spring.

Many vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower actually do better when grown during the late summer and early fall months and some such as beets, kale and swiss chard develop an improved taste after being exposed to a light frost.

To prepare your garden for a fall harvest

  • Remove any residue or debris from previous crops
  • As in spring, spade or loosen the soil
  • Add high quality organic fertilizer to replenish the nutrients used by your spring/summer crops
  • Plant seeds according to their recommendations
  • Keep the soil moist until your seeds germinate (this is especially important because you will be planting at the end of summer when soil tends to dry out quickly)

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, frost presents a threat to many garden vegetables. However, there are many crops that are not effected by frost, or even moderate freezes and will continue to produce harvests well into the late fall moths. Some of the best fall producers are :

Other, more sensitive crops such as beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash will, if protected, continue to produce crops into the fall. Some recommended and effective way of protecting these plants in your garden are to cover them with boxes, tarps, plastic or blankets. Covering the plants allows them to stay warm and decreases the chance of an early or light frost killing them.

Here are a few recipes to encourage your appreciation of your fall garden!

Sautéed Swiss Chard Ribs with Cream and Pasta Recipe


  • 1 lb swiss chard, yielding 2 cups of chopped ribs
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
  • Enough dry pasta to make about one quart of cooked pasta (use rice pasta if gluten-free is required)
  • Salt and pepper


1 Separate the ribs from the greens. Cut the ribs into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces. Blanch the ribs in lightly salted boiling water for 3 minutes.

Cooking with Swiss Chard swiss-chard-stalks-2.jpg

2 Melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Add the drained, blanched ribs and simmer for 4 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook until cream reduces by two-thirds.

3 While the cream is reducing, cook up your pasta according to the pasta’s package directions.

4 Mix creamed chard with pasta. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Arugula Salad with Beets and Goat Cheese Recipe


Salad Ingredients:

  • Beets – (boiled until a fork easily goes in it, about an hour), peeled, sliced into strips
  • Fresh arugula – rinsed, patted dry with a paper towel
  • Goat cheese – chevre
  • Walnuts – chopped

Dressing ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Lemon
  • Dry powdered mustard
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper


The amount of ingredients depends on how many people you are serving and how much salad you intend to serve them. The important thing is that this is a good blend of flavors.

The dressing for three servings of salad is 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/2 lemon, 1/4 teaspoon of powdered mustard, 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste. *Adjust to taste

Assemble the salad according to preference. A handful of arugula leaves, a few beet juliennes, some crumbled goat cheese, garnish with chopped walnuts. Dress and enjoy!

Happy Gardening!

Posted on August 8th, 2011 by admin  |  No Comments »

Seed Germinating Times and Tips

Germinating seed

Germinating seeds can vary from easy to difficult

“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.” Elizabeth Murray

The Art of the Garden

As any seasoned gardener will tell you, gardening is an art and a true labor of love. The art of the garden begins with learning about the needs of each seed. Germinating seeds is not a black and white “by the book” process. Each seed type is different and desires different conditions and levels of patience. Some, like the Radish and many Lettuces, only ask for a little water and a few days. Others, like the Hot Peppers and some Perennial flowers, need specific temperature and humidity and MONTHS to germinate!

In this post we will give you some basic tips for successful germination, information of the various seed “types” followed by a chart detailing expected germination times of specific seed varieties.

The “Must Know”s for Successful Seed Germinating

Sowing the seed

Germinating Seeds

All seeds need water and oxygen to germinate. The best soil choice (in almost all situations) is a light, loose soil that will not compact, get soggy, or crust over. Successful germination demand a continuous supply of  water and air. Cover seed with 2 – 4 times their thickness of soil, unless they require light to germinate. Sow shallowly in cold wet spring, more deeply in warm dry summer. Large seeds can be soaked overnight and planted singly. Barely cover small seeds, and sprinkle fine seed on the surface and water by misting. Plant flat seed edgewise and winged seed with wing uppermost or broken off. Sowing too thickly wastes seed and weakens the crowded seedlings, but some kinds of seed sprout best if crowded. Lightly tamp soil to insure good contact with the seed, unless heavy. Keep soil moist, not soggy, and do not allow it to dry out!
Common causes of failure of germination are:

  • Soil too heavy, wet or cold, or allowed to dry out
  • Impatience with slow seeds (some seeds need MONTHS not days to germinate!)- See germination chart below for guidance in germination times
  • Pests eating the seeds or seedlings,
  • Not giving dormant seeds the proper pretreatment

Careful attention to any growing instructions on the internet, in the catalog and on the seed packet will help insure optimal results results. Remember that seed “germination rates” also vary by seed variety. Some varieties bost 90-100% germination rates while some, more difficult varieties will only give a 20% germination rate.


Germinating Seeds

Most seeds germinate best at warm (70°F) temperatures. Plants from temperate regions, the arctic, high mountains and high deserts often germinate best at cool temperatures. Plants from winter-rain areas like California, the Mediterranean, Chile, S. Africa and parts of Australia also like cool temperatures. Warm temperatures will often speed germination of these seeds, but lower vigor, survival and germination rates. Warm desert plants and tropical seeds like warmth. Please refer to the germination chart below for guidance on germination temperatures for specific seed varieties.

Seed Types and General Germination Tips

Germinating Seeds


Grow Foxglove from Seed!

An annual plant is a plant that usually germinates, flowers, and dies in a year or season. “True annuals” will only live longer than a year if they are prevented from setting seed.

Hardy annual seeds can handle being frozen in the soil and are often planted in fall or early spring. Most self-seeding annuals would be considered hardy annual seeds. These seeds can be sown direct to the garden as early as the ground can be worked (generally, March to June). The soil should be prepared until a smooth, fine surface is obtained. An attractive annual border can be had by planting annuals in large, irregular drifts.

Examples of Hardy Annuals include: Alyssum, Dianthus, Calendula, Cornflower, Foxglove, Larkspur, Pansy, many Dianthus cultivars and Viola.


Grow Baby's Breathe from Seed

Half Hardy Annuals are killed by frost and should be sown in late spring after danger of frost. For early bloom, start early indoors & plant out after danger of frost.

Examples of Half Hardy Annuals include: Comsos, Gazania, Baby’s breath, Bells of Ireland, Blue sage, Candytuft, Celome, Forget-me-nots, Love-in-a-mist, Snow-on-the-mountain, Strawflower and Petunias


Grow Flowering Tobacco, a tender annual

Tender Annuals need warmth and shelter and, as their name implies, are the most sensitive of the annual varieties. Tender Annuals are best started in pots or flats and planted out in favored spots after the soil has warmed. Most Tender Annuals can’t handle anything colder than about 55 degrees F

Examples of Tender Annuals include: Ageratum, Balsam, Begonia, Celosia, Coleus, Amaranth, Impatiens, Marigold, Morning glory, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Petunia, Scarlet sage, Verbena, Vinca,  and Zinnia


Grow Black Hollyhock from Seed

The life cycle of biennial plants is completed over two growing seasons. During the first season they produce only leaves—usually in a rosette. Following a winter cold period, they flower in the second growing season, produce seeds, and then die. Biennials are sown like half hardy annuals or perennials in spring or fall and planted out in September and October. Biennials present the obvious disadvantage of producing only foliage the first year. One solution is to sow biennial seeds in mid-summer so that the plants will develop during the summer and fall. After exposure to the winter cold, they will develop flowers in the spring.

Examples of Biennials include: Foxglove, Hollyhock, Stocks, and Sweet williams.

Winter annuals germinate in autumn or winter, live through the winter, then bloom in winter or spring. Winter annuals such as some Californian and desert plants may be grown in summer, but are at their best sown in fall, even if grown in the greenhouse in cold winter areas. These plants grow and bloom during the cool season when most other plants are dormant or other annuals are in seed form waiting for warmer weather to germinate. Winter annuals die after flowering and setting seed. The seeds germinate in the fall or winter when the soil temperature is cool.

Winter annuals typically grow low to the ground, where they are usually sheltered from the coldest nights by snow cover, and make use of warm periods in winter for growth when the snow melts.

Examples of Winter Annuals include: Henbit, Deadnettle, Chickweed, and Winter cress.


Grow Beautiful Echinacea White Swan from Seed

Generally speaking, Perennial Plants are plants that live for two or more years. Hardy Perennials are perennial plants that are capable of surviving the coldest temperatures of a given area and Herbaceous Perennials are non-woody plants that lives for two or more years; These perennial plants can either be deciduous or evergreen.

Many  Perennials germinate readily at warm temperatures, and can be sown direct to the garden or early in the greenhouse or cold frame. If started early, they often bloom the first year. Other Perennials germinate best at cool or cold temperatures and the seedlings need cool temperatures. Many have various dormancies & need specific pretreatments.

Perennial plants can be short-lived (only a few years) or they can be long-lived, as are some woody plants like trees which can live for over 4,000 years

Examples of Perennial Plants include: Many Herbs (Some Basils, Chives, Dill , Mint etc), Asters, Echinacea, Dianthus, Raspberry, Strawberry, Apple Tree, Globe Artichoke, Hognut, Sorrel and Watercress

Germination Time

Germinating Seeds

For most seed, average germination time is given in a range of weeks.  A seed that takes 2 – 3 weeks will usually come up fairly evenly. On the other hand, one that takes 1 – 12 weeks will tend to straggle in irregularly. Time varies with temperature, so expect considerable variation. Don’t give up too soon—many who have given up and sown another seed in the pot end up with two types of plants in the same pot!

Below you will find a chart of specific germination times for many popular garden seeds:

For detailed information on HOW to germinate Pepper Seeds, click HERE

Set yourself up for success!

Other important factors in seed germination are the Soil mix and pH, Pre-treatment of seeds, optimal hours of light, and various seed germinating techniques. We will be addressing these issues in upcoming posts so stay tuned!

Knowing what to expect from your specific seeds and how to best care for them will help set you up for successful germination and save you the concern of wondering “when will my seeds germinate?!”

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” Swedish Proverb

Germinating seed

Happy Germinating!

Posted on July 6th, 2011 by Ms. Sunshine  |  3 Comments »

The Beginners Guide to Starting a Backyard Compost

A compost system is essential for your sustainable yard-Waste becomes plant food. Plants become people and animal food.

“Earth knows no desolation.
She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.”
George Meredith

So you’ve decided be a composter…

Many people find the idea of composting overwhelming. There are a lot of ins and outs involved in the process but the reality is that composting is an easy way to complete or compliment an already outstanding organic garden. Although the process does demand a commitment to patience and an adherence to what to do and what not to do, the process, once started, is virtually hassle free and has innumerable benefits associated with it. The fact is that a well maintained composting bin in your yard is like a well-oiled engine in your garage, once they’re up and running they work perfectly and without oversight.

The magic of the compost heap

The reason that compost bins continue to process material once started is that the “magic” which breaks down organic material is a natural process that occurs without human interference. Worms and microbes that ignite this process seek out the proper conditions provided by your compost bin and therefore begin a cyclical process in which both parties involved benefit.

One of the most necessary components to creating an amazing compost bin is laying the proper foundation on which the compost can thrive. Once you have supplied the essential ingredients you can take a position of “over-seer,” adding and subtracting ingredients as you deem necessary, to cultivate the perfect mixture of compost needed to suit you and your garden.

Step 1:

Selecting the best location

The location of your compost is very important- For aesthetic reasons you may want it behind a shed or bushes.

The location of your compost is very important- For aesthetic reasons you may want it behind a shed or bushes.

The first step toward beginning any compost bin is possibly the toughest step in the entire process…Where to put it? The ONLY requisite for creating a successful composting bin is the location on which the compost is placed. As discussed earlier, the method used in composting is an already occurring process found in nature so the location for the composting bin must be placed directly on the Earth. Placing the compost bin on a patio or cement section or your yard, just won’t cut it. The worms and microbes must be able to access the ingredients you are placing in your composting bin in order to start the process and so placing the bin directly on the ground is necessary. Whether this is dirt or grass is up to you, just make sure the bin is built on some sort of Earth.

Other considerations for the placement of a composting bin must also be kept in mind. Although you need not worry if the bin is placed in the sun or the shade, the next most important factors for location of your bin, include accessibility and size. Size will depend purely on how much raw material and compost you wish to process, but accessibility is going to be the key to maintaining your ongoing compost. Adding, removing and turning the materials in the compost are paramount, so pick a size that will work best with what you have. Ok, lets move on to the actual composting bin construction.

Step 2:

Constructing a compost bin

Deside on a design that fits your needs and budget. Salvaging materials and building the bin can be a family project!

Deside on a design that fits your needs and budget. Salvaging materials and building the bin can be a family project!

Compost bins are a relatively easy thing to construct and do not require that you be an expert carpenter to put together.

One simple method involves four wooden posts, old cardboard boxes and some chicken wire. Remember how much space and how much compost you will be processing and choose the height of your wooden poles based on that criteria. Space the posts out evenly and hammer them into the ground. Then wrap one layer of chicken wire around the outside of the poles, leaving one side open for accessibility. Then wrap another layer of chicken wire around the inside of the poles so that you create a space in between the two layers. Staple or nail the wire in place and then fill the gap with old cardboard boxes.

All composting bins need to be covered, but how they are covered is once again up to you. You can use a heavy tarp, an old piece of carpet, or any other construction you would like to use, as long as it is water resistant and it is heavy enough that it doesn’t blow away.

Other types of bins are easy as well but require slightly more materials to construct. Many compost bin plans and designs are available on the internet- look around and find one that will best suit your budget and needs. Another simple way around construction is to purchase plastic bins that fit together like Lego’s. Simply fit the bin pieces together, place on bare ground and add your ingredients.

Congratulations you now have  a compost bin and all you need now are ingredients!

Step 3:

Creating the compost mixture

Microbes need a balanced diet "green" and "brown" foods

Microbes need a balanced diet "green" and "brown" foods

Now that you have chosen the location for your bin, how big it’s going to be, and what it is going to be made out of, you are ready to start choosing your ingredients. Understanding what you are going to use as fuel for your composting bin determines the type of compost that the bin will yield.

All ingredients used in composting can be classified as either “Green” or “Brown”.

Greens are just what you think they are; grass, yard trimmings, and the most common, fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen.

Browns can be any fibrous organic material that is slow to rot. This can be tree prunings, dead leaves, old straw and even newspaper, cardboard and egg cartons. Basically any material that was once alive will compost so there are many choices.

Basically, the key is to gather an equal amount of Greens and Browns. Try to gather as much as possible, as it is not a bad idea to have extra of each to balance the type of compost you desire to produce. Fill the bottom of your compost bin with a good mixture of both Green and Browns and tamp it down gently. Spread it equally over the bottom and press it to the edges. Continue to add ingredients as they become available and now you can sit back and play the role of over-seer.

The mixture of greens and browns is found in virtually every composting bin and you will perfect your mixture to fit your needs. If your compost is too slimy and wet, add some dry browns to increase the overall structure of the mix. Conversely, if the mixture is too dry and slow to compost start mixing in some more greens. Pretty simple right?

Speeding up the compost process

The process can take up to 6-months to fully develop but from here on out the steps you need to take to maintain the compost bin are very minimal. Simply continue to add your ingredients in equal amounts and you should be set.

There are a number of tips for an accelerated compost bin, as well as composting with materials other than just Greens and Browns such as animal manure.

To accelerate your composting bin follow these steps:

  • Fill your compost bin with as much material is allowable. If you can, fill the bin to the top or as much as you can while still being able to cover the bin with a lid. This will speed up the process as well as make the mixture’s overall temperature hot enough to kill all weed seeds that may have snuck into your bin.
  • Turn your mixture. You can decide the frequency of turning your ingredients but the process and result is always the same. Take out the entire bin contents and mix it completely. This process of mixing will jump start the entire composting process and will make a bin that has cooled or slowed down, hot and active again. Another added benefit of turning is that you will be able to look at the mixture and determine whether you need more Greens or Browns.
  • Chop up bulky items. This is especially important for Brown material like, shrubs, cardboard and other materials that are already slow to rot. This will integrate them into the compost more thoroughly and decrease the time it will take them to compost.

Composting with animal manure

Composting with animal manure is definitely a more advanced technique and requires more work and attention to detail. There a number of manures that can be used but for now, we will use bird manure as an example. Chicken, and other avian manures, are terrific for composting for seeds, flowers and fruits because they contain a high amount of phosphorus. However, the manure is usually heavy, wet and aromatic, and typically difficult to compost, so extra care must be placed on them before adding to your garden as it may damage or kill your plants.

When you are ready to move on to composting with bird manure follow these instructions.

  • Shovel up the bird manure, including whatever Browns maybe being used as bedding, such as leaves or straw, and add it all to your compost bin.
  • Add a specific ratio of Greens and Browns as we discussed earlier. The most common ratio is 1 part Greens to 1 part Browns, but some people prefer a 2:1 mix of Browns to Greens, including the Browns that may have been included in the manure. This is done to offset the already heavy and wet bird manure.
  • Mix all ingredients together, lightly water the mixture and cover.
  • The mixture will become and stay hot for about 3 days if the mixture is created properly.
  • After 3 days, uncover and rotate the materials in the bin.
  • Repeat this process 3 times, every 3 days adding the ratio of Greens and Browns with the manure as many times as you find necessary to fill your bin
  • Let the compost sit undisturbed for 2-6 months. The time window will vary based on your mixture but should yield a compost that will be crumbly, dark and have a sweet,earthy scent, indicating that it is now ready for your garden.

Serve the Earth and your garden…ready, set compost!

Composting is part of the earth’s biological cycle of growth and decay. Now that you know the basic steps to getting started, you can start reeping the benefits of this biological process in your own backyard garden!

“However small your garden, you must provide for two of the serious gardener’s necessities, a tool shed and a compost heap.”
Anne Scott-James


Posted on June 7th, 2011 by Ms. Sunshine  |  No Comments »

Eight Great Things You Should Know About Companion Planting

Use Companion planting to combine beauty and purpose in your garden

Use Companion planting to combine beauty and purpose in your garden

An age old technique for garden success

Companion planting is an ancient gardening technique that can control pests and increase your harvest. Back in Roman times, citizens did not have the luxuries we have today, such as Garden Centers full of every conceivable spray, chemical or treatment for what ails our plants. They may have used methods described by Pliny the Elder in his many writings on natural histories, herbals and books for physicians. Or maybe they employed common folklore of the time to keep their gardens free from disease, pests and problems. Modern gardeners who employ companion planting will be using methods based on historical and contemporary folklore from various different cultures. Many plants have evolved and adapted to their particular pest problems and environments, and can be used as allies (or enemies) in your garden.

Why does it work?

One of the reasons companion planting works so well is that it creates diversity in your garden. The problem with diversity though, is that many people run out of room in their gardens. Or they don’t have a very large space to begin with, and devote all that space to the ‘food’ bearing plants. My rule is, always leave room for flowers, as this is one of the easiest ways to add diversity to any growing space. Or, use large clay pots and plant your companions in those, so they can be moved around if needed. If you’ve never tried companion planting before, a good way to start is by learning about what affects your favorite types of plants. Perhaps you love tomatoes most of all, so it would be most important to you that they thrive in your garden. Start small, and increase your companion planting as your comfort level rises. Effective companion planting, even if it is your first time, includes observation, some research and a bit of planning. These are the first three important things to know.

The Eight Things to Know:

Observe, Research and Plan

Observe your garden 1.Observe: This is where keeping garden journals will help tremendously. Inspect your plants (I do this at least weekly) and if you notice bugs, don’t just head for the sprays, take note of what they are doing. Are they eating the plant? Burrowing into the stems? Laying eggs? Are there wilted leaves, black spots or distorted growth? Take notes or even bug and leaf samples in a ziplock bag.

Tip-2-for-Companion-Planting-Research2.Research: Now that you have a problem, research your plant online or in books from your library. There are many sites like (Whatsthatbug) that can help you learn if it’s a pest infestation, or are they beneficial insects that you want to stick around? Do they attack certain plants or many types? Do they only come around in the spring, or late summer? If you are stumped after your research, any samples you’ve taken can be shown to a garden professional for their advice.


3.Plan: Once you know what the problem is, you can deal with it effectively. Make sure you take notes about what steps you take, because you may refer back to them next year at planting time. Now, down to the specifics of how to affect change in your garden using plant helpers.

Repel, Decoy, Nurse, Attract and Complement

Tip-4-for-Companion-Planting-Repel4.Repelling insects is the number one reason people try companion planting. One way to do this is with pungent smelling plants and herbs.

  • Garlic can deter Bean Beetles and Potato Bugs, and Onions can keep pests from attacking Strawberries or Tomatoes.
  • Lemon Balm, Mint and Thyme create aromatic compounds that deter many pests. These herbs are great for planting in small pots and scattering around the garden, or create borders of them along the edges of you garden as a barrier.
  • Marigolds are widely known by their power to repel all kinds of invaders. Plant these amazing flowers everywhere!

Tip-5-for-Companion-Planting-Decoy5.Decoy plants can lure pests from your edible crops. One pests have been lured by your trap, you can then remove them off the decoy plant, destroy the plant, or treat it with some other type of natural or organic control treatment.

  • Nasturtium is a great example of a decoy plant, as they attract Aphids and Flea Beetles, and also liven up the area with beautiful colors!
  • Many, many pests are attracted to yellowish colors. Whiteflies, Aphids, Cucumber Beetles, Fungus Gnats and many types of flies can be fooled by planting yellow flowers near the plants they have taken up residence in.
  • Mustard plants will attract Cabbageworms and Harlequin Bugs away from cabbage plants.

Tip-6-for-Companion-Planting-nursery6.Nursery Plants are needed for those wonderful beneficial insects that should have homes in your garden. Many of those bugs you see out there might actually be helpful. Do your research first before you start killing them off, as they may be your allies!

  • Any plant with small, tightly packed flowers (like yarrow or thyme) will likely attract beneficial insects.
  • Dill can attract spiders, lacewings and parasitic wasps, which help control caterpillers, beetles and aphids.
  • Plants from the Daisy family (cosmos, coreopsis, marigolds, sunflowers, asters, coneflowers, or dahlias) attract all kinds of beneficials, like ladybugs, assassin bugs, lacewings, hover flies and parasitic wasps. They are also an excellent source of pollen for bees!

Tip-7-for-Companion-Planting-attract7. Speaking of bees, attract them for better pollination across your entire garden. A few small to medium sized Bee Balm perennials, spread around in pots (because it will take over like mint!) will cause visiting bees to travel all over your garden for pollen. The first year I planted Bee Balm I noticed substantially more harvested Tomatoes and Peppers than any previous years had produced. Of course ANY flowers will do to attract them, but Bee Balm seems like candy to them!

  • Important: Never, ever spray bee-attracting plants with any type of pesticide. A little light spritz with the water hose in the early morning gives them something to drink while they are spending all their energy pollinating. They get thirsty!

Tip-8-for-Companion-Planting-complement8.Complementary Crops are plants that help each other by shading, supporting and most importantly, don’t compete with each other for light, room or soil nutrients. This is a very efficient space-saving method for getting the most out of your garden.

  • Tall crops like Corn, trellised Beans and Sunflowers can provide some shade for Lettuces, Spinach and Cucumbers, which can sometimes struggle in full sun. Plant tall crops on the south sides of beds or garden areas.
  • Plant lifecycles are important to know, as you can plant quick growing annuals like Lettuce, Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula, and Radishes in the same area as slower plants like Melons or Brussel Sprouts. The faster growing ones will flower, attracting bees and beneficials, while shading the slower growers. Once the slow ones have caught up, your faster plants will have already been harvested.
  • Plant bushy Broccoli with shorter Beets. Cabbage and Thyme also play quite well together. Carrots or Spinach under trellised peas makes a great use of space, too!

The list below will give you some basic tips on what works, and what does not in companion planting. I encourage you to learn more about companion planting:

Basic Companion Planting Guide for Backyard Gardens

Basic Companion Planting Guide for Backyard Gardens

Best of luck as you learn to harmonize your garden!

Companion planting can combine beauty and purpose to give you an enjoyable, healthy environment.

Companion planting can combine beauty and purpose to give you an enjoyable, healthy environment.

Posted on April 5th, 2011 by Polly Purslane  |  1 Comment »

How to Plant and Grow Pepper Seeds

Peppers have always been one of the most popular vegetables in the home garden

Peppers have always been one of the most popular vegetables in the home garden

Peppers in the Garden


There is such a great number of unique and delicious pepper seeds available that more and more home gardeners are trying their hand at growing from seed. Peppers come in a great variety of colors, shapes, sizes and flavors and are second only to Tomatoes as the most popular food in the backyard garden.


Growing peppers from seed can be a challenge but, armed with knowledge and persistence, even the most beginner gardener can successfully grow a great variety of peppers.

5 Tips for growing Peppers from Seed

  1. When to Start Pepper Seeds:

    Start seeds at least 10 and preferably 12-14 weeks (if you live in a northern climate with a shorter growing season) before the last frost date for your area.

  2. Germinating Pepper Seeds:

    Pepper seeds need moisture, a fairly warm temperature, air, and light for best germination. When choosing a soil make sure it is light and well draining (not “potting soil”) to be sure the pepper roots get get both air and water. A good choice for starting pepper seeds is a commercial peat-lite type seed starting soil directly from a newly opened bag (to be sure that the soil is weed free). Peat-based soils contain a live bacteria that helps to prevent mold growth. Chile seeds germinate at soil temperatures of 75° – 90°F (20° – 35°C) with 85°F (30°C) being ideal. You can use a heating pad or an old electric blanket combined with an pocket thermometer, Electric Soil Warming Cables or “plant propagation mats” found in nurseries and hardware stores.

  3. Soak Seeds BEFORE Planting:

    Soaking your seeds before planting will help soften the seed hull. An easy way to soak the seed is to place the seeds in a small sieve and dip it into a cup or bowl of warm water. If any seeds float, dab them with your finger to break the surface tension. Some believe that the “floaters” generally do not germinate as well and/or produce stunted plants. Allow the seeds to soak overnight. (NOTE: this is the “true” organic gardening technique. Some gardeners prefer to soak their seeds in a chemical mix. If you are looking for that technique you will have to search elsewhere as we only promote organic techniques.) After rinsing your seeds, place them on several layers of paper towels to absorb the extra moisture. You are now ready to plant your seeds!

  4. Plant Pepper Seeds:

    There are a variety of different seed starting containers commercially available. Some that are recommended specifically for starting pepper seeds are the: Gro-Packs, Styrofoam 40-cell trays from A. P. Systems, Peat Pellets or Peat Pots. Regardless of what container you choose to use you will need to tightly cover them, either with saran wrap or a fitted clear plastic dome. Covering after watering will create a “hothouse” environment- ideal for pepper seed germination! The seeds are set on the surface of the soil (the soil should be MOIST not too wet), one per cell and sprinkled with another light coat of potting medium, then given a light mist of water from a hand pump sprayer. Cover tray with the saran wrap or clear plastic dome and set on heating mat/blanket or other warm place like on top of your refrigerator.
    Do not set a domed flat in direct sun! It can cook the seeds.
    Remove the dome once to every other day to let fresh air get to the seeds and mist spray the soil if needed. Some chile seeds take a long time to germinate (70-90 days or more) , but they should do so using these instructions. So don’t give up! Once the seedlings are up, remove the plastic dome cover, but do not let the soil dry out. If the seedlings are allowed to wilt, they may not die, but their growth will be set back.

  5. Transplant Pepper Seedlings:

    Seedlings should be transplanted to a 3 or 4 inch pot as soon as the first true leaves are fully unfolded, and the second pair of true leaves is just beginning to develop. About two weeks before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden you should begin “hardening off” (exposing the seedling to more sunlight and wind). No matter what type of pepper you grow, they like the weather hot. Transplant pepper seedlings outdoors after the last chance of frost has past. If the weather is still cool, delay transplanting a few days, and keep them in a coldframe, indoors or next to the house.
    Peppers should be spaced 18-24 inches apart, in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. This spacing may vary somewhat by variety.
    Pepper plants prefer moist soil. Avoid wet soil. Water regularly in the hot, dry summer months.
    Add mulch around the peppers to keep down weeds, and to retain moisture.


Watch them grow and enjoy!

When your Peppers are ripe and ready to be indulged, click here to check out our delicious recipes for cooking with even the hottest peppers!!

Growing peppers from seed

Peppers can be picked as soon as they reach a size which is edible.

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Ms. Sunshine  |  18 Comments »

How to Welcome the GOOD Bugs to your Garden

Make friends with the "Good Bugs" in your garden!

Make friends with the "Good Bugs" in your garden!

The “good bugs” of the garden, are called Beneficial Insects. Beneficial Insects are those that feed on garden pests like aphids (suck the sap out of plants, weakening the plant and causing the spread of viruses) and slugs (damage leaved crops and vulnerable seedlings). Beneficial Insects are also those that help with the pollination of garden crops.

Some of the Good Bugs That Should be Welcome In Your Garden:

  • Parasitoid wasps – feed on Aphids, Caterpillars and Grubs
  • Lacewing larvae – feed on Aphids
  • Ladybug larvae – feed on Aphids
  • Ground beetles – feed on ground-dwelling pests
  • Hover flies, and Robber flies – feed on many insects, including Leafhoppers and Caterpillars
  • Nematodes – kill many garden insects including, including Grubs and Japanese Beetles.
  • Bumble and Honey Bee – helps with pollination
  • Dragon Fly -eat Mosquitoes, Aphids and other pest bugs
  • Spiders – the most important predators on insects, killing more than all other predators combined

To attract Good Bugs to your garden, you will need to supply them with reliable food sources and shelter.
Insects have different feeding requirements during the various stages of their development, so a diversity of plants is essential to attracting them. Although beneficial insects do feast on pest insects, there may be certain points in their life cycles when many beneficial insects need to sip flower nectar or pollen to survive. To attract these insects to your garden, you will need to provide host plants and plants for shelter.
When you are planning your garden, choose a variety of plants that will bloom throughout the year to attract the Good Bugs!

Here are some things you can do to support your Good Bug population:

  • Plant nectar-producing flowers to increase the food supply. Plants in the cabbage, carrot and sunflower family are especially attractive to the Good Bugs

    Bumble Bees are great for your Garden.

    Provide Native flowers for these great Pollinators to feed on.

  • Plant tiny flowers for tiny wasps, like Coriander, Queen Anne’s Lace, fennel, angelica, dill, clovers, yarrow, and rue
  • Plant composite flowers (black eyed susan, daisy and chamomile) and mints (spearmint, peppermint, or catnip) to attract predatory wasps, hover flies, and robber flies
  • Plant low growing plants as cover for ground beetles (thyme, rosemary, or mint)
    Larvae and adults feed on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites as well as insect eggs.

    Larvae and adults feed on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites as well as insect eggs.

  • Control ants which may hinder the Good Bug’s ability to control aphids
  • Do NOT use broad-spectrum, contact insecticides. These will only provide temporary control and will kill more natural predators( Good Bugs) than pests (Bad Bugs). In the long run, this will actually benefit the growth of the pest (Bad Bugs) populations.
  • Cover bare dirt in your garden with dead leaves or grass clippings mulch thick enough to shade the soil surface. This will provide shelter for spiders, which are the number one predator on insects.
    Spiders feed on a broad variety of pest insects year-round.

    Spiders feed on a broad variety of pest insects year-round.

  • Bring in the Birds! – Birds are also very helpful with controlling Bad Bugs. Any trees, shrubs or plants with berries will attract birds. And, no garden is complete without a birdhouse!

What about the Slugs?

Slugs are one of the most damaging pests known to the garden. A family of slugs can devastate a vegetable crop in a matter of days. Slugs will eat any kind of vegetation but prefer tender leaves. Slugs will also eat vegetables and fruits, and cause very unsightly damage to the crops.
Attracting slug predators to your garden can help to control or avoid a slug population. Toads, snakes, ducks, chickens and raccoons are some of the most common predators of slugs.

As you continue to learn to work with the Good Bugs and the inner working of your garden you will see the benefits and all of the “give and take” at work at your feet.

Give and Take…
For to the bee a flower is a fountain if life
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love
And to both, bee and flower,
the giving and the receiving is a need and an ecstasy.
- Kahlil Gibran


Posted on December 13th, 2009 by Ms. Sunshine  |  3 Comments »

Gardening by the Moon

A moon garden brings magic to your garden!

A moon garden brings magic to your garden!

“The moon was but a chin of gold, a night or two ago, and now she turns her perfect face, upon the world below.”

(Emily Dickenson)

“When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator.”

(Mahatma Gandhi)

When we think of gardening, most of us think of the warm sun overhead, we have forgotten the power and mystery of our gardens at night!

Planting a Moon Garden is a great way to make the most of your garden. Your Moon Garden will allow you the pleasure of enjoying the enchantment provided by the moonlight and the flowers that love it!

What is a Moon Garden?
A Moon Garden is a garden that is planted with the intention of being most beautiful at night…by the light of the moon. The selected plants are frequently white and many, like the Flowering Tobacco, bloom at dusk and after sunset. The plants in a Moon Garden have unique scents that will attract night pollinators like moths and bats. The white color of the flowers and the green foliage will often make a moon garden appear to float in the night air. Some Moon Garden flowers, like the Star Flowers,  are selected for their unique shapes that reflect the stars of the night sky.

When planning a spot for your Moon Garden, be sure to note where the moonlight peaks in your yard. It is also important to make sure you have a nice spot to sit, to allow your eyes to adjust to the night so you can fully enjoy the splendor of the colors and shapes of the post-sun enchanted garden!

What are the Effects of the Moon on Gardening?
It has long been thought that the moon , its phases and the signs of the zodiac all have a strong influence on when certain crops should  be planted or harvested. In general, the lore says that above ground crops should be planted during the waxing moon (between new and full) and below ground crops should be planted during the waning moon (between full and new).

Folklore uses the moon phases as a crop planting guide

Folklore uses the moon phases as a crop planting guide

In addition to the moon’s phases, some believe it is also important to be aware of which zodiac sign the moon is occupying. Certain signs are thought to be better for specific tasks than other. For example,when the moon is in Gemini, its a good day for weeding or mowing and when the moon is in Libra, it’s a great day to plant flowers!

A summary of the signs of the zodiac and their effect on your work in your garden

A summary of the signs of the zodiac and their effect on your work in your garden

Even when the moon is in the right phase for planting, check the moon sign, (zodiac) to make sure the sign for that day is fruitful. For example, if you plant when the moon is in the right phase but the moon sign is in the Bowels, you will get garden plants that grow and bloom vigorously, but will produce little fruit. For a complete day to day guide to the moon and the zodiac, visit a Farmer’s Almanac Guide.

Once you fall in love with the night, your fondest gardening will not only occur with the sun in your hair, but also with the moonbeams at your feet.

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”

(Vincent Van Gogh)


Posted on November 23rd, 2009 by Ms. Sunshine  |  No Comments »

The Top 5 US First Lady Gardeners

Victory Garden History

The White House Victory Garden has a long and interesting story.

Contrary to popular belief, The term “Victory Garden” did not actually originate in the United States. The term can be traced back to the 1600s in England when a book called The Victory Garden by Richard Gardner was produced. During the time The Victory Garden was released, England was anticipating a potential attack by Spain. According to the book, the purpose of the new idea of a “Victory Garden” was to prepare cities to be able to provide for their residents in case of such an attack.

300 years later and  again, during a time of war and societal unrest, the term “Victory Garden” found its way to the US.

And so, the United States Victory garden began and, along with it, a great history of First Ladies who, for a variety of reasons, fought for the value they knew existed in the garden’s existence.

Here is my Top 5 list of First Ladies who have had the most profound impact on the White House Victory garden and, as a result, on community and home gardening in the US.

5. Patricia Nixon

Patricia Nixon organized garden tours of the White House.

Patricia Nixon organized garden tours of the White House.

Patricia Nixon was the wife of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States.
Patricia Nixon started holding semi-annual (Spring and Fall) White House garden tours in 1973.
First Lady Nixon’s goal was to find a way to share the history and beauty of the White House gardens with the general American public.
The White House garden tours continue to be very popular.

4. Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson was the wife of President Woodrow Wilson the 28th US president.
President and First Lady Wilson were in the White House during WWI, a time when the country was trying to conserve resources. The Wilson’s brought in a flock of sheep to live on the White House lawn and to serve to mow and fertilize the First Lawn.
The Wilson’s efforts served as a powerful example of a creative way to conserve human, financial and natural resources.

3. Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama the 44th Us President, broke ground for the revival of the White House Victory Garden (gone since 1954) on March 20th 2009.
By October of the same year, the new White House Victory Garden produced 740 pounds of food. First Lady Obama reports to have spent only $180 on the planting of the garden!
The Garden’s crops include arugula, leaf lettuces, spinach, chard, collards, kale, tomatoes,
berries and herbs like basil, anise, hyssop and cilantro.
Some of the White House produce is used to prepare meals at the White House and some has been donated to Miriam’s Kitchen. Miriam’s kitchen is a Washington DC based foundation that prepares healthy meals for and feeds homeless men and woman in need.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd US president.
In 1943, during WWII, First Lady Roosevelt planted a large Garden on the White House lawn. The US Dept of Agriculture objected to the White House Garden but, seeing the potential for the garden to allow her to “lead by example”, Eleanor went forward with her plans.
By the end of WWII, Victory Gardens (behind private homes, in school yards, vacant urban lots, etc.) were producing 40% of the nations produce.
First Lady Roosevelt’s effort to “lead by example” resulted in a national effort that helped to conserve food and numerous natural resources, increase American’s consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. In terms of physical health, this time period is considered to be one of the healthiest times for American’s.
The Roosevelt’s garden thrived until 1954 when President Dwight Eisenhower replaced it with a putting green on the White House lawn.

1. Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams who was the second US president and mother of John Quincy Adams who was the sixth.
President Adams, First Lady Adams and their children were the first presidential family to live at the White House.
Abigail and the First Family planted the first “First Vegetables” at the White House in 1800.
First Lady Adams and President Adams did not have the opportunity to reap the benefits of their garden however, when Adams was voted out of office in 1801.
When Abigail’s son took over as the sixth president, he carried on the family tradition in the White House Garden and planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables  to feed his own family.

The Garden Movement!

The history of the White House Victory Garden and the women who have championed it tells an interesting piece of our country’s story.
The renewed and growing interest in locally grown, organic and sustainable farming and agriculture combined with general concerns over food safety and chemical additives, is leading us toward another Victory Garden revival.
The “Victory Garden” movement has evolved into the “Freedom Garden”, “Peace Garden”, “Liberty Garden” and “Backyard Garden” movements.
Since the beginning, the “Victory Garden” has always represented one thing, self sufficiency sustainability and responsibility.
Now is a great time to start planning your own Backyard, Victory, Peace, Liberty, Freedom Garden!

Posted on November 2nd, 2009 by Ms. Sunshine  |  25 Comments »

How to plant a Lasagna Garden

Lasagna Garden

The “Lasagna Garden” has nothing to do with what you grow in your garden and everything to do with what you grow your garden IN!

Lasagna Garden

“Lasagna Gardening” (also known as sheet composting) is the symbolic name given to a no-dig, no-till organic method of garden soil preparation that results in wonderfully rich, fluffy soil.

“Lasagna gardening” is a method of building your garden’s soil by adding layers of organic materials (in the same way you layer a lasagna) that will “cook down” over time and result in wonderful soil for your spring planting seeds and plants.

Pretty much anything you want to grow will thrive in a Lasagna Garden. Here is a list of vegetables that do especially well in this growing environment:

You can make your Lasagna Garden at any time of year but, fall is the ideal time for starting the Lasagna. Starting in fall gives your Lasagna (aka…your garden) plenty of time over the winter to “cook” (aka…break down) so, in the spring, it will be ready for planting! Fall is also ideal because there is an abundance of leaves, yard clippings and organic waste and the increase in moisture (rain and snow) will encourage the organics you put in your garden to break down more quickly.

If you decide to make your Lasagna Garden in the spring or summer, you will just need to increase the amount of soil/peat/topsoil you add so that the garden will need to do less “cooking” and will be ready for planting.

Ingredients you will need for your “Lasagna Garden”:
Really, anything you would normally put into a compost pile, is perfect for your Lasagna Garden. Here are some suggestions:

  • Leaves and Grass Clippings
  • Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea leaves and tea bags
  • Weeds (if they haven’t gone to seed)
  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Seaweed
  • Peat moss
  • Pine needles
  • Spent blooms, trimmings from the garden
  • Newspaper and/or cardboard
    The practice of using cardboard or newspapers in the garden has been around for a long time; here’s an account from Mr. S. Powers, who wrote to The Cultivator and Country Gentleman in March of 1884:
    “The Spring Campaign against Insects:
    If the farmer was provident enough to tie up young fruit trees last fall with newspapers, as a protection against rabbits (and it is a sufficient protection if carefully done), he ought, as soon as the danger from this source is passed, to remove the wrappings. If they are left on, they form a convenient refuge for aphides or lice, and soon the bark will be wounded and disfigured.”

Even though the use of newspapers has been around for at least 200 years, it still remains a mysterious practice to most backyard gardeners.

If you’ve ever baked (or eaten) lasagna, you know it is layered. A noodle layer followed by alternating layers of browns, greens whites and reds. Well, Lasagna gardening follows the same basic recipe (minus the red layer!).

  • Your first layer, the “noodle” layer, will be either newspaper or cardboard.
    NOTE: If you are using cardboard, be sure to remove any packing tape. If you are using newspaper, be sure to separate out any of the glossy pages and do not use magazines.

    • Cover your entire planned garden area with a layer of brown corrugated cardboard OR 4-6 layers of wet newspaper, overlapping the edges by few inches to keep weeds at bay. One of the great benefits of this technique is that you DO NOT have to prepare the ground under the noodle layer. You do not have to remove grass, sod, rocks, turf, weeds….nothing. Just lay the noodle (cardboard/newspaper) right on top of anything!
    • Before starting your second layer, be sure to really drench this first layer. This will help to keep everything in place and start the decomposition process.
    • The dark moist environment this layer provides will attract earthworms whom are a welcome guest in any vegetable garden environment!
  • Your “browns” layer will be made up of organic browns such as fall leaves, shredded newspaper, peat, and pine needles.
  • Your “green” layer will be made up of organic greens such as vegetable scraps, garden trimmings, and grass clippings.
  • Lasagna-Garden-Graphic-Image

    Lasagna Gardening gets it’s name from layering, layering layering!

  • The general rule of thumb for a Lasagna Garden in that you want your “brown” layers to be about twice as deep as your “green” layers. However, you do not need to be exact about this, just keep laying down brown and green layers until you have a bed that is about two feet tall. When you’re done layering wet the entire bed until it is moist all the way through. Then…wait! The bed height will shrink dramatically as the layers decompose.

If you made your Lasagna Garden in the spring or summer, you can start planting right away. If you make your Lasagna in the fall, let it cook over the winter and your soil will be ready for planting in the spring.

When you decide to start planting, just dig into the soil as you would with any garden. You will notice your soil is loose and easy to work with. If you used cardboard as your noodle layer, you may need to puncture a hole in it where you want to plant. If you used newspaper, the shovel will most likely go right through it.

In the long run, you will notice many advatages from this very old gardening technique:

  • Fewer weeds, thanks to the newspaper suppressing them from below and the mulch covering the soil from above.
  • Better water retention, due to the fact that compost (which is what you made by layering all of those materials) holds water better than regular garden soil, especially if your native soil is sandy or deficient in organic matter.
  • Less need for fertilizer, because you planted your garden in almost pure compost, which is very nutrient-rich.
  • Soil that is easy to work: crumbly, loose, and fluffy.
  • Lasagna gardening is fantastic for the environment

The maintenance of your Lasagna Garden is simple- just add mulch (grass clippings, bark, leaves, straw) to the top of the bed. Weed and water as necessary and, of course, plant and harvest anything that brings you health and joy!


Happy Lasagna Gardening :)

Posted on October 19th, 2009 by Ms. Sunshine  |  7 Comments »

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