Category Archives: Garden Advice

Garden Bloggers Fling 2016: Minneapolis

Two weekends ago I had the great fun of attending the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held this time in Minneapolis. Turns out Minneapolis is a haven of beautiful gardens.

Community vegetable garden in Minneapolis
Sprawling community vegetable garden in Minneapolis

I was especially impressed by how many pollinator-focused gardens I saw. All over the place, in small neighbourhood yards, along roads, there was milkweed and Echinacea and beebalm and rudbeckia, pollinator heaven.

Minneapolis pollinator garden 2I love photographing the insects themselves, and often find myself stalking them quietly, trying to get close enough for a decent shot without a fancy zoom lens. It makes me feel like a pollinator paparazza.

pink beebalm with bee

Check out the hot pink of this beebalm! It can range from soft lavender to darker purple, red, and as you see, firey pink. Beebalm, a member of the mint family, is a great source of nectar to bees, like the big bumblebee I caught feeding here, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a sun-loving, edible perennial, also good for a tea that is soothing to coughs. You can find beebalm as part of our Welcome to the Garden Pollinator Mix.

A delightful mix of beebalm shades.
A delightful mix of beebalm shades.

An annual that I saw less of than many other pollinator-attracting flowers is cleome, or spider flower. Cleome is tall, strikingly pretty, and easy to grow, reseeding itself readily. It attracts birds, bees, and butterflies, but also a critter one might not remember when thinking about pollinators – bats.


Cleome can come in various pinks, white, or a variegated mixture, like the Queen Mix we carry.

red admiral on echinacea

More pollinator chasing! This is a Red Admiral butterfly feasting on the nectar of an Echinacea blossom, of which I saw a great many all over Minneapolis. The adult butterflies actually prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, and bird droppings, but will settle for flowers. If you’re trying to attract and care for them in your garden, remember to feed the caterpillars too – they like stinging nettle, tall wild nettle, wood nettle, and false nettle.

But perhaps the coolest pollinator-related thing I saw had no flowers or pollinators in it at all. It was the not-yet-open Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were privileged to get a sneak preview of this beautiful new building which will house exhibits related to bees and other pollinators and whose primary purpose will be education about the tremendous importance of bees in our food chain and how we can be involved in supporting them. The Discover Center is scheduled to open in September with the main building and exhibits, as well as learning labs where the view through a microscope can be projected onto overhead screens for all to see and kids can participate in various bee-related learning activities. The longer range vision for the 28 acres of land around the Center, if they can get the funding, is to plant demonstration food gardens of varying scales, from backyard size to large farm size, which employ pollinator-friendly cultivation practices.

Read more about the Bee Discovery Center here.


Are you local to our neck of the woods in Louisa County, VA? We’re hosting our annual Farm Open House and Tomato Tasting on August 20th. Come tour our farm, taste more than 50 varieties of tomatoes, as well as herbs, and have a chance to buy directly from our seed picking room. Email me with an RSVP that says which date you’ll come in order to be entered in a prize drawing! gryphon AT






Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather

Lisa Dermer & Ira Wallace

Last week we finished harvesting our spring-planted cabbage and broccoli. Now it’s time to sow our first seedling bed for our fall brassicas: besides cabbage and broccoli, we’ll add cauliflower and Chinese cabbage. Later we’ll make sowings of fall carrots, beets, lettuce, rutabaga, turnips, and greens like spinach, chard, kale, and mustards.

Sowing outdoors during high heat can be tricky, but if you follow these tips you’ll find it’s worth the effort:

1. Sow in a closely-spaced nursery bed and transplant later. This lets you concentrate your efforts (keeping the soil moist and weed-free) on a small, more manageable area. (Don’t do this for crops that don’t transplant well, like carrots.)

2. Choose a location with afternoon shade. This will protect the sprouting seeds from drying out.

3. Sow under lightweight row cover or the newer temperature-neutral proteknet. Both protect from insect pests and help retain soil moisture.

4. Sow successions! Two weeks after your first sowing make another planting of the same varieties or other, earlier-maturing types.

5. Count backwards. Plan for cool-season crops to mature when cool weather hits, and use the days to maturity to plan when to sow.

6. Transplant and/or thin your plantings. Giving plants more space helps their roots access enough moisture. Young seedlings grow faster in hot weather, so plan for quick turn-arounds. Summer-sown brassicas may be ready to transplant in 4 weeks or less (they should have 3 true leaves).

Check out our Fall and Winter Quick Reference for more details about timing and what to plant for fall and winter harvest.

Order now if you haven’t already reserved your planting stock for garlic and perennial onions. Each order comes with a Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide to get you started.

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Most of you have probably already transplanted your tomato seedlings, but here at SESE we do it a bit later than most. Why? Because we want the vast array of tomatoes we grow for the tastings at our late August open house and at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival in September to be ready for picking just at the right time for those events. We’re growing more than 70 varieties for you to come and taste!

Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch
Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch

Here’s the technique we use for quick and successful transplanting of tomato seedlings:

After hardening them off for a couple weeks in our cold frames, we’re ready to take them out to the garden. For us, this means lots of careful labelling and mapping to keep all those varieties clearly separated!

Step 1: We start by spreading hay thickly over the whole area where the plants will go. This serves to keep the ground cool, hold moisture in, and choke out weeds, and in the long term it adds organic matter to improve the soil. If you try this, make sure you get hay that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You’ll also want to get hay that’s been sitting for a year or so, giving all the seeds a chance to have sprouted and died, or you’ll be growing grains alongside your tomatoes.

Step 2: Make a nest in the hay at each place where you want a tomato to go. Space them about 4 feet apart and make each nest about a foot in diameter, pushing the hay away until you can see the ground.

tomato planting nest

Step 3: Dig a hole at the bottom of the nest, toss in a double handful of compost, and mix the compost with the soil you have loosened.

removing tomato seedling from flat

Step 4: Gently pull the seedling out of its container and lay it on its side at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, all the way at one edge of the nest space. This way you can cover not just the root ball, but also a good portion of the stem with soil. You want to bury a third to a half of the plant. Tomatoes will grow roots along any portion of the stem which is underground, and this method gives you a much sturdier root structure. Be careful that the sideways portion of the stem is supported by soil so it doesn’t break.

tomato seedling planted

Step 5. Cover the root ball and stem portion with soil and press it down firmly. Good soil to root contact is essential to get the plant sucking up water and nutrients right away. Then pull the hay back into place all around the stem of the plant, tucking it in cozily. Finally, give it a good watering and watch your baby grow!

Tomato seedling tucked in

If you do come to the Heritage Harvest Festival, here are a few of our top picks to look out for:

  • Rutgers 250 This is a brand new variety which brings added durability to a flavourful old heirloom and we plan to add it to our 2017 catalog.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry This one is always a favourite at tastings, an intensely sweet wild cherry tomato originating in Mexico.
  • Garden Peach A delightful novelty tomato disguised as a peach.