Featured Plant Profile: Mexican Chia

We’re busy developing and expanding our Phytotheca Plant Library, and in doing so we’ve learned a TON about edible and medicinal plants. We’ve also learned how overwhelming all of the choices and knowledge can get when planning your garden, menu, or next indoor growing adventure. So we will be featuring different plants here in our blog to ensure you don’t miss a thing!

In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone. As tiny as those seeds are, they’re super packed with omega-3s, omega-6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and antioxidants. If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.

Right now, Chia has become kind of an important plant in my life. I first heard of it as a food when reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, back in 2010 or so. I’ve not tried to grow it yet, though with all the information I found while researching Mexican Chia, I am now a lot closer to realizing that potential!

One important thing to know about this annual mint family plant is that, because of its adaptation to the tropical conditions of its native range in Mexico, most types only start to flower and make their nutritious seeds in the fall, once day lengths are beginning to shorten. Unfortunately for us temperate climate growers, this coincides with the start of fall frost season, which will damage or kill the plant before the seeds are ready! Bummer. Luckily, breeders in Kentucky are working on some new strains which will have earlier blooming times, while days are still long.[1] These advances will help to bring cultivation of this food further north, which is great as it gains popularity in the United States and other western food markets. Demand for this seed is shooting through the roof, while drought conditions in the current growing areas of Central and South America could produce strains on the market.[2]

Salvia hispanica chia seedsAnother good option to consider is indoor or greenhouse growing if you’re trying to get seeds. If you’re able to protect plants from the cool weather, they should flower and develop seeds in the fall in any climate. As another option, you can grow sprouts or microgreens. Use a moistened well-draining soilless medium like coco coir and scatter seeds on the surface. Water regularly once germination has begun and grow under good lighting to keep these baby plants nice and green. Harvest either once seed leaves have emerged and shed the seed husk, or after the first set of true leaves have appeared, giving them enough light to grow green leaves and prevent leggy, weak stems. Eat your bounty as soon as you can, since they don’t store well.

A surprisingly large number of people have been curious about what, exactly, it is that I’m drinking, sparking good conversations about food and healthy eating. I recommend you go get some chia seeds today and try a new dietary experiment.

My favorite way to eat the seeds is to mix them in with water, lime juice, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I will add a pinch of ground cayenne pepper as well. This makes a goopy, gelatinous mixture that is delicious to drink as breakfast or as a snack throughout the day. I’ve been carrying a jar of it around during my outdoor adventures rock climbing or hiking, and it really does offer a boost of energy that keeps me from crashing during a long day of demanding physical activity. They also keep your body hydrated by holding something like 9–12 times their original weight in water. Obviously this is very important in the dry Colorado climate.

STORE[icon name=”book” class=””] Be sure to keep checking back in for more in our  to quickly guide you through our favorites of the coolest, easiest-to-grow, or most interesting plant varieties we’ll be hand selecting for you.


University of Kentucky Center for Crop Diversity – Chia
Chia boom: With 239% growth, chia category set to hit $1 bn by 2020. By Stephen Daniells, 22-Nov-2013

Planning Your Summer Garden

It’s finally here folks! Spring has officially SPRUNG and summer is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start planning those gardens!

I’ve always loved summer more than any other season. To me, summer means beaches, playing outdoors, sunshine and perhaps best of all, FRESH VEGGIES!! Whether you participate in a local CSA, frequent the farmers market or plant your own garden, summer is a time to be outdoors and to revel in the magic that is the earth’s ability to make food grow. And while we fully encourage you to support your local farmers, we also believe that the best way to get fresh food into your kitchen is to grow it yourself! True, coaxing plants out of the ground is not always an easy task but the benefits are absolutely worth the efforts and we at CC Grow are here to help you every step of the way. So without further ado, lets get you gardening with our first edition in our Summer Garden Series.

Planning Your Summer Garden

Step 1: Setting an Intention


Gardens are not just a resource for food. In many ways they are an art form, a means of expression, a place to escape and a way to reconnect with ourselves as well as the earth. As such, they should be planned with consciousness, care and an idea of what we want to get out of them. This is why a great first question to ask yourself is, what do I want from my garden?

Are you looking to have a garden filled with as many options of vegetables as the supermarket, or are you feeling like you may only have time for one or two favorites? Do you want to try to plant something new and exotic, or are you feeding picky eaters? Is the appearance of your garden as important as it’s functionality?

These are the types of questions whose answers will help you narrow down your garden goals and set priorities. Then when it comes to questions of space and time, you can make appropriate decisions that will help you set yourself up for success.


Step 2: Gauging the Essentials


Even the most “green” gardener knows that soil, water and sunlight are essential when trying to get things to grow, so this is a great place to start when planning your garden.


Let there be Light!

Yes, lighting will change slightly with the seasons but you definitely want an idea of where you fall on the sunlight spectrum before you start digging into the dirt.

Take a few days to figure out where you are planning on putting your garden and watch the lighting. Does your area have full sunshine or are there obstructions? How long does that area get light? Many types of summer vegetables need at least 6 hours of light per day so try to choose an area that meets this requirement. If this is not possible, never fear! There are plenty of plants that actually prefer shade or partial shade but this is important to know ahead of planting time.

If you are completely lacking consistent sunlight, planting in containers is a great option as these can be moved to different areas to catch some rays. Keep in mind however that you don’t want to be lugging your pots around all day (especially heavy ones!) so planting shade-friendly plants will likely still be your best option.


Water, Water Everywhere or Not a Drop to Spare?

 Spring blogDepending on where you live, you can generally make a good guess as to how much natural precipitation you are going to get during the summer.

Here in Colorado for example, we experience long periods without any rainfall so a good gardener will keep in mind that a lot of irrigation will need to be done by hand. If you’re planning a large garden, check out where your spigots are and if you’ll be able to set up a sprinkler or drip irrigation system. A drip system is one that utilizes tubes with tiny holes pre-punched into the surface. These tubes can be hooked up to a barbed fitting that will attach to your spigot. The tubes are then laid throughout the garden where they will—you guessed it—drip, providing a slow but constant source of water for your plants.

If an outdoor water source isn’t available, consider scaling down your garden as filling your watering can 50 times can be a real pain, or plant in containers that can be brought inside and watered in the kitchen sink.


Lets Get Dirty: Testing your soil quality

If you are planting your summer garden in containers or raised beds, you spring blogwill have the freedom to hand pick the soil that you are going to be working with. In order to make the most accurate choices, you will need to select your plants first, so feel free to skip to Step 3.

If you are planning on planting directly in the ground however, you will first need to figure out your dirt quality and characteristics.The first thing you want to know about your soil is what kind of texture it has. Although you can send away a sample of your soil to local labs or extensions for testing, we recommend a simple hand and ribboning test.

The Hand Test: Grab a handful of soil (go on, don’t be shy!) and remove any rocks or bits of debris and break up large clods. Moisten the soil in your hand (an old college professor of mine used to swear that spit is best but we’re sure tap water works great too!) and squeeze it into a little ball. As you are working your dirt into a ball, try to feel what’s present in the soil. Does it feel grainy or smooth? Does it work into a ball easily or is it falling apart? Keep these qualities in mind as it will be important in the next step of the process.

Ribboning: After a minute or two of forming your soil into a ball, you are going to start “ribboning” it. To ribbon your dirt, push the ball with your thumb against your forefinger so it starts to flatten out. It will break off under it’s own weight, and these broken pieces are the bits you will need in order to figure out your soil content. Once you have a couple pieces of “ribbon”, use the below chart from the Colorado State Extension Service to identify your soil texture.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.01.07 AM

If your soil is overly sandy or very heavy in clay you will have to add amendments before planting or plant in raised beds. For more information on making raised beds and improving soil quality check out our next installment in our Summer Garden Series, “Prepping for Your Summer Garden”.

Now that you know the texture of your soil, you may want to test the pH levels (i.e. alkaline versus acidity). Most plants will still grow with a non-ideal pH but they will not produce to the best of their ability if the soil is too acidic or too alkaline. Home tests can give you a general indication of pH but they are not always very accurate. So if you are concerned about your pH levels, we recommend sending a sample to your local extension service. If you don’t want to deal with sending out a sample, you can also always do a quick search for what the common soil pH found in your area is to get an idea of what to expect in your region.


Step 3: Selecting Your Plants and Making a Plan

Spring Blog 2

Figuring out which plants will grow best in your space based on soil, light and water can be a REAL pain. Lucky for you we at CC Grow have taken out the legwork by creating our plant Phytotheca. Simply enter your lighting, water and soil requirements using the drop down tabs and let the endless planting possibilities come to you! As you are selecting your plants, take special note of the required spacing and suggested companion plants and jot these down for later.

Next is getting an idea of the size of your space. Grab a measuring tape and a friend and walk your garden’s length and width, taking measurements as you go. On a piece of scrap paper or graphing paper draw out your garden roughly to scale and break it down using a key of 1 inch= 1 foot as has been done below for this sample 4’ x 10’ garden.

Large Screen Shot
C = Cabbage, variety Copenhagen Market (1 plant per 1.5 square feet; grows well with lettuce);
K = Kale, variety Dwarf Blue (1 plant per square foot; grows well with Lettuce)
L = Lettuce, variety Black Seeded Simpson (9 plants per square foot; grows well with beets and kale)
B = Beets, variety Aviv Dark Red (4-9 plants per square foot; grows well with lettuce and cabbage)

Next you will want to start mapping out which plants will go where. First look at the spacing requirement for that plant to figure out how many you can fit into each row. In the above sample, we have selected cabbage, kale, lettuce and beets for our garden. Mark these into your map as has been done above, using the spacing requirements you wrote down earlier. Note that cabbage requires a slightly larger space than the 1’ squares allow so we have left the next square over open to accommodate this plant. You should also consider which plants grow well (or not well) together. In the above example, as lettuce seems to grow well with everything, we have decided to place that in the middle. As cabbage needs a bit more space, we chose to move those to an outside row in case they needed a little more room to sprawl. Use your judgment here if everything you are planting plays well with others! It’s your garden and should be designed to your liking so go wild!

If you are planting in containers the same rules still apply but the mapping will be much easier. Measure your containers and decide what plants will fit in that space. Keep in mind with container growing that there is not an infinite amount of space for your plants’ roots to grow so make sure you are checking out the “Sow Indoors” section within the plant profiles before selecting your crops. If a plant is not recommended for sowing indoors, it will likely not be the best choice for container growing whether indoors or out.


You’ve completed phase 1! Can you believe it?! Now, you’re not done yet, but within the next couple of weeks, you can start prepping your space and you will be well on your way to fresh, garden-grown veggies. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for help with the next phase of development in the second edition of the Summer Garden Series, Prepping Your Summer Garden. This edition will address how to prepare your soil and beds, start your seedlings and anticipate what you will need to get growing!

[icon name=”bug” class=””]  Happy Gardening!  [icon name=”bug” class=””]

Bountiful Bees and Happy Hives: How to get started with backyard beekeeping

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.”

 –Elizabeth Lawrence, Through the Garden Gate

If you’ve been following the news at all within the past couple years, there is a good chance you have read something about honeybees and a phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). If you haven’t, this mysterious epidemic is essentially when a colony of worker bees simply disappears without a trace, abandoning the queen and her young and ultimately causing the death of the hive. And this doesn’t just happen to one or two hives. In fact, some commercial operations have reported losing upwards of 90% of their active hives, all at once, in just a few short months. Unfortunately, the cause of CCD is still unknown, but the fact remains that the population of honeybees has been declining over the years, and this is not just sad, it’s terrifying.

This is because, as most of us know, bees aren’t only responsible for pollinating pretty flowers. In fact, as of January of this year, the FDA estimated that bees are responsible for upwards of 15 billion dollars worth of commercial crop production in the U.S. 15 billion dollars. That’s no small portion of our food supply. And as the honeybee population continues to suffer high losses, the global population—and our need for food—continues to grow exponentially, creating a recipe for disaster.

But what can be done? As you may have gathered at this point, we at CC Grow don’t believe that the food system should lie in the hands of large industry anyhow, and that includes protecting and encouraging the health of the honeybees. Starting a hive in an urban setting may seem like it would be something that should only be taken on by die-hard apiarists, but this is simply not the case! If you believe in creating community-based gardens of Eden, supporting local agriculture, or are just looking for a new hobby, read on! And let us provide you with some information, tips, and inspiration on how you can spread the honey bee love in your own community.

Step 1: The most important thing to consider before installing an urban beehive is, is this allowed?

 Different cities will have different rules for keeping hives in urban areas, so be sure you are aware of your local rules and regulations. Here in Denver, for example, households can have up to two hives as long as they are kept in the rear 1/3 of the property and are behind a barrier of at least 6 feet (for more information on beekeeping in the Denver area, click here).

Knowing these types of details regarding fencing, distance from neighbors, etc. can be the difference between being a happy hive-owner and having to pay a hefty fine, so make sure you familiarize yourself with your local laws before you do anything else.

Step 2: The next question you should ask yourself is, do I have the necessary space available?

Many types of honeybees are extremely gentle, but can still deliver a painful sting if irritated. To avoid collisions between stingers and skin, hives should be placed in locations that are easy to access but are out of the way of areas with a lot of foot traffic. If you are lucky enough to have a yard for your hive, consider installing a fence or planting a tall shrubbery as this will force your bees to fly higher on their way to and from the hive.

Finding a spot with adequate protection from the elements and access to water can also make a big difference in raising a healthy hive. If you don’t live near a creek or pond, a birdbath or small tub of water placed about 20 feet from the hive should provide bees with adequate amounts of liquid. If placing your hive in an area with little protection from the elements, plants or even a piece of fabric on the sides and/or above your hive can protect it from high winds and extreme heat. Hives do need some access to sun, however, so don’t keep your bees completely in the dark!

Finally, it is a good idea to consider with whom you are sharing your space before installing a hive. Speaking to roommates, landlords, and/or neighbors can help you avoid future confrontation and difficulties if any of your co-habitators happen to not be down with these backyard fuzzy buzzers.

Step 3: You’ve checked in with your neighbors, know the local regulations, and are having some serious honey cravings. So now what?

 Now we finally get to the good stuff and you get to start setting up your bees!

 Picking a Hive

Before ordering your bees, make sure you have an adequate home for them. Hives can either be built or bought depending on your time availability and budget. If you are looking to harvest honey and are fairly new to beekeeping, we suggest the tried and true langstroth hive (see image below) or a top bar hive.

Keep in mind that hives come in all shapes and sizes however, so if you are unsure of what hive you need to suit your needs, check out this great resource from beethinking.com to help you find the hive that is best for you.

 Selecting Bees

Next up is selecting what kind of bees you want to keep. While there are many options for beginner beekeepers, Russian and Italian bees are a great place to start as they tend to be more docile breeds. Russian bees in particular are a good option as, in addition to being calmer than other varieties, they are also resistant to many common pests. Depending on where you live, however, some bees may be better suited than others, so don’t be shy about asking around for suggestions.

 Receiving Your Bees

The two options for purchasing your bees are to either buy a nucleus (nuc) colony or purchase your bees as a package. Nuc colonies are those which have already started their community (the queen has been accepted and is laying eggs) and come on a frame, or frames, that can be simply slipped into your langstroth hive.

Package colonies, on the other hand, are just that: a package of bees that haven’t quite started building their colony yet. These bees will come in a cage or box rather than on a frame and are poured into the new hive. The queen will need to be kept in her box within the hive while the colony gets adjusted and settles in, but after a few days, the queen can be released from her box to resume laying eggs.

If a local supplier in your hood sells bees, we recommend this option as picking your hive up in person means less stress on the bees and an added bonus of saving you shipping and handling. If this is not a possibility, however, never fear! The U.S. postal service will actually ship your brood for you and call you when it’s time to pick them up.

So that’s it! You did it! Unfortunately, you will probably not get very much honey from your colony in the first year. In the meantime, enjoy getting to know your fuzzy little buzzers until next season and take pride in the fact that you are helping your community’s ecosystem thrive.