Sunday, April 20, 2014

What to plant now

Dill in front, mint and French sorrel in background

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Now is a great time to plant plants or sow seeds outdoors in Midwest gardens!  There are a bevy of different fruits, herbs, and vegetables that mid April is the perfect time to plant.

This is a great time to plant apple trees, blackberry vines, blueberry bushes, raspberry vines, rhubarb, and strawberries.  Spring sun is not too intense and spring rains nourish the plants to grow strong root systems before summer heat and drought kick in.

Spring is perfect for all herbs except basil and stevia.  A frost will kill these heat lovers.
Cilantro, a cool season herb, in foreground, sage in background

Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, all greens, kale, lettuce, all mustards, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, and turnips.
Buttercrunch lettuce in Earthbox

It is still too early to plant heat lovers without the benefit of cover.  May 1 is the date the old timers say is when to plant your summer veggies.  Summer veggies include tomatoes, eggplant, squash, and peppers.  Come May 1, check your extended forecast and if it is calling for the low’s to stay out of the 30’s, this is the green light to plant the heat lovers.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

Spring lettuces and celery plant

Saturday, April 19, 2014

From just one packet of seeds, you can have salads forever.  I just love being able to step right outside the back door and snip a salad for dinner.  Lettuce is so easy to grow, you can't pass up the fun and convenience of always having a fresh salad right out your door.

I use self watering pots called Earthboxes, but any container or patch of dirt works.  Buy a packet of seeds that has whatever type of lettuce you like.  I like the variety packs.  I’d pick a variety pack with Oakleaf or Red Sails. 

Just make sure they are not a “Hybrid” plant.  Hybrids do not grow back true to the parent.  In other words, you won’t get the same baby plant as the mother plant was if it is a hybrid.  Heirloom and open pollinated are terms used for the plants that you can save the seed from and get babies like their mothers.

To prepare the soil, I always add compost and a balanced organic fertilizer that I mix into the soil.  What you want from lettuce is green growth.  This is what nitrogen promotes.  So, fertilizing on-going with an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion that is high in nitrogen is the way to go with greens.  I like fish emulsion because I can just add it to the watering pot.  I use fish emulsion about every 2-3 weeks after the plants are mature.  I keep the fertilizer off the leaves and wash the leaves thoroughly before eating.

To plant your seeds, simply make sure the soil is moist, scatter sow the seeds onto the moist soil and pat down or place a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds.  Sow seeds every 3 weeks to keep you and your family in fresh lettuce and/or greens.

Moistened soil with tiny trenches for seeds

To harvest, just snip leaves off from the bottom and outside of the plant, allowing the center to continue to produce leaves.  They will produce new leaves continuously until they “bolt.”

When it turns warm, your lettuce will “bolt”, sending up a stalk that will flower.  The trick here is to not cut it off or pull out the lettuce plant just yet.  Let it flower and produce seeds.  The leaves are still edible, but some become bitter tasting after they have bolted.  Just try them and see if you still like the taste.

Lettuce sending up flower stalk, "bolting"

You can tell when the flower has turned to seeds because it will become a little white puff ball, similar but on a smaller scale than dandelions.  As the puff balls start to open, pluck it off and place in a paper bag so they can fully dry.  Your other option is to just wait until most of them are starting to open, cut off the whole stalk and put into a paper bag to dry.  You’ll lose some seeds, but a single lettuce plant produces a ton of seeds.
Lettuce seed heads

I let them dry and then pull out the seeds and put into a plastic ziplock bag that I label with the variety and date harvested.  You can also add notes to the seed bag of what you liked about it and growing habits.  I store all my seeds in the crisper.  They keep for years that way.

When summer comes, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 70 F.  You can start your seedlings indoors or find a shady, cool spot outdoors to start them.

You can start re-sowing your home grown seeds as soon as you are done with the original packet you purchased.  Always save the seeds from the plants that did the best.  Use oldest seeds first as germination rates diminish with the age of the seed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Right soil temperature for the veggie seed you are sowing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Different vegetables require different ideal soil temperatures for germination.  An early start is not necessarily the best way to get excellent germination and strong, healthy plants.

Summer veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and beans love a little extra heat.  Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need temps at least 60 F to germinate in a timely manner.  If you try and start the summer lovers in cold soil, many times the seed will rot before it sprouts.

A good rule of thumb is at least 70 F soil temps for starting summer veggies indoors.  You can buy a simple, cheap heat map at any big box store.

For cold crops, hotter is not better.  Lettuce will not germinate if the soil is above 80 F.  This is the reason you may need to start lettuce indoors during the dog days of summer unless you have a cool, shady spot to start the seeds.

Here is a link to a table on % germination rate and days for seedlings emergence for different daytime soil temperatures:

If you want to go high tech, I found that using an Aerogarden with the seed starting insert gave an almost 100% germination rate for any type of seed.  

Here is a link to their web page:
Look for the "Garden Starter System" accessory for the seed starting insert.

It can be tempting to start all your seeds as soon as you get them.  If you are starting them outdoors, be sure they are sown when the temps are right for the type of crop; follow the seed packet instructions.  

If growing indoors, you can modify the conditions to what suits the type of veggie you are sprouting.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What’s happening in the early April garden

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It has been unusually cold through the end of February and March this year in our Zone 6 garden.  Things are not popping out of the ground like they were last year.

So, what is popping up?  Overwintered garlic, Elephant garlic, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, kale, oregano, rosemary, dandelions, common chives, garlic chives, strawberries, onions, wild leeks, sage, dill, mint, and thyme.

In the mini greenhouse, lettuce, kale, celery, blood veined sorrel, dandelions, arugula, garden sorrel, Italian dandelion, and broccoli are growing strong; lettuce is sprouting from seed sown in early March.  I am hoping I’ll see some spinach soon.  The plants are growing well enough that we can pick leaves for salads now.

You can see in the background that the forsythias are beginning to flower.  This is the sign that it is time to use an organic weed and feed to treat pre-emergent weeds, and green up the yard!

We added compost, fertilized, and mulched the garden beds and pots.   The garden and pots have been planted with cool season veggies!  

Whole Foods had organic bedding veggies last week end.  Of course, I couldn’t resist!  I bought buttercrunch and romaine lettuces, Tuscan kale, redbor kale, sugar snap peas, mesculun greens, scattered sown lettuce mix.   The mesculun greens had Red Streaks mustard seedlings in the flat.  They are really pretty and I’ve wanted to grow them for a while.  It will be fun to see what else is in the mix as they mature.

I also planted the herbs cilantro and parsley.  I plant these every year.  The cilantro does not last long; as soon as it warms up, it bolts.  You have to succession plant these to keep them in the garden.  Place them in a cool spot that gets some morning sun, but is in the shade the rest of the day.  Parsley does great for the entire season.  

Friday, I bought some chard seedlings as well.  I will plant these sometime this week end.  They were a mix of colors.  Chard is beautiful in orange, red, yellow, burgundy, fuchsia and white stemmed varieties.  I am going to plant along the back of the garden bed one of each color in the little flat of seedlings.  

Small chard leaves are great in salads.  Large leaves are great steamed.  The stalks of the large leaves can be used like celery, but very pretty celery!  Chard is also a tender perennial.  The white stemmed is the most cold hardy.  I have had the red one come back for years.  Not sure if they survived this winter; will have to wait and see if they pop back up.  If they do, they will have new multi colored friends to hang out with.

I got out the seeds I keep in ziplock bags in the crisper and decided on planting beets, chervil (love to put this and lavendar in olive oil for my dry skin), sprouting broccoli, Parmex and Short ‘n Sweet carrots.

I like broccoli raab or sprouting broccoli because you get small broccoli heads throughout the entire growing season versus one large head at once.  The leaves are also edible and great to add to salads.  I planted some seeds I had saved from a couple of summers ago.  Two plants gave us all the broccoli and broccoli leaves we needed for our salads.  They grow to be large plants.  If planting in a container, thin to one plant in a large pot.

Now is also the time to plant spring garlic.  Fall is the best time, but you can get scapes and small cloves by planting in spring.  I also have garlic resprouting from the first crop I planted.  When you dig the garlic in the fall, there are tiny cloves that usually get left behind.  These will come back in the spring.  The tiny cloves may take 2 seasons to get up to full size cloves.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to protect your garden from the marauding and very hungry bunnies!

Earthbox with greens
Saturday, April 5, 2014

Love to garden and have bunnies that love it even more?  This can be a common problem in suburban gardens.  You do have options for bunny proofing your garden!

Spray, fencing, elevate.  All are options for keeping bunnies away from your greens and broccoli.  

The spray “Liquid Fence” works well.  The drawback to sprays is that they wash off when it rains.

You have a couple of fencing options.  You can put a short fence all the way around your garden or you can create fence rings to put around certain plants.

Another option is to elevate your greens and broccoli (the two things the bunnies in our neighborhood love!).  Put them in pots where the bunnies can’t reach.

What do we do in our garden?  I put greens in Earthboxes (large self watering pots) and fence rings around the broccoli.  The fencing we bought was 3 feet high and coated in green plastic.  This does double duty-protects the metal from rusting and makes the fence ring almost invisible.
Side garden with fence rings

The bunnies don’t seem to bother much of the other veggies that are in the garden beds.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

April Garden Planner

Sunday, March 30, 2014

April showers bring May flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.  Now is the perfect time to get serious on getting your spring garden planted.

Crops to plant in April
Early April is a perfect time to plant cold season crops like Brussels sprouts, fava beans, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard and turnips.

We still get frosts in April so you want to hold off on planting warm season crops outdoors like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squash.

The last frost date in our area is around April 20.  This is important to know if you are planting seeds.  The packet tells you when to plant in relation to your last frost date.  You will get the best results following the packet instructions.  Planting early is not always a good strategy as different seeds need different soil temperatures before they will germinate.  Plant too early and they can rot before they have a chance to sprout.

Pots will warm up quicker, but will also chill down faster.  You can put them in a sheltered spot to get a jump on spring.  I love planting greens in large self watering pots that I keep on the patio, making it handy for picking a fresh salad for dinner.

What size pot do you need for a container veggie garden?
Any varieties listed for a smaller pot will be happy in a larger pot, too.  There are many more varieties out there than listed below.  Just look at the seed packet for terms like patio, compact, or dwarf.

For containers 8” wide by 6-8” deep:
Carrots-Thumbelina, Parmex, Tonda di Parigi 
Greens-arugula, corn salad, cress, small pac choi like Tatsoi, purslane

Lettuce or Kale-any type that you are going to continually harvest and not grow into full heads.
Baby cabbage
For containers 10” wide by 10” deep or larger, these will grow well:
Carrots-Atlas, Little Finger, Adelaide, Short n Sweet
Dwarf cabbage-5 Day Golden Cross, Parel, Caraflex
Eggplant with small fruits-Bambino, Casper, Fairytale, Neon, Patio Mohican, Slim Jim, White Egg
Greens-French sorrel, salad burnet, spinach
Herbs-any.  Mediterranean herbs love having dry feet.
Lettuce-Little Gem, Tennis Ball, Tom Thumb if growing to full heads
Peppers, compact types-Blushing Beauty, Chili Pepper Krakatoa, Habanero, Hungarian Yellow Wax, Sweet Pepper Ingrid, Prairie Fire, Red Delicious, Sweet Pickle, Zavory
Radishes-Amethyst, Cherry Bell, Pink Slipper, Poloneza, Red Head, Rudi
 Baby pepper plant

For containers 14-16” wide and 10” deep or larger:
Beans-compact bush types , Runner Beans
Broccoli raab
Cucumber, compact bush types-Lemon, Little Leaf, Suyo, Salad Bush, Fanfare, Sweet Success. 
All types of eggplant
Okra-Little Lucy
Onions-Apache, Pompeii or the perennial Egyptian Onion
Peas-dwarf bush types
All types of peppers (sweet peppers tend to be more productive in the ground)
Tomatoes, compact types-BushSteak, Celebrity, Daybreak, Johnny’s 361, Legend, Patio Princess, Sweet Baby Girl, Sweet n Neat
Summer squash, compact bush types-Gold Rush, Midnight, Venus, Patio Star
Egyptian walking onions
Containers 20” wide by 16” deep:
Beans-any bush type, more compact pole types (look for the ones have vines 6’ or less or you can pinch off the longer types)
Lettuce-all varieties
Peas-all bush types and more compact pole types (look for ones that vine 6’ or less)
Sweet potatoes
Winter squash, compact bush types-Butterbush Butternut

For really large containers on the scale of a half whiskey or wine barrel:
Beans-all pole beans
Carrots-all varieties
Cucumbers-bush and vining types
Summer squash-Bush Baby, Space Miser, Egg Ball, Papaya Pear
Winter squash-Honey Bear, Carnival, Discus Bush Buttercup
Assortment of greens in Earthboxes

When growing veggies in containers, they will require more watering and more liquid fertilizer than if they were in the ground.  In the summer, you may have to water some water lovers every day.

To reduce watering, purchase or make pots that have a water reservoir in the bottom.  A couple on the market today are “Earthbox” and “Grow Box”.  With these type of pots, you can water weekly.  They are easy to make out of 5 gallon buckets or other plastic containers.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wondering what to plant for your first garden?

If you are thinking of starting your first garden and are wondering “How many plants of what do I need?”, there are a couple of ways to go about it.

One way to decide what to plant is to track what you buy for a couple of weeks.  This will give you a good idea of what you like to eat.  You can then plan your garden around your favorite eats.  This summer, you can go to farmers markets and try out what looks interesting to trial run them for next season.

If you eat a lot of salads, greens with complimentary veggies and herbs would be a great first garden.  To keep yourself in lettuce, sow seed about every 3-4 weeks.  In early spring, any type of lettuce is good.  Once you head into May, use varieties that withstand the hot temps of summer like:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”

This table gives you the number of plants or seeds you need per pounds of produce you want to get from your garden:

If you want a rule of thumb based on your family size and don’t want to track exactly what you have purchased, just use the table for how much to grow per person in your household as a rule of thumb.  You can adjust after the gardening season is over.

There are also many programs and app’s out there today that can help you know what to grow, when to plant, and will give you growing tips on each fruit or vegetable.

The biggest watch out for starting a new garden is starting too big.  Start small with what you use the most in the kitchen.  Herbs, lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, or tomatoes are great ones to start with.

Here is the basic garden I grow every year:
Herbs (1 each)-chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
3 tomato plants-1 cherry tomato type and 2 slicer types
3 pepper plants-2 sweet peppers and 1 spicy pepper
1 bush zucchini
1 eggplant
1 Egyptian walking onion (a perennial)
8 garlic plants (you can buy cloves for planting at any big box store)

Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown in self watering pots