Sunday, February 19, 2017

Time to plant peas!

Flowering pea plants
Sunday, February 19, 2017

Peas are great for spring gardens.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  Early spring is the time to start peas as soon as the soil can be worked (between 2-6 weeks before your last frost date).  

Peas love at least 6 hours of sun, well drained soil, and a side dressing of fertilizer or compost when planted.  Don't get carried away with fertilizer during the growing season or you will have all greenery and no pods.  Be sure to not water the foliage; stick with watering at the ground to avoid fusarium wilt.

Peas are part of the legumes which include fava beans, shell beans (like the popular red, kidney, Great Northern beans), snap peas, snow peas, green beans, lima beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.  Peas have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world, originating in the Mediterranean and the Near East.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you can get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.  
Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

For maximizing your harvest in a small space, I would go for snow and snap peas since you eat the entire pod.  Even the tips and flowers of the pea plant is edible and a great add to salads.  I plant them in pots every year.


When you plant legumes, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  This will really boost your harvest.  You just moisten the seed and coat with the rhizobial powder and plant.  Nitrogen accumulates on the roots of the legume.  Just be sure to not pull the plant when you are done harvesting from it so that the nitrogen stays in the soil!

The seeds germinate in temps between 40-75 degrees F.  Just scratch a small hole about 1.5” deep to drop the seed in and cover.  Have patience, seeds germinate anywhere from 7-25 days.  Plant every 2 weeks until midspring for continuous harvest.  Peas stop producing pods when temperatures exceed 70 degrees F.  Providing shade can extend the season.  


Harvest sugar snow peas just as the seeds begin to form to have the sweetest peas while the pod is still relatively flat.  Harvest snap peas after the peas inside have reached full size.  Even with shelling peas, pick as soon as the seeds have rounded out.  Continuous harvesting keeps them producing.  You can keep adding what you harvest to a freezer bag to have the sweetest and freshest for winter eating.

Peas can be grown in pots as well as directly in the ground.  Growing in pots allow you to move your peas to a cooler area as spring heats up.  Grow your peas where you want to plant a nitrogen hungry summer crop, like eggplant, lettuce, zucchini or tomatoes.

Most varieties are vining so be sure to give them a trellis or stake to wrap themselves around.  You can easily grow vining in pots if you use a support and get varieties that the seed packet vine length isn't over a foot longer than the trellis for the pot.  

There are bush varieties out there if you prefer to bypass a trellis or support.  Look for varieties that say "compact", "good for small spaces", "good for containers", etc., if growing in small spaces.  Burpee seed packets also have small clay pot with a checkmark in it for those that are good to grow in pots.  I just grow the bush or short vine variety and just let them drape over the edge of the pot.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Grow one of the super greens this year-kale

Potted kale, petunias and Egyptian walking onions

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Kale is not only beautiful, it is good for you!  Kale is chock full of antioxidants, beta carotene, lutein, vitamins C and K, and calcium.  It also contains compounds that are potent against cancer, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.  Nutritional info
Kale was the first to be domesticated from the ancient cabbage family of plants.  The Celts were the first to cultivate these greens, causing the birth of kale, broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.  

Collards are a uniquely American vegetable that has always been associated with the South and appeared in the late 1700’s.  Thomas Jefferson’s favorite kale was a variety similar to a Siberian kale.  He also grew a variety similar to today's Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur or black kale; a very striking plant to have in the garden with its long, dark blue-green and bumpy leaves.

Most kale is a biennial, but there are still perennial varieties if you can find the seed.  Perennial varieties include tree collards, walking stick kale, western front kale, Dorbenton kale, and sea kale.  

Dwarf blue curled kale
If you want to save seed from the biennial, you have to allow the kale to go through one winter, allow to flower and dry on the plant.  Kales cross easily with other kales and collards so if you want true to type, grow only that kind in your garden.  Flowering kale have pretty yellow flowers and the bees love them!

There are many colors and textures of kales.  There are the “dinosaur” kales which have a blistered, black appearance, red kales, green kales, dwarf kales, green, red kales, and ornamental kales which are edible.  Some are more winter hardy than others.  Check seed packets for descriptors like "winter hardy" and "cold tolerant".  Those grown in the fall are sweetest if picked after a frost.  Fall garden planning and planting

Kale is generally a fall crop but can be cultivated in the spring.  They can be started indoors or direct seeded in May (soil temp of 55-75 degrees F).  They prefer rich soil and should be kept moist until sprouted.  Sow seeds 1/4” deep and 4-6” apart, thin to 12”.  If planting rows, allow at least 18”.  I have also had great success raising them in a pot. 

Several varieties of kale come available as bedding plants in March.  There are also a couple varieties of collards.  Both can be planted into beds and pots in our Zone 6 garden now.

For fall, plant around Independence Day (July 4th).The kales I planted last fall are still alive.  I had several different kinds planted in pots.  Kale is very cold hardy. 

You can harvest the outer leaves when they are 8-10” long for cooking or juicing.  You can also harvest the leaves when smaller for salads.  Store at 32 degrees and high humidity in the frig for the longest life.

One of the fun ways to prepare kale is to salt and dry in a dehydrator or low temp in the oven.  They can be eaten as you do chips, but are much healthier.  You can also eat the new leaves in salads or sauté or steam the larger leaves.

For any that I don't eat fresh, I blanche and freeze to add to a steamed veggie side dish or to soups.  You do need to blanche kale and other greens to maintain the tasted.  Freezing the extras for winter

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Spinach is touted as one of the super foods and there are good reasons why.  Spinach is rich in antioxidants, folic acid, betaine, protein, omega-3, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, minerals manganese, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium.  Spinach nutritional facts

Spinach can be eaten raw, steamed, or sautéed.  A French favorite is creamed spinach.  Spinach contains oxalic acid which is eliminated when cooked.  Alternating between fresh and cooked is optimal.

It has been reported that spinach helps prevent osteoporosis, anemia, heart disease and cancers of the colon and prostate.  Natural News

Spinach was originally an Asian green and was first cultivated in Persia (modern day Iran) in the 3rd century and brought back to Europe via Spain by the Crusaders in the 11th century.

It was a favorite of Catherine de Medici from Florence, Italy.  She insisted every dish be served on a bed of lettuce.  Hence the term, “a’ la Florentine” for this style.

The smooth seeded spinach we grow today was known in the 1600’s.  Bot the smooth and prickly seeded varieties were grown in the American colonies by the 1700’s.  The prickly seeded varieties are more prone to early bolting than the smooth seeded varieties.

Spinach loves well composted, moist soil and cool weather (below 70 degrees F).  Spinach will often over winter even in the northern states.  In southern states it is typically fall sown for spring harvests.

Seeds should be sown 1/2” deep, 3-6” apart.  Spinach is also happy to grow in pots.  Growing in pots also allow you to move the pot to a cooler area as temperatures rise, extending the harvest.

For spring harvests, plant in full sun to light shade in early spring (4-6 weeks before the last frost).  Seeds germinate in soil temperatures of 45-70 degrees F.  Spinach also transplants easily so can be started indoors.  Frost date calendar

Plant every 2 weeks or plant a variety with different maturity times (days to harvest) to have spinach into summer.    Fertilize when the seedlings emerge.  Spinach is ready to harvest 35-50 days.  Spinach enjoys even moisture.

If you harvest the outer leaves, the inner leaves will continue to grow, allowing you multiple harvests from each plant.

If you let them go to seed, allow the seed to dry on the plant before saving.  Refrigerate in air tight containers.  I use plastic freezer bags to save space in the frig.

Plant more heat resistant varieties later in the season like America, Teton, Bloomsdale Longstanding, Space Olympia, or Tyee.

For summer after spinach has bolted, you can plant New Zealand Spinach or Red Malabar Spinach for spinach taste from plants that can take the heat.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Everything to know about growing onions

Potted Egyptian walking onion

Saturday, February 11, 2017

In America, there are wild Alliums known as wild garlic or ramps.  The onions we cultivate in our gardens today likely originated from a wild Asian onion, but has been grown so long, the road back to the original is lost. Two thousand years ago, there were many varieties that we would recognize today. There were round onions, white onions, red onions, flat onions, long onions, keeper onions, sweet onions, spicy onions. 

Onions have been important for their perceived health benefits in times gone past and proven health benefits today as well as the fabulous taste they add to an array of dishes.  For the nutritional rundown, onion nutritional info
Onions are easy to grow, have little to no pest problems and are a perennial to boot!  They will hang out in the garden until you pull them.  Some will even multiply underground and produce "seeds" above ground.

Onions have shallow roots, like to be moist, but can’t stand being waterlogged. Continuously wet soil causes them to rot.  You should enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. As common sense would tell us, they also like loose soil that allows their bulb to expand without restriction. Organic matter helps this along. Onions can be grown in the ground or in pots. My perennial Egyptian walking onion has been growing in its pot for 10 years.

In the Midwest, seeds can be started indoors as early as February and transplanted outdoors in March. Transplanting should be done 4-6 weeks before the last spring freeze for spring planting.

Since onions are perennials you can also plant in the fall, October for our Zone 6/7 garden. For multiplier type onions, fall planting will provide a bigger harvest next spring and summer.  

Egyptian walking onions propagate underground and through their bulblet tops they put on at least twice a year.  In our area, Our Egyptian walking onions put on their bulblets in May or June.  As soon as the bulblets turn reddish brown and have filled out, they are ready to plant.  

The more popular method of starting onions is planting “sets” that are young onions that can be put out in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, just as the daffodils begin to fade for full size onions.  You can plant later and still get scallions or smaller bulbs.  Or leave in the ground overwinter for a bigger harvest the following year.
Bulbing onion flowering in late spring

You can place them close together and pull for scallions until the bulbing onions are 5-6” apart. As the bulb reaches full size, you can pull the soil away from the top of the onion to help the bulb and neck cure for harvest.

You can also plant the bottoms of store bought onions. If you get enough of the bottom, the onion will take root and give you an onion next season.

Onions tell you when they are ready to harvest, when half of their tops fall over. What can be easier than that? Like garlic, they should be lifted rather than pulled from the ground and leave them in shade for about a week to harden. I use a trowel to dig under the bulb and pop them out. You don’t want to knick them or they will not store well. If you do, keep them in the fridge and use them first.
Onions and garlic ready for harvesting

So, how do you choose which onions to plant? The best bet is to talk to your local nursery to see which grow the best in your area for the ones that thrive in your climate.

There are 3 types of bulbing onions-short day, intermediate day, and long day onions. Intermediate and long day varieties have been around for a long time. Short day onions are relatively newcomers.

Onions are sensitive to daylight hours. They start forming bulbs when daylight hours hit a minimum. For long day onions, it is 15 hours. For intermediate, it is 12-13 hours. Short day onions are 9-10 hours.

I would have thought long day onions would be for further south, but this is wrong. The north gets the really long summer days (think of Alaska in June with no darkness). Long day onions should be planted in states north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border (approximately 36 degrees latitude).

Long day onions are planted in states in the northern part of the US. Intermediate in the middle and short in the South.

Short day onions are planted in the fall and form bulbs in the spring. Intermediate and long day onions are typically planted in the spring as sets, not seeds. Seeds require sprouting indoors and transplanting.

So, if you want a sweet onion and live in the Midwest, Vidalias are not the best bet since it is a short day type. A better choice is a Walla Walla or a Sweet Spanish.
Close up of onion flower
The other thing to keep in mind is that, like wine, onions pick up the terroir they are grown in. You can grow the exact same onion as you buy in the store or at a farmers market but have a different taste because of the differences in your soil.

There are many fun onions to grow besides the round ones. There are the flat disk like Borrettana Cipollini or the Red Baron onion that is a red scallion type onion. Of course, there is the onion made famous in French cooking, the shallot-French, Gray or Sante are well known varieties.

Then, there are onions for keeping over the winter like Rossa Di Milano, Early Yellow Globe, Sweet Sandwich, and Granex Yellow.

Onions will also keep over another year in the ground. When onions I planted last spring did not get to decent size, I left them over the winter. They gave nice bulbs the next summer.

Another type of onion is the Egyptian walking onion (pictured above in a pot). It is a perennial that you can pull year round. They do not form bulbs. They are about the size of a large scallion or leek, getting an inch or two wide and 3” long bulb. They also grow great in a pot. When they get their bulblets, they remind me of Medusa. Really cool.  You just snap off the bulblets, separate them and plant for scallions this year or more onions next year.  They also multiple underground year on year.  For more on Egyptian walking onions:  Egyptian walking onions

They are one of my must haves in the garden since they can be harvested year round. Their bulb is great as a cooking onion and their greens as a chive.

Onions are a great addition to the garden. They are perennials, easy to grow and have little to no pest problems. I really like the perennial type onions, the Egyptian walking onions and multiplier onions like potato onions. The Egyptian you can just leave in place and harvest from year round. The multiplier potato onion has a very long shelf life indoors for a storage onion. When you harvest it, just leave behind the smaller onions and they will multiply again for next year’s harvest.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Your 2017 Edible Garden Plan



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Now is the time to decide what beauties to grow in the edible garden this year.  For warm season crops, it is best to either start from seed or buy as plants to get them producing quickly in the garden.  For cool season crops, you can sow seeds directly in the garden, start indoors, or buy as plants.

Herbs
We have many perennial herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, chives, tarragon, oregano come back every year.  Rosemary can be dicey.  I always buy the hardiest available like Arp or Barbeque, hardy to Zone 5 and 6, respectively.  I order from Territorial Seed as plants.  Our rosemary did survive last winter.  Won't be able to tell until April or so if it has survived another winter.

I always plant basil, chervil and cilantro every year, growing from seed indoors.  My favorite basil varieties are Vanilla for pot pourri and adding to homemade cleaning products, Cardinal for its beautiful maroon flowers, and sweet leafy type like Genovese or Lettuce Leaf.  I grow chervil to add to my body oil with lavender; these are great for the skin and smell wonderful.  I'll likely plant only Slo Bolt cilantro to give it the longest growing before bolting in warm weather.

Cool Season Crops
This year, I am going to skip any from the broccoli family as I have had pests problems over the last two years.  Giving it a rest for a year will take away this pest's food supply and next year we shouldn't have the same problem.

Peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.  I'll plant snow peas in all my pots. The leaves, flowers and pods are all edible and taste like peas.  I have overwintering Austrian peas that are used throughout the winter and spring for salads.

Spinach, lettuce, chard, and perhaps kale will be in the garden this spring.  Kale is a close relation to broccoli so I may skip it until fall.  I'll plant the most heat hardy spinach type.  For the initial plantings of lettuce, I'll plant whatever takes my fancy.  For my April planting, I'll switch over to the most heat hardy varieties.  I always have Simpson Elite, Red Sails, Grand Rapids, Oakleaf, and Romaine in the garden.

Warm Season Crops
Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, and cucumbers are standbys.  
This year, the peppers will be Ancho or Poblano for chili powder, sweet peppers Tangerine Dream, Ancient Red, and a sweet habanero or jalapeño.  They are supposed to grow prolifically like their hot cousins, but be sweet.
I'll likely grow a Black Beauty, Bush, and Early Prolific Straight Neck zucchini.  I like doing one of each so that whatever the weather conditions, there will be at least one that does well.
For the eggplant, I'm going to grow at least the Turkish Orange or Casper varieties.
I saved seed from last year's beans.  So I'll be growing Romano II, Purple Blauhilde, and Runner beans.  
Most of the tomatoes will be the ones I saved seeds from last year-Cherokee Purple, Italian Paste, and Borghese Red and Orange storage types.  I'll also add some smaller chocolate types.
Cucumbers saved from seed-Jaune Dickfleishige.

Flowers
I add flowers to the garden every year, interplanted with the edibles.  The flowers I am planning to add this year-marigolds, Cocks Comb, Moonflower, Hummingbird Vine, Love Lies Bleeding, sunflowers, zinnias, and Hollyhocks.  Flowers are great for repelling bad bugs (marigolds) and attracting beneficial bugs like bees.

There are a few more to varieties I will add to the list.  I'll get all my seeds out and look through them one last time to finalize the garden plan.  One thing I have to do is to make a max that I will plant of each type.  The hardest thing for me to do is not over-plant!  There are just so many interesting kinds of veggies out there, it is tough to make a plan and stick with it!

For different garden ideas, here are some to choose from:  
Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden
Small space French kitchen garden
Start a kitchen herb garden!  
Children's edible garden
Grow your own smoothie and juice garden
Decorative container gardening for edibles
Easy kitchen garden
Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

Saturday, February 4, 2017

February 2017 Edible Garden Planner

February kitchen garden
Saturday, February 4, 2017

Green things start popping up in the garden in February.  The first up are the perennial edibles like cultivated dandelions, sorrel, arugula, and chives.  Overwintering carrots, onions, kale, and corn salad are early greenery in the garden.  February is the month to get the garden ready for the spring planting frenzy.

You can get a jump on the garden by starting seeds indoors.  It is easy and a budget friendly option that allows you to grow many varieties not available at your neighborhood nursery or big box store.  Besides, it is nice to have green things growing again!

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)
Artichokes
Broccoli
Cabbage
Celery
Endive 
Escarole
Kale
Mache

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)
Chamomile
Chives
Eggplant
Lavender
Leeks
Lovage
Parsley
Peppers
Rosemary
Tomatoes
Thyme

For a full seed starting calendar, Indoor Seed Starting Calendar
Aerogarden for seed starting
What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most surefire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots and containers.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  The one I just bought has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.

I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not.  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves; think of them as baby teeth.  The second sets of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have great options just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........

Before you start planting, it is a good idea to do a soil test to see what nutrients your garden needs.  The next step in garden production and your nutrit...  If you are putting in new garden beds, here are some tips  Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really  If you don't want to go to the trouble of a soil test, add a well balanced, organic fertilizer and cover with compost.  I like gardening in our flower beds.  I fertilize, add a layer of compost before mulching.  This keeps the nutrition where the plants can get to it easier.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

Asparagus, fruit trees and bushes, garlic, grapes, shallots, spinach and peas seeds can be planted in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked.  Outdoor seed sowing seed starting times  If gardening in mulched flower beds, I put a small slit in the mulch and then sow the seeds.  The seedlings are not quite strong enough to break through the mulch.

I am still trying to decide what to plant in the garden this year.  I did capture at the end of the gardening season what I wanted to plant.  I've gotten some new seeds so will modify the plan.  Here is what I definitely have in my garden every year:  herbs, chives, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, green beans, and snap peas.

Garden planning

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Indoor seed starting tips

Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system
Sunday, January 28, 2017

What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most sure fire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

With the Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system, I don't even have to worry about using a heating pad for the warm season crops.  The drawback is the investment in buying the unit, seed starting tray, and plugs.  It is easy to take the seedlings and just plant into larger pot or directly into the garden when they are the right size for transplanting.

You can also start seeds in pots you make yourself with newspaper, toilet paper cores, paper towel cores, or paper cups and sterile, organic seed starting mix.  A nifty way to do it is to cut used paper towel cores into sections and line with old newspaper.  You can plant the whole thing or push out the newspaper insert and compost the core.
Paper towel cores with paper towel bottoms
Another option is to use peat pellets and peat pots.  Peat is not a renewable resource, but there are substitutes for it now on the market.  Just read the labels.  I just bought ones made with coir at Lowes.
The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots, containers and trays.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Newspaper seed starter "pot"
Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and allow to wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  Mine has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.
I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.
Some recommend using a small fan to blow on your seedlings to help them strengthen their stems, making them stronger transplants.  I have killed many transplants by accidentally crushing their fragile stem.

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not!  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

For larger seeds, and seedlings, either start directly in the garden.  I start peas and green beans directly in the garden bed.  Other larger seedlings like squash and tomatoes, choose a larger pot to start them in or transplant from the peat pods to a small pot before transplanting to the garden.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves, think of them as baby teeth.  The second set of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have many options, including heirlooms,  just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  Your local gardening centers will also carry the varieties best suited for your area.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........