Sunday, February 17, 2019

Spring edible garden

Early spring lettuce
Sunday, February 17, 2019

Spring is just around the corner.  Daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus are sticking their green heads up, ready to put on a dazzling spring display.  Garlic, overwintering onions, kale, lettuce, and carrots are putting on new leaves.  Perennial veggies like sorrel and dandelions are showing their greenery.  Spring is a time that cool loving veggies shine with lush growth and sweet taste.

 Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the warm weather signals there time in the garden is done.  Cold crops “bolt” when it gets hot, which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds and continue the cycle of life.  It is that bolting time of year.....

Now is a great time to start seeds for cold season crops indoors or outdoors.  It is optimal if starting seeds outdoors to provide some type of cover to help warm the temperature of the soil and give the seeds a jump start.  Otherwise, they take longer to sprout.  Planting under cover also protects them from hungry birds.  Indoor Seed Starting Calendar  Outdoor seed starting tips  Outdoor seed sowing seed starting times

I use mini greenhouses I purchased on Amazon that I can put my pots under.  I can remove when the weather gets more predictable.  It also gives me the flexibility to move the pots later on to cooler spots to extend the production of cool weather loving veggies.  

over-plant and over-seed my pots outdoors.  I thin the extra plants by carefully removing them and placing them either in another pot or in the garden bed when they need to be thinned or when the conditions are right to transplant into the garden. 

Big box stores and some nurseries are getting their seeds and bedding plants in now.  They may have plants out that may not be able to survive outdoors without some protection.  Read the label on the plant or look up on-line to see how many weeks before the last frost the variety can be planted without cover safely.

Here is a listing of cool loving crops that shine in the spring garden.

Cold crops and growing tips
Arugula, Corn salad, Sorrel Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Broccoli and Cauliflower Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Brussels Sprouts, same family as broccoli and cauliflower  
Cultivated Dandelions  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
Mustard and Mustard Greens, same conditions as lettuce and greens 

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted in the spring garden.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.  This is how I started edible gardening.  They are care free and super easy.  Plus, spices are expensive in the store so you get a huge return on investment.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Herbs for Spring Planting
Lemon balm

Herbs that are frost sensitive are cumin, lemon balm, rosemary, stevia, turmeric, bay laurel and basil.  Wait until frost and freeze risk is over before planting outdoors.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  Many flowers are actually edible!  It is a win-win all the way around.  Flowers that are edible

For my spring herb garden, most herbs are already established.  For herbs, I will need to replant cilantro and dill.  

The veggies that overwintered are: sorrel, celery, parsley, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, carrots, Egyptian walking onions, garlic, arugula, chard, cultivated dandelions, kale, and lettuce.  I'll add spinach, peas, cabbage, and more lettuce for my spring veggie garden.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

10 easy and productive veggies to grow

Spring garden with chives, spinach and lettuce in the foreground
Saturday, February 16, 2019

So you want to try your hand at gardening and want to start with the easy ones.  What would those be?  Here are my top 10 easy crops to grow.  All can be grown in pots or the garden.

Basil-this herb is great in salads, sauces, and pesto.  Just plant it in a sunny location and forget it.  Basil thrives on neglect.  Only thing it doesn't like is the cold.  Put out after all danger of frost has passed.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Chives-another care free herb.  Wonderful in salads and on potatoes.  A perennial that comes back year after year with pretty lavender blooms in late spring that are pretty adds to home grown salads.  Gives you the taste of onions with continuous harvests.   Add chives to your garden

Dandelions-a super nutrition green that was brought over by European immigrants.  New leaves are great in salads, mature leaves are tasty wilted, and roots are great dried and used as a coffee replacement.  7 Ways Dandelion Tea Can Be Good for Your Health  Just make sure you only use dandelions that have not been sprayed with chemicals.  There are also cultivated dandelions with larger leaves and sweeter taste available.  Grow Cultivated Dandelions

Egyptian walking onions-my favorite onion to grow.  These guys are perennials.  They continue to multiply underground or by the bulbets they sprout on the tops of their leaves in early summer.  With their curly tops, they remind me of Medusa!  The bottoms get the size of leeks and have the taste of white onions.  The tops I use like chives.  Egyptian walking onions

Garlic-typically planted in the fall.  They can also be planted in the spring; the bulb just won't grow as large as when planted in the fall.  Garlic has not only wonderful taste, but a plethera of health benefits.   For more on garlic, see  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips...... 

Green beans-come in either bush or vine form.  Personally, I like the vining beans, called pole beans. Simply provide a trellis for them to climb up and pick frequently to keep them producing.  They have pretty flowers to boot.  They grow well in the ground or in pots.  For more on beans,  Growing beans

Spinach in a pot
Lettuce-I love fresh lettuce from the garden.  Spring is prime time for the sweetest lettuce ever.  You can grow lettuce even in the summer if you plant the right varieties.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  The best advice for lettuce is to keep the soil moist and when the temp's rise, give it some sun.  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce  By harvesting the bottom leaves, you can get a continuous harvest for weeks.  Let the plant go to flower and keep their seeds to replant.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds 

Mustard-a super easy, spicy green to grow.  I love adding new leaves to salads.  My favorite, and self-seeding, mustard, is Giant Red mustard.  It is one of the first to come up in the spring and self-seeds so you get new plants year after year.  What’s growing in the garden in February?   I grow lettuce and greens both in pots and in the garden bed.

Peas-another easy to grow veggie in the legume family.  I prefer to grow snow peas.  You get a lot more from each plant.  Sweet, tastiness for spring salads.  Peas are planted as soon as the soil can be worked.  I like to plant peas in pots.  Time to plant peas!

Sprouting broccoli-if you love the taste of broccoli, this is one you should try.  You begin getting bite size broccoli florets in summer and continues until fall.  If your lettuce bolts in the heat of the summer, use sprouting broccoli leaves; they taste just like the florets!  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

These are my top 10 easiest to grow veggie recommendations.  Try one or two or all ten for your first garden!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

February 2019 Edible Garden Planner

Overwintering kale
Sunday, February 10, 2019

Green things start popping up in the garden in February.  The first up are the perennial edibles and ornamentals like cultivated dandelions, sorrel, arugula, chives, crocus, daffodils, and hyacinths.  Daffodil greenery broke through late last month.  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 7 garden)

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 7 garden)

For a full seed starting calendar, Indoor Seed Starting Calendar

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.
Aerogarden with seedlings sprouting
When starting in conventional peat/coir pots, 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.  I keep a piece of paper under the seed starter that has captured for each cell what is planted in the cell.  I have also just gone ahead and put the plant marker in the coir pot with the name on it.  

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.  Keep a garden diary

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...........
Overwintering carrots
Before you start planting, it is a good idea to do a soil test to see what nutrients your garden needs.  You can buy a kit for testing, take a soil sample to your local extension office or send off a sample for a more rigorous soil analysis.   The next step in garden production and your nutrit...  If you don't want to go to the trouble of a soil test, add a well balanced, organic fertilizer, cover with compost, and top with mulch.  

If you are putting in new garden beds, here are some tips  Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really  

I like gardening in our flower beds and in pots.  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 and cover with potting soil.  Most 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.  Reflecting back on 2018, planning for 2019   I've gotten some new seeds so will modify the plan adding the new varieties that catch my eye.  Here is what I definitely have in my garden every year:  herbs, chives, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, green beans, snap peas and lots of flowers!  

Garden planning
For first time or busy gardeners, Easy kitchen garden 

Hang on, Spring is almost here!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What to plant for the edible garden in February

Indoor seed starting
Sunday, February 3, 2019

February is the time the garden begins to wake up, readying itself for the growing season in the Midwest edible garden.  There are a few veggies that can be seeded outdoors and many that can be started indoors to give you a jump on harvests.  Using season extending strategies can also help you harvest sooner.  

Outdoor seeding and planting
There are a few hardy veggies that you can sow outdoors in February.
*Spinach seed can be scatter sown and will sprout when the temps are right.
*Peas can be tucked into pots and in the garden.  My granny would plant as soon as the soil could be worked, even with a little ice still in the soil!
*This is the time of year that asparagus can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.
*Mache is also a super winter hardy green that can be sown directly in the garden. 
*At the end of the month, hardened off veggie transplants of cabbage, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, pac choi, rhubarb, radicchio, scallions, shallots and spinach can be planted outside.
*Many herb plants can also be planted at the end of the month.  Chives, fennel, horseradish, parsley and thyme.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Early March garden

Indoor seeds to start
There are many veggies that can be started indoors.  The trick to indoor seed starting is to not get too anxious and start seeds way before you can plant them outdoors.  Indoor seed starting tips

Seeds to start indoors now are the ones you will plant outdoors at the end of February and beginning of March.  Be sure to harden them off (gradually get them used to the outdoor temperatures) before putting in the garden or outdoor pot.
Broccoli, cabbage, celery, leek, radicchio, scallions, fennel, marjoram, parsley, summer savory, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks/onions/scallions/shallots/chives (if growing from seed), fennel, cold hardy lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, pac choi, radicchio, and scallions.  

Planting outdoors
Be sure to harden off any transplants that you grew from seed before planting in the garden or outdoor pot.  You'll need to get your transplants used to the outdoor temperatures.  I like to plant outdoors when the forecast is for overcast skies and warmer temperatures for a few days.

For your portable greenhouses, you can grab plants from there to also plant in the garden and start more seeds in the greenhouse.  

You can also use season extenders like portable greenhouses, row covers and cloches to protect your new transplants and give them a warming boost for growing.  The biggest issue with greenhouses and cloches in the spring is they can be 50 degrees warmer inside them than the outdoor air so you have to be diligent in opening them up when the temps start rising into the 40's and 50's on sunny days.  Extend the season with protection for plants

Spring garden prep
Before you start planting, be sure your garden is in tip top shape for the growing season.  Do a soil test to see what nutrients are needed.  Add the nutrients at the beginning of the month so they are available to the plants when they go into the ground.

 Be sure to also apply your mulch on top of the fertilizer and minerals you add to the garden.  This keeps them from being washed off or in the case of nitrogen, being released into the air.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

hIf this is your first time gardening and want to get started but not sure how, try this blog.  Easy kitchen garden

Happy gardening! 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Children's edible garden

How about a pizza garden?
Saturday, February 2, 2019

A proven way to get the young ones interested in eating their veggies is for them to grow them!  Have them grow the veggies for one of their favorite foods like pizza.  Engage them in choosing their favorite pizza ingredients and grow a garden with those in them. 

It is amazing how many children will swear they don’t like a vegetable until it is in their backyard!  Have them help you plant the seeds, monitor the seedlings, water, and harvest.  You will likely catch them picking green tomatoes to sample because they are so excited about eating what they have helped grow.

You can even throw a few other healthy ingredients in the mix as everything tastes better when you grow it yourself, like spinach, sprouting broccoli and peas.

So, what are some ideas for pizza ingredients?  
*Tomatoes-any you can’t eat, you can easily freeze for winter pizzas Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
*Basil, oregano, chives, garlic for seasoning  Start a kitchen herb garden!
*Onions-you can grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot and they are perennials to boot  Egyptian walking onions
*Spinach, kale, arugula, sprouting broccoli and peas for spring and fall pizza toppings (also easy to freeze for later)  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens  How to grow broccoli and cauliflower  Time to plant peas!
*Green peppers, eggplant, zucchini for summer pizzas (maybe some hot peppers for the adults) 

All of these are easy to grow in a small space and the basic ingredients in an Italian garden.  

For those that are real adventuresome, you can get mushroom kits to grow mushrooms indoors.

If you are just starting your garden adventure, try these tips.  Easy kitchen garden

You can tell them stories of where the heirloom they are planting came from.  Share the history of Victory Gardens in past war efforts.  How we can actually grow our own food just in yards across the U.S. if we wanted or needed to.

Little ones bring such wonder and joy in the garden.  They will check out every bee and butterfly, every worm and centipede.  And will want to taste everything they helped to plant and water!  It is a wonderful learning experience for the child to see where food comes actually from and helps the adult re-see the world through a child's eyes.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

You can garden year round in small space

Sunday, January 27, 2019

You can garden year round in a small space or container garden.  This is called four season gardening.  You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use some season extender strategies.

4 Season Garden Explained
You hear people talk about a four season garden.  This just means growing a garden that you can harvest from in all four season-spring, summer, fall and winter.

Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the cold crops “bolt” which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds.

Warm season crops are those that abhor frost or getting their feet chilly.  Most of the warm season crops are killed by frost and won’t grow unless the soil is nice and warm. 

As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring and fall.  The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones are also grown in the winter garden.  Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.  A rule of thumb is that if you eat the tuber, leaf or flower, it is typically a cold season crop.  If you eat the fruit or seed, it is a warm season crop.

Cold crops-Arugula, Broccoli, Cabbage, Celery, Fennel, Leek, Lettuce, Marjoram, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Summer Savory, Sorrel, Cilantro, Spinach.  

Cold season greens for spring, fall and winter

Warm season crops-Basil, Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Squash, Basil and Beans.
Warm season veggies-basil, peppers and tomatoes

So, when you go to plant in the spring, you will start with the cold season crops.  March 2018 Edible Garden Planner  Once the danger of frost has passed, you can then add in your warm season crops.  It's summer veggie planting time!

For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July.  These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden.  You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer.  You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.  The nice thing about fall and winter gardening is that pests are generally not an issue like they are in the summer.  Plant a last minute edible fall/winter garden

For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter.  These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter.  There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October.  Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks.  Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds. 

Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection.  Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes.  As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty.  Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.  Extend the season with protection for plants

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, ARP rosemary, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Most of your warm season crops are actually subtropical perennials and can be brought indoors in the fall like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  You can dig up your favorite, bring inside for the winter and replant in spring to get a big head start on the season.  They will continue to bear fruit during the winter months as well with good southern exposure in front of a window.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  It is a win-win all the way around.  Many flowers are also edible and are a pretty touch to salads.  Growing and using edible flowers

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.

Seed catalogs that have a good selection of organic vegetables, garden fruits, and herbs-Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, Cook’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interest.

If you are just starting out, choose a catalog that also gives growing instructions for each vegetable and fruit type.  Ones that I have that do a nice job are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide.  Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide.  They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page.  High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.

The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you.  Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown.  Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions.  You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Don't overlook the option of saving your own seed from your best producers or your neighbors.  Your neighbors and the farmers at your farmers markets have much experience in the varieties that grow well in your area.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.