Sunday, April 26, 2015

What's happening in the late April garden

Spring in the park

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It was unusually cold through the end of February and March this year in our Zone 6/7 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, sprouting broccoli, dandelions, common chives, garlic chives, strawberries, onions, wild leeks, sage, mint, thyme, newly planted Oregon sugar pod peas and overwintered Austrian pea shoots.

We added compost, fertilized, and mulched the garden beds and pots at the end of March.  It is not too late to prepare your beds and plant cool season veggies right now.  You can plant a summer garden right through June. 

Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace all have bedding veggies in stock.  Of course, I couldn’t resist!  I bought broccoli, rosemary, oregano, lavendar, snapdragons, alyssum, petunias, chard, buttercrunch and romaine lettuces. I am in love with the red and burgundy varieties! I grew from seed and planted Tuscan kale, sugar snap peas, mesculun greens, several heading broccoli, sprouting broccoli, 9 Star perennial broccoli, Golden Streaks mustard, pole beans, oregano, parsley.   Outdoors I sowed seeds of various lettuces, spinach, carrots, beets, culantro, cilantro, and Fordhook Swiss chard.   

For outdoor sowing, I have a few elongated pots that I start my seeds in. This was I can get them at the perfect depth.  I put labels in each so I don’t forget.  When they are up and have a few leaves, I will transplant into larger pots or the garden.  I plant my veggies in my mulched garden beds.  Most seedlings can’t press through the mulch.  The other thing I like about having sprouting pots is that I am not wondering if it is a weed or something I planted!
Pot for seed starting

I am still starting summer loving veggies, fruits and flowers indoors.  The Aerogarden, a hydroponic system, is great for this.  Just planting in re-used 6 packs on a heated mat does fabulous as well.  I am using both at the moment.

I plant a few annual herbs and any tender perennial herbs that didn’t survive the winter each year.  Annual herbs-cilantro, culantro (heat tolerant herb that tastes like cilantro), basil, parsley, dill and tender perennials-rosemary and bay are mainstays.

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.  Culantro has the taste of cilantro, but does not bolt.  Keep it in the shady part of the garden for the fresh taste all summer long.  Parsley and dill typically re-seed themselves so I wait until May before I replant these annuals.  

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials like thyme, oregano, tarragon, sage, lavender.  Bay can survive in Zone 6 if the winter is mild.  There are varieties of rosemary rated to Zone 5, but I have never had mine come back for a second year.  Basil is very cold tender and must be replanted each spring after all danger of frost has passed.
Tarragon to left, garlic chives in center and common chives on right, getting ready to flower

Chard is a decorative and hardy green that comes in such beautiful colors-orange, red, yellow, burgundy, fuchsia and white stemmed varieties.  I planted them all along the back of the garden bed one of each color from 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 a tender perennial.  The white stemmed Fordhook Swiss Chard is the most cold hardy. I think a pop of white makes the dramatic colors even more vibrant.   I had a red chard come back for years.  Chard produces a ton of seeds.  Save them from your favorite plants and reseed next spring.  Seed saving produces plants that are uniquely adapted to your garden conditions.

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.  They grow to be large plants.  Two plants gave us all the broccoli and broccoli leaves we needed for our salads.  If planting in a container, thin to one plant in a large pot.  My overwintered purple sprouting broccoli already has florets!  I started 2 new plants from seeds I saved from a couple of summers ago.  They are filling out nicely.
Purple sprouting broccoli with florets

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.  My elephant garlic is going strong.  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.  I have garlic resprouting from these tiny bulbets left in the ground after last year’s harvest.

The lettuce I planted at the beginning of March has leaves large enough to harvest.  The sprouting broccoli, dandelions, sorrel, pea shoots are all great adds to spring salads.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

All about beautiful beets

Freshly pulled beet from pot in early summer

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The beet ancestor is chard and is native to the Mediterranean region.  Chard itself has been around for thousands of years.  It is thought that a mutation of spinach resulted thick ribs which were cultivated into what became chard.  Then some chard  grew with thick roots.  These were cultivated to become the beet.  Beets are a biennial and sometimes a perennial.

The beet was grown mainly for its greens until French chefs made the root popular in the 1800's.  Beets came to America with the settlers of the colonies.  Thomas Jefferson even grew them in his garden.

Beets are a natural source of tryptophan, boron, folate, manganese and also contains betaines which may help reduce homocysteine.  There has been some research that shows beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure.  Beet juice is also used as a red food coloring and sweetener.  Be careful handling red beets as the juice can stain!

Beets can be sown from early spring when the daffodils bloom into June.  Then again in mid-July for a fall harvest.  The beet seed is actually a fruit containing a cluster of seeds.  When you plant, expect to have to thin to 2-4” apart.  You can use the beet thinning in salads or separate and replant elsewhere.  There are 'monogerm" seeds available that have only one seed in the pod.

I like growing beets in pots.  Potting soil is loose which beets really like.  If planting in the ground, loosen the soil prior to planting.  If you want a dedicated plot to beets and carrots, adding sand to the soil provides the perfect growing spot.  A soil rich in organic matter also provides a good growing medium.

I'll ring a potted pepper plant with beet seeds.  The beets will be ready to pull well before the pepper plant starts producing.  I just sowed some seeds 2 weeks ago in a pot and the sprouts have their first true set of leaves already.
The secret to great beets is consistency in water and fertilizer.  If growing in a pot, apply a balanced fertilizer weekly.  Letting the soil get too dry will result in a woody beet.
The root and the leaves are both edible.  Beet thinnings and new leaves are tasty in salads.  You can take up to one third of the beet greens without harming the beet.  As the beet ages, the greens get stronger.  If too strong for taste raw, they can be steamed like spinach or chard.
Check the seed packet for days to harvest.  Beets are ready anywhere between 50-80 days depending on the type.  Beets should be pulled when they are 1.5” in diameter up to 3” in diameter.  Before storing, cut the greens from the root, leaving only an inch or two of stalk.  The leaves will wilt well before the beet shrivels.  Beets keep in the frig 2-3 weeks.  Beets can be roasted, grilled or steamed. 

I wasn't too sure if I liked beets or not until I grilled them.  Grilling concentrates the sugars and totally changes the taste.  They are fabulous grilled!  With all my grilled veggies, I just slice, coat with olive oil and grill at about 340 degrees to stay below the smoke point of olive oil.  Sometimes I leave them plain with oil, other times I add my season salt or just my dried herb mix.

Variety of baby beets

There are different types and colors of beets.  There are round beets and beets that resemble carrots.  The oldest round variety that is a deep red will bleed on anything it is cooked with.  Then there are yellow beets, white beets, pink beets.  The round Chioggia beet is an Italian heirloom from Venice.  It is a striking  pink and red with intermittent rings of color and white.  They are quite cool looking when sliced and don't bleed.  The cylindrical beet like Cylindra gives about 4 times the harvest in a pot since it grows up.  The cylindrical types actually grow up out of the soil.  Making it easy to tell when they are ready to be pulled.

Try some this next season!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nutrition, types and tips for growing carrots

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Carrots are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotenes, vitamin A, vitamin C, many B-complex vitamins like folic acid, B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper.  They are super easy to grow.
Carrots, like turnips, have been around for thousands of years.  Its seeds were used for medicinal purposes.  Carrots likely originated in the Iran/Afghanistan area and spread to the Mediterranean.  It is shown in Egyptian tomb paintings from 2000 BC. The first records that it was used for the European kitchen was in the 900‘s in Spain.  Carrots were originally used mainly for livestock feed in the American colonies and for its aromatic leaves and seeds.
The first wild carrots were purple.  The wild carrot is known as Queen Anne’s lace and adapted very well in America.  The popular culinary orange colored variety did not become stable until the 1700’s.  It quickly became the most popular variety in both Europe and the colonies.  
Carrots are related to parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.  Like their cousins, the greenery also is edible.
Carrots like loose, well dug soil rich in organic matter although they will also grow in moderately rich soil.  The ideal soil would be dug 6-10” deep and mixed with sand and compost.  The longer the root, the deeper the depth of loose soil needed to grow large, straight roots.
There are also shorter root varieties that can be sown if you do not want to dig that deeply or if you want to grow them in pots.  Some short varieties are Little Finger (4” long), Adelaide (the size of your pinky), Short n Sweet (4”), Thumbelina (1-1.5” diameter), Parmex (1.2-2” diameter), Tonda di Parigi (1.5-2” diameter).
Sow every 2 weeks March-July.  First plantings should be about 2 weeks prior to your first frost.  Carrots do not like to be transplanted so direct sowing is best.  Soak seeds 6 hours before sowing.  Sow 1/4” deep, 1/2” apart thinning to 2-4”.  Keep evenly moist, do not allow to dry out, for the up to 14 day germination period.
For your last plantings of the season look for a type like Autumn King or Nantes that can be harvested throughout the winter.  Merida can be planted in late September for an early spring harvest.  Frost actually makes the carrots sweeter so leaving them in the ground in the fall will improve their flavor.  All kinds of colors are now available-white, red, orange, yellow, and purple.
If you want to bring indoors to store, placing in a cool place in sand that is kept moist is the best indoor long term storage for the winter.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring salads-Yum!

Early spring mixed salad greens

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Springtime is the prime time for the freshest, crispest, tastiest salads of the year.  There are so many options for salads.  The vast majority of greens have something in common-they are the sweetest in the cool, moist days of spring. 

There are many perennial greens that are going strong this time of year.  Salad burnet, garden sorrel, chard, blood veined sorrel, over wintered sprouting broccoli, cultivated dandelions, arugula, overwintered spinach, Giant Red mustard are of harvestable size this time of year.  You can add the early herbs for zest like garlic chives, common chives, tarragon, sage, oregano, leeks, and onions.  If you started lettuce indoors or bought a multipack earlier, you will also have lettuce leaves you can add.

Multipacks are a great deal.  I've seen 9 packs for less than $2 and they have many fun and heirloom varieties too.  I am loving the red varieties.  They have even more nutrition than just the green.  The same antioxidants that blueberries have.
Blood veined sorrel and parsley
Greens are fed by nitrogen (stimulates green growth) and stay sweetest in cool temperatures with consistent moisture.  Like most vegetables, greens do best in a fertile soil, rich in organic matter.

You can accomplish this through adding compost to your garden bed or container with a balanced fertilizer and blanketed with a mulch covering.  Planting or positioning your container in a spot where it gets some sun, but good afternoon shade to keep the plant cool will prolong the sweetness of the leaves.  You can also use a shade cover to keep the plant and soil temperature down.  Greens do not need much sun in the summer since there is so much reflected light available to the plant.

You don’t want the soil to dry completely out.  This will stress the plant and stimulate it to go to flower, or bolt as they call it.  Keep the soil moist.  Mulching is a great way to keep the soil evenly moist.  It also adds organic matter and suppresses weeds.  Just make sure if you are planting in mulch that the plants roots are fully in the soil.

Picking right after a rain or first thing in the morning also gives the sweetest, plumpest leaves.  Harvest leaves from the outside of the plant.  Lettuce and other greens will continue to produce leaves from the inside.  Your harvest amount and length will significantly increase doing this versus cutting the entire plant for a single harvest.
Assorted greens in Earthboxes

To wrap it up:
1.  Plant in rich soil.
2.  Use a natural fertilizer high in nitrogen (coffee grinds work well) each time you seed or plant.
3.  Keep the soil evenly moist; don't allow to dry out completely.  Planting in self-watering pots and applying mulch can help.
4.  Successive sowing of lettuce and spinach seeds.
5.  Keep the plants in a cool, shady location to extend the harvest in the summertime.
6.  Harvest outer leaves to let the inner leaves continue to grow.
7.  Be creative!  With so many fun options out there, try some new salad combos this year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Decorative container gardening for edibles

Pepper plant with petunias

Saturday, April 18, 2015

There are so many new varieties out every year.  There are ones that are more resistant to disease.  Ones that have higher nutritional value.  Ones that produce more.  Ones that have improved taste.  Ones that are developed for their small size and big harvests for those of us who have limited space or just want to get more for the effort.  It is amazing what can now be grown in pots!

We hear a lot about Monsanto and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and crop breeding can seem a bad thing.  The difference between GMO’s and other types of crop breeding is that GMO’s bring in genetic material from other organisms in a lab, like bacteria and even viruses.  The plants are engineered so that they kill insects that try to eat it.

That is only one side of the plant breeding story.  There are many other natural, with a little help, breeding of crops today.  It can be as simple as saving of seeds from the best producer of last year.  There are also hybrids which take the best traits of two different parents into seeds.  These hybrids will not produce seed that you can reuse next year and get the same vegetable as the parent.

Heirlooms and open pollinated vegetables will produce “true” to seed.  The offspring will be like its parent.  It isn't just the old varieties that you can save and use seeds from year to year.  It is any "open pollinated", non-GMO, non-hybrid.  If you find a veggie you really like at the store, it doesn't hurt a thing to save the seed and try growing it in your garden.

Through the centuries, farmers have chosen the traits they like and have built on them from season to season.  This has given us Brandywine tomatoes, Vidalia onions and JalapeƱo peppers.  Yum!

Today's breeding has focused on urban gardening; growing great tasting fruits and vegetables in small spaces and containers.  There are lots of new compact, dwarf, bush, patio, container varieties available every year.  Today, you can grow almost anything you like in a pot, even corn and watermelons!

Just be sure to match the right edible with the size of pot you have.  Add flowers, too.  This not only adds pizazz to the container, but attracts beneficial pollinators that increase yields.  A real win-win.

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.  Here are suggestions by size of pot you have.

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.  

5 Day Golden Cross Cabbage

For containers 10” wide by 10” deep or larger, these will grow well:
Carrots-Atlas, Caracas, 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, Yellow Banana
Radishes-Amethyst, Cherry Bell, Pink Slipper, Poloneza, Red Head, Rudi

For containers 14-16” wide and 10” deep or larger:
Beans-compact bush types , Runner Beans on a trellis or stake
Broccoli raab
Corn-On Deck Sweet Corn
Cucumber, compact bush types-Lemon, Little Leaf, Suyo, Salad Bush, Fanfare, Sweet Success, Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Miniature White, Picklebush, Mexican Sour Gherkin, Patio Snacker
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 seem to be more productive in the ground while my hot peppers flourish in pots)
Tomatoes, look for bush, dwarf, patio, compact types-BushSteak, Patio Princess, Bush Early Girl, Tumbler, Bush Big Boy, Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Lizzano, Sweetheart of the Patio, Tumbling Tom Yellow, Bush Better Bush, Balcony, Fresh Salsa Hybrid, Celebrity, Daybreak, Johnny’s 361, Legend, Sweet Baby Girl, Sweet n Neat
Summer squash, compact bush types-Bush Baby, Yellow Crookneck, Eight Ball, Cue Ball, Golden Delight, Anton, Patio Star, Giambo, Astia, Raven, Cosmos Hybrid (look for bush types versus vining types)

Pot of assorted greens with red petunia

Containers 20” wide by 16” deep:
Apple-Columnar varieties
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)
Broccoli-I really like sprouting broccoli or broccoli raab for pots
Cantaloupe-Honey Rock, Minnesota Midget
Fig trees
Lettuce-all varieties
Peas-all bush types and more compact pole types (look for ones that vine 6’ or less)
Potatoes-there are containers made just for potatoes nowadays
Pumpkins-miniature, like Small Sugar
Sweet potatoes
Watermelon-Bush Sugar Baby, Sugar Pot
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

Black Beauty eggplant with fuchsia petunias and Egyptian walking onions

When growing veggies and fruit 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.  

You can make your own self-watering containers using 5 gallon buckets or other plastic containers or you can buy a self watering kit to convert your existing container to a self watering pot.

With all the colors and varieties out there, beautiful container combinations can expand and beautify your garden space.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips

Cauliflower with inner leaves folding in

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Broccoli is touted as a “super food.”  It is choke full of vitamins and minerals A, B6, C, E, K, protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, and others.  Cauliflower is an age-old standby and has great nutritional value as well-protein, vitamins B6, C, K, folate, many minerals-potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and others.  Both are healthy and versatile.  

Broccoli is a kale.  It is thought its ancestor came from the eastern Mediterranean and was developed the first “broccoli” with the distinct florets we grow them for today.  Purple was the preferred form in colonial times.

Cauliflower is also from the same lineage as Broccoli, being cultivated as well in Italy.  It is from the cabbage family.  The English took the Italian variety and developed it to the form we know today.

For planting, purple sprouting broccoli must be planted in the fall for a spring harvest.  Other types of broccoli and cauliflower can be planted in the spring and fall.  Sow when the first crocus blooms in spring (April in my zone) or when phlox and asters bloom for fall plantings (July).

Today, there are many varieties that have different days to maturity.  You can plant a variety to get a continuous supply, even in the dead of winter.

If growing from seed for spring, you will start your seedlings indoors 6-8 weeks prior to average date of the last frost.  They are ready to transplant when they have 5-6 leaves.

Here is a link to frost dates:  
You can change the settings to how lucky you are feeling.  Choosing 50% would be the average date of the last frost.  Changing it to 30% chance means there is only a 30% chance, on average, you will get another frost.

I typically use the 50% as a gauge on when to start watching the extended forecast.  When it looks like there is a good run of warm weather, I plant.  

As with most vegetables, broccoli and cabbage enjoy a fertile soil so enrich the soil with compost.  Plant about 18" apart.  Add an inch of compost and supplement with a high nitrogen fertilizer when planting like composted chicken manure.  Give another dressing of fertilizer just when heads begin to form.  They like cool soil temps so mulching will boost your harvests.

For cauliflower, the new varieties have been bred so that their inner leaves remain over the floret.  If you plant an heirloom or if your new variety does not have its leaves behave, you will have to take the largest leaves and place over the floret and secure.  If the white floret is exposed to sun, it will yellow.  The curds must have formed before the temperatures reach 80 degrees.

To get extend harvests, plant different varieties with varying days to maturity.  

It should be harvested before the florets open for broccoli and when the outer florets begin to separate on cauliflower.
Broccoli flowering
For broccoli, the sprouting type keep on giving.  When you harvest the center floret, you will get side shoots sometimes for weeks afterwards.  The leaves of broccoli tastes just like the florets.  They are great to add to salads and provide leaves even in the heat of summer when most lettuce has left the garden party.

If you want a little bit of both broccoli and cauliflower, try the heirloom variety “Nine Star Perennial.”  It really is a perennial!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Want continuous harvests? Succession planting!

Succession seed starting in pots

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A key strategy to getting the most out of your garden space and harvests is to leverage succession planting.  Never have an empty spot.  Be ready as soon as you harvest one plant or crop to fill the space with its replacement.  When you do plant, don't plant all at once so that your plants come to maturity one after another versus all at once.  And plant different varieties with different maturity dates.  All these strategies will significantly boost how much your garden gives you!

Planning is key.  You will need to lay out your garden bed by each season so you can see what you need when.  As soon as the cool season crops like lettuce, beets, spinach, radishes and carrots are spent, it will be time to replace them with warm season crops like beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and squash.

To lengthen the harvest of each vegetable, you should also stagger your planting through the season.

Here is a list of succession planning by vegetable for continuous harvests:
Beets-every two weeks
Bush Beans-every two weeks
Pole Beans-give continuous harvests naturally
Broccoli-best accomplished by planting types with different maturity dates
Cabbage-best accomplished by planting types with different maturity dates
Carrots-every 2 weeks
Cauliflower-best accomplished by planting types with different maturity dates
Chard-give continuous harvests naturally
Corn-best accomplished by planting types with different maturity dates
Cucumbers-once after last frost and then 2 months later
Eggplant-give continuous harvests naturally
Lettuce-every two weeks (be sure to switch to heat tolerant varieties a month after your last frost)
Peppers-give continuous harvests naturally
Radishes-every week
Spinach-every two weeks until last frost
Tomatoes-best accomplished by planting types with different maturity dates; indeterminate varieties give continuous harvests naturally
Zucchini-once after last frost and then 2 months later

Another thing to keep in mind is how much a plant produces. Some vegetable plants will give you continuous harvests and some will give you only one or two vegetables (like corn).  Dwarfs are also a great idea for small garden spaces and containers.  Here is more on maximizing harvests:  This year's garden plan and How do you decide what to plant for small spaces??

Happy, productive gardening!