Sunday, June 26, 2016

July Edible Garden Planner 2016

July garden bounty

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The summer garden is in full swing.  July is the time of year for harvesting the heat lovers like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, green beans, all types of peppers, garlic, basil with other Mediterranean herbs.

Peppers, zucchini, and eggplant are just ready to start harvesting, but will be in mid July.  My tomato plants have many baby tomatoes and are typically ready to start harvesting by the 4th of July.  I just re-planted my cucumber plants for the third time.  They love this heat and humidity so should be producing within the month.

By the end of the month, there will be more summer veggies than we can eat and will start preserving the extra.  Preservation garden

The spring greens have bolted, but there are summer greens that are robust during the hot days of summer.  My favorites are salad burnet, Swiss chard, collards, Malabar spinach, mustard greens, New Zealand spinach, orach, sorrel, sprouting broccoli and cultivated dandelions.  Growing summer salads

The spring lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our self watering pots with some of the seeds.  I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the pots as well.  The lettuce seeds I planted last month have sprouted and are ready to transplant.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

There are even a select few varieties of lettuce that can stand up to summer heat:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”
If you haven't already, now is the time to plant these heat champions.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces
Edible and decorative garden bed
The pole green beans are putting out beans consistently.  Harvest them to keep them producing.  I keep a quart bag in the freezer and add mature green beans as they are ready for picking.  The other legume, my snow peas, have finished producing for the season.  I love to eat them right off the vine.  Not many of these beauties made it to the kitchen!  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

I have already harvested the garlic, including the elephant garlic.  I love elephant garlic as the cloves are as their name suggests, they are huge!  When pulled, I will harden both types in the shade outdoors for two weeks before storing indoors.  Hardening is critical for the garlic to not rot when stored.  Save the biggest cloves for replanting in the fall.  Garlic harvest time is near!

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races.  The trick to keeping the plants from getting woody is to make sure to harvest down to the first few sets of leaves before the plants go in to full flower.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano, mint, and catnip is in full bloom.  The bees love the small lavendar flowers!  It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers, too, and will wait until fall.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

I fertilized all the pots again as well as the basil to keep it growing.  Pots lose nutrients at a much higher rate than garden beds.  I am using a foliar spray on all the plants at least every other week and using a solid fertilizer monthly around each plant.  I like Espoma.  I use their tomato fertilizer for all fruit producing plants and their general purpose vegetable fertilizer for all other veggie and herb plants.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

I have started using a mineral supplement for my plants this year.  Right now I am using Azomite.  So many soils are low in minerals.  Your plants can't absorb what the soil does not have.  Adding minerals to the plants and soil will significantly increase the minerals in the plant itself, giving you minerals in the veggies you eat.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

A key to keeping the garden productive this time of year is to keep even moisture to all the beds and containers.  Water the beds weekly and deeply.  During hot, dry periods, your containers may need watering every other day.  Self-watering pots with reservoirs in the bottom are the trick to extending watering duties.  Summer garden tips

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What we are harvesting in the late June garden

Garden at sunrise

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Right now, we are harvesting greens (lettuce, spinach, sorrel, peppers, sprouting broccoli, arugula, corn salad), peas, zucchini, strawberries, onions, garlic, herbs and potatoes.  This year we have gotten above average rain accompanied by way above average temperatures.  The rain was great for the lettuce and peas; not so great for any seed starting or summer veggies in the garden.  

The lettuce and spinach is now bolting.  I am letting it go to seed so I can save the seed to resow.  The bees love the flowers, too.  I am still harvesting lower leaves for salads and smoothies on the Red Sails, Grand Rapids and Romaine.  Their leaves have remained sweet tasting.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  Other varieties can become bitter and woody.  I throw in dandelion, burnet, and sorrel for added nutrition and taste.  Growing summer salads
Lettuce bolting

The cucumber seeds I direct sowed rotted.  I re-sowed in a pot on the covered deck.  They have sprouted.  I’ll wait until they have at least one set of true leaves before I transplant them.

I have baby tomatoes and eggplants.  One of my Tangerine sweet pepper plants has full size peppers on it.  The rest of my pepper plants have baby peppers.  Peppers are for every taste and garden  All the tomato plants are blooming.  The Violet Jasper I planted in a pot is huge and has several small tomatoes on it.  I need to get a cage on it quickly while I still can!  Last year, the tomato I grew in the pot only needed a stake.  This one is monster and needs more support.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

The tomatoes and basil are not growing as quickly as typical.  I assume it is from all the cloudy days we have had this spring.  The zucchini has just taken off in the last couple of weeks.  Growing zucchini and summer squash

At our old house, we had our garden edged in daylilies and they would be in full, glorious bloom this time of year.  You couldn’t even see the veggies behind them when standing in the yard.
Kitchen garden with daylilies in front
In our lake house garden, I interplant flowers with my veggies.  The flowers attract pollinators like bees which increases the amount of fruits you get off your summer fruits and vegetables as well as being beautiful.

The sprouting broccoli has little heads on it.  The leaves and florets can be eaten in salads and frozen.  For freezing, you just blanche them (throw them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then dunk them in cold water), pat dry, and put them into freezer bags.  Freezing the extras for winter

I harvested the garlic this week end.  The onions are ready to be harvested.  There is a debate on whether to remove the flowers to get bigger heads.  I leave them.  The bees love them!  Remember to save the largest and tastiest cloves of garlic to plant in the fall.  Garlic harvest time is near!

When the onion or shallot leaves fall over, then they are ready to harvest.  Pull them and bring them in a hot, dry area to season before bringing them in for storage for 2-3 weeks.

It is not too late to start a garden now.
It is not too late to start a garden in June!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Make your own organic potting soil

Sunday, June 19, 2016

There are just a few ingredients in potting soil so you can easily make your own.

Here is the recipe:
1 part composted or sterilized garden soil
1 part coir (coconut dust)
1 part perlite

To sterilize garden soil, you can put it in a cake pan and bake it at 200 degrees F for 50 minutes or put in a glass container in a microwave oven for 15-20 seconds.

The compost is the best choice as it has microbial activity already happening.  The microbes in the soil help the plant uptake nutrients. 
Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Add in the homemade fertilizer and you have potting soil!
Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

For an extra boost, you can add worm castings and biochar.  Castings have tons of microbial activity and nutrients while biochar helps the soil retain moisture.

Biochar pellets

For seed starting mix, do a 50/50 blend of coir and vermiculite with some worm castings thrown in for good measure if you have them.  I like to add Azomite as well.  Azomite is the abbreviation for "A to Z of minerals including trace minerals".  It comes from an all natural source.  Not only do plants grow and produce up to 30% more, but you are also getting those minerals in your food.  For more about minerals in gardening see The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

The best thing to do with soil in the pots you used last year is to re-energize it each year by adding compost and fertilizer.    No need to dump it out.  Adding compost will create more potting soil for other pots, too.
Re-energize your potting soil!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

It is not too late to start a garden in June!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

You can start a garden at any time in spring, summer or fall.  If you are deciding to start your garden in the summer, there are a few techniques to use to help your plants survive and flourish.

You may be wondering how to get started..........  

Step 1-I think the best way is to make a list of what you like to eat, then see which of your favorites are best to start right now in your garden!  There is no time like the present to get moving on your gardening dreams.
Planning for a four season garden  Time to plant summer veggies!  Start a kitchen herb garden!  

Step 2-Now that you have your list, take a look at your garden, patio, deck, porch, front yard to see how much space you have that gets 6 hours of sun a day.  There are so many dwarf varieties of every kind of vegetable to grow in pots or small spaces that you should not be put off thinking you don’t have enough space!
Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  
How to decide what to plant for small spaces? 
Companion planting tips    Edible shade gardens shine in summer

Step 3-Buy your supplies for your garden bed or pot.  Pots are easy-just buy some organic potting soil and the decorative pot.  Most potting soils come with fertilizer already mixed in.   You do not want to use garden soil as it is too dense for pots.  Make sure you buy the right size pot for the vegetable you are growing.
Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer  Re-energize your potting soil!
Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds  

Step 4-Buy your plants.  I prefer to buy plants that are raised without chemicals so I look for an organic nursery to see if they have what I want.  My next stop is my local nursery or big box hardware store.  Choose the plants that are green and look sturdy.  If they already have blooms, be sure to remove them.  You want all the energy of your plants going into good roots initially.  The heat lovers like tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplant will also sprout from seed easily this time of year.  I have cucumber, pepper and tomato seeds started in the deck in a pot right now.  They sprout in just a few days.  I'll transplant into larger pots or the garden when they are a few inches tall.

Step 5-Plant!  Water each plant well before planting.  The best time to plant is before a rain or cloudy days.  Gives the plants a little time to get their roots jump started.

For potted veggie or herbs, fill the pot with organic potting soil, water to get the potting soil settled, plant the veggie, and water again.  You can top with mulch to keep lengthen the time between waterings.  I also plant flowers in my pots to add color and attract beneficial insects.
Decorative container gardening for edibles

If planting in your flower bed or garden, the best thing to do is a soil test (you can buy a kit or take it to your local co-op extension office).  If this just seems too much trouble, buy an organic balanced fertilizer and compost.  Pull back your existing mulch, apply a 2” thick layer of compost, top with the fertilizer (following the label’s directions), plant your new veggie or herb, readjust your mulch back around your plants, and water.
The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

I like to put a handful of worm castings into each hole with the new plant.  Worm castings have lots of beneficial microbes in them that helps the plants absorb nutrients from the soil.

Step 6-Monitor and water.  Keep an eye on your plants.  They may look sad the first week if it is really not when they first go into the ground.  Consistent water is the key for success.  Like a lawn or flowers, the best time to water is in the mornings.  When you water your flowers, water your veggies and herbs.

One watch out on watering, many summer crops are susceptible to leaf fungus, like cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.  Be sure to water at the base of the plant and not the leaves.

Here are a couple of garden ideas:

If you have a picky eater, try the kid’s pizza garden.  If they grow it, they want to eat it!
Tomatoes-any you can’t eat, you can easily freeze for winter pizzas
Basil, oregano, chives, garlic for seasoning
Onions-you can grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot or ground and they are perennials to boot
Spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli and peas for spring and fall pizza toppings (also easy to freeze for later)
Green peppers, eggplant, zucchini for summer pizzas (maybe some hot peppers for the adults)
For those that are real adventuresome, you can get mushroom kits to grow mushrooms.

Or if you want a culinary garden, here is an Italian/Sicilian garden that you can grow in as little as a 6’ x 6’ space:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
2 tomatoes-1 Roma type for sauces and 1 slicer type for salads
2 sweet pepper plants
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
8 red onions (you can substitute Egyptian walking onions)
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown

It is great fun, a time saver, and nutritious to grow your own food in your yard!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Garlic harvest time is near!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Garlic is rich in lore.  This allium has been around for thousands of years.  It originated in Asia, was cultivated in Egypt and has been a Mediterranean cooking staple for centuries. Over the ages, garlic has been reputed to repel vampires, clear the blood, cure baldness, aid digestion.  

Today’s studies have shown garlic has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral properties. And, it tastes great!  For a breakdown of specific vitamins and minerals, garlic nutritional value
It is easy to grow and has little pest issues.  All you do is put them in the ground in the fall and by early to mid summer, they are ready to harvest.
The clove puts out roots in the fall.  Depending on how warm the winter is, there can be green shoots showing through the cold months.  Garlic will be some of the first greenery to start growing in early spring.  The stems resemble onion greens.  The hard neck garlic flower, or scape, has a cute little curl in it.  They are great in salads.  Harvesting them also gives you bigger bulbs.
For more on fall planting and growing garlic, Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......
Soft neck and hard neck garlic are slightly different in telling you when to harvest.  Soft neck garlic is ready to harvest then the tops fall over and die off.  They are ready to harvest about a week later.  Typically this is mid-summer, but ours is ready now.  Hard neck garlic is ready to harvest when about half of their lower leaves have turned brown.  Try digging one up and see if the bulb is large and firm.
                                               Garlic ready to harvest           Freshly harvested garlic
Be careful when you go to harvest.  It is best to dig your garlic when the ground is dry.  When you go to dig up your garlic, proceed carefully.  If you cut the bulb, it will not keep and needs to eaten soon.  The garlic should be left in dry shade for 2-3 weeks or brought inside and stored in a cool, dry location with good air circulation.  They can be hung or placed in a perforated bin or paper bag to dry and store.  

Don't be surprised if you have "volunteers" show up where you planted.  The tiny cloves that get separated when pulling the bulbs will sprout in fall.  These little guys may need a couple seasons to get big enough to harvest.
My favorite way to store garlic is to pickle it!  I simply separate the cloves, remove the "skin" and put in a jar of apple cider vinegar with a few hot peppers.  I just pull out cloves when I need garlic for a recipe.  

If your garlic dries up over the winter, I grind it into garlic powder.  If you have great tasting garlic that doesn’t store well or you have a bountiful crop, another preservation option is pickled garlic.  Just peel (Quick tip-”peeling” garlic) and cover your fresh garlic cloves in organic apple cider vinegar.  You can add a couple of hot peppers if you want to add some extra zing!

Of course, you can also add garlic to the tomato sauce (Preserving the tomato harvest), pickles (Easy, homemade pickles) or peppers you are going to can.  You can flavor vinegars or oils by popping crushed garlic into them (Quick tip-make your own flavored oils).  Many options for utilizing your garlic harvest!  

Everyone knows of garlic in sauces and on cheese bread.  A couple of years ago, we tried roasted garlic.  It dramatically mellows the flavor.  I just put a few heads in a small baking dish, add chicken stock to just about level to the cut heads, and let bake covered at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until soft.  It is a great spread on french bread!

If you are using fresh garlic for cheese bread, a quick way to prepare the garlic is to put into a small food processor with olive oil and just let it grind it to the size you want on your bread!

Garlic can be mild or hot.  Elephant garlic is very mild and not really true garlic at all.  It is a type of leek.  It has a great garlic flavor and produces huge bulbs.  The ones I am growing this year are from the previous year’s harvest.  I like growing them because you get so much for the garden space.  For me, they have stored very well.
Elephant garlic                                       
Leek flower
Garlic scape
You can tell the difference in the two by looking at the flowers.  Leeks have a onion type flower while hard scape garlic has a curly scape flower.
There is soft and hard necked garlic.  For the longest storage, soft neck garlic is the ticket.  It is also the strongest flavored.  Hard necked is milder and easier to peel.

I grow all three!  Elephant garlic as it gives the most for the space.  Hard neck garlic because I love to add scares to salads and how easy the cloves are to peel.  And soft neck for the variety of flavor.  It is always so hard to choose!  A great way to decide is to go to your local farmers market and talk to the farmers for the ones that grow the best in your area.  Take a few different kinds home with you and try them out.  Save the biggest cloves from your favorites to plant this fall.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

All about beautiful beets

Freshly pulled beet from pot in early summer

Saturday, June 11, 2016

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.  Beet nutritional info  There has been research that shows beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure.  Beet juice reduces 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.  Sowing in pots, you can expect to get true leaves within two weeks.  
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 F to stay below the smoke point of olive oil.  Sometimes I leave them plain, other times I add my season salt or dried herb mix.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  You can also roast in the oven and get a similar flavor.  

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 season!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Growing and using edible flowers

Edible daylilies in bloom edging the vegetable garden

Sunday, June 5, 2016

If you want to add a beautiful touch and taste to a salad, dinner plate or drink, add a flower!  Many common flowers are edible.

Herb flowers are edible-like basil, thyme, oregano, calendula/pot marigold, sage, lavender, nasturtium, chamomile, borage, bee balm, garden chives, garlic chives and rosemary.  They add great color and flavor to salads and dishes.  Their flavor is a lighter version of the herb.  Let's not forget saffron; a pricey spice from the stigmas of the saffron crocus.
Edible garlic chives in bloom

Vegetable flowers are edible-like broccoli, cabbage, kale, bean, pea, onion, chives, garlic, zucchini, chicory.    Fried squash blooms are delish!  

Some plants we consider weeds are edible-like chickweed and dandelions flowers as well as their greens and clover flowers.

Edible lavender flowers in bloom

Then there are the ornamentals that are edible like daylilies, orchids, violets, chrysanthemums, honeysuckle, lilac, roses, dianthus, passion flower, pansies, Johnny Jump Ups, daisies, scented geraniums, snapdragons, tulips and sunflowers.  Citrus blooms are, too.

Self sowing edible flowers:
Plant these, allow to go to seed, and they will continue to re-establish themselves year after year.  These are referred to as "volunteers" in the garden.  You can also save their seeds and sow in the spring where you want them to grow.  They do great in garden beds and containers.
Self sustaining gardening appealing? Try the self-seeders!

You can also make beautiful flower sugars to spoon into teas, over berries and desserts.  Or add herbal flowers to sea salt for seasoning dishes.  Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts  You can  make flavored vinegars  Make your own flavored vinegars  The flower color will tint the vinegar as well as flavor it.  After straining, add a whole flower for its beauty. You can even make candied flowers!  Or add them to homemade drinks as a garnish  Use herbs for signature desserts and grown up beverages   or main ingredient Homegrown flavored waters and sodas

Homemade herbal sugars and salts
You can quickly look on line to verify that your ornamental is indeed edible which is recommended just to be on the safe side.