Saturday, April 12, 2014

Right soil temperature for the veggie seed you are sowing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What’s happening in the early April garden

Sunday, April 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

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

Earthbox with greens
Saturday, April 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

April Garden Planner

Sunday, March 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wondering what to plant for your first garden?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown in self watering pots

Saturday, March 22, 2014

9 tips for a healthy, low-tox lifestyle

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I recently read an article in Mother Earth Living on how to keep toxins out of your system and wanted to share.  It is also a condensed version of how to live and eat healthy.  It was written by Megan Phelps and published in MEL March/April 2014 issue.

  1. Eliminate processed foods, refined sugar and carbs.  (Sugar is toxic to the body and cancer loves it.  Carbs cause spikes in blood sugar.  Read labels.  Go for whole foods; not processed ones.  My adds).
  2. Eat organic, whole food, heavy in vegetables.  (Only those foods labelled as organic do not contain pesticides and herbicides.  Natural is not a regulated term.  Find local farmers that do not use chemicals and buy from them; be sure to visit their farm and ask the right questions.  Grow your own-seeds are fairly inexpensive, especially if you get several friends to buy packets and split it between you. You can save seeds from one year to the next if you purchase heirlooms or open pollinated varieties.  My adds)
  3. Keep alcohol to a minimum and eliminate smoking.  (Alcohol stresses the liver which is what purifies the blood.  You want your liver working in top form.  Dr. Gerson felt that a healthy liver is what heals the body and removes cancer.  My adds.
  4. Limit meds and supplements.  (Talk to a naturopathic or holistic practitioner or doctor.  Get a test done that shows what you are actually deficient in so you know what you should be supplementing.  Many times just a change in diet can eliminate the need for meds.  We had a NutrEval test done that tells you the vitamins and minerals your body really needs, or doesn’t.  My adds.)
  5. Don’t forget the exercise routine and keep a healthy weight.  (Many studies have shown walking at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes does wonders.  There are also 10 minute workouts you can do in your living room that have shown to be very beneficial as well.  And there are free apps for it!)
  6. Use body products and household products that have all natural ingredients in them.  (That nice fragrance may actually be a VOC if it is chemically based.  I heard once that you do not want to put anything on your body that you would not eat.  Your skin is the biggest organ of the body and absorbs right into your blood stream what you put on it.  I think this is a great way to think of it.  My adds)
  7. Take your shoes off when you come home.  (Keeps the chemicals from the garage, pesticides and herbicides from the grass, and whatever else you have walked on that day, out of the house.  My adds).
  8. Use a water filter to keep the chemicals out of the water you drink.  (If you use a water softener, you are washing in and drinking a low level salt solution.  Dr. Gerson found that salt causes migraines in some people and is not healthy for your cells.  If you can’t give up your water softener, you can use potassium chloride in place of salt.  This can cause issues with your softener system so consult your dealer before making the switch.  My adds.)
  9. Megan recommended supporting your liver with an 80% standardized concentration of milk thistle supplement for a period of time.  Consult a medical professional before using.
You may not be able to do 100% of all of the above, but every bit you do will reduce the toxin load on your body.  It is amazing how different you feel and look when you follow a low toxin lifestyle and diet!

If you have children, their little bodies are much more sensitive to all these chemicals, give them a safe and healthy start in life.

Here is a link to her article for more details:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Re-energize your potting soil!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So your container veggie garden did fabulous last year and you are jazzed to start the season strong.  You wonder, should I throw out my old soil and start with new?  I’d recommend to re-energize it!

The best thing to do is to remove your potting soil and mix 1 part compost to 2 parts existing potting soil with all natural fertilizer.  

To make your own balanced all natural fertilizer:
1/3 cup of green sand (potash and minerals)
1/3 cup of rock phosphate or bone meal (phosphorous and minerals)
1/3 cup of alfalfa or soybean meal (nitrogen)
1 Tbl Azomite (70 minerals and trace elements)

This fertilizer recipe is good for 40 quarts of potting soil.  Just mix it in with compost and your old potting soil to rejuvenate your old potting soil for this season.  

While you have your potting soil out (just use a garbage bag to dump it into and mix your new), you can add a self-watering pot reservoir in the bottom of your pot to extend time between watering.  Gardener’s Supply Company makes them.  They are kind of pricey, but you can make your own as well.

If you are just not that energetic this year, mix in a couple of inches of compost and your natural fertilizer mix at the top of your container before you plant.

For pots that I have self-seeders in, I wait for them to get to a decent size before I add a layer of compost mixed with fertilizer and top with mulch.  Mulch forms a very hard layer so only the seeds with very strong stems can break through mulch.  Mulch helps keep the moisture in the pots when summer comes and keeps the soil temperature more moderate.

You can use the potting soil you remove for your new containers, in your garden, to add to your compost pile or to fill in low spots in the yard.