Saturday, February 24, 2018

Extend the season with protection for plants

Cloche with adjustable vent on top

Saturday, February 24, 2018

There are garden "accessories" that allow you to plant earlier than your seed packet advises.  Cloches, tunnels, "wall of water", solar umbrellas, covers, mini greenhouse and clear plastic are all tools gardeners use to start their garden earlier and extend the garden longer.  These tools can extend the garden season by weeks. 
Your neighborhood big box stores will be getting in vegetable plants soon; sooner than you can plant in your garden with no risk of them getting froze to death.  Providing cover will let you plant sooner.

What can you do to protect them?  You can throw a sheet , row cover or plastic over them when the cold snap comes in that your plant isn't hardy enough for.   You can buy “cloches” which are little plastic or glass bell shaped covers and place over each plant.  Or you can put a portable greenhouse over them.
I have used all in the garden.  There are pros and cons to each.  The covers can blow away if not weighted down.  The cloches and mini greenhouses can get too hot on a sunny day if not opened.  If you work, it is hard to time opening just after the sun rises depending on when you need to be at work.

I am using the portable greenhouses this year.  They have vents that you can unzip to help moderate the temperature so they don't get too hot.  I planted seeds in the first greenhouse 2 weeks ago and there are lots of little green shoots coming up.  I planted spinach, lettuce peas and chard.  I'll plant the other greenhouse this week end.  More chard, spinach and lettuce.  I'll add chervil, parsley, and arugula.  

Surprisingly, I had some peppers under cloches and others that were not a few seasons ago, and the uncovered peppers did just fine, even when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees.

How long can a cover extend the season?
Tunnels (row cover with hoops) and cloches- 6 to 7 weeks earlier for broccoli, cabbage and greens.  4 weeks earlier for melons and squash
Wall of water-Up to 8 weeks earlier for tomatoes and peppers.  Just be sure that the ground and wall of water is nice and warm before planting these warm weather lovers.
Mini greenhouse-Up to 8 weeks before the last frost for any crop.  I put jugs of water inside my mini greenhouse to moderate the temperature inside.
Mini greenhouse.  2 different sets of zippers on front and back to open when warm
You can lay sheets or other cover material over your plants to protect from frost overnight.
  
Another trick is to lay clear plastic out over your garden bed to warm up the soil.  Then sow your spring seeds.  The extra boost in soil temperature will help the seeds germinate quicker.

You can also start your seedlings indoors under a flourescent daylight bulb or bright south window.  This is a bulb that gives off similar light as the sun.  Just be sure to ease the plant into the outdoors, called hardening off, when you move them from inside to out.  The sun is way more potent than a light bulb and the temperatures more extreme.  I start mine off on a porch or deck or under a table on the patio during the day when it is sunny for a few days before planting them.  

Another trick is to add warm mulch right before planting.  Since mulch is still disintegrating, it will give off heat for a few days, warming the soil and the plant.

Happy planting!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Home grown medicinal teas

Thyme in flower
Sunday, February 18, 2018

You can make your own teas from common herbs growing in your garden or to spice up store bought teas. You may have growing in your garden what you need for your own home grown medicinal teas.

Burdock-can be used to help with constipation and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Chamomile-used to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and restlessness.  It is well known for its relaxing effect.  Be careful using, though, if you have a ragweed allergy.
Echinacea-the dried root of this coneflower is a well known immune system support.
Fennel-used for osteoporosis, stomach cramps.
Lavender-for anxiety, insomnia, irritability, restlessness.
Lemon balm-for digestion, nervousness, skin conditions.
Plantain-for coughing, inflammation, insect/animal bites.
Red clover-menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, skin conditions.
Rosemary-been used since ancient times for memory.
Sage-for digestive problems, menopausal symptoms.
Thyme-for allergies, colds, cuts or scrapes, fungal infections, respiratory infections.
Valerian-used in many sleeping aids, has a relaxing effect.
Harvesting and drying herbs

You can use stevia, an herb rich in antioxidants, to help sweeten your tea.  A little goes a long way and too much can cause a bitter taste.  1/8 teaspoon or less is all that is needed.
A sweet alternative-grow your own

You can place in cheesecloth or a tea ball.  Steep for 4-6 minutes.  

For more ideas on tea blends for the cold months, this article in Mother Earth News had some nice tea recipes:  4 Herbal Teas for Autumn and Winter
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Many medicinal teas are made from herbs which are easy to grow.  Most herbs are perennials which come back year after year.

For other teas you can make from your garden, Make your own teas from garden grown herbs

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Keep a garden diary

Notebook with calendar diary
Saturday, February 13, 2018

Every gardener should keep a diary.  It is a great way to capture how your garden does, when different varieties come into maturity, which ones did well, which ones bombed, what worked well, and what you never want to repeat!  

I have tried a couple of different ways of tracking my garden.  I monthly calendar is a good way to capture what is happening in the garden throughout the seasons.  This is what I used when I first started gardening.  I'd write the highlights for each week.  I could then look back on the previous year's to see how the current year compares.

These days, I just use a spiral notebook.  I write in the date for each entry.  I capture when I do planting and what varieties I planted.  In the beginning, I thought I could remember more than I actually could.  Now, I write it down!  Capture all your thoughts about the garden.

Jot down in your notebook what you learned and want to remember for next year’s garden:
*which veggies did best for you that you definitely want to include in your garden for next year.
*which ones did not do well in your garden and you don’t want to retry next year.
*which ones that did not do as well as you would have liked and you have ideas on what to do differently next season.
*lay out the timing of what you plant; capture if it should have been earlier or later (did you get the spring greens in too late and they bolted or the zucchini too early and the vine borer got to it).
*the number of plants you grew for each variety and was it enough or too much (did you get swamped by too many peppers and not have enough cucumbers?).
*ask neighbors what varieties they are growing that are growing well for them and jot them down as some to add to this year's garden or to try next year.
*draw out your garden plan so you can remember where everything was planted; you will want to rotate locations for next year to boost harvests and reduce bugs.
*keep track of when you fertilize, how much and with what; capture if it was enough and how well it helped the crops.
*keep track of when you start to water and which plants needed more than others and what size pot they were in; you can put them in a larger pot or one with a self waterer next year.
*at the end of each season, I capture what I want to plant next year so I don't forget.

Keep notes in your planner what varieties did best each month.  For those that did really well in the garden, I save the seeds and label them.  By saving the seeds of the plants that did well in your garden, you are creating plants that thrive in your ecosystem.

You may think you will remember next year all the details, but you may not.  So, to be safe, label the baggie with the variety, date, where it did well (in the ground, pot, shade, sun), and when it produced.

You can also make a list of what you want to learn more about over the winter to be better prepared for spring gardening.  Did your peppers leaves turn yellow, your tomatoes not produce as much as you expected, your lettuce bolted early, what is the best fertilizing routine for the veggies you grow?

I also recommend keeping a diary over the winter of the produce you are eating.  This will give you a great idea on what you should plant and how many you should plant come next gardening season.

You can research over the dreary winter days and dream of the warm, green, growing days to come.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Planning for a four season garden



Sunday, February 11, 2018


Some like it cool, some like it hot!  
You can optimize the veggies you grow by knowing what season is best for the type of vegetables you love eating.

Vegetables that are good to plant for spring harvests
Asparagus (these take a great deal of space)
Greens-spinach, chicories, radicchio, tatsoi, mustard, aruglua
Lettuce-sow every 2 weeks so you have lettuce spring, summer, fall, into winter
Peas, fava beans
Cilantro, parsley
Carrots, radishes, beets, turnips
Garlic, onions, potatoes

Summer vegetable garden 
Heat tolerant greens-chard, sorrel, salad burnet
Pole and bush beans, shelling beans
Fennel, dill, basil, leeks
Corn, Okra, Melons
Summer squash (like zucchini, , crookneck)
Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Sweet & Chili Peppers
Cucumber
Strawberries

Vegetables for the fall garden
Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, 
Peas, Brussels sprouts
Winter squash (like acorn, patty pan or pumpkin)
Sweet potatoes (these take a very long time to mature)
Radicchio, Escarole, Frisee and Round 2 of Greens

Late fall/winter garden
Cold hardy greens-arugula, kale, spinach, lettuce, sorrel, spinach
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage
Fava beans
Carrots, turnips
Onions, chives

For each season, you will plant a month or two earlier than the season you want to harvest if growing from seed.  Check seed packets to see how many days from planting to harvesting.  Back up the date to plant so it is ready to begin harvesting at the right time.

If you are buying transplants, you plant when the season is just right for the veggie!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Add chives to your garden

Common chives in bloom in spring

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Chives are a perennial herb that comes back year after year.  They are great to use in salads or as a topping on just about any dish.  You can grow from seed or buy a plant at your neighborhood big box store or nursery.  They are a care free herb.

Chives are part of the onion family, an allium so has all the great health benefits of onions.  Chives and onions have traditionally been used as an antibacterial, cancer preventer, cancer fighter, and even a sore throat properties.  Recent studies have confirmed the medicinal properties.

Chives originated in Asia and were first eaten by the Chinese.  Chives have been used for over 5000 years.  Early American colonists brought chives with them to start in their new gardens.

Chives will grow 18-24" tall.  There is the common chive and also the garlic chives.  The common chive has an onion flavor and, as it name suggests, the garlic chive has a nice garlic flavor.  

To use, just snip an inch or two above the ground and use fresh.  I have tried using chives in cooked dishes and they just become woody.  Go ahead and garnish the cooked dish with fresh chives.  Not only looks pretty, but adds  nice flavor.

Garlic chives in bloom in the fall

Chives are super easy to grow.  I think the easiest thing to do is buy a plant in the spring.  Since they come back year after year, you only have to buy one plant for your garden.  Just plant and watch it grow.   Every few years, if it is super happy with its spot in the garden, it may need to be divided to keep it vigorous.

The only watch out with chives is that they are super self-seeders.  If you don't remove their flowers when they start to dry, you will have lots and lots of new little chive plants!  You can either just snip the flowers off when they start to dry or snip them when they are fresh and use as you would the green leaves.  The flowers tend to have a stronger flavor than the leaves.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Make edible gardening easy

Lettuces from plants in the garden

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Having a vegetable garden seems like it would be a lot of work, right?  We remember stories of our grandparents working from dusk to dawn, raising all of their own food.  It really doesn't have to be a lot of work.  Here are tips to make it as easy as a flower garden.

1.  Plant in your mulched flower garden.  Add edibles to your already mulched flower garden.  No need to go through the effort of a separate garden spot.   Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  

2.  Plant in pots.  You don't even need a garden bed to grow a bevy of edible fruits and veggies these days.  There are so many varieties made for pots and small spaces.  Just look for "container", "compact", "small space", or "dwarf" on the packet of seeds or description of the plant.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

3.  Buy plants and don't start from seed.  It is a breeze to buy the 6 pack of plants and just pop them in the  flower bed or pots on the porch or patio.  Add flowers to make them look great too.  How do you decide what to grow?  10 easy veggie crops to grow

4.  Plant perennials once and they keep giving every year.  Yes, there really are perennial veggies and let's not forget fruits.  Examples include sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet, multiplier onions, strawberries, figs, blueberries, and many more.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden

5.  Plant self-sowers and let one go to seed.  Examples are lettuce, celery, beets, carrots, turnips, cultivated dandelions, tomatoes, tomatillo, chard, broccoli raab, mustards, and many more.  Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em

6.  Pick the crops that give you the most per plant and don't worry about the rest.  Optimize your space and time.  Crops that give a lot per plant are greens (you can harvest the outer leaves and the plant keeps growing new inner leaves), the smaller pepper plants, sprouting broccoli (you can continuously harvest the leaves and the florets), Egyptian walking onions (spread underground and tops), tomato plants (grow compact varieties in pots).  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

7.  The easiest edibles to grow are herbs.  Most of them are perennials as well.  They like to be ignored, not fertilized or watered for the best flavor.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

8.  If you do want to expand your garden bed, here is a way to make it as quick and painless as possible.  Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really

9.  To make watering a breeze, do a couple of things.  First mulch your flower beds and pots to keep the moisture in soil.  Second, use soaker hoses in the garden bed.  Then all you need to do is turn on the water and let it water itself!  

10.  Make your garden bed or pots as productive as possible to get the most from each plant.  5 Tips for a More Productive Garden

11.  Grow vertically!  Veggies like peas, beans, cucumbers and squash can all be grown on a stake or trellis in the garden or pot, using much less space and making it a breeze to pick the vegetable when ripe.  Quick tip-Grow Up!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

February 2018 Edible Garden Planner

Overwintered Egyptian walking onions in a pot
Saturday, February 3, 2018

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

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

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 7 garden)
Artichokes
Broccoli
Cabbage
Celery
Endive 
Escarole
Kale
Mache

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 7 garden)
Chamomile
Chives
Eggplant
Lavender
Leeks
Lovage
Parsley
Peppers
Rosemary
Tomatoes
Thyme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am still trying to decide what to plant in the garden this year.  I did capture at the end of the gardening season what I wanted to plant.  Reflecting back on the 2017 edible garden  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, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, green beans, and snap peas.  

Garden planning