Saturday, July 4, 2015

What's happening in the early July edible garden

Flower and veggie garden in bloom

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In this first week of July, we are harvesting kale, broccoli, Alpine strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, cultivated dandelion greens, green beans, lettuce, salad burnet, pak choi, arugula, mustard greens, chard, and peppers.  Many flowers are in bloom: glads, daylilies, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, nasturtiums, zinnias  hostas, snapdragons, and alyssum.  The beets, carrots, leeks, onions and garlic are close to harvesting.  The first round of lettuce, spinach, and cilantro is bolting.  Time to reseed with heat tolerant varieties if you haven't already.

We have had lots of rain this summer.  Temps have ranged by week from the upper 70's to upper 90's.  In general, veggie gardens need ~1 inch of water a week.  So far this summer, we have not had to water the garden beds, but are watering the pots weekly.

For the lettuce, carrots and greens you are growing, they cannot dry out or they will bolt and become bitter.  My second crop of lettuce is just to harvest size for cut and come again.
Potted carrots, close to maturity

To keep from having blossom end rot on tomatoes and squash, consistent water and a fertilizer with calcium is key.  They shouldn't be overwatered.  Over or under will affect the fruit flavor.  They are kind of like Goldilocks; they like it just right.  No worries, though, if you do overwater, the fruit will be fine, just not as flavorful and may crack.

Our tomatoes started ripening about a week ago.  The 4th of July is the usual time for the first ripe tomatoes.  If you planted early types, you were likely getting ripe tomatoes around the first of June.
The pepper plants have green peppers on them.  We have bell peppers, ancho, pimentos, sweet banana and heirloom Italian sweet peppers all with fruits.  They can be picked when green or after turning red/brown/orange/yellow.  Peppers seem to have a built in counter.  They will drop flowers when the plant has reached its max peppers.  Pick the peppers when green to keep the plant producing. You can ripen on the counter, if you like, or go ahead and enjoy green.

I have not had good luck with zucchini this year.  The first 2 plants died.  I replanted a couple of weeks ago.  In previous years, we would have been getting zucchinis for the last 3 weeks.  You have to watch zucchinis every day.  Those little ones become monsters in just a few days.  The only drawback of the large zucchinis are the large seeds, but I like them.  We grill ours and they have a nice, sweet flavor!  If you don’t like the large seeds, you can always make wonderful zucchini bread. Or for other ideas on how to use zucchini, see my blog:  What to do with all that zucchini?!

The eggplant is running behind this year, too.  

Luckily, I froze both the bounty of eggplant and zucchini we had from last year.  I tried thawing and grilling them.  It worked great!  A couple of tips if you do the same, make sure you slice them while still fairly frozen; makes it so much easier as they get mushy when they completely thaw.  For eggplant, wait to brush with olive oil until after they are grilled.  Eggplant sucks in olive oil.

Our cucumber vines, which I have growing up a trellis to save space, is giving about a cucumber a week per plant.  One large cucumber is enough to make a jar of sandwich pickles.  My husband loves sandwich pickles on his burger.  Any extra I put in salads.  They taste so fresh right off the vine.  For a homemade pickle recipe,  Easy, homemade pickles
Leek bloom with sage, kale and broccoli in the background
Looks like many of our garlic and onions are getting very close to harvesting.  They tell you when they are ready.  When their tops fall over and turn brown, it is time.  They should be pulled and left in the shade for a couple of weeks to season them for storage.  "Hardening" them helps them keep in storage longer.  For more on garlic,  Garlic harvest is here!
Our sprouting broccoli is still going strong.  I love these plants!  You can use the leaves for salad and tops for cooking.  There is not many greens that are not bitter this time of year for salads.  These sprouting small broccoli florets and leaves taste just like broccoli.  
Other greens that can be used in salads.  Chard harvested first thing in the morning, dandelion greens, and succession planted lettuce (which doesn’t last long before bolting this time of year) are all salad worthy.  You can adds herbs for a fresh taste and zing like salad burnet, parsley, basil, dill, onion stalks/tops, chives, thyme, oregano.  For fun, you can add edible flowers.  Growing edible flowers
The sage and other Mediterranean herbs are going strong.  My mother read recently that you can use sage tea to help with hot flashes.  You can have up to 5 teas a day.

Pole green beans
I put out pole beans early this year.  I have been harvesting green beans for a few weeks now.  I planted the bush beans about 3 weeks ago.  Pole beans typically produce over the entire season whereas bush beans have one pick harvest and then sporadically after that.  This year I planted all Italian Roma/Romano types and runner beans, both green and purple.  Runner beans have beautiful flowers and edible bean pods.

I just pick the beans when they are big enough and keep a quart bag handy in the freezer to continually add the fresh beans to.  When full, I will label and start another.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

July Garden Planner

Sunday, June 28, 2015

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

The first round of garlic is almost ready for harvesting, 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.

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.

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.

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.

I have started using a mineral supplement for my plants this year.  Right now I am using a foliar spray.  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.

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.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pizza garden for the kids

Friday, June 26, 2015

A proven way to get the kids interested in gardening and the outdoors is to grow a pizza garden.  Engage the little ones in choosing what their favorite pizza ingredients are and grow a garden with those in them.  

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

You can even throw a few other healthy ingredients in the mix as everything tastes better when you grow it yourself.

So, what are some ideas for pizza ingredients?  
Tomatoes-any you can’t eat, you can easily freeze for winter pizzas
Basil, oregano, chives, garlic for seasoning (very easy to dry any extra)
Onions-you can grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot and they are perennials to boot
Spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli and peas for spring and fall pizza toppings (easy to freeze for later)
Green peppers, eggplant, zucchini for summer pizzas (maybe some hot peppers for the adults)

You can make tomato sauce or pesto based pizzas.  Three basil plants will provide lots of fresh basil for pizzas as well as enough to make pesto sauces.  Basil is a tender herb so be sure to plant after all danger of frost has past or give it protection.  Oregano and chives are perennials so they can be planted as soon as they show up at the garden center and all the way to fall.

Garlic is typically planted in the fall to get the largest bulbs, but you can also plant in the spring as well.  If you plant the hardneck varieties, you can use the garlic scape (its flower) to flavor pizzas, sauces or salads.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Compact tomato plants for small spaces

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tomatoes are the favorite vegetable to grow in the US.  There is nothing like a fresh off the vine tomato!  Luckily, if you have not grown your own, you can stop by your local farmers market and pick up a fresh tomato.

If you do not have much space, but would still love to grow your own, here is the list of compact tomatoes you can grow in a small space or in a big pot.

Balcony, Black Pearl, BushSteak, Bush Early Girl, Early Girl Hybrid, Italian Ice, Honeybunch, Sweetheart of the Patio, Patio Princess, Tumbling Tom, Cherry Punch, Cherry Cascade, Elfin, Micro-Tom, Patio-F, Red Robin, Sprite, Tiny Tim, Tumbling Tiger, Cordova, Nova, Lizzano.

Look for descriptions like "bush", "compact", "patio", "container" in the description on the seed packet or tags of transplants.  There are new varieties that come out every year.  Burpee also has a little picture on their seed packet of a clay pot with a checkmark in it to denote that this variety can be grown in a pot.

When you plant, plant deeply, be sure to add compost, a complete fertilizer and bone meal (combats blossom end rot).  If growing in a pot, you will have to water more often than in the garden.  I love the self watering pots that have a built in reservoir in the bottom, lengthening time between waterings.

For more detailed information on growing tomatoes, see my previous blog:  
Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Edible Shade Garden

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If you don’t get the 6-12 hours of full sun that many vegetables and herbs thrive in, doesn’t mean you can’t grow any vegetables or herbs.  They may not get as big or full as those grown in full sun, but they will grow!

Here is a list of herbs and vegetables that can grow in different levels of sunlight.  
2-4 hours of sun herbs
*Anise hyssop
*Lemon balm
*Sweet woodruff
*Wild ginger

2-4 hours of sun vegetables
*Asian greens such as bok choy and tatsoi
*Mesclun greens
*Mustard greens
*Swiss chard

4-5 hours of sun vegetables
*Beans-bush and dwarf types
*Green onions
*Micro greens
*Peas-bush and dwarf types

You can get more sun than you think by trimming tree limbs up to allow morning or evening sun in.  You can also use light colored mulch or even the high dollar metallic mulch to have more sunlight reflect up onto the plants.  Another approach would be to spray paint what the plants back up to with metallic paint or place a piece of metallic painted plywood behind your plants.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

Cucumber beetle
Sunday, June 7, 2015

There are good bugs and then there are the bugs that eat up your harvest or give your plants diseases.  You have to be extremely careful in applying any insecticides (bug killers) as they will kill off the beneficial insects (like bees) that pollinate your veggies and increase your harvests.

The best approach is to let nature take its course.  If you have bad bugs, the good bugs will quickly follow and provide equilibrium in the garden.  When I went organic, there was significant reductions in bad bug pressure by the second year.  I did several things to help accelerate the balance.  I purchased good bugs to release in the garden, planted flowers that deter bad bugs and attract pollinators, applied milky spore strategically, attracted birds to the garden, and used natural sprays and powders judiciously as a last resort judiciously.

You can purchase beneficial insects via mail order or some nurseries carry them.  If you go this route, be sure to release them immediately.  If ordering on line, be sure that you will be at home when they are delivered so that you can get them released that day.

You can encourage good bugs by planting flowers either around your vegetable patch or actually with your vegetables.  I have my vegetable garden actually in my flower garden.  Marigolds are a bad bug deterrent so I added these all around the flower beds.  My flower garden is in bloom from spring all the way through fall.  Many varieties are also edible like the day-lilies, borage, and roses. 

To encourage birds to your yard plant trees, shrubs and flowers that attract birds.  Keeping a bird bath with shrubs nearby so the birds can hide in the shrubs is a great way to get birds into your yard.  

Using a garden hose to dose down the insects can be a good strategy; just make sure that you are not watering a plant’s leaves that are susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, roses or peonies.  

Manual removal of bad bugs can be very effective.  Just go insect and catepillar hunting and pull off the insects and throw them into a bowl with soap and water.

For Japanese beetles, I use an attractor that is quite a distance from the vegetable garden.  They love roses so I go hunting for them on our roses every day.  We also applied milky spore to keep the grub population down around the roses so we have fewer adults in the summer.  Milky spore is a microscopic bacteria that takes a couple of years to be effective so get started today.  I saw a huge difference in the Japanese beetle population by applying milky spore around my roses.

For ants, you have to control the aphids.  A recipe for catching the ants and aphids:  2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water in a gallon jug with a lid.  Drill 3 small holes in the lid, large enough for the ants and aphids, but too small for a little bee.  Place in trouble areas.

One non chemical approach I really like is diatomaceous earth.  It is a white powder of tiny aquatic fossils.  The fossils have tiny rough edges that we cannot feel or see, but cut the insects outer "skin" causing dehydration and killing the insect.  Again, DE doesn't know a good from bad bug so use carefully.

Here are some make your own insect deterrents.  Make sure you test on a few leaves to insure that it won’t adversely affect the plant you are trying to protect.
All purpose spray.  1 garlic bulb, 1 onion, 1 teas dry cayenne pepper, 1 teas liquid soap, 1 quart of water.  Mix water, garlic, pepper and onion together in a food processer, let steep an hour or so, drain through cheesecloth, add liquid soap and you are ready to spray away!
Hot pepper spray.  Good for repelling insects, squirrels, rabbits, and other curious mammals.  1 cup of hot peppers in a quart of water.  Mix in food processor, strain through a cheesecloth and you are ready to use.  Be careful to not get the liquid on your hands and then touch your eyes or mouth.  It will burn.
Tomato-leaf spray.  This is toxic to soft bodied insects like aphids.  It also attracts beneficial wasps.  Take the leaves off the bottom of your tomato plant, 2 cups.  Put in food processor with 1.5 quarts of water.  Let steep overnight, strain out leaves.  Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides where they like to hide.

If you are just overrun with the bad bugs, you can look on OMRI web site to see what the organic insecticides are:  I use Safer Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil, and Bt for my indoor plants.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

Sprouting broccoli

Saturday, June 6, 2015

We love eating a salad every day.  It is fresh, crunchy, and delicious.  You can dress it up in so many different ways.  The variety available for the greens themselves is phenomenal.  When I was growing up, it seemed the only salad green in the store was iceberg lettuce.  Now, you can get numerous varieties of lettuces, kale, fiddle leaf ferns, purslane, wheat grass, pea shoots, spinach, amaranth, chives, arugula, endive, radicchio; the list goes on.

As the variety has increased in the stores, it has ballooned in seed catalogues.  There are hundreds of different lettuces, greens, and salad herbs available out there.
Red sails lettuce

Greens all have something in common.  They 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 also 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.
Swiss chard

With the advent of so many gardening today, the demand for seeds has continued to rise.  You can now choose varieties bred specifically to tolerate the conditions of each season.  There are cold hardy varieties and heat resistant varieties.  You would plant the cold hardy varieties in early spring and fall.  The heat resistant varieties you would plant in late spring and successively every 3 weeks through the summer.  Look for “bolt resistance” and “heat tolerant” varieties. 

You can also look for greens that actually thrive during the dog days of summer.  Varieties like amaranth, chard, collards, kale, Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, orach, salad burnet, sorrel, sprouting broccoli (one of our favorite summer greens), sweet potato leaves, purslane, radacchio, and cultivated dandelions.  The new leaves are the sweetest.  Herbs like chives, parsley, tarragon, and celery leaves add an unique twist on the summer salad.
Blood veined sorrel

Pick the youngest leaves for salads and use the more mature leaves of chard, radicchio and sorrel for cooked greens.  Picking right after a rain or first thing in the morning also gives the sweetest, plumpest leaves.

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. Sow varieties adapted to the season.
  6. Keep the plants in a cool, shady location to extend the harvest in the summertime.
  7. Supplement the salad bowl with sprouting broccoli leaves, perennial greens, tropical greens, and herbs when it gets hot.