Sunday, May 1, 2016

Edible shade gardens shine in summer

Vegetable garden in shade
Sunday, May 1, 2016

You may think that your shady yard can't grow any vegetables or herbs.  You may be surprised to learn that you can grow some veggies and herbs in shade.  They will not be as lush or full, but they will produce and some will appreciate the cool shade in the hot summer days.

Veggies you can grow in the shade: greens, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, celery, peas, beans, beets, radishes, turnips, endive, french sorrel, leeks, radicchio, purslane, pac choi, carrots, potatoes, scallions, mustard greens, cultivated dandelions, corn salad, chickweed   
Herbs for shade: mint, chervil, oregano, chives, cilantro, golden marjoram, lemon balm, parsley

Remember that you will have sun in the spring under deciduous trees until they leaf out.  Cold crops include lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, turnips, peas, beets.  Choose crops that have the shortest time to harvest and plant as early as the seed packet instructs to get your crop up and ready to harvest before the shade overtakes the garden spot.

I always thought you had to have your garden in full sun pretty much all day to be able to grow a garden.  This isn't the case.  If you can give them some sun or dappled shade, it will be a boost to yields and you can grow almost any vegetable.

Kitchen garden with flowers in front
Watch how the sun travels through your yard and don't forget about your front yard!  You can grow herbs and vegetables interspersed with flowers for a beautiful "flower" bed.  If you have an elevated deck that gets sun, use pots.  There are many varieties today bred specifically to be compact and do well in pots.   Decorative container gardening for edibles

If you get a little more sun, here is a listing of additional crops you can grow  in your garden:
4 hours of sun:  Alpine strawberries, soybeans, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, rosemary, basil
5 hours of sun:  blueberries, grapes, apple trees

Crops that thrive in spring will appreciate shade and dappled shade during the heat of summer.  Crops like lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, sprouting broccoli, cilantro bolt (go to flower) at the first sign of heat.  If you can plant them in a shady spot or move the pot they are planted in to shade as temperatures rise, you will be able to extend the season of harvest before they go to flower.

Don't let a little shade keep you from trying your hand at an edible garden.  The harvest may not be as much for the summer lovers like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant, but you can have a nice kitchen garden.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

May Edible Garden Planner 2016

Last year's mid-May garden

Saturday, April 30, 2016

May Day is when the old timers say is the best time to plant your summer garden in the Midwest.  Prior to May 1, there is still a good chance of poor weather, chilly temps, and frost in our Zone 6/7 gardens.  This can be catastrophic for tomatoes, eggplants, basil and other heat lovers.

Today, we have the added advantage of the 10 day forecast!  Check out your 10 day forecast to know if it looks safe to plant those tender summer veggies as it is possible to have chilly temps even into May.

So, what are we planting this year?  Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!  This year, we are planting a variety of heirloom, chocolate types, storage tomatoes and a couple of new varieties.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow  Loving the purple tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants!    

I am growing 4 red tomato varieties: 1) An heirloom slicer storage tomato, Red October, 2) Seeds from a store bought red grape tomato that stores very well, 3) A red cherry tomato, Super Sweet 100, that is reported to be very prolific and sweet, and  4) An heirloom large paste tomato Italian Red Pear that did great in our garden last year.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

The purple tomatoes I am growing this year are the large slicer heirloom tomatoes Cherokee Purple and Black Sea Man and 2 smaller types Violet Jasper/Tzi Bill and Tsunshigo Purple Chinese tomato plants.  The Cherokee Purple did great in our garden last year.  The other 3 are new ones I am trying.   Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition  The Power of Purple

If you have limited space, look for the dwarf/bush types like Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, Lizzano and Tumbling Tom. Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The earliest tomato bearing variety I have grown is Yellow Tumbling Tom that gave me tomatoes in June.  They grow great in the garden or pots.  Compact tomato plants for small spaces

Green beans were planted this week.  I like the vining type.  They produce all season and they grow up so using a trellis maximizes the garden space.  We like the flavor from the flat Italian type of green beans.  I started seeds in peat pots indoors this year 3 weeks ago.  It is not really necessary as you can plant directly in the garden with good success.  For us outdoor seed starting for green beans was last week.  The types I am growing are Romano, Blauhilde which is a purple green bean, and Scarlett Runner.  All three did very well in the garden last year.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Pepper plant in August garden last year
I also have several peppers in the Aerogarden that I am giving another week before planting.  I am growing mainly sweet peppers this year as I have enough chili powder from the Anaheim and enough frozen Cayenne and Jalapeño peppers from last season to last another year.  I am trying to start seeds  from a hot pepper again this year that my uncle gave me.  I tried last year several times but none sprouted.  Seeds will last years if stored in a zip lock or jar in the refrigerator, but lose potency if left at room temperature.  I keep hoping that one seed is still viable!

I am trying a new sweet pepper this year Tangerine Gem that is supposed to be prolific.  Another new variety I am trying is an ornamental pepper that is also edible Poinsettia Pepper.  Just loved the way this one looked so I had to try it!  I am also planting from saved seed an Orange Habanero, Ancient Red Pepper, and Super Red Pimento peppers.  This year I am going to plant them all in pots.  It just seems that my peppers do better in a pot than in the ground.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

I am growing only one eggplant that I overwintered in the garage, a white Japanese eggplant.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

I planted 3 different kinds of zucchini-Black Beauty, Bush, and Early Prolific Straight Neck.  They are susceptible to being killed by the squash vine borer if planted before June 1.  You can protect the vine to keep the insect from boring into the vine by wrapping the vine or just replant if they do get infected.  Zucchini grows fast!  Growing zucchini and summer squash  This may seem like overkill on the zucchini as one plant produces as much as a typical family needs during the summer.  I didn't have the greatest luck with zucchini last year.  Too much rain caused disease and insect pressure.  I also found some great ways to use and preserve zucchini that any extra will be stored for many new ways of using.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  I really liked shredding the zucchini and using in place of spaghetti.  I'll shred and put into freezer bags so I have a low carb, nutritious option anytime.

Baby zucchini in summer garden
  I am planting extra cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, lettuce, kale, and parsley this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden  All are already in the garden except the cucumbers.  I ordered some seed months ago of interesting varieties of cucumber.  They haven't come in yet so I have re-ordered from Baker Seed.  I am going to try a yellow, a red, and a white kind of cucumber.  The white is a small fruit.  It will be nice to have smaller ones so I can pick one for a single salad.    Cucumber info and tips for growing

Our rosemary and bay did survive the mild winter we had so I don't have to replant either of them this year.  The bay is re-sprouting from the ground as the foliage did die over the winter even with extra mulch around it.  I think I will did it up this fall and keep it in the garage to overwinter since it struggled and they are pricy to replace.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

I am definitely planting basil: Lettuce Leaf basil, a Cardinal basil which gives beautiful red flowers, and a Blue Spicy Vanilla Basil to use in household cleaners and potpourri.  It is edible, too, which could be really fun in homemade ice cream or other desserts.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

The last herb I planted was Stevia.  I planted it in a pot so I can bring it into the garage to overwinter.  It is a super sweet herb that can be used in place of sugar and is high in antioxidants with 0 carbs.  Can't beat that!  Just dry the leaves, crush them and store in an air tight container.  When you need some sweetness, just add the crushed leaves.  The trick is to not add too much or you will get a bitter taste.  

It was also time for another round of greens.  Resowing every 3 weeks will keep us in salads all through the summer and fall.  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which will last about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach.   Growing summer salads

For lettuce,  I planted bedding plants of Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Paris Island Cos Romaine, Coastal Star, and Iceberg.    I also planted some Oak Leaf, Grand Rapids, and red speckled romaine from seed.  For the next round of lettuce sowings, I'll go with the more heat resistant varieties Jericho Romaine which has been tested to last 3 months before bolting as well as Red Sails loose leaf lettuce which stays sweet after bolting.   Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces
Potted lettuce and arugula

We have already fertilized and added compost at the end of March.  We mulched this past week.  When planting, I like to add biochar at the bottom of each hole, a handful of worm castings, and powder the roots of each plant with mycorrhizal microbes.  Mycorrhizal fixes nitrogen to the roots of the plant, helping it to grow sturdier, bigger and faster.  Once you have the microbes in the soil, they will stay year after year.  For a quicker route, you can add plant starter in each hole which has the microbes, root support and fertilizer all in one.

Biochar is being rediscovered.  It was used for centuries by Amazon farmers.  Basically, it is wood charcoal.  It provides similar benefits as humus except it lasts forever and it is a great way to store carbon, to boot.  It is new in the US, but many are reporting significant improvement in growth and vegetable size.

This year, I also added Azomite around each of my transplants under the mulch.  The plants have really taken off over the last few days after adding the minerals.  Azomite contains many minerals which can result in significantly improved growth for your plants and more minerals in your harvested plants for a healthier you.  A win-win for your garden and your family.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Before you send your new transplants into the garden, insure they have been sufficiently "hardened off."  If you started your own seeds indoors, take your plants out daily over a week or so into a partially shady spot, letting them get used to the strong sun and wind.  I take mine out on the deck in the afternoon for them to get used to the sun and wind for several days before planting out.

If you purchased your transplants and they were already outdoors, they are ready to be plopped into the ground or pot and grow!

Iris in background and celosia in foreground interplanted with lettuce and sorrel

I always interplant my garden with flowers.  This year, I am using 
Lilliput zinnias, marigolds, petunias, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, dwarf Cock's Comb in a variety of colors, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Love Lies Bleeding,  Moonflower vine and heirloom sunflowers for annuals.  For perennials, there are day-lilies, irises, and gladiolas.

May is an exciting time in the garden.  Every day you go out, you can see things growing.  The spring vegetables are in their prime, the summer veggies are just starting, and there are so many herbs ready for seasoning your favorite salads or dishes.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Companion planting tips

Lettuce planted with companion cucumber and strawberries
Sunday, April 24, 2016

Most have heard of the 3 Sisters-corn, beans and squash planted together.  This is an example of companion planting-planting veggies together that help each other out.  Plants can give off chemicals, create usable nitrogen, have scents, suck nutrients or bring nutrients to the surface that can be either beneficial or detrimental to those planted near them.

For small gardens that cannot do the traditional crop rotation, companion planting is even more important to the long term health of the garden.  

Here is a list of companions for the veggies I plant with a link on how to grow:
*Beets-lettuce, onions, cabbage  
All about beautiful beets
*Chard-lettuce, onions, cabbage  
For year round steamed greens, grow chard!
*Cucumber-beans, nasturtiums, leeks, onions, peas, radishes, sunflowers  
Cucumber info and tips for growing
*Lettuce-radishes, strawberries, and cucumbers  
Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
*Onions-summer savory, chamomile
Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em  
*Tomatoes-asparagus, basil, carrots, celery, chives, garlic, onions, parsley
*Squash-icicle radishes, nasturtiums
The wonderful world of squash

Just plant the companions next to each other to help each out.  To get the most from your small space, check out how to do intensive gardening

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really

Using a hose to lay out your new garden bed

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Making a new garden bed can seem like a monumental, labor intensive task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several minimal labor ways to make a new bed. My favorite begins with a hose and old newspaper or cardboard.

Siting a New Garden
The best place to put a vegetable garden is close to the house where there is good sun, ideally a spot that gets southern exposure.  Check out where the sun falls throughout a sunny day to see where the best locations are in your yard. 

Don’t be concerned if your garden spot gets some shade each day. Fruiting vegetables need the most sun, 6-8 hours.  Root vegetables require less and leafy vegetables require the least.  Leafy vegetables appreciate getting afternoon shade in the hot days of summer.   

I have a spot on the northeast side of the house that I like to put leafy greens. It gets the morning sun, but the cool afternoon shade.  This allows us to grow lettuce through the summer.  Edible shade garden

Once you have picked out a spot, you can use a hose to lay out what you want the bed to look like. We then use a spray can of landscaping paint to paint out the edges of the bed.

Brand new mulched garden bed

Transforming Lawn to Garden
The easiest next step is to cut the grass inside your new bed as short as possible. Then lay several layers of newspaper or cardboard over the top of the closely sheared grass and cover with compost then mulch. Now, just let the bed lay until the grass dies. The grass and its roots adds organic matter to the soil as well.  Test the soil before planting to see what nutrients you need to add.  Use a balanced fertilizer when you plant.

Another option is after mowing close to the ground and laying the newspaper/cardboard, dump garden soil over it all, add compost, fertilize and plant immediately. Just be careful to not cut through the newspaper or you will get grass growing in your new garden bed.

We have also used a sod cutter, cutting up the sod in our new bed. Then, turning it upside down, covering with newspaper/cardboard, a couple of inches of compost, mulch, and plant.  This is definitely more work, but you have less chance of having to pull stray grass if you want to plant immediately.

The advantage that cardboard has over newspaper is that worms love cardboard!  Within a few days of putting out your cardboard, you will have a multitude of worms in your new garden bed.  Worms loosen and fertilize the soil.  A healthy garden bed will be full of worms.

Our garden is a combo of garden beds and containers
I highly recommend using mulched beds.  The mulch keeps the soil temperature consistent, significantly reduces the watering and weeding needed and adds organic matter to the soil as the mulch decomposes. Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds  Just be sure to use natural mulch with no dyes.

Types of Garden Beds
If you don’t need your garden bed to be “pretty”, a quick way to plant is to simply poke holes in bags of garden soil, put the perforated side down, cut open the top side of the bag and plant away. The plastic underneath will keep the grass from growing through. The downside is that your veggie plant roots won’t be able to grow down as well either. But if you don’t have time, this is a good way to get started. You can edge around the bags and removed them the following year, adding compost and have a ready made bed for the following year.

You can also go the raised bed route. There are many do it yourself, pre-cut raised bed kits that you can purchase. Use the same techniques above to make sure the grass won’t grow up through into your veggies. Newspaper and cardboard works great for this. Fill with good soil, compost, an all natural fertilizer and you are ready to plant.

The pros of raised beds is that they warm up quicker in the spring and you control the soil that you are growing in. The cons, the temperature is not as constant as if in the ground and they will need to be watered more often.

Potted eggplant with petunias
You can also opt to have your garden in pots. This is a great way to start small and quickly. It is amazing how many varieties of any veggie you love have been developed to grow in containers.

There are several options to getting your garden bed in place that don’t require a ton of time or hard labor. Now is the time to choose one and get your spring garden growing!  For easy crops to start with, Easy kitchen garden

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What crops give you the biggest bang for your time?


Chard, a salad green or great steamed, and beautiful to boot

Sunday, April 17, 2016


If you don’t have much time and want to plant what gets you the most payback, these are the crops for you:
Cilantro ($21 per square foot).  An herb that likes cool temperatures.
Arugula-Roquette ($21 per square foot).  A perennial salad green.  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden
Green salad mix ($17 per square foot).  Growing summer salads
Chives ($16 per square foot).  A perennial herb.  
Dill ($16 per square foot).  A self-seeding herb.  Start a kitchen herb garden!
Lettuce ($16 per square foot).  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Cherry tomatoes ($15 per square foot).  Choosing which tomatoes to grow
Turnips ($10 per square foot).  All about turnips
Winter squash ($8 per square foot).  The wonderful world of squash

All can be grown in pots if you are pressed for space, even the slicer type tomatoes.  Decorative container gardening for edibles
Potted lettuce

A packet of seeds is anywhere from $1-$5.  You can grown many square feet from one packet of seeds.  A packet of seeds can last for years if you are planting for just 2-4 family members.  I keep my seed packets in a freezer bag in the crisper.  I have seeds from more than 5 years ago that are still viable.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

A great way to save money is to preserve what you can't eat fresh.  Even if you don't have a huge freezer, you can preserve your garden bounty.  Harvest and preserve your herbs  Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies  If you do have some space in the freezer, freezing is an excellent choice.  Freezing the extras for winter 

Now make sure that you plant the things you love to eat.  How to know what to grow  It won’t be worth a thing if it sits in the garden and is never eaten!  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What's in my edible garden this year

Lettuce and salad burnet in Earthbox and lettuce planted in the garden
Saturday, April 16, 2016


There are veggies and herbs I keep in my garden year after year and then there are the “experiments”.  I have my standby’s but I love trying new things each year.  New varieties or just new kinds of edibles.  I try new varieties to find the ones that are most prolific for my garden conditions and taste.

The perennials in the garden are your back bone.  They come back year after year with no effort on your part.  They are the first up in the spring and the last to leave in the winter.  If the winters are not harsh, many are harvestable year round.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden

Edible perennials in our garden:
Herbs-lavender, bay laurel, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, thyme, oregano, salad burnet, common chives, garlic chives, tarragon, horseradish, garlic, Elephant garlic, and leeks.  For more on growing herbs, Start a kitchen herb garden!
Vegetables/Fruits-potato onions, Egyptian walking onions, blue potatoes, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, chard, cultivated dandelions, 9 Star broccoli, strawberries, apples, figs.  Corn salad and sprouting broccoli usually comes back from their own seed.  There will also be volunteer lettuce and tomatoes that will pop up here and there that I will transplant to where I want them in the garden.  A friend also gave me some Meyer lemon tree seeds that I am trying, too.

I have annual herbs, flowers and vegetables that I grow each year.  Most I have to either start from seed or purchase bedding plants from the store.  There are some that self sow and will come back year after year with no effort on your part.  Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em

Large seeds are started in peat pots with starting soil and small seeds in the Aerogarden on right

Edible annuals I can’t live without that I started this week end:
Herbs-cilantro (Slo Bolt since our springs are short), basil (Cardinal with beautiful maroon flowering head, Blue Spice to add to cleaning supplies, Lettuce Leaf for cooking and pesto), stevia, red onions, and chervil for cooking and adding to body oil.  I have to have parsley in the garden.  It is a self-sower and usually comes back each year, which it did this year so no more are needed.  
Vegetables/Fruits-Goji berry vine, Blue potatoes (started from seed potato), sweet peppers (Tangerine Dream, Baby Bell, Orange banana, Ancient Red, Super Red pimento), hot peppers (orange habanero and one of my uncle’s super hot pepper seed), zucchini (Early Prolific Straightneck, Black Beauty, and Bush), green beans (vine types-Romano, Scarlet Runner, and Bean Blauhilde) and tomatoes (Cherokee Purple, Italian Red Pear an heirloom paste, grape tomato from saved seed, Super Sweet 100, Violet Jasper, Tsunshigo purple Chinese tomato, Black Sea Man, and Red October).  I always keep cayenne and jalapeño peppers in the freezer for salsa and cooking.  Right now, I don’t think I need to restock so I’ll wait and see on planting this year.

For greens, I always plant and start a variety of lettuces, spinach and Giant Red mustard.  Lettuce plants purchased: Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Leaf, Paris Island Cos, Coastal Star, Iceberg.  Started from seed Red Crisphead, Magenta Crisphead, Cracoviensis loose leaf, New Red Fire, and Grand Rapids loose leaf.  The Red Crisped and Cracoviensis are new varieties I am trying this year.  Grand Rapids was one my Granny grew in her garden.  If you let your lettuce go to seed, you can save them and never have to buy lettuce seed again.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds
Flowers interplanted with herbs and edibles
Annual flowers seeds started:
I always add flowers to the garden.  Not only do they look nice, they attract pollinators that increase yields.  Cock’s comb from seed my dad gave me years ago, Hummingbird vine from seed a neighbor gave me years ago, Tangerine Gem marigold (great deer and pest deterrent), sunflowers, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth, Lilliput zinnias, and Moonflower vine.

I started the small seeds in the Aerogarden and the large seeds (zucchini, beans, Moonflower, lemon tree) I started in peat pots on a heating mat.

I decided against broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower this year because the beetle pests were awful last year.  All three of these are in the same family.  Without their preferred food this year, the pests should die off and I’ll plant back in the garden next year.

When my babies sprout, I will put them in the garden where the conditions are best for them.  I plant the crops that like cool weather on the north side and where there is more shade to extend the season.  The heat lovers I plant where they get the most sun and won’t be shaded by others as they grow. 

I like to interplant flowers and crops.  This keeps the pests down by not planting one type of crop all together.  The flowers attract pollinators and can even repel pests. Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  Place this year’s crops in a different spot than they were last year.  Practicing crop rotation does two things.  Each type of plant uses different minerals and nutrients from the soil.  Smart rotation will keep your soil from getting depleted of what your crops need.  Rotation also keeps the pests down.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

For more on preparing your soil for plant (and crop) nutrition, check out this blog.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals