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

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)

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 7 garden)

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Start your edible spring garden now

Newly planted seeds in portable greenhouse
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Now is a great time to sow seeds in the garden for early spring greens.  Greens like mustard, lettuce, spinach, chard, and corn salad to name just  a few thrive in cool spring days. Look for varieties that say “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” on the seed packet.  

Starting in mid-January, our daylight hours go above 10 hours a day.  This is nature's signal for seeds to start sprouting.  All you are waiting on for outdoor sowing is the temps to warm up!  Well, that time is here.  Start sowing these cold hardy crop seeds for the earliest spring garden salads!

To speed up germination and get an earlier start, you can lay clear plastic on your garden bed to warm up the ground temperatures before you plant.  The other option is to sow your seeds in a greenhouse.  I have a small, portable greenhouse that I use.  A greenhouse can extend the season up to 8 weeks if you also use water jugs to moderate the temperature inside the greenhouse.  When you put the greenhouse over your pots, keep the greenhouse closed up to get the soil temperature warmed if the pots have been outdoors.  

The biggest risk of using a greenhouse is overheating.  When the sun comes out, a closed up greenhouse can get over a 100 degrees on 50 degree day.  A greenhouse on a sunny day can be 50 degrees warmer inside if not vented.  Too great temperature swing on cool season crop can melt the crop instantly.

Here are some varieties that are good to sow right now in our Zone 7 garden.  There are many more than what I have listed.  It is a great time to be a gardener with all the new and revived varieties available today!

*Corn salad/Mache/Vit
*Cultivated dandelion-Clio- and Catalogna-Italian varieties, Garnet Stem  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
*Sprouting broccoli (will come back in the spring, too)  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring).  Starbor  Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F).  Winter density, Rouge d’Hiver, No Name Red Leaf, Arctic King, Continuity, Salad Bowl, Mottistone.   Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Jerusalem artichoke tubers
*Mesclun mix
*Winter greens mix
*Austrian overwintering peas in late winter

This is what I planted this week end in our portable greenhouse:  Lettuce, Peas, Chard, Chervil, Corn Salad, Arugula.  I will sow closely.  As they grow, I can take the thinnings and plant into the garden or more pots.  I hate to waste any veggie!  If you pull the thinnings carefully, they will survive transplanting.  Try to keep as much of the roots as possible.

If this is your first time gardening, here are tips to get started  Easy kitchen garden

Happy spring gardening!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Surprising veggies that can be grown in pots

Zucchini and petunias in a pot
Saturday, January 27, 2018

There are so many new varieties out every year.  There are ones that are more resistant to disease.  Ones that have higher nutritional value.  Ones that produce more.  Ones that have improved taste.  Ones that are developed for their small size and big harvests for those of us who have limited space or just want to get more for the effort.  It is amazing what can now be grown in pots!

We hear a lot about Monsanto and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and crop breeding can seem a bad thing.  The difference between GMO’s and other types of crop breeding is that GMO’s bring in genetic material from other organisms in a lab, like bacteria and even viruses.  The plants are engineered so that they kill insects that try to eat it.

That is only one side of the plant breeding story.  There are many other natural, with a little help, breeding of crops today.  It can be as simple as saving of seeds from the best producer of last year.  There are also hybrids which take the best traits of two different parents into seeds.  These hybrids will not produce seed that you can reuse next year and get the same vegetable as the parent.

Heirlooms and open pollinated vegetables will produce “true” to seed.  The offspring will be like its parent.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

Through the centuries, farmers have chosen the traits they like and have built on them from season to season.  This has given us Brandywine tomatoes, Vidalia onions and JalapeƱo peppers.  Yum!

Today there is much interest in urban and small space gardening.  There are many new varieties every year.  Here are some I have run across that I had not expected:
Watermelon-Bush Sugar Baby, Sugar Pot
Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil
Blueberry-Top Hat
Bush Bean-Any, Pole Bean-Any with stake in pot 
Growing beans
Cantaloupe-Honey Rock, Minnesota Midget
Corn-On Deck Sweet Corn
Cabbage-45 Day Golden Cross, Parel, Caraflex 
Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
Cilantro-Calypso is one of the most heat tolerant
Corn-On Deck Hybrid
Cucumbers-Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Salad Bush, Miniature White, Picklebush, Mexican Sour Gherkin, Patio Snacker  
How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden
Eggplant-Patio Baby, Black Beauty 
Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden
Kale-Dwarf Blue Curled Vates
Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
Parsley-Single Italian, Extra Curled dwarf
Peas-Easy Peasy, Half Pint, Any bush types
Time to plant peas!
Pepper-Any, hot peppers thrive in pots
Peppers are for every taste and garden
Tomatoes-BushSteak, Patio Princess, Bush Early Girl, Tumbler, Bush Big Boy, Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Lizzano, Sweetheart of the Patio, Tumbling Tom Yellow, Bush Better Bush, Balcony, Fresh Salsa Hybrid (look for bush/patio/container types)
Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes
Carrots-Caracas, Short ‘n Sweet, Little Finger, Tonda di Parigi, Parisian, Thumbelina, Touchon, Parmex, Mignon (look for short types)
All you need to know about growing carrots
Radish-Cherry Belle
Easy to grow crispy, peppery radishes
Zucchini-Bush Baby, Yellow Crookneck, Eight Ball, Cue Ball, Golden Delight, Anton, Patio Star, Giambo, Astia, Raven, Patio Star, Cosmos Hybrid (look for bush types versus vining types)
Growing zucchini and summer squash
Decorative container gardening for edibles

This is just a few of the many compact varieties available today to grow in small spaces and containers.  Just look for terms like "compact", "dwarf", "container" in the descriptors.  Many on line seed companies also have a section dedicated to container varieties.