Saturday, February 23, 2013

Crop rotation for the healthiest vegetables


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smart rotating of your vegetables can break the pest and disease cycle while at the same time utilizing the nutrients that the previous season’s vegetables left behind.  Studies have shown that your harvest increases by 10-25%.

Most have heard that crop rotation is important for your vegetables.  This is for a variety of reasons.  Many pests are specific to a vegetable type so when they overwinter and come up hungry, their favorite meal is no where to be found.  Different vegetables take different nutrients out of the ground while others give back nutrients.  Diseases are also many times specific to certain vegetables.  

The simplest grouping of vegetables is into 4 main groups:
Alliums (chive, shallot, onion, garlic and leeks)
Brassicas (cabbages, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, collards, mustard, kohlrabi, bok choy, radish, turnip)
Legumes (pea and bean family)
Nightshade or solanacae family (potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes)

Just add your other veggies in with one of the other groups to balance out the area each uses in the garden so you can just move the whole group from one section of the garden to the next easily.

Plant nitrogen hungry vegetables after legumes since they add nitrogen back to the soil.  You can also plant legumes next to nitrogen hungry plants like lettuce or tomatoes.

If your garden spot is just too small to do crop rotation, interplant instead!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em


Marigolds in bloom
Sunday, February 17, 2013

Like flowers, there are also self-seeding herbs and vegetables.  If you are the type that like to plant once and forget about ‘em, these are the ones for you!

The only trick to the whole adventure is that you have to let them go to seed so they can sow the next season’s crop for you.  When they have produced their seed, you can either let the wind do the work for you or you can cut off the seed head and strategically shake the seed where you would like new plants to come up.
Chives flowering

Self sowing herbs:
Basil (bring in the volunteers to overwinter in a pot)
Borage
Chamomile
Chives (garlic chives are particularly aggressive)
Cilantro
Dill
Oregano
Parsley
Self sowing edible flowers:
Calendula
Chamomile
Marigolds
Nasturtiums
Sunflowers

Self sowing vegetables:
Celery
Beets
Broccoli raab
Carrots
Egyptian walking onions
Parsnips
Radishes
Runner beans
Tomatillo 
Tomato
Turnips
Winter squash

Lettuce seed head
Self sowing greens:
Arugula
Chard
Collards
French sorrel
French dandelions (bred to have larger, sweeter leaves than “common” dandelions, but both are very nutritious and great in salads) Kale
Lettuce
Mach
Miner’s lettuce
Orach
Mustards (Giant Red Mustard does great in our garden)
New Zealand spinach
Purslane
Salad burnet


A gentle watch-out, these are plants that easily self-sow so you can get more than you want over time.  When you get the number you want, just get off future seed heads or start harvesting your new seedlings to sell the plants at your neighborhood farmers market or give away to friends!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Peas are great for spring gardens and beans pick up when it gets too warm for peas.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  

Both love sun, well drained soil, and a side dressing of fertilizer or compost when planted.  Don't get carried away with fertilizer during the growing season or you will have all greenery and no pods.  Be sure to not water the foliage; stick with watering at the ground to avoid fusarium wilt.

Peas and beans are part of the legumes which include fava beans, shell beans (like the popular red, kidney, Great Northern beans), snap peas, snow peas, green beans, lima beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.  Peas and beans have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.

When you plant legumes, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  You just moisten the seed and coat with the rhizobial powder and plant.  Nitrogen accumulates on the roots of the legume.  Just be sure to not pull the plant when you are done harvesting from it so that the nitrogen stays in the soil!

You can plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.  The seeds germinate in temps between 40-75 degrees F.  Just scratch a small hole about 1.5” deep to drop the seed in and cover.  Have patience, seeds germinate anywhere from 7-25 days.  Plant every 2 weeks until midspring for continuous harvest.  For maximizing your harvest, I would go for snow and snap peas since you eat the entire pod.  Peas stop producing pods when temperatures exceed 70 degrees F.  Providing shade can extend the season.

Harvest sugar snow and snap peas just as the seeds begin to form to have the sweetest peas while the pod is still relatively flat.  Even with shelling peas, pick as soon as the seeds have rounded out.  Continuous harvesting keeps them producing.  You can keep adding what you harvest to a freezer bag to have the sweetest and freshest for winter eating.

Peas can be grown in pots as well as directly in the ground.  Growing in pots allow you to move your peas to a cooler area as spring heats up.  Grow your peas where you want to plant a nitrogen hungry summer crop, like eggplant, lettuce, zucchini or tomatoes.

Most varieties are vining so be sure to give them a trellis or stake to wrap themselves around.  There are bush varieties out there if you prefer to bypass a trellis or support.

Beans are summer crops and there are many bush and pole varieties.  Bush varieties come into bear just before pole types.  Both require soil temps of at least 60 degrees F.  Plant 1” deep and as close as 4” apart for pole types and 12” apart for bush types.  Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days.

Beans can also be grown in either pots or in the ground.  Since beans are growing during the hotter time of year, watering is important to keep them productive.  Just be sure to not water the foliage.  Beans can produce over a long period of time.  To keep them making beans, be sure to harvest frequently.

Runner bean pods are edible and produce beautiful flowers in red, white or peach.  They are also a perennial in warmer parts of the country.

I prefer to grow the “stringless” types so I don’t have to remove the string when I put them up.  I freeze my beans since I don’t have enough space to have a huge number of plants.  By freezing, I can harvest every other day and just add the new ones to the freezer bag.

As with peas, you get the most beans from those that you eat the whole bean versus shelling type beans.  So, if space is limited, "green bean" types are the best.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February is indoor seed starting time!



Sunday, February 10, 2013


It is serious indoor seed starting time 8-12 weeks prior to your last frost!  According to the Farmer's Almanac the best time for seed starting is between the New Moon on Feb 10 and the First Quarter Moon Feb 17 for annuals and leafy veggies.

Here is a countdown by week for what you should be starting indoors in February:

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)
Artichokes
Broccoli
Cabbage
Celery
Endive 
Escarole
Kale
Mache

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)
Chamomile
Chives
Eggplant
Lavender
Leeks
Lovage
Parsley
Peppers
Rosemary
Tomatoes
Thyme

Here is a link to determining your last frost date:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow




Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cabbage likely was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BC.  Today there are 3 different types of cabbages-heading, conical, and loose.  They also come in red, purple or green.

Cabbage contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber.  Cabbage has been shown to reduce the risk of colorectal cancers.  Purple cabbage also has anthocyanins which have been proven in other vegetables to have anti-cancer properties.

Cabbage is a member of the brassica family.  They all enjoy cool weather and are biennials.  They are grown as an annual.  They produce the head the first year we eat and flower the second year.  

Cabbage can be grown for spring, fall, or winter harvest.  They are sown a season prior to when you want to harvest them.  For spring, plant in August.  For fall and winter, both are planted in June/July.  You just pick the longer maturing date types for winter harvests.

Late storage types will keep up to 6 months if properly stored at around 32 degrees and high humidity.

For spring harvests, plant so that the heads mature prior to the heat of the summer. Cabbage is easy to start from seed indoors. Early April or when the crocus blooms is a good time to plant for spring harvests.  For fall/winter transplants, set out when the weather begins to cool.

Cabbages like a rich, organic soil.  Place in a location that gets full sun to slight shade.  Maintain consistent moisture through the growing season during dry spells.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Planning for a four season garden



Sunday, February 3, 2013


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 (but 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, and fall
Peas, fava beans
Cilantro, parsley
Carrots, radishes, beets, turnips
Garlic, onions, potatoes

Summer vegetable garden 
Heat tolerant greens-chard, sorrel, salad burnet
Pole 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 early 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 2, 2013

A French vegetable garden you can grow in a small space



Saturday, March 2, 2013

If you have ever wanted to plant a French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you can grow the staples of a French kitchen garden in as little as 7’ x 7’ space.  

It is common for the French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round, winter included.  The French call these kitchen gardens a potager.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!

When Eliot Coleman, author of “Four-Season Harvest” wanted to see what could be grown in winter and ideas on how to grow winter produce, he went to France (France and Maine are at the same latitude).  

If you have only a 7’ x 7’ space, a French kitchen garden could include the following:

Country French garden
Herbs (1 each)-fennel, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, basil and curly parsley
2 tomatoes for summer-1 slicer type and 1 cherry type for salads
Beets and turnips interplanted with tomatoes (will be harvested before tomatoes are mature)
4 pole peas for spring, 4 pole beans for summer
1 patty pan squash, 1 eggplant, 1 butternut squash
8 shallots
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed
Strawberry plant edging
If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the patty pan squash, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add kale, carrots and radishes in the garden bed.  
If you have more room, you can add chard (they are ornamental as well as nutritious), fava beans, chickpeas, asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet peppers, other winter squash varieties, potatoes, or annual artichokes.

The French also interplant marigolds to add color, attract pollinators and deter pests as well as ornamental flowers for cutting.  

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are also edible and make a beautiful salad garnish.

Seed catalogs that have a good selection of French vegetables and herbs-Botanical Interest, Burpee, Cook’s Garden, Harris Seeds, Le Jardin du Gourmet, Johnnie’s Selected Seeds, Reimer Seeds to name a few.