Sunday, July 26, 2015

What we are harvesting in the late July edible garden



Sunday, July 26, 2015

We continue to have a wet, but hot July.  Summer veggies are behind their usual production while spring veggies have continued weeks past normal.

Our tomato and pepper plants are smaller than usual.  The short, stocky plants are putting out a good output.  Fairly typical production for this time of year.  Getting about a quart of tomatoes a week.  We were getting 1 cucumber per plant.  Now that we had a week without rain, we are getting 4 huge cucumbers within the week.

The pole green beans are still giving about a half quart a week.  The bush beans of the same variety, Roma’s, have just started flowering and there is one bean on all of the 10 bush plants.

The sage, basil and parsley have loved this weather!  The basil is ready to harvest for pesto.  The other Mediterranean herbs have done fine, but not growing as quickly as usual.

Getting the first fruits on our tomatillo plant.  Nothing on the eggplant yet.  I replanted the zucchini that died.  Seeing the first flowers on them. This is a couple of months behind the norm.

Have already harvested the garlic.  Not seeing any action on the bulb onions.  The Egyptian walking onions did great.  Nice, big bulblets to replant.

Our lettuce has lasted a couple months longer than normal.  Most has bolted, but many leaves are still sweet.  Have re-seeded for the next crop.  In the meantime, will use cultivated dandelion, sorrel, baby chard, and sprouting broccoli leaves for salads until the lettuce is ready to eat.

To keep the greens sweet, cut them back.  The new leaves will be tender and tasty.  I also add sweet clover, salad burnet and tarragon leaves to our salads.  They have the flavor similar to a Granny Smith apple; very fresh.

The carrots, beets, and broccoli are not quite ready to harvest.  The cabbage is close.  The sunflowers no longer have the yellow centers and are making seeds.


So far, have only had to water the pots and fertilize everything once a month with an all purpose fertilizer and a side dressing of compost.  Been an easy summer in the garden.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Growing zucchini and summer squash

Baby zucchini
Saturday, July 25, 2015

Zucchini is a summer squash.  All summer squash love heat, fertile soil, and sustained moisture.  You can plant them as soon as all danger of frost is past and they will be producing in just a few short weeks.  You can even plant them now and they will be producing a few short weeks.  They go right through until fall if you keep them picked.  All plants are programmed to reproduce so if you keep the fruits picked, the plant will keep trying to replace it.

Squash originated in Mexico.  There are cave drawings from 8000 to 6500 BC depicting squash.  Squash was grown extensively by Native Americans as part of the “Three Sisters” of squash, corn and beans.
Squash love organic matter.  If you throw a few seeds in your compost pile, you will be rewarded with exuberant vines.

Zucchini is full of nutrition.  It contains antioxidants, carotenes, lutein, folates, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins.  For more specific nutritional information, Summer squash nutrition info

Zucchini bush

Plant when nighttime temps are 55F or warmer.  Add a fertilizer rich in phosphorous a week after transplanting, when flowers first appear and again when fruits begin to form.  They love water, too. 
Give zucchini a mid summer side dressing of fertilizer or compost if planted in the ground.  

Zucchini can be easily grown in a container, too.  Look for compact bush types like Bush Baby, Yellow Crookneck, Eight Ball, Cue Ball, Golden Delight, Anton, Patio Star, Giambo, Astia, Raven, Cosmos Hybrid (look for bush types versus vining types).  If growing in a pot, keep well watered and don’t let dry out.  Fertilize every couple of weeks with a liquid fertilizer if in a pot.

Don’t panic when the first blooms fall off without producing any fruits.  There are male and female flowers.  If yours falls off, it was likely a poor guy that withered without the love of a gal.  There can also be some false starts with malformed fruits.  Don’t worry, the plant will put on more blooms and you will be on your way to zucchini overload before you know it!

If you allow the fruit to get too big, the skin gets tough and the seeds hard.  Optimum length is no longer than 6 inches for the juiciest fruit and the smallest seeds.  We just picked 2 that were more like a foot long and they were still delicious.  

Our favorite preparation is to slice and grill it.  We slice them lengthwise, brush on olive oil, dust with sea salt, and put them on the grill with whatever we are cooking as the main course.  Grilling or roasting brings out the sweetness in the fruit.  Olive oil does not reach smoke temperatures until 350-400F so is still a good choice when grilling below 325.


If they grow large, you can use them for zucchini bread or cut in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff with a sausage tomato sauce and bake until tender.  

For more ideas on what to do with an abundant zucchini harvest, check out  What to do with all that zucchini?!

There are a couple of pests that you have to worry about with zucchini-the cucumber beetle, the squash bug and squash vine borer.  Cucumber beetle can infect the vine/bush with bacterial wilt.  When you see them, pull them off and drop in soapy water.


In late summer in areas with high humidity, you can get powdery mildew.  This can be treated by spraying with baking soda, copper or fresh whey.  I have found that planting a second plant around the first of July is the best approach.  This plant will be kicking in as the second starts slowing down.

If you bought a heirloom or open pollinated variety, you can easily save the seed to grow next year's plants.  From your best plant, let one get large, remove from the vine and leave it out in the garden bed.  the inner flesh will deteriorate leaving the seeds.  Just scoop out the seeds, put in a plastic baggie, date and keep in the frig for next year.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

Home made pickles


Sunday, July 19, 2015

July is prime cucumber season!  Cucumbers love heat.  If you have more than you can or want to eat fresh, there is always homemade pickles.  Homemade pickles are sooooooo easy!  My husband loves those “Stacker” type pickles, the big slices you lay across the bun for a juicy hamburger.

I enjoy making pickles.  I slice up my extra cucumbers to just the length and width my husband likes them for his burgers and use my homemade pickling herbs and spices with organic apple cider vinegar.  The trick is to make sure you do not put less salt or vinegar in them.  Salt and vinegar are preservatives.  They keep the dilly solution acidic enough so your pickles do not spoil.

You can make either picklers or slicers cucumbers into pickles.  Picklers have been bred to be smaller and have smaller seeds, but both have the same fresh cucumber taste.  Don’t let the cucumber get too big, this results in big seeds and slows down cucumber production.

I can a jar at a time.  You want your cucumbers fresh for preserving.  I harvest the cucumbers before they get too large.  This does two things, it keeps the size of the seeds in the cucumber down and it keeps the vine producing.  All vegetables are in the business of insuring survival so they give everything they have to producing their seed, the vegetables we harvest.  If you keep removing their seeds, they keep trying to make more!

I typically can 2-3 cucumbers at a time.  These will fit nicely into a quart canning jar.  Make sure the jar and lid have been sterilized.  I slice them lengthwise to the size that will fit on a bun; make sure you remove the ends of the cucumber as some ends are bitter.  I add 2-3 flowering dill heads, 4-5 sprigs of salad burnet or tarragon, 2 cloves, 4-5 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teas of caraway seeds, 1/4 teas of peppercorns, one cardamon seed pod, 3 tablespoons of salt, a bay leave, fill the rest of the jar with water (about 2 cups is all that is needed).  If you like 'em spicy, throw in a pepper or two with stem removed.  Slice the pepper in half to get the spicy from the seeds.  
Sliced cucumber with herbs from the garden for seasoning

You can get a good jar seal by heating the water and seasonings on the stove to a boil, let cool, add the vinegar, then pour over the sliced cucumbers in the jar, and put the lid on.  Or you can do it the old fashioned way and not heat the liquid, letting the pickles naturally ferment.  It is critical that you have at least the amount of salt and vinegar recommended or the pickles will go bad.  I shake the jar a couple of times a day until the salt is completely dissolved. You let them ferment at room temperature in a cool, dark place 1-4 weeks and they are ready to eat!

For more on fermentation for food preservation, a good book is "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Some swear that adding a grape leaf will keep the pickles crisp.  I don’t have a grapevine so have not been able to confirm this tip, but will certainly remember for when we do.

Unopened pickle jars will keep for a year or longer.  Once opened, keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months.

Cucumber ready to harvest
To keep your cucumbers in peak production, harvest when the cukes are 6-7 inches in length.  I use scissors to cut the cuke from the vine.  If you are not going to use them immediately, store in a freezer bag in the crisper.  You can perk up the cuke by soaking in cool water.

Cucumbers love heat, organic matter and moisture.  They are easiest to harvest when given a trellis to climb.  Keep the fruits harvested for best production.  I use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or bat guano and seaweed to add other needed nutrients.  Monthly side dressings of compost works well, too.  For minerals, I also use a “Growers Mineral Solution” to get the minerals plants need.  This also means the fruits you eat will be rich in minerals.  Your plants are what you feed them.  

Do not let the plant get dry.  This is what causes bitter fruits.  When I grow cucumbers in pots or in the ground, I use mulch to help retain moisture for the plant.  If growing in a pot, you may need to water daily during heat waves or use a self watering pot with a built in water reservoir.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

"Magenta" Batavian lettuce

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lettuce is not a crop that thrives in the heat of summer, but there are varieties that are more resistant to the heat than others.  If you want fresh lettuce through spring, summer and fall, you will need to plant seeds every two to three weeks.  This way, as one batch bolts (grows a flowering seed stalk), you have another batch ready to harvest.

In late spring and early summer, plant varieties that are resistant to bolting. Colorado State researchers tested to see which varieties held up the best in summer heat.  Here were the winners:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”

Simpson Elite was very slow bolting for leaf types and Magenta was almost “boltproof”.

"Green Towers" Romaine
Loose leaf lettuces are those that do not form heads.  They are the quickest to be able to harvest from.  We love these as you can take off the outer leaves and they just keep going for months.

Butterhead, also called Bibb or Boston lettuce, have crumbled leaf heads.

Romaine have tall leaves and have crisp center veins.  Red romaines did not hold up as well as the green.  Green Towers lasted 3 months of summer.

Batavian has loose heads with crisp hearts.  Batavian lettuce is also called French Crisp or Summer Crisp lettuce.  They resisted bolting longer than any other type of lettuce.  Some lasted more than 100 days!

A few others that I have read about recently that look interesting to try:
Red Sails-looseleaf type that stays sweet even when bolting and one of my all time favs
Brown Goldring-Romaine that retains is sweetness into summer
Grandpa's Admire's-Butterhead with good heat tolerance with red tipped leaves
Monoa-a Hawaiian tropical green lettuce.  If it grows in Hawaii any time of the year, that is a good sign!
Webb's Wonderful-crispleaf green lettuce well suited for the south

Lettuce does not germinate well in soil temperatures greater than 70 F and will not germinate at all when soil goes above 85 F.  You can either start seeds indoors, start seeds in a shady spot, or buy transplants when the temperatures hit summer highs.  I start mine outdoors in a shady spot.

Some ideas for keeping your lettuce producing sweet leaves:
Use a shade cloth over your lettuce.
Move your potted lettuce to a shady spot
Start your seeds in cooler spots in the garden like the north or east side so they have protection against the afternoon sun
Plant under, behind or between taller vegetables.

Prepare your bed by adding a 1" layer of compost and a balanced fertilizer.  After planting, do not fertilize.  Keep evenly moist to keep the lettuce sweet.  Getting too dry will cause the lettuce to turn bitter and bolt in warmer temperatures.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Easy, small space salad garden

Salad garden in pots on the patio


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cramped for space, but love salads?  You can grow a salad garden in as little as a 2' x 2' space, whether in the ground or pots.  It takes very little space to grow an amazing amount of food.

Here is what I recommend for a salad garden:
Red Sails lettuce
Red Oakleaf lettuce
Red Romaine lettuce 
Sprouting broccoli
Basil
Parsley
Salad burnet
Radishes
Carrots
Chives
Cucumber vine on a trellis
Sweet banana pepper
If growing in pots, add nasturtiums for a splash of color and edible flowers.


Now is the perfect time to plant seeds for a late summer, fall salad garden.

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.