Sunday, April 30, 2017

Small space French kitchen garden

French country garden
Sunday, April 30, 2017

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!  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.  

You can grow food and herbs through all four seasons like the French and Italians do.  You can garden year round in small space  Spring, fall and winter are all seasons for cold crops.  When it comes to winter gardening, the secret is two fold-look for cold/winter hardy varieties and cold temperature protection.  Time to set out transplants for fall, winter, & spring harvests

If you have only a 7’ x 7’ space, a French kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-fennel, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, basil and curly parsley
Start a kitchen herb garden!
2 tomatoes for summer-1 slicer type and 1 cherry type for salads
Choosing which tomatoes to grow
Beets and turnips interplanted with tomatoes
All about beautiful beets  All about turnips
4 pole peas for spring and fall, 4 pole beans for summer
Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer
8 garlic plants
Time to plant garlic!
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed
Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Strawberry plant edging
Back yard strawberries

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.  
Decorative container gardening for edibles

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.
Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

The French also interplant marigolds to add color, attract pollinators and deter pests as well as ornamental flowers for cutting.  Insect control through plants There are even many edible flowers to add to the garden.  Growing and using edible flowers

Our kitchen garden
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.

Be sure to grow what you love to eat and don't start too big for your first year.  This is the biggest mistake first time gardeners make.  Start with a small garden, learn what does well and the rhythm of gardening. The next year, you can go big with confidence!  
Easy kitchen garden

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.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has many unusual heirlooms from around the world.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

May 2017 Edible Garden Planner

Butterfly on the lilac bush in the garden

Saturday, April 29, 2017

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 15 day forecast!  Check out your 15 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.  If direct planting seeds, chilly and rainy conditions can cause the seeds to rot.  Warm, moist conditions are the best for seed success!

May is the time to sow summer lover's seed and plant warm season crops.  The cold crops are at their peak at the beginning of the month with many bolting and going to seed by month's end like spinach, cilantro, lettuce, chard, kale, sprouting broccoli, and onions.
Mid-May garden
So, what are we planting this year?  Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!   I grew all of them from seed indoors.  This year, we are planting a variety of heirloom, chocolate types, storage tomatoes, paste tomatoes, small and large tomatoes and a couple of new varieties.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow  Loving the purple tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants!   I am trying a new orange and purple variety, too.  Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition

I am growing several varieties: 1) Two yellow storage tomatoes, a small and medium size, 2) Two red cherry tomato, Patio Princess for the pot and 3) Rosella, 5) Principe Borghese a small red tomato good for sauces and  6) 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 Chocolate Pear, Black Vernissage, and Lucid Gem a slicer with orange interior with black skin.   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 two weeks ago and are sprouted.  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.  The green bean types I am growing are Purple Podded, Romano II, Blauhilde which is a purple green bean, and Scarlett and Golden Sunshine Runner.  All three did very well in the garden last year.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer  I planted 3 kinds of storage beans, King of the Garden lima, Fort Portal Jade and Good Mother Stollard beans.

Pepper plant in August garden last year
I planted several types of peppers.  I am growing mainly sweet peppers as well as Anaheim and Poblano for chili powder.  I have enough frozen Cayenne and JalapeƱo peppers from last season to last another year.  Sweet peppers planted are 

All my pepper plants are in.  I am trying a new sweet peppers this year Pizza, Feher Ozon Paprika, and Healthy that are supposed to be prolific.  I also planted from saved seed Yellow Sweet Banana, and a Sicilian red pepper Bocca Rossa.  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.  I had two peppers that I overwintered in the garage Ancient Red Pepper and Chipetin.  I just added compost and fertilized them well.  They are doing great!  Peppers are for every taste and garden

I am growing two eggplants Turkish Orange and Kazakhstan.  I tried getting Casper to sprout, but it has yet to.  I bought the seed on line from an individual.  Looks like I will have to get different seed.  My husband really likes this white skinned one.  It stays sweet.  I love the Turkish Orange; the taste is smoky and rich.  The Kazakhstan is a new one I am trying this year.  It is a new variety to the US from Alma Ata, Kazakhstan.  It is very similar in size and color as Black Beauty.  It is to be an early fruiting and abundant.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

I planted 2 kinds of summer squash-Cocozelle 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.

I also planted a winter squash-Spaghetti squash.  It is a low carb substitute for spaghetti, too.

Baby zucchini in summer garden
  I am planting cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, lettuce, kale, and parsley this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden  All are already planted in the garden.  I planted interesting varieties of cucumber-Homemade Pickles, Mini White and Jaune Dickfleischige, a large cucumber that keeps for months.  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

Other veggies I planted were red veined sorrel, carrots, turnips, beets, Red Burgundy okra, Utah celery, salad burnet, typhoon, Radish Rat's Tail, Red Italian dandelion, chard, cilantro, dill, Dwarf Moringa, Roselle Red hibiscus, Red Giant mustard, Regina Alpine strawberries, Red Rubin brussels sprouts and New Zealand spinach.

For herbs, I added several to the garden this year.  I planted Tuscan Blue and ARP rosemary.  I overwintered our bay plants in the unheated garage.  Both are doing great and have many new leaves.  I started chervil from seed.  I love adding dried chervil leaves and lavender to add fragrance to body oil.  Make your own fragrant herbal body oil  I added another oregano-Wild Zaatar Oregano from the Jordan/Israel area that just sounded fun.  I also started Blue Monday and Salvia Sirius Blue Sage for its fragrance and its pretty blue flowers.  Other herbs were English thyme, Hopley's Purple oregano, borage, and many creeping thymes.  For more on herbs, see  Start a kitchen herb garden!

I am definitely planting basil: Lettuce Leaf, Sweet Basil and a variety I received with another seed order.  They have all sprouted in the coir pods, but aren't as big as I would like before transplanting to the garden.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil
It was also time for another round of greens.  Resowing every 3 weeks will keep us in salads all through the summer and fall.  Want continuous harvests? Succession planting!  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which will last about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach.    

For lettuce,  I planted bedding plants of Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Paris Island Cos Romaine, Buttercrunch, and Iceberg.  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.   Look for varieties that have heat tolerant in the descriptor.  Here are some varieties that are proven to do well in the summer   Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Lettuce and spinach aren't the only greens you can use for salads, see more at  Growing summer salads
Potted lettuce and arugula
We have already fertilized, added compost, and mulched at the end of March.  When planting, I like to 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.

Later this month, I will add Azomite around each of my transplants under the mulch with the next round of fertilizer.  During the growing season, you should fertilize monthly.  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 put mine out on the deck 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 
zinnias, marigolds, petunias, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Love Lies Bleeding,  Moonflower vine, heirloom sunflowers, and alyssum for annuals.  For perennials, there are delphiniums, hollyhocks in a variety of colors-Summer Carnival and Peach, red hot poker, 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.  Just be sure to keep ahead of the weeds and provide even watering.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Have a natural, organic lawn


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Have you ever noticed that every time a lawn care company treats your lawn, they post warning signs to not have pets or people on the grass for 24 hours?  That doesn’t sound like something that is good for you or your family.

Chemical fertilizers and weed killers kill the microbes in the dirt as well.  These microbes are extremely important to supporting the plants growing.  They help provide the nutrients your turf needs to be resilient through all seasons.

So, what are the options?  You can go all natural and organic.  It takes 2-3 years for the microbes to rebound and your turf to get the full benefit of going all natural.  You can help boost your lawn's recovery with microbe containing fertilizers and compost.

The system we like is from Espoma.  It is applied 4 times a year with a season specific formula.  The cool thing about organic, natural fertilizers is that they do not burn the lawn.  You don’t have to worry about applying too much, like you do with chemical fertilizers.  Don’t be concerned either that the NPK numbers on the bag are lower.  Natural products don’t get washed away like chemical fertilizers so you don’t need the high numbers. 

They have different types of fertilizer for different seasons and needs.  For root and microbe stimulation, there is a New Lawn formula.  For spring when the forsythia's bloom you would want to apply the Weed Preventer.  To green up your lawn in the spring, there is a Spring Lawn Booster.  There is also a Summer Fertilizer, a Fall Fertilizer, or if you just want an anytime there is an All Season Fertilizer.  

The great thing about organic, all natural fertilizers is that they do not burn the lawn and they last 2.5x longer than chemical fertilizers.  You can also use them on your edible garden and  they are people and pet friendly.  No “Stay Off the Lawn” signs needed!

You will have a lush, green lawn in 2-3 years using this system.  You won’t have the thatch that you see in chemical yards either.  Make sure that you are reseeding to keep the carpet thick to crowd out weeds.  

I would say this is the hardest part of organic-the weeds.  Options are using vinegar on hot days on the weeds, using a propane burn torch, or good, old fashioned pulling.  If you do resort to chemicals for weeds, try to spray as local as possible and do so close to when you are going to apply your next round of fertilizer to help with repopulate the microbes the chemicals killed.

Be sure to use the pre-emergent (corn gluten) every year when the forsythias bloom.  This will keep the weed seeds from sprouting.  If they don’t sprout in the spring, they won’t get a stand going in your yard, making it much easier to pull the few that do make it into your yard.  Corn gluten is also a natural fertilizer and will green up the lawn at the same time.


A natural, organic lawn needs much less watering than a chemical lawn and stays green almost all summer with no watering. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer


Saturday, April 22, 2017

It is time to start planning for getting your garden beds in shape for the growing season.  Applying your soil food now will allow the nutrients to trickle down into the soil to be ready to support your garden plants growth this spring.

To get a specialized recipe for your specific soil needs, you can get a soil test at your local co-op extension office.  Many times this is free of charge for the basic test.  If you want a more in-depth analysis, there are labs you can mail your soil sample to like Logan Labs  www.loganlabs.com.  Once you get the results, you can input the results on the growabundant.com web page to get your garden’s nutrient recipe.  

When your plants are fed minerals, the veggie are too.
The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

If don’t have the time or funds to get specialized analysis and recipe for your soil, you can make your own balanced, all natural, organic fertilizer and nutrient soil re-charge.  This recipe gives you enough organic fertilizer and minerals for 100 square feet:
3 quarts of any oilseed meal or 1.5 quarts of feather meal or fishmeal
Or can do a combo of the above.  2 quarts of oilseed meal, 1 pint of feather meal and 1 pint of fishmeal to get the most variety of nutrients
1 quart soft of collodial rock phosphate
1 quart kelp meal or 1 pint Azomite.  Azomite is a great source of micronutrients
1 quart agricultural gypsum
1/3 cup potassium sulfate
1 teaspoon laundry borax
1.5 teaspoons zinc sulfate
2 teaspoons manganese sulfate
1 teaspoon copper sulfate

I checked on line and could get everything in this recipe on amazon.

Steve Solomon, Territorial Seed Company founder, developed this recipe and calls it the “Complete Organic Fertilizer” (COF).  It is more than just the normal NPK and adds minerals and other nutrients your plants need to be their strongest.  Strong, healthy plants provide more food that is more nutrient dense.  Your plants are what they eat, too!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Planted this week end

Planted nasturtium seeds with the peas in our pots
Monday, April 17, 2017

It is finally time for the warm season crops in our neck of the woods!

I sowed directly in the garden runner beans (Scarlet and Golden Sunshine with chartreuse foliage), shelling beans (Fort Portal Jade and Good Mother Stollard), flat podded green beans (purple ones-Purple Podded and Blauhilde and green-Romano II), lima beans (King of the Garden).

You get a much quicker sprouting by soaking for an hour or two before planting.  It is important to coat beans and peas with inoculant.  The inoculant attaches to the roots, boosting the productivity of the vine or bush.  I just added the inoculant to water and soaked our bean seeds for an hour or so and then directly planted into the garden around decorative trellises.


Decorative trellises with pole beans planted
I also planted nasturtiums in our pots.  I planted a variety-one with variegated foliage, Empress, and Alaskan.  The peas I planted a few weeks ago in the pots have sprouted.  I planted short vines so they will overhang the pot and can use the center for our pepper plants.   I do peppers in  pots because it seems they do the best in pots for me.

The potatoes are loving this weather and their potato boxes!  Hubby is watering them regularly when we don't get rain and they appreciate it.  Will need to add another round soon.

Potato boxes with very happy potatoes!



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Another spring veggie-kohlrabi

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Kohlrabi is one of the oldest member of the cabbage family.  Its wild ancestor was originally found in Britain and Europe.  Kohlrabi was present in colonial America.  It is a perennial.

Both the leaves and root is edible and healthy.  Kohlrabi has fiber, carotenes, vitamins C,  A, K, B vitamins niacin, B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, phytochemicals, and minerals manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorous.  One serving has a full day's vitamin C!  Kohlrabi nutrition

Kohlrabi is sown at the same time as cabbages, when the crocus bloom in the spring and when phlox blooms in the fall.  You can also start indoors 5-7 weeks prior to your last frost date (first of March in our Zone 6 garden) and transplant outdoors 2-3 weeks prior to last frost date (end of March in our Zone 6).  Plant every 3 weeks to extend the harvest until the warm weather begins and cold weather begins in the fall.

Kohlrabi should be planted 1’ apart from each other in well composted soil and kept adequately watered.  It is ready to harvest in 6 weeks and should be harvested when no bigger than 2” in diameter for sweetest flavor.

Kohlrabi must pass through a winter to flower if you are interested in saving the seed.   Kohlrabi will overwinter in the garden in Zone 6 and warmer.  Apply mulch for added protection against an unusually hard winter.  If in colder zones, you can dig and place in damp sand in a cool location for the winter and replant in the spring.  Do so before hard freezes.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips

Cauliflower with inner leaves folding in

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Broccoli is touted as a “super food.”  It is chock full of vitamins and minerals A, B6, C, E, K, protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, and others.  Cauliflower is an age-old standby and has great nutritional value as well-protein, vitamins B6, C, K, folate, many minerals-potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and others.  Both are healthy and versatile.  Broccoli nutrition Cauliflower nutrition


Broccoli is a kale.  It is thought its ancestor came from the eastern Mediterranean and was developed into the first “broccoli” with the distinct florets we grow them for today.  Purple was the preferred form in colonial times and coming back as a popular form today.  

Cauliflower is from the same family as broccoli.  The earliest accounts of the vegetable share its origins as Cypress.  It was the English that developed it into the form we enjoy today.  Cauliflower came to the colonies in the 1600's.  Both were some of the first vegetables to make the trip to colonies.

For planting, purple sprouting broccoli must be planted in the fall for a spring harvest.  Other types of broccoli and cauliflower can be planted in the spring and fall.  Sow when the first crocus blooms in spring (April in my zone) or when phlox and asters bloom for fall plantings (July).

Today, there are many varieties that have different days to maturity.  You can plant a variety to get a continuous supply, even in the dead of winter.  Cauliflower comes in many colors today-white, orange, green, chartreuse, and purple.

If growing from seed for spring, you will start your seedlings indoors 6-8 weeks prior to average date of the last frost.  They are ready to transplant when they have 5-6 leaves.

Here is a link to frost dates:  Frost dates
You can change the settings to how lucky you are feeling.  Choosing 50% would be the average date of the last frost.  Changing it to 30% chance means there is only a 30% chance, on average, you will get another frost.

I typically use the 50% as a gauge on when to start watching the extended forecast.  When it looks like there is a good run of warm weather, I plant.  

As with most vegetables, broccoli and cabbage enjoy a fertile soil so enrich the soil with compost.  Plant about 18" apart.  Add an inch of compost and supplement with a high nitrogen fertilizer when planting like composted chicken manure.  Give another dressing of fertilizer just when heads begin to form.  They like cool soil temps so mulching will boost your harvests.  Be sure to rotate the location where you plant in the garden as broccoli does attract pests.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

For cauliflower, the new varieties have been bred so that their inner leaves remain over the floret.  If you plant an heirloom or if your new variety does not have its leaves behave, you will have to take the largest leaves and place over the floret and secure.  If the white floret is exposed to sun, it will yellow.  The curds must have formed before the temperatures reach 80 degrees.

To get extend harvests, plant different varieties with varying days to maturity.  Just look for "Days to Harvest" on the seed packet to get succession harvesting types.  Broccoli should be harvested before the florets open; cauliflower when the outer florets begin to separate.  Don't worry if you harvest later than that, they'll still taste great.  I think it is pretty to add broccoli florets with their pretty yellow flowers to salads.

Broccoli flowering
For broccoli, the sprouting type keep on giving.  When you harvest the center floret, you will get side shoots sometimes for weeks afterwards.  The leaves of broccoli tastes just like the florets.  They are great to add to salads and provide leaves even in the heat of summer when most lettuce has left the garden party.  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

If you want a little bit of both broccoli and cauliflower, try the heirloom variety “Nine Star Perennial.”  It really is a perennial!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Easy to grow crispy, peppery radishes

Radishes come in many sizes and pretty colors

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Radishes are some of the easiest and fastest to grow veggie in the garden!

Radishes originated in China and moved west, being domesticated in Europe in pre-Roman times.  It came in many different forms and colors.  There was the long rooted form that could get as big around as 6” or so and a round form that is most popular today.  Most were generally white, but there was also black.  

The short topped, red radish we know today was developed in the 1600’s.  They reached the American colonies in the late 1700’s.  The long rooted variety was the most popular until the 1900’s. 

Radishes provide anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, lutein, beta carotene, the vitamins B6, C and riboflavin as well as the minerals calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium.  They are rich in ascorbic acid, folic acid and potassium.    Nutritional info

Radishes can be peppery or mild and come in many colors and sizes.

Radishes enjoy the same type of soil as carrots-loose, well dug rich in organic matter.  The ideal soil would be dug 4-6” deep (if growing the round variety) and mixed with sand and compost.  If interplanting with carrots or growing the long rooted type, a deeper digging is needed 6-9”. 


Many recommend mixing radish seeds, carrot seeds and sand together and sowing the seed this way since the carrot and radish seeds are so small.  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round  The radishes sprout very quickly and are ready to harvest well before the carrots. Radishes can be sown with beets and turnips as well. You get two crops in one this way.  All about beautiful beets  All about turnips

Radishes are also planted as a “trap crop” for flea beetles.  The flea beetles will be attracted to the radishes and leave other crops alone.  The flea beetles may make the radish greens look sad, but have no affect on the root itself.

Like carrots, radishes can be sown in the spring or fall. The seeds germinate quickly, just in 3-5 days. For spring, sow 3-4 weeks prior to last frost (when the early daffodils bloom) and first pickings will be ready in 3-4 weeks.  Harvest in the morning.  Both the roots and leaves are edible.

Radishes should be planted 1/2” deep, in rows 1-2’ apart.  They should be thinned to 2-6” apart, depending on the size of radish planted. 
For winter harvesting, sow in late summer or fall.  Roots are sweetest after a frost.  You can still eat the roots when the greenery has died back.  Just dig down with your trowel to release the sweet root from the ground.  Mulch in the fall and harvest when needed.

We found the White Icicle variety to be mild and enjoyed them in salads.  The red varieties typically are hotter.  The radishes will increase in heat as the temperatures rise.  Pick early for milder taste or later for hotter.

Choose the round varieties if you have hard soil and do not want to dig deeply or if you want to grow in pots.  Radishes are equally happy in the garden bed or pots.  They are a really fun crop for kids, too, and come in so many fun colors.  A really pretty addition to any salad.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

All you need to know about growing carrots

Carrots come in all different colors and sizes
Saturday, April 8, 2017

Carrots are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotenes, vitamin A, vitamin C, many B-complex vitamins like folic acid, B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper.  They are super easy to grow.

Carrots, like turnips, have been around for thousands of years.  Its seeds were used for medicinal purposes.  Carrots likely originated in the Iran/Afghanistan area and spread to the Mediterranean.  It is shown in Egyptian tomb paintings from 2000 BC. The first records that it was used for the European kitchen was in the 900‘s in Spain.  Carrots were originally used mainly for livestock feed in the American colonies and for its aromatic leaves and seeds.

The first wild carrots were purple.  The wild carrot is known as Queen Anne’s lace and adapted very well in America.  The popular culinary orange colored variety did not become stable until the 1700’s.  It quickly became the most popular variety in both Europe and the colonies.  

If you let your carrots go to seed, they send up stalks and have flowers that look just like Queen Anne's lace white, lacy blooms.  Carrots are prolific self seeders.  If you let one or two carrots go to seed, you will have baby carrots over winter that will come to full size in the spring.
Carrots getting ready to bloom
Carrots are related to parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.  Like their cousins, the greenery also is edible.  For full nutritional information on carrots, Nutritional info-raw carrots

Carrots like loose, well dug soil rich in organic matter although they will also grow in moderately rich soil.  The ideal soil would be dug 6-10” deep and mixed with sand and compost.  The longer the root, the deeper the depth of loose soil needed to grow large, straight roots.

There are also shorter root varieties that can be sown if you do not want to dig that deeply or if you want to grow them in pots.  Some short varieties are Little Finger (4” long), Adelaide (the size of your pinky), Short n Sweet (4”), Thumbelina (1-1.5” diameter), Parmex (1.2-2” diameter), Tonda di Parigi (1.5-2” diameter).

Sow every 2 weeks March-July.  First plantings should be about 2 weeks prior to your first frost.  Carrots do not like to be transplanted so direct sowing is best.  Soak seeds 6 hours before sowing.  Sow 1/4” deep, 1/2” apart thinning to 2-4”.  Keep evenly moist, do not allow to dry out, for the up to 14 day germination period.  Carrots are ready to harvest in 50-80 days.  Baby carrots can be harvested in 30-40 days.

For your last plantings of the season look for a type like Autumn King or Nantes that can be harvested throughout the winter.  Merida can be planted in late September for an early spring harvest.  Frost actually makes the carrots sweeter so leaving them in the ground in the fall will improve their flavor.  All kinds of colors are now available-white, red, orange, yellow, and purple.

If you want to bring the harvested carrots indoors to store, placing in a cool place in sand that is kept moist is the best indoor long term storage for the winter.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Perpetual salad from one packet of seeds

Variety of lettuces

Sunday, April 2, 2017

From just one packet of seeds, you can have salads forever.  I just love being able to step right outside the back door and snip a salad for dinner.  Lettuce is so easy to grow, you can't pass up the fun and convenience of always having a fresh salad right out your door.

I use self watering pots called Earthboxes, but any container or patch of dirt works.  Buy a packet of seeds that has whatever type of lettuce you like.  I like the variety packs.  I’d pick a variety pack with Oakleaf or Red Sails. 

Just make sure they are not a “Hybrid” plant.  Hybrids do not grow back true to the parent.  In other words, you won’t get the same baby plant as the mother plant was if it is a hybrid.  Heirloom and open pollinated are terms used for the plants that you can save the seed from and get babies like their mothers.

If you are sowing lettuce for the summer, use heat tolerant varieties.  These types will last longer when the temps get high.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

To prepare the soil, I always add compost and a balanced organic fertilizer that I mix into the soil.  What you want from lettuce is green growth.  This is what nitrogen promotes.  So, fertilizing on-going with an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion that is high in nitrogen is the way to go with greens.  I like fish emulsion because I can just add it to the watering pot.  I use fish emulsion about every 2-3 weeks after the plants are mature.  I keep the fertilizer off the leaves and wash the leaves thoroughly before eating.  You can make your own fertilizer.  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

To plant your seeds, simply make sure the soil is moist, scatter sow the seeds onto the moist soil and pat down or place a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds.  Sow seeds every 3 weeks to keep you and your family in fresh lettuce and/or greens.

Seeds sprouting

To harvest, just snip leaves off from the bottom and outside of the plant, allowing the center to continue to produce leaves.  They will produce new leaves continuously until they “bolt.”

When it turns warm, your lettuce will “bolt”, sending up a stalk that will flower.  The trick here is to not cut it off or pull out the lettuce plant just yet.  Let it flower and produce seeds.  The leaves are still edible, but some become bitter tasting after they have bolted.  Just try them and see if you still like the taste.  Red Sails is about the sweetest tasting, bolted lettuce I have found.

Lettuce sending up flower stalk, "bolting"
You can tell when the flower has turned to seeds because it will become a little white puff ball, similar but on a smaller scale than dandelions.  As the puff balls start to open, pluck it off and place in a paper bag so they can fully dry.  Your other option is to just wait until most of them are starting to open, cut off the whole stalk and put into a paper bag to dry.  You’ll lose some seeds, but a single lettuce plant produces a ton of seeds.

Lettuce seed heads
I let them dry and then pull out the seeds and put into a plastic ziplock bag that I label with the variety and date harvested.  You can also add notes to the seed bag of what you liked about it and growing habits.  I store all my seeds in the crisper.  They keep for years that way.

When summer comes, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 70 F.  You can start your seedlings indoors or find a shady, cool spot outdoors to start them.  There are other options for salad greens that can handle the summer heat Growing summer salads  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

You can start re-sowing your home grown seeds as soon as you are done with the original packet you purchased.  Always save the seeds from the plants that did the best.  Use oldest seeds first as germination rates diminish with the age of the seed.  I keep my seeds in the fridge to prolong their viability.  I have seeds that are years old and still sprout.  

For more on seed saving, Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver