Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer planting by month



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wondering what you can plant each month in the summer?  Here are plantings by month.

May
Basil
Bush beans
Blackeye peas
Beets
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cantaloupe
Carrots
Cilantro
Corn
Cucumber
Eggplant
Spring kale
Lettuce
Okra
Pak choi
Peas
Peppers
Potatoes
Pumpkins
Radishes
Summer squash (like zucchini)
Winter squash (like pumpkins, butternut or  acorn)
Sweet potatoes
Tomatoes
Turnips
Watermelons

June
Basil
Bush beans
Beets
Broccoli
Broccoli raab
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Chard
Collards
Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Bulbing fennel
Kale
Leeks
Okra
Parsnips
Salsify
Summer squash
Sweet potatoes
Tomatoes
Turnips
Watermelons

July
Basil
Bush beans
Beets
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery
Chard
Chinese cabbage
Collards
Corn
Endive
Kale
Kohlrabi
Mustard greens
Parsnips
Rutabagas
Salsify
Scallions
Spinach
Tomatoes
Turnips

August
Arugula
Bush beans
Beets
Cabbage
Corn salad
Endive
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard
Radishes
Scallions
Spinach
Turnips

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden


Potted Black Beauty eggplant with petunias

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Eggplant is easy to grow in our Zone 6 garden.  It is happy in a pot or the ground.  There is an amazing array of varieties of eggplant.  I thought for years that eggplant only came in the large, dark purple Black Beauty so popular in Italian cuisine.  In fact, there are long, skinny fruits, apple sized fruits, hourglass shaped fruits, and yellow, orange, white, green, purple, red, lavender colored fruits.  The fruits can be grilled, smoked, chopped and roasted, or stuffed.

Eggplant is a staple in Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, and many Asian cuisines.  This fruiting vegetable originated in India and has been cultivated there for thousands of years.  It had made its way to the Mediterranean region by the Middle Ages.  It is used as a substitute for meat in many dishes like eggplant parmesan we see so often in our local Italian restaurants.  
The variety in eggplants
Eggplant contains fiber, antioxidants, vitamins C, K, folate and minerals potassium and manganese.  For more details on the health benefits, check out SELF magazine’s eggplant nutritional info

Eggplant should be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date (for Zone 6, this is end of Feb/first of March).  Or you can buy plants and transplant after all danger of frost has passed 18-24” apart in full sun.  

They are heat loving veggies that require a long growing season so it is important to get seedlings started indoors or purchase them as plants.  Fertilize when transplanted with a balanced fertilizer and then monthly after first blooms appear.  Being part of the nightshade family, tomato fertilizer works well for eggplants as well.  I have not experienced any pest issues when growing eggplant.

Eggplants grow every well in pots.  The soil in pots warms up quicker in early summer and stays warmer than garden soil, giving these heat lovers an early boost.  When planting in pots, look for dwarfs or patio types like Casper, Listada de Gandia, White Egg or Fairytale or use a large container.  

We have also grown the Rosa Bianca and Black Beauty in a large pot and both did well.  When growing in pots, keep in a sunny location, fertilize every other week and keep soil moist.  
Turkish Orange eggplant in a container

A tip when growing eggplant is to harvest when the fruits are young.  As they stay on the vine, they produce more seeds, their skin becomes tougher, and the fruit more bitter.  In addition to loss of taste, you will also have loss of productivity.  Harvesting often keeps the plant focused on producing more fruits.

Eggplant can be smoked, baked, steamed or grilled.  My two favorites are stuffing them with sausage with my homemade tomato sauce and baking or brushing on olive oil, seasoning with sea salt and grilling.  Our favorite varieties so far have been the smaller white eggplants andTurkish orange for grilling and Black Beauty for stuffing. 

This year, I am going to try smoking some fruits and making into baba ghanoush.  We had this in a Turkish restaurant with pita bread and it was quite tasty.

Since eggplant is a tropical perennial, you can bring it indoors at the end of the season to overwinter.  This gives you a 6-8 week head start on harvests next year.  This is a great way to keep your favorite.  You can also save the seed from your best fruits to use next season.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Peppers are for every taste and garden


Saturday, May 27, 2017


No matter your taste buds, your style of cooking or the type of food you love, there is a pepper for you!  Besides that, peppers are pest free, come in beautiful colors, are easy to grow, and look great on the patio.
There are hot peppers, there are sweet peppers, there are smokey peppers.  There are peppers of a multitude of colors-white, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, black, green.  They come in all shapes from the size of a blueberry to 6”, straight, crooked, puckered.

Peppers originated in South America.  Their use goes back to at least 7500 BCE and were domesticated at least 8000 years ago.  

Pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville heat units.  Some of the hottest peppers measured was a Trinidad Scorpion Butch T at 1,463,700 and a Naga Viper, at 1,382,118 SHU’s.  Now that is smokin’ hot!

Quick reference Scoville values:
*0 Sweet peppers like the classic bell and Italian sweet peppers.  
*100-900 Mild peppers such as pimento, banana and pepperoncini peppers
*1,000-2,500 Anaheim, Poblano, Peppadew peppers
*3,500-8,000 Jalapeño, Anaheim peppers
*10,000-23,000 Serrano, Peter peppers
*30,000-50,000 Tabasco, Cayenne peppers
*100,000-350,000 Habanero/Scotch bonnet peppers

One thing to keep in mind, peppers are natural plants and their heat can vary widely based on growing conditions and their pepper neighbor in the garden.  If you place a hot pepper and a sweet pepper next to each other, the sweet pepper can become a spicy pepper through cross pollination.

Once you get in the range of cayenne peppers, you should use gloves when handling.  Washing your hands with water after handling the pepper does not wash away the heat!  Transferring some of the pepper’s heat to the eyes can be extremely painful!  The best way to cool the heat is to use whole milk.  

The center of a pepper’s heat is in its seeds and ribs.  If you want a milder dish, clean the seeds and ribs from the pepper before using.

We typically grow our hot peppers in pots as they seem to do best in a container.  I try to grow enough peppers to last us all winter for salads, chili, salsa, and pepper seasonings.  The hot peppers like Jalapeños and Cayenne are prolific in pots.  One plant of the hot, smaller varieties is all we need.  We have found that the smaller sweet pepper plants like banana peppers and Nikita did equally well in pots.  The large sweet peppers like California bell and Pimento do better in the garden bed.

For planting in the pots, we just use a good organic potting soil purchased from our local garden center and placed one plant per pot.  To help maintain moisture, I mulch around the peppers after planted in the pot.  We water them once/week in the summer.  Converting your favorite pot to a self watering container really helps in cutting down how often watering is required.

If you want to give your pepper plants an extra boost, they favor phosphorous (bulb food or bone meal works well), sulfur (a book of matches in the hole does the trick), calcium to prevent blossom end rot (a half dozen crushed egg shells works well), and magnesium (which is contained in epson salts, a diluted spray when the flowers appear).  Some say if the leaves pucker, this is a sign that phosphorous is needed.  Tomato fertilizer is also good for peppers as both are fruiting plants.

You should put out pepper plants after it is nice and warm.  Peppers are in the nightshade family with tomatoes and eggplant.  They should be planted outside when night time temps are above 55 and daytime temps in the 70’s consistently.  If you buy pepper plants with peppers already on them, remove them before planting so the plant can focus its energy on developing a strong root system. 

If you are going to grow your peppers from seeds, start them indoors 6-8 weeks before you will transplant outside.  You can get unusual varieties not at your local nursery in seed catalogues.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company has some very unique varieties from around the world.  Although the spectrum available today in stores is quite nice.  You can also order plants as well from most seed catalogues.

Surprisingly, peppers don’t like extremely hot weather.  They get sunburned when the temps get into the 90’s consistently.  Their sunburn looks like dark spots on the exposed fruits.  If you can, move them into the shade when temps are extreme.  They won’t croak, but they are stressed during periods of high heat.

Almost all veggies love fertile soil and consistent watering.  Peppers are no exception.  Some swear that stressing the plant will increase the heat of the pepper.  Now, the current Guinness winner thinks the secret to getting the world’s hottest pepper was run off from a worm farm.


Peppers will get flowers on them that, if pollinated, will grow into a pepper.  If you look into the center of a flower, you can see the emerging baby pepper.
Pepper flower with baby pepper forming
Anything that produces a seed or fruit needs a visit from a friendly pollinator, like the honey bee, mason bee, bumble bee, predatory wasps, hover flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and many other insects.  It is important to not use insecticides as they kill the pollinators along with the bad bugs or to use very sparingly and not on the flowers themselves.

I plant the peppers in a pot with nasturtium or petunias to attract the pollinators and to look good on the patio.
Pepper plant with petunias
This year I am growing several peppers:
*Sicilian Bocca Rossa and sweet bell peppers for the salsa
*Sweet peppers yellow banana, an overwintered Ancient Red, Pizza, Feher Ozon paprika, and Healthy
*Poblano to dry for chili powder  (the dried pepper is called ancho)
*You can make chipolte seasoning by smoking your jalapeños in your smoker
*One I have grown in the past is Pasilla bajio for mole sauces.  It is also called chile negro because of its black color.
*Pimento, cayenne and jalapeño are all peppers I make sure I have on hand.  I have enough in the freezer from last year that I am not growing them this year.
                                  Pimento at top, jalapeño on bottom      Red and green cayennes

The Ancient Red sweet pepper and hot Chipetin pepper I overwintered in the garage are covered in peppers.  Some are ready to eat size!  Peppers are a tropical perennial so can be overwintered in the garage or house to get a jump start on the next season.  Plus, if you have a pepper plant that was just outstanding the previous year, you know you will get a repeat show.

Peppers all start out green.  It is as they ripen that they turn colors.  Jalapeño will turn red if left to ripen on the vine.  The sweet banana peppers I am growing from seed this year will turn yellow, red or orange.  They can be eaten either when green or after they have turned.  Their flavor, and heat, will intensify as they ripen.

The trick to keeping the pepper crop going is to harvest often.  It’s like the plant knows when it has its quota of peppers.  The blossoms will fall off until more are picked.

Here are some ways to preserve your pepper harvest if you have more than you can eat  Preserving peppers

Peppers have many great nutritional benefits.  They contain high amounts of vitamins C, A (carotene), K, potassium, manganese, B6 as well as a good source of fiber.  Its antioxidants help the body combat free radicals.  For more details, SELF magazine has a nice compilation of nutritional information of fruits and vegetables:  pepper nutritional info

The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains.  A tablespoon of ground chili pepper would contain between 0.8 to 480 mg of capsaicin.  In Ayurvedic medicine, capsaicin is used for digestive and circulatory health support. 

Peppers come in so many different flavors and heat intensity.  There is a pepper out there for everyone.  Combined with their carefree horticulture, they make a great plant to add to your garden this year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tomatoes are Americans favorite vegetable to grow.  There really is no comparison between a home grown tomato and a store bought tomato.  There are just a few tricks to know about growing great tasting tomatoes. 

The first is knowing what type of tomato to purchase
There are two types of tomatoes-indeterminate and determinate.  Determinate grow to a set height and the fruit sets all at once.  These can be a great candidate for canning if you would like to get your tomato canning done all at once.  Indeterminate continue to grow and yield fruits (yes, the tomato is actually a fruit) until frost.  These are the best for fresh tomatoes all season long.
Choosing which tomatoes to grow

I grow only indeterminates.  For what we don’t eat, I freeze whole in quart freezer bags for chili and salsa until fall.  Come fall, I start canning the surplus.  Right before the first frost, I pick all the tomatoes left on the vine and put in a dark place for them to ripen.  We have fresh tomatoes into December.  They are definitely not the same as summer tomatoes, but better than anything you can buy in the store!  For more tips on preserving the tomato harvest:  Preserving the tomato harvest

There are "storage" tomato varieties.  You can pick these at frost and they will keep for up to 4 weeks longer than typical tomatoes.  One option is Red October.  The downside is they are a hybrid so will not come back true to the parent with seeds from this year's crop.
Tomatoes kept in pantry at Christmas

All tomatoes are chock full of antioxidants and lycopene.  They contain vitamins A, C, E, K, and B-complex as well as potassium, manganese, and copper.  For a full listing of nutrition, SELF magazine has an informative nutritional database:  tomato nutrition

Tomato supports/cages
With indeterminate tomatoes, they definitely need something to help them grow upwards (although not required, it does make harvesting much easier).  A very sturdy pole can be used and the plant tied onto it as it grows.  The more popular option is a “tomato cage” that the tomato grows up in to.  This is what we use.  It is important to get the cage on while the plants are small or severe damage may ensue when you try to force the gangly plant into it’s cage.  Be sure to get a strong cage for large tomato plants.

If you grow dwarf or patio tomatoes, they may not need any support at all.  I did end up using a stake for each plant as they put on large tomatoes which caused the plant to lean.
Staked dwarf tomato

Tips when planting
Tomatoes are susceptible to blossom-end rot and fungal diseases.  End rot is typically caused by not having enough calcium in the soil.  Fungal diseases remain the soil.  It is important to rotate vegetable plants and not plant them in the same spot every year.  

Another preventative of disease is to provide the right fertilizer and nutrients when planting.  In each planting hole, I add a handful of worm castings, balanced fertilizer, and dusted the roots with mycorrhizal life support which contains mycorrhizal, vitamins and minerals.  This blend improves soil fertility and the plants ability to take in the nutrition it needs.  It is not all about just the big 3-nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  They are important but vitamins, minerals, and particularly living soil makes a huge difference in how healthy and lush the plants become.  I use fertilizer made specifically for tomatoes so that they get the calcium they need.

When you plant your tomato, make sure to plant it deeply.  I take off all the limbs except the top couple and bury the plant up to these stems.  Roots will grow from where the removed and buried limbs were.  This gives the plants a much stronger root system to support growth.

Pruning tips
Now that your plants have the right start, pruning is the next step.  To get the highest yields, some say it is important to prune your tomatoes.  You want no branches below 12” (some recommend 18”).  You also want to prune the plant to only 2 branches, the center stalk and one side stalk.  You want to keep the “suckers” cut or pinched off as well as the tomato grows.


The amount of pruning is controversial among tomato growing connoisseurs.  Some swear by pruning, others say it makes no difference.  If you live further south, keeping the greenery helps protect the fruits from sun scald.  If your plants seem to get fungal diseases, doing some pruning to open up the plant for air circulation can be beneficial.  For plants up north, increased greenery helps the plant have more energy going to its fruits.  I have tried both and for my garden, very limited pruning has worked the best.

Watering and fertilizing
Now, to on-going watering and fertilizing.  Many think more is better when it comes to watering and fertilizing.  Not so for tomatoes!  What you end up with are tons of greenery, mushy tomatoes, and very few of them.  Some tomato afficiados recommend a deep watering and fertilizer at planting, then again at flowering, and that is it.  I do water when there is a long dry spell.  Overwatering or erratic watering can also cause the fruits to crack.  

For the tomatoes in the garden, I fertilize when planting, again when the first flowers appear, and monthly thereafter.  If growing in containers, I fertilize every other week with a liquid fertilizer when flowering.

If your plant will not flower and fruit with lush green foliage, quit fertilizing and watering.  A little stress should jump start it into producing flowers and fruits.

Although tomatoes love hot weather (they will not flower until night time temps get above 55), they also don’t like it too hot.  If daytime temps get above 90 and nighttime temps above 76, the plant will drop its flowers.  Not to worry, as soon as temps come back down, your plants will begin flowering again.

Growing in containers
If you want to grow tomatoes in a container, you need to either have a really big container for full size tomatoes (5 gallon) or plant varieties that are adapted for containers. Tomatoes for containers would be labelled as dwarf, patio, container.  Some varieties that fit this bill:  BushSteak, Patio Princess, Bush Early Girl, Tumbler, Bush Big Boy, Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Lizzano, Sweetheart of the Patio, Tumbling Tom Yellow or Red, Bush Better Bush, Balcony (look for bush/patio/container types), Husky Bush.

If you grow in containers, you will need to water weekly or maybe even more depending on the container and plant size combo used.  For more on container gardening and types to purchase for pots, Decorative container gardening for edibles

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Everything you need to know to grow squash


Zucchini bush in center

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bush type zucchini squash
Squash is amazing.  It spans from huge pumpkins to small petit pan squash.  From the summer kings like zucchini to the fall princes like pumpkins.  They have an amazing array of sizes, shapes, and tastes.
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”-squash, corn and beans.  These three support each other's growth.  Beans provide nitrogen to the corn and squash.  The corn provides the stalks for the beans to grow up on.  

The sprawling squash vines crowd out any weeds.  
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
Plant when nighttime temps are 55F or warmer consistently.  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.  If growing in a pot, keep well watered and don’t let dry out.
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 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!
Baby acorn squash, blooms still attached
There are two basic categories of squash-winter and summer.  
Winter squash are those that take until late fall to ripen and can be stored inside for months.  My butternut squash will last until June in the pantry.  Winter squash includes butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, Hubbards, turbans and pumpkins.  Each vine does not produce many fruits.  We got 3 butternuts off our vine last year, which is a decent yield.
Winter squash you typically leave on the vine until the vine dies and the fruit loses its sheen.   Then bring inside and store in a cool, not cold, dark place.
Turban squash





There are some amazingly diverse and cool winter squashes/pumpkins, from the bumpy and blue hubbards, to traditional pear shaped butternut to the exotic "turban" squash, so named because of the hat it appears to be wearing............  


From left to right-hubbard and butternut squash

Baby zucchini squash, blooms still attached

Summer squash can be harvested all summer long.  I have grown them successfully for years in a pot.  This year I am planting in the flower bed and they have started blooming.  Summer squash include the ever popular zucchini, cushaw, pattypan, and yellow crookneck.
If growing summer squash in a pot, look for the bush varieties.  These are much more manageable.  I would recommend putting in a pot with a water reservoir as well as zucchini's love moisture.
Zucchini is notorious for getting huge overnight.  It is important to pick summer squash when smaller.  As they grow large, they become very seedy and just don’t taste nearly as good!  Check them daily.  If left to grow too large, you can always use them for zucchini bread which is delicious.

Since summer squash produces so many fruits, it needs to be fertilized and watered regularly in dry conditions.  I fertilize with an organic, granular fertilizer at least once a month.  I'll use tomato fertilizer on all my fruiting vegetables when I fertilize my tomatoes as it is good for all fruiting vegetables as well.  


The two biggest pest problems are squash bugs (left) and squash vine borer (below left are eggs and right is the adult).  Inspect the plant for squash bugs.  You can wear gloves, pick them off and throw them in a bowl of soapy water.

The squash vine borer is best thwarted by planting early or late.  They fly in mid-June.  If planting early, be sure to inspect regularly the stems for any eggs.  Scrap off any that you find.  When the eggs hatch, the catepillar will dig into the vine and eat its way through its length.  You will have a strong plant one day and a wilted on the next.  You can wrap the stem base as a preventative.  The good news is that your plant does get infested, you can replace with another one.  They grow quickly in warm temperatures and soils of summer.


The cucumber beetle can infect the plant with a bacterial disease called wilt or cucumber mosaic virus.  The cucumber beetles we get here look like yellow/green lady bugs (left).  There are also striped varieties (below).

Again, the gloves, pick and throw in soapy water technique works.  Or if you are not squeamish, you can just squish them.

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.  When watering be sure to not get the foliage wet and water in the morning so any extra is quickly evaporated.  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.

With zucchini, you are begging people to take them come mid-summer.  I found some great ways to use all that extra  What to do with all that zucchini?!   I make into spaghetti noodles, use as a substitute for lasagna noodles, stuff, dry, and freeze.  You can also pickle or high pressure can.  There are many ways to creatively use and to preserve your zucchini harvest!  

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.  You can also scoop out the seeds from the fruit right off the vine and leave indoors the seeds indoors to dry.

If there is a variety that you love the looks and/or taste of from the store or farmers market, save the seeds and grow some of your own next year!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quick tip-What to start in the May garden

New seeds in pot
Thursday, May 18, 2017

There are many heat lovers you can plant in the mid-May garden.

The heat lovers to start in the garden now:  Beans-bush, vine and lima, Beets, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Corn, Cowpeas, Cucumbers, Eggplant, spring Kale, Lettuce (heat tolerant varieties), Okra, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkins and other types of Winter Squash (Acorn, Butternut, Turban, Hubbard, etc), Radishes, Summer Squash (Zucchini, Pattypan, Yellow Crookneck, etc), Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips and Watermelon.

Just be sure to keep the soil moist until sprouted and not to dry out until the seedlings are a nice size with a couple of sets of "true" leaves.  These are the leaves that develop after the initial set of leaves.

Just follow the seed packet instructions for how deep to plant and spacing.   I like to put the large seeds like squash, cucumber, beans and peas directly into the garden.  For the smaller seeds, I will start in a pot and then when they are a sturdy size, transplant them into the garden bed.

Chard and lettuce ready to be transplanted to the garden