Sunday, January 28, 2018

Start your edible spring garden now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy spring gardening!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Surprising veggies that can be grown in pots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

When plants start growing again......

Golden streaks mustard greens and strawberry plants
January 21, 2018

If you have noticed that plants stop growing in the winter, whether indoors or out, you would be right.  It is not just the temperatures that affect this slow down.  It is the amount of sunlight.

Basically, plants go dormant when receiving less than 10 hours of daylight.  For my latitude, this is from November 17 until this week.  You can look on the weather channel to see when your daylight hits 10 hours.

When planting in the fall for winter crops, you need to plan that they are at full, harvestable size by November 17th.  They will remain this size until the end of January, when they begin regrowing.

Growth starts back up at the end of January, for indoor and outdoor plants.  The lettuce, chard, sorrel, cabbage, kale, celery, and herbs that have overwintered will start growing with vigor again after this time with clear days and warmer temperatures.

I fertilized the garlic, onions, peas, cultivated dandelion greens, corn salad, sorrel, lettuce, parsley, and strawberry plants that are still green in the garden to give them the nutrients they need for their new growth.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  Spinach and mustard greens are great ones for early spring harvests.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January is indoor seed starting time! Here is a seed starting calendar........

Starting seeds in a biodegradable po

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I know it seems spring is a long way away this time of year.  Luckily for us gardeners we get to start spring early!  End of January into February is prime seed starting time indoors.  I have outlined by month the plant seeds to start indoors between now and April for our Zone 6/7 garden.  It is wonderful to see the little green sprouts shooting up with promise of a bountiful gardening season right around the corner!

Many big box stores will begin getting in their seeds as soon as the end of December these days.  The variety available in big box stores continues to expand as more and more of us are growing our own food.  If you are wanting something unique, try on line seed companies. Some of my favorites with a good selection of organic vegetables, garden fruits, and herbs-Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, Cook’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interest.  If you are looking for a specific variety, Mother Earth News has a seed search engine that does a great job:  Mother Earth News seed/plant finder

Using indoor seed starting is a great way to accelerate your harvest by up to two months.  Seed packets tell you how far in advance of your last frost date to start your seeds indoors or when to plant outdoors for "direct sowing" in the garden.  Just look on the back. Here is a web page to look up your last frost date: Frost date look up

January and February are cold season crops seed starting time.  Cold season crops include your greens, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries and peas.  What is a four season garden?

March and April is the time for warm season veggie and herbs to get their indoor start.  Summer veggies include beans, tomatoes, beans, basil, eggplant, peppers and squash.

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6/7 garden)
Artichokes
Arugula
Bay
Broccoli
Cabbage
Catnip
Celery
Chives
Edamame
Endive 
Escarole
Fennel
Fenu
Horseradish
Leek, if starting from seed
Lettuce
Mache
Mint
Mizuna
Onions, if starting from seed
Parsley
Peas
Rhubarb
Shallots, if starting from seed
Strawberries
Summer savory
Sorrel

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6/7 garden)
Bee balm
Celeriac
Eggplant
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lavender
Lovage
Marjoram
Mustard
Oregano
Rosemary
Scallions, if starting from seed
Spinach
Thyme
Turnips

Seedlings started in an Aerogarden hydroponic system

March
Artichokes
Broccoli
Chamomile
Chard
Cilantro
Comfrey
Fennel
Lemon verbena
Okra
Peppers
Raddichio
Sage
Summer squash
Tarragon
Tomatoes

April
Basil
Beans
Cucumber
Melon
Winter squash
Stevia

Another trick is to do succession seed starting.  For continuous harvests of veggies like broccoli, spinach and lettuce, start new seedlings every 3 weeks and plant out every three weeks in the garden.  For the early seedlings, use varieties that are described as cold hardy.  When you get to April, start seedlings that are heat tolerant.  Heat tolerant varieties will resist bolting and bitterness at the first sign of summer.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

You can also start perennial flowers and veggies indoors as well.  For any plant, look at the seed packet for when to plant outdoors according to your frost date.  Then back up the time from there on when to start indoors.  Typical seed starting is 6-8 weeks prior to the plant out date.  For more on perennial fruits and veggie gardens, Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden

For tips on seed starting: 

Trying to decide what to plant for this year's garden?  Here are some garden ideas:

Don't be worried about the work of putting in an edible garden.  You can simply grow veggies right along with your flowers or grow in pots!  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

My new varieties for the 2018 edible garden


Sunday, January 12, 2018

I have my favorites that I go back to every year.  I also try new varieties each season.  There is just so many seed varieties out there!  Here's how I chose these year's new varieties.  

I try to keep a diary during the garden season to capture what has worked well in my garden and what hasn't as well as any gaps in harvest times.  There are typically early, mid and late varieties of the same type of veggie or fruit.

What I want to address in this year's garden that didn't go as well as I would have liked:
*Too many of the same color zinnias.  I let the volunteers go to town this past year.  For the 2018 garden, I will pull the volunteers and start from seed indoors a variety of colors.
*Want to do a red, white and blue flowering vines.  Will start indoors hummingbird vine, moonflower and blue morning glory.  Started them outdoors last year and took forever to get to the flowering stage.
*Trying seeds of a couple new varieties of eggplant-Amadeo and Prosperosa.  Touted for not getting bitter and having heavy yields.  The best tasting we have found so far are Casper, a white eggplant.  The drawback has been getting Casper to germinate repeatably.
*Trying several intermediate day onions-Candy Hybrid, Red Candy Apple, Superstar, Australian Brown, Bronze D'Amposta.  So far in our garden, the long day onions have not bulbed.  Ordering mid-day length onions to see if this does the trick.  What's up with long day/short day onions?  Our bunching onions, leeks and garlic do great in the garden so the best culprit is not buying the right type of bulbing onion.
*Tomatoes that are good for sauce that produce earlier than my current heirloom Italian Red Pear paste.  It is a very large tomato so it is ready to harvest is around 80 days.  I freeze all my extra tomatoes to make sauce in the fall.  This paste gives a silky smooth sauce.  I want to be sure that I have some type of paste tomato in each quart of fresh tomatoes I freeze.  Preserving the tomato harvest  These are the varieties I am going to add to the garden this year for sauce-Gezahnte, Little Napoli, Ten Fingers of Naples, Black Vernissage.  

Here are the ones I am trying just for fun:
*Would like to try some plants that are not typical for my zone.  Have ordered a Zone 7 tolerant olive tree and have a request in for ordering a citrandarin which tastes like a cross between a mandarin and lemon.
*Ordered a Aronia fruiting bush.  A native fruit bush that has dark purple fruits high in antioxidants.
*Trying a different variety of black kale-Black Magic
*Different colors of creeping thyme.  Will place between the stepping stones in the garden.  Pretty and edible.
*A new type of cucumber-Sikkim.  
*A summer lettuce mix from Park Seeds-Summer Glory Blend.  I try different types of heat resistant lettuces to lengthen the lettuce season.  I'll save the seeds from the ones that do the best in our hot summers.  Buying a variety let's you try several in one packet.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces
*Tomatoes I am trying to see how they do in our garden that looked interesting-Tigeralla, Indigo Pear Drops 
Choosing which tomatoes to grow  

 These are in addition to my standbys.  I captured what I wanted to keep and try in my 2018 edible garden in the fall so I wouldn't forget.  Reflecting back on the 2017 edible garden
My 2017 Edible Garden Plan

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What's surviving in the January edible garden

Garlic chives

Saturday, January 11, 2018

In our Zone 6/7 garden, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, sage, sorrel, rosemary, carrots, thyme, oregano, garlic, onions, leeks, parsley, spinach, and peas are all still green in our January garden.  The celery, peppers, eggplant, bay and citrus plants over wintering in the unheated garage are also still green. Our kumquat is loaded with green fruits.

To keep your cold hardy crops going as long as possible, be sure to apply a good layer of mulch in the fall.  How to extend the garden season

Austrian peas are a great winter crop to grow for salad greens.  They stay green all winter long.  I planted the seeds in the fall in pots.  The year before I planted them directly in the garden.  You can plant peas and onions as soon as next month, as soon as the soil can be worked. Time to plant peas!

Don't despair if your onion or carrot tops look a little worse for wear, the onion bulb and carrot under the ground are harvestable all winter.

Mulch is not only good for retaining moisture and keeping the soil cooler in the summer, but does the same in winter, keeping the soil warmer.  This lengthens the winter harvest and protects more tender crops so that they have a better chance of reviving in the spring to give an extra early spring harvest.  As your mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

You can also use cloches, covers, and greenhouses to extend the harvest and get a jump on spring.   Biggest watch out when using cloches and green houses is to open when the sun is shining and temps get above freezing.  Temperatures can rise quickly inside the protection, killing the plant.  A row cover has more breathability, but that also means it will not keep the plants as warm.  See this blog for more on protecting plants  Extend the season with protection for plants 
Cloche

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Mediterranean diet garden

Terraced garden on the Amalfi coast, Italy
Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be great for your health.  It is also fun and easy to grow!  It is heavy in vegetables, nuts, and fruits.  All things you can grow in your own small back yard or patio.  That is a triple win-the freshest produce is the highest in nutrition, growing your own is cost effective, and it tastes great.

You may think that you can’t grow what they can grow in the Mediterranean region, but Zone 6 is at the same latitude as France and Italy.  Their temperatures are more moderate than ours so some things we can’t grow without bringing indoors for the winter, but this is exception.  We can grow almost everything right here in our own backyard kitchen gardens.

Potted orange and fig trees
Mediterranean garden plants

Fruits, vegetables, and nuts
Artichokes
Asparagus
Beets and turnips
Broccoli raab
Carrots
Celery
Cucumber
Dates (needs to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Eggplant
Beans-chickpeas, fava beans, green, navy beans
Fennel
Figs
Grapes and grape leaves
Oranges, Lemons & Limes (need to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Lettuce, radicchio, spinach and other greens
Melons
Mushrooms
Nectarines
Nuts-almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
Okra
Olives (most varieties need to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Onions, shallots & leeks
Peaches
Peas
Peppers-sweet and spicy
Potatoes
Radishes
Tomatoes
Zucchini and other squashes

Potted pimento pepper

Herbs
Basil
Bay
Chervil
Chives
Cilantro
Dill
Garlic
Marjoram & Oregano
Mint
Parsley
Rosemary 
Saffron (stamen from a crocus flower)
Sage
Tarragon
Thyme

Dates, olives, pistachios, and citrus are the only things on this lengthy list that cannot be grown outdoors in our zone.

The key to Mediterranean eating is eating lots of vegetables, to plan around what produce is in season, the liberal use of fresh herbs, cooking with olive oil, and very little red meat.


So what could a compact Mediterranean garden include if you only have a small space, 6' x 6'?
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
2 tomatoes-1 Roma type for sauces and 1 slicer type for salads
2 sweet pepper plants
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
8 red onions
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the spicy peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant.



If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.

If you are interested in growing an heirloom Sicilian garden, Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden, a small space French potager garden, Small space French kitchen garden, for heirloom Colonial varieties Colonial Vegetable Garden