Sunday, July 21, 2019

Everything you need to know to grow squash

Zucchini bush in center
Sunday, July 21, 2019

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.  Decorative container gardening for edibles
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.  You can also make your own.  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

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.
Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

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.  Summer garden tips

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.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

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!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

Interplanted lettuce, herbs, and flowers
Saturday, July 20, 2019

Before there was the square foot garden or biodynamic gardening, the French perfected intensive gardening for urban food supply.  Both rely on raised beds with hefty amounts of organic matter and fertilizer.  In the 1800’s, the French used horse manure as their fertilizer and heat source piled 2 feet high in raised beds.  The heat from the manure allowed them to garden year round to have fresh produce at market in the city. 

The start of biodynamic, permaculture, intensive gardening in the US today got their start at the University of California, Santa Cruz, by Alan Chadwick, a British horticulturist, in his university demonstration garden in 1966.  It was analyzed and then popularized by John Jeavons in his book “How to Grow More Vegetables” in 1974.  Biodynamic gardening  

In this technique, plants are planted in offset rows to maximize the vegetables for the space.  Compost and manure are worked down to a depth of 2 feet in 4-10” raised beds 3-5 feet wide.  Only all organic, natural fertilizers are used.  Plants are positioned with those that support their growth called companion planting.  For more on companion planting, here is a link:  Companion planting

The square foot gardening pilgrim Mel Bartholomew published his first book “Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work”.  Square foot gardening uses 6 inch raised beds filled with compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.  Square foot gardening

If using manure, apply manure in the fall after you are done harvesting for the season to allow decomposition and elimination of harmful bacteria.  Compost or fully composted manure can be added at any time.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Add flowers to attract pollinators as well as a pretty addition to raised beds.  You can even add edible flowers which are fun to use in salads or plate decorations.  Flowers that are edible

Intensively planted spring garden
Spacing of veggies
Bush beans-4”
Pole beans-6”
Brussels sprouts-16”
Swiss Chard-12”
Cucumber, vine-8”
Heading lettuce-10”
Leaf lettuce-8”
Melon, vine-15”
Mustard greens-4”
Bush peas-6”
Pole peas-4”
Bush squash-36”
Vine squash-24”
Staked tomatoes-18”

Square foot gardening has a rule of thumb for intensive planting per square foot of garden space:
Extra Large – one per square for 12 inch spacing
Large – 4 per square for 6 inch spacing
Medium – 9 per square for 4 inch spacing
Small – 16 per square for 3 inch spacing.

Basically, you space them so that their neighbor’s leaves are just barely touching.  With intensive planting, you will have to water more often.   Another consideration to the planting is sun position and plant height.  You want to be sure that sun lovers are not shaded by a taller plant.  You can also plant those that appreciate some shade in the hotter months behind taller plants to extend the harvest.  For veggies susceptible to fungal diseases like tomatoes and zucchini, just be sure they are getting good airflow.  Plant them where they can be exposed to direct breezes like around the edge of the garden bed.  Here is a link to average plant heights and root depths at maturity:  Veggie plant height and root depth 

A key tenant of intensive gardening is succession planting.  Never having an empty space in the garden.  Planning is key here.  Having transplants lined up to replace the crop you just harvested.  As soon as the spring crops are done, getting the summer growers in their spot.  If using seeds, you would plant your summer vegetable in between your spring vegetable as soon as weather allows.  As your spring crop is being harvested, your summer crop will be close behind.  Want continuous harvests? Succession planting!

Lastly, crop rotation is considered key by many.  Here is an easy way to think about crop rotation:  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

I started my vegetable garden in my mulched flower beds.  It has the same concept and has the advantage of already having lots of organic matter from mulching each year.  Mulch also keeps in moisture, moderates the ground temperature and keeps weeding to a minimum.  For more on weed free, till free gardening  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

It is simply amazing how much you can grow in a small space with good organic practices and planning.  Start your own French intensive garden!  Small space French kitchen garden

Saturday, July 13, 2019

10 Easy Ways to a Sustainable Yard

Sunday, July 14, 2019

If you are wanting to be more sustainable in your home, don’t forget the yard and garden.  The typical American yard uses billions of gallons of water and hundreds of millions of pounds of fertilizer each year.  Why not leverage your lawn space more sustainably?  

Here are 10 tips for a more sustainable garden and yard:
  1. Go organic.  Eliminate chemicals from your yard and garden.  Basics of organic gardening  Organic fertilizers last a lot longer and won’t cause lawn, flower or veggie burn like a chemical fertilizer will.  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer   Many chemicals to get rid of bugs these days are “systemic” and stay in the plant for months and even years and kill the bees and other beneficial insects.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?
  2. Use mulch in your garden.  Mulch is a home run.  It keeps weeds from sprouting, it keeps moisture in the ground so you don’t have to water as often, it adds organic matter to your garden, and it looks nice.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds
  3. Plant natives.  Those trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses that are native to your area are well acclimated to your climate and pests.  You can plant and they will take care of themselves.
  4. Save seeds.  Growing from seed saves you money, allows you to grown interesting varieties, and raise crops that are uniquely adapted to your garden conditions.  You can get seeds by saving your own, your neighbors, favorites from the farmers market, and even from the produce and fruits you buy at the grocer.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver
  5. Lose your lawn.  Lawns in America are a big drain on the pocketbook and time while not providing food for your family or critters.  They are also a contributor to fertilizer run off.  Add decorative flower beds with natives.  Start using at least a part of your lawn for growing herbs, fruits and vegetables for you and your family.  Nothing is better tasting and better for you than fresh out of the garden and onto the table.  Permaculture in a Midwest garden and yard
  6. Water less.  Purchase natives and look for drought tolerant in the descriptions of plants and seeds you are buying.  Set up a rain barrel to use for the flower beds.  Use drip hoses instead of sprayers these can save up to 70% on water.  Use mulch in not only your flower beds but also your garden beds.   Go organic on lawn care.  Organic, all natural lawns are more tolerant of the summer conditions and need less water to survive.  Organic, all natural lawn 
  7. Grow your own food.  You can easily add fruits and veggies to your existing flower gardens.  You can easily expand your garden beds to accommodate herbs and veggies.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  If you don’t have room for a flower and veggie garden bed, you can grown anything in a self watering pot.  There has been a bonanza of new container varieties developed over the last few years.  Decorative container gardening for edibles   It is easy to grow and eat from the garden spring, summer and fall.  Planning for a four season garden  
  8. Plant perennials.  Annuals take a great deal of inputs to grow from seed each year.  With perennials, you get the benefit of the inputs for years and years versus just one.  Don’t forget about perennial edibles, too!  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden   Herbs are a great beginners choice.  Start a kitchen herb garden!
  9. Compost.  Don’t throw those table scraps in the trash to just go sit in a landfill someplace.  Re-use their nutritional value in your garden by composting them.  There are basically 3 types of composters: a bin that you layer browns/greens and it takes a year to break down, a tumbler type that you throw the browns/greens together and crank daily to mix up giving you compost in a couple of weeks, and an electric type that can be used indoors or outdoors that gives you compost in a couple of days.  Why throw out all those food nutrients when you can reuse them in your own garden for free?  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors
  10. New methods for the lawn itself.  For your lawn, mow high.  The higher grass shades the ground, causing the soil to not dry out as quickly and helping keep some weeds from growing.  Use an electric or manual lawn mower.  Try a self propelled electric mower.  Don’t buy the typical seed mix.  Purchase  low growing grasses so you only need to mow monthly instead of weekly.  Here is a site to purchase low growers for your area:

How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden

Cucumber vines on trellis in the August garden
Saturday, July 13, 2019

Cucumbers are a tropical plant and love heat.  They should be started indoors 4 weeks prior to the last frost (mid March in our Zone 6) and transplanted outside after all danger of frost has passed.  They can also be directly sown into the garden in the summer.  You can plant into July and have fruits from August to frost.

Cucumbers have been around for thousands of years and originally from India.  The cucumber arrived in Europe at least 2000 years ago.  The Romans loved them.  Christopher Columbus brought the cucumber with him to Haiti in the 1400‘s and was likely aboard the first ships in Virginia in the 1600’s.

Cucumbers are a good source of potassium, antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K.  It also has a diuretic properties.  Cucumber nutritional info  Cucumbers have a sweet, refreshing taste.  They are popular in salads, smoothies, and juices.

Cucumbers should be planted in full sun with rich soil and consistent moisture.  Cucumbers can be grown in pots or in the garden bed.   You can let them run or train them to grow on a trellis.  If growing in soil, plant 4 seeds in hills 3-4‘ apart and thin to the strongest two.  I plant mine around a trellis to use the vertical space.  

If growing green varieties, harvest before the fruits turn yellow.  Early fruits have less seeds.  Frequent harvesting also encourages the vine to grow more fruits.  Follow the seed packet instructions for harvesting of other colors of cucumbers.

If growing in pots, look for patio, dwarf, bush, or compact in the description.  Some small varieties include Lemon, Suyo, Salad Bush, Fanfare, Sweet Success.  One vine of Salad Bush was all we needed to have enough cucumbers to make pickles for the year for my husband and for salads for me.  I also love adding cukes to my smoothies and snacking on them right off the vine.  
Grow your own smoothie and juice garden
Decorative container gardening for edibles
Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

Last year, I started my seedlings in coir pods at the end of May.  I planted them out into the garden in mid June.   I planted seeds for a yellow that can weigh up to 5 pounds (Jaune Dickfleishige), a red (Hmong Red), and 1 white cucumber into the garden around a trellis.  The white is a small fruit which is great for a single salad or smoothie.  All did quite well.  The large cucumbers will last for months justing sitting on a counter.

This year, I planted my seeds directly into the garden in early June.  I stuck with a couple of green types this year.  They are already producing fruits.  Cucumbers grow and produce fast in hot, humid weather.

Fertilize regularly and keep evenly moist.  Do not let soil completely dry out.  This will result in bitter or hollow fruits.  Each plant produces both male and female flowers.  The first flowers will likely be males.  Don’t be surprised or worried when the first flowers fall off without fruiting.  When the female flowers appear, you will get baby fruits.
Summer garden tips

Don't forget to save seeds from your best producer for next year's garden!
Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What's happening in the early July edible garden

Baby peppers on potted pepper plant
Sunday, July 7, 2019

We are harvesting eggplants, peppers, herbs, onions, cucumbers, carrots, Asian greens, and kale.   We are getting steady amounts of rainfall on most weeks so only the pots are needing water consistently.  Have not had to water the beds yet this summer.  The flowers are very happy, too! 

We have gotten more rain and heat than usual this year.  Our grass is still green in late July!  The plants greenery are full and tall.  We started getting eggplants and peppers since the first of July.  The cucumbers and winter squash have babies on them.  The bumblebees love them!  The vines are alive with buzzing with lots of bees every morning.   

Both the hot and sweet pepper plants have peppers on them.  Am getting ripe peppers consistently.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Tomatoes are way behind this year.  I had issues after transplanting and had to replant.  I have many flowers and some baby tomatoes but will be another couple of weeks before there are ripe tomatoes.  Neighbors tomatoes are just starting to turn red.  

Oregano in bloom
I harvested our garlic a couple of weeks ago and is getting hardening in the shade on our outdoor, covered deck.  Garlic harvest time is near!

Our basil has been off to the races.  I took my first harvest last week end, cutting down to the first few sets of leaves.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano and marjoram is in full bloom.  The bees love the purple flowers!  I harvested most of the stems, but I love the flowers and left some for the bees.  Harvest and preserve your herbs

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the veggies in the garden.  It is good to fertilize pots biweekly and garden plants monthly during the growing season to give them the nutrition they need to produce well. Summer garden tips
The lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our Earth boxes with some of the seeds.  It will be a couple of weeks for them to be of baby lettuce size to harvest.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

In the greens department, summer is a hard time for most greens.  Sprouting broccoli, different types of sorrel, arugula, dandelion greens, chard, corn salad and herbs are all available.  The heat increases the sharpness of greens.  Succession planting of lettuce and planting types that are resistant to bolting can keep your lettuce crop going.  Plant them in the coolest part of the yard where they are not in full sun all day and get shade in the afternoon.  Pots are a good option to be able to move them to the cooler part of the yard.  Growing summer salads  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

I added a couple of varieties of greens that have a similar taste to spinach a month ago.  I've added Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, and strawberry spinach to my summer greens garden this year.  They are not true spinach but have the flavor of spinach and are heat tolerant.  I am harvesting them, chard and kale for steamed greens.  I blanch and freeze the extras for winter eating.  Freezing the extras for winter

Our zucchini plants have not kicked in yet.  Once they do, you have to be creative to keep up with all the fruits they pump out.  I just love grilled zucchini!  I also found that using it as a substitute for pasta or lasagna is a great way to use them.  You can also dry them to use in soups or roasts over the winter.  What to do with all that zucchini?!

The annual flowers are really rocking in the garden right now.  The daylilies, marigolds and zinnias are doing extremely well this summer.  They attract all kinds of beautiful butterflies and moths as well as bees.  I love watching all the bees and butterflies that are visiting the garden.  

Summer garden is in full swing!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

What to plant in July's edible garden

July edible garden
Saturday, July 6, 2019

It may seem crazy to be sowing seeds in July for your fall and winter garden, but it is the time to do so.  Everything you can grow for spring, you can grow for fall.  For winter harvests, just look for cold hardy varieties.  

September until your first frost is high time in the garden.  Your summer veggies will still be producing at the same time your cool season crops can be harvested.

The trick to harvesting all fall and winter is to have your veggies to full size by mid-October.  With the shorter days of late fall and winter, your plants will not grow much after mid-October through mid-February.

The change I make from spring to fall plantings is for spring, I plant those varieties that are heat tolerant.  In the fall, I plant those varieties that are cold tolerant to extend the harvest as long as possible into winter.  Depending on the severity of the winter, many cold tolerant varieties revive in the spring and provide a really early, nice harvest surprise.

Because daylight hours are getting shorter in the fall, you will need to add about 2 weeks to the “Days to Harvest” your seed packet gives as the seed packet dates are based on spring planting.  Plants grow slower in fall because the days are getting shorter instead of longer.  Frost date look up

Just like in spring, seeds have to be kept moist to sprout.  You can also plant the seeds in peat pots or you can reuse the plastic annual trays you got in the spring.  You can put the plastic trays in a water catch pan, find a shady spot convenient to watering, fill with seed starting mix, sow your seeds and keep moist.  When the seedlings get their true leaves on them (second set), they are ready to transplant into the garden or a larger pot.

There are some veggies that the temps are too high to germinate in our Zone 6, like lettuce.  These you will have to start inside or on the cool side of the house in the shade.  

You can also plant a second crop of summer veggies and herbs to keep the harvests strong through October.  Look for varieties that have short "days to harvest" or purchase transplants.  Summer lovers include basil, beans, corn, tomatoes, and zucchini.

July-Seeds or Transplants
Bush beans  Growing beans
Asian greens (pak choi, tat-soi) Fall and winter greens

Brussel sprouts
Chinese cabbage

If you don’t want to start seeds, some big box stores and local nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies.   If none in your area do, there are many mail order seed companies that carry fall bedding plants.