Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mustard greens

baby Giant Red Mustard on right in middle

May 25, 2019

Many think of mustard as the yellow condiment you put on burgers and hot dogs.  There are many varieties of mustard that are grown for their leaves.  Mustard leaves get stronger as the weather gets hotter.  They definitely have a "bite" similar to arugula. 

Mustards come in different heights, colors and leave types.  They are a great add to salads, cooked and in cooking.  Mustard greens are chock full of antioxidants, manganese, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, C and K, and folate.  Nutritional info

Giant Red Mustard
Mustard greens can be cultivated in the spring or for fall.  They produce well throughout the summer and overwinter down to 0 F.  Ideal sowing times are March-May for spring/summer harvests and July-August for fall/winter harvests.   They prefer rich soil and should be kept moist until sprouted.  

Sow seeds on the soil, then rake in.  Seeds will sprout in 3-4 days.  Harvesting can begin as soon as 10 days.  You can also buy them as bedding plants in the spring.  If you do want mustard seed, they will be ready in 8-10 weeks.  In summer months, they appreciate some afternoon shade.

You can basically use as you would arugula.  You can also eat the new leaves in salads or sauté or steam the larger leaves.  You can harvest the outer leaves when they are 3-4” long for cooking or salads.  Store at 32 degrees F and high humidity in the frig for the longest life.

For any that I don't eat fresh, I blanche and freeze to add to a steamed veggie side dish or to soups and roasts.  You do need to blanche mustard and other greens to maintain the taste.  Freezing the extras for winter

FMy favorite varieties to grow are Giant Red, Ruby Streaks and Golden Streaks.  Ruby and Golden Streaks are striking in salads.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Grow a southern favorite-collards

May 25, 2019

Collards are a vegetable that has always been associated with the South in the U.S. and appeared in the late 1700’s.  The Celts cultivated these greens, causing the birth of kale, broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kohlrabi.  There is even evidence that ancient Greeks cultivated collards 2000 years ago.  The ancient Greek varieties have gone extinct.  

Collards are not only beautiful, it is good for you!  Collards are chock full of antioxidants, beta carotene, lutein, vitamins A, C and K, and folate.  It also contains compounds that are potent against cancer, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.  Nutritional info

Collards can be cultivated in the spring or for fall.  They produce well throughout the summer and overwinter down to 0 F.  Ideal sowing times are March-May for spring/summer harvests and July-August for fall/winter harvests.  You can still get a variety that was grown in gardens in the early 1800's "Green Glaze".

Collards prefer rich soil and should be kept moist until sprouted.  Sow seeds 1/4” deep with 18-24" final spacing.  You can also buy them as bedding plants in the spring.

Collards are a biennial meaning they will go do seed in the second year of life.  Their seed pods are quite tasty as well.  Pick when the pods are young and prepare as you would green beans.  Use the pretty yellow flowers in salads.  Frost makes the leaves sweeter so there are 3 great reasons to keep in the garden over the winter!

You can basically use collards as you would kale.  One of the fun ways to prepare is to salt and dry in a dehydrator or low temp in the oven.  They can be eaten as you do chips, but are much healthier.  You can also eat the new leaves in salads or sauté or steam the larger leaves.  You can harvest the outer leaves when they are 6-8” long for cooking or juicing.  Store at 32 degrees F and high humidity in the frig for the longest life.

For any that I don't eat fresh, I blanche and freeze to add to a steamed veggie side dish or to soups.  You do need to blanche collards and other greens to maintain the taste.  Freezing the extras for winter

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Hardening off" seedlings

Seedlings on the deck, hardening
Sunday, May 19, 2019

You have probably heard of "hardening off" seedlings.  This is preparing the seedling for the more extreme conditions it will experience in the garden or pot.  Otherwise, the green, happy seedling can easily wilt, dry up and die.  Even when you harden your seedling, pay close attention to it after planting.  Consistent moisture is key for the first couple of weeks.
Hardening is important through all garden seasons.  In colder temperatures, the shock of going from warm to cold can be too much.  In hotter months, shock of comfortable temperatures to hot temperatures can also be too much.  In all seasons, going from indoors to direct outdoor sun can scald the plant's leaves.

After your seedlings have sprouted indoors, remove the cover, if using one.  Let the top 1/4" of the soil dry out between waterings.  I like to put the water in the tray and let the seedlings take up the moisture.  If watering overhead, be careful and use a diffused watering head so the tender seedlings are not crushed.  Keep the seedlings indoors until the second set of leaves appear; these are the first "true" leaves. 
Sprouted seedlings in a hydroponic system
It's best if warm enough, to move the seed tray outdoors away from direct sun in an area protected from wind gusts.  A gentle breeze keeps the seedlings from getting the fungus that causes them to keel over and die, called "dampening off".  A breeze also helps the seedlings stems get stronger.  I like putting mine on our covered deck.

If it is still cold at night, bring your seedlings indoors during these times.  Over two weeks, gradually expose your seedlings to more light.

After two weeks outdoors, look for the opportune time to plant.  It is best to plant when it is going to be cloudy for a few days.  Ideally, with a light rain in the forecast.

Plant at the same depth in the garden or pot as the seedling was in the container.  Be gentle when removing the seedling; breaking its stem can kill the plant.  Tap on the sides of the container to loosen the soil from the side.  Gently turn over and remove the seedling.  A spoon can also be used to scoop out the seedling.

If your seedling was in a peat pot, you can plant the pot and all.  I like to break open the bottom before planting to give the roots free reign in getting to the garden soil.  Don't let any of the peat pot be exposed above the ground as it can act as a wick for removing moisture from around the seedling.  Either fold the top edges flat and cover with soil or just tear off the exposed edges.

Once planted, firm the soil just to make sure that there are no air pockets and the seedling has a solid foundation.  Fertilizing with a liquid fish emulsions at planting gives the seedlings a nutritional boost.

Keep an eye on your seedlings.  Make sure they are getting consistent moisture for the first couple of weeks.  if the ground is moist, there is no need to water.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Peppers are for every taste and garden

Saturday, May 18, 2019

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 12”, 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 seemed to 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 place one plant per pot along with a petunia or nasturtium for additional color.  To help maintain moisture, I mulch around the peppers after planted in the pot.  I 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.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

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, a recent Guinness winner thinks the secret to getting the world’s hottest pepper was run off from a worm farm.  Summer garden tips

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:
*Chocolate and red sweet peppers for the salsa and snacking
*Cayenne for salsa and making hot sauce
*Jalapeno for salsa.  You can also smoke them to make chipotle seasoning
*Pimento peppers to add dice and add to salads
*Poblano to dry for chili powder  (the dried pepper is called ancho)
*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 at top, jalapeño on bottom      Red and green cayennes

I have a Chipetin pepper I overwinter in the garage that is already producing small, very hot 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 peppers I am growing from seed this year will turn chocolate, 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.  Save the seeds from your best pepper.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

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.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Top 10 Tomato Myths (And Some Truths)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States. There is nothing like a tomato ripe from the vine! Many people started gardening by way of the tomato. They were the very first vegetable we grew. Many gardeners have the techniques they swear by to get the biggest and best tomatoes. Here are some tales that are not necessarily true.

Tomato Growing Myths (and Some Truths)
  1. Tomatoes love as much sun as possible! This depends on where you live. In very hot climates, 6-8 hours is plenty. Your tomatoes can actually scald in intense sun and heat. For hot climates, plant your tomatoes in a north to south row so each side gets some shade each day.
  2. You should prune your tomatoes for the best harvests. This again depends on your climate. If you live in a hot climate with intense sun and heat, you want to keep the leaves to help protect the tomatoes from sun scald. If you live in a damp area, you want to prune the tomato plant to allow good air circulation and sunlight.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes
  3. Tomatoes love fertilizer! Actually, you only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers. Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth. Some that really sock the fertilizer to the plant end up with a giant green plant with no tomatoes. To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium or one specifically for tomatoes.    Summer garden tips
  4. Tomatoes can’t be grown in pots. Tomatoes can be grown in pots, but not the big tomato plants or you have to grow them in a huge container like a whiskey barrel. Look for dwarf, pot, or patio types. You will need to put in a large pot and be prepared to water often.  Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
  5. Tomatoes need to be watered a lot. Actually, if you water your tomatoes a lot, you can end up with fungal diseases and mushy fruit. The trick with tomatoes is to keep their moisture even. Letting the ground crack and then drowning the plant will result in cracked fruit. In the hot times of the summer with no rain, you will likely need to water at least weekly. Be sure to not water the leaves, but the roots.
  6. When you see leaves dropping, something is wrong. This is a natural progression of the plant. As fruits begin to form, there is less energy for the leaves and some leaves will turn yellow and die.
  7. A spindly tomato transplant is an unhealthy one. Actually the nodes on the stems can easily be transformed into roots. I take my transplants and remove the bottom leaves and plant on its side with only the top 4 leaves above ground.  Roots will grow all along the stem buried in the soil.  This gives the plant a good root system.
  8. You can only transplant in early summer. Actually, if your tomato plants are starting to fade in mid summer, you can put out new transplants that will give you fruit until the first frost.
  9. When you make sauce, the skins and seeds have to be removed. I put whole tomatoes into the food processor. Some say that the skin and seeds can impart a bitter flavor. With the many types of tomatoes I have raised, this has never been a problem for me.  Preserving the tomato harvest
  10. Only paste tomatoes can be used for sauce. I use all my tomatoes for sauce. The best for sauce for me are the most prolific tomato plants. These have been smaller tomatoes and Cherokee Purple for us. I would ask your neighbors which ones give the most fruit if you are looking to put up by freezing or canning.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow 
The last tip: Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases. Do try to not plant your tomatoes in the same spot for four years. Fungal diseases stay in the soil and take a while to die out. The same goes for a pot. A way around it for a pot is to use new soil and disinfect the pot each year.  Also, do not water the foliage as this will encourage fungal diseases.  Practice crop rotation.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Create garden "loam"

Garden bed "loam"
Sunday, May 5, 2019

The optimum soil type for gardening is called "loam".  If your soil is not the rich, dark color of loam and not light and fluffy, don't despair as you can create beautiful, black loam in just a couple of years without much effort. 

 What gives loam its dark color is lots of organic material.  In the Midwest and Upper South, we have nice orange clay soil.  It is great at holding lots of water when saturated.  Some think adding sand is the thing to do to get better drainage in the soil.  What you really want to do is to add more organic material. Organic matter helps with drainage and supports lots of microbial life which nourishes plants.

There are options for getting more organic material into your soil.  You can add compost, peat, leaves, sawdust, composted manure, or coir to the soil and till it in.  Peat is not a renewable resource.  Sawdust and leaves require a few months to decompose so are good options in the fall for your spring garden.

For your spring garden, adding compost or composted leaves or manure a couple of weeks before planting works.

I avoid tilling as it destroys the soil structure that takes a year or longer to rebuild.  Tilling also creates a hard pan at the depth of the bottom of the tiller tines that makes it hard for drainage and root growth through it.  I prefer to add wood mulch as a cover in the garden to create loam.  It decomposes and adds organic matter into the soil.  Mulch also increase pH and calcium in the soil.  In 3 years, you have dark, organic rich soil in the top 6" of the garden bed.  

Earthworms love cardboard.  They are tireless "tiller" and fertilizers of soil.  You can put a layer of cardboard over the garden bed, then cover with mulch.  In just a few months, you will have soft, fluffy soil that plants can spread their roots easily and absorbs water well without  becoming water logged.  For all new beds I put in, I always put down a layer of compost and fertilizer topped with cardboard.

Other blogs that may be of interest are:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Starting your own all natural, organic garden

Newly planted edibles in the flower garden
Saturday, May 4, 2019

If you are thinking of starting an edible garden without using chemicals, now is a great time to start an all natural, organic garden.  You don't need much space to get a lot of fresh produce and even fruits.  Organic gardening isn't harder than conventional gardening with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  The reason I garden organically is it just doesn't seem like something that is designed to kill other living things whether it be weeds or bugs could be good for you or your family to eat.   

 Growing your own food can be therapeutic and cost effective.  I grow all my edibles either in a pot or in my flower beds.  This way you don't have to worry about hoeing weeds and grass out of the garden.  You take care of your edibles just like you do your flowers; using mulch to keep the weeds at bay.

Studies have shown that organically (all natural) grown foods contain 18-69% more antioxidants than those grown conventionally (with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides) as reported by the British Journal of Nutrition.  These synthetics inhibit a plant's production of phytonutrients, according to  Makes sense to me since herbicides and pesticides are designed to kill other living things.

Here are the steps to get started: 
Step 1  Buy the basic gardening tools you will need.  I use a trowel, gardening gloves (the ones with rubber on the fingers to keep my fingers clean and dry), and a foam pad to kneel on when gardening.

Step 2  Decide where to put your little garden.  Most fruits and veggies need 6-8 hours of sun to do their best.  Make sure to put the tall plants like tomatoes in the back.  Give bush veggies like zucchini and cucumbers plenty of space and easily accessible to pick regularly.  Plan to tuck your veggies in and around your flowers.

Step 3  Do a soil test to see what your garden bed needs for the optimum growth.  Dig out a core 6" deep in various locations in the garden.  Mix all the soil together and take to your local extension office to get tested.  Many do the test for free or a small fee.  If you want to just get started, use a balanced organic fertilizer for vegetables.
Edibles in pots
Step 4  Start small!  The number one reason people get overwhelmed with edible gardening is trying to do too much all at once.  You can grow a nice garden in just a 6' by 6' space.  Here are some easy to grow summer veggies to start with:
2 tomato plants (one plant with large tomatoes for sandwiches and pizza, one with small for salads and snacking)  
2 pepper plants (one sweet pepper plant and one spicy pepper plant)  
1 bush zucchini plant  
1 bush cucumber plant  
1 eggplant  

The peppers, zucchini, cucumber and eggplant can all be grown in pots if you prefer.  Decorative container gardening for edibles
Edibles in the flower garden in summer
Step 5  Plant!  Add the amendments around each veggie as you plant them.  Give a monthly supplement of nitrogen around each plant through the growing season.  I use blood meal for quick nitrogen for your plants.

Now, watch it grow!  Summer garden tips 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

What to plant in the May edible garden

End of May garden
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May is a "shoulder" month.  The cold crops are peaking and it is warm enough to start the summer lovers like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and eggplants.

Here is a list of plants and seeds you can put in the May garden: 
May-transplants or seeds
Bee balm (monarda)
Beans-bush and pole
Brussels sprouts
Cilantro (Slo Bolt)
Fruit bushes
Lemon balm
Lettuce (heat tolerant)
Summer and winter squash
Sweet potatoes

May-start from seeds directly in the garden
Beans (snap-bush & pole)

For tips on starting your seeds in the garden:  Outdoor seed starting tips  I also like to put a pot on our covered deck and start seeds there.  Once they are to a good size, I transplant them into their permanent pot of into the garden bed.  Vegetables you can grow in pots