Saturday, March 17, 2018

Roadmap for when to plant for Zone 7 garden

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This is a road map for when to plant vegetables and herbs for a Zone 6/7 garden.  I am using April 28th as my last frost date.  You can also use the extended forecast to know if you can move up your plantings due to unseasonably warmer weather.

Planting your seedlings outdoors:
March 31st-cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions
April 7th-lettuce, lemon balm, parsley, chives
April 14th-broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
April 21st-sage, rosemary 
May 5th-basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes, 
May 12th-cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper, squash, zucchini

Starting your seeds indoors:
March 3rd-chives, eggplant, leeks, lemon balm, marigolds, onions, parsley, peppers, sage, thyme, tomatoes
March 17th-basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra
March 31st-cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce, squash, zucchini

These dates are just guidelines.  You can always start your seedlings later and plant your transplants later as well.  Be sure to read the seed packet for what you are starting.  They make all kinds of varieties that are cold hardy that can be planted sooner.

Johnny's seeds has a neat calculator that you can put in your last frost date and it will spit out when to plant for every variety  Seed planting schedule 

They also have bred many varieties of cold crops that are more heat resistant than others.  These would be the types to plant or start later to have a longer harvest.  Look for terms like heat tolerant, stands up to the heat, slow to bolt.  This time of year I look for varieties that are more heat tolerant as it won't be long before we are seeing days hit the upper 70's and lower 80's.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

More seeds and plantings this week end!

Newly planted onion sets (center) next to fall planted garlic (on left)
Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring planting of cool temperature loving crops continued this week end!  

I planted onion sets of sweet onions, white cooking onions and red onions.  Since I live in Kentucky, I went with day neutral onions this year.  There are long day, intermediate day and short day onions.  Long day onions are grown in the north where the summer days are long (think of Alaska having 24 hours of sun in the summer) and planted in the spring.  Short day onions are those grown in the South that have shorter summer days.  These are planted in the fall and grow over the winter.

Onions require lots of fertilizer to reach their full size.  Be sure to fertilize at planting.  Onions will be ready to harvest as spring or new onions in a month or two.  They will achieve full size in 95-135 days.  Everything to know about growing onions

I also planted more edible plant seeds in pots on the deck: Cilantro, Flat Leaf Italian parsley, Purple roach, Alpine strawberries, Rocket arugula, Dukat dill, Red veined sorrel, salad burnet, Garlic chives, and Rat's tail.  I also planted a pot of variety of colors of alyssum.  They are short, pretty, and have great fragrance.  I love planted them around the edge of the garden beds.

Before you plant into your pots, be sure to refresh their soil.  Pots have a lot less soil to contain nutrients to feed your plants so they need to be fertilized more often than the garden bed.  Re-energize your potting soil!

I over-seeded the pots.  I'll gently remove the seedlings and transplant into the garden bed after they are sturdy.  Pots warm up quicker in the spring than the garden beds does, supporting better germination and quicker growth in the early spring months.  I may place a supported plastic cover over the pots to help them get even warmer and give the seeds a boost.

Now is a great time to get your garden beds ready for spring planting.  Do a soil test to see what your garden needs in the nutrient department.  There are kits you can do at home or take a soil sample to your local co-op office.  If that is too much for you, fertilize with a balanced, organic fertilizer at the rate on the package.  Cover with mulch to keep the fertilizer in the garden.

If you want to go the extra mile and do an in-depth soil test to see exactly what minerals your plants need instead of just the NPK standard tests, here is a blog that describes how to do this:  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals  The more nutrition you give your edibles, the more you will get in your food.

If you want to try making your own balanced fertilizer, it is easy and inexpensive.  Here's how:  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

Happy spring gardening!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

10 Easy Ways to a Sustainable Yard

Saturday, March 10, 2018

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.  
  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:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cold season crops for your edible garden

Greens are a yummy cold season crop
Sunday, March 4, 2018

Edibles are routinely called warm and cold season crops.  This simply means some like it cold and some like it warm to germinate, grow, and thrive.  You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use season extender strategies to get the most from your garden.

 Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the warm weather signals there time in the garden is done.  Cold crops “bolt” when it gets hot, which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds and continue the cycle of life.

As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring, fall and even winter.  The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones can survive and provide in the winter garden.  Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.

Now is a great time to start seeds for cold season crops indoors or outdoors.  It is optimal if starting seeds outdoors to provide some type of cover to help warm the temperature of the soil and give the seeds a jump start.  Otherwise, they take longer to sprout.  Planting under cover also protects them from hungry birds.

I use mini greenhouses I purchased on Amazon that I can put my pots under.  I can remove when the weather gets more predictable.  It also gives me the flexibility to move the pots later on to cooler spots to extend the production of cool weather loving veggies.  

over-plant my pots outdoors.  I thin the extra plants by carefully removing them and placing them either in another pot or in the garden bed.  I just can't stand to just pluck out a living thing and toss in the composter.

Big box stores and some nurseries are getting bedding plants in now.  They will have plants out that may not be able to survive outdoors without some protection.  Read the label on the plant or look up on-line to see how many weeks before the last frost the variety can be planted without cover safely.

A great seed catalog to get is Territorial Seed Company's Territorial Seed Co  They provide great planting and care information about for all veggies so you know the optimal time to plant and transplant.  I also like this web page that gives germination rates for edibles at different soil temperatures  Ideal soil temperatures for starting your seeds  Johnny's Seeds let's you put in your frost free date and it will give that date each crop can be planted  Seed planting scheduler

To look up your frost date, Freeze-Frost Dates

Cold crops
Arugula, Corn salad, Sorrel Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Broccoli and Cauliflower,  Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Brussels Sprouts, same family as broccoli and cauliflower  
Cultivated Dandelions,  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
Mustard and Mustard Greens 
Turnips,  All about turnips

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.  This is how I started edible gardening.  They are care free and super easy.  Plus, spices are expensive in the store so you get a huge return on investment.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Herbs for Spring Planting
Lemon balm

Herbs that are frost sensitive are cumin, lemon balm, rosemary, stevia, turmeric, bay laurel and basil.  Wait until frost and freeze risk is over before planting outdoors.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  It is a win-win all the way around.

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.

For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July.  These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden.  You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer.  You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.  

For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter.  These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter.  There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October.  Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks.  Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds. 

Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection to extend growth and harvesting.  Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes.  As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty.  Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.

The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you.  Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown.  Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions.  You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.

Don't overlook the option of saving your own seed from your best producers or your neighbors.  Your neighbors and the farmers at your farmers markets have much experience in the varieties that grow well in your area.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Planted this week

Sprouting seeds inside my mini greenhouse
Saturday, March 3, 2018

It has been looking and feeling like spring this past week or two.  The grass is turning green and the daffodils are blooming.  A great time to start spring planting outdoors and indoors.

I started my outdoor garden in the last few weeks.  The seeds I put in the first greenhouse a couple of weeks ago is 1-2 inches tall.  I started seeds in the second greenhouse this week along with lettuce plants.

The seeds I planted that have sprouted:
Spinach (Bordeaux, Giant Winter, Oriental Giant)-ready to harvest in 30-45 days
Chard (Perpetual, Fordhook Giant, Verde Taglio, Neon Glow)-ready to harvest in 50-70 days
Lettuce mix (red and green varieties)-ready to harvest in 29-60 days

The seeds I planted this week:
Carrots (Rainbow, Gniff, Cosmic Purple)-ready to harvest in 60-110 days.  Can harvest sooner as baby carrots.  All you need to know about growing carrots
Onions (Australian Brown, Flat of Italy, Bronze d'Amposta)-ready to harvest in 70-150 days
Greens (Belle Isle Cress, Corn Salad or Vit or Lamb's Lettuce or Mache, Black Magic Kale, Chervil)-ready to harvest in 50-70 days

Mini greenhouse covering 3 large pots

Lettuce plants from store I planted last week end:
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads)-ready to harvest in 21 days
Red Romaine lettuce-ready to harvest in 35 days
Buttercrunch lettuce-ready to harvest in 42 days
I harvest leaves from the outside of the plant as soon as there are around 8 leaves on the plant.  I can harvest much sooner than waiting until the plant reaches full size and over a much longer time.

Planting the seeds and lettuce plants in the mini greenhouse will keep them much warmer and protect them from freezing temps we will continue to get until May.  They'll sprout and grow faster.  The lettuce plants have already grown almost an inch in a week!

Leafy greens like nitrogen.  Root crops like potassium.  You can get nitrogen from compost, alfalfa, soybean meal or fish emulsion.  Potassium can be gotten from green sand via its potash content.  Fish emulsion actually gives not only nitrogen, but also potassium and phosphorous.

After planting, I watered in the pots with fish emulsion.  Germination takes anywhere from 4-15 days.

I will plant outdoors this week end at least parsley and arugula.  Maybe more!  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

March 2018 Edible Garden Planner

Daffodils in bloom in the edible garden
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ah, feels like spring has sprung!  The hyacinths and daylilies are sprouting and early daffodils blooming.  Now is the time to test your soil, get your garden beds ready for planting, and finish the plan for your spring garden.  

Soil Preparation
You can take a soil sample to our local county co-op extension office to have it tested or buy a do it yourself kit at any big box store or local nursery.  You can do a more extensive soil test by sending your soil sample off.  Here is a link to my blog on soil nutrition:  The next step in garden production and your nutrit...  There is a great analysis web site that will provide a specialized fertilizer designed just for your garden deficiencies that you can make yourself.  Well fed plants grow better and are more nutritious for you, too.  A win-win.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of testing, a sure way to enrich your soil is to use a balanced organic fertilizer and compost.  I add organic material every spring with compost and mulching the garden beds, building the soil’s fertility and its ability to hold water, along with a balanced organic fertilizer.

A local CSA and organic gardener told me a few years ago that it is important to not let your fertilizer just lay on top of the ground as many of the nutrients will be lost, especially nitrogen.  This spring, we will put down an organic fertilizer by Espoma, a layer of homemade compost with any additional horse manure compost needed and top with mulch.  You can make your own balanced fertilizer, too, which is pretty inexpensive  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

If this is your first time gardening, here is a how to get started.  It is super easy to buy plants and put in pots or in your already established flower beds.  Easy kitchen garden

Ideas of what to plant in March:
There are already plants available at the big box stores in our area.  This is a good place to look for what will grow well in your area.  The types that were already out are cabbage, spinach, lettuce, onion sets, potato sets.  Wait until the soil has dried out somewhat if you are getting the amount of rain we are this year before planting potatoes.  

I'm not planting any crops from the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower this year to reduce the pest problems I have been seeing with these crops in my garden.  I'll pick them up at the farmers market.  I say that every year, but I have a hard time resisting sprouting broccoli.  It gives small broccoli and broccoli tasting leaves for salads spring, summer and fall.  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

The greens I will plant in our mini greenhouse to keep them warmer that helps encourage growth so we get fresh salads as soon as possible.  I just love spring salads!
Mid March garden
Green Oakleaf Lettuce-ready to harvest in 45 days  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Wild Garden Kales-ready to harvest in 30 days Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
Mesclun Valentine Lettuce mix (red tinted lettuce and greens)-ready to harvest in 30-55 days
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads)-ready to harvest in 55 days Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Red Sails Lettuce (a ruffled red and green, stays sweet even after bolting)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Space Hybrid Spinach-ready to harvest in 38 days  Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green
Gourmet Blend Lettuce (Prizeleaf, Royal Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl, Ashley)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Sugar snap peas-ready to harvest in 70 days Time to plant peas!
All kinds of broccoli or cauliflower-ready to harvest in 50-80 days (leaves are great in salads) Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Cabbage-ready to harvest in 68 days.  Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
Carrots-ready to harvest in 50-75 days  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round
Parsley-70 days to harvest  
Potatoes-ready to begin harvest in 70 days  Time to plant potatoes, even if you only have a patio

The above can be companion planted with radishes, beets, chives, garlic, and onions.  Since they are shallow rooted, they grow well with root crops.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

When I plant in pots, I plant with a handful of worm compost and water in with fish emulsion.  Germination should take anywhere from 4-15 days., depending on how warm the soil is.  I am sure I will be out there looking for little green shoots daily.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

Important tip-if planting seeds in a mulched bed, be sure to cover the seed with only soil; seedlings are too weak to push through mulch.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds 

Potato box

Zone 6 Spring Garden Roadmap

Planting your seedlings outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked)-fruit trees and vines, nut trees, asparagus, garlic, peas
End March-cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, mustards, spinach
Beginning of April-lettuce, lemon balm, parsley
Mid-April-broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
End April-sage
First of May-basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes
Mid-May-cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper

Starting your seeds outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked): peas, spinach, lettuce
Mid-March: arugula, bok choy, cabbage, carrot, collards, leeks, lettuce, mache, onion. rhubarb, cultivated dandelions, spinach
End March:  fava beans, beets, broccoli, carrot, Chinese cabbage, cress, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mizuna, parsley, parsnip, early potatoes, turnip

One watch out is planting seeds too soon.  Seeds have to have a certain soil temperature to sprout.  Plant too soon and the seed will rot and not sprout.  Here are some soil temp guidelines.  Temps to plant seeds outdoors

Starting your seeds indoors for summer planting:
Now-chives, leeks, lemon balm, onions, parsley, sage, thyme, lettuce, cress, mustard, chard, spinach
Mid-March-basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, marigolds, eggplant
End of March-cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes

These dates are just guidelines.  You can start your seedlings later and plant your transplants later as well.  Be sure to read the seed packet for what you are starting.  They make all kinds of varieties that are cold hardy and can be planted sooner than what I outlined above.

The big box stores and local nurseries are good sources of plants too.  If you are just getting started, purchasing from a local nursery or farmers market will get you started with varieties that do well in your area.

Happy gardening!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Extend the season with protection for plants

Cloche with adjustable vent on top

Saturday, February 24, 2018

There are garden "accessories" that allow you to plant earlier than your seed packet advises.  Cloches, tunnels, "wall of water", solar umbrellas, covers, mini greenhouse and clear plastic are all tools gardeners use to start their garden earlier and extend the garden longer.  These tools can extend the garden season by weeks. 
Your neighborhood big box stores will be getting in vegetable plants soon; sooner than you can plant in your garden with no risk of them getting froze to death.  Providing cover will let you plant sooner.

What can you do to protect them?  You can throw a sheet , row cover or plastic over them when the cold snap comes in that your plant isn't hardy enough for.   You can buy “cloches” which are little plastic or glass bell shaped covers and place over each plant.  Or you can put a portable greenhouse over them.
I have used all in the garden.  There are pros and cons to each.  The covers can blow away if not weighted down.  The cloches and mini greenhouses can get too hot on a sunny day if not opened.  If you work, it is hard to time opening just after the sun rises depending on when you need to be at work.

I am using the portable greenhouses this year.  They have vents that you can unzip to help moderate the temperature so they don't get too hot.  I planted seeds in the first greenhouse 2 weeks ago and there are lots of little green shoots coming up.  I planted spinach, lettuce peas and chard.  I'll plant the other greenhouse this week end.  More chard, spinach and lettuce.  I'll add chervil, parsley, and arugula.  

Surprisingly, I had some peppers under cloches and others that were not a few seasons ago, and the uncovered peppers did just fine, even when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees.

How long can a cover extend the season?
Tunnels (row cover with hoops) and cloches- 6 to 7 weeks earlier for broccoli, cabbage and greens.  4 weeks earlier for melons and squash
Wall of water-Up to 8 weeks earlier for tomatoes and peppers.  Just be sure that the ground and wall of water is nice and warm before planting these warm weather lovers.
Mini greenhouse-Up to 8 weeks before the last frost for any crop.  I put jugs of water inside my mini greenhouse to moderate the temperature inside.
Mini greenhouse.  2 different sets of zippers on front and back to open when warm
You can lay sheets or other cover material over your plants to protect from frost overnight.
Another trick is to lay clear plastic out over your garden bed to warm up the soil.  Then sow your spring seeds.  The extra boost in soil temperature will help the seeds germinate quicker.

You can also start your seedlings indoors under a flourescent daylight bulb or bright south window.  This is a bulb that gives off similar light as the sun.  Just be sure to ease the plant into the outdoors, called hardening off, when you move them from inside to out.  The sun is way more potent than a light bulb and the temperatures more extreme.  I start mine off on a porch or deck or under a table on the patio during the day when it is sunny for a few days before planting them.  

Another trick is to add warm mulch right before planting.  Since mulch is still disintegrating, it will give off heat for a few days, warming the soil and the plant.

Happy planting!