Saturday, August 25, 2012

August is prime time for planting for fall and winter gardening

Saturday, August 25, 2012
Cool season greens

August is prime time for getting the seeds and plants in for fall and winter gardening.  You can grow everything in fall as you did for spring.  Think fresh, crisp lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, peas, carrots, spinach, leeks, cauliflower, turnips, onions, cilantro, radish, tat-soi, fava beans, escarole, frisee, fennel, parsley, mustard, kale.  

For the courageous, you can also try bush beans or cucumbers.  There are varieties that mature in 50 days.  Those you better get in quick though to be able to harvest much before frost moves in.

One thing to keep in mind is how long you want to be able to harvest from your garden.  The change I make from spring to fall plantings is in the 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.

In order to know when to plant, take the harvest time on the package, add 2 weeks to it, and back up from your first frost date.  You add a couple of weeks because in the cool weather and shortening days, plants don’t grow as fast.  You also want a little buffer in case frost comes early.

You can wait a little longer before planting if you buy bedding plants.  These are hard to come by in most areas, but as more people are gardening, it is worth a phone call to see.  In snooping around on internet seed companies, Burpee’s did have some fall bedding plants for sale (cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli).  

I like to do seeds in my Earthboxes as a pot is easy for me to keep moist for the seeds to sprout.  They have a built in water reservoir.  After the seedlings come up and have some good growth, I will transplant elsewhere.  

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.

Lettuce varieties that have performed well into winter for us here in Zone 6: North Pole butterhead, Rouge d’Hiver romaine (pretty red and green), Winter Density romaine, Winterwunder loose leaf (pale green), Marvel of the Four Seasons butterhead (green with cranberry tips).  I will also plant Prizeleaf, green and red Royal Oak leaf, Red Salad Bowl, and Ashley mix loose leaf varieties as all of these came back as volunteers in the spring.

We have used a portable plastic green house that is about 3’ wide, high and deep for the last couple of years.  I have tried them over a garden bed and over our Earthbox pots.  Both worked well and have had celery, lettuce, chard and mustard all through winter.

Fall is also a great time to plant perennial greens and vegetables.  They are typically the first up in the spring.  Things like salad burnet, French sorrel, arugula, radicchio, chives, chard, fennel, rhubarb, asparagus, French dandelion.  

Late fall is also garlic planting season.  Make sure you get the garlic ordered you want as many are sold out early.  I ordered Turkish Giant garlic this year.  I am all about maximizing the amount of food I get per square foot.  I will add this one to my Elephant garlic plantings.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Harvesting basil for seasoning & pesto

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Basil before harvesting
For basil harvest, the key is to harvest before the basil gets too woody.  Mid-summer is typically a good time.  Cut each stem back to the last 4 leaves.   Don't worry that the leaves you expose are not as green as the top growth.  This is natural since they have not gotten as much sun as the leaves on the outside.  Give each plant a good dose and fish emulsion to support quick leaf regrowth.

You can freeze, dry or make basil into pesto.  For freezing, you can freeze into ice cubes to be able to pop into sauces.  If you want to be able to use individual leaves, remove the leaves from the stem, lay on a cookie sheet, put in the freezer, when completely frozen, place the frozen leaves into freezer bags.  
Basil after harvesting

For drying, I place the cut stems into a paper bag that I put in a dry, warm place.  Be sure to leave lots of open space between stems to discourage any mold.  When completely dry, I remove the leaves and place in canning jars.

Pesto is a mixture of fresh basil, traditionally pine nuts (but I use any kind of nut I have on hand-walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, cashews), parmesan cheese, a few cloves of garlic, and olive oil.  You can add spinach or parsley.  Just throw them all together in a food processor and ta-da pesto!

I use about 8 cups of packed leaves (be sure to not include any tough stems), 1/2 cup nuts, 1 and 1/2 cups of olive oil, 1 and 1/2 cups of Parmesan, 8 cloves of fresh garlic.  After processing, I put half each in a quart freezer bag, lay flat in the freezer until ready to use.  Just thaw and toss with your favorite pasta or add to pizza, bruschetta, sauce for a quick and tasty meal.  Lots of options!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What’s growing in the August garden?

Zucchini, cucumber, sweet peppers, pimento pepper, jalapeno peppers, and pear tomatoes

Saturday, August 11, 2012

August sees the full swing of the summer, warm season garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, and fennel are all in season in the Midwest.  

If you are not growing these in your own garden, your local farmers market is a great place to pick up these seasonal veggies to either eat or preserve.  The best buy on any fruit or vegetable is when it is in season.  You can get even better deals on any produce that has a few blemishes which have no effect on the flavor.  If you are going to can, freeze or dry them, just be sure to remove any blemishes first.

I pick what to have in our garden based on the harvest per foot of garden space needed.  Our garden is incorporated into the flower garden mulch bed and in pots so we have to be choiceful on what to grow.

In pots, we have had great luck with  Egyptian walking onions (which can be harvested year round), peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, greens, fig, columnar apple, passion flower, sweet bay, and celery.

I put the sweet peppers in the ground this year to see if we got a better crop that way.  It has been mixed, 2 of the 6 plants in the ground are producing very well and the other 4 have hardly any fruits.  

I also put a jalapeƱo pepper plant in the ground this year.  It did much better in the pot.  The plant and fruits are significantly smaller than in the pot.

The zucchini is doing well in the ground this year.  It did well in the pot last year.  You just have to be sure you get a variety intended to be grown in a pot for it to fare well.

I have tried tomatoes in pots in previous years and just did not have good luck.  If you get a variety such as Tiny Tim, put it in a roomy pot, and water with a liquid fertilizer daily, you will get good results.  I am just not willing to invest the time to keep it in a pot.  Weekly care for plants in the ground is sufficient.  A pot with a water reservoir in the bottom is the best solution for lengthening the time between waterings when growing in pots.

I grow all of our herbs in the ground except sweet bay.  Sweet bay is a tender perennial and will not survive winters outside so I keep it in a pot to bring in each fall.  

Rosemary is also tender.  I have tried the two varieties that are supposed to be able to survive a Midwest winter, but have not had any luck yet.  I have tried to also keep in a pot and bring in each winter, but have not had good luck with this approach either.  So, this is an herb I buy each spring, plant in the garden, then preserve for the winter by harvesting late in the season and drying.

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year.  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.