Saturday, September 29, 2012

Get set up for harvesting all winter!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Portable greenhouse

The chill is in the air.  The lettuce and other cold season crops are loving the cool temperatures and showers we are getting this wonderful time of year.

Last winter, I was able to harvest through the entire winter season.  I used a portable, plastic green house.  It is about a 3 by 3 by 3 feet and held 3 Earthboxes and 3 pots.  I have also used it directly in the garden bed and it worked equally well.
Greenhouse in January
I placed gallon milk jugs, painted black, and filled with water in each corner of the greenhouse.  The milk jugs absorb the heat during the day and release it back in the green house at night, moderating the temperature.

You can buy portable greenhouses in all sizes.  Be careful of tall greenhouses; it is difficult to keep the whole space warm without electrical warming.  You can add a simple lightbulb or a blanket heater on the floor if you want to use a tall greenhouse.

The biggest risk for using a green house is it getting too hot!  When it is a clear, sunny day, it can get quite steamy quickly.  For days getting warm, you need to allow for some venting.  Open the zipper more for really warm days and for freezing days with no sun, keep it zipped up tight.

You can also use individual covers on plants as well to extend the harvest.  Since you can’t put in additional mass (you can try black rocks or a brick), they likely will not get you through the entire winter.

You can bring many of your potted herbs indoors, on a protected porch or even in a garage with windows.

Don’t forget sprouts for fresh veggies all winter long grown indoors!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What to do when frost is forecasted

Sunday, September 23, 2012

With frost in the air, summer loving veggies are coming to the end of their season.  Veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, basil, and peppers do not like cold weather.

Basil turns black when bitten with the first frost.  I harvested all remaining basil today.  Had about 12 cups or so of leaves.  I added about a cup of olive oil in the food processor.  Once combined, I put in a freezer bag.  Now, I can just break off a piece anytime I want fresh basil flavor in a recipe.

Our zucchini has given up.  We keep getting male flowers but no females so no fruits in the last 3 weeks.

Still have cucumbers coming slowly.

The peppers are still going strong.  They handle cooler weather better than basil.  I’ll wait until it is going to get down to 32 before I strip off all the peppers still on the plant.

I use the same approach for tomatoes.  When it is going to get down to 32, I’ll take off all tomatoes left on the vine.  The best way to get them to ripen is to wrap each individually in newspaper and store in a dark location.  They will slowly ripen.  Won’t be as tasty as off the vine, but better than what you can get in the store.

Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots.  Perennial greens are always the first up in the spring.

It is still not too late to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs.  I found 6 and 9 packs at Home Depot and Lowes.

Now is the time to order your mini greenhouse to extend the season.  I’ll put mine out over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime next month.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September is a month peppers love

Sunday, September 16, 2012


My peppers kick into high gear come September.  They seem to love the lower humidity and cooler nights.  

Peppers like sulfur, calcium (to protect from blossom end rot), magnesium (helps flowers make fruits), sulfur (makes more nutritious pepper) and phosphorous (for flowering).

Be careful with the nitrogen.  Nitrogen promotes greenery.  You will end up with beautiful, lush plants with no flowers or fruits.  Also be careful in the type of potting soil you buy if planting in pots to make sure they are not for green leaved plants, but for flowers or vegetables.

Right now, I have poblano anaheim peppers, several different colored sweet bell peppers, negro pasilla bajio/mole peppers, and jalapeños.

The poblano I am drying for chili powder.  The sweet peppers I rough slice and freeze for salsa, The pimentos, I chop and freeze for salad.  The negro and jalapeños, I remove the tops and freeze hole.  The negro pepper I am going to try out this winter in mole sauces.  The jalapeños I use for salsa and some I don’t freeze, but put in apple cider vinegar to ferment for hot sauce for wings for football games.
Green pepper 
Yum!  Yum!

A friend shared with me recently that he thought he was going to give up trying to grow vegetables because all he got was pretty plants with no fruits.  He was growing them in pots.  

My suggestion-don’t give up!  Since you are doing a great job with greenery, go for vegetables that are leafy, like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, herbs, chard, and other greens.  Now is a great time to replant with these type of plants.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What I planted for fall/winter

Friday, September 14, 2012
Salad burnet, a perennial green

For our fall and winter garden, I went with kale, cabbage, mustard greens, lettuce, spinach and Patience dock.

I planted a few varieties of kale-Winter born which is extremely cold hardy, scarlet kale which is a beautiful maroon, Tuscan or dinosaur kale which has a great texture, dark color, and is very tasty and Sea Kale, a perennial blue green kale that is tasty when small leaved in salads and a nutty cabbage flavor when steamed or sautéed.

For cabbage, I planted Northern lights ornamental cabbage (green with either white, maroon, or pink centers) and Savoy which is kind of a combo between a loose leaf cabbage and the traditional cabbage.

In the lettuce category I planted two butterheads-Speckles and North Pole, two romaines-Winter Density and Rouge d’Hiver, a loose leaf-Winterwunder.

To round out the greens, I planted Ruby Streaks mustard which has lacy red leaves, Space hybrid spinach, and Patience dock a long-lived, deep rotted perennial.  It has a similar flavor to spinach and can become a nuisance if you don’t remove the seed stalks that appear in mid-summer.

I love adding as many perennial greens as possible.  They are typically the first to come up in spring and the last to go in winter.  Perennial greens tend to be sweetest in cool weather.

Other perennial greens growing in our garden-chard, French sorrel, blood-veined sorrel, corn salad, salad burnet, purslane, peppery arugula, chives, Egyptian walking onions, dandelions, celery.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Powdery mildew

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You can tell it is late summer by the emergence of powdery mildew and other fungal diseases on your veggies and some flowers like roses and peonies.

Powdery mildew loves squash!  It shows up during hot and high humidity conditions.  It can also be encouraged by overhead watering.  The best watering method is some type of slow drip at the roots of your veggies.  This gets the most actually in the ground to the plant and minimizes evaporation (reducing your water bill).

Overhead watering, besides encouraging mildew and other fungal diseases, can also remove the insects that pollinate the veggie flowers and even the pollen itself, leading to low harvests.

Powdery mildew can be treated by spraying the top and underneath of all leaves with a baking soda solution, copper or fresh whey.  An easy to make, low cost spray is as follows:  2 tbl of baking soda, 1/2 teas of gentle dish soap, 1 gallon of water.  Wet top and bottom of leaves thoroughly.  Reapply after a rain.

You can also purchase organic mildew sprays, like Safer.

Be careful in using sprays; they may be too harsh for some vegetable plants.  Test them on a small area of your plant, wait for a day before spraying the whole plant.  Copper based sprays work great on my peonies, but not so well on my squash.

Many recommend if you cannot get rid of the mildew with a spray, you should remove any diseased leaves and throw away.  Do not compost because if you do not get internal temps in your compost at 140 or greater, it will not kill the spores.

A boost of potassium is good this time of year for your veggies.  Nitrogen supports the greenery of your plants while potassium supports the blooms.  Keeping your plants well fed helps them stay healthy and producing well into fall.

I also heard that using your excess whey to water your tomatoes really boosts their growth.  I am going to try it this week when I make my next batch of cheese.  I’ll let you know how well it works.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Harvest and preserve your herbs

Sunday, September 2, 2012
Multicolor sage

End of summer is a great time to tidy garden beds and harvest herbs.  Herbs have a tendency to take a walk on the wild side.  As the days get shorter, growth slows and before long the sun cannot support all the greenery from summer.

This is the perfect time to harvest your herbs.  You can cut them back so they remain lush, improving the tidiness of your garden, and providing herbs for the winter ahead.

When you harvest your herbs, you will have enough for at least 5 families! They make wonderful gifts. 

For soft herbs like chives and garlic chives, I cut around the outside.  You can either then dry or freeze your cuttings.  

For rosemary, I trim back as I would a tree, cutting off he lower limbs.  I have not been successful in finding a rosemary that survives outside in my Zone 6 region.  Before winter, I will harvest all the limbs so I don't waste any of that great flavor.  Rosemary is perfect with lamb, on potatoes, or on cheese bread.

For sage, savory, and thyme, I simply trim them into a pleasing, healthy shape.  For basil, oregano and marjoram, I remove about half of the top growth.  Basil also will not survive even a frost.  So when they call for frost, I harvest all that is left on the plant.

I dry my herbs to preserve them.  I put loosely in a paper bag in a dry, warm area out of the sun and let dry naturally.  Loose is the key here so they get good air circulation and do not mold.  They should be completely dry in about 3-4 weeks.  I like putting them in clothes closets to dry as they release such great fragrance.

Once dried, remove the leaves from woody herbs and store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  If a soft herb like chives, you can just crumble into the airtight container.  I use wide mouth canning jars for herb storage.

If the winter is not a bad one, most perennial herbs like chives, oregano, sage, savory, and thyme can be harvested year round straight from the garden.