Saturday, February 23, 2013

Crop rotation for the healthiest vegetables

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smart rotating of your vegetables can break the pest and disease cycle while at the same time utilizing the nutrients that the previous season’s vegetables left behind.  Studies have shown that your harvest increases by 10-25%.

Most have heard that crop rotation is important for your vegetables.  This is for a variety of reasons.  Many pests are specific to a vegetable type so when they overwinter and come up hungry, their favorite meal is no where to be found.  Different vegetables take different nutrients out of the ground while others give back nutrients.  Diseases are also many times specific to certain vegetables.  

The simplest grouping of vegetables is into 4 main groups:
Alliums (chive, shallot, onion, garlic and leeks)
Brassicas (cabbages, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, collards, mustard, kohlrabi, bok choy, radish, turnip)
Legumes (pea and bean family)
Nightshade or solanacae family (potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes)

Just add your other veggies in with one of the other groups to balance out the area each uses in the garden so you can just move the whole group from one section of the garden to the next easily.

Plant nitrogen hungry vegetables after legumes since they add nitrogen back to the soil.  You can also plant legumes next to nitrogen hungry plants like lettuce or tomatoes.

If your garden spot is just too small to do crop rotation, interplant instead!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em

Marigolds in bloom
Sunday, February 17, 2013

Like flowers, there are also self-seeding herbs and vegetables.  If you are the type that like to plant once and forget about ‘em, these are the ones for you!

The only trick to the whole adventure is that you have to let them go to seed so they can sow the next season’s crop for you.  When they have produced their seed, you can either let the wind do the work for you or you can cut off the seed head and strategically shake the seed where you would like new plants to come up.
Chives flowering

Self sowing herbs:
Basil (bring in the volunteers to overwinter in a pot)
Chives (garlic chives are particularly aggressive)
Self sowing edible flowers:

Self sowing vegetables:
Broccoli raab
Egyptian walking onions
Runner beans
Winter squash

Lettuce seed head
Self sowing greens:
French sorrel
French dandelions (bred to have larger, sweeter leaves than “common” dandelions, but both are very nutritious and great in salads) Kale
Miner’s lettuce
Mustards (Giant Red Mustard does great in our garden)
New Zealand spinach
Salad burnet

A gentle watch-out, these are plants that easily self-sow so you can get more than you want over time.  When you get the number you want, just get off future seed heads or start harvesting your new seedlings to sell the plants at your neighborhood farmers market or give away to friends!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Peas are great for spring gardens and beans pick up when it gets too warm for peas.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  

Both love sun, well drained soil, and a side dressing of fertilizer or compost when planted.  Don't get carried away with fertilizer during the growing season or you will have all greenery and no pods.  Be sure to not water the foliage; stick with watering at the ground to avoid fusarium wilt.

Peas and beans are part of the legumes which include fava beans, shell beans (like the popular red, kidney, Great Northern beans), snap peas, snow peas, green beans, lima beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.  Peas and beans have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.

When you plant legumes, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  You just moisten the seed and coat with the rhizobial powder and plant.  Nitrogen accumulates on the roots of the legume.  Just be sure to not pull the plant when you are done harvesting from it so that the nitrogen stays in the soil!

You can plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.  The seeds germinate in temps between 40-75 degrees F.  Just scratch a small hole about 1.5” deep to drop the seed in and cover.  Have patience, seeds germinate anywhere from 7-25 days.  Plant every 2 weeks until midspring for continuous harvest.  For maximizing your harvest, I would go for snow and snap peas since you eat the entire pod.  Peas stop producing pods when temperatures exceed 70 degrees F.  Providing shade can extend the season.

Harvest sugar snow and snap peas just as the seeds begin to form to have the sweetest peas while the pod is still relatively flat.  Even with shelling peas, pick as soon as the seeds have rounded out.  Continuous harvesting keeps them producing.  You can keep adding what you harvest to a freezer bag to have the sweetest and freshest for winter eating.

Peas can be grown in pots as well as directly in the ground.  Growing in pots allow you to move your peas to a cooler area as spring heats up.  Grow your peas where you want to plant a nitrogen hungry summer crop, like eggplant, lettuce, zucchini or tomatoes.

Most varieties are vining so be sure to give them a trellis or stake to wrap themselves around.  There are bush varieties out there if you prefer to bypass a trellis or support.

Beans are summer crops and there are many bush and pole varieties.  Bush varieties come into bear just before pole types.  Both require soil temps of at least 60 degrees F.  Plant 1” deep and as close as 4” apart for pole types and 12” apart for bush types.  Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days.

Beans can also be grown in either pots or in the ground.  Since beans are growing during the hotter time of year, watering is important to keep them productive.  Just be sure to not water the foliage.  Beans can produce over a long period of time.  To keep them making beans, be sure to harvest frequently.

Runner bean pods are edible and produce beautiful flowers in red, white or peach.  They are also a perennial in warmer parts of the country.

I prefer to grow the “stringless” types so I don’t have to remove the string when I put them up.  I freeze my beans since I don’t have enough space to have a huge number of plants.  By freezing, I can harvest every other day and just add the new ones to the freezer bag.

As with peas, you get the most beans from those that you eat the whole bean versus shelling type beans.  So, if space is limited, "green bean" types are the best.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February is indoor seed starting time!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It is serious indoor seed starting time 8-12 weeks prior to your last frost!  According to the Farmer's Almanac the best time for seed starting is between the New Moon on Feb 10 and the First Quarter Moon Feb 17 for annuals and leafy veggies.

Here is a countdown by week for what you should be starting indoors in February:

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)

Here is a link to determining your last frost date:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A French vegetable garden you can grow in a small space

Saturday, March 2, 2013

If you have ever wanted to plant a French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you can grow the staples of a French kitchen garden in as little as 7’ x 7’ space.  

It is common for the French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round, winter included.  The French call these kitchen gardens a potager.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!

When Eliot Coleman, author of “Four-Season Harvest” wanted to see what could be grown in winter and ideas on how to grow winter produce, he went to France (France and Maine are at the same latitude).  

If you have only a 7’ x 7’ space, a French kitchen garden could include the following:

Country French garden
Herbs (1 each)-fennel, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, basil and curly parsley
2 tomatoes for summer-1 slicer type and 1 cherry type for salads
Beets and turnips interplanted with tomatoes (will be harvested before tomatoes are mature)
4 pole peas for spring, 4 pole beans for summer
1 patty pan squash, 1 eggplant, 1 butternut squash
8 shallots
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed
Strawberry plant edging
If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the patty pan squash, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add kale, carrots and radishes in the garden bed.  
If you have more room, you can add chard (they are ornamental as well as nutritious), fava beans, chickpeas, asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet peppers, other winter squash varieties, potatoes, or annual artichokes.

The French also interplant marigolds to add color, attract pollinators and deter pests as well as ornamental flowers for cutting.  

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are also edible and make a beautiful salad garnish.

Seed catalogs that have a good selection of French vegetables and herbs-Botanical Interest, Burpee, Cook’s Garden, Harris Seeds, Le Jardin du Gourmet, Johnnie’s Selected Seeds, Reimer Seeds to name a few.