Sunday, March 30, 2014

April Garden Planner

Sunday, March 30, 2014

April showers bring May flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.  Now is the perfect time to get serious on getting your spring garden planted.

Crops to plant in April
Early April is a perfect time to plant cold season crops like Brussels sprouts, fava beans, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard and turnips.

We still get frosts in April so you want to hold off on planting warm season crops outdoors like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squash.

The last frost date in our area is around April 20.  This is important to know if you are planting seeds.  The packet tells you when to plant in relation to your last frost date.  You will get the best results following the packet instructions.  Planting early is not always a good strategy as different seeds need different soil temperatures before they will germinate.  Plant too early and they can rot before they have a chance to sprout.

Pots will warm up quicker, but will also chill down faster.  You can put them in a sheltered spot to get a jump on spring.  I love planting greens in large self watering pots that I keep on the patio, making it handy for picking a fresh salad for dinner.

What size pot do you need for a container veggie garden?
Any varieties listed for a smaller pot will be happy in a larger pot, too.  There are many more varieties out there than listed below.  Just look at the seed packet for terms like patio, compact, or dwarf.

For containers 8” wide by 6-8” deep:
Carrots-Thumbelina, Parmex, Tonda di Parigi 
Greens-arugula, corn salad, cress, small pac choi like Tatsoi, purslane

Lettuce or Kale-any type that you are going to continually harvest and not grow into full heads.
Baby cabbage
For containers 10” wide by 10” deep or larger, these will grow well:
Carrots-Atlas, Little Finger, Adelaide, Short n Sweet
Dwarf cabbage-5 Day Golden Cross, Parel, Caraflex
Eggplant with small fruits-Bambino, Casper, Fairytale, Neon, Patio Mohican, Slim Jim, White Egg
Greens-French sorrel, salad burnet, spinach
Herbs-any.  Mediterranean herbs love having dry feet.
Lettuce-Little Gem, Tennis Ball, Tom Thumb if growing to full heads
Peppers, compact types-Blushing Beauty, Chili Pepper Krakatoa, Habanero, Hungarian Yellow Wax, Sweet Pepper Ingrid, Prairie Fire, Red Delicious, Sweet Pickle, Zavory
Radishes-Amethyst, Cherry Bell, Pink Slipper, Poloneza, Red Head, Rudi
 Baby pepper plant

For containers 14-16” wide and 10” deep or larger:
Beans-compact bush types , Runner Beans
Broccoli raab
Cucumber, compact bush types-Lemon, Little Leaf, Suyo, Salad Bush, Fanfare, Sweet Success. 
All types of eggplant
Okra-Little Lucy
Onions-Apache, Pompeii or the perennial Egyptian Onion
Peas-dwarf bush types
All types of peppers (sweet peppers tend to be more productive in the ground)
Tomatoes, compact types-BushSteak, Celebrity, Daybreak, Johnny’s 361, Legend, Patio Princess, Sweet Baby Girl, Sweet n Neat
Summer squash, compact bush types-Gold Rush, Midnight, Venus, Patio Star
Egyptian walking onions
Containers 20” wide by 16” deep:
Beans-any bush type, more compact pole types (look for the ones have vines 6’ or less or you can pinch off the longer types)
Lettuce-all varieties
Peas-all bush types and more compact pole types (look for ones that vine 6’ or less)
Sweet potatoes
Winter squash, compact bush types-Butterbush Butternut

For really large containers on the scale of a half whiskey or wine barrel:
Beans-all pole beans
Carrots-all varieties
Cucumbers-bush and vining types
Summer squash-Bush Baby, Space Miser, Egg Ball, Papaya Pear
Winter squash-Honey Bear, Carnival, Discus Bush Buttercup
Assortment of greens in Earthboxes

When growing veggies in containers, they will require more watering and more liquid fertilizer than if they were in the ground.  In the summer, you may have to water some water lovers every day.

To reduce watering, purchase or make pots that have a water reservoir in the bottom.  A couple on the market today are “Earthbox” and “Grow Box”.  With these type of pots, you can water weekly.  They are easy to make out of 5 gallon buckets or other plastic containers.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wondering what to plant for your first garden?

If you are thinking of starting your first garden and are wondering “How many plants of what do I need?”, there are a couple of ways to go about it.

One way to decide what to plant is to track what you buy for a couple of weeks.  This will give you a good idea of what you like to eat.  You can then plan your garden around your favorite eats.  This summer, you can go to farmers markets and try out what looks interesting to trial run them for next season.

If you eat a lot of salads, greens with complimentary veggies and herbs would be a great first garden.  To keep yourself in lettuce, sow seed about every 3-4 weeks.  In early spring, any type of lettuce is good.  Once you head into May, use varieties that withstand the hot temps of summer like:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”

This table gives you the number of plants or seeds you need per pounds of produce you want to get from your garden:

If you want a rule of thumb based on your family size and don’t want to track exactly what you have purchased, just use the table for how much to grow per person in your household as a rule of thumb.  You can adjust after the gardening season is over.

There are also many programs and app’s out there today that can help you know what to grow, when to plant, and will give you growing tips on each fruit or vegetable.

The biggest watch out for starting a new garden is starting too big.  Start small with what you use the most in the kitchen.  Herbs, lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, or tomatoes are great ones to start with.

Here is the basic garden I grow every year:
Herbs (1 each)-chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
3 tomato plants-1 cherry tomato type and 2 slicer types
3 pepper plants-2 sweet peppers and 1 spicy pepper
1 bush zucchini
1 eggplant
1 Egyptian walking onion (a perennial)
8 garlic plants (you can buy cloves for planting at any big box store)

Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown in self watering pots

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What edibles can you grow indoors?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

If you don’t have the room to grow edibles outside, you can grow some indoors.

One of the powerhouses for nutrition are sprouts.  These are so easy to grow.  There are all kinds of seed sprouting kits out there.  The one I have that I really like is 3 levels so you can have one that is fully sprouted that you are using with 2 in various stages of growth so you always have a ready supply of sprouts.

Microgreens are also very easy to grow indoors.  You can get variety seed packets of microgreens.  You can reuse a plastic salad container or seed flat to use as a pot.  Just add potting soil, sprinkle the seeds down as instructed on the seed packet, tamp down gently, lightly cover with more soil, water, place in a sunny window and you will have microgreens in 14-21 days.

Wheat grass is another great edible.  I put it on salads.  You can also juice it.  Wheat grass is a great alkalizer.  Today’s diet is so acidic.  Basically anything we eat besides leafy green and some other vegetables are acidic.  Your body’s blood pH must stay between 7.35-7.45; anything above 7.0 is alkaline.  Wheat grass helps balance your pH.  Wheat grass is also a purifier of the blood.  There are wheat grass growing kits too.  Or you can use an old salad tub that you fill with potting soil and grow them right in the salad tub or seedling flat.

Citrus and avocados can be grown indoors.  You will need to purchase dwarf varieties and they need good full sun.  Logee’s is a reputable on-line source for indoor tropicals.  I have a kumquat that does well indoors.  Its fruits are almost ripe.  I grew an avocado from a seed.  It does well indoors, but I have read that they will not fruit like a grafted dwarf will in a pot.

Any organic tropical fruit that has a seed is worth trying to grow indoors.  It's fun and free!  

There are several herbs that can be grown indoors-basil, celery, chives, garlic, parsley, rosemary, dwarf sage, salad burnet, scallions, and winter savory.

With a grow light or grow light system like an Aerogarden, you can also grow lettuce and tomatoes indoors.  You can grow lettuce without a grow light, just don’t expect lush plants.  Right now, you can plant lettuce outdoors in pots.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Organic, all natural lawn

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Have you ever noticed that every time a lawn care company treats your lawn, they post warning signs to not have pets or people on the grass for 24 hours?  That doesn’t sound like something that is good for you or your family.

Chemical fertilizers and weed killers kill the microbes in the dirt as well.  These microbes are extremely important to supporting the plants growing.  They help provide the nutrients your turf needs to be resilient through all seasons.

So, what are the options?  You can go all natural and organic.  It takes 2-3 years for the microbes to rebound and your turf to get the full benefit of going all natural.

The system we like is from Organica.  It is applied 4 times a year.  The cool thing about organic, natural fertilizers is that they do not burn the lawn.  You don’t have to worry about applying too much, like you do with chemical fertilizers.  Don’t be concerned either that the NPK numbers on the bag are lower.  Natural products don’t get washed away like chemical fertilizers so you don’t need the high numbers. 

In late fall and early spring, they have a Lawn Booster that you apply; it is 8-1-1.  It contains corn gluten meal, steamed bone meal, sulfate of potash and natural soil bacteria. It simultaneously promotes turf growth & enhances biological activity in the soil profile.  This is really important-having microbes in the fertilizer to repopulate your lawn.  It also contains corn gluten.  This is a pre-emergent weed killer.  For the spring application, apply when the forsythia bushes start to bloom.

Late spring and summer, they have a Kelp Booster Plus.  Kelp Booster has plant growth hormones to give plants added resilience. It provides essential nutrients to promote cell division, root development and growth. 

They used to have 4 different types so if you see these, they are great to use as well.

Espoma, a good all natural company, came out with a system last year.  It is also a 4 season system.  First is early Spring Lawn Booster (Feb-Apr); second is late spring All Season Lawn Food (Apr-June); third is Summer Revitalizer (June-Aug), and fourth is Fall Winterizer (Sep-Nov).  They also have an Organic Weed Preventer (with corn gluten it needs to be applied pre-emergent in the spring) and a high nitrogen fertilizer Lawn Food.  

The great thing about organic, all natural fertilizers is that they do not burn the lawn.  You can also use them on your edible garden and  they are people and pet friendly.  No “Stay Off the Lawn” signs needed!

You will have a lush, green lawn in 2-3 years using this system.  You won’t have the thatch that you see in chemical yards either.  Make sure that you are reseeding to keep the carpet thick to crowd out weeds.  

I would say this is the hardest part of organic-the weeds.  Options are using vinegar on hot days on the weeds, using a propane burn torch, or good, old fashioned pulling.  If you do resort to chemicals for weeds, try to spray as local as possible and do so close to when you are going to apply your next round of fertilizer to help with repopulate the microbes the chemicals killed.

Be sure to use the pre-emergent (corn gluten) every year when the forsythias bloom.  This will keep the weed seeds from sprouting.  If they don’t sprout in the spring, they won’t get a stand going in your yard, making it much easier to pull the few that do make it into your yard.  Corn gluten is also a natural fertilizer and will green up the lawn at the same time.

A natural, organic lawn needs much less watering than a chemical lawn and stays green almost all summer with no watering.