Monday, April 28, 2014

Major summer veggies planted this week end!

Monday, April 28, 2014

May Day or Mother’s Day is when the old timers recommend putting in your summer garden to be safe from frost.  Since we have the 10 day forecast now, there was no frost in sight between now and Mother’s Day so I got to planting!

This is what I planted this week end:
Tomatoes, America's favorite vegetable, several kinds: 
    5 dwarf varieties-Bush Early Girl (only 54 days ‘till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, while trying heirloom Lizzano and Tumbling Tom
    4 chocolate/black tomatoes-Sun Chocolate, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Indigo Rose as well as Fantastico, Yellow Pear and Baby Boomer 
Peppers (Cayenne, Pimento, Ancho, Poblano, Baby Chocolate Bell, Cajun Bell, JalapeƱo, Sweet Banana)
Cucumber (Slicing)
Lettuce (Buttercrunch, Simpson Elite, Red Sails, and a gourmet salad blend)
Spinach (Bloomsdale Long Standing, Teton Hybrid seeds)
Eggplant (Ivory and Black Beauty)
Rosemary (ARP and Barbeque, both hardy to Zone 6)
Basil (Italian Large Leaf)
Mustard (Giant Red and Ruby Streaks)
Potatoes (ECOS Purple and Ozette)
Chicago Hardy Fig tree (hardy to Zone 6)
Bay laurel tree
Cultivated Dandelions (Rugels, Italian, Nouvelle, Thick Leaved Improved, Volherizgen)
Chard (Celebration which has red, yellow, orange, fuchsia stems)
Marigolds (pollinator attractor and deer repellant)

I do a combination of beds and pots.  In the pots, I grow a variety of greens (lettuce, spinach, sorrels, chard, arugula, cultivated dandelions, mustard, tatsoi) and the hot peppers.   I could also grow the dwarf tomatoes, basil, rosemary, chives, bay, zucchini, cucumbers, and eggplant in pots.  They do well in both.

In the garden bed, I planted more greens (lettuce, chard, arugula and sorrels), tomatoes, sweet peppers, basil, chives, bay, rosemary, potatoes, zucchini, and cucumber (will train on a trellis).  The ECOS purple potato is new to my garden this year.  It is a perennial potato, hardy to -15F.

Leafy greens like nitrogen.  Root crops like potassium.  Fruiting plants like phosphorous.  You can get nitrogen from compost, alfalfa, soybean meal, coffee grinds or fish emulsion.  Potassium can be gotten from green sand via its potash content.  Bone meal and rock phosphate are good natural sources of phosphorous.  Fish emulsion actually gives not only nitrogen, but also potassium and phosphorous.

When we prepared the beds and pots, we used mushroom compost and a balanced fertilizer Re-Vita Pro, topped with mulch.  I also added coffee grinds to the greens.

A watch out for seed starting in mulched pots or beds: seedlings are not strong enough to push up through the hard crust of mulch.  You either need to plant the seeds and wait for them to germinate and then mulch around them or make a small trench in your mulch that you put seed starting mix and your seeds.  The seedlings will grow down into the mulch below.  I personally like to start my seeds in long planters and transplant them into the garden beds when they have at least their second set of leaves.  

I love using mulch for several reasons.  It adds organic matter, it helps the soil retain moisture, and it moderates the soil temperature.  I was comparing the soil color of some plants I brought from the house to the lake and the house soil was black as compared to the brown of the lake soil.  This is from adding mulch and compost each year.  Just be sure that the mulch you get is from trees that have not been treated with a systemic herbicide.  Systemic herbicides will kill veggies as well as they do weeds.

Now, all I need to do is watch it grow!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tomatoes are the favorite vegetable to grow in the US.  There is nothing like a fresh off the vine tomato!  If you do not have much space, but would still love to grow your own, there are compact tomatoes you can grow in small spaces or in a big pot.

Here are some compact types:
Balcony, Black Pearl, BushSteak, Bush Early Girl, Early Girl Hybrid, Italian Ice, Honeybunch, Sweetheart of the Patio, Patio Princess, Tumbling Tom, Cherry Punch, Cherry Cascade, Elfin, Micro-Tom, Patio-F, Red Robin, Sprite, Tiny Tim, Tumbling Tiger, Cordova, Nova, Lizzano, Better Boy Bush, Husky Red, Better Bush.

Look for descriptions like "bush", "compact", "patio", "container" in the description on the seed packet or tags of transplants.  There are new varieties that come out every year.  Burpee also has new last year a little picture on their seed packet of a clay pot with a checkmark in it to denote that this variety can be grown in a pot.

This year, we planted all bush types because they did so well last year in our small garden.  We got as many slicer tomatoes on the compact varieties as we had the full size heirlooms we have previously planted.  I am also trying two compact cherry tomato plants this season.

We are replanting Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, while trying a heirloom Lizzano and Tumbling Tom.  Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.

The time to plant is when all danger of frost has passed (I planted ours this week).  When you plant, plant deeply, be sure to add compost, a complete fertilizer and bone meal (combats blossom end rot).  You can use wall of water, a cloche or other covering to get a kick start on the growing season.

For more detailed information on growing tomatoes, see my previous blog:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

Spring lettuces and celery plant

Saturday, April 19, 2014

From just one packet of seeds, you can have salads forever.  I just love being able to step right outside the back door and snip a salad for dinner.  Lettuce is so easy to grow, you can't pass up the fun and convenience of always having a fresh salad right out your door.

I use self watering pots called Earthboxes, but any container or patch of dirt works.  Buy a packet of seeds that has whatever type of lettuce you like.  I like the variety packs.  I’d pick a variety pack with Oakleaf or Red Sails. 

Just make sure they are not a “Hybrid” plant.  Hybrids do not grow back true to the parent.  In other words, you won’t get the same baby plant as the mother plant was if it is a hybrid.  Heirloom and open pollinated are terms used for the plants that you can save the seed from and get babies like their mothers.

To prepare the soil, I always add compost and a balanced organic fertilizer that I mix into the soil.  What you want from lettuce is green growth.  This is what nitrogen promotes.  So, fertilizing on-going with an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion that is high in nitrogen is the way to go with greens.  I like fish emulsion because I can just add it to the watering pot.  I use fish emulsion about every 2-3 weeks after the plants are mature.  I keep the fertilizer off the leaves and wash the leaves thoroughly before eating.

To plant your seeds, simply make sure the soil is moist, scatter sow the seeds onto the moist soil and pat down or place a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds.  Sow seeds every 3 weeks to keep you and your family in fresh lettuce and/or greens.

Moistened soil with tiny trenches for seeds

To harvest, just snip leaves off from the bottom and outside of the plant, allowing the center to continue to produce leaves.  They will produce new leaves continuously until they “bolt.”

When it turns warm, your lettuce will “bolt”, sending up a stalk that will flower.  The trick here is to not cut it off or pull out the lettuce plant just yet.  Let it flower and produce seeds.  The leaves are still edible, but some become bitter tasting after they have bolted.  Just try them and see if you still like the taste.

Lettuce sending up flower stalk, "bolting"

You can tell when the flower has turned to seeds because it will become a little white puff ball, similar but on a smaller scale than dandelions.  As the puff balls start to open, pluck it off and place in a paper bag so they can fully dry.  Your other option is to just wait until most of them are starting to open, cut off the whole stalk and put into a paper bag to dry.  You’ll lose some seeds, but a single lettuce plant produces a ton of seeds.
Lettuce seed heads

I let them dry and then pull out the seeds and put into a plastic ziplock bag that I label with the variety and date harvested.  You can also add notes to the seed bag of what you liked about it and growing habits.  I store all my seeds in the crisper.  They keep for years that way.

When summer comes, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 70 F.  You can start your seedlings indoors or find a shady, cool spot outdoors to start them.

You can start re-sowing your home grown seeds as soon as you are done with the original packet you purchased.  Always save the seeds from the plants that did the best.  Use oldest seeds first as germination rates diminish with the age of the seed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Right soil temperature for the veggie seed you are sowing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Different vegetables require different ideal soil temperatures for germination.  An early start is not necessarily the best way to get excellent germination and strong, healthy plants.

Summer veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and beans love a little extra heat.  Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need temps at least 60 F to germinate in a timely manner.  If you try and start the summer lovers in cold soil, many times the seed will rot before it sprouts.

A good rule of thumb is at least 70 F soil temps for starting summer veggies indoors.  You can buy a simple, cheap heat map at any big box store.

For cold crops, hotter is not better.  Lettuce will not germinate if the soil is above 80 F.  This is the reason you may need to start lettuce indoors during the dog days of summer unless you have a cool, shady spot to start the seeds.

Here is a link to a table on % germination rate and days for seedlings emergence for different daytime soil temperatures:

If you want to go high tech, I found that using an Aerogarden with the seed starting insert gave an almost 100% germination rate for any type of seed.  

Here is a link to their web page:
Look for the "Garden Starter System" accessory for the seed starting insert.

It can be tempting to start all your seeds as soon as you get them.  If you are starting them outdoors, be sure they are sown when the temps are right for the type of crop; follow the seed packet instructions.  

If growing indoors, you can modify the conditions to what suits the type of veggie you are sprouting.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What’s happening in the early April garden

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It has been unusually cold through the end of February and March this year in our Zone 6 garden.  Things are not popping out of the ground like they were last year.

So, what is popping up?  Overwintered garlic, Elephant garlic, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, kale, oregano, rosemary, dandelions, common chives, garlic chives, strawberries, onions, wild leeks, sage, dill, mint, and thyme.

In the mini greenhouse, lettuce, kale, celery, blood veined sorrel, dandelions, arugula, garden sorrel, Italian dandelion, and broccoli are growing strong; lettuce is sprouting from seed sown in early March.  I am hoping I’ll see some spinach soon.  The plants are growing well enough that we can pick leaves for salads now.

You can see in the background that the forsythias are beginning to flower.  This is the sign that it is time to use an organic weed and feed to treat pre-emergent weeds, and green up the yard!

We added compost, fertilized, and mulched the garden beds and pots.   The garden and pots have been planted with cool season veggies!  

Whole Foods had organic bedding veggies last week end.  Of course, I couldn’t resist!  I bought buttercrunch and romaine lettuces, Tuscan kale, redbor kale, sugar snap peas, mesculun greens, scattered sown lettuce mix.   The mesculun greens had Red Streaks mustard seedlings in the flat.  They are really pretty and I’ve wanted to grow them for a while.  It will be fun to see what else is in the mix as they mature.

I also planted the herbs cilantro and parsley.  I plant these every year.  The cilantro does not last long; as soon as it warms up, it bolts.  You have to succession plant these to keep them in the garden.  Place them in a cool spot that gets some morning sun, but is in the shade the rest of the day.  Parsley does great for the entire season.  

Friday, I bought some chard seedlings as well.  I will plant these sometime this week end.  They were a mix of colors.  Chard is beautiful in orange, red, yellow, burgundy, fuchsia and white stemmed varieties.  I am going to plant along the back of the garden bed one of each color in the little flat of seedlings.  

Small chard leaves are great in salads.  Large leaves are great steamed.  The stalks of the large leaves can be used like celery, but very pretty celery!  Chard is also a tender perennial.  The white stemmed is the most cold hardy.  I have had the red one come back for years.  Not sure if they survived this winter; will have to wait and see if they pop back up.  If they do, they will have new multi colored friends to hang out with.

I got out the seeds I keep in ziplock bags in the crisper and decided on planting beets, chervil (love to put this and lavendar in olive oil for my dry skin), sprouting broccoli, Parmex and Short ‘n Sweet carrots.

I like broccoli raab or sprouting broccoli because you get small broccoli heads throughout the entire growing season versus one large head at once.  The leaves are also edible and great to add to salads.  I planted some seeds I had saved from a couple of summers ago.  Two plants gave us all the broccoli and broccoli leaves we needed for our salads.  They grow to be large plants.  If planting in a container, thin to one plant in a large pot.

Now is also the time to plant spring garlic.  Fall is the best time, but you can get scapes and small cloves by planting in spring.  I also have garlic resprouting from the first crop I planted.  When you dig the garlic in the fall, there are tiny cloves that usually get left behind.  These will come back in the spring.  The tiny cloves may take 2 seasons to get up to full size cloves.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to protect your garden from the marauding and very hungry bunnies!

Earthbox with greens
Saturday, April 5, 2014

Love to garden and have bunnies that love it even more?  This can be a common problem in suburban gardens.  You do have options for bunny proofing your garden!

Spray, fencing, elevate.  All are options for keeping bunnies away from your greens and broccoli.  

The spray “Liquid Fence” works well.  The drawback to sprays is that they wash off when it rains.

You have a couple of fencing options.  You can put a short fence all the way around your garden or you can create fence rings to put around certain plants.

Another option is to elevate your greens and broccoli (the two things the bunnies in our neighborhood love!).  Put them in pots where the bunnies can’t reach.

What do we do in our garden?  I put greens in Earthboxes (large self watering pots) and fence rings around the broccoli.  The fencing we bought was 3 feet high and coated in green plastic.  This does double duty-protects the metal from rusting and makes the fence ring almost invisible.
Side garden with fence rings

The bunnies don’t seem to bother much of the other veggies that are in the garden beds.