Sunday, August 30, 2015

What's happening in the late August garden

Arugula, bay and zinnias in the foreground, cucumbers on trellis and kale in the background

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August is typically a hot, dry time of year.  This year has not been typical.  We did go the last 2 weeks without rain but got 2" overnight. Consistent moisture is important for almost all fruiting vegetables and is critical to keep lettuce, beets and carrots sweet and tomatoes from cracking.

The plants that like the warm temps are tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, Egyptian walking onions, cucumbers and the Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, savory, and thyme.  With all the rain this year, we have seen an impact on harvests of our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Our theory is the consistent rains kept the flowers from pollinating.

You should fertilize about once a month.  You don’t want to shoot too much nitrogen to your fruit producers as you can end up with all leaves and no veggie fruits.  We just went through and fertilized with a dried fish fertilizer.  With natural fertilizers you don’t have to worry about “burning” your plants as they slowly release into the ground.  
Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and green beans

I just brought in the garlic and shallots from hardening the outer skins from our covered deck.  You can harden your garlic anywhere this is shade, even under a tree.  It is recommended you leave garlic and onions you want to store in 80+ degree temperatures in the shade for a couple of weeks.  

You should always keep your biggest cloves for re-planting in the fall.  This year, I am pickling my garlic with spicy peppers.  Adds an extra zing.

The zucchini I replanted three times this season is producing, both plants.  If you plant zucchini before June, it can get an infestation from the squash vine borer, a type of fly that lays it eggs in the vine.  If you are lucky enough that you have a nursery that has transplants, it is not too late to replant.  It takes summer squash grown from seed 5-6 weeks to produce.
Third zucchini planting with flowers and baby fruits

If your tomatoes are getting tired, you can also still replant some new transplants to keep full production into the fall.  I had a few volunteers that came up late.  These are just now starting to produce tomatoes.  My chocolate pear tomato looks like it got a blight and the leaves are turning yellow and shriveling.  The late tomatoes should help make up the difference.
Volunteer tomato plant in a pot

The pepper plants have been going in spurts.  They went strong for a month, then a dry spell.  They are getting peppers back on them again now.

To maximize the pepper harvest, pick them as soon as they get to full size versus letting them fully ripen to red, yellow, or orange on the plant.  This stimulates the plant to produce more.  If you let them ripen on the plant, the taste will be sweeter.

The cucumbers are happy.  We are getting 4-6 each week off the vines we have.  They are so crunchy and flavorful right off the vine!
Sweet pepper plant

I had sunflower sprouted from the seed I planted in May and June has flowered with the fully ripe seeds feeding the birds.  It looks like I have a few volunteers sprouting up in pots and various places in the garden.  My guess is they came from the seed in our bird feeder.

I have re-seeded lettuce in pots a couple of times now.  The seedlings are finally sprouting.  I will leave some in the Earthbox and transplant some into the garden.  We keep them well watered to help prevent them from bolting and keep them sweet tasting.   A shade cloth can also help keep lettuce from bolting.  Or even moving the potted lettuce to where it gets more shade can make a huge difference.

You can also check the big box stores and your local nursery.  They may have fall transplants like chard, spinach, and lettuce right now so you can get a jump start on your fall and winter garden.  Lettuce and chard transplants should be ready to harvest in about 2 weeks time.

Sweet basil
Holy basil on right, marigolds on left

The basil has done wonderful with all this rain.  I kept the sweet basil flowers pinched off to make a nice, full, bushy plant to harvest the leaves.  I let the Holy Basil go to flower for the bees and they are pretty flowers.


This fall, we will have mustard greens, lettuce, chard, blood veined sorrel, garden sorrel, French dandelion, spinach, lettuce, purslane, corn salad, celery, chives, parsley, arugula, and broccoli for salads.  I’ll also plant some kale next month as it will last into the winter.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

September Garden Planner

Saturday, August 29, 2015

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.  Help your herbs focus on healthy roots and at the same time harvest herbs for seasoning dishes, sauces, meats and dressings for the next year.

Harvesting Herbs
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 with just a single plant of each type! 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.  I like going ahead and chopping them, letting them dry and putting into jars.  You won't need much because chives are perennials and you can harvest from the plant almost year round.  

For rosemary, I trim back as I would a tree, cutting off the lower limbs.  I have not been successful in finding a rosemary that survives outside in my Zone 6 region, even the Barbecue rated to Zone 6 and Arp rated to Zone 5.  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.  You can take cuttings from basil to start the herb in a pot and bring indoors for the winter.  I dry basil gently as it looses its flavor easily.  I also use most of the fresh basil for pesto.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

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 and the darkness helps keep the flavor in the herb.

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.

For more ideas on herbs, Use herbs for signature desserts and grown up beveragesQuick tip on fresh flavor herb preservation and herbal buttersHomemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs, and Make your own teas from garden grown herbs

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.

Napa cabbage

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at many big box stores and nurseries since gardening has become so popular. 

For more on fall planting, Time to set out transplants for fall, winter, & spring harvests

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter!

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fertilize with plants

Sunday, August 24, 2015

Different plants accumulate different nutrients.  They can bring up nitrogen, potassium, potash, calcium, sulfur, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, silicone, and even lead.  

Giant red mustard
Ones that accumulate metals like copper or zinc can also pull lead into the plant.  You do not want to plant these close to old houses and eat their leaves.  However, they can be used to pull lead from the soil and then disposed of to clean soil.
Strong nutrient accumulators are yarrow, chamomile, fennel, lamb’s quarter, dandelion, chicory, comfrey, geranium, and mustard.  They are great to interplant with any vegetables.
If growing plants that need a great deal of nitrogen to thrive (anything with leafy growth), plant “nitrogen fixers.”  Examples of these include alfalfa, beans, clover, comfrey, fennel, lamb’s quarters, lupine, peas, stinging nettles, primrose, and yarrow.
Interplant nitrogen users with nitrogen fixers and you will get thriving plants.  Nitrogen users include onions, lettuce, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Herbes de Provence, just about everyone has heard it and it sounds really fancy, but is actually very easy to make from your own kitchen herb garden.  The origin is simply a mix of herbs that were typically grown in a French kitchen garden called a potager.  

You get a huge amount of herb from each plant.  It is so simple to dry them and make your own special herb mix.  You'll find that you actually get enough from only one herb plant of each kind that you will have enough for year round cooking and to make Christmas presents for the entire family!

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  These are the herbs typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

The French gardeners didn't actually mix them all together into on spice mix.  This was the idea of a spice company in France and has spread throughout the world.  Today, these spice mixes aren't actually grown and processed in France, but in central/eastern Europe, Africa and China.

You can easily grow these herbs and make your own spice mix.  All are perennial herbs with the exception of basil and rosemary in northern climes.  You can keep rosemary and basil n a pot and bring them indoors to overwinter.

Purple lavender
White lavender

Some mixes also contain lavender flowers.  Lavender is not actually used in southern French cooking, but can be a fun addition to the spice mix.

I save my lavender to use as potpourri and scented oils.  Lavender is also great to put in closets to make them smell fabulous and to deter moths.


Creeping thyme
English thyme

Thyme comes in many forms and flavors.  You can grow variegated (leaves are green and white) lemon thyme, creeping thyme, orange thyme, English, German, or French thyme.

The leaves are best when in bloom.

Thyme is used in many dishes.  Suits food particularly well that are cooked in wine.  If using fresh, a little goes a long way.

Oregano/marjoram are of the same family.  Oregano and marjoram are cold sensitive perennials.  I have been growing my oregano in Zone 6 for 5 years and it comes back faithfully.  Oregano is also called wild marjoram and marjoram is also called sweet marjoram.  They are very similar in form and taste.  The pollinators love oregano’s tall purple blooms.  For preserving, gather just before the flowers open.

Common rosemary is a tender perennial and does not survive the winter in our Zone 6 garden.  There are hardier varieties of rosemary that you can get like ARP and Barbecue.  They are said to be hardy to Zone 5.

You can always keep your rosemary in a pot and bring indoors to over winter.

If you live in warmer zones of 8 or above, rosemary can become a very large bush reaching 5 feet tall.
Young rosemary plant

There are two types of savory-winter and summer.  Winter savory is a perennial and summer savory an annual.  The leaves for drying should be picked just as the flower buds are formed.
Winter savory
Everyone is familiar with basil.  Basil is used in so many dishes.  One of our favorites is pesto.  It is great in tomato sauces, as an infusion for oils or vinegars, or in salads.  Basil was found to be growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection so is used by some to prepare holy water.  Pick leaves when young.  The more you pick, the bushier the plant becomes.   Pick often!
Young basil plant

Tarragon is a less common herb here.  There are two varieties-Russian and French.  The French has a more “refined” flavor, but is not as hardy.  The Russian is hardy and the flavor improves the longer it grows in one place.  Tarragon spreads underground like mint so it can be a good one to grow in a pot.  It grows 2-3’.  Tarragon can be harvested anytime.  Don’t cut more than two thirds at a time.  I like to add tarragon to salads.  It is also popular as an infusion for oils and vinegars, to flavor chicken and is a key ingredient in BĂ©arnaise sauce.

Sage is a perennial and comes in a variety of flavors and colors-clara, pineapple, purple, tricolor, gold variegated, prostate, and purple variegated to name a few.

Tricolor variegated sage

Since these herbs naturalized in the Mediterranean region, they enjoy dry conditions so they do not need to be coddled.  They grow easily under any conditions, except wet.  

Fall is a great time to start any perennial, including herbs.  Many big box stores are carrying herbs and fall plants so you don't have to wait to next spring to start your own herb garden!

How to dry your herbs?  I do my harvesting this time of year into the fall.  I cut them back and place the stems loosely in paper bags to dry.  Hanging the bags so they get good air flow.  You can also place on screens or tie the stems together and hang to dry.  However you choose to dry your herbs they only thing to remember is to not put too many together.  If there is not enough air circulation the herbs will mold.

After drying, I strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container out of the sun.  I use either ziplock bags or quart canning jars.  Once processed, I take equal parts of each herb and mix together to make my seasoning mix.  I use my seasoning mix on and in all kinds of dishes-for grilling meat and veggies, salad dressings, pasta sauces, roasted chicken, seafood.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden

Blood veined sorrel

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Have you heard of perennial vegetables?  Well, they do exist!  You plant them once and they grow back every year.  They are the first ones to show their faces in the spring and the last to die back in the fall.

The following are perennial vegetables in our Zone 6 in the Midwest:

French sorrel (pictured above already poking its head up), radicchio, chard, Good King Henry (spinach relative), chicory, salad burnet, rhubarb, sunchoke, daylily (yes, they are edible), ostrich fern, watercress, mountain sorrel, arrowhead, Welsh onion, Egyptian walking onion, potato onion, ramps, garlic chives, chives, groundnut, udo, asparagus, sea kale, jinenjo, Chinese yam, wood nettle, lovage, water celery, fuki, pokeweed, giant Solomon’s seal, ‘Profusion’ sorrel, silver shield sorrel, scorzonera, skirret, Chinese artichoke, dandelion, linden, nettles, ‘Western Front’ perennial kale, sylvetta arugula, Turkish rocket, Cusick’s camass, perennial sweet leek, yellow asphodel, saltbush, sea beet, ‘Tree Collards/Walking Stick Kale’, tropical tree kale, perennial broccoli (including ‘9 Star’), branching bush kale (including ‘Dorbenton’), wild cabbage, achira, taro and ‘Celery Stem’ tato, chufa, air potato, wolfberry, water lotus, fragrant spring tree, canebrake bamboo, skirret.

It is a long list.  Many are hard to find the seed for or a starter plant.  There are several that are easy to find, though!

Common chives in bloom
The ones I currently grow:
**French sorrel (good for soups, steamed or a salad green)
**Radicchio (good steamed, roasted or a salad green)
**Chard (good steamed or as a salad green)
**Good King Henry (spinach relative, use as a salad green)
**Salad burnett (taste somewhat like a Granny Smith apple, use fresh in salads)
**Egyptian walking onion (use fresh for cooking or salads)
**Perennial kale (good steamed or as salad green)
**Chives (salads or flavoring cream cheese, butter, sour cream, dips)
**Arugula (peppery flavor, great for salads)
**French and American dandelion (great for salads)
**Daylily (flower buds can be eaten like green beans, flowers in salads)
**Celery-not advertised as a perennial but ours is coming back for the third year.....

Another option for a plant 'em once are self seeding annuals. They drop seeds in the garden bed and sprout in the spring.  For more on them, 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Homemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Like spring, fall and winter is perfect for greens so lettuces are back in season, sweet and tender.  Today, there are even lettuces that do well in the hot days of summer.  It is great fun to make your own salad dressings using herbs from your own garden.  Many herbs can be harvested all year so you have fresh herbal dressings year round.  Here are a few favorites.

Ranch Dressing
Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make.  Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each).  Then add parsley, dill, garlic, onion (half teaspoon), salt (quarter teaspoon), and pepper (eighth teaspoon) to taste.  If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt. 

To make buttermilk, buy cultured buttermilk from the store and add to milk, it will become buttermilk after leaving at room temp a day or two.  Since I don’t use it very often, I’ll top off the buttermilk jug with fresh milk and let it turn to buttermilk in the frig.  Add one cup of buttermilk to 3 cups milk.  You can also buy a powdered buttermilk starter on line from a cheese making company.

Hot Bacon Dressing
An old Southern favorite is hot bacon dressing.  Cook 4 slices bacon until crisp, reserving 2 Tbl drippings.  Crumble bacon; set aside.  Add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbl water, 1 Tbl sugar, 1 teas grated onion, 1/8 teas dried mustard, bring just to a boil, remove from heat and add bacon.  Whisk before serving.

Apple Mustard Vinaigrette
Apple mustard vinaigrette is another easy, healthful dressing and one of my favorites.  Mix together 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots, honey to taste, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tbl water, 2 Tbl country style Dijon mustard, 3/4 teas salt, 1/4 teas pepper.

You can make your own apple cider vinegar by purchasing cider when in season.  I covered this in a September blog.  Here is the link:  “Make your own vinegar” blog.

"Pasta House" Salad Dressing
We got the recipe from the "Pasta House" restaurant web page.  There are no garden herbs included, but I grow Pimento peppers every year just for this salad dressing.  It makes the dressing!  

Here are the ingredients: 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup diced Pimento peppers, 1 jar chopped artichoke hearts, 1/4 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon sea salt.  

I mix together and let the flavors meld overnight.  Then toss with the lettuce.  The recipe calls for a head of iceberg lettuce and a head of romaine lettuce.  I just whatever I have in the garden.

Caesar Dressing
For Caesar dressing: mash 4 cloves of garlic and 1/2 teas salt.  Whisk in 2 teas lemon juice, 1 teas Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, 2-4 anchovy fillets, rinsed, dry and mashed to a paste.  Add in a slow steady stream 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil while whisking.

Caesar dressing was invented by Alex Cardini Sr., an Italian World War I flying ace who joined his brother Caesar in his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.  It was originally called Aviator’s Salad and was dedicated to the pilots at San Diego air base.  The airmen referred to it as Caesar’s salad and the name stuck.

The original Caesar salad contains an almost raw egg.  If you want the original, be careful since it does contains raw egg.  Use only fresh eggs.  The salad must be consumed immediately; no storing of leftovers.  It was served with garlic, anchovy bread.

Here is the full, original Caesar salad recipe, including bread.

Crisp the bread at 400 (we love using French baguette style, whole grain bread sliced lengthwise).  Brush olive oil over the crisp bread and return to brown.  Crush 3 cloves of garlic and 6 anchovy fillets together with 1 Tbl of olive oil.  Spread on bread slices.

Coddle 1 egg, the white should be opaque and barely starting to set.  Whisk the egg with 1 Tbl lime juice, 1 teas Worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 cup olive oil until thick.  Toss with a head of romaine lettuce, sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August Garden Planner

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August sees the full production of the summer 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, tomatillos, and fennel are all in season right now.  

A secret to maximizing your peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and zucchinis is to harvest them consistently.  A plant’s driving force is to reproduce so by continuing to harvest, it causes the plant to put on more fruits.

Continue to fertilize with a natural, organic fertilizer every month for veggies in the ground and biweekly for those in containers.  When fertilizing, scratch the fertilizer into the soil around the plant.  If you leave the fertilizer on top of the ground, you will need twice as much as the nitrogen will off gas into the atmosphere if not covered.

Keeping consistent moisture to your plants is key.  Irregular watering causes tomatoes to crack.  Water weekly, being sure to water deeply at the base of the plant and not on the leaves.  Many warm weather lovers like squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases.

If you had any lettuce from early planting, they will have bolted by now.  Take the flower heads off and save the seed.  You can shake the seeds into your self watering pots to get your fall lettuce growing.

Planting for fall and winter vegetables
I know it sounds crazy, but now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests.  You need to plant early enough for your veggies to be full size when frosts hit.  Add 14 days to the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and back it up from your last frost date.  

Daylight hours determine the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill until the beginning of January.

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at many big box stores and nurseries since gardening has become so popular. 

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
August is the month for the rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, peas, fava beans and turnips.  

In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.

For more details on varieties to plant, Fall garden planning and planting

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter!

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.