Saturday, October 31, 2015

November garden planner

Marigolds and tomatoes with roses in the background

Saturday, October 31, 2015

November is a beautiful time of year as Mother Nature is getting prepared for the cold, wintry days ahead.  Late fall chores should include cleaning up your garden beds, reflecting on the gardening season completed, and preparing for the first freeze.

Garden bed clean up
To prepare your garden for its winter slumber, remove gardening debris from your beds.  For any diseased vegetation or seeds, be sure to throw these away. 

This is a good time to decide if you would like to make your own compost.  Compost is referred to by gardeners as “black gold.”  It provides nutrients, beneficial microbes, fertilizer and overall improves your soil’s condition.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

I use an electric composter called NatureMill that we keep in the garage by the door.  It is easy to keep an odor free bucket made just for this purpose inside to collect fruit and vegetable scraps and empty weekly into the composter.  The small indoor buckets are called compost keepers or bins and come in a variety of decorative styles.  You get finished compost in a couple of weeks.  You can store the compost you are making in a trash bag to use when preparing your spring beds.  It is great for flowers and vegetables.

Reflection on the past garden season
While the past gardening season is still fresh in your mind, now is a great time to jot down some notes on what went well, what didn’t, and what you would like to research over the winter.  Make a list of the varieties that did great that you want to replant, which plants you want to be sure to have more of next year.

Fall is a fabulous time to make new garden beds.  It is super easy, too.  Just use a hose to outline your new bed, fertilizer, put down a layer of cardboard (earthworms love cardboard!), a layer of compost, and cover with mulch.  By spring, the new garden bed will be ready for planting.  Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed

Gardening after the first frost
For northern Kentucky, the average first frost date is mid-October.  We had our first frost a week ago.  If you can cover your veggies with a portable green house or row cover to extend the season for many cool season crops.  With a portable green house, we have kept lettuce, kale, mustard greens, sorrel, and celery all the way through winter. 

If you are using pots, putting the pots on the south side and close to the house will keep them from getting frost bit.  It seems to extend the season for 2-4 weeks.

You can also divide a piece off your herbs, put them in a pot, and bring indoors on a sunny window to have fresh herbs readily available.  Chives, thyme, rosemary, savory, tarragon, salad burnet, and oregano can also be harvested into December from the outdoor garden.  Growing herbs indoors for winter

Surprisingly, we found that peppers are great candidates from bringing in for the winter.  Our Jalapenos and Cayennes continued to fruit for weeks indoors and when put back out in the spring, had peppers a month earlier than when using new plants.  Eggplant and tomatoes are also contenders for overwintering indoors.  Both are tender perennials.

Be sure to use insecticidal soap on any plants you intend to bring indoors a couple weeks prior so you don’t bring in unintended guests.
Bumblebee on marigolds

For the herbs you cut back earlier in the season to dry, November is a great time to now strip the stems of the leaves, dry and put into jars for winter cooking.  You can make your own “Herbes De Provence”.  Thyme, oregano, rosemary, savory, basil, tarragon and lavender are common herbs used in this famous French seasoning.  I mix them up in about equal amounts and store in a sealed Mason jar.  It is great to add to just about anything-sauces, chicken, fish, potatoes, garlic bread.  Makes wonderful Christmas presents, too.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Growing herbs indoors for winter

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Having something green growing just makes me feel good.  Now that winter is looming, it won’t be long before even the grass turns brown in our Zone 6/7 area.  An option to keep a bit of summer going is to grow herbs indoors over the winter.  It is easy to do.

An indoor herb project is actually how I started vegetable gardening in my flower beds.  I had decided I wanted to move away from artificial scents inside and read that aromatic herbs are a great way to freshen the indoors.  The herbs did well over the winter and I transplanted them outdoors in the spring.  I figured if I could grow herbs indoors, it shouldn't be that much more challenging to grow veggies!

You can either bring in your herbs from the garden or start from seeds like I originally did.  If you had an herb plant that did particularly well in the garden, it is a great idea to just dig it up, prune it back, and put in a pot indoors.  You will be able to replant it next spring.  Make sure you use potting soil and not garden soil in the pot and place it them in a sunny window.  Southern exposure is best.

For seed starting, I love using my Aerogarden.  I have close to 100% seed propagation rate with this hydroponic system.  You can also easily start seeds without one.  It is best to use seed starting mix and to follow the directions on the seed packet.  It is so much fun to see the seeds sprouting and watching the green stems and leaves begin to grow.  For more on seed starting, Indoor seed starting tips

Herbs that you can grow in a sunny window-basil, bay, chervil, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme.

You can separate a few of your garden chives, oregano, tarragon, and thyme and put in a potting with sterile organic potting soil and bring indoors.

I even had a few basil volunteers that came up in the garden that are perfect for potting for the winter!

You can also take cuttings from any of your woody herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano), start in perlite covered with a plastic baggy, and when they grow roots, transplant to a pot.

Basil, chervil, and parsley all grow easily from seed.

Herbs like a good temperature swing (to mimic the outdoors) between day and night to thrive.  Keeping in a window definitely helps this.  Don’t overwater and in the driest months, some misting is appreciated.

I keep my bay and stevia in a pot so I can bring it in each winter as they don’t make it through our winters, at least not consistently.  I am going to keep them along with some peppers and eggplant in the garage this year as a test.  I have overwintered celery in the garage and replanted in the garden the next year successfully.  I am going to add some overhead fluorescent lighting this time.

You can have great fresh flavor to add to salads and other dishes all winter long by keeping herbs indoors.  For me, it is just good for the soul to have greenery indoors.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Preparing the garden for frost

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jack Frost is close to a callin’.  With frost comes the end of the signature summer vegetables like basil, tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash.  You don’t have to worry about your cold crops like spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli or lettuce; frost just makes them sweeter. 

To prolong the season for your potted plants, move them to a sunny spot and place close to a wall.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs will also do well indoors.  They are actually perennials in warmer climes.  Our cayenne pepper plant thrived indoors in the winter and took off running the next spring.

For all plants, you can use plant covers to protect them overnight from frost to extend the summer veggie season a little further.  These can be in the form of plant fabric covers (don’t use plastic), cloches, or a sheet. 

For potted plants, place them in a sunny south facing area.  Up against a southern wall is ideal as the wall will absorb heat during the day to keep the plant warm overnight.  We gather our pots of greens together and put under a portable greenhouse so we get greens all winter long.

If you have the space, you can surround your pots with straw bales to add an extra layer of protection.  You can cover with a hoop house to make a mini green house.

Basil will turn black at the first frost so harvest all the leaves before this time if you are not bringing the plant in for the winter.  Now is a great time to take that last cuttings from all your herbs for drying.  If you have celery in a pot, it does just fine overwintering in the garage.  

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can all take some frost.  When a “killing” frost or freeze is forecast, it is time to strip all the remaining fruits from the vine.  You don’t want to harvest tomatoes from a dead vine.  Wrap your green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a dark place.  Tomatoes will turn red this way.  You can be eating your own red tomatoes through December.  They won’t be as good as vine ripened, but they will be better than what you get in the store!

For fall, leave your beds tidy.  You can bury or compost the dead plants as long as they were healthy.  Adding a layer of chopped leaves and mulch will provide an extra blanket of protection and warmth, breaking down over the winter to provide organic matter for spring planting.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What we are harvesting in the garden mid-October

Tomatoes and peppers with zinnias in the background
Sunday, October 18, 2015

The garden continues to produce well; more than we can eat fresh.  We are harvesting zucchini, tomatoes, onions, peppers,  lettuce, sprouting broccoli, broccoli, chard, sorrel, mustard greens, green beans, strawberries, figs, and all herbs.  I am freezing about a pint of peppers, a pint of green beans, and up to 4 quarts of tomatoes a week as well as drying the herbs we need for the winter.

Our tomatoes, peppers and green beans are still yielding well.  For tomatoes, be sure to take all the tomatoes off the vine before it frosts.  You can either wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool place to ripen, make them into relish, or eat them as fried.  For fried green tomatoes, we like a Cajun batter.  Gives them a nice, spicy flavor.  A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!

The cucumber vines died back last week.  Cukes hail from the tropics so these cool temps are just not to their liking.  Cucumber info and tips for growing

As you straighten up your garden beds as the summer crops wind down, be sure to compost!  Any plant that has a disease, do not add to your compost pile.  Throw away.  Composting may not kill all spores and you could be spreading the disease next season wherever you use the compost.  For more tips on composting (even indoors), Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors.

Peppers love this time of year.  They are native to the mountains so October is perfect for them.  They will continue to produce even after frost.  Many of my peppers did not do well this year.  The Pimento gave some nice peppers early on, but stopped producing over a month ago.  The baby bells and sweet yellow and orange banana also have wound down.  The sweet long ancient red pepper is still going strong and I am freezing the extras.   I harvest them when they start to get some color in them and let them finish ripening on the counter.  Removing the fruits encourages the plant to replace them, giving you more peppers.  Peppers get sweeter when they ripen, but are good to eat even when green.  

I am considering digging up the yellow banana, orange banana, mini bell and long ancient sweet pepper plants and bringing into the garage to over winter since they did so well this year.  I already have a potted Chiltepin hot pepper plant I finally got going in August that I am going to overwinter.

Basil is doing great right now.  They had the best season this year I have seen!  The plants grew into full bushy mounds.  Basil are very tender annuals and will turn black with the first frost.  Make sure to harvest all the leaves prior to the first frost.  You can dry basil, make it into pesto or freeze it in water.
Stevia in bloom, covered in butterflies

You can also dig them up and bring them in for the winter.  Place them in a full sun spot.  You can put them back outside again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.

Sage, rosemary, bay, stevia, thyme, lavender and tarragon are all robust.  The tarragon maybe a little too robust!  Tarragon smells wonderful.  Even if you can't eat all that you can harvest fresh and dried, it makes a wonderful potpourri.  I just use dried, whole stems in a vase to freshen an entire room.

The greens are doing very well that I seeded in mid-September.  They love this time of year, cool with plenty of rain.  The spinach, lettuce, cilantro, and celery have all sprouted.

We are still getting fruit from the garden.  Strawberries are ripe again from the everbearers and Alpine strawberries.  Our fig tree continues to produce figs.

Fall is a bountiful time for gardening.  I have planted many winter hardy varieties of lettuce, kale, broccoli, mustards, and cabbage to keep the garden producing into December and hopefully beyond.  With the portable greenhouse, we should have greens all winter.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Edible shade garden

Saturday, October 17, 2015

If you don’t get the 6-12 hours of full sun that many vegetables and herbs thrive in, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow any vegetables or herbs.  They may not get as big or full as those grown in full sun, but they will grow!

Here is a list of herbs and vegetables that can grow in different levels of sunlight.  
2-4 hours of sun herbs
*Anise hyssop
*Lemon balm
*Sweet woodruff
*Wild ginger

2-4 hours of sun vegetables
*Asian greens such as bok choy and tatsoi
*Mesclun greens
*Mustard greens
*Swiss chard

4-5 hours of sun vegetables
*Beans-bush and dwarf types
*Green onions
*Micro greens
*Peas-bush and dwarf types

You can get more sun than you think by trimming tree limbs up to allow morning or evening sun in.  You can also use light colored mulch or even the high dollar metallic mulch to have more sunlight reflect up onto the plants.  Another approach would be to spray paint what the plants back up to with metallic paint or place a piece of metallic painted plywood behind your plants.

Another thing to keep in mind is when the leaves are off the trees.  There are many cool season crops that will do great in the chilly seasons like winter, spring and fall.  Overwintering crops are another winner for planting in the shade of late summer that will then have the benefit of late fall, winter and early spring sun.  For more on cool season crops for fall and winter, Fall garden planning and planting and Time to set out transplants for fall, winter, & spring harvests.  For spring any that are planted before your first frost date are the cold hardy ones Indoor sowing/outdoor planting dates.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Freezing the extras for winter

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Freezing is a super easy way to preserve summer freshness for all winter.  There are just a couple of tips to keep your frozen veggies fresh tasting for their entire winter stay in the freezer.

For some veggies, like beets, carrots, greens, eggplant, broccoli, and cabbage, you have to stop the enzyme action that will continue even when frozen.  It is an easy thing to do; you just “blanch” them in boiling water, quickly dunk in very cold or ice water, drain, and then freeze.  If you want to use just a little out of your freezer bag at a time, you can add the step of laying out on a cookie sheet and quick freeze before putting in the freezer bag.

Be sure to label your freezer bag with the veggie and date frozen.  Veggies typically keep their flavor for 6-8 months in the freezer.

Blanching times at a full boil:
Greens-1 minute
Denser veggies like carrot, eggplant slices, cabbage, broccoli-3 minutes

-Blanch for the recommended time, no longer.  You don’t want to over cook.  When the color gets very bright, they are done.  
-Quickly transfer to very cold or ice water to stop the cooking process, this keeps the veggies tasting like they were just picked from the garden.  I use tongs to transfer them so I minimize the amount of hot water I bring into the cold water.
-As soon as they are cool, remove excess water.  I use a spaghetti strainer.
-Transfer to labeled (with name and date) freezer bag and pop in the freezer.  I lay them flat so they freeze quicker.
-If you want to pull only a couple of leaves or slices from the freezer bag at a time, lay the cooled veggie onto a cookie sheet and put in the freezer to freeze the individual leaf or slice.  After frozen, place into labeled freezer bag.

I don’t blanch tomatoes, peppers, green beans or peas.  I haven’t found that the flavor is affected by just directly freezing them.  For more on preserving tomatoes  Preserving the tomato harvest  and basil Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

It is wonderful to have fresh garden taste year round and, luckily, it is easy to do with no special equipment needed!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Harvesting and keeping winter squash

Butternut squash

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It is winter squash harvest time!  
Winter squash are ready to harvest after the vine completely dies in the fall.  Be sure to harvest your fruits before it gets too cold.  A frost or two is the max cold to leave them out in.  Definitely don't let them  sit through a freeze.

Squash originated in Mexico.  There are cave drawings from 8000 to 6500 BC depicting squash. Squash was grown extensively by Native Americans as part of the “Three Sisters”-squash, corn and beans.

Winter squash are those that take until late fall to ripen and can be stored inside for months.  They include butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, Hubbards, turbans and pumpkins.  Each vine does not produce many fruits.  We typically get 3 butternut squash off our vines, which is a decent yield.

Spaghetti and acorn squash
Winter squash is left on the vine until the vine dies and the fruit loses its sheen.
You should be able to poke the squash with your fingernail and it should just dent it, not puncture the skin.  Be sure to leave 2-4” of stem attached when you harvest.  Place in a warm, sunny place to allow the skin to toughen.  Then, store in a cool, dark location until ready to eat.

There are some amazingly diverse and cool winter squashes/pumpkins, from the bumpy and blue hubbards, to traditional pear shaped butternut to the exotic "turban" squash, so named because of the hat it appears to be wearing............  

Depending on the variety of winter squash, it can store well for months.   Butternut and spaghetti squash are long lasting common winter squash.   I have eaten butternut squash into June the following year! 
Acorn squash sitting in the window sill to toughen the skin
If you decide you want to grow winter squash next year, here are some tips.

Since it originated in a temperate zone, winter squash requires a long growing season.  It is best to start them indoors in the spring. Squash love organic matter and warm temperatures.  If you throw a few seeds in your compost pile, you will be rewarded with exuberant vines.
Plant when nighttime temps are 55F or warmer.  Add a fertilizer rich in phosphorous a week after transplanting, when flowers first appear and again when fruits begin to form.  They love water, too.  If growing in a pot, keep well watered and don’t let dry out.
Don’t panic when the first blooms fall off without producing any fruits.  There are male and female flowers.  If yours falls off, it was likely a poor guy that withered without the love a gal.  There can also be some false starts with malformed fruits.  Don’t worry, the plant will put on more blooms.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A look back to plan for next year

Gardening journals

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Early fall is a great time to look back over your gardening season to develop your plan for next year.  If I don't jot down notes now, I begin questioning myself come seed ordering and planting time about what did well, how many did I plant last year, how many do I need next year.  Now is the time to capture all the info you need for next year's garden!

Jot down in a notebook what you learned and want to remember for next year’s garden:
*Which veggies did best for you that you definitely want to include in your garden for next year.
*Which ones did not do well (I find myself in the next season remembering the name of a veggie, but not sure if it was one that did well or poorly).
*Lay out the timing of what you want to plant by month (did you get the spring greens in too late and they bolted or the zucchini too early and the vine borer got to it).
*The number of plants you want to grow for each variety (did you get swamped by too many peppers and not have enough cucumbers?).
*Compare notes with neighbors and friends on what varieties worked well for them and jot them down as some to try next year.
*Ask at the farmers market which varieties were their favorites this season.

I keep notes in a planner so I can review what varieties did best each month.  For those that did really well in the garden, I have saved seeds and labelled them.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver  I keep them in ziplocks in our refrigerator crisper drawer.  You may think you will remember next year, but you may not so, to be safe, label the baggie with the variety, date, where it did well (in the ground, pot, shade, sun), and when it produced.

You can also make a list of what you want to learn more about over the winter to be better prepared for spring gardening.  Did your peppers leaves turn yellow, your tomatoes not produce as much as you expected, your lettuce bolted early, what is the best fertilizing routine for the veggies you grow?

You can research over the dreary winter days and dream of the warm, green, growing days to come.  As you are planning for next year, consider a four season garden for year round harvesting.  You can garden year round in small space 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Garlic is rich in lore.  It has been reputed to repel vampires, clear the blood, cure baldness, aid digestion over the ages.  Garlic has been around for thousands of years.  It originated in Asia, was cultivated in Egypt and has been a Mediterranean staple for centuries.

Today’s studies have shown is garlic antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral. And, it tastes great!  Garlic is high in vitamin C, B6, calcium, manganese, selenium and more.  For more nutritional info, garlic nutritional value  

It is easy to grow and has little pest issues.  All you do is throw them in the ground in the fall in October in our Zone 6 garden and by early summer, they are ready to harvest.  Loosening the soil and adding compost prior to planting can boost the garlic bulb size.  I have planted Elephant garlic straight into my mulched flower beds and had great luck.  Their flower in spring is quite striking as well.

The clove puts out roots in the fall.  Depending on how warm the winter is, there can be green shoots showing through the cold months.  Garlic will be some of the first to start growing.  The stems resemble onion greens.  The garlic flower, or scape, has a cute little curl in it.  It grows on hard neck varieties.  They are great in salads.  There is debate among garlic growers if removing the scape will also increase the bulb size.  Either way, you can't lose by harvesting them.

You should choose the biggest cloves to plant.  The bigger the clove, the bigger the harvest!  Cloves as a root vegetable like loose soil, compost and steady fertilizer.  Like carrots, radishes and beets, you can add sand to give a looser soil structure in your garlic bed.  Simply tilling in compost should provide the soil texture that garlic loves.  Compost and mulch well in the fall before cold weather sets in.

Plant the cloves root side down, 1-2” deep, and 4-6” apart.  For planting by the cycle of the moon, garlic should be planted during the waning cycle of the moon.  For our Zone 6 garden, this is September 9-23 and October 9-22.  After the greens sprout to 6”, add compost or fertilizer as a side dressing.  Garlic does not need a lot of nitrogen so compost is a good choice.

Garlic is ready to harvest then the tops begin to die off.  Each leaf represents a layer of the white covering on your clove bulb.  Dig up one or two when about half of the leaves have died (40% yellowed/brown leaves).  If the bulb is still small, wait a couple more weeks before harvesting.   If you harvest too late, the outer covering will have disintegrated and you will have just loose, naked cloves.  Typically garlic harvest is mid-summer.

Garlic ready to harvest

Be careful when you go to harvest.  If you cut the bulb, it will not keep and needs to eaten soon.  The garlic should be left in dry shade for 2-3 weeks or brought inside and stored in a cool, dry location with good air circulation.  They can be hung or placed in a perforated bin to dry and store.  

Store bought garlic has been treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting so they are not a great choice for growing your own.  A great option is to buy cloves from your local farmers market.  You know they grew well in your area.  Just separate out the bulb(s) into individual cloves and plant the biggest ones.  You can eat or preserve the smaller cloves.

Garlic can be mild or hot.  Elephant garlic is very mild and not really true garlic at all.  It is a type of leek.  It has a great garlic flavor and produces huge bulbs.  The ones I grew this year are from the previous year’s harvest.  I always keep the biggest cloves to replant in the fall.
Elephant garlic flower
You can tell the difference in the two by looking at the flowers.  Leeks and soft neck garlic have a onion type flower while garlic has a curly scape flower.
Hardneck garlic scapes
There is soft and hard necked garlic.  For storing, soft neck garlic is the ticket.  It is also the strongest flavored.  Hard necked is milder, easier to peel, more cold hardy and the first to mature. 

Everyone knows of garlic in sauces and on cheese bread.  A few years ago, we tried roasted garlic.  It dramatically mellows the flavor.  I just put a few heads in a small baking dish, add chicken stock to just about level to the cut heads, and let bake covered at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until soft.  It is a great spread on French bread!

If your garlic dries up over the winter, I grind it into garlic powder.  If you have great tasting garlic that doesn’t store well or you have a bountiful crop, another preservation option is pickled garlic.  Just peel (Quick tip-”peeling” garlic) and cover your fresh garlic cloves in organic apple cider vinegar.  You can add a couple of hot peppers if you want to add some extra zing!

Of course, you can also add garlic to the tomato sauce (Preserving the tomato harvest), pickles (Easy, homemade pickles) or peppers you are going to can.  You can flavor vinegars or oils by popping crushed garlic into them (Quick tip-make your own flavored oils).  Many options for utilizing your garlic harvest!