Saturday, February 27, 2016

March Edible Garden Planner

Picture of garden in late March

Ah, spring is coming soon!  Now is the time to test your soil, get your garden beds ready for planting, and plan your spring garden.  

Soil Preparation
You can take a soil sample to our local county co-op extension office to have it tested or buy a do it yourself kit at any big box store or local nursery.  You can do a more extensive soil test by sending your soil sample off.  Here is a link to my blog on soil nutrition:  The next step in garden production and your nutrit...  There is a great analysis web site that will provide a specialized fertilizer designed just for your garden deficiencies that you can make yourself.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of testing, a sure way to enrich your soil is to use a balanced organic fertilizer and compost.  I add organic material every spring with compost and mulching the garden beds, building the soil’s fertility and its ability to hold water.

A local CSA and organic gardener told me a few years ago that it is important to not let your fertilizer just lay on top of the ground as many of the nutrients will be lost.  This spring, we will put down an organic fertilizer Re-Vita Pro 5-4-4, a layer of homemade compost with any additional mushroom compost needed and top with mulch.  You can make your own balanced fertilizer, too, of Re-Vita isn't available in your area  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

If this is your first time gardening, here is a how to get started Easy kitchen garden

What I am planting this March:
Green Oakleaf Lettuce-ready to harvest in 45 days
Wild Garden Kales-ready to harvest in 30 days
Mesclun Valentine Lettuce mix (red tinted lettuce and greens)-ready to harvest in 30-55 days
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads)-ready to harvest in 55 days
Red Sails Lettuce (a ruffled red and green, stays sweet even after bolting)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Space Hybrid Spinach-ready to harvest in 38 days
Gourmet Blend Lettuce (Prizeleaf, Royal Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl, Ashley)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Sugar snap peas-ready to harvest in 70 days
All kinds of broccoli-ready to harvest in 50-80 days (leaves are great in salads)
Cabbage-ready to harvest in 68 days.

These can be companion planted with beets, chives, garlic, and onions.  Since they are shallow rooted, they grow well with root crops.

When I plant in pots, I plant with a handful of worm compost and water in with fish emulsion.  Germination should take anywhere from 4-15 days., depending on how warm the soil is.  I am sure I will be out there looking for little green shoots daily.

Important tip-if planting seeds in a mulched bed, be sure to cover the seed with only soil; seedlings are too weak to push through mulch.

Picture of garden in late March
Zone 6 Spring Garden Roadmap

Planting your seedlings outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked)-fruit trees and vines, nut trees, asparagus, garlic, peas
End March-cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, mustards, spinach
Beginning of April-lettuce, lemon balm, parsley
Mid-April-broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
End April-sage
First of May-basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes
Mid-May-cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper

Starting your seeds outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked): peas, spinach, lettuce
Mid-March: arugula, bok choy, cabbage, carrot, collards, leeks, lettuce, mache, onion. rhubarb, cultivated dandelions, spinach
End March:  fava beans, beets, broccoli, carrot, Chinese cabbage, cress, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mizuna, parsley, parsnip, early potatoes, turnip

One watch out is planting seeds too soon.  Seeds have to have a certain soil temperature to sprout.  Plant too soon and the seed will rot and not sprout.  Here are some soil temp guidelines.

Starting your seeds indoors for summer planting:
Now-chives, leeks, lemon balm, onions, parsley, sage, thyme, lettuce, cress, mustard, chard, spinach
Mid-March-basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, marigolds, eggplant
End of March-cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes

These dates are just guidelines.  You can start your seedlings later and plant your transplants later as well.  Be sure to read the seed packet for what you are starting.  They make all kinds of varieties that are cold hardy and can be planted sooner than what I outlined above.

The big box stores and local nurseries are good sources of plants as well.  If you are just getting started, purchasing from a local nursery or farmers market will get you started with varieties that do well in your area.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What’s growing in the late February garden

Parsley in the foreground
Sunday, February 21, 2016

The garden is waking up at this time of year.  The daffodils and hyacinths are coming up.  The daylilies and irises are just poking up through the mulch.  Since I provided no cover to the garden, only the most hardy greens and herbs are still visible.

It always seems like there is a slight warm up in January and then a really cold dip in February and there is less green in the garden in late February than January.

What is still growing or edible?  
Carrots-the roots are still edible and the green tops are sprouting again Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round
Beets-the roots are still edible and their colored tops are sprouting All about beautiful beets
Onions, leeks, and garlic-their tops are green and sprouting.  The Egyptian walking onions and leeks have usable bulbs.  The outside is soft, but the inner layers are firm.  Perennial onions and other alliums
Thyme-is still a nice bright green.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"
Bay, rosemary, sage-all have some parts that are still green. Start a kitchen herb garden!
Kale, parsley, corn salad, chickweed, dandelions, french sorrel, blood veined sorrel, mustard and salad burnet are all green.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

The surviving greens are more bitter than lettuce. They can be eaten on their own or the herbs and greens are great adds to the store bought lettuce. 

I did not use my mini portable greenhouse as I have in years past to keep the lettuce going through the winter.  I did miss having fresh lettuce from the garden this year.  I will use the mini green house next year!  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

Lettuce in mini greenhouse in years past

Also green and/or sprouting are strawberries, chard, arugula, catnip, celery, spinach and tarragon.

I overwintered my kumquat, three pepper plants and 4 eggplants in the garage.  I lost one eggplant.  The others are all doing well.  I brought the pepper plants (Chiltepin) and eggplants (Japanese white egg) in because it took me forever to get these specific varieties to sprout last year.  On my third try in the middle of the summer, I finally had success.  This will give them a big head start on producing this spring, too.

Last year was not the best year in the garden.  All the rain we had caused higher disease problems and washed away the pollen so not as many fruits (peppers, zucchini and tomatoes) would set.  I saved the seed from the plants that did the best in the garden to have hardier stock for this year’s garden.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

What to plant now for an early spring garden

Egyptian walking onion in late winter
February 20, 2016

Now is a great time to sow seeds in the garden for early spring greens.  Greens like mustard, lettuce, spinach, chard, and corn salad to name just a few thrive in cool spring days. Look for varieties that say “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” on the seed packet.  

Starting in mid-January, our daylight hours go above 10 hours a day.  This is nature's signal for seeds to start sprouting.  All you are waiting on for outdoor sowing is the temps to warm up!  Well, that time is here.  Start sowing these cold hardy crop seeds for the earliest spring garden salads!

To speed up germination, you can lay clear plastic on your garden bed to warm up the ground temperatures before you plant.

Here are some varieties that are good to sow right now in our Zone 7 garden.  There are many more than what I have listed.  It is a great time to be a gardener with all the new and revived varieties available today.

*Corn salad/Mache/Vit
*Cultivated dandelion-Clio and Catalogna-Italian varieties, Garnet Stem
*Sprouting broccoli (will come back in the spring, too)  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring).  Starbor
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F).  Winter density, Rouge d’Hiver, No Name Red Leaf, Arctic King, Continuity, Salad Bowl, Mottistone.   Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
*Jerusalem artichoke tubers
*Mustard greens
*Mesclun mix
*Winter greens mix

Austrian overwintering peas in late winter

For the earliest salads, plant overwintering varieties in late summer Time to plant for fall and winter harvests! and perennials anytime from spring through fall Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden

If this is your first time gardening, here are tips to get started  Easy kitchen garden

Happy spring gardening!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Time to plant peas!

Flowering pea plants
Sunday, February 19, 2017

Peas are great for spring gardens.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  Early spring is the time to start peas as soon as the soil can be worked (between 2-6 weeks before your last frost date).  

Peas love at least 6 hours of 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 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 have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world, originating in the Mediterranean and the Near East.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you can get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.  
Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

For maximizing your harvest in a small space, I would go for snow and snap peas since you eat the entire pod.  Even the tips and flowers of the pea plant is edible and a great add to salads.  I plant them in pots every year.

When you plant legumes, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  This will really boost your harvest.  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!

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.  Peas stop producing pods when temperatures exceed 70 degrees F.  Providing shade can extend the season.  

Harvest sugar snow peas just as the seeds begin to form to have the sweetest peas while the pod is still relatively flat.  Harvest snap peas after the peas inside have reached full size.  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.  You can easily grow vining in pots if you use a support and get varieties that the seed packet vine length isn't over a foot longer than the trellis for the pot.  

There are bush varieties out there if you prefer to bypass a trellis or support.  Look for varieties that say "compact", "good for small spaces", "good for containers", etc., if growing in small spaces.  Burpee seed packets also have small clay pot with a checkmark in it for those that are good to grow in pots.  I just grow the bush or short vine variety and just let them drape over the edge of the pot.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

10 easy veggie crops to grow

Chives in flower-worry free and pretty!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

So you want to try your hand at gardening and want to start with the easy ones.  What would those be?  Here are my top 10 easy crops to grow.  All can be grown in pots or the garden.

Basil-this herb is great in salads, sauces, and pesto.  Just plant it in a sunny location and forget it.  Basil thrives on neglect.  Only thing it doesn't like is the cold.  Put out after all danger of frost has passed.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Chives-another care free herb.  Wonderful in salads and on potatoes.  A perennial that comes back year after year with pretty lavender blooms in late spring that are pretty adds to home grown salads. 

Dandelions-a super nutrition green that was brought over by European immigrants.  New leaves are great in salads, mature leaves are tasty wilted, and roots are great dried and used as a coffee replacement.  7 Ways Dandelion Tea Can Be Good for Your Health  Just make sure you only use dandelions that have not been sprayed with chemicals.  There are also cultivated dandelions with larger leaves and sweeter taste available.

Egyptian walking onions-my favorite onion to grow.  These guys are perennials.  They continue to multiply underground or by the bulbets they sprout in early summer.  With their curly tops, they remind me of Medusa!  The bottoms get the size of leeks and have the taste of white onions.  The tops I use as chives.  Egyptian walking onions

Garlic-typically planted in the fall.  They can also be planted in the spring; the bulb just won't grow as large as when planted in the fall.  Garlic has not only wonderful taste, but a plethera of health benefits.   For more on garlic, see  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips...... 

Green beans-come in either bush or vine form.  Personally, I like the vining beans, called pole beans. Simply provide a trellis for them to climb up and pick frequently to keep them producing.  They have pretty flowers to boot.  For more on beans and peas,  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Lettuce and greens in Earthbox, a self watering pot

Lettuce-I love fresh lettuce from the garden.  Spring is prime time for the sweetest lettuce ever.  You can grow lettuce even in the summer if you plant the right varieties.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  The best advice for lettuce is to keep the soil moist and when the temp's rise, give it some sun.  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce  By harvesting the bottom leaves, you can get a continuous harvest for weeks.  Let the plant go to flower and keep their seeds to replant.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

Mustard-a super easy, spicy green to grow.  I love adding new leaves to salads.  My favorite, and self-seeding, mustard, is Giant Red mustard.  It is one of the first to come up in the spring and self-seeds so you get new plants year after year.  What’s growing in the garden in February?

Peas-another easy to grow veggie in the legume family.  I prefer to grow snow peas.  You get a lot more from each plant.  Sweet, tastiness for spring salads.  Peas are planted as soon as the soil can be worked.  Time to plant peas!

Sprouting broccoli-if you love the taste of broccoli, this is one you should try.  You begin getting bite size broccoli florets in summer and continues until fall.  If your lettuce bolts in the heat of the summer, use sprouting broccoli leaves; they taste just like the florets!  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

These are my top 10 easiest to grow veggie recommendations.  Try one or two or all ten for your first garden!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What's up with long day/short day onions?

Onion starting to flower

Saturday, February 13, 2016

There are 3 types of onions-short day, intermediate day, and long day onions.  Intermediate and long day varieties have been around for a long time.  Short day onions are relatively newcomers.  It is daylight hours in summer that determine which type is for you.

Onions are sensitive to daylight hours.  They start forming bulbs when daylight hours hit a minimum number of hours.  For long day onions, it is 15 hours.  For intermediate, it is 12-13 hours.  Short day onions are 9-10 hours.    In other words, until you have 15 hours of daylight, your long day onion will not form a bulb!
I would have thought long day onions would be for further south, but this is wrong.  The north get the really long summer days (think of Alaska in June with no darkness).  Long day onions should be planted in states north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border (approximately 36 degrees latitude).
Long day onions are planted in states in the northern part of the US.  Intermediate in the middle and short in the South.  
Short day onions are planted in the fall and form bulbs in the spring.  Intermediate and long day onions are typically planted in the spring as sets, not seeds.  Seeds require sprouting indoors and transplanting.  
In the Midwest, you start onions from seeds in early February.  Transplanting in March.  Transplanting should be done 4-6 weeks before the last spring freeze.  You can grow many more varieties if you start from seed, but plugs and sets of common varieties are readily available at nurseries and big box stores.
 You should enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting.   As common sense would tell us, they also like loose soil.  Organic matter helps this along.  For more on growing onions, Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em

Onions are ready to harvest when the tops turn yellow and fall over.  They should be pulled and allowed to harden in the shade for a couple of days before storing.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

Kitchen garden with flowers in front
Sunday, February 7, 2016

When I first started gardening, our home was on the 15th green of a golf course.  Living on a golf course, there are rules we have to follow for meeting the “standards of the community.”  Basically, this means that our veggie garden needed to look pretty.

My husband was concerned that the “landscape police,” as I call them, would come calling if we plowed up the backyard and put in a row garden as our grandparents did. So we knew the old fashioned approach was out!

The solution was to intersperse the veggies in the flower garden and in the flower pots on our patio.  Flowers are good for your crops as they attract pollinators.  So, it is a win-win for beauty and productivity.  I have been reading lately on companion planting that gives different flowers that are particularly good to plant with your veggies.  More on that here Companion planting tips and here Permaculture-companion planting on steroids

We have to be choiceful on what to plant since we don’t have much space and there just isn’t room to grow everything that looks great and I would love to try.  There are so many cool veggies you can grow from around the world.  The choices are just about limitless.  For more tips on choosing what to grow  How to know what to grow

When I first started veggie gardening three years ago, I did as most new gardeners and wanted to try a little bit of everything!  A couple of seasons have taught me what is most productive for our small space and what I will buy from the local farmer’s market.

This year I will plant for the two of us-3 tomato plants (2 small tomatoes and 1 slicer), 1 zucchini, 1 cucumber (for salads and pickles), 1 chard (for salads and steamed greens), a few kale, 1 acorn winter squash, 7 pepper plants (3 sweet peppers for salsa, 1 cayenne for salsa and drying, 1 pimento for salads, 1 poblano/ancho pepper for chile powder), various lettuces, various spinach,  a couple parsley, 3 cilantro, 1 dill, various beets, 3 basil, 10 garlic, and Egyptian walking onions.
Veggies planted behind the daylilies

We grow the lettuce, spinach, chard, volunteer red giant mustard, and parsley year round for fresh salads and steamed greens.  We reseed around 4-5 times a year to keep a steady supply of lettuce and spinach. The lettuce does reseed, but not as frequent as needed to keep us in lettuce year round.  We assist by broadcast seeding with the reseeding done naturally. Everything you need to know about growing lettuce  The red giant mustard reseeds itself as does the parsley.  The Fordhook chard is a perennial so as long as you only take outside leaves, it stays for many years.

I look for varieties that are compact or recommended for pots.  These tend to take up less space or are adapted to pots.  Potted veggies and herbs

I am not growing broccoli or cabbage this year.  They take up a lot of space, take a long time to mature, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase.   Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

Peas were great if you wanted to do the snow peas.  Regular peas require many plants and lots of time shelling for a small quantity of peas.

My bush green beans didn’t do well so I tried pole beans last year.  I grew them in pots with a trellis for them to climb and with petunias so it was ornamental, too.  They did decent.  I had some that did really well.  These were the ones I remembered to cover the seeds with inoculant that improves their productivity before planting.  They all had pretty flowers.

I still have turnips in the freezer from this past year so we did not eat many.  I’ll just pick up a few at the farmer’s market.  Turnips do not take up much space and are easy to grow.  Some are even grown just for their greens.

I grew 6 tomatoes this past year.  5 of the 6 were the bigger slicing or paste tomatoes.  They do not seem to produce nearly as much as the smaller fruiting tomato plants.  I am cutting back to 3 tomatoes, 1 slicer and the smaller tomatoes.  This will be all we need to eat in the summer for salsa, salads and burgers as well as canning for sauce and freezing for salsa.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow

My advice is to think about what you eat frequently, look at the space they require, where you can place them, how long it takes for them to mature.  Lay out a plan and just try it!  Even if you only plant 1 or 2 things, it is fun to watch it grow and nothing tastes as good as fresh off the vine/out of the ground.  Easy kitchen garden  Tips for growing in pots and looking good doing it: Decorative container gardening for edibles 

Make this year the year that you start your own back door, or front door, kitchen garden!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Choosing the healthiest olive oil

Ojai olive tree farm in Cali
Saturday, February 6, 2016

There have been articles and exposes that the olive oil you are purchasing may not be what it says it is.  How do you decide what kind to purchase to minimize the risk that you are getting what the label says?  I would buy an organic olive oil that is extra virgin, cold pressed from an estate.  When food is grown in the USA, you have the highest confidence that it is what it says it is so American grown is a great option!

Extra virgin is oil from the first press of the olive.  Cold pressed means that heat or chemicals have not been used so the oil is as close to the olive as you can get.  Buying an estate olive oil means it is coming directly from a specific olive farm.  With their estate on the label, their reputation is on the line.

There are olive farms in California and Texas in the US.  The olive oil from our US growers are typically estate olive oils.  Many Italian olive oils are a blend of olive oils from many different olive tree farms.

You can buy from a grower you know or have visited. When visiting family in California, we took a tour of a great little family run olive farm Ojai Olive Oil.  American raised and made olive oil   It was the highlight of our vacation.  You can order from them on-line.  

Ojai olive farm-pressing room and tasting room

The next Christmas in Cali, my sister took me on a Jeep wine tour.  Many of the wineries also sold their estate grown olive oils.  Another US state getting into the olive oil business is Texas.  Here is an organic farm I ran across. American grown olive oils are out there!

You can also adopt an olive tree and get the oil from your own adopted tree.  I adopted a tree in Sicily where my grandpa immigrated from.  Nudo started an olive tree adoption program to help small olive farmers keep their farms.  You get to choose which farm you want your tree from and have your oil from that farm delivered to your door.

I have also found estate olive oils at TJ Maxx.  They get in some really fun specialty foods here.

If you just want to go to the supermarket, I buy from Whole Foods.  They check out the companies that they sell in their stores.

Look for the date that the olive oil was pressed and bottled.  You want oil that is within 1 year of bottling.  A fresh oil will have a much stronger, grassy taste, full of nutrients.  Nutrients fade with time.

A fun thing to do with your olive oil is to make herbal oils.  For tips on making your own flavored olive oil  Quick tip-make your own flavored oils   If you decide you want flavored oil, be sure to use dried herbs. 

You can grow your own tree to make your own oil if you live in a temperate area of the states.  Olive trees will also grow in pots that you can take indoors in the winter.  The pot will limit how large they grow.

You have many options on getting fresh, healthy olive oil!