Saturday, April 30, 2016

May Edible Garden Planner 2016

Last year's mid-May garden

Saturday, April 30, 2016

May Day is when the old timers say is the best time to plant your summer garden in the Midwest.  Prior to May 1, there is still a good chance of poor weather, chilly temps, and frost in our Zone 6/7 gardens.  This can be catastrophic for tomatoes, eggplants, basil and other heat lovers.

Today, we have the added advantage of the 10 day forecast!  Check out your 10 day forecast to know if it looks safe to plant those tender summer veggies as it is possible to have chilly temps even into May.

So, what are we planting this year?  Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!  This year, we are planting a variety of heirloom, chocolate types, storage tomatoes and a couple of new varieties.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow  Loving the purple tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants!    

I am growing 4 red tomato varieties: 1) An heirloom slicer storage tomato, Red October, 2) Seeds from a store bought red grape tomato that stores very well, 3) A red cherry tomato, Super Sweet 100, that is reported to be very prolific and sweet, and  4) An heirloom large paste tomato Italian Red Pear that did great in our garden last year.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

The purple tomatoes I am growing this year are the large slicer heirloom tomatoes Cherokee Purple and Black Sea Man and 2 smaller types Violet Jasper/Tzi Bill and Tsunshigo Purple Chinese tomato plants.  The Cherokee Purple did great in our garden last year.  The other 3 are new ones I am trying.   Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition  The Power of Purple

If you have limited space, look for the dwarf/bush types like Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, Lizzano and Tumbling Tom. Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The earliest tomato bearing variety I have grown is Yellow Tumbling Tom that gave me tomatoes in June.  They grow great in the garden or pots.  Compact tomato plants for small spaces

Green beans were planted this week.  I like the vining type.  They produce all season and they grow up so using a trellis maximizes the garden space.  We like the flavor from the flat Italian type of green beans.  I started seeds in peat pots indoors this year 3 weeks ago.  It is not really necessary as you can plant directly in the garden with good success.  For us outdoor seed starting for green beans was last week.  The types I am growing are Romano, Blauhilde which is a purple green bean, and Scarlett Runner.  All three did very well in the garden last year.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Pepper plant in August garden last year
I also have several peppers in the Aerogarden that I am giving another week before planting.  I am growing mainly sweet peppers this year as I have enough chili powder from the Anaheim and enough frozen Cayenne and Jalapeño peppers from last season to last another year.  I am trying to start seeds  from a hot pepper again this year that my uncle gave me.  I tried last year several times but none sprouted.  Seeds will last years if stored in a zip lock or jar in the refrigerator, but lose potency if left at room temperature.  I keep hoping that one seed is still viable!

I am trying a new sweet pepper this year Tangerine Gem that is supposed to be prolific.  Another new variety I am trying is an ornamental pepper that is also edible Poinsettia Pepper.  Just loved the way this one looked so I had to try it!  I am also planting from saved seed an Orange Habanero, Ancient Red Pepper, and Super Red Pimento peppers.  This year I am going to plant them all in pots.  It just seems that my peppers do better in a pot than in the ground.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

I am growing only one eggplant that I overwintered in the garage, a white Japanese eggplant.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

I planted 3 different kinds of zucchini-Black Beauty, Bush, and Early Prolific Straight Neck.  They are susceptible to being killed by the squash vine borer if planted before June 1.  You can protect the vine to keep the insect from boring into the vine by wrapping the vine or just replant if they do get infected.  Zucchini grows fast!  Growing zucchini and summer squash  This may seem like overkill on the zucchini as one plant produces as much as a typical family needs during the summer.  I didn't have the greatest luck with zucchini last year.  Too much rain caused disease and insect pressure.  I also found some great ways to use and preserve zucchini that any extra will be stored for many new ways of using.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  I really liked shredding the zucchini and using in place of spaghetti.  I'll shred and put into freezer bags so I have a low carb, nutritious option anytime.

Baby zucchini in summer garden
  I am planting extra cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, lettuce, kale, and parsley this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden  All are already in the garden except the cucumbers.  I ordered some seed months ago of interesting varieties of cucumber.  They haven't come in yet so I have re-ordered from Baker Seed.  I am going to try a yellow, a red, and a white kind of cucumber.  The white is a small fruit.  It will be nice to have smaller ones so I can pick one for a single salad.    Cucumber info and tips for growing

Our rosemary and bay did survive the mild winter we had so I don't have to replant either of them this year.  The bay is re-sprouting from the ground as the foliage did die over the winter even with extra mulch around it.  I think I will did it up this fall and keep it in the garage to overwinter since it struggled and they are pricy to replace.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

I am definitely planting basil: Lettuce Leaf basil, a Cardinal basil which gives beautiful red flowers, and a Blue Spicy Vanilla Basil to use in household cleaners and potpourri.  It is edible, too, which could be really fun in homemade ice cream or other desserts.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

The last herb I planted was Stevia.  I planted it in a pot so I can bring it into the garage to overwinter.  It is a super sweet herb that can be used in place of sugar and is high in antioxidants with 0 carbs.  Can't beat that!  Just dry the leaves, crush them and store in an air tight container.  When you need some sweetness, just add the crushed leaves.  The trick is to not add too much or you will get a bitter taste.  

It was also time for another round of greens.  Resowing every 3 weeks will keep us in salads all through the summer and fall.  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which will last about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach.   Growing summer salads

For lettuce,  I planted bedding plants of Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Paris Island Cos Romaine, Coastal Star, and Iceberg.    I also planted some Oak Leaf, Grand Rapids, and red speckled romaine from seed.  For the next round of lettuce sowings, I'll go with the more heat resistant varieties Jericho Romaine which has been tested to last 3 months before bolting as well as Red Sails loose leaf lettuce which stays sweet after bolting.   Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces
Potted lettuce and arugula

We have already fertilized and added compost at the end of March.  We mulched this past week.  When planting, I like to add biochar at the bottom of each hole, a handful of worm castings, and powder the roots of each plant with mycorrhizal microbes.  Mycorrhizal fixes nitrogen to the roots of the plant, helping it to grow sturdier, bigger and faster.  Once you have the microbes in the soil, they will stay year after year.  For a quicker route, you can add plant starter in each hole which has the microbes, root support and fertilizer all in one.

Biochar is being rediscovered.  It was used for centuries by Amazon farmers.  Basically, it is wood charcoal.  It provides similar benefits as humus except it lasts forever and it is a great way to store carbon, to boot.  It is new in the US, but many are reporting significant improvement in growth and vegetable size.

This year, I also added Azomite around each of my transplants under the mulch.  The plants have really taken off over the last few days after adding the minerals.  Azomite contains many minerals which can result in significantly improved growth for your plants and more minerals in your harvested plants for a healthier you.  A win-win for your garden and your family.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Before you send your new transplants into the garden, insure they have been sufficiently "hardened off."  If you started your own seeds indoors, take your plants out daily over a week or so into a partially shady spot, letting them get used to the strong sun and wind.  I take mine out on the deck in the afternoon for them to get used to the sun and wind for several days before planting out.

If you purchased your transplants and they were already outdoors, they are ready to be plopped into the ground or pot and grow!

Iris in background and celosia in foreground interplanted with lettuce and sorrel

I always interplant my garden with flowers.  This year, I am using 
Lilliput zinnias, marigolds, petunias, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, dwarf Cock's Comb in a variety of colors, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Love Lies Bleeding,  Moonflower vine and heirloom sunflowers for annuals.  For perennials, there are day-lilies, irises, and gladiolas.

May is an exciting time in the garden.  Every day you go out, you can see things growing.  The spring vegetables are in their prime, the summer veggies are just starting, and there are so many herbs ready for seasoning your favorite salads or dishes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really

Using a hose to lay out your new garden bed

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Making a new garden bed can seem like a monumental, labor intensive task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several minimal labor ways to make a new bed. My favorite begins with a hose and old newspaper or cardboard.

Siting a New Garden
The best place to put a vegetable garden is close to the house where there is good sun, ideally a spot that gets southern exposure.  Check out where the sun falls throughout a sunny day to see where the best locations are in your yard. 

Don’t be concerned if your garden spot gets some shade each day. Fruiting vegetables need the most sun, 6-8 hours.  Root vegetables require less and leafy vegetables require the least.  Leafy vegetables appreciate getting afternoon shade in the hot days of summer.   

I have a spot on the northeast side of the house that I like to put leafy greens. It gets the morning sun, but the cool afternoon shade.  This allows us to grow lettuce through the summer.  Edible shade garden

Once you have picked out a spot, you can use a hose to lay out what you want the bed to look like. We then use a spray can of landscaping paint to paint out the edges of the bed.

Brand new mulched garden bed

Transforming Lawn to Garden
The easiest next step is to cut the grass inside your new bed as short as possible. Then lay several layers of newspaper or cardboard over the top of the closely sheared grass and cover with compost then mulch. Now, just let the bed lay until the grass dies. The grass and its roots adds organic matter to the soil as well.  Test the soil before planting to see what nutrients you need to add.  Use a balanced fertilizer when you plant.

Another option is after mowing close to the ground and laying the newspaper/cardboard, dump garden soil over it all, add compost, fertilize and plant immediately. Just be careful to not cut through the newspaper or you will get grass growing in your new garden bed.

We have also used a sod cutter, cutting up the sod in our new bed. Then, turning it upside down, covering with newspaper/cardboard, a couple of inches of compost, mulch, and plant.  This is definitely more work, but you have less chance of having to pull stray grass if you want to plant immediately.

The advantage that cardboard has over newspaper is that worms love cardboard!  Within a few days of putting out your cardboard, you will have a multitude of worms in your new garden bed.  Worms loosen and fertilize the soil.  A healthy garden bed will be full of worms.

Our garden is a combo of garden beds and containers
I highly recommend using mulched beds.  The mulch keeps the soil temperature consistent, significantly reduces the watering and weeding needed and adds organic matter to the soil as the mulch decomposes. Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds  Just be sure to use natural mulch with no dyes.

Types of Garden Beds
If you don’t need your garden bed to be “pretty”, a quick way to plant is to simply poke holes in bags of garden soil, put the perforated side down, cut open the top side of the bag and plant away. The plastic underneath will keep the grass from growing through. The downside is that your veggie plant roots won’t be able to grow down as well either. But if you don’t have time, this is a good way to get started. You can edge around the bags and removed them the following year, adding compost and have a ready made bed for the following year.

You can also go the raised bed route. There are many do it yourself, pre-cut raised bed kits that you can purchase. Use the same techniques above to make sure the grass won’t grow up through into your veggies. Newspaper and cardboard works great for this. Fill with good soil, compost, an all natural fertilizer and you are ready to plant.

The pros of raised beds is that they warm up quicker in the spring and you control the soil that you are growing in. The cons, the temperature is not as constant as if in the ground and they will need to be watered more often.

Potted eggplant with petunias
You can also opt to have your garden in pots. This is a great way to start small and quickly. It is amazing how many varieties of any veggie you love have been developed to grow in containers.

There are several options to getting your garden bed in place that don’t require a ton of time or hard labor. Now is the time to choose one and get your spring garden growing!  For easy crops to start with, Easy kitchen garden

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What's in my edible garden this year

Lettuce and salad burnet in Earthbox and lettuce planted in the garden
Saturday, April 16, 2016

There are veggies and herbs I keep in my garden year after year and then there are the “experiments”.  I have my standby’s but I love trying new things each year.  New varieties or just new kinds of edibles.  I try new varieties to find the ones that are most prolific for my garden conditions and taste.

The perennials in the garden are your back bone.  They come back year after year with no effort on your part.  They are the first up in the spring and the last to leave in the winter.  If the winters are not harsh, many are harvestable year round.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden

Edible perennials in our garden:
Herbs-lavender, bay laurel, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, thyme, oregano, salad burnet, common chives, garlic chives, tarragon, horseradish, garlic, Elephant garlic, and leeks.  For more on growing herbs, Start a kitchen herb garden!
Vegetables/Fruits-potato onions, Egyptian walking onions, blue potatoes, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, chard, cultivated dandelions, 9 Star broccoli, strawberries, apples, figs.  Corn salad and sprouting broccoli usually comes back from their own seed.  There will also be volunteer lettuce and tomatoes that will pop up here and there that I will transplant to where I want them in the garden.  A friend also gave me some Meyer lemon tree seeds that I am trying, too.

I have annual herbs, flowers and vegetables that I grow each year.  Most I have to either start from seed or purchase bedding plants from the store.  There are some that self sow and will come back year after year with no effort on your part.  Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em

Large seeds are started in peat pots with starting soil and small seeds in the Aerogarden on right

Edible annuals I can’t live without that I started this week end:
Herbs-cilantro (Slo Bolt since our springs are short), basil (Cardinal with beautiful maroon flowering head, Blue Spice to add to cleaning supplies, Lettuce Leaf for cooking and pesto), stevia, red onions, and chervil for cooking and adding to body oil.  I have to have parsley in the garden.  It is a self-sower and usually comes back each year, which it did this year so no more are needed.  
Vegetables/Fruits-Goji berry vine, Blue potatoes (started from seed potato), sweet peppers (Tangerine Dream, Baby Bell, Orange banana, Ancient Red, Super Red pimento), hot peppers (orange habanero and one of my uncle’s super hot pepper seed), zucchini (Early Prolific Straightneck, Black Beauty, and Bush), green beans (vine types-Romano, Scarlet Runner, and Bean Blauhilde) and tomatoes (Cherokee Purple, Italian Red Pear an heirloom paste, grape tomato from saved seed, Super Sweet 100, Violet Jasper, Tsunshigo purple Chinese tomato, Black Sea Man, and Red October).  I always keep cayenne and jalapeño peppers in the freezer for salsa and cooking.  Right now, I don’t think I need to restock so I’ll wait and see on planting this year.

For greens, I always plant and start a variety of lettuces, spinach and Giant Red mustard.  Lettuce plants purchased: Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Leaf, Paris Island Cos, Coastal Star, Iceberg.  Started from seed Red Crisphead, Magenta Crisphead, Cracoviensis loose leaf, New Red Fire, and Grand Rapids loose leaf.  The Red Crisped and Cracoviensis are new varieties I am trying this year.  Grand Rapids was one my Granny grew in her garden.  If you let your lettuce go to seed, you can save them and never have to buy lettuce seed again.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds
Flowers interplanted with herbs and edibles
Annual flowers seeds started:
I always add flowers to the garden.  Not only do they look nice, they attract pollinators that increase yields.  Cock’s comb from seed my dad gave me years ago, Hummingbird vine from seed a neighbor gave me years ago, Tangerine Gem marigold (great deer and pest deterrent), sunflowers, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth, Lilliput zinnias, and Moonflower vine.

I started the small seeds in the Aerogarden and the large seeds (zucchini, beans, Moonflower, lemon tree) I started in peat pots on a heating mat.

I decided against broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower this year because the beetle pests were awful last year.  All three of these are in the same family.  Without their preferred food this year, the pests should die off and I’ll plant back in the garden next year.

When my babies sprout, I will put them in the garden where the conditions are best for them.  I plant the crops that like cool weather on the north side and where there is more shade to extend the season.  The heat lovers I plant where they get the most sun and won’t be shaded by others as they grow. 

I like to interplant flowers and crops.  This keeps the pests down by not planting one type of crop all together.  The flowers attract pollinators and can even repel pests. Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  Place this year’s crops in a different spot than they were last year.  Practicing crop rotation does two things.  Each type of plant uses different minerals and nutrients from the soil.  Smart rotation will keep your soil from getting depleted of what your crops need.  Rotation also keeps the pests down.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

For more on preparing your soil for plant (and crop) nutrition, check out this blog.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em

Potted Egyptian walking onion

Sunday, April 10, 2016

In America, there are wild Alliums known as wild garlic or ramps.  The onions we cultivate in our gardens today likely originated from a wild Asian onion, but has been grown so long, the road back to the original is lost. Two thousand years ago, there were many varieties that we would recognize today. There were round onions, white onions, red onions, flat onions, long onions, keeper onions, sweet onions, spicy onions. 

Onions have been important for their perceived health benefits in times gone past and proven health benefits today as well as the fabulous taste they add to an array of dishes.  For the nutritional rundown, onion nutritional info

Onions are easy to grow, have little to no pest problems and are a perennial to boot!  They will hang out in the garden until you pull them.  Some will even multiply underground and produce "seeds" above ground.

Onions have shallow roots, like to be moist, but can’t stand being waterlogged. Continuously wet soil causes them to rot.  You should enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. As common sense would tell us, they also like loose soil that allows their bulb to expand without restriction. Organic matter helps this along. Onions can be grown in the ground or in pots. My perennial Egyptian walking onion has been growing in its pot for 10 years.

In the Midwest, seeds can be started indoors as early as February and transplanted outdoors in March. Transplanting should be done 4-6 weeks before the last spring freeze for spring planting.

Since onions are perennials you can also plant in the fall, October for our Zone 6/7 garden. For multiplier type onions, fall planting will provide a bigger harvest next spring and summer.  

Egyptian walking onions propagate underground and through their bulblet tops they put on at least twice a year.  In our area, Our Egyptian walking onions put on their bulblets in May or June.  As soon as the bulblets turn reddish brown and have filled out, they are ready to plant.  

The more popular method of starting onions is planting “sets” that are young onions that can be put out in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, just as the daffodils begin to fade for full size onions.  You can plant later and still get scallions or smaller bulbs.  Or leave in the ground overwinter for a bigger harvest the following year.
Bulbing onion flowering in late spring

You can place them close together and pull for scallions until the bulbing onions are 5-6” apart. As the bulb reaches full size, you can pull the soil away from the top of the onion to help the bulb and neck cure for harvest.

You can also plant the bottoms of store bought onions. If you get enough of the bottom, the onion will take root and give you an onion next season.

Onions tell you when they are ready to harvest, when half of their tops fall over. What can be easier than that? Like garlic, they should be lifted rather than pulled from the ground and leave them in shade for about a week to harden. I use a trowel to dig under the bulb and pop them out. You don’t want to knick them or they will not store well. If you do, keep them in the fridge and use them first.
Onions and garlic ready for harvesting

So, how do you choose which onions to plant? The best bet is to talk to your local nursery to see which grow the best in your area for the ones that thrive in your climate.

There are 3 types of bulbing 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.

Onions are sensitive to daylight hours. They start forming bulbs when daylight hours hit a minimum. For long day onions, it is 15 hours. For intermediate, it is 12-13 hours. Short day onions are 9-10 hours.

I would have thought long day onions would be for further south, but this is wrong. The north gets 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.

So, if you want a sweet onion and live in the Midwest, Vidalias are not the best bet since it is a short day type. A better choice is a Walla Walla or a Sweet Spanish.
Close up of onion flower
The other thing to keep in mind is that, like wine, onions pick up the terroir they are grown in. You can grow the exact same onion as you buy in the store or at a farmers market but have a different taste because of the differences in your soil.

There are many fun onions to grow besides the round ones. There are the flat disk like Borrettana Cipollini or the Red Baron onion that is a red scallion type onion. Of course, there is the onion made famous in French cooking, the shallot-French, Gray or Sante are well known varieties.

Then, there are onions for keeping over the winter like Rossa Di Milano, Early Yellow Globe, Sweet Sandwich, and Granex Yellow.

Onions will also keep over another year in the ground. When onions I planted last spring did not get to decent size, I left them over the winter. They gave nice bulbs the next summer.

Another type of onion is the Egyptian walking onion (pictured above in a pot). It is a perennial that you can pull year round. They do not form bulbs. They are about the size of a large scallion or leek, getting an inch or two wide and 3” long bulb. They also grow great in a pot. When they get their bulblets, they remind me of Medusa. Really cool.  You just snap off the bulblets, separate them and plant for scallions this year or more onions next year.  They also multiple underground year on year.  For more on Egyptian walking onions:  Egyptian walking onions

They are one of my must haves in the garden since they can be harvested year round. Their bulb is great as a cooking onion and their greens as a chive.

Onions are a great addition to the garden. They are perennials, easy to grow and have little to no pest problems. I really like the perennial type onions, the Egyptian walking onions and multiplier onions like potato onions. The Egyptian you can just leave in place and harvest from year round. The multiplier potato onion has a very long shelf life indoors for a storage onion. When you harvest it, just leave behind the smaller onions and they will multiply again for next year’s harvest.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Want to plant summer veggies now? How to give needed protection.

Undercover-pepper, cucumber, basil

Saturday, April 9, 2016 

When temperatures start hitting the 70's, the desire to rush out get tomatoes and plant them becomes almost irresistible!  It is too early to plant summer loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumbers and basil without giving them a "coat" of sorts to protect them against those sudden drops in temperatures we will inevitably get between now and mid-May. 
There can definitely be freezing temperatures that blow in this time of year.  So, warm season crops can melt overnight with one good frost.
What can you do to protect them?  
*Throw a sheet or plastic or other light weight cover over them when the cold snap comes in.  I remember my grandmother putting a sheet over hers.
*Buy “cloches” which are little plastic or glass bell shaped covers and place over each plant.  
*Put a portable greenhouse over them. 
*Use wall of water.  They really do work!
*Another option is to plant them in pots so you can bring them into the garage when temperatures get into the 30's and 40's.
*I am keeping some plants on the covered deck.  This will keep them protected from frost, but tender plants like basil won't make it through nights at or below freezing on a porch.

The watch-out for covering with plastic, cloches or greenhouses is that you can fry your little babies if you leave them closed up on during sunny, warmer days.  The cloches I have come with vents that I can leave open, but I have had casualties even with leaving the vent open.  My portable mini-greenhouse has a zipper opening that makes it easy to vent.  For plastic sheeting, you will either have to remove it when it warms up or have a way for the ends to be opened to allow cooler air to circulate and keep the plastic off the plants themselves.  
Since I leave for work right before the coldest part of the day (sunrise), I have to wait until I get home from work to remove the cloche.  This time of year we get some real wide swings in temps.
Surprisingly, I had some peppers under cover and others that were not, and the uncovered peppers did just fine, even when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees.

For more on extending the season, Extend the season with protection for plants