Sunday, May 29, 2016

Top 10 Tomato Myths (And Some Truths)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States. There is nothing like a tomato ripe from the vine! Many people started gardening by way of the tomato. They were the very first vegetable we grew. Many gardeners have the techniques they swear by to get the biggest and best tomatoes. Here are some tales that are not necessarily true.

Tomato Growing Myths (and Some Truths)
  1. Tomatoes love as much sun as possible! This depends on where you live. In very hot climates, 6-8 hours is plenty. Your tomatoes can actually scald in intense sun and heat. For hot climates, plant your tomatoes in a north to south row so each side gets some shade each day.
  2. You should prune your tomatoes for the best harvests. This again depends on your climate. If you live in a hot climate with intense sun and heat, you want to keep the leaves to help protect the tomatoes from sun scald. If you live in a damp area, you want to prune the tomato plant to allow good air circulation and sunlight.
  3. Tomatoes love fertilizer! Actually, you only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers. Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth. Some that really sock the fertilizer to the plant end up with a giant green plant with no tomatoes. To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium.
  4. Tomatoes can’t be grown in pots. Tomatoes can be grown in pots, but not the big tomato plants or you have to grow them in a huge container like a whiskey barrel. Look for dwarf, pot, or patio types. You will need to put in a large pot and be prepared to water often.
  5. Tomatoes need to be watered a lot. Actually, if you water your tomatoes a lot, you can end up with fungal diseases and mushy fruit. The trick with tomatoes is to keep their moisture even. Letting the ground crack and then drowning the plant will result in cracked fruit. In the hot times of the summer, you will likely need to water at least weekly. Be sure to not water the leaves, but the root.
  6. When you see leaves dropping, something is wrong. This is a natural progression of the plant. As fruits begin to form, there is less energy for the leaves and some leaves will turn yellow and die.
  7. A spindly tomato transplant is an unhealthy one. Actually the nodes on the stems can easily be transformed into roots. I take my transplants and remove the bottom leaves and plant on its side with only the top 4 leaves above ground. This gives the plant a good root system.
  8. You can only transplant in early summer. Actually, if your tomato plants are starting to fade in mid summer, you can put out new transplants that will give you fruit until the first frost.
  9. When you make sauce, the skins and seeds have to be removed. I put whole tomatoes into the food processor. Some say that the skin and seeds can impart a bitter flavor. With the many types of tomatoes I have raised, this has never been a problem for me.
  10. Only paste tomatoes can be used for sauce. I use all my tomatoes for sauce. The best for sauce for me are the most prolific tomato plants. These have been Yellow Pear and Juliet for us. I would ask your neighbors which ones give the most fruit if you are looking to put up by freezing or canning.    

The last tip: Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases. Do try to not plant your tomatoes in the same spot for four years. Fungal diseases stay in the soil and take a while to die out. The same goes for a pot. A way around it for a pot is to use new soil and disinfect the pot each year.  Also, do not water the foliage as this will encourage fungal diseases.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Grow your own smoothie and juice garden

Red and green romaine, Red Sails lettuce, and spinach for smoothies

Sunday, May 22, 2016

If you love smoothies and juicing, try adding the ingredients you love best into your garden this year.    I love fresh juiced veggies and smoothies!  They add energy, nutrition, and alkalize the body, which my tummy really enjoys.  A plus is that what goes in smoothies and juices is super easy to grow, even for beginners.

There is debate on which is the best for you-juices or smoothies.  On the juice wagon, folks share that the nutrition is the easiest to absorb.  On the smoothie wagon, folks share that the nutrition from these veggie powerhouses is easy to absorb, you get the added benefit of the fiber your body needs, and the fiber smooths out any sugar spikes.  Smoothies are easier to prepare as well.  A juicer is expensive and is harder to clean.  A blender is easy to use and clean.  Personally, I like both!  Love a small juice in the morning and smoothies at lunch and/or dinner.

You can use the same recipe for juices and smoothies.  Any produce ingredient you put into a salad, you can use for a juice or smoothie.  To convert into a smoothie, add 2 cups of water or ice.  I also like to add a half an avocado for a smoother consistency and added good fats when using water.  If you want to make your smoothie a meal, add protein powder.  Juices and smoothies detox the body as well giving instant nutrition.  Your body starts absorbing the nutrients as soon as it enters your mouth!

Here are some recipes with backyard garden ingredients: 
Purple juice-1 large beet, 2 apples or pears, 1 fennel bulb, 2 large purple carrots
Green juice-2 large handfuls kale or any leafy green, 1 medium handful of parsley, 1 large cucumber, 1 half a lemon, 1 pear or apple
Red juice-1 large red pepper, 1 handful of red grapes, 1 large handful of spinach or other leafy greens, half of a hot pepper or pinch of cayenne pepper, 2 stalks of celery

Carrots, beets, apples and pears all contain high amounts of carbs.  If you are looking to for a low glycemic juice, just substitute other green veggies in place of these sweet additions.

Low carb green juice-2 ribs of celery, 1 cucumber, small handful of spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, and parsley with the juice of half a lime.
Low carb red juice-1 large red pepper, 1 cucumber, 1 large handful of leafy greens and half a hot pepper.

You can also add a shot of spirulina, wheat grass, ginger or hot pepper to up the nutrients to any of the above.  You can add dry, raw spirulina or wheat grass instead of the liquid.

You have heard of the nutrition of different colors on your plate.  The same works in your juices and smoothies.  Here are some color choices and what they generally are known for.
White/brown (coconut, dates, garlic, ginger, leeks, nuts, onions)-Helps digestive health and lowers risk of heart disease.
Red (beets, pink grapefruit, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon)-Heart health and lowers risk of lung disease and asthma.
Yellow/orange (carrots, cantaloup, oranges, pumpkin, sweet potato, squash, turmeric)-Lowers inflammation, strengthens the immune system, bones, and skin health.
Green (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, greens, kale, lettuce, onion tops)-Cancer, vision, immune system, bone and skin health.
Blue/purple (blackberries, blueberries, radishes, red cabbage, red onions)-Reduced risk of some cancers, health of blood vessels, lung health.

Experiment with what you have in the garden.  Use any veggie scraps left over from meal preparation you have for variety and nutrition.
Potted mixed greens for salads and smoothies.  Sorrel, dandelions, corn salad, chickweed, lettuce, cilantro

Right now, I am using cilantro, salad burnet, kale, sprouting broccoli, parsley, lettuce, spinach, chives, onions, garlic and garlic tops, dandelion greens, chickweed, corn salad, sorrel, snow peas, golden streaks mustard, tarragon.   Other veggies in season that can be used are loose leaf cabbage, pok choi, carrots, radishes for some heat, horseradish (also very hot so use cautiously), beets, and many herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, basil.   Start a kitchen herb garden!

If you decide to experiment, lettuce, spinach and cucumbers are relatively sweet in flavor.  Romaine and red lettuces have more nutrition than other types of lettuce.  Nutritional value of lettuce types  Kale, dandelion greens, sorrel, mustard, and herbs can have a strong taste.   Start with a base of the sweeter greens and add the others more sparingly.  The stronger flavored greens and herbs are powerhouses of nutrition so are a healthy addition to your juice or smoothie.

My current favorite smoothie recipe:  3 handfuls of romaine or red lettuce leaves Everything you need to know about growing lettuce, 1 handful of other greens (kale, broccoli, sorrel, dandelion, chickweed, corn salad, parsley, cilantro and sprouting broccoli) Growing fabulous lettuce and greens a few springs of salad burnet (tastes like a Granny Smith apple), a few stalks of chives, a half an avocado, a handful of snow peas (for their sweet taste and protein), juice from half a lemon, 2 cups of water, and a scoop of vegetable protein powder.  The trick in blending is to add the greens and water first.  Blend, then add the avocado and protein powder.  I substitute this smoothie for a meal.  

I throw a little bit of everything in mine because each has different nutritional benefits.  If you are new to juicing and smoothies, it will likely take a while for your taste buds to adjust.  To help, start with adding fruit and wean yourself away slowly.  Granny Smith apples and berries a good lower carb fruits.

Lettuce and most greens prefer cooler temperatures, but you can keep them going all summer long.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  Resowing lettuce to get continuous harvests  Growing summer salads

I plan on keeping my greens going all summer because I love the taste and the nutrition of smoothies and juices!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Re-energize your potting soil!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

So your container veggie garden did fabulous last year and you are jazzed to start the season strong.  You wonder, should I throw out my old soil and start with new?  I’d recommend to re-energize it!

The best thing to do is to remove your potting soil and mix 1 part compost to 2 parts existing potting soil with all natural fertilizer.  

To make your own balanced all natural fertilizer:
1/3 cup of green sand (potash and minerals)
1/3 cup of rock phosphate or bone meal (phosphorous and minerals)
1/3 cup of alfalfa or soybean meal (nitrogen)
1 Tbl Azomite (70 minerals and trace elements)

This fertilizer recipe is good for 40 quarts of potting soil.  Just mix it in with compost and your old potting soil to rejuvenate your old potting soil for this season.  

While you have your potting soil out (just use a garbage bag to dump it into and mix your new), you can add a self-watering pot reservoir in the bottom of your pot to extend time between watering.  Gardener’s Supply Company makes them.  They are kind of pricey, but you can make your own as well.

If you are just not that energetic this year, mix in a couple of inches of compost and your natural fertilizer mix at the top of your container before you plant.

For pots that I have self-seeders in, I wait for them to get to a decent size before I add a layer of compost mixed with fertilizer and top with mulch.  Mulch forms a very hard layer so only the seeds with very strong stems can break through mulch.  Mulch helps keep the moisture in the pots when summer comes and keeps the soil temperature more moderate.

I also put a paper towel in the bottom of my containers to keep the soil in while letting excess water out.

You can use the potting soil you remove for your new containers, in your garden, to add to your compost pile or to fill in low spots in the yard.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time to plant summer veggies!

Lettuce in forefront and newly planted green beans planted on trellis in background
Saturday, May 14, 2016

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

Today, we have the added advantage of the 10 day forecast!  I checked out ours and it showed warm temperatures for the next 10 days.  Warm temperatures and weekly rain is the perfect recipe to get the summer lovers off to a good start.  Planting earlier is not necessarily better.  Summer lovers will shiver in their holes in the garden bed if the soil and air temperatures are chilly.  I like mulching right before planting summer veggies as the heat from the mulch helps warm the earth and keep the transplants toasty.

Summer vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, basil, summer squash (zucchini), winter squash (pumpkins, butternut squash), cucumbers, melons, watermelons, corn, okra, and eggplant.

So, what did we plant this year?  

Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes.  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  and The Power of Purple.  Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The smaller tomatoes are the first to ripen.  

We also planted several peppers-Ancient Red Pepper, Pimento Pepper, Tangerine Dream, Super Red Pimento, Orange Habanero, and a decorative, hot pepper that a friend gave me seed from.  I also have the Chipetin pepper that I overwintered in the garage.  It is an ancient pepper with tiny, hot peppers.   Peppers are for every taste and garden

The only eggplant this year is the Japanese White Egg eggplant I overwintered.  I'll keep it in a pot to bring back in the fall.   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.
Trellis in background for the cucumbers

 I am planting extra cucumbers this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden   I planted seeds for a yellow that can weigh up to 5 pounds (Jaune Dickfleishige), a red (Hmong Red), and 2 white cucumbers (massive producer Dragon's White Egg and Miniature White that is a good container variety) directly into the garden last weekend.  The whites are both small fruits.  It will be nice to have smaller ones so I can pick one for a single salad or smoothie.    Cucumber info and tips for growing  One of the varieties has already sprouted so the others should be soon poking their heads out of the ground.  Cukes are tropical plants so they grow best when the temperatures are hot.

The only summer herbs I needed to plant this year was basil and stevia so far.  For fun, I added lemon verbena in a pot.  The rosemary made it and I am still waiting to see if the bay tree made it.   Start a kitchen herb garden!  I planted 3 types of basil-Cardinal, Lettuce Leaf, and Blue Spicy Vanilla.  Cardinal basil has a beautiful garnet flower top.  Blue spice I like to dry and use in potpourri.  Lettuce Leaf is a new variety in my garden and their large leaves are perfect for making pesto.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

It was also time for another round of lettuce and spinach.  The first planting of lettuce is just beginning to bolt.  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which lasts about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach so the spinach is still doing well, but won't last for long after the temperatures hit the 80's.  For lettuce, we went with Jericho Romaine which is supposed to go for 3 months before bolting as well as Red Romaine, Red Sails and a couple of crisphead varieties.  Growing summer salads

We had already fertilized, added compost, and mulched a couple of weeks ago.  I also added Azomite around each plant.  Azomite has lots of trace minerals.  The lettuce plants all shot up after.  Plants are like us, they need trace minerals.  When your plants have them, you will, too!  

If planting in pots, be sure to recharge the potting soil for this year's growing season  Re-energize your potting soil!
Interplanted garden with rainbow in the background

When we planted the summer veggies, I powdered 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 added to the soil, mycorrhizal will continue in the soil in that spot.

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.

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

I also planted summer loving flowers I started from seed, Love Lies Bleeding which is a really cool looking amaranth which means it is edible, Moonflower vine, Hummingbird vine, and zinnias.

Now it is time to watch everything grow, water and fertilize as needed, and eat!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Grow Cultivated Dandelions

Cultivated dandelion in foreground in pot

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Dandelions are considered a weed and valiant foe of the pristine grass lawn in most U.S. lawns.  Dandelions are actually super nutritious and were brought over by the Puritan European settlers for food and medicine in the 1600’s.  By 1670, dandelions were everywhere in New England.

The earliest records of dandelions are traced back to Roman times.  Arabian physicians were using the plant for its medicinal qualities in the tenth and eleventh centuries.  Dandelion gets its name from the shape of it’s leaves, which in French is “dent de lion” which means lion’s tooth.

Dandelions are grown for their medicinal properties in the North America, China and Europe.  It is used most commonly for improving digestion, as a diuretic, to treat infections, and liver and bile support.  It can also have a mild laxative effect.  It is actually sold in Canada as a drug, mainly for its diuretic properties.

Dandelions are edible from root to flower.  The leaves are great in salads or steamed.  When temps rise and the leaves become more bitter, they can be blanched to make them sweeter.  Growing them in shade will also keep the bitterness down.  Flowers can be used in salads as well or fried.  The flowers are also used in making dandelion wine.  The root can be dried and used as a coffee substitute.  
Dandelions and corn salad in pot

The leaves are high is beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, and iron.  It has more iron and calcium than spinach.  Dandelion also contains a variety of flavonoids, terpenoids, triterpenes and sesquiterpenes.

You can buy cultivated dandelions that were bred for their large leaves and sweet taste from many seed companies.  I started with a cultivated Italian dandelion a few years back and it tastes great.  I have added several more varieties: Thick Leaved Improved, Nouvelle, Debelleville, Rugels and Vollherzigen.

More varieties that are available are:  French Dandelion a.k.a Vert de Montmagny,  Amélioré à Coeur Plein,  Pissenlit Coeur Plein Ameliore, Improved Broad Leaved, Clio, Catalogna Special, and Arlington dandelions.

To get the largest, sweetest leaves, grow cultivated dandelions like you would lettuce-in rich soil, partial shade, and keep the soil moist.  The newest leaves will be the least bitter and are great additions to salads.  The older leaves can be used in cooked dishes like steamed greens and dandelion fettuccine alfredo.

If you don’t want your dandelion spreading, be sure to pick off the flowers.  You can also wait for the flower to close and the seed to mature and pick right prior to them opening to have seed to place where you want more plants or to share with others.