Sunday, August 13, 2017

Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Seed saving has been going on for thousands of years.  Seed saving is easy.  Always save the seed from the best vegetable you grew! Or the tastiest you buy at the farmers market or store.  

Pick the fruit or plant that has the characteristics you want to grow next year.  The one that was the biggest or had the best taste or produced the most or produced the longest or gave you harvests the earliest or was the most drought or pest resistant.  

Lettuce flower buds
One caveat, you cannot get true to parent plants from hybrids.  If they grow, they will often be totally different than the parent or could get weaker with each generation.  You need “open pollinated” or heirloom vegetables for the seed to produce a baby like the parent.

I grew sweet banana peppers and saved the seed.  This year I grew out the seeds from the yellow banana peppers.  I got a larger red and orange pepper plants from the seed.  They are quite tasty and prolific.  I have saved the seed to grow out again next year.

There is also another pepper plant that produced prolifically a purple meaty sweet pepper.  I have saved the seed from this plant to grow them again next year.

I have finally found/grown two kinds of sweet peppers that produce well.  I'll keep saving the seed and growing them out.  They are now a mainstay for my garden.

It doesn't cost a thing to save seeds from store bought veggies or fruits you like and you can end up with some great plants for your garden!
For garlic, you save the best, biggest cloves.  You divide up the garlic head into individual cloves and plant them in the fall when it cools off.  Typically, sometime in October.  Most store garlic has been treated to prevent them from sprouting so you may or may not have luck using the ones from the grocery store.  Your farmers market is a great place to get garlic well suited for your area.
In our garden, seeds can be saved from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, dill, celery, borage, salad burnet, garlic, okra, Egyptian walking onions (bulblets), basil.  I had many zinnia and basil "volunteers" in the garden this year from seeds dropped by the plant last fall.

Lettuce flower seeds
For peppers, squash and tomatoes, just scoop out the seeds, lay them on a paper towel on a plate and let them dry completely.  Some suggest for tomato seed to put them in water and let them ferment a bit.  The ones that sink are the ones you want to keep for planting, not the ones that float.  After drying, I put in plastic baggies and keep in the frig to prolong seed life.

Many greens, like chard, parsley, lettuce, broccoli, will shoot a large stalk up then flower.  This is called "bolting."  The easiest thing to do is to let the seeds form, cut the stalk, then put the stalks with seed heads attached into a paper bag.  Let them dry thoroughly, then shake the seeds out.  Some may require that you roll the seed heads between your fingers to free the seed.  

You can actually resow seeds from cool season crops like lettuce, cilantro, parsley, chard, chives and get a second fall/winter harvest!  I have been doing this about every other week.  I have lettuce sprouting from the last two sowings.  When it cools down a bit, I will separate and transplant into pots and the garden.  Right now, I am keeping them in a long starter pot on the covered deck to keep them from bolting in the hot sun.
I put my dried seeds in labelled ziplock bags and store them in the crisper, include the seed type, descriptor and date.  A picture of the plant can be helpful to remember the plant the seed belongs to.  Fun gift to give, too.  The seeds last for years this way!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer garden tips


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The dog days of summer see thriving warm season crops-tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes, peppers and Mediterranean herbs.  To keep your harvests at their peak, there are few simple things you can do for your garden.
  1. Harvest frequently!  Plants are in the business of reproducing.  Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best chance possible of maintaining more plants for the future.  The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce.  I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine.  As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day!  Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness.
  2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering.  It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot.  I use mulch in both my garden beds and pots.
  3. Water consistently.  The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water.   The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks.  Over watering can also be a problem.  Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy.  If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a good watering.  I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds.  It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck).  For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat.  I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom. 
  4. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants!  They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth.  
  5. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost.  It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil.  You can purchase minerals just for gardening.  You can also use kelp or seaweed as a fertilizer that also adds other nutrients.  If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will too!  
  6. Pick insects off daily.  Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started.  If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth.  It is organic and not a chemical.  Some people even eat it!  It works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death.  Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too.  I use it very sparingly and only if desperate.  A few bugs don’t eat much :  )  Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants or insecticidal soap.
  7. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them.  Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough.  I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.
  8. Compost.  For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter.  I have both.  My husband built me a fencing ring outside that I throw the big stuff.  I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage for all the kitchen scraps.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's happening in the early August edible garden

Pic of edible garden this morning
Sunday, August 6, 2017

August sees the full swing of the summer, warm season garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, and fennel are all in season in the Midwest.  

If you are not growing these in your own garden, your local farmers market is a great place to pick up these seasonal veggies to either eat or preserve.  The best buy and taste on any fruit or vegetable is when it is in season.  You can get even better deals on any produce that has a few blemishes which have no effect on the flavor.  If you are going to can, freeze or dry them, just be sure to remove any blemishes first.  Preservation garden

I pick what to have in our garden based on the harvest per foot of garden space needed.  Our garden is incorporated into the flower garden mulch bed and in pots so we have to be choiceful on what to grow.  Grow what you love to eat, too.  It won't be a lot of fun to have a bumper crop of veggies you don't really like.  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

In pots, we have great luck with  Egyptian walking onions (which can be harvested year round), peppers, eggplant, greens, sweet bay, and celery.

Since we have expanded our mulched flower beds, I am growing more in the ground.  I do use vertical space for the green beans and cucumbers, growing pole types on trellises.  You can also use trellises for squash or grow bush types that stay compact.

So, what is doing not so well in the garden this summer?  I have lost a zucchini and 2 cucumbers to wilt.  This happens when they are bitten by a cucumber beetle that transmits the bacteria to the plant.  It is a good idea to plan to replant new zucchini plants in mid-summer.  I have small plants ready to put into the garden today.  I'll direct sow more cucumber seed as well this week.  They are quick growers so will be producing within a month or so.
Newly sprouted zucchini, ready to be transplanted

Most of my tomato plants are not doing great this year either.  I have several that have many branches that have shriveled and died.  My neighboring gardeners are seeing the same.  I planted many tomato plants and even had extras in pots to plant out in case something like this happened.  I planted these out last week.  

It is likely a soil borne fungus causing the issue.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are all susceptible to fungi.  I am still getting plenty of tomatoes from my collection, but it is not going to be a bumper crop year!  To keep soil born diseases to a minimum is to practice crop rotation.  

Peppers, eggplant, green beans and okra are doing great this year.  It is my first time growing okra.  They are a cool looking plant.  I got the red variety which makes a very pretty plant and fruit.  Their flowers are like creamy hibiscus blooms.

I have been trying many different types of sweet peppers to find some that produce as well as hot peppers.  Hot peppers are really prolific.  So far, I am pleased with my sweet pepper varieties. 

The flea beetles are having a field day with my eggplants.  They love to eat holes in the plant's leaves.  I go out and squish them regularly.  They don't eat the fruits, but with the damage to the leaves stunts the plants ability to produce fruits.  We have orange, purple and white fruit varieties this year.  Err on the side of picking early versus late.  Leaving the fruits on too long makes the skins taste on the bitter side.

The bean vines are super happy this year.  They had been doing fantastic until the last week.  We had a heat wave for a couple of weeks that crimped the plants bean production.  They say you don't need to fertilize beans after they are planted unless their leaves start yellowing.  Growing beans  I fertilized them all this week end to give them a boost.  Too much fertilizer will cause them to focus on greenery versus fruits.  This is true for all fruiting plants.  More is not better.
Beans on trellis
I planted brussel sprouts this year first the first time in several years.  They are in the same family as broccoli.  I am having pest problems with them just like the broccoli.  I need to not plant anything in the broccoli family for a year or two.  Without a favorite food source, they will die off.  Meanwhile, I have been picking them off and spraying with insecticidal soap for this year's plants.

The lettuce and spinach bolted long ago.  It was not a banner year for the lettuce, but the spinach did great!  I made sure to fertilize both well.  They are heavy nitrogen users.  I always use natural organic fertilizers like Espoma or for an extra boost of nitrogen, blood meal or bat guana.


A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year!  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Preserving peppers

Potted pepper plant
Saturday, August 5, 2017

For preserving the pepper harvest, you have some options-drying, freezing, pickling. I have also seen creative pepper jelly and preserve recipes for canning.  They sound really fun.  I may have to try a couple of them this fall.  Canning is much nicer to do when it has cooled off.  Peppers keep producing until a hard frost so there is lots of time left to experiment with preservation options!

Peppers love summer warmth.  Surprisingly, when it gets too hot (in the 90’s) they can start to drop flowers and get sunburned.  So, don’t be surprised when they are not as perky as earlier in the season.  They will come back when the temperatures get out of the stratosphere.  During extreme heat waves, they appreciate some shade.
Sweet pepper plant in the garden
If you have your peppers in pots, you can just roll them into a spot that gives some relief.  If they are in the ground, you can use a shade cloth, or a piece of picket fence or screen on the south or west side of the plant.  Or just wait for nature to take its course.
I have tried peppers in the ground and in pots.  They seem to do the best in a pot.  All the hot peppers I have ever tried are much more prolific than any sweet pepper I have tried.  I keep trying new types of sweet peppers, looking for a type that loves my garden conditions.  In the meantime, I plant a lot more sweet pepper plants than hot pepper plants.  
The small hot pepper that I overwinter is doing well.  It is the oldest form of capsicum annum species and is very hot.  These tiny hot peppers, I just put on the counter to dry.    When completely dry, I will put in a jar.  I use these peppers in the grilling mix I make. 
I gave a boost to all our garden plants with bat guano, feather meal, and kelp meal last week end.  Potted plants should be fertilized a couple of times a month and garden bed veggies, once a month.  I also use a natural, organic balanced fertilizer by Espoma.

Ancho/poblano pepper
Peppers dry easily.  The quickest way is to put in a dehydrator.  Just slice in half and pop in.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven on its lowest setting.  This year, I have just been leaving them on the window sill and they appear to be drying just fine.  You can also put on a screen in the sun or hang in a dry place.  The watchout for drying outside is the level of humidity.  In high moisture, they may spoil versus dry.
Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies

I am growing Ancho peppers for chili pepper.  My hubby loves lots of chili pepper in his chili.  They are just starting to turn red.

The bigger hot peppers I freeze whole to use in salsa throughout the winter and spring.  Quick, homemade salsa  I chop and freeze the pimentos to use in salad.  It is a key ingredient in the salad we love from the Pasta House restaurant.  Homemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs  Typically, any food gets soft when thawed.  The Pimentos I have chopped and frozen retain their firmness after thawing.

I also make hot sauce from the hot peppers.  It is super easy by slicing and placing in apple cider vinegar.

If you have a pepper plant that did great this year.  There are a couple ways to make sure you have them in your garden next season.  You can save seeds from your favorite peppers for next year's garden.  Just dry them and put them in a freezer bag in the frig.  Peppers are perennials that you can bring in to the house or garage to overwinter.  It gives them a jump on next season.