Saturday, March 31, 2018

April 2018 Edible Garden Planner

April garden with greens, dill, chives, and lettuce

Saturday, March 31, 2018

April showers bring May flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.  Now is the perfect time to get serious on getting your spring garden planted and sowed!

Crops to plant in April
Early April is a perfect time to plant cold season crops like Brussels sprouts, fava beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard and turnips.

I am giving broccoli a rest this again year since I had pests on these last year.  Without their favorite food to feast on, they should move on for next year's garden.  If the summer looks good, I may even plant them for fall harvests because they love the cool temps of fall, too.

We can still get frosts in April so you want to hold off on planting warm season crops outdoors like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squash until May unless you cover them or bring them indoors if frost does visit your garden.

I have already planted lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, leeks, cilantro, chervil, arugula, rat's tail, parsley, carrots, onions and potatoes.  Overwintered carrots, chives, onions, cultivated dandelion, sorrel, tarragon, sage, thyme, kale, and corn salad are up and ready to eat.  Celery overwintered in the garage is also harvestable.

To keep yourself in lettuce all season, do succession planting of new seeds or plants every 2-3 weeks.  Just plant the number you would normally eat in a 2-3 week period.  This will keep salads on the table continuously.  Want continuous harvests? Succession planting! 

If this is your first year in gardening, here are some pointers on what to choose what to grow and get your garden going What to plant for your first garden  Easy kitchen garden   If you don't have much space, you can still grow a garden either in pots or in a garden space as little as 6' x 6' Grow a Sicilian/Italian kitchen garden in as little as 6' x 6'

When you plant, make sure to fertilize and add mycorrhizae in each planting hole. Mycorrhizae are beneficial microbes that help your plant roots absorb nutrients from the soil.  Once mycorrhizae is added in that spot, it will live on in the soil so it does not have to be reapplied next year in that spot.

I like to apply fertilizer, add a thick layer of compost and top with mulch before I begin planting.  Just mulch by itself breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

If you didn't do a soil test (you can use a kit from a garden store or big box store), use a balanced organic fertilizer like Espoma at the rate recommended.  You can make your own all natural, organic fertilizer, too, inexpensively.  Here is the link:  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive  If you did not fertilize the entire garden bed before planting, be sure to add fertilizer to each planting hole per the directions on the package.  Crops will need that burst of energy for the quick growth that spring brings. 

If you want to have an in-depth soil analysis done to create a fertilizer specific to your soil, here is a blog on who to send your sample to and how to get a personal fertilizer recipe  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

If you are re-using pots from last year, here is a link to get your potting soil ready to nourish your new plants:  Re-energize your potting soil!  It is important to get your potting soil ready to support this season's growth and veggie production.  Be sure when you fertilize to mix it into the soil or apply before you put down a protective and organic layer of mulch.  This keeps the nitrogen from oxidizing and escaping into the air instead of staying in the ground to nourish your plant.
Chives and lettuce in  mid-April garden

Frost date importance
The last frost date in our area is around April 15th.  This is important to know if you are planting seeds.  The packet tells you when to plant in relation to your last frost date.  You will get the best results following the packet instructions.  Planting early is not always a good strategy as different seeds need different soil temperatures before they will germinate.  Plant too early and they can rot before they have a chance to sprout.  When to plant your veggies

Pots will warm up quicker, but will also chill down faster.  You can put them in a sheltered spot to get a jump on spring.  Putting your pots on the south side of the house will provide the maximum warmth.  I love planting greens in large self watering pots that I keep on the patio, making it handy for picking a fresh salad for dinner, and to move to a cooler spot in the hot days of summer.

When growing veggies in containers, they will require more watering and more liquid fertilizer than if they were in the ground.  In the summer, you may have to water some water lovers every day.  For more on growing in pots  Decorative container gardening for edibles  With the self-watering pots, your watering duties will be greatly reduced.

Lettuce, greens, and herbs do fabulous this month.  It is the time to indulge in daily salads. and smoothies.  Cool temperatures and lots of moisture produce the sweetest greens of the season.  
Everything you need to know about growing lettuce  Grow your own smoothie and juice garden

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Time to plant potatoes, even if you only have a patio

Drawing of a potato grow bag
Saturday, March 24, 2018

If you love potatoes, try growing some of the exotic varieties that are out there, like fingerling or blue potatoes.  You can find all kinds of great varieties in todays seed catalogs.  Along with the surprising number of different kinds of seed potatoes available, there are also many different ways to grow them without actually planting in the garden! Early spring, 4-6 weeks before your last frost, is the time to plant.

The potato is a native of South America and can be found in the wild from North America to Chile.  There is an amazing variety of potatoes grown in South America, many color and sizes.  The potato originated from an area in southern Peru/northwest Bolivia.  It was cultivated 7000-10000 years ago.  It took until the 1700’s for the potato to arrive in the colonies by the way of Irish immigrants.

Tubers are good source of fiber, B vitamins (B6, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folates), vitamin C, and minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and copper.  Potato nutritional info  Most of the nutrition is in the skin.  If you want even more nutrition, try some of the wonderful colors available today.  Nutrition info for blue and yellow potatoes 

Potato plants produce tubers along the stem so the more you can build up soil around the stem, the more potatoes you will harvest.  Since most of the action of potatoes occur underground, a light, well drained soil will give the highest yield of potatoes.  Adding sand and compost can be very beneficial.   

If gardening in a small space, there are lots of options of potato growing bags on the market now.  It follows the same concept as trenching or mounding in a garden bed.  They also do well in repurposed whisky barrels.  A pot 30”deep and 20” across is best.  Fill a third with potting soil, then add soil as the vine grows.  We are growing ours in a self-built box that we will add another tier to as the vine grows.
Here is the link to the plans that my hubby used to build the below box:  Potato box video

Potato box
To give your potatoes plenty of loose, rich soil in a garden bed, dig a trench down about a foot, mix in compost, put mixed soil and compost 4" in bottom of trench and place eyes up in the trench.   Adding bone meal gives the tubers the nutrition needed to produce large potatoes.  The pH of the soil is optimal in the 5.2-6.0 range but potatoes will grow in any soil.  Plant seed potatoes 3” deep and 10-12” apart.   When the potatoes have leaves showing, add another 3-4" of soil.  Continue to add as potatoes grow until trench is filled.  If planting in hard soil, you can mound the earth, mulch or straw around the plant as it grows. 

Seed potatoes should be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost (when the early daffodils bloom).  You can plant successively to extend the harvest until the dogwoods bloom.  You can continue to plant until May, but may only get fingerling size potatoes before the vines die back in the summer.

Early potatoes can be harvested when the first flowers appear.  Dig the potatoes when the foliage has died back in the summer.  Do not allow the baby potatoes to be exposed to sunlight.  If your potatoes turn green, do not eat them as they are poisonous.

You can grow potatoes from the “eyes” of store bought potatoes.  The risk is putting any disease they may have into your soil.  Many recommend to always buy sterile seed potatoes.  To be safe, I am sticking with sterile seed potatoes for garden beds.  

If you are growing in a pot or potato growing bag, you could try using store bought eyes.  Let your potatoes age and when they start sprouting, they are ready to cut and plant.  Be sure to cut out a sprout, or "eye", to plant.  A plant will emerge from each sprouted eye.  Cut seed potatoes leaving 1-2 eyes per section.  Let cut dry overnight, then plant.

Seed potatoes in the sun to sprout before planing
This year, my hubby built potato planters where you just keep adding soil as the vine grows upwards.  We are planting solid red Terra Rose and solid blue Purple Majesty potatoes this year.  We'll continue to mound mulch or soil around them through the season to maximize the harvest.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Roadmap for when to plant for Zone 7 garden

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This is a road map for when to plant vegetables and herbs for a Zone 6/7 garden.  I am using April 28th as my last frost date.  You can also use the extended forecast to know if you can move up your plantings due to unseasonably warmer weather.

Planting your seedlings outdoors:
March 31st-cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions
April 7th-lettuce, lemon balm, parsley, chives
April 14th-broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
April 21st-sage, rosemary 
May 5th-basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes, 
May 12th-cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper, squash, zucchini

Starting your seeds indoors:
March 3rd-chives, eggplant, leeks, lemon balm, marigolds, onions, parsley, peppers, sage, thyme, tomatoes
March 17th-basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra
March 31st-cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce, squash, zucchini

These dates are just guidelines.  You can always 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 that can be planted sooner.

Johnny's seeds has a neat calculator that you can put in your last frost date and it will spit out when to plant for every variety  Seed planting schedule 

They also have bred many varieties of cold crops that are more heat resistant than others.  These would be the types to plant or start later to have a longer harvest.  Look for terms like heat tolerant, stands up to the heat, slow to bolt.  This time of year I look for varieties that are more heat tolerant as it won't be long before we are seeing days hit the upper 70's and lower 80's.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

More seeds and plantings this week end!

Newly planted onion sets (center) next to fall planted garlic (on left)
Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring planting of cool temperature loving crops continued this week end!  

I planted onion sets of sweet onions, white cooking onions and red onions.  Since I live in Kentucky, I went with day neutral onions this year.  There are long day, intermediate day and short day onions.  Long day onions are grown in the north where the summer days are long (think of Alaska having 24 hours of sun in the summer) and planted in the spring.  Short day onions are those grown in the South that have shorter summer days.  These are planted in the fall and grow over the winter.

Onions require lots of fertilizer to reach their full size.  Be sure to fertilize at planting.  Onions will be ready to harvest as spring or new onions in a month or two.  They will achieve full size in 95-135 days.  Everything to know about growing onions

I also planted more edible plant seeds in pots on the deck: Cilantro, Flat Leaf Italian parsley, Purple roach, Alpine strawberries, Rocket arugula, Dukat dill, Red veined sorrel, salad burnet, Garlic chives, and Rat's tail.  I also planted a pot of variety of colors of alyssum.  They are short, pretty, and have great fragrance.  I love planted them around the edge of the garden beds.

Before you plant into your pots, be sure to refresh their soil.  Pots have a lot less soil to contain nutrients to feed your plants so they need to be fertilized more often than the garden bed.  Re-energize your potting soil!

I over-seeded the pots.  I'll gently remove the seedlings and transplant into the garden bed after they are sturdy.  Pots warm up quicker in the spring than the garden beds does, supporting better germination and quicker growth in the early spring months.  I may place a supported plastic cover over the pots to help them get even warmer and give the seeds a boost.

Now is a great time to get your garden beds ready for spring planting.  Do a soil test to see what your garden needs in the nutrient department.  There are kits you can do at home or take a soil sample to your local co-op office.  If that is too much for you, fertilize with a balanced, organic fertilizer at the rate on the package.  Cover with mulch to keep the fertilizer in the garden.

If you want to go the extra mile and do an in-depth soil test to see exactly what minerals your plants need instead of just the NPK standard tests, here is a blog that describes how to do this:  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals  The more nutrition you give your edibles, the more you will get in your food.

If you want to try making your own balanced fertilizer, it is easy and inexpensive.  Here's how:  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

Happy spring gardening!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cold season crops for your edible garden

Greens are a yummy cold season crop
Sunday, March 4, 2018

Edibles are routinely called warm and cold season crops.  This simply means some like it cold and some like it warm to germinate, grow, and thrive.  You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use season extender strategies to get the most from your garden.

 Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the warm weather signals there time in the garden is done.  Cold crops “bolt” when it gets hot, which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds and continue the cycle of life.

As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring, fall and even winter.  The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones can survive and provide in the winter garden.  Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.

Now is a great time to start seeds for cold season crops indoors or outdoors.  It is optimal if starting seeds outdoors to provide some type of cover to help warm the temperature of the soil and give the seeds a jump start.  Otherwise, they take longer to sprout.  Planting under cover also protects them from hungry birds.

I use mini greenhouses I purchased on Amazon that I can put my pots under.  I can remove when the weather gets more predictable.  It also gives me the flexibility to move the pots later on to cooler spots to extend the production of cool weather loving veggies.  

over-plant my pots outdoors.  I thin the extra plants by carefully removing them and placing them either in another pot or in the garden bed.  I just can't stand to just pluck out a living thing and toss in the composter.

Big box stores and some nurseries are getting bedding plants in now.  They will have plants out that may not be able to survive outdoors without some protection.  Read the label on the plant or look up on-line to see how many weeks before the last frost the variety can be planted without cover safely.

A great seed catalog to get is Territorial Seed Company's Territorial Seed Co  They provide great planting and care information about for all veggies so you know the optimal time to plant and transplant.  I also like this web page that gives germination rates for edibles at different soil temperatures  Ideal soil temperatures for starting your seeds  Johnny's Seeds let's you put in your frost free date and it will give that date each crop can be planted  Seed planting scheduler

To look up your frost date, Freeze-Frost Dates

Cold crops
Arugula, Corn salad, Sorrel Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Broccoli and Cauliflower,  Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Brussels Sprouts, same family as broccoli and cauliflower  
Cultivated Dandelions,  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
Mustard and Mustard Greens 
Turnips,  All about turnips

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.  This is how I started edible gardening.  They are care free and super easy.  Plus, spices are expensive in the store so you get a huge return on investment.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Herbs for Spring Planting
Lemon balm

Herbs that are frost sensitive are cumin, lemon balm, rosemary, stevia, turmeric, bay laurel and basil.  Wait until frost and freeze risk is over before planting outdoors.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  It is a win-win all the way around.

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.

For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July.  These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden.  You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer.  You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.  

For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter.  These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter.  There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October.  Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks.  Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds. 

Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection to extend growth and harvesting.  Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes.  As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty.  Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.

The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you.  Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown.  Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions.  You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.

Don't overlook the option of saving your own seed from your best producers or your neighbors.  Your neighbors and the farmers at your farmers markets have much experience in the varieties that grow well in your area.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Planted this week

Sprouting seeds inside my mini greenhouse
Saturday, March 3, 2018

It has been looking and feeling like spring this past week or two.  The grass is turning green and the daffodils are blooming.  A great time to start spring planting outdoors and indoors.

I started my outdoor garden in the last few weeks.  The seeds I put in the first greenhouse a couple of weeks ago is 1-2 inches tall.  I started seeds in the second greenhouse this week along with lettuce plants.

The seeds I planted that have sprouted:
Spinach (Bordeaux, Giant Winter, Oriental Giant)-ready to harvest in 30-45 days
Chard (Perpetual, Fordhook Giant, Verde Taglio, Neon Glow)-ready to harvest in 50-70 days
Lettuce mix (red and green varieties)-ready to harvest in 29-60 days

The seeds I planted this week:
Carrots (Rainbow, Gniff, Cosmic Purple)-ready to harvest in 60-110 days.  Can harvest sooner as baby carrots.  All you need to know about growing carrots
Onions (Australian Brown, Flat of Italy, Bronze d'Amposta)-ready to harvest in 70-150 days
Greens (Belle Isle Cress, Corn Salad or Vit or Lamb's Lettuce or Mache, Black Magic Kale, Chervil)-ready to harvest in 50-70 days

Mini greenhouse covering 3 large pots

Lettuce plants from store I planted last week end:
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads)-ready to harvest in 21 days
Red Romaine lettuce-ready to harvest in 35 days
Buttercrunch lettuce-ready to harvest in 42 days
I harvest leaves from the outside of the plant as soon as there are around 8 leaves on the plant.  I can harvest much sooner than waiting until the plant reaches full size and over a much longer time.

Planting the seeds and lettuce plants in the mini greenhouse will keep them much warmer and protect them from freezing temps we will continue to get until May.  They'll sprout and grow faster.  The lettuce plants have already grown almost an inch in a week!

Leafy greens like nitrogen.  Root crops like potassium.  You can get nitrogen from compost, alfalfa, soybean meal or fish emulsion.  Potassium can be gotten from green sand via its potash content.  Fish emulsion actually gives not only nitrogen, but also potassium and phosphorous.

After planting, I watered in the pots with fish emulsion.  Germination takes anywhere from 4-15 days.

I will plant outdoors this week end at least parsley and arugula.  Maybe more!