Sunday, December 29, 2019

January 2020 Edible Garden Planner

It's seed catalog season!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

January is the time of dreaming and planning for your spring garden.  All the seed companies begin sending out their catalogs for seeds and plants in December and January.   It is an exciting time for browsing the magazines and making the garden plan for the upcoming year!

Grow what you love!
The easiest way to fall in love with gardening is growing what you love to eat.  There is nothing like strolling out to the garden to see what's ripe and tasty for dinner.  If you have ever wanted to plant a kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you may be surprised.   

It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a Mediterranean kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley 
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants  
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)  
1 eggplant 
8 red bunching onions 
8 garlic plants 
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed  

For more details on a compact French garden:  Small space French kitchen garden
For an Italian garden:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden  To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in the garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.  A word of caution, don't go overboard the first year!

If you are just beginning a garden, do start small.  You want the garden to be fun and relaxing, not overwhelming.  Don't be afraid to begin.  The force of life is strong and really doesn't need much from us.  Buy a few plants in the early spring and just put them in the ground with a natural fertilizer and you will be amazed at how they just go to town all by themselves!
Vintage WW2 poster
For seed catalogues, the best to order from are those that do their trials in your region of the country.  The seeds and plants they carry are the ones that have performed the best for them in their trial gardens.  Baker Creek is fun because they specialize heirlooms and rare seeds from around the world.  Territorial Seeds has a good summary in each section of growing tips.

Catalogs I love are the ones that the links are on the right.  I have ordered from them all and been happy with their selection and how well the plants did.

Still having trouble deciding?  Well, you have some time before the season starts.  Heck, you can procrastinate all the way to June..........  It is not too late to start a garden in June!  You can use this time to make your plan based on what you eat this winter.  Use this winter to figure out what to grow in the ...

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Growing fennel

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Fennel dates back to Roman times.  Pliny (23-79 AD) wrote about it.  He believed serpents ate and slithered up against the aromatic herb because it improved their eyesight after shedding their skins.  He used the herb to treat 22 ailments.  Fennel was a staple in royal households in the 1300's and came with the Puritans to America.  Fennel was used as an appetite suppressor, to stave off evil spirits, its tea a treatment for weight loss, insect repellant, an antidote for poisons and mad dog bites.  The list goes on!

Fennel is grown like and resembles dill.  It has a licorice taste.  All parts of the plant is edible.  Fennel grows a large bulb at the base of its stem that is eaten as a vegetable, very popular in Italian cooking.  The tops are used to flavor dishes.  The seeds are used in seasonings and its oil extracted to used for its fragrance in soaps and perfumes and to add an anise flavoring to food, candies and liquors.  It is a very versatile plant!

Cultivated fennel grows to about 3' tall like dill, with long stems and lacy foliage.  Their flowers are tiny yellow clusters.  There are green and bronze varieties.  The bronze fennel is a striking plant.  Adds a bold accent to the garden.
Pic from of bronze fennel
Like dill, it can be direct sown in the garden in mid-spring, 1/8" deep, 1-2" apart and thinned to a spacing of 6" after sprouting.  Can be sown 2-5 weeks before the last average frost date, but after danger of a hard freeze (28 degrees F) is over.  Plant in fertile soil, well amended with organic matter, and keep well watered for the biggest and sweetest bulbs.  It takes 7-10 days for the seeds to sprout.  I sometimes see fennel plants in big box stores and local nurseries.

Harvest when the bulb is about the size of a tennis ball.  Cut leaves 2" above the bulb.  You can dry the seeds and foliage to use as seasoning.  Depending on the variety, fennel is ready to harvest in 75-100 days from when the seed is sown.  Bulbs can reach 1 pound in weight and 1' tall.
Fennel flowers
You can eat either raw or cooked.  It has a sweet, anise type flavor.  To me, it has a licorice taste.  It is very common to use the leaves and seeds for season fish.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Growing Brussel sprouts

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Brussels sprouts are Old World cabbage relatives.  They are grown for their tasty flower heads/buds.  They are similar in taste to cabbage and kale.  Brussels sprouts originated in the Mediterranean region and refined in Belgium.  They were perfected as early as 1200AD.   As with cabbage, they are a cool season crop and a biennial.  They thrive in cool temperatures.  

If you live in a warm winter zone, you would plant to harvest in the winter.  Grow when temperatures range between 30 to 75 degrees F.  For the rest of us, you would start indoors 4-6 weeks prior to last frost. Plant 1/4" deep with soil temps 65-75 degrees F for the fastest germination time.  Seedlings should sprout in 3-10 days.  Fertilize every 7-10 days with a liquid fertilizer.  If direct seeding, sow 1/4" deep in late spring.  Transplant 18-24" apart.

You can typically find transplants at big box stores or a neighborhood nursery, too.

Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders so plant them in well composted, well drained soil and side dress a few times during the season.  Time to harvest varies on the variety, from 85-120 days.  

To harvest, you pick from the bottom up when they are firm and about 1" in diameter.  Cut off just below the sprout. The sweetest sprouts are the ones that go through a few frosts.  You can also harvest the plant at one time by cutting off the top at the growing point when you have sprouts up and down the stalk and the bottom sprouts are 1/2" in diameter.  They will mature in a couple of weeks.

Store your harvested sprouts at 36 degrees F and 100% humidity.  Brussels sprouts wilt quickly.  I would blanche and freeze immediately after harvesting.
Freezing the extras for winter

My favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts is to slice them in half longways, coat with olive oil, salt and roast in the oven until soft.  This really sweetens the flavor.

Brussels sprouts have the same diseases and insect pressures as cabbage.  To prevent disease pressure, do not plant in same location for 5-7 years.  Insects that are partial to brassicas are aphids, cabbage worms, loopers and root maggots, flea beetles and in some areas symphylans.  For aphids, use ladybugs, a hard spray of water, Neem oil or pyrethrin.  For cabbage worms, look for white butterflies; they lay yellowish colored eggs on the undersides of leaves.  For light infestation, use Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.).  For heavy infestations, bait the worms by mixing B.t., bran and molasses together and spread around the base of the plants.  For flea beetles, you can use floating row covers or Pyrethrin spray.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Winter wonder edible veggies

Salad burnet in winter
Saturday, December 7, 2019

Winter producing varieties are the really hardy cold crops that thrive in the cool temperatures of spring, fall and winter. To get the longest harvest possible, look for varieties that say “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production.”  

With cover, the following will allow you to harvest all winter: arugula, beets, chicory, corn salad, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley root, radicchio, radishes, spinach, sprouting broccoli, sorrel and Swiss chard.

The following don’t require covering: brussels sprouts, winter harvest cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, bunching onions or Egyptian onions, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, salad burnet.

Your perennial greens and overwintering varieties are the first up in the spring.  Want a vegetable and fruit garden that you only have to plant once? Try perennials!

Winter hardy varieties
*Asparagus (planted in fall for spring harvesting)  
*Beets  All about beautiful beets
*Sprouting broccoli Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav
*Brussel sprouts  
*Cabbage  Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
*Carrots (can be pulled all winter)  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round
*Overwintering cauliflower  How to grow broccoli and cauliflower
*Celery  Give celery a try, an easy to grow garden staple
*Chard (will survive winters if placed in a sheltered area)  For year round steamed greens, grow chard!
*Claytonia, Miner's Lettuce  Fall and winter greens
*Collards  Collards and kale in your garden
*Corn salad (also called Mache)
*Cultivated dandelions  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
*Egpytian walking onions (harvest all winter)  Egyptian walking onions
*Garlic & shallots  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring)  Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F, does well in greenhouse)  
Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
*Mustard greens  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter
*Bunching onions  Everything to know about growing onions
*Overwintering onions (all onions can be left in the ground in Zone 6)  Perennial onions and other alliums
*Overwintering peas (like Austrian)  Time to plant peas!
*Radishes (can be pulled all through winter)  Easy to grow crispy, peppery radishes
*Salad burnet (a perennial)  Salad burnet-a great herbal salad addition
*Spinach (many survive the winter to mature in early spring) Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green
*Turnips All about turnips

Miner's lettucet and cultivated dandelions
If you are growing your veggies in pots, be sure to move them to southern exposure and protected against the wind when the temps start to drop.  Up against a wall is best as the wall will absorb the heat during the day to release overnight.  Putting a portable greenhouse over your pots will also provide extra protection. Prepare for hard freeze 

Seeded pots and perennials getting ready for cover