Sunday, April 26, 2020

Choosing which tomatoes to grow

Potted volunteer tomato plant
Sunday, April 26, 2020

There are hundreds of tomatoes to choose from.  There are whole catalogues devoted just to America’s favorite home garden vegetable.  There really is nothing like a homegrown tomato, fresh off the vine!  With so many to choose from, how do you decide which is best for your garden?

Some consideration for deciding what to plant-space you have, flavor, how you use tomatoes, and which types grow best and give the biggest yields in your area.  Ask your neighbors or farmers market sellers which types they have found grow the best for them.  For heirloom and open pollinated types you buy from the farmers market, save the seeds from the ones you like and you can grow them in your garden!

I prefer heirloom and open pollinated, organic veggies.  I love the idea of seeds being handed down from generation to generation with loving care, through good times and bad.  Back in the day, every vegetable  and vegetable seed was precious.  You should save the seeds from your very best tasting, performing plant with the biggest fruits.  It was a sacrifice to take the biggest, juiciest fruit for its seeds.  Seeds were like gold back then.

Today, we save seeds from the best performers in our garden so year after year our veggies are better adapted to our specific garden conditions and tastes.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Chocolate cherry tomatoes
Family lore has it that my great grandfather killed a man in self defense when one of my great uncles stole some seeds the neighbor had ordered.  The neighbor came with a gun and confronted my great grandfather for the theft of his seeds.  The family had to leave the state, worried that the law would come after him.  At least, that is a story I heard told.........

This year I have told myself I am going to stick with 3 tomato plants.  2 for canning and salads and one for slicing tomatoes.  I say that every year and usually end up with at least 5 because I see ones I just can't resist.

You may be surprised with my canning tomato choices.  I can all types of tomatoes.  I plant tomatoes that give lots with great taste and preserve all that we can't eat.   I have recently been growing the darker tomatoes since they are so healthy!  For more on the benefits of darker veggies, The Power of Purple  If you are curious on how the color of tomatoes affect its health benefits, 
Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition or just a ranking on overall health benefits by type, 
Most nutritious heirloom tomatoes  They even have tomatoes today that are bred specifically to increase the healthiness of the tomato!

 I get the best yields from the smaller tomatoes.  In the past, I used to get loads of tomatoes with Juliet (a hybrid, 1999 All American) and Yellow Pear (a heirloom from pre-1800).  Both are indeterminate, meaning they produce from summer through frost.  The Juliet is a mini Roma, great taste.  The last couple of years, the Juliet and pear tomatoes have not been doing well in our garden.  Small tomatoes Sun Chocolate, Indigo Rose, and Baby Boomer all did well in our garden last season.

The smaller tomatoes are great for drying as well.  I like using my electric dehydrator for "sun dried" tomatoes as it is usually just too humid in the Midwest to dry tomatoes in the sun.  
Large heirloom Italian Red Pear tomato, good for sauce and slicing
For slicers, the heirloom Brandywine, dates back to 1885, is a taste favorite which we have grown many times.  It continues to win taste tests to this day.  I tried a grafted tomato from Territorial Seed Co.  and it did very well.  A graft is an age-old technique of taking a strong root stock and grafting a tasty plant on to it.  Lately, we have been trying different chocolate varieties, an early variety and a winter storage variety.  Cherokee Purple slicer, Glacier for early tomatoes, and Red October as a storage tomato we have good luck with in our garden. 

One large tomato variety that has done surprising well over the last couple of years is Italian Red Pear.  It is a large heirloom paste tomato traditionally used for canning.  It does great all the way through late fall.  I am definitely growing it again this year.  It makes silky smooth tomato sauce and soups.  I saved the seeds from an heirloom tomato I bought at Whole Foods.  Any time you purchase an heirloom veggie, you can always save the seed and grow them in your own garden.

Just as a note, hybrids will not come back like its parent.  Be sure to save seed from heirloom or open pollinated types to be sure you will get what you expect.  Or if you like surprises, feel free to plant the seed and see what happens!  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

If you are short on space, there are many dwarf and patio varieties that can even be grown in pots!  We have had good luck with Bush Early Girl (only 54 days ‘till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, and heirlooms Lizzano and Tumbling Tom.  There are many more options!  
Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
Yellow Tumbling Tom, a dwarf variety
Just three tomato plants should give us (a family of 2) enough for eating, freezing for salsa, and canning that will last us until the next year.  You don't need many plants to get a whole lot of fruits!

For more on growing tomatoes, these blogs can help you get started growing your own tomatoes this season:

Sunday, April 19, 2020

What to plant for your first garden

Edibles in the flower bed
Sunday, April 19, 2020

If you are thinking of starting your first garden and are wondering “What should I plant in my first garden" and "How many plants of what do I need?”.  Here are some tips to get a first garden going the easy way.

One way to decide what to plant is to track what you buy for a couple of weeks.  This will give you a good idea of what you like to eat.  You can then plan your garden around your favorite eats.  During the  summer, you can go to farmers markets and try out what looks interesting to trial run them for the next season.

If you eat a lot of salads, greens with complimentary veggies and herbs would be a great first garden.  In early spring, any type of lettuce is good.  Once you head into May, use varieties that withstand the hot temps of summer like Jericho Romaine, Simpson Elite or my favorite Red Sails.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

The biggest watch out for starting a new garden is starting too big.  Start small with what you use the most in the kitchen.  Herbs, lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, or tomatoes are great ones to start with.

One thing to keep in mind is that some veggies like cool weather and some like warm weather.  Crops that thrive and stay sweet in spring are carrots, radishes, cilantro and all types of leafy greens. A spring edible garden   For crops that come into their own in warm months are the fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, and squash to name a few.  What to plant in the May edible garden  Don't despair, you can still have salads all summer, you will just have to use heat tolerant lettuces and other greens.  Growing summer salads

Here is the basic garden I grow every year:
Herbs (1 each)-chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley  
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
3 tomato plants-1 cherry tomato type and 2 slicer types  
3 pepper plants-2 sweet peppers and 1 spicy pepper  
1 bush zucchini  
1 eggplant 
Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden
Egyptian walking onions in a pot (a perennial)  
8 or more garlic plants (you can buy cloves for planting at any big box store) Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown in self watering pots

The easiest way to start a new garden is to plant your veggies in your flower garden.  It is a win-win for the veggies as flowers attract pollinators which increase the harvest.  Mulched beds keep weeds down and conserve moisture in the soil so less watering is needed during the hot days of summer.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

If you don't have a lot of garden space, plant in pots in a sunny spot.  There are so many varieties bred just for pots and small spaces.  Look for words in the description like "compact", patio", "container", "dwarf".  Burpee seed packets have a little clay pot emblem on the front for those that grow well in containers.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

Happy gardening!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Starting the garden earlier, outwitting Jack Frost

Cloche with vent to protect tender plant
Saturday, April 18, 2020

It is spring, but you are dreaming of summer veggies.  What to do?  Try these season stretchers!

The first thing you can do to extend the season is to start your seeds indoors or purchase plants from your neighborhood nursery, hardware or big box store.  Basil, tomatoes, and rosemary are already at my neighborhood stores.

To get your plants a safe early start in the garden, you can buy cloches, Wall of Water, a green house, or use a fabric covering to put your plants in or under.  If you are using a cloche or green house, be careful to vent anytime the sun is shining or you will fry your plants. 

Be careful if using a greenhouse or cloche.  When the sun is out, it gets hot inside the plastic fast!   Temperatures inside greenhouses can climb to over 100 degrees F on a sunny day.  Be sure to open the greenhouse or cloche so you don't roast your plant.

Another trick is to lay clear plastic over your garden bed two weeks before you are planning on planting.  Make sure the soil is watered well first.  Clear plastic will raise the soil temperature by 8-14 degrees F.  This gives your plants a head start when they are placed in the pre-warmed soil.  Summer lovers like tomatoes hate cold feet and will just sit in the hole, shivering until the ground temperatures rise.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

You can either remove the plastic, plant, and then cover with mulch or leave the plastic in place and cut slits into the plastic and plant through the slits.  I personally don’t like to leave the plastic in place and use mulch.  Wait until the temperatures are on the rise before mulching as mulch can keep the soil from warming if applied too early.  This time of year is great in the Midwest to mulch.

Some would think that black plastic would give an even bigger temp boost, but it does not.  Temps will raise by 3-5 degrees F.

One other thing to consider.  The south side of the house will heat up much sooner than the north side.  You can give your plants a warmth and growing boost by putting them on the south side up against a wall which will radiate warm back to the plant through the night.

As temperatures start to warm, you want to keep the crops that like cool temperatures in areas that will stay the coolest to prolong the harvest for them.  A spring edible garden  Spring loving crops like spinach, lettuce, kale, cilantro will bolt when the temperatures start hitting the 80's.  It is that bolting time of year.....  Bolting is when the plant sends up a flower stalk.  Don't despair; you can save the seeds to replant in the garden.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

These are a few ways to get your garden producing sooner rather than later.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

What we are eating from the mid April garden

Spinach and lettuce in portable greenhouse
Sunday, April 12, 2020

In our Zone 6/7, the rosebuds, dogwoods, hyacinths and daffodils are flowering.  We are actually having a real spring; one like I remember as a child.  We are seeing a nice, long cool spell this year.  The greens in the garden love it! 

Fall planted garlic, Elephant garlic, arugula, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, kale, oregano, cultivated dandelions, common and garlic chives, strawberries, onions, wild leeks, leeks, overwintered carrots, overwintered miner's lettuce, sprouting broccoli, newly planted peas, volunteer lettuce, catnip, tarragon, horseradish, thyme, newly planted lettuce, spinach, beets, and radishes are all up and doing well.  

It has not been warm enough to put outside our overwintering tropicals, citrus, bay laurels and olive trees.  We have frost coming in the next week as well.  It is usually safe to bring the warmth lovers out after the first of May.

The lettuce and spinach that I put in my new portable greenhouse a month or so ago is close to full size.  The plants are growing well enough that we can pick leaves for salads now.

This is the time of year to eat great salads.  All types of greens are at their sweetest in the spring.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens  We are using kale, sorrel, dandelion greens, lettuce, chives, Egyptian walking onions, celery, parsley, tarragon, miner's lettuce, plantain greens, and sprouting broccoli for our salads.  You can also add redbud flowers.  Redbuds are in the same family as peas and the flowers taste like peas.  Our sprouting broccoli overwintered.  Right now, it has its small florets popping out all over the stems.  We eat both the florets and the leaves.  The leaves taste like broccoli and remain sweet all through summer.  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

Portable greenhouse closed up for freeze protection
There are many herbs that can be used in salads and cooking that are up and green.  We have lavender, oregano, garden chives, garlic chives, thyme, tarragon, leeks and onions.  The Egyptian walking onions are harvestable year round.  I like to use the bottom white part for cooking and the green tops as chives.  Egyptian walking onions

The rosemary and sage did not make it over the winter so I will need to grow some more from seed.  I have not found a rosemary that will consistently make it year to year outside.  They will make it to January, then we will have a big warm up and then back into the freezer.  I think this swing is what kills them.

I also have sown chervil, basil and cilantro.  These are three annuals (have to be replanted every year) that I like to have in my garden every year.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

What to get going in the edible April garden

Early spring garden
Saturday, April 11, 2020

April is a beautiful time of year with the leaves coming on, the grass turning green, the first of the flowers and lots of plants poking their heads out of the ground.  There are many veggie and fruit seeds and transplants that can be put in the edible garden.  It is still too chilly for most of the summer lovers.  Big box stores, hardware stores, local nurseries, flea markets and farmers markets all have plants.  This makes it easy to get your garden going in the spring.  You can find many heirloom fruits and veggies transplants and seeds nowadays.  For the unusual plants, buying on-line from seed companies is the way to go.

I would prepare the beds first with fertilizer and mulch before starting seeds or planting.  You can do a soil test yourself or send off for one if you want to create a fertilizer specific to your needs.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

If you are starting a new bed, here are options:  Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really

Here is a list of plants and seeds you can put in the April garden: 
April-transplants or seeds into the garden or pot Zone 6/7
Asparagus  All about asparagus
Bee balm (monarda)
Brussels sprouts  Growing Brussel sprouts
Fennel  Growing fennel
Lemon balm
Mustard  Mustard greens
Strawberries  Back yard strawberries
Any of the above can also be started indoors and then transplanted outdoors into their permanent garden  spot or pot.

April-start directly in the garden or pot
These edibles do best when started directly in their permanent spot.  Almost all root vegetable do best being directly sown.  Onions and leeks can be started from seed then transplanted to their permanent spot.
Beans (snap-bush & pole) at end of April  Growing beans
Corn at end of April  Growing corn
Fruit bushes (bare root or potted)  Fruit for small spaces and pots

April-start indoors for transplanting in May
Lemon verbena
Summer and winter squash  Everything you need to know to grow squash
Sweet potatoes  Growing sweet potatoes

For tips on starting your seeds in the garden:  Outdoor seed starting tips  I also like to put a pot on our covered deck and start seeds there.  Once they are to a good size, I transplant them into their permanent pot or into the garden bed.  Vegetables you can grow in pots

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Easy to grow crispy, peppery radishes

Radishes come in many sizes and pretty colors
Saturday, April 4, 2020

Radishes are some of the easiest and fastest to grow veggie in the garden!  They can be grown in the garden bed or a pot.  Radishes are quick to sprout and ready to eat in just 3-4 weeks.  

Radishes originated in China and moved west, being domesticated in Europe in pre-Roman times.  It came in many different forms and colors.  There was the long rooted form that could get as big around as 6” or so and a round form that is most popular today.  Most were generally white, but there was also black.  

The short topped, red radish we know today was developed in the 1600’s.  They reached the American colonies in the late 1700’s.  The long rooted variety was the most popular until the 1900’s. 

Radishes provide anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, lutein, beta carotene, the vitamins B6, C and riboflavin as well as the minerals calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium.  They are rich in ascorbic acid, folic acid and potassium.    Nutritional info

Radishes can be peppery or mild and come in many colors and sizes.

Radishes enjoy the same type of soil as carrots-loose, well dug rich in organic matter.  The ideal soil would be dug 4-6” deep (if growing the round variety) and mixed with sand and compost.  If interplanting with carrots or growing the long rooted type, a deeper digging is needed 6-9”. 

Many recommend mixing radish seeds, carrot seeds and sand together and sowing the seed this way since the carrot and radish seeds are so small.  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round  The radishes sprout very quickly and are ready to harvest well before the carrots. Radishes can be sown with beets and turnips as well. You get two crops in one this way.  All about beautiful beets  All about turnips

Radishes are also planted as a “trap crop” for flea beetles.  The flea beetles will be attracted to the radishes and leave other crops alone.  The flea beetles may make the radish greens look sad, but have no affect on the root itself.

Like carrots, radishes can be sown in the spring or fall. The seeds germinate quickly, just in 3-5 days. For spring, radishes can be sown as early as 3-4 weeks prior to last frost (when the early daffodils bloom) and first pickings will be ready in 3-4 weeks.  Harvest in the morning.  Both the roots and leaves are edible.

Radishes should be planted 1/2” deep, in rows 1-2’ apart.  They should be thinned to 2-6” apart, depending on the size of radish planted. 
For winter harvesting, sow in late summer or fall.  Roots are sweetest after a frost.  You can still eat the roots when the greenery has died back.  Just dig down with your trowel to release the sweet root from the ground.  Mulch in the fall and harvest when needed.

We found the White Icicle variety to be mild and enjoyed them in salads.  The red varieties typically are hotter.  The radishes will increase in heat as the temperatures rise.  Pick early for milder taste or later in the day for more of a kick.

Choose the round varieties if you have hard soil and do not want to dig deeply or if you want to grow in pots.  Radishes are equally happy in the garden bed or pots.  They are a really fun crop for kids, too, and come in so many colors.  A really pretty addition to any salad.