Sunday, April 25, 2021

My 2021 Edible Garden Plan

So many to chose from!  Seed rack in Sicily.
Sunday, April 25, 2021

I usually have already laid out my garden plan by this time.  The recent cold snap we had this past week has caused a delay in getting plants into the garden and my planning.  The addition on our house actually got started and there is a basement where my garden used to be.  This year's garden will be smaller and will utilize pots for many veggies.

All my garden topsoil was moved into a big pile.  We'll save it and put back when the addition is completely.  I did not want to start from scratch on getting my new garden bed soil built up with organic matter!  It'll give me an enforced crop rotation too as I won't be growing anything in it this year.  Crop rotation is great for depressing disease and pest pressure.  Since I garden in a small space (my flower beds), it can be difficult to practice crop rotation with discipline.

This year, I will need to maximize my pots.  I haven't been as diligent with keeping my edibles in pots under control and well maintained.  I have such a hard time pulling out growing edibles even when there are other varieties that would give more to the table.  I'll need to really leverage the pots for growing greens and herbs this year.  There are so many new compact varieties out there today that you can grow just about anything in a pot.  

My perennial herbs like lavendar, parsley, celery, thyme, sage, chives, tarragon, oregano, garlic and Egyptian walking onions have come back this year.  My rosemary did not.  I always buy the hardiest available like Arp or Barbeque, hardy to Zone 5 and 6, respectively.  I picked up a hardy one at the local hardware store to replace it.  

I am growing pink celery from seed to see if it is as hardy as Utah green celery is in our garden.  I also have dill growing indoors.  

The self-seeding annuals chervil and cilantro are coming up in the garden.  I have several varieties of basil (Persian, African Nuowin, African Nunum, Emily and Cardinal) and dill (Bouqet and Dukat) that I started from seed.  I'll need dill to make pickles.  Swallowtail butterflies love it too.  I'll be transplanting them outdoors soon.  Herbs are the easiest edible to grow.

Cool Season Crops
Peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.  I'll plant snow peas in all my pots.  The leaves, flowers and pods are all edible and taste like peas.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

I have lettuce, chard, Chinese cabbage, Giant Red mustard, and sprouting broccoli that all overwintered.  I bought spinach transplants and started more from seed (Oriental Giant and Bloomsdale Savoy).  I started my heat tolerant varieties of lettuce from seed (Sanquine Ameliore, Butter King, Red Romaine, Rouge d' Hiver, Royal Oak Leaf, Yedikule) and have them outside in a pot hardening.  When they are of good size, I will transplant.  I have Dragon's Tail radish growing indoors.  It is an unusual veggie that brings a smile to my face.  I also like to use the pods in salads.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

I started a few other greens indoor-pink flowered dandelion, French dandelion, Italian dandelion, Chinese Multicolor amaranth, Double Purple orach, Rose orach, Chinese cabbage Hilton, Ruby Streaks mustard, Palla Rosa Ashelim radicchio.  I like to have a variety of greens for summer salads.  I like have different colors, too.  Not only do I find them pretty, but different colors have different nutrient profiles.

My perennial blue potatoes seemed to have gotten bit by the February freeze we had.  I think I will not worry about potatoes this year.  

My asparagus I started from seed last year, came up again this year with very slender sprouts.  I started a couple more from seed this year.  I'll just keep adding to my bed over time.  I also started Violetta artichokes from seed.  It is another perennial vegetable with stunning flowers if you don't harvest the buds.  It is hardy enough for our winters.
Warm Season Crops
Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, and cucumbers are my typical standbys.  The last couple of years, I have added spaghetti squash.  I'll grow them all again this year.  

I will grow a sweet pepper for snacking, an Ancho Poblano pepper for making chili powder, and Super Red Pimento for adding to salads.   I have plenty of frozen Jalapeño and Cayenne peppers in the freezer.  I did bring my Cayenne pepper plant into the garage to overwinter and it survived.   Peppers are for every taste and garden

I am growing a Bush zucchini and spaghetti squash.  The other types of zucchinis get huge and without a lot of space, I'll go with one that keeps to a smaller footprint.  I'll plant the spaghetti squash in the potato boxes.  Everything you need to know to grow squash

For the eggplant, I started a few from seed and they are all coming along well.  I will grow them all in pots.  Eggplant and peppers both seem to do very well in pots. We like the white eggplants as their skins don't get tough in our hot summers.  I also have a few others I am trying that are supposed to be good for hot summers (Casper, Turkish Orange, Italian Pink Bicolor, Rotenda Bicolor, Mitoyo, Amadeo and AO Daimaru).  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

For tomatoes, I am growing Italian Pear paste tomato, Cherokee Purple slicer, and Chocolate Pear.  This should cover us for making sauce for winter, slices for burgers, and small tomatoes for salads.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

I am growing one White Wonder cucumber.  That should be all I need for fresh eating.  I may grow a green cucumber if I need to make more pickles.  I'll either grow it on a trellis so it grows up instead of out or put it in the potato box with the squash, keeping it's footprint small.  How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden      Quick tip-Grow Up!  Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

I have 4 varieties of okra growing indoors-Heavy Hitter, Red Burgundy, Candle Fire, and Jing Orange.  I like to slice and freeze okra.  I coat with spicy olive oil, salt and bake on a cookie sheet in the oven.  Growing and harvesting okra

I will also grow New Zealand spinach and Red Malabar spinach.  Both have sprouted from seeds I started.  They are a good substitute for traditional spinach in the summer.  Spinach bolts in the heat of early summer.  

Lastly, I have started Alpine strawberries (Mignonette, Italian, Regina, and Alexandria).   I love these little berries.  They are fun to snack on and add to salads.  Back yard strawberries

 I will start snap beans outdoors in a week or two.  I will use a trellis for them and plant in the ground.  We like the flat Romano types.  Last year, I think my beans and tomatoes got blight.  The best defense for these type of diseases is to rotate your crops.  Since last year's garden spot is a basement, I will definitely practice crop rotation and put them in a new spot!  All you need know to grow green (or purple or yellow) beans

I add flowers to the garden every year, interplanted with the edibles.  I don't have as much room so the number of flowers will be much less.  I purchased annual alyssum for the border.  They smell great and are low growers so don't take up as much room as marigolds.  They can also self-seed.  I am growing Gold Dust alyssum from seed.  It is a perennial, but only comes in yellow.  To add variety for the border, another low growing perennial I am trying is Snow in Summer.

I keep trying different blue flowers since my husband loves blue flowers.  There aren't many of those around!  This year, I am growing eucalyptus Silver Dollar, Blue Fescue grass, borage, Heavenly Blue morning glory, Emerald Pacific and Fantasia mix delphinium, and Pride of Madeira.

A couple I am starting for fun are Chinese Wool flower (also edible), variegated cockscomb and dwarf cockscomb.  I am hoping Love, Lies, Bleeding amaranth and Giant Red Cockscomb will come back as volunteers.   For flowers that are edible, see Flowers that are edible

The hardest thing for me to do is not over-plant!  There are just so many interesting kinds of veggies out there, it is tough to make a plan and stick with it!  Chart for how many to plant

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Find your frost date quickly

USDA Hardiness Zone Map
Sunday, April 18, 2021

First and last frost dates are important to know.  You don't want to put out the summer loving fruits and vegetables until after all danger of frost has passed in the spring.  In the fall, you want to be sure to plant your fall and winter crops far enough in advance of your last frost that they are mature before freezing temperatures hit.

It is easy to find your first and last frost date using this web site.  Frost dates  Just put in your zip code and it brings up the frost dates for your area.  

It gives a table with probability of having a frost.  For last frost in spring, I use the 30% column.  This means there is only a 30% chance that frost will occur after this date in your area.  You can also use 50% if the crop you are planting is not frost sensitive.  I use the 30% to gauge when to start my summer garden seeds indoors.  Then, I look at the extended weather forecast to make the final determination on planting out in the garden.

For the crops that are frost sensitive, see A summer edible garden

For our area (Zone 7a), last frost is typically this week.  The old timers in the area say that it is always safe to plant on Mother's Day.  Our extended forecast shows we have a chance of frost 2 days this next week.  I'll wait to plant heat lovers until the extended forecast is showing no chance of frost.  Waiting a week or two longer doesn't get your harvest behind as they don't really start to grow until the soil is warmed up.

If you just can't wait, use covers to keep the plants protected and to warm the soil.  Extend the season with protection for plants

Saturday, April 17, 2021

How to grow broccoli and cauliflower

Cauliflower with inner leaves folding in
Saturday, April 17, 2021

Broccoli is touted as a “super food.”  It is chock full of vitamins and minerals A, B6, C, E, K, protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, and others.  Cauliflower is an age-old standby and has great nutritional value as well-protein, vitamins B6, C, K, folate, many minerals-potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and others.  Both are healthy and versatile.  Broccoli nutrition   Cauliflower nutrition

Broccoli is a kale.  It is thought its ancestor came from the eastern Mediterranean and was developed into the first “broccoli” with the distinct florets we grow them for today.  Purple was the preferred form in colonial times and is coming back as a popular form today.  

Cauliflower is from the same family as broccoli.  The earliest accounts of the vegetable share its origins as Cypress.  It was the English that developed it into the form we enjoy today.  Cauliflower came to the colonies in the 1600's.  Both were some of the first vegetables to make the trip to colonies.  Colonial Vegetable Garden

For planting, purple sprouting broccoli must be planted in the fall for a spring harvest.  Other types of sprouting broccoli, broccoli and cauliflower can be planted in the spring and fall.  Sow when the first crocus blooms in spring (March in my zone) or when phlox and asters bloom for fall plantings (July).

Today, there are many varieties that have different days to maturity.  You can plant a variety to get a continuous supply, even in the dead of winter.  Cauliflower comes in many colors today-white, orange, green, chartreuse, and purple.

If growing from seed for spring, you will start your seedlings indoors 6-8 weeks prior to average date of the last frost.  They are ready to transplant when they have 5-6 leaves.  You can get transplants now that are ready to plant now at many nurseries and big box stores.

Here is a link to frost dates:  Frost dates
You can change the settings to how lucky you are feeling.  Choosing 50% would be the average date of the last frost.  Changing it to 30% chance means there is only a 30% chance, on average, you will get another frost.

I typically use the 50% as a gauge on when to start watching the extended forecast.  When it looks like there is a good run of warm weather, I plant.  This year, it has been a roller coaster.  We have had some really warm spells and then cool spells.  Overall, the average has been well above normal.

You can grow both in pots as well.  I grow my sprouting broccoli in a pot every year along with lettuce.  Look for compact varieties of cauliflower that are great in pots.
As with most vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower enjoy a fertile soil so enrich the soil with compost.  Plant about 18" apart.  Add an inch of compost and supplement with a high nitrogen fertilizer when planting, like composted chicken manure.  Give another dressing of fertilizer just when heads begin to form.  They like cool soil temps so mulching will boost your harvests.  Be sure to rotate the location where you plant in the garden as broccoli does attract pests.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

For cauliflower, the new varieties have been bred so that their inner leaves remain over the floret.  If you plant an heirloom or if your new variety does not have its leaves behave, you should to take the largest leaves and place over the floret and secure if you want pure white heads.  If the white floret is exposed to sun, it will yellow.  The curds must have formed before the temperatures reach 80 degrees.

To get extend harvests, plant different varieties with varying days to maturity.  Just look for "Days to Harvest" on the seed packet to get succession harvesting types.  Broccoli should be harvested before the florets open; cauliflower when the outer florets begin to separate.  Don't worry if you harvest later than that, they'll still taste great.  I think it is pretty to add broccoli florets with their pretty yellow flowers to salads.
Broccoli flowering
For broccoli, the sprouting type keep on giving.  When you harvest the center floret, you will get side shoots sometimes for weeks afterwards.  The leaves of broccoli tastes just like the florets.  They are great to add to salads and provide leaves even in the heat of summer when most lettuce has left the garden party.  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

If you want a little bit of both broccoli and cauliflower, try the heirloom variety “Nine Star Perennial.”  It really is a perennial!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Harvesting from the mid April garden

Overwintering lettuce and chard
Sunday, April 11, 2021

This is the time for salads.  Many salad fixings are ready to be harvested from the garden.

The first to be ready to eat in the spring are all the cold hardy veggies that survived the winter and the edible perennials that are first up in the spring.

In our garden, the overwintering veggies were carrots, celery, parsley, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, chard, cultivated dandelions, chickweed, Egyptian walking onions, chives, mustard greens, arugula.  Edible perennials that are ready to add to salads are sorrel, tarragon, redbud blooms, and dandelion flowers.

I gave the greens a watering with liquid fertilizer, fish emulsion, which is high in nitrogen to get them the food they need for filling out.  Greens love nitrogen and cooler weather makes it less available in the soil.  A liquid fertilizer is an easy way to get usable nitrogen to the plant.

I started more lettuce and greens seeds indoors.  They are up and about 2" high.  I'll be transplanting them outdoors into a pot on the patio today.  After they have a chance to grow a little bigger and harden to the outdoor temperatures and sun, I'll transplant them out into their permanent spot. 

I am trying some new varieties of lettuce and greens that perform well in hot weather as well as varieties that have done well in my summer garden.  Sprouting broccoli, Red Malabar spinach, amaranth, New Zealand spinach and orach leaves thrive in the hot and humid weather and are tasty in salads.

If you want instant homegrown salads, visit your local nurseries and big box stores for ready to plant lettuce, spinach, chard, and other greens.  You get an unending harvest by taking only the leaves on the outside of the plants, leaving the inner leaves growing.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Everything you need to know about growing lettuce

Red sails lettuce and petunias

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Spring is prime time for salads!  Lettuce is its sweetest and most productive in spring and fall.  Lettuce loves cool temperatures, moisture and lots of nitrogen.  It is a super easy "vegetable" to grow from seed, too, and it self seeds.
When the hot weather sets in, lettuce will go from sweet and docile to bolting and bitter in a week.  For summer harvests, chose varieties that are heat resistant like Summer Crisp, Red Sails, Rouge d’Hiver, Freckles Romaine, Summertime Crisphead, Tomahawk, and Loma French Crisp.
Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

To keep yourself in lettuce all summer, practice succession planting and sow seed every 2-3 weeks.  Lettuce is super easy to grow from seed.  I simply just scatter seeds on top of the soil and pat down.  Keep moist and you will have lettuce seedlings within a week.
Lettuce and all greens love nitrogen just like your lawn does.  We donate our nitrogen rich coffee grounds to our greens.  I also use a liquid fertilizer (guano and sea kelp) or other organic fertilizer monthly.  
It is important to keep the lettuce from drying out.  They need consistent moisture.  It is when lettuce is stressed, either through hot temps or drying out, that they turn bitter and bolt.  This is one of the reasons that the Earthbox is such a good pot to grow lettuce.  It has a water reservoir in the bottom so weekly watering keeps the soil moist even in the hottest weather.  Any self-watering pot will work this way, even one you make yourself or buy a kit to transform a favorite pot into a self watering container.
Lettuce in an Earthbox, self watering pot
Bolting is simply when a stalk arises from the middle of the lettuce plant.  It then flowers and sets seed.  When the seeds start to dry, cut off the stalk and remove the seeds.  I put my seeds in a ziplock and store in the frig.  The seeds stay viable for 2-3 years this way.  Save the seeds from your favorites and re-sow to keep yourself in free, tasty lettuce all season long.  You can also let the seeds fall where they may and you will get volunteer lettuce plants throughout your garden.  
Bolted Red Sails lettuce-cool looking, eh?

Lettuce does well right through fall frost.  Choose cold tolerant varieties for spring and fall Fall and winter greens and heat tolerant varieties to sow in late spring and summer.  One thing to remember is that lettuce seed does not germinate well above 75 degrees so you may have to move your seed starting to the shade or indoors in the dog days of late summer. 

Protection from the afternoon sun helps in lengthening the time before your lettuce bolts.  There are few techniques you can use.  Grow lettuce interspersed with taller veggies to give them shade protection, plant next to a wall that provides afternoon shade, or cover with a shade cloth to keep them cooler.  If growing in a pot, it is easy to just move the pot to a shadier, cooler spot when the temps start to rise.
Harvesting frequently also helps keep the lettuce from bolting.  Harvest the outer leaves consistently and the plant will continue to produce more inner leaves.  I harvest from the same plants for a couple of months this way.
Some, like the Marvel of Four Seasons and Red Sails, stay sweet even when they have bolted.  Give the bolted lettuces a taste to see if it is time to let them go to seed and yank them out to make room for another crop.  

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Spinach is touted as one of the super foods and there are good reasons why.  Spinach is rich in antioxidants, folic acid, betaine, protein, omega-3, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, minerals manganese, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium.  Spinach nutritional facts

Spinach can be eaten raw, steamed, or sautéed.  A French favorite is creamed spinach.  Spinach contains oxalic acid which is eliminated when cooked.  Alternating between fresh and cooked is optimal.

It has been reported that spinach helps prevent osteoporosis, anemia, heart disease and cancers of the colon and prostate.  Natural News

Spinach was originally an Asian green and was first cultivated in Persia (modern day Iran) in the 3rd century and brought back to Europe via Spain by the Crusaders in the 11th century.

It was a favorite of Catherine de Medici from Florence, Italy.  She insisted every dish be served on a bed of greens.  Hence the term, “a’ la Florentine” for this style.

The smooth seeded spinach we grow today was known in the 1600’s.  Bot the smooth and prickly seeded varieties were grown in the American colonies by the 1700’s.  The prickly seeded varieties are more prone to early bolting than the smooth seeded varieties.

Spinach loves well composted, moist soil and cool weather (below 70 degrees F).  Spinach will often over winter even in the northern states.  In southern states it is typically fall sown for spring harvests.

Seeds should be sown 1/2” deep, 3-6” apart.  Spinach is also happy to grow in pots.  Growing in pots also allow you to move the pot to a cooler area as temperatures rise, extending the harvest.

For spring harvests, plant in full sun to light shade in early spring (4-6 weeks before the last frost).  Seeds germinate in soil temperatures of 45-70 degrees F.  Spinach also transplants easily so can be started indoors.  Frost date calendar

Plant every 2 weeks or plant a variety with different maturity times (days to harvest) to have spinach into summer.    Fertilize when the seedlings emerge.  Spinach is ready to harvest 35-50 days.  Spinach enjoys even moisture.

If you harvest the outer leaves, the inner leaves will continue to grow, allowing you multiple harvests from each plant.

If you let them go to seed, allow the seed to dry on the plant before saving.  Refrigerate in air tight containers.  I use plastic freezer bags to save space in the frig.

Plant more heat resistant varieties later in the season like America, Teton, Bloomsdale Longstanding, Space Olympia, or Tyee.

For summer after spinach has bolted, you can plant New Zealand Spinach or Red Malabar Spinach for spinach taste from plants that can take the heat.  Red Malabar is a very pretty vining plant with maroon stems.  They are great to grow just for their looks alone.  Growing summer salads