Saturday, June 25, 2022

Start a patio/deck edible garden today!

Potted lettuce on the patio
Saturday, June 18, 2022

June is not too late to start a summer edible garden.  Purchasing plant varieties made to thrive in pots brings an even a quicker harvest.  Dwarf varieties tend to mature quicker than their full size counterparts.

Big box stores, local hardware stores, nurseries and farm stores are having sales on plants right now, including edibles.  Now is great time to get the summer loving veggies and herbs to start your patio or deck edible garden.  Dwarf varieties stay smaller and mature much quicker than the bigger plants so you can plant later and still start harvesting as those that planted earlier.

If this is your first edible gardening foray, make sure to get larger pots with either a big catch pan or one that is self watering so you can keep summer hand watering to once or twice a week.  Be sure to use potting soil and NOT garden soil.  Garden soil can be used in raised beds or garden beds but is too dense for pots.

Veggies that seem to prefer pots even if they aren't advertised as being developed for small spaces are peppers and eggplants.  I always grow both in pots even when I have the space to put in the garden bed.

For larger plants like cucumber, squash, okra and tomatoes, either get a huge pot with a diameter the size of a whiskey barrel or get varieties that were bred to stay smaller.  Read the tag for descriptions like dwarf, compact, small space, great for pots, etc.  For cucumber and squash, typically any "bush" variety will stay compact enough to do well in a larger pot.

For tomatoes and okra, it's best to get those that advertise as developed for pots.  
Potted peppers and eggplant with petunias
You can also grow any herb in a pot.  Herbs thrive on neglect.  If you are not sure edible gardening is your thing, definitely start with herbs to get quick confidence.

For your potted edibles, put them in a sunny spot and water twice a week if there is no rain.  I add a solid fertilizer when planting and start using a liquid fertilizer when I water every other week.  

Once they start producing, keep up with harvesting to encourage the plants to make more fruits.

That's really all there is to it.  

Sunday, June 19, 2022

You can start an edible garden in June!

June edible garden in the flower bed
Sunday, June 19, 2022

Some think you can only start an edible garden in the spring.  You can actually start a garden at any time in spring, summer or fall.  If you are deciding to start your garden in the summer, there are a few techniques to use to figure out what to plant and help your plants survive and flourish through the heat and humidity. 

Step 1-I think the best way is to make a list of what you like to eat, then see which of your favorites are best to start right now in your garden!  This is the time of year of the heat lovers like eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and many herbs.  There is no time like the present to get moving on your gardening dreams.  A summer edible garden  Culinary herb garden for beginners 
Summer garden veggies
Step 2-Now that you have your list, take a look at your garden, patio, deck, porch, front yard to see how much space you have that gets 6 hours of sun a day.  Even the summer lovers appreciate afternoon shade this time of year.  There are so many dwarf varieties of every kind of vegetable to grow in pots or small spaces that you should not be put off thinking you don’t have enough space!
Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  
How to decide what to plant for small spaces? 
Companion planting tips    Edible shade gardens shine in summer

Step 3-Buy your gardening supplies for your garden bed or pots.  Pots are easy-just buy some organic potting soil and the decorative pot.  Most potting soils come with fertilizer already mixed in.   You do not want to use garden soil as it is too dense for pots.  Make sure you buy the right size pot for the vegetable you are growing.  If planting in the garden bed, use your flower beds to tuck veggies and herbs around your flowers.  Mulched beds help keep the soil temperature cooler and hold in moisture; just what plants need in summer.
Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer  Re-energize your potting soil!
Decorative container gardening for edibles  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds  

Step 4-Buy your plants.  I prefer to buy plants that are raised without chemicals so I look for an organic nursery to see if they have what I want.  The brand carried at many big box stores started carrying organic last year.  My next stop is my local nursery or big box hardware store.  Choose the plants that are green and look sturdy.  If they already have blooms, be sure to remove them.  You want all the energy of your plants going into good roots initially.  Plants will be ready to go directly into the garden or pot.  

The heat lovers like tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and melons will also sprout from seed easily this time of year.  They sprout in just a few days.  I transplant sprouts into larger pots to give them room to grow sturdy.  I'll transplant them into the garden when they are around 5" tall.  Or just sow the seeds in their final spot and keep the soil moist.
What to plant in the June edible garden
Newly started seeds
Step 5-Plant!  Water each plant well before planting.  The best time to plant is before a rain or cloudy days.  Gives the plants a little time to get their roots jump started.  I add plant starter and fertilizer to each hole, mix with the soil and then place the plant.  Water again after planting.

For potted veggie or herbs, fill the pot with organic potting soil, water to get the potting soil settled, plant the veggie, and water again.  You can top with mulch to keep lengthen the time between waterings.  I also plant flowers in my pots to add color and attract beneficial insects.
Decorative container gardening for edibles

If planting in your flower bed or garden, the best thing to do is a soil test (you can buy a kit or take it to your local co-op extension office).  If this just seems too much trouble, use an organic balanced fertilizer following the directions on the bag. 
The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

I like to put a handful of worm castings and char into each hole with the new plant along with a balanced organic fertilizer like Espoma.  Worm castings have lots of beneficial microbes in them that helps the plants absorb nutrients from the soil.  Compost is also a good option.

Newly planted pepper plant started from seed

Step 6-Monitor and water.  Keep an eye on your plants.  They may look sad the first week if it is really hot when they first go into the ground.  Consistent water is the key for success.  Like a lawn or flowers, the best time to water is in the mornings.  When you water your flowers, water your veggies and herbs.

One watch out on watering, many summer crops are susceptible to leaf fungus, like cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.  Be sure to water at the base of the plant and not the leaves.

Here are a couple of garden ideas:

If you have a picky eater, try the kid’s pizza/spaghetti garden.  If they grow it, they want to eat it!
Tomatoes-any you can’t eat, you can easily freeze for winter pizzas
Basil, oregano, chives, garlic for seasoning
Onions-you can grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot or ground and they are perennials to boot
Kale, arugula, and sprouting broccoli for a little green in your pizza toppings (easy to freeze for later)
Green peppers, eggplant, zucchini for summer pizzas (maybe some hot peppers for the adults)
For those that are real adventuresome, you can get mushroom kits to grow mushrooms.

Here is an Italian/Sicilian garden that you can grow in as little as a 6’ x 6’ space or pots:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
2 tomatoes-1 Roma type for sauces and 1 slicer type for salads
2 sweet pepper plants
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
8 red onions (you can substitute Egyptian walking onions for a summer garden)
8 garlic plants (planted in the fall for summer harvest)
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown

It is great fun, a time saver, and nutritious to grow your own food in your yard!

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Tomatoes are Americans favorite vegetable to grow.  There really is no comparison between a home grown tomato and a store bought tomato.  There are just a few tricks to know about growing great tasting tomatoes. 

The first is knowing what type of tomato to purchase
There are two types of tomatoes-indeterminate and determinate.  Determinate grow to a set height and the fruit sets all at once.  These can be a great candidate for canning if you would like to get your tomato canning done all at once.  Indeterminate continue to grow and yield fruits (yes, the tomato is actually a fruit) until frost.  These are the best for fresh tomatoes all season long.
Choosing which tomatoes to grow

I grow only indeterminates.  For what we don’t eat, I freeze whole in quart freezer bags for chili and salsa until fall.  Come fall, I start canning the surplus.  I like growing a variety of tomatoes, with different colors, salad tomatoes, slicers, and paste tomatoes.  I like adding paste tomatoes to each freezer bag as they give a silky sauce.  And colors are just fun!  I always have red and purple tomatoes in the garden.
The Power of Purple

Right before the first frost, I pick all the tomatoes left on the vine and put in a dark place for them to ripen.  We have fresh tomatoes into December.  They are definitely not the same as summer tomatoes, but better than anything you can buy in the store!  For more tips on preserving the tomato harvest:  Preserving the tomato harvest

There are "storage" tomato varieties.  You can pick these at frost and they will keep for up to 4 weeks longer than typical tomatoes.  One option is Red October.  The downside is they are a hybrid so will not come back true to the parent with seeds from this year's crop.
Tomatoes kept in pantry at Christmas
All tomatoes are chock full of antioxidants and lycopene.  They contain vitamins A, C, E, K, and B-complex as well as potassium, manganese, and copper.  For a full listing of nutrition, SELF magazine has an informative nutritional database:  tomato nutrition

Tomato supports/cages
With indeterminate tomatoes, they definitely need something to help them grow upwards (although not required, it does make harvesting much easier and takes up less garden space).  A very sturdy pole can be used and the plant tied onto it as it grows.  The more popular option is a “tomato cage” that the tomato grows up in to.  This is what we use.  It is important to get the cage on while the plants are small or severe damage may ensue when you try to force the gangly plant into it’s cage.  Be sure to get a strong cage for large tomato plants.  I also add a stake to the really big tomatoes to give extra support.

If you grow dwarf or patio tomatoes, they may not need any support at all.  I did end up using a stake for each plant as they put on large tomatoes which caused the plant to lean when I grow the patio types.  
Staked dwarf tomato
Tips when planting
Tomatoes are susceptible to blossom-end rot and fungal diseases.  End rot is typically caused by not having enough calcium in the soil.  Fungal diseases remain the soil.  It is important to rotate vegetable plants and not plant them in the same spot every year.  This year I am using organic fungicides.  I sprayed when I transplanted my seedlings and will spray every couple of weeks.  Organic fungicides are preventative so you have to keep the fungus from growing to start with.  Hopefully, this will greatly increase yields in late summer.  

Another preventative of disease is to provide the right fertilizer and nutrients when planting.  In each planting hole, I add a handful of worm castings, balanced fertilizer, and dusted the roots with mycorrhizal life support which contains mycorrhizal, vitamins and minerals.  This blend improves soil fertility and the plants ability to take in the nutrition it needs.  It is not all about just the big 3-nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  They are important but vitamins, minerals, and particularly living soil makes a huge difference in how healthy and lush the plants become.  I use fertilizer made specifically for tomatoes so that they get the calcium they need.  As your plants take up minerals, you will get these minerals when you eat your garden produce.
The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

When you plant your tomato, make sure to plant it deeply.  I take off all the limbs except the top couple and bury the plant up to these stems.  Roots will grow from where the removed and buried limbs were.  This gives the plants a much stronger root system to support growth.

I also like to plant early in the season and then again in the middle of the summer.  When the new plants come on strong, the early planted ones are slowing down.  It keeps the harvest going strong.

Pruning tips
Now that your plants have the right start, pruning is the next step.  To get the highest yields, some say it is important to prune your tomatoes.  You want no branches below 12” (some recommend 18”).  You also want to prune the plant to only 2 branches, the center stalk and one side stalk.  You want to keep the “suckers” cut or pinched off as well as the tomato grows.

The amount of pruning is controversial among tomato growing connoisseurs.  Some swear by pruning, others say it makes no difference.  If you live further south, keeping the greenery helps protect the fruits from sun scald.  If your plants seem to get fungal diseases, doing some pruning to open up the plant for air circulation can be beneficial.  For plants up north, increased greenery helps the plant have more energy going to its fruits.  I have tried both and for my garden, very limited pruning has worked the best.

Watering and fertilizing
Now, to on-going watering and fertilizing.  Many think more is better when it comes to watering and fertilizing.  Not so for tomatoes!  What you end up with are tons of greenery, mushy tomatoes, and very few of them.  Some tomato afficiados recommend a deep watering and fertilizer at planting, then again at flowering, and that is it.  I do water when there is a long dry spell.  Overwatering or erratic watering can also cause the fruits to crack.  

For the tomatoes in the garden, I fertilize when planting, again when the first flowers appear, and monthly thereafter.  If growing in containers, I fertilize every other week with a liquid fertilizer when flowering.  I also add either kelp meal or Azomite every season to make sure the plants are getting all the trace minerals they need.  The first time I added Azomite, my plants seemed to grow and bush out within a few days.  If they respond favorably, then they really needed those nutrients.

If your plant will not flower and fruit with lush green foliage, quit fertilizing and watering.  A little stress should jump start it into producing flowers and fruits.

Although tomatoes love hot weather (they will not flower until night time temps get above 55), they also don’t like it too hot.  If daytime temps get above 90 and nighttime temps above 76, the plant will drop its flowers.  Not to worry, as soon as temps come back down, your plants will begin flowering again.
 Summer garden tips

Growing in containers
If you want to grow tomatoes in a container, you need to either have a really big container for full size tomatoes (5 gallon) or plant varieties that are adapted for containers. Tomatoes for containers would be labelled as dwarf, patio, container.  Some varieties that fit this bill:  BushSteak, Patio Princess, Bush Early Girl, Tumbler, Bush Big Boy, Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Lizzano, Sweetheart of the Patio, Tumbling Tom Yellow or Red, Bush Better Bush, Balcony (look for bush/patio/container types), Husky Bush.
Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots

If you grow in containers, you will need to water weekly or maybe even more depending on the container and plant size combo used.  For more on container gardening and types to purchase for pots, Decorative container gardening for edibles

Seed saving
If you are growing open pollinated or heirloom tomatoes, you can save the seed from the best fruits and plants to grow for next season.  If you are growing hybrids, the seed will not produce a plant like the parent.  Why save seed?  Saving seed from the plants that produce the best fruits year on year will give you plants acclimated to your garden conditions and the best producers.  Save seed from plants that have the characteristics you want in future plants.  The ones with the best fruit, the largest fruit, the best tasting fruit, the earliest producer, the latest producer or the best producer.  You get to choose what you want in your future tomato plants.
Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Monday, June 6, 2022

What I planted for the edible garden in early June

Temporary edible garden on shady side of the house
Monday, June 6, 2022 

I did another round of transplanting this week end.   I am late getting seeds started and transplant planted out, but there is plenty of time yet to get your summer garden growing and producing.  You can start a summer garden well into June and still have a productive harvest.  For some edibles, like squash, it is even better to wait a bit to plant to avoid pests.  

For summer harvests, I transplanted the okra, cucumber, pepper, eggplant and squash plants I started in early May into the garden bed.  I am growing them all in pots except the squash plants.  I am growing my edible garden in a temporary spot that long term will be just for ornamentals as it is mostly shady and we still have work going on the addition of the house where my permanent combo edible and ornamental bed will be on the south, sunny side of the house.  
Peppers planted in pot with snow peas and petunias
Eggplant and peppers do well in pots and I typically grown them in pots every year.  The pole beans, okra and cucumber I usually plant in the ground.  In the shady area under the hickory tree, they did not do so well last year so I am growing them in large pots this year.  The pots are around the size of a short whiskey barrel.  In addition, the cucumber plant is a bush variety that was bred for containers so it will not grow huge.  I planted only 3 bean vines in each pot when I typically plant 6 around each trellis.  I only put 2 okras in the very large pot.  It is the first time I have grown this variety and I wasn't sure if I should have just one or go for two.  We shall see if I made the right choice.
Bush cucumber on left, pole beans in middle and okra on right in large pots
The squash varieties I am growing this year produce huge vines, growing 10-20' long.  I could have put them in a pot and kept them pinched back but decided to put them in the temporary back garden bed in the sunniest spot.

Most of the greens, Cock's Comb flowers and basil I started a week ago have sprouted.  It looks like I will need to start some more sweet basil as only one of those sprouted and I like to have at least 3 plants for pesto and cooking.  The dill and cilantro from 3 weeks ago are starting to get their first true leaves.  I'll transplant them out when they fill out a little bit more, hopefully by next week end.

I will start another round of lettuce in a couple more weeks, but the bulk of my seed starting is over until July/August when I'll start seeds for fall and winter harvests.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Quick tip-how I keep the deer away

Edible and ornamental garden in the backyard
Sunday, June 5, 2022

I now live in the country where deer bed down in our yard.  We knew we wanted to retire on the lake so we bought a house we could fix up and used it as our vacation house.  The first year we were here, the deer didn't seem to bother any of my newly planted ornamental plants.  The second summer, we came home one week end and all my hostas and daylilies had been eaten to the ground.  It was time to figure out how to keep them away!

I did lots of reading online for what keeps deer from eating ornamentals and edible.  The biggest thing it seems you should know is that deer can't see very well, but have a great sense of smell that they use to navigate with.  They stay away from smelly things as it messes up their navigation.  Many talked about using a very fragrant soap like Irish Spring but that didn't seem to work long term.  I read somewhere that WD40 was abhorrent to the deer.  Fragrant herbs and marigolds acted as a deterrent, too.

What I have found that works well for me is a combination of fragrant herbs planted throughout the ornamental and edible garden with a perimeter of marigolds.  In addition, I use the Deer Off stakes and in between each of the stakes, I use the old Deer Off stakes with old socks on them.  I wet the top of the socks with WD40.  I have also sprayed the socks with Bobbex, a deer deterrent.  Either seems to work at keeping the deer at bay.  The Deer Off stakes I replace annually, the socks I reapply every other month.

One thing to note is that the trick is to keep them from "discovering" all the great things for them to eat in your garden because once they have found it, they keep coming back.  If they are already eating your garden, they'll need to get distracted to forget about it so it may take a few weeks after you have put out the deterrents for them to get the deer out.  Once they are not coming for snacks, the deterrents keep them away from my garden.

This combination approach has worked for me for 10 years.  The only time deer start munching around the edges is when I don't reapply the deterrent on the socks or wait too long in the spring to put in new Deer Off stakes.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

What to plant in the June edible garden

Eggplant with petunia
Saturday, June 4, 2022

In our Zone 6/7 garden, June is summer.  The cold crops planted in April like lettuce, mustard, kale and spinach are bolting (gone to seed).  This year, I started the summer lovers like tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, cucumbers and eggplant from seed late.  The earliest tomatoes are blooming and one has a tomato on it.  The bean vines I planted a couple of weeks ago are about a foot tall.  I just transplanted the peppers, squash, cucumbers and eggplant into their summer pots and garden bed.  If planted earlier, they would all be flowering with baby fruits on them.  No worries, these heat lovers will grow quickly in the summer sun.

I have basil and my next round of greens planted in peat pots along with cock's comb.  I like starting seeds this time of year in peat pots on the covered patio where I can make sure they are getting even moisture.  As soon as they have their second set of true leaves, I transplant them on a cloudy day.

I'll continue growing lettuce from seed about every 3 weeks to keep sweet leaves going for harvest.  I do love salads.  I may also start more perennial edibles and flowers this month.  Next month is the time to start fall veggies from seed.

Below is a list of plants and seeds you can put in the June edible garden.  Transplants give you a jump on harvests and are still available at big box stores and nurseries, but seeds are inexpensive and you can get unusual varieties to try that you can't get as transplants.
June-transplants or seeds
Bee balm (monarda)
Beans-bush and pole
Lemon balm
Lettuce (heat tolerant)
Summer and winter squash

June-start from seeds directly in the garden
Beans (snap-bush & pole)
Peas, Southern

I love to have fresh salads every day.  It is tough in summer to keep the traditional salad greens like lettuce and spinach going in the hot weather.  I sow seeds every 3 weeks in spring to keep greens going.  Go for the bolt resistant types in late spring and early summer.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  I have also in recent years started planting substitutes for lettuce and spinach.  

For lettuce substitute, I am growing sprouting broccoli and a sweet Chinese cabbage, Hilton, along with orach, multi colored amaranth, cultivated dandelion greens, arugula and chard.  All can be sown now.

For spinach substitutes, I am growing Perpetual Spinach, Red Malabar spinach and New Zealand spinach.  They all thrive in hot weather.  Malabar spinach is a vine so give it a trellis to climb.  It is quite pretty with its maroon stems and flowers.

Give your greens the coolest spot in the garden and moist to keep them sweet and succulent.  Growing summer salads

For tips on starting your seeds in the garden:  Outdoor seed starting tips  I also like to put a pot or two on our covered deck and start seeds there.  Once they are to a good size, transplant them into their permanent pot or into the garden bed.  Be sure your seedlings are hardened off as the heat and sun can be intense this time of year. "Hardening off" seedlings   I like to plant on a cloudy day when rain is being called for the next day.

In June, the days are getting hot and the rains don't come as often.  Be sure to water your new plants when it gets dry or they wilt.  Summer garden tips