Sunday, August 28, 2022

September 2022 Edible Garden Planner

Harvest from September garden
Sunday, August 28, 2022

End of summer is a great time to tidy garden beds, harvest herbs, and plant for fall and winter harvests.  As the days get shorter, growth slows and before long the sun cannot support all the greenery from summer.  Plants, trees and bushes will drop leaves, but peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, greens, herbs, okra, pole beans, squash and cucumbers will keep producing through frost.  Keep the fruits picked to keep them producing.  Beginning of September is an ideal time to sow seeds of cool weather greens for fall and early winter harvests.  

Harvesting Herbs
This is the perfect time to harvest your herbs.  You can cut them back so they remain lush, improving the tidiness of your garden, and providing herbs for the winter ahead.  Cutting them back will help the plants build stronger root systems.  Trimming also encourages new growth.  You just don't want to prune too close to frost as new growth makes the plant less hardy. 

I dry my herbs to preserve them.  I cut the plant back by about two thirds and put the stems loosely in a paper bag in a dry, warm area out of the sun and let dry naturally.  Loose is the key here so they get good air circulation and do not mold.  They should be completely dry in about 3-4 weeks.  I like putting them in clothes closets to dry as they release such great fragrance and the darkness helps keep the flavor in the herb. 

Once dried, remove the leaves from woody herbs and store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  With a soft herb like chives, you can just crumble into the airtight container.  I use wide mouth canning jars for herb storage or freezer bags kept in a dark location.  

Basil is one that loses most of its flavor when dried.  You can cut back basil a few times each growing season for harvesting and preserving.  My favorite way to preserve basil is to make pesto and freeze it.  It tastes just like freshly made pesto.  Be sure to remove all leaves or bring plants indoors when they are calling for frost.  Basil is very frost intolerant and its leaves will turn black when touched with frost.

 If the winter is not colder than usual in our zone, most perennial herbs like chives, oregano, sage, savory and thyme can be harvested year round straight from the garden.  If it is a harsh winter, the tops of these perennials will die to the ground, but re-sprout in the spring.
Winter squash from the September garden
Fall planting guide for cool season crops
September is prime time to plant more greens, beets, carrots and radishes. 

October is the month to plant garlic for next year's harvest.  Buy your garlic early because the most popular varieties sell out early!  I will replant the biggest cloves from this year's harvest.  I have both regular garlic and elephant garlic to plant.  I like elephant garlic because it produces huge cloves.   Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......  

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at some nurseries since gardening has become so popular.  You can also buy them on line or grow from seed.  Everything that loves spring also thrive in fall into early winter.  

Lettuce is my favorite for fall.  Plant a variety daily the first two weeks of September so that they are mature by the end of October.  Pick varieties that are cold tolerant with descriptions like "winter hardy", "cold tolerant", etc.  Time to plant lettuce seed for fall, winter salads

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.  Outdoor seed starting tips

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter!  
Extend the season with protection for plants

Caring for the Summer Vegetables
Many of the summer veggies will continue producing until the first killing frost.  I continue to fertilize the beginning of September and October to keep the plants healthy while they are producing.  We are getting less and less daylight now so it is expected that the plants will drop lower leaves and have slower growth. Cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplants, okra, snap beans and tomatoes all keep producing in our garden well into November.  

Greens in the garden are getting a second life as the temperatures cool and consistent moisture returns.  I tried starting lettuce a couple of times this month with limited success.  Lettuce seed will not sprout if soil temperatures are above 75F.  I will resow more lettuce and add spinach to the mix as temperatures are forecasted to be lower next week.  I'll transplant the seedlings into pots that I keep under the portable greenhouse for the winter to keep salads all winter long. 

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year!  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  Be sure to save seed only from disease free plants.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Quick tip-make homemade pickles with extra cucumbers

Home made pickles
Saturday, August 27, 2022

Cucumbers love the summer heat and really produce alot of cukes this time of year.  I am growing small bush type cucumbers this year and still getting a couple of cucumbers a day.  Way more that I can eat fresh.  Homemade pickles are super easy to make and a great way to use those extra cucumbers.

My husband loves the stacker type pickles on his burgers.  I slice up my extra cucumbers to just the length and width my husband likes them for his burgers and use herbs and spices with organic apple cider vinegar for pickling.  The trick is to make sure you do not put less salt or vinegar in them than the recipe calls for.  Salt and vinegar are preservatives.  They keep the dilly solution acidic enough so your pickles do not spoil.

You can make any variety of cucumbers into pickles.  Pickler cucumbers have been bred to be smaller and have smaller seeds than slicer cucumbers, but both have the same fresh cucumber taste.  Don’t let the cucumber get too big, this results in big seeds and slows down cucumber production.

I can a jar at a time.  You want your cucumbers fresh for preserving.  I harvest the cucumbers before they get too large.  This does two things, it keeps the size of the seeds in the cucumber down and it keeps the vine producing.  All vegetables are in the business of insuring survival so they give everything they have to producing their seed, the vegetables we harvest.  If you keep removing their seeds, they keep trying to make more!

I typically can 2-3 cucumbers at a time.  These will fit nicely into a quart canning jar.  Make sure the jar and lid have been sterilized.  I slice them lengthwise to the size that will fit on a bun; make sure you remove the ends of the cucumber as some ends are bitter.  I add 2-3 flowering dill heads, 4-5 sprigs of salad burnet or tarragon, 2 cloves (the spice), 4-5 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teas of caraway seeds, 1/4 teas of peppercorns, one cardamon seed pod, 3 tablespoons of salt, a bay leave, and a grape leaf to keep the pickles crunchy.  Fill the rest of the jar with water (about 2 cups is all that is needed).  If you like 'em spicy, throw in a pepper or two with stem removed.  Slice the pepper in half to get the spicy seeds.  

There is also ready to use pickling spice you can buy if you want to keep it simpler.
Sliced cucumber with herbs from the garden for seasoning
You can get a good jar seal by heating the water and seasonings on the stove to a boil, let cool, add the vinegar, then pour over the sliced cucumbers in the jar, and put the lid on. It is critical that you have at least the amount of salt and vinegar recommended or the pickles can go bad.  I shake the jar a couple of times a day until the salt is completely dissolved. You let them ferment in a cool, dark place 1-4 weeks and they are ready to eat!

For more on fermentation for food preservation, a good book is "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.  For traditional pickles, I use Ball's Canning Book.

Unopened pickle jars will keep for a year or longer.  Once opened, keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months.

Cucumber ready to harvest
To keep your cucumbers in peak production, harvest when the cukes are 6-7 inches in length.  Once a cucumber has started to get bulges or turning yellow, this is a sign it is in full seed making mode.  I use scissors to cut the cuke from the vine.  If you are not going to use them immediately, store in a freezer bag in the crisper.  You can perk up the cuke by soaking in cool water.

Cucumbers love heat, organic matter and moisture.  They are easiest to harvest when given a trellis to climb.  Keep the fruits harvested for best production.  I use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or bat guano and seaweed to add other needed nutrients.  Monthly side dressings of compost works well, too.  For minerals, I also use a “Growers Mineral Solution”or Azomite to get the minerals plants need.  This also means the fruits you eat will be rich in minerals.  Your plants are what you feed them.  
Cucumber info and tips for growing

Do not let the plant get dry.  This is what causes bitter fruits.  When I grow cucumbers in pots or in the ground, I use mulch to help retain moisture for the plant.  If growing in a pot, you may need to water daily during heat waves or use a self watering pot with a built in water reservoir.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Preserving the extras from the summer garden

Preserving the garden's bounty

Sunday, August 21, 2022

This time of year is prime time for both eating from the garden and putting up the extras for fall and winter.  

If you are interested in being more self-sufficient, to have nutritious food at the ready, reduce your food bill or just want to save the extras from the garden this year, there are simple ways to preserve many different crops from the garden: freezing Freezing the extras for winter, drying Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies, canning Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty, and pickling.

In August, I am busy freezing, drying and pickling the extra summer veggies.  I wait to do water bath canning of last year's frozen tomatoes until the temps cool down in late October, but it can be done anytime.

What I am freezing right now (be sure to label with produce type and year frozen): 
Corn-We remove the silks and freeze whole in gallon freezer bags.
Cucumbers-I make pickles with the extras.  Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix
Eggplant-I haven't had extras yet this summer.  The best way to preserve eggplant and still have a good taste is to make it into baba ghanoush (a dip).  I have not been successful getting the original taste of eggplant by blanching, frying or freezing.  Drying may work. 
Garlic-I didn't plant garlic this last fall so I don't have garlic to put up, but my go to for garlic preservation is pickled garlic.  Have garlic any time you need it, just pickle some! 
Green and winged beans-I remove the stem end and snap into bite sized pieces and freeze in quart freezer bags.
Greens-I haven't been blanching and freezing greens since I have so much in the freezer already, but all greens except for lettuce can be preserved by this method.  Freezing the extras for winter
Herbs-I dry these and make seasonings.  Harvest and preserve your herbs  For basil, I make pesto that I freeze for the winter.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil
Okra-I cut off the stem end, slice into 1/4-1/2" slices, and put into quart freezer bags.
Hot peppers-I remove the stems and place whole into pint freezer bags.  As this year's crop started producing well, I took all the ones from last year and made hot sauce.  Quick tip-make your own hot sauce
Poblano peppers-I dry these and make chili powder.  Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies
Sweet peppers-I remove the stems, slice, and place into pint freezer bags.
Tomatoes-I simply slice and put in quart freezer bags.
Summer squash/zucchini-I make my summer squash into zoodles, blanch and freeze in quart bags to use as pasta throughout the rest of the year.  What to do with all that zucchini?!

Now you are ready to eat fresh and preserve the extras to get you through to next year's garden!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Schedule for planting in Zone 6/7 for fall and winter harvests

Kale in the winter garden
Saturday, August 20, 2022

The great thing about fall and winter edible gardens is little to no pests!  The insects die off in fall so your harvest is safe from pest destruction.  Once you have spent the effort to get the plants established and cool weather is here, fall and winter gardening is very low maintenance.  As it gets cooler, the veggies will get sweeter, too.

For more on how to choose varieties to grow, starting seeds and transplanting, see this post.  

Here is a schedule of what to plant by month in a Midwest garden.
Beets, carrots, Asian greens (pak choi, tat-soi), cilantro, collard greens, endive, escarole, frisee, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, onions, parsnips, scallions, and Swiss chard.  Use transplants for broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage.

The rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, snap peas, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, and turnips.  Peas and Fava beans can be planted in August for spring harvests in Zone 6 or higher.  

Plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  September is also a great month for starting perennial veggies, fruits, and herbs as well as flowers, trees and shrubs.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden
Greens in a portable greenhouse
The month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest and over-wintering onions.  Order your favorites early as many sell out quick.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

If you don’t want to start seeds, some big box stores and local nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies.   If none in your area do, there are many mail order seed companies that carry fall bedding plants.  Late August, early September is the best time to get transplants into the garden for fall and winter harvests.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Quick tip-make your own hot sauce

Monday, August 15, 2022

Hot sauce is super easy and fast to make with your extra peppers!  All you need is hot peppers, vinegar and a glass jar.

I try to preserve all the extras from my small edible garden.  Peppers are easy to freeze or pickle.  I just slice and put in freezer bags any extras.  They keep well for at least a year.  As the new harvest starts coming in, it is time to thin out last year's crop from the freezer.

I take all the hot peppers from the freezer and let them thaw.  I then put them in a quart jar,  cover with organic apple cider vinegar and store in the refrigerator.  After a few weeks, I pour the contents into a food processor and process it until smooth.  I put back into the jar to use as hot sauce, keeping it in the frig.  Works great!

To make shelf stable hot sauce, process peppers, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of vinegar, then simmer for 5 minutes on the stove.  Pour back into a hot quart jar and place in water bath.  Process for 10 minutes.  Like other pickles, store in frig after opening.  For more details,  Ball pickled pepper recipe  

You can use the same recipe for fresh peppers, too.

It is now football season.  It's a great time to make wings!  If you want to make your own wing sauce with your homegrown pickled peppers, here is the recipe Homemade wings sauce  
Potted pepper and petunia
I grow my peppers in pots.  I have tried them both in the ground and pots.  They just seem to do better in pots.  The other advantage is that I can easily overwinter the best performers in our unheated garage so they get a jump start on production next spring.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Saturday, August 13, 2022

What's happening in the mid August edible garden

Pic of edible garden in August
Saturday, August 13, 2022

August sees the full swing of the summer, warm season garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, and fennel are all in season in the Midwest.  

If you are not growing these in your own garden, your local farmers market is a great place to pick up these seasonal veggies to either eat or preserve.  The best buy and taste on any fruit or vegetable is when it is in season.  You can get even better deals on any produce that has a few blemishes which have no effect on the flavor.  If you are going to can, freeze or dry them, just be sure to remove any blemishes first.  Preservation garden

I pick what to have in our garden based on the harvest per foot of garden space needed.  Our garden is incorporated into the flower garden mulch bed and in pots so we have to be choiceful on what to grow.  Grow what you love to eat, too.  It won't be a lot of fun to have a bumper crop of veggies you don't really like.  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

In pots, we have great luck with  Egyptian walking onions (which can be harvested year round), peppers, eggplant, greens, sweet bay, and celery.

This year, I am using vertical space in pots for the green beans and cucumbers, growing pole types on trellises and okra.  You can also use trellises for squash or grow bush types that stay compact.

So, what is doing not so well in the garden this summer?  Okra and pole beans have been slow to have harvestable fruits.  Our tomato plants are not bushy and green and only the Chocolate Pear plant is giving us lots of tomatoes.  We are getting some fruits from all the vines except the Brandywine which just starting producing baby tomatoes this week.  

It is a good idea to plan to replant new tomato and zucchini plants in mid-summer.  This year the summer squash, Trombino, and cucumber bush plants are still doing great.  I do have volunteers that I will let a few grow to full size to make sure I have back ups in case they are needed.
Newly sprouted squash vines, ready to be transplanted
It is my first time growing okra in a pot.  They are a cool looking plant.  I trying a new variety that is supposed to give a bumper crop.  I do have several fruits coming on this week so maybe they have hit their stride.  Their flowers are beautiful, like creamy hibiscus blooms.

I have been trying many different types of sweet peppers to find some that produce as well as hot peppers.  Hot peppers are really prolific.  So far, I am pleased with my sweet pepper varieties. 

The flea beetles are having a field day with my eggplants.  They love to eat holes in the plant's leaves.  I go out and squish them regularly.  They don't eat the fruits, but with the damage to the leaves stunts the plants ability to produce fruits.  We have orange, purple and white fruit varieties this year.  Err on the side of picking early versus late.  Leaving the fruits on too long makes the skins taste on the bitter side.  You want to pick while the fruit skins are shiny.

The bean vines are doing okay this year in their pot.  They say you don't need to fertilize beans after they are planted unless their leaves start yellowing.  Growing beans  I fertilized them to give them a boost on the same frequency as the rest of the pots.  Veggies in pots need more added nutrition than those growing in the garden bed.  Too much fertilizer will cause them to focus on greenery versus fruits so it is a balancing act. This is true for all fruiting plants.  More is not necessarily better.
Beans on trellis
I planted brussel sprouts this year first the first time in several years.  They are in the same family as broccoli.  I am having pest problems with them just like the broccoli.  I need to not plant anything in the broccoli family for a year or two.  Without a favorite food source, they will die off.  Meanwhile, I have been picking them off and spraying with BT for this year's plants.

The lettuce and spinach bolted long ago.  It was a pretty good spring for lettuce since it stayed cool.  I made sure to fertilize both well.  They are heavy nitrogen users.  I always use natural organic fertilizers like Espoma or for an extra boost of nitrogen, blood meal or bat guana.  I have summer loving greens going now for salads, like unusual varieties of mustard with large sweet tasting leaves, Chinese Multi Colored Spinach amaranth, and Red Malabar spinach.  I sowed seeds for winter hardy lettuces a couple weeks ago to get them up and full size before it gets really cold this fall.

I started harvesting some apples and figs in the last week.  The apples are a little on the tart side but harvesting some will let the rest grow larger and I beat the birds and deer to them!  My overbearing raspberry is still giving fruits on and off.  Strawberries are taking a heat break at the moment.

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year!  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Sunday, August 7, 2022

What to plant in the August edible garden

Fall garden
Sunday, August 7, 2022 

August is a great time to begin planting for fall and winter harvests.  Get the most out of your edible garden by using all the seasons for fresh, homegrown goodness!
You can garden year round in small space

Here are the crops you can start in the August Midwest edible garden:

Bush beans
Corn salad
Fava beans
Snow peas
Strawberry runners

November edible garden
Look for cold hardy varieties when planting for fall and winter harvests.  You may be surprised that you can harvest all through the winter months things like greens, onions, Austrian peas, carrots, herbs and cabbage.  You can also extend the fall and winter harvest by looking for the same crop with different days to harvest timing so that they mature at different times.  Finally, you can use cover to possibly extend the harvest all the way to next spring.  Extend the season with protection for plants

When planting in the hot months, be sure to keep the soil moist until the plants are well established.  Summer and fall planted crops take longer to come to harvest than they do in the spring.  Rule of thumb is to add 2 weeks.  It's because the days are getting shorter rather than longer.  

A great and easy way to start your fall garden is to sow the seeds in a pot on a covered deck or patio.  This makes it easy to keep an eye on the seedlings and protects them from the harsh hot summer sun.  After they have a couple of sets of their true leaves, you can transplant into the garden bed.  Harden them off first by moving the pot to full sun before transplanting.  "Hardening off" seedlings  After transplanting into the garden, keep them watered regularly during hot, dry weather until well established.

For more summer seed starting tips Outdoor seed starting tips

Saturday, August 6, 2022

What is regenerative gardening?

Integration of chickens in the garden to improve soil health
Saturday, August 6, 2022

There has been alot of talk of regenerative farming in the news lately.  Regenerative farming can return depleted soils to production and capture carbon to help mitigate global warming.  How does regenerative farming compare to organic gardening, permaculture, biodynamic or all natural gardening?  

 In a nutshell, the biggest difference of regenerative gardening is that its focus is on improving the soil- increasing the organic (carbon) content in the soil and the soil's biodiversity.  These improvements in the soil will provide more robust and nutritionally dense crops.  Increased carbon also improves the soil's ability to retain moisture, giving increased yields during drought conditions.  

Through regenerative farming, farmers increase carbon in the soil and slow down global warming.  Studies by Rodale have shown that if we did just 100% organic farming and used sustainable grazing this could stop or reverse climate change. 

A key strategy in regenerative farming is no till.  Natural processes can take 500 years to produce one inch of topsoil.  To minimize topsoil being blown or washed away, regenerative farming encourages no till and cover crop practices.  Cover crops do a double duty of protecting the soil from erosion when growing and then adding carbon (organic matter) when the cover crop dies back or when tilled in during the seeding of the main crop.

Increasing crop diversity, using compost and organic amendments, integrating livestock, adding trees are all part of regenerative farming as they each help to increase organic matter (topsoil) and biodiversity of the soil.

Biodynamic and permaculture are both forms of regenerative farming.  Both encourage no till, adding organic matter, no outside inputs, composting, using only organic amendments and sprays.  Biodynamic has the added requirement of specific amendments that can be accomplished by using biodynamic compost, farming by the phase of the moon, and certification to label food grown as biodynamic.  Permaculture does not require the special biodynamic amendments.  The additional focus of permaculture is to include food bearing trees and bushes in the landscape as well as leveraging plants to enrich the soil.

Organic farming is using only organic inputs in the garden and no GMO's (genetically modified organisms).   Organic practices include using compost to enrich the soil, no chemical fertilizers or sprays.  If done to the intent, organic will also build organic matter (carbon) in the soil, increasing the soil's ability to retain moisture, increasing biodiversity in the soil and improving the nutritional value of crops grown organically.  Food labelled as organic require extensive book keeping and certification.

All natural gardening would be very similar to organic gardening in its intent.  However, food labelled as natural or all natural can be grown using all kinds of chemicals and be from GMO's.  Food labelled as "natural" just cannot have chemicals added to it after it is picked.  There are no guidelines or certifications for labelling a food as "natural".

At a very high level, those are the differences between the terms.   

As someone who gardens organically, I research and do what I reasonably can to improve the health of the soil, including adding compost (chock full of microorganisms and natural nutrients), mulching the beds to eliminate run off and top soil erosion as well as increase carbon in the soil, and using only organic amendments and fertilizers.  The healthier the soil, the healthier and more nutrient dense the food we produce.  We get the added bonus of helping out the planet, too.