Sunday, September 25, 2022

Not too late to plant lettuce for fall and winter harvests

Sunday, September 25, 2022

It's not too late to sow lettuce and other greens for fall and winter harvests.  Keep sowing every few days for the next couple of weeks to keep yourself in lettuce all fall and winter.  Lettuce enjoys cool temperatures and gets even sweeter as the temps dip.  They grow well in pots or in the garden bed.

The challenge to starting lettuce from seed this time of year is that it can be so hot.  The seeds will not germinate well in ground temps above 70 degrees F.  There are a couple of options for summer time seeding.  You can grow in shade, cover with a shade cloth or start your seedlings indoors move outdoors after they have sprouted.  It has cooled off enough now that lettuce sprouts easily.  Outdoor seed starting tips
I like to start in flats in the shade, close to the watering can on the east side of the house.  On a covered patio, porch or deck is an ideal place to start seeds.  The seedlings will be up in 7 days if kept well watered.  I let them grow until they have the first set of true leaves and are about 2” tall.  I then transplant them into their permanent home, keeping them well watered for another couple of weeks.  The trick this time of year to planting is getting the plants close to full size by November when daylight hours are too short to support growing.  Give them some nitrogen after transplanting.

My personal favorite is planting seedlings into my self-watering Earthboxes that I cover in November with a portable greenhouse to keep the greens going all winter.  How to extend the garden season
Lettuce under portable greenhouse cover in January
If you want to direct seed in your flower bed, dig a shallow trench about a quarter inch deep, fill with potting soil, seed, pat down, then cover lightly with more potting soil.  Water well with a gentle stream of water so you don’t wash the seed away.  I use a rain head on my watering can.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

This time of year, look for types that are the most cold hardy to last the longest into winter.  Look for varieties marketed as: fast-maturing (for fall harvests), winter-hardy, frost tolerant, overwintering, for every season, year-round, remarkably cold hardy, etc.  

A few varieties to try of different types of lettuces known for being cold hardy: 
Bibb type-Brown Winter, 
Butterhead type-Arctic King, Brown Dutch Winter, Marvel of Four Seasons, Winter Marvel, Crisphead/Batavia type-Hanson, Continuity, Mottistone, 
Loose leaf type-Tango, Salad Bowl, 
Romaine type-Brown Goldring, Winter Density, Rouge d’Hiver.

Don't forget to look around your yard and garden for volunteer lettuce plant seedlings.  I let my lettuce plants go to seed in the summer.  There are many seedlings that will come up in the garden and yard.  I just dig them up and put them where I want them to grow for the fall and winter.

There are some nurseries and even big box stores that carry edible transplants for fall planting.  There are many on-line seed companies that sell fall transplants, too.

Peppers love fall weather

Sunday, September 25, 2022

My peppers kick into high gear come September and keep right on producing through October.  They seem to love the lower humidity and cooler nights.  

This time of year, I back off fertilizer.  Nitrogen promotes new greenery which can make the plant more susceptible to a hard frost.  Typically, peppers do fine up until a hard freeze.  I have had good success with bringing cayenne and my Chiltepin pepper plants indoors for the winter.  They keep producing into January and then start flowering as soon as I take them outside in the spring.

Right now, I have Poblano Anaheim peppers, burgundy sweet peppers from seed I have saved, a Chiltepin wild hot pepper native to the Southwest and Cayenne pepper plants.  They are all happy.

The Poblano I am drying for chili powder.  The sweet peppers I eat fresh and rough slice and freeze for salsa.  The cayennes I freeze whole and use for salsa.  At the end of summer, I will take all the cayennes frozen from last year and make hot sauce.  It is super easy.  Make your own hot sauce!  A I use the hot sauce to make wings for football games.  Homemade hot sauce wings with homegrown celery
Sweet pepper 
Yum!  Yum!

Here's my easy recipe for fresh salsa.  Quick and fresh homemade salsa

In my garden, my peppers seem to do the best in pots.  It's a great space saver too if you are growing all your edibles in the garden bed.  You can put your potted peppers interplanted with petunias along your side walk or patio for decoration as well as food. 

The veggies I grow every year that seem to favor or do at least as well in pots are peppers, eggplant, bay laurel, bush cucumbers, Egyptian walking onion and all greens.  I try to find room in the garden bed for tomatoes, okra, garlic and pole beans.  I only need one trellis of pole beans to grow everything we need.  

It doesn't take much garden space to grow lots for your family to eat year round.  You can garden year round in small space  If you have limited space for storing extras, focus on veggies that are easy to keep without a freezer.  21 no tech storage crops

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Time to do a little canning!

Victory gardens were encouraged in WW2
Sunday, September 18, 2022

Canning is a great way to preserve your own harvest.  After canning, you can just store at room temperature so if you are short on freezer space, it is great option.  I do only water bath canning, which just requires canning jars and a big pot, no pressure canner needed.  

When you can your own food, you know that you are putting the peak of freshness and nutrition in every jar.  Plus, it is a great money saver.  The jars can be re-used year after year and you likely have all the kitchen tools you need to can already.

When canning acidic foods like fruit or tomatoes or anything using vinegar or sugar, you can likely use only a water bath.  When you can, you have to follow the recipe exactly to make sure it is safe to eat.  Canning of low acid foods like green beans require a pressure canner to achieve high enough temperatures to kill off the bacteria that cause botulism.

I stick with canning extra tomatoes, pickled garlic, hot sauce and pickles as all are high acid and only need a water bath to make them safe for long term storage.  Tomatoes are naturally acidic and some lemon juice is added to make sure it is acidic enough for water bath canning.  As a rule of thumb anything canned in vinegar or lots of sugar will be acidic enough to not require a pressure canner.  Stick to the recipe exactly to make sure your canned goods remain safe to eat.  If you do that, you can have lots of canned goods to eat year round.
Homemade tomato sauce in Weck's canning jars
Here are links to the blogs covering each of the produce that I can:

Here are some web pages and resources to use:
Mother Earth News “How to Can” app
National center for home food preservation
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning
Home Canning 
“Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” book
“The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving” book

Many of the lids in today's canning jars contain BPA, a chemical that studies suggest act like estrogen in the body with babies and young children are especially susceptible to its effects.  In 2012, BPA was removed from baby bottles after banned by the FDA, but is still found in many products including conventionally canned foods.  Even those that advertise BPA free can contain other substances that are just as harmful.
Old fashioned canning jars, 1946 canning pamphlet, Weck's glass canning jar
My favorite BPA free canning jars are these beautiful glass jar with glass lid made in Germany-Weck’s (it is the second from the right in the pic).  The only thing that comes into contact with your food is glass. 

The Weck’s work great.  Easy to use, easy to know that the seal is good, and beautiful to look at.  I highly recommend them.  Since I started using these glass jars, I have seen other European makers of all glass jars and lids available, like Terrina Ermetico and Bormioli Rocco. 

There is also a plastic lid that is BPA free that can be used with modern jars made by Tattler, made in the USA since 1976.  They are a seamless replacement for the metal lids with today's canning jars.  If you already have Mason jars, these are an inexpensive way to convert them to BPA free.

There is little other equipment you need to get canning.  All you really need when canning high acid foods is a tall stock pot with lid, tongs, a stainless steel spoon, a towel to put the hot jars on, a cutting board to stage the hot jars, and your canning jars.  You can just use what you have or you can purchase a canning kit in stores or on line.  

Happy canning!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

End of summer checklist

Saturday, September 17, 2022

As summer comes to an end and the cooler temperatures start moving in, let's not forget to give some attention to our edible garden.  

There are a few things to tend to at summer's end.  It's not as exciting as spring but very appreciated for the health of your garden and to make sure you are ready for next season.  Here are some items to consider for tidying up and getting ready for your next edible season.
-Save seeds from your best producers.  Seed saving will help your plants adjust to your specific microclimate and have the most abundant harvests.  I keep mine in plastic baggies, labelled with the variety,  year saved and store in the refrigerator.  Add any other helpful information.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver
-Take cuttings from any of the plants that you want to start indoors for the winter.  Basil is an edible that you can easily start from a cutting to have handy for cooking.
-Be sure to treat any of the tropicals you had outdoors for pests before bringing indoors.  Since the light will be less indoors, pruning before bringing indoors will help minimize leaves dropping.
-Cut back herbs and dry them to make an herb mix.  Harvesting and drying herbs
-Keep harvesting your veggies and fruits as long as they continue to produce.  Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will continue to give you fruits until the first hard freeze.  If you can't eat them all, preserve them for winter and spring eating!  Preserving the extras from the summer garden
-If you haven't already, remove any dead or dying plants from the garden.  Any that are diseased should be burned or put into the trash; don't compost these.  For the rest and any trimmings, put in the compost pile or bin.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors
-Keep your garden weeded.  You want to be sure to keep weeds from going to seed otherwise you will have lots of the little buggers to pull next spring!  I add weeds to the compost pile as long as they don't have seeds.
-Clean, sharpen and weatherproof your tools.  Make a list of tools and supplies that you would like to add to your repertoire for next year's gardening season. 
-If you have clay pots, be sure to empty them out or place under cover so they don't freeze and crack.  You can either revitalize soil next spring with added compost and fertilizer or can add to the compost pile.  Re-energize your potting soil!
-Take a look at your garden journal and make notes of what went well or not so well, what varieties did well in your garden, what you want to plant in next year's garden, how many you want to plant, etc., etc.  I always try to put together my plan for next year's garden at summer's end while everything is fresh in mind.  I will make additions to it or maybe some switches in what varieties to try, but the bulk remains the same.  Reflecting back on the 2021 edible garden, planning for the 2022 garden

Going into fall, look for empty spots in the garden to put winter veggies, like leeks, onions, carrots, cabbage, kale.  I get pots going with lettuce and greens that I will keep under my portable greenhouse for fall and winter salads. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Quick tip-make sugar free, homemade ketchup

Sunday, September 11, 2022

It seems these days that every label you look at in the store, sugar is involved.  My doc gave me a list of sugar and vinegar free recipes.  Here is one for ketchup that we quite like.

2 cups tomato paste
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 tsp oregano
1/8 teas cumin
1/8 teas nutmeg
1/8 teas pepper
1/2 teas dry mustard
dash (or more) of garlic powder

Put all into a food processor and blend well.  Store in the refrigerator.

I substituted a blend of herbs I dried from the herb garden last year and added about a 1/4 teas of garlic instead of a dash because we really like garlic.
Make your own "Herbes de Provence"
Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder

If you have extra tomatoes, you can easily make your own paste and use it for your ketchup.   Just cook down your homemade tomato sauce until it gets to the consistency you want for your ketchup.
Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty
Sites & resources for canning

Saturday, September 10, 2022

What's happening in the early September edible garden

September edible garden
Saturday, September 10, 2022

Self seeding flowers like zinnias, hummingbird vine, Love Lies Bleeding, marigolds and cock's comb are in full splendor right now.  Edible Mediterranean plants love this weather, too.  Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra, Egyptian walking onions, cucumbers, the Mediterranean herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, savory, dill, tarragon and thyme and all types of greens enjoy the bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80's.  I am preserving everything we have extra right now.  It is so rewarding to know that we can eat food we grew year round.

In the last week, temperatures have moderated to the lower to mid 80's.  We have had a couple of nights that have dipped into the 50's.  It is starting to cool down some and the days are definitely getting shorter.

What I am harvesting at the beginning of September: tomatoes, okra, herbs, hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, Goji berries, figs, raspberries, snap pole beans, winged beans, greens (sweet mustard varieties, cultivated dandelions, Red Malabar spinach, sprouting broccoli), onions, chives, Shiitake mushrooms, celery. 

In bloom are zinnias, jasmine, lantana, daylily, marigold, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth, Cock's Comb, petunia, thyme, basil, oregano, mustard.   

I have been fertilizing every other week with a liquid natural fertilizer since I am growing most of my veggies in pots.  With natural fertilizers you don’t have to worry about “burning” your plants as they slowly release into the soil.   You should fertilize about once a month with a solid fertilizer or biweekly with a liquid fertilizer through the growing season.  You don’t want to shoot too much nitrogen to your fruit producers as you can end up with all leaves and no veggie fruits.  

I transplanted my lettuce seedlings from pots on the covered patio to their overwintering spot in self-watering pots that I will cover with a portable greenhouse in November.  I start my lettuce seedlings in the summer on the shaded patio because lettuce doesn't like the high temperatures and won't germinate well if the ground temperature is 75F or higher.  I also have mustard greens, cultivated dandelions, sprouting broccoli, cress, Red Malabar spinach and amaranth for salads.   Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

It is important to get all your winter and overwintering veggies and greens up to full size prior to early November.  The days are so short come November that there will be minimal growth from November to mid January.  A fall edible garden

Okra leaves up front, sweet potato vines, zinnias and cock's comb behind
This year was not a banner year for my tomatoes.  I planted them in a new spot this year and did not enrich the soil.  We have been so busy trying to get our renovation done that I haven't spent alot of time on the garden.  We are still getting some fruits from the tomatoes but they are producing slowly and the plants are spindly.  

There is still enough tomatoes that I am continuing to freeze what we don't ear.  Fall is the time that I will take any frozen tomatoes left over from last year and can.  This year, I likely won't make them all into sauce since I haven't put as many in the freezer as is typical and I still have sauce left from last year.  I like to keep frozen tomatoes to add to soups and chili and to make salsa.  Preserving the tomato harvest       Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

The chives, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, oregano, basil, celery, and sage are all doing quite well.  The Egyptian walking onions are thriving.  All will do well through the fall and into the winter.  Use your own herbs for your Thanksgiving dinner

My pepper plants are doing fine.  The plants grew quite well this year in their pots. The Ancho Poblano pepper plants are full of green peppers as is the sweet pepper plant.  The cayenne pepper plant has been producing well since early summer.  I have been freezing all the extras off the cayenne.  I took one harvest from the Poblanos, dried them and made chili powder.  Peppers a Plenty in September

For peppers, if you want to maximize the harvest, pick them as soon as they get to full size and are green versus letting them fully ripen to red, yellow, or orange on the plant.  This stimulates the plant to produce more.  If you let them fully ripen on the plant, the taste will be sweeter but the harvest less.  I compromise and take them off just when they start to turn.  They complete ripening on the counter in a few days.

My potted okra plants didn't produce much.  They are only about 5 feet tall with a single stalk straight up.  I'll put them in the ground next year.  Okra seems to do much better in the garden bed than in a pot.
Basil in front, okra to left, cock's comb on right, zinnias in background
I had 2 cucumber plants in a pot.  All have been doing very well.  I get about 2 cucumbers from them daily. They are so crunchy and flavorful right off the vine!  Any extras go into pickles.  Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

Make sure you save the seeds from your best and longest producers to plant in your garden next spring.  I also save seeds from organic produce I get from the store that is really good.  Some of my favorite tomato plants have come from seed saved from store bought tomatoes.  Look for heirlooms as they will come back like their parent from seed.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

Tomato, horseradish, marigolds, morning glory and zinnias
This fall, we will have arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, garden sorrel, French and Italian dandelion, spinach, lettuce, purslane, corn salad, celery, chives, arugula, and sprouting broccoli for salads.  Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will produce until the first freeze.  The Egyptian onions will produce all through winter.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

What to plant in the September edible garden

Fall seedlings in an Italian garden
Sunday, September 4, 2022 

September is a great time to continue planting for fall and winter harvests.  Get the most out of your edible garden by using all the seasons for fresh, homegrown goodness.
What is a four season garden?
You can garden year round in small space
Planning for a four season garden

This month plant more greens and root vegetables.  September is my favorite month for getting winter lettuce and greens going.  I keep pots just for year round greens.  The spring/summer greens have already bolted and gone to seed.  I cleared them out last week end.  I have volunteer celery and lettuce that has sprouted in some of them.  Plus the Red Malabar spinach is still going strong along with sprouting broccoli and summer greens I started in July.  I started additional seeds in pots about a month ago.  I'll transplant those into these pots.  I have them grouped together so that I can cover them with a portable greenhouse to keep the harvest going all fall and winter.

September is also a great month for starting perennial veggies, fruits, and herbs as well as flowers, trees and shrubs.  There are 2 great things about perennials.  1) You only have to plant them once and they come back year after year.  2)  Perennial greens are the first things up in late winter, early spring.   Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden

The hardest part is finding a spot to start the cool season crops with so many summer veggies going strong.  I like to start them in pots and then move them out when it gets cooler and more room is opened up.  

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

Austrian winter peas
Broccoli transplants
Brussel sprouts transplants
Cabbage transplants
Cauliflower transplants
Corn salad
Fava beans
Italian dandelion
Mustard and Mustard Greens
Winter and Perennial Onions
Snow peas

November edible garden
Look for cold hardy varieties when planting for fall and winter harvests.  You will be surprised to harvest all through the winter months things like greens, onions, Austrian peas, carrots, and cabbage without any cover.  You can also extend the 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 extend the harvest all the way to next spring.

When planting when temperatures can get hot, 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 in fall rather than longer like in spring.  

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