Saturday, December 31, 2022

Collards and black eyed peas for prosperity and luck in New Year

Black eyed peas and collard greens
Saturday, December 31, 2022

It is a Southern tradition to have black-eyed peas and collard greens to usher in the New Year. My grandmother was originally from the hills of Tennessee and moved to southeast Missouri as a young girl.  Everyone I know that grew up in southeast Missouri has 'em on New Year's Day.  

History of black-eyed peas and collards
Black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa and widely grown in Asia.  The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year go as far back as Babylonian times (2500 years ago).  The tradition then was to have bottle gourd, leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates as they were all symbols of good luck. 

This Jewish tradition was brought to the southern US in the 1700’s.  Today, the good luck Southern meal includes peas for prosperity (coins), mustard greens for money (green backs), and pork for moving forward.  Cornbread is also part of the meal and represents gold.

George Washington Carver encouraged the planting of black-eyed peas because they fertilized the soil, are nutritious and very affordable.  Black-eyes peas are chock full of nutrition.  They contain protein, calcium, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and lots of fiber.  black eyed peas nutritional info

Recipe for your good luck peas
To cook black-eyed peas, I add some ham and diced onion and simmer in chicken broth.  I simmer until tender.  You can add vinegar or some hot peppers for a different taste.  If using your own homegrown beans, here are tips for using dried beans Use dry beans instead of canned

Growing your own "peas"
Black-eyed peas are a subspecies of the cowpea and is also known by the name of goat pea.  They are not actually a pea at all, but a bean.  Black-eyed peas are a warm season crop that is not susceptible to pests or disease.  Beans should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  They are very drought tolerant so little watering is needed.  I start my beans indoors in April and set out around Memorial Day.  They are easily grown directly in the garden.  Just plant seeds after the soil is warm.  Growing beans

If using just for fertilizing the garden soil, legumes (peas and beans) should be cut before they start producing pods as the production of the seed pods use up a lot of the nitrogen fixed in the roots.  Even if growing to eat, leave the roots when removing the vines at the end of the season.  Those nodules you see on the roots are stored nitrogen.  To increase the nitrogen in the roots, an inoculant of rhizobial bacteria should be coated on the seed at planting.  You can mix a little syrup (1-10) with water to dampen the seed before dusting with the inoculant.  This will greatly increase your harvest.

A side benefit of growing black-eyed peas is that the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar for pollinators, like bees.  Be sure to not use any pesticides on your black-eyed peas as they will kill the bees, too.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

For fresh peas, you harvest the beans when the peas have just begun to swell in the pod and are 2-3" long.  After harvesting, simply shell the peas into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label with type and date).  By harvesting the fresh peas, it will encourage more pods to be formed, giving you a larger harvest.

For dried beans, wait until the pods have dried completely on the plant.  Pick the pods and shell.  I use a quart jar to store my dried beans until needed.  When ready to use, rinse the beans then boil on low until tender with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans.  The time needed will depend on the age of the dried bean.  The older the bean, typically the longer it takes.  You can also soak over night to reduce cooking time.

Growing your own collards 
Collards are a southern favorite and also chock full of nutrients.  They come from the same family as kale and were likely cultivated 2000 years ago by the Greeks.

Greens like lots of nitrogen so they are great to interplant with your summer black eyed peas.  They are best planted in spring and fall as they prefer cooler temperatures.  Spring planted collards will produce all summer.  Fall planted collards will continue to produce into winter and will survive down to 0 F.  

Plant in rich soil 1/4" deep, 18-24" apart and keep moist until sprouted.  Use collards how you would kale, from adding to salads to steaming and sautéing.  

For more on growing beans, Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer.  For more on growing collards, Grow a southern favorite-collards.  For preserving, Freezing the extras for winter

Try some good luck food for your New Year's!

January 2023 Edible Garden Planner

December 31, 2022

As this year closes and a new year begins, gardeners dream of the possibilities for their spring and summer gardens.  Big box stores have seeds in stock and all the seed starting supplies you need to get a jump on the spring season in January.  My biggest issue is paring down all the plants and edibles that look fun and fabulous to grow to what can actually fit in my small space garden and pots and what is manageable.

Grow what you love!
The easiest way to fall in love with gardening is growing what you love to eat and look at.  There is nothing like strolling out to the garden to see what's ripe and tasty for dinner and gathering blooms to bring inside for the table vase.  If you have ever wanted to plant a kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space or skills, you may be surprised.

We grow all we need for fresh eating and putting away for the winter in our flower beds and pots.  Just mix in greens, herbs and veggies with your flowers and bushes.  Add edibles to your decorative pots.  It looks great, flowers attract beneficial insects for more veggie production, and is so easy to run out and get what you want to eat that day right outside your door.

If you aren't sure you can grow veggies, start with herbs.  Herbs thrive on neglect so are a great choice for dipping your toe into the edible gardening arena.  This is how I transitioned from a purely ornamental garden to integrating edibles into my flower beds.  A bonus is many herbs are perennials so only have to be planted once and come back year after year.  

Herbs come in all different sizes as well.  I love growing creeping thyme between stepping stones and around the perimeter of the garden.  Oregano and tarragon are taller and have a tendency to fill out a space so better for the back of the garden.  And there are many in between.  Pick herbs that you use a lot in cooking and use those in your flower bed as a start.

You can grow a lot in a small space
It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a Mediterranean kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley 
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants  
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)  
1 eggplant 
8 red bunching onions 
8 garlic plants 
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed  

For more details on a compact French garden:  Small space French kitchen garden
For an Italian garden:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden  To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

Use your patio to grow edibles with flowers 
If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, peppers and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed or pot with a trellis for them to grow up. Look at the descriptor on the seed package to see which type the bean plant is.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in a small garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot too), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or artichokes.  

If you are just beginning a garden, do start small.  You want the garden to be fun and relaxing, not overwhelming.  Don't be afraid to begin.  The force of life is strong and really doesn't need much from us.  Buy a few plants in the early spring and just put them in the ground with a natural fertilizer and you will be amazed at how they just go to town all by themselves!
Vintage WW2 poster
For seed catalogues, the ones that have the best chance of thriving in your garden are the ones that do their trials in your area of the country.  The seeds and plants they carry are the ones that have performed the best for them in their trial gardens.  Baker Creek is fun because they specialize heirlooms and rare seeds from around the world and are here in the Midwest.  Territorial Seeds has a good summary in each section of growing tips and their seed farms are mainly in the Northwest.  I have had very good success with both.  I look for key words in the packet description that reflect our growing conditions here in the Midwest summers.

My favorite catalogs are the ones that the links are on the right.  I have ordered from them all and been happy with their selection and how well the plants did.

After you have the list, pare it down to your space 
If you are like me, your list will be much longer than what you can grow in your space.  The hardest part for me is crossing off what I will NOT grow this season.  Split out what you want to grow by when they are producing in your garden, your cool season crops from your heat lovers.  If you start in early spring, you will want to plant the crops that grow well in cool temperatures like lettuce and spinach.  Spring edible garden  When all chance of frost has passed is when you will plant the heat lovers.  A summer edible garden  If you are just starting, start small and only try 2-3 of your favorites so you can easily care for them and learn about gardening.   

Here is my garden plan for 2023  Edible garden plan for 2023

Still having trouble deciding?  Well, you have some time before the season starts.  Heck, you can procrastinate all the way to June..........  It is not too late to start a garden in June!  You can use this time to make your plan based on what you eat this winter.  Use this winter to figure out what to grow in the ...

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Edibles that love pots

Potted edibles on patio
Sunday, December 25, 2022

Nowadays, you can grow just about any edible in a pot.  There has been lots of plant breeding to nurture plant characteristics to stay smaller.  These work great for growing an edible compact garden or edible container garden.  But which ones thrive in pots?  

I like growing a compact garden as it is much less effort than the traditional tilled garden and can be grown in my flower beds so everything is just steps away from the door.  A critical part of my compact gardening plan is utilizing pots.  They can be placed in the optimal conditions for the plant's growth and where you can't dig like your deck, driveway, sidewalk or concrete patio.  

I don't know that there has been a year that I have not tried a new variety or type of veggie, herb or fruit in a container.  And I always add a flower to the pot to look attractive and attract pollinators.  Here are the edibles I have found love being in a pot and are easy to care for.

All types of greens.  I do put some greens in the garden bed, but the vast majority I grow in pots.  I grow greens year round as I try to eat fresh salads often.  With the salad greens in pots, I can easily put a portable green house over them to keep them growing all through the winter.  In the heat of the summer, they can be moved to a shadier, cooler spot.  The trick to container greens is to keep them well watered.  I use self-watering pots for my greens.  These have a built in water reservoir in the bottom of the pot.

Heat loving greens.  I have added amaranth, orach, Red Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach to my greens to keep summer salads going.  Amaranth and orach grows tall and comes in pretty colors so are ornamental as well as tasty.  Red Malabar spinach is a vining plant with pretty lavender flowers and black berries so give it a trellis to climb.  It is a really pretty plant.

Winged bean.  I am growing a Japanese variety that is an early bloomer.  They don't get started producing beans until August.  This is a vining plant with beautiful blue flowers.  I am going to continue to grow in a pot so I can put it on the deck because my husband loves blue flowers, its pods are tasty and it seemed to flourish in a pot.  

All types of peppers.  I have tried peppers in pots and in the garden bed.  They definitely prefer growing in a pot.  The smaller peppers I even bring indoors to overwinter.  My Cayenne pepper plant is flowering right now in the basement.

Citrus.  Citrus is not hardy in my zone.  Growing in pots let's me take them outdoors in spring and bring back indoors in late fall/early winter.  They do fine outdoors until it starts dropping into the mid 20's.  Be sure to get citrus that has been bred for pots.  I have had my kumquat for years.  It fruits year round.  I grew a lemon tree from seed and it has lush greenery but has only fruited once.  I ordered a Meyers lemon tree that is bred for pots to replace it so it will fruit every year.

All types of eggplant.  Eggplant seems to really like being in a pot.  I have very good luck with them in containers.  Some varieties get bitter and skins tough when it gets really hot so I have winnowed my selection down to any white variety and those whose description says they don't get bitter like Rotanda Bianca, Shiromaru and Amadeo.

Fig, bay, moringa trees.  I used to keep my fig in a pot so I could bring it indoors over the winter and it did quite well, fruiting every summer into fall.  I have now left it outside for its second winter.   It had many limbs that died back last spring but continued to grow over the summer.  I have a Chicago fig.  They are touted as Zone 5-6 but in the colder zones can die back to the ground and sometimes don't survive.  My bay tree loves its pot.  It is 9' tall now and I think I have had it in its tiny pot for 5 years.  Moringa is not hardy in our area and does very well in it's small pot.

All types of mint.  I don't grow my peppermint in pots because it grows better but simply to keep it contained.  Mint runs rampant if grown in the garden bed.

Egyptian walking onions.  They do equally well in a pot or in the garden bed.  It's just easier to harvest them from a pot close by.

Cucumbers.  I would not recommend the ramblers for a pot but any of the bush type do well.  Any bush type will likely not produce as much as a long vining type.  I only need enough cukes for fresh eating, pickles and pickle relish so growing a bush type in a larger container works great for me.  Even with a trellis, ramblers can vine out 20' and jump from trellis to trellis.  Keeping the plant in a pot helps to keep it under control.

Snow peas.  I grow short vines in with my summer potted veggies like peppers and eggplant.  They are ramping down when the summer lovers are ramping up.

Nowadays, you can buy seeds for just about any type of vegetable that you want that has been developed specifically for containers.  Even those in the above listing are the fruits and veggies that I have found do great in pots, don't let that hold you back from trying others!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Indoor winter edibles

Kumquat tree in sunroom with ripe kumquats
Saturday, December 24, 2022

Winter doesn't mean you can't eat fresh, homegrown edibles.  There are many edibles that grow well indoors and different ways of growing them from sprouts to herbs to greens to fruits.  

Something easy and nutritious are sprouts.  I bought a simple, inexpensive sprout grower.  You can also use a quart Mason jar.  You can get seeds on line and in many grocery stores, nurseries, and big box hardware stores for growing sprouts and microgreens.  I like buying a seed mix so I get a nice variety of taste and nutrition.

Right now, I'm growing basil, a Cayenne and Chipetin ancient pepper, moringa (for high protein greens), kumquat, Meyer lemon, lemon, Red Malabar spinach (a tropical vine whose leaves are used as a spinach substitute), and a bay tree.  All of these were growing outdoors and I brought them in for the winter.

The ones that I can harvest from right now are the basil, bay tree, moringa tree leaves, Red Malabar spinach and kumquat.  Kumquat trees are very prolific; they produce fruit year round.  I just harvested all the Cayenne and Chipetin peppers a couple of weeks ago.  The Cayenne is flowering now so should have peppers coming again next month.

I just started two new varieties I have not grown before, Jigsaw pepper and Orange Hat tomato.  Both are very compact and get less than 12" tall.  Jigsaw pepper is a pretty purple colored fruit with lavender, white and green variegated leaves.  Supposed to have great taste, too!  I have had really good luck with small pepper plants doing well indoors year after year.  

Tomatoes are tropical plants, too, but my luck in overwintering them has not worked out in the past.  This new variety I got is supposed to do well indoors and produce many small orange tomatoes.  It is fun to try!

There are other herbs that grow well indoors like mint, rosemary, chives, chervil, thyme.  You can get indoor herb kits or seeds at many big box stores right now or order them on line.  Since daylight hours are getting longer, seeds like to sprout.  You just need to give them a bright sunny spot to keep them growing.

I have thyme outdoors that I can harvest from year round.  The Egyptian walking onions I have in a pot outdoors I can use for chives and they keep going all winter.
Microgreens growing in reused salad container
Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition and so easy to grow indoors year round.  There are all kinds of seed sprouting kits out there.  The one I have that I really like is 3 levels so you can have one that is fully sprouted that you are using with 2 in various stages of growth so you always have a ready supply of sprouts.

With a simple sprout grower, you can have nutritious sprouts of many different veggies, beans, and/or grasses in 3-5 days.  All you do is put a teaspoon of seeds in the grower and water it twice daily.

There are many options for growing sprouts.  For more details, check out this blog Indoor winter gardening-grow sprouts, microgreens or wheat grass!

So just a few ideas for what you can grow indoors while we look forward to spring!

Friday, December 23, 2022

What to plant in the December edible garden

Newly sprouted greens inside portable greenhouse
Friday, December 23, 2022 

You can still plant outdoors for the edible garden in December.  What you are planting in December may not germinate quickly.  Growth will restart in mid January when daylight hours get back to 10 hours.  Keep your edibles under cover to encourage germination and to extend the harvest all the way through to spring.  
What is a four season garden?
You can garden year round in small space
Planning for a four season garden

This month you can sow more greens, carrots, and herbs in the greenhouse.  You can also transplant trees and shrubs and even spring bulbs as long as the soil is workable.   Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden

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

December seeds outdoors
Austrian winter peas-will sprout in early spring
Spinach seeds-will sprout in early spring
Snow peas-will sprout in early spring

December seeds under cover
Sprouting Broccoli
Corn salad
Lettuce, Winter Hardy types
Mustard and Mustard Greens
Parsley and Parsley Root
Swiss Chard

December transplants
Trees and bushes until ground freezes

Look for cold hardy varieties when planting for winter growing and harvests.  You will be surprised to harvest all through the winter months things like greens, onions, Austrian peas, carrots, and cabbage when you get them started in the fall.  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.  For those you are seeding now, they will provide your late winter and early spring harvests.  

 Winter planted crops take longer to come to sprout and grow than they do in the spring.  It's because the days are getting shorter rather than longer and the temperatures are falling.  Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year was December 21) so daylight will be getting longer now.  Just be patient, the seeds will sprout when conditions are right.  Growth is very slow at this point as the daylight hours are less than 10 and temperatures are cold.  In my area, we will get back to 10 hours of daylight on January 20.  Growth will pick up in late January.  

To keep plants producing, keep them covered.  The biggest risk with covers is the plants overheating.  Full sun can raise the temperatures by 50 degrees.  Keep this in mind and give ventilation when the temperatures are getting up into the 50's with nice sunshine.
Window open on portable greenhouse
Window open on portable greenhouse

If you are using a row cover, they should be in place now.  I put mine in place when the temperatures are getting into the low 20's at night.  Your plants are safe from overheating as long as the temperatures don't get into the upper 50's with the full sun.  When temperatures are that warm, just open the ends of the row cover and close back up when the temperatures are forecasted back into the 20's or colder.

The same goes for greenhouses. I have my edible greens covered by my portable greenhouse with the "windows" open to vent when it gets into the 50's.  You can use cover to extend the harvest all the way to next spring.  Extend the season with protection for plants  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Tip for more productive edible garden-try something new

Seed catalogs have many options for the same vegetable type
Sunday, December 18, 2022

Every year, I have my standbys and I try something new in the edible garden.  I am always trying to optimize time, space and production from the garden.  I look at descriptions of new varieties to see if they may perform better than the ones I have been growing in my climate and garden conditions.

For productivity, I look descriptions that share terms like "prolific", "thrive in hot and humid conditions", have "disease resistance to" xyz that I have had issues with in our Midwest/Upper South garden.  A few examples of how trying new things have made my garden more productive by crop type follow.

Sweet Peppers:  I like snacking on and putting away for winter salsa sweet peppers.  I first tried sweet bell peppers in the garden since these are the ones you see in the grocery stores most commonly.  I moved to smaller fruiting sweet peppers, trying different varieties until getting one that does very well all summer in our garden.  Only one or two are needed.  

Snap Beans:  We love the large flat "Roma" type of green beans.  I first grew the bush type then tried the vining type which produced much more.  Finally, I found Blauhilde purple podded vining beans have the best resistance to disease and pests in our garden so that is my standby for snap beans.  I recently tried winged beans and they start producing at the time that Blauhilde is winding down as well as having beautiful blue flowers.  The winged bean will be a standby from now on.

Back of seed packets give growing instructions and helpful description of the variety 
Summer Squash:  I started out with zucchini which did great for the first couple of years.  Our area started seeing more squash bugs in recent years which lead to disease in summer crops.  My zucchini was only staying productive for a few weeks.  I tried Trombetta squash which when harvested young is very similar to zucchini plus you can leave them on the vine or bring in and the skin will harden so you can use and store like a winter squash.  It is a large vining plant that seems impervious to squash bugs and disease in the garden so is now on my annual garden "must grow" list.

Salad greens:  I started out growing spinach and lettuce for salads.  In our hot, humid summers, both would bolt in May and I wanted to be able to harvest salad greens at least spring through fall.  So looked for descriptions like "heat tolerant", "bolt resistant", "maintains flavor in heat", etc., to find varieties that lengthen the harvest.  My latest standbys for lettuce are Red Sails, Butter King, and Royal Oakleaf.  I've added other sweet tasting greens that actually thrive in hot conditions and maintain their flavor all summer  for salads like Hilton Chinese cabbage, orach, amaranth, and Giant Leaf mustard.  For spinach, I haven't found a variety that can last through summer, but I have found substitutes that have a similar taste as spinach-Red Malabar spinach and New Zealand spinach.  Red Malabar is also a beautiful vining plant with pretty magenta flowers as a bonus.

Eggplant:  I started with the popular Black Beauty eggplant.  The drawback was when the temps started getting up around 90, the taste would become more bitter.  Looking at descriptions and trying them in our garden, my latest standbys are Casper, Rotanda Bianca, Shiromaru or Amadeo.  Just a couple plants provides all we can eat. 

Tomatoes:  I try new varieties every year.  The last couple of years, our tomatoes are not doing as well as they had in the past, even the ones that were prolific before.  The ones that do the best are Cherokee Purple and Chocolate Pear.  I first thought that maybe there was a disease burden, but I grew them in a different part of the garden that had never had tomatoes grown and that did not seem to make a huge difference.  I do have alkaline soil.  This year, I am going to add sulfur to get the pH back in the range that tomatoes prefer to see if this brings back the productivity.  This year, I am trying some winter storage tomatoes, too, Evil Olive and A Grapple D'Inverno.  In addition to my 2 standbys, I'll grow True Black Brandywine for its resistance to disease and the large paste tomato Italian Red Pear for sauce.

 It is fun to try new things.  It makes it interesting and over time makes the garden that much more productive and harvests more tasty.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

All is not frost (lost) in winter gardening

Portable greenhouse over pots of greens
Sunday, December 11, 2022

It is not too late to throw a coat of protection on your fall planted edibles to continue harvesting all winter.  There are many fall crops that continue to live on into winter like kale, spinach, mustards, winter hardy lettuces, carrots, beets and more.

For a full listing of winter hardy edibles:  The winter edible garden

Many need no cover at all.  All appreciate some cover and will have more growth when given additional warmth.  Options include cold frames, cloches, row covers and portable greenhouses.
Cold frames work well if you have a grouping of low growing plants or starting seedlings.  
Cold frame using a repurposed window and house for added warmth
Cloche (the glass or plastic bell shaped overs) works great for covering single plants that don't get too tall.  
Cloche for single plant
I love using a portable greenhouse over my potted greens that I gather together and cover for the winter.  
Earthboxes, self watering pots, in portable greenhouse
Lastly, row covers are great if you have a garden bed row of plants that you want to cover.
Row cover on right, cloches on left
The one thing to keep in mind is that when the sun comes out temperatures inside the covers can increase 50 degrees F over the outside temperature so on clear, sunny warmer days, you may need to vent your cover to keep from burning your cold loving plants.