Archive for the ‘Garden Schedule’ category

Starting Seeds Indoors Under Lights

February 8th, 2010
seedlings growing under lights

Seedlings growing under lights

I started some seeds today in my “plant work room” and I thought you might be interested.  I start seeds in regular plastic nursery trays that I get from a local greenhouse – and that I save from store-bought plants.  I do recycle my plant containers from year to year –  If you reuse containers like this you really should wash them thoroughly in a weak bleach solution and dry them in the sun before storing them away for reuse.  » Read more: Starting Seeds Indoors Under Lights

The Ultimate When to Plant Guide

February 2nd, 2010

My Garden in April

Pay attention.  This may be the most valuable tidbit of gardening wisdom anyone ever hands you. Of course it also might not be.

When to plant – every seed packet you pick up has a little map on the back with 4 or 5 colored zones and planting dates for each zone.  Or they have cryptic advice like “whenever soil can be worked”, “after soil has thoroughly warmed”, or “after all danger of frost.”    Forget all that.  Plant when the soil is the right temperature.  Period.   Depending upon how sheltered your garden is, or if it has shade in the morning or afternoon – or if it is in a greenhouse or cold frame – those dates are just about meaningless.  But, the soil temperature will almost never lead you astray because the ground temperature changes slowly – it is slow to warm up in the spring, and slow to cool off in the fall.  Not wildly swinging with every warm or cold front.

Seed Germination time in days at different temperatures

degrees F 32 41 50 59 68 77 86 95 104
parsnips 172 57 27 20 14 15 32
onion 136 50 13 7 5 4 4 13
spinach 62.6 23 12 7 6 5 6
lettuce 49 15 7 4 3 2 3
cabbage 51 17 10 7 6 6 9
carrots 50 17 10 7 6 6 9
celery 41 16 12 7
peas 36 14 9 8 6 6
radishes 29 11 6 4 4 4 3
asparagus 52 24 14 10 11 19 28
tomatoes 43 14 8 6 6 9
parsley 29 17 14 13 12
sweet corn 21.6 12 7 4 4 3
cauliflower 19 9 6 5 5
beets 14 9 6 5 6
turnips 5 3 2 1 1 1 3
lima beans 30 17 6 7
okra 27 17 12 7 6 7
peppers 25 13 8 8 9
snap beans 16 11 8 6 6
cucumbers, summer and winter squash
13 6 4 3 5
eggplant 13 8 5
watermelon 12 5 4 3
muskmellon 8 4 3

As a general rule seeds that can germinate at a lower temperature are also more resistant to rot.

If you study this table you will begin to understand » Read more: The Ultimate When to Plant Guide

Forced Rhubarb

January 7th, 2010
Doesnt that look delicious?  Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.

Doesn’t that look delicious? Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.  The container used to force this rhubarb probably should have been taller – note that the tops are curled over.  Sure is a pretty color though.

Rhubarb is a perenial plant which grows back from the root crowns every spring.  The large leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous, but the celery like stems are wonderfully tart and tangy.  Children like to eat them fresh right out of the garden, but nearly everyone likes it used as a fruit in sweet deserts – pies, crumbles, or just stewed with sugar.  My Mom (a marvelous cook of course – thanks Mom!) used to make it into a pie with strawberries.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Don’t worry too much about those poisonous leaves – they apparently taste so nasty that there is not much danger of anyone eating them anyway.

Here in TN I can barely grow rhubarb – although last year was so cool and rainy that it did pretty well.  It really does much better farther north » Read more: Forced Rhubarb

Turnip Plantin’ Time in Tennessee

August 26th, 2009
There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they arent on your list of vavorite vegies.

There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they aren't on your list of vavorite vegies.

Turnips will almost never be the answer to the question of  “What is your favorite vegetable?” so maybe the title of this article should be “Cover Crop Plantin’ Time in the Mid South”  but it just doesn’t have the same alliteration thing going on.  BTW, it’s the last week of August, and a few harbingers of fall are already apparent – goldenrod in bloom for example.

Anyway, your summer garden is looking disgraceful (you know it is) and it’s high time to put all of those disease and weed ridden plants out of their misery before you get a visit from the homeowners association.  Hopefully you are planning to grow a fall garden, but even so  some amount of ground  is probably going to be vacant once you tidy up – which is where cover crops come in.  Any good cover crop will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, improve the fertility / organic content of your soil, and in some cases even put food on your table.  One of the main things that cover crops do is to absorb soil nutrients into their tissues as they grow so that they don’t leach away during the rainy winter.  But (to me) the main reason to plant cover crops is that they save work, because all of those advantages are gained with no more effort than it takes to sprinkle a few seeds on the newly bared ground.

The most popular fall / winter cover crops in my area are: Turnips, Crimson Clover, and Annual Rye.  They are area favs for good reasons, and they all have their unique advantages.  Rye probably does the best job of suppressing weeds, and adds lots of organic matter to the soil when you work it in early next spring.  Crimson clover adds nitrogen in addition to organic matter.  Turnips main claim to fame is the fact that they also yield food – all winter long in some cases.  Ask around (at a farmers co-op for example) to find out what works best in your area.

Whichever cover crop you choose to sow buy your seed by the pound (at a farmers co-op or or Real Garden Center) unless your garden is awfully small a little paper packet isn’t going to be enough seed.  Anyway, a pound of turnip seed should only cost 3 dollars or so, will last just about forever in the freezer, and contains enough seed to plant the entire state of Rhode Island – it’s one of those things that you should just keep on hand.  If you keep them in an empty shaker bottle such as spices comes in it will be very convenient to just sprinkle about – a good tip for all kinds of salad green seeds.

The other thing you should do with any of these crops is to completely ignore the planting dirrections.  One of those little packets will tell you that you need to plant turnips 1/2″ deep in loose fertile  soil which has been enriched with lots of organic mater – which is true if you are hoping to win a ribbon at the fair, but for the purpose of a cover crop just sow your seed thickly (thin later with a hoe if you want to harvest roots)  on top of the ground after you have pulled the old plants and weeds.  You do need to use a rake or cultivating fork to break up any crust that you might have, and you will probably want to rake it out just to be neat – but that’s all.  The main thing is to throw those seeds down and everything else will take care of itself.  If you water one time after sowing the seeds you will probably see sprouts in 3-4 days.

But, you say “I’m planning on mulching/tilling/fertilizing/planting something else long before those cover crops will be done.”  Don’t worry about it – when the weather cools off and  you get ready to do any of those things just do it  – until then your cover crop will be improving your garden for you, and if you don’t get around to those things until next year it will look like you planned it that way.

This is one of the best times of the year to work in your garden – get out there!

Time to Start Your Fall Vegetable Garden

August 3rd, 2009
Start right now and you can grow excellent fall vegetables in your garden while those around you grow little more than weeds.

Start right now and you can grow excellent fall vegetables in your garden while those around you grow little more than weeds.

August is here and it’s time to get busy planting your fall vegetable garden.  While your neighbor’s gardens start to look sad with weeds and failing summer crops yours can continue to be productive for weeks, months or even non stop from now on.

It’s hot now, but soon the weather will start to moderate, the bugs will start to thin out, and soil moisture will increase and garden tasks will become much more pleasant, but if you don’t act soon it will be too late for many crops.

In my area of zone 6 it’s still most likely 10 – 12 weeks until we start getting frost.  More than enough time for another planting of summer squash, green beans, cucumbers or (theoretically) even another round of tomatoes if you can procure plants that are ready to go.

Most years rain is the big issue for late plantings of summer veggies, but so far this year the only rain problem in my garden has been too much of it.  So I have my fingers crossed that I won’t have to water very often, but if you do have to water it’s far better to install soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines before planting if you can at all.  However don’t let that concern keep you from planting – sooner the better.

When the leaves are falling your fall garden will be growing and feeding your family nutricious cool season vegetables.

When the leaves are falling your fall garden will be growing and feeding your family delicious cool season vegetables.

Aside from one more round of summer vegetables the real reward of growing a fall garden will be all of the cool season plants that do well as the nights begin to cool.  All of the brassicas are great in the fall garden – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, etc.  Here in the south it isn’t too late to start these from seed, but it also isn’t too soon to set out plants if you can get them – check your local farmers market, and online classifieds as well as nurseries, and garden centers.

Keep in mind that the cabbage family does best in cool weather, but they are not cold hardy.  Many of them will survive or even improve from a light frost, but you have to harvest them before a hard frost or freeze.  In our area the first few frosts are usually far between and the season can easily be extended by several weeks if you are prepared to cover tender plants for the first few frosts.

The first step in moving forward with this project is to yank out all of those failing plants that are just taking up space, and looking sad.  Don’t hang onto failing vines just because they might produce another squash or two.  Toss those things on the compost heap – unless they are diseased or infested in which case you should probably burn them as much as I hate to say it.

Once you free up some space you need to consult a calendar to decide what your planting options are.  Calculate the time left until your likely first frost date.

If you have 10 or more weeks left of reliably temperate weather you can still direct sow green beans, squash and cucumbers – but you need to do it immediately if not sooner.  You also still have time to plant cabbage and other brassicas from seed, but if your weather is hot like it is here you should probably do that indoors.  If you can find plants ready to set out you can go ahead and do so now and any time until about 8 weeks before frost.  large heading types may take longer to form heads so check the seed packages or even better talk to a local expert about which varieties to plant.

Here in zone 6 you can usually set out most brassicas until the end of August.

With 10 or more weeks until frost you can also direct sow beets, carrots, collards, lettuce, radish, garden peas, turnips, and potatoes.  Carrots are pretty much cold proof in our climate and will stay perfect all winter long in the ground so plant lots of carrots in your fall garden.

At 8 weeks until frost you can direct sow more lettuce, turnips, radish, arugula, and spinach.  A great thing about the fall garden is that once nights start to cool off your lettuce will stop trying to bolt, and you will be able to pick cool season salad greens throughout the fall from only a few plantings.

At about 6 weeks before frost it will be time to plant lettuce and spinach to establish in a cold frame, green house or other season extender.  This planting will feed you well into the winter in many areas.  When the weather gets really cold it will stop growing, but on fair sunny days growth will continue.  It’s pretty great to be growing fresh salad greens all winter long.  You can worry about building a cold frame or poly tunnel later if you don’t already have one, but get those seeds in the ground now!

You can grow fresh greens like lettuce and spinach all winter long in a simple cold frame, plastic row cover or green house.  For best results though you want to establish those crops in the fall while the weather is still warm.

You can grow fresh greens like lettuce and spinach all winter long in a simple cold frame, plastic row cover or green house. For best results though you want to establish those crops in the fall while the weather is still warm, and the plants can grow more quickly.

Be prepared to keep everything watered during the remaining weeks of hot summer weather, and also protect tender young plants from marauding insects – row covers are helpful for both of these things.

Growing a fall garden is a great way to make your garden much more rewarding so get out there and brave the summer heat for a while to get one going.  You’ll be glad you did.

A Little Space to Fill

June 12th, 2009
This 3 foot square area is perfect for one teepee of Chinese Long Beans - a variety that I'm trying for the first time.

This 3 foot square area is perfect for one "tepee" trellis of Chinese Long Beans - an heirloom variety that I'm trying for the first time this year.

No matter what size garden you have one of the best ways to maximize the space  is to keep something growing everywhere / all the time.  This is often referred to as succession planting.

Now that the Summer season is upon us many gardeners will already have early season crops  – lettuce, spinach, carrots, early potatoes, onions, peas, etc – that are finished producing and failing or beginning to fail.  Others of us have a few spots left here and there that we just haven’t planted yet.  Well get out your seed collection and poke some in the ground!

Don’t leave those unhappy failing plants suffering in the garden just because they are still producing an occasional pea – yank them out and toss them on the compost heap – a little (organic!) fertilizer or compost, and a quick pass through with a hoe and that spot will be ready for something new.

You might think that the little patch vacated by early lettuce is too small to do anything with – but take a cue from square foot gardeners – it’s not –  if planted appropriately and well cared for.  If you’re a small space gardener then it is even more important to keep the space that you do have planted and producing.

Flowers like this Mexican sunflower will attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

Flowers like this Mexican sunflower will attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

Great candidates for filling those empty spaces right now are the summer crops – beans, squash, cucumber, even corn or melons if you have enough space.  Flowers are also a great option as well and many of them attract beneficial insects and may even repel insect pests (marigolds for example).

Unless you live somewhere without hot dry summer weather you probably should not plant cool season crops this late – although in a few weeks (July-August)  you might want to start some for a fall garden.

If you’re a traditional row gardener you might consider broadcasting sunflower seed that you buy as bird food into your finished areas – the tall growing sunflowers will suppress weeds and when they mature they attract droves of songbirds.  I did that a few years ago and the garden was filled with dozens of goldfinches for a while – I didn’t harvest a single seed – they ate every one right off of the flowers. It was great.

Here in zone 6 there is plenty of warm weather ahead at this point for just about anything, but what if that isn’t the case where you live or when you get a round tuit?  Planting something (anything) is better than surrendering the ground to the weeds.  If you plant beans or other legumes they will improve the soil by adding organic nitrogen even if you never get a harvest.

Summer squash come up and grow fast in hot weather, but are prime targets for pests like squash bugs and vine borers when planted later.  You might have to take countermeasures when you plant squash later in the season.

Summer squash will come up and grow fast in hot weather, but they are prime targets for pests like squash bugs and vine borers when planted late. You might have to take countermeasures when you plant squash later in the season.

Assuming that you do hope to harvest something from your efforts it’s becoming increasingly important at this time of year to plant things that are relatively drought and insect resistant, because high summer is the season for both of those plagues.  For our area Kentucky wonder green beans (either bush or pole variety) is a particularly good choice for those reasons – ask the garden specialist at your local farmers co-op for advice on your area.

Happy Gardening!

Buy Seed NOW for your Fall Garden!

June 1st, 2009
Fresh organicly grown cauliflower like this tastes as great as it looks, and is a great crop for the fall garden.

Fresh organically grown cauliflower like this tastes as great as it looks, and is a perfect crop for the fall garden.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – When it’s time to plant the fall vegetable garden in July/August it will be hard to find seeds in many locations.  Right now garden seeds are available all over the place, but I’ve already seen the displays coming down in my local home improvement store.  Some are even on close out sales already – Buy Now!

Around August first I plan to sow cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and late tomatoes as well as pansies and other fall ornamentals inside under lights.  You could also dirrect sow in the garden but it will be very hot and dry at that time, and starting my fall plants inside gives me a few more weeks to clear out space for them in the garden.  Also starting them indoors lets them get ahead of the bugs and weeds that will be in full swing in mid summer – but that’s another story.

In September your garden can look like this one with lots of fresh vegies and greens for the table - if you plan now!

In September your garden can look like this one with lots of fresh vegies and greens for the table - if you plan now!

A fall garden can double your fun and give you some of the most satisfying harvests of the year – while everyone elses garden spot is going to waste.  But you can’t plant it if you don’t have any seed!

Sorry I’ve been so negligent about posting lately, but I’ve been outside  – So should you!

Happy Gardening!

May in the Garden

May 8th, 2009
May brings the first ripe strawberries to my garden.

May brings the first ripe strawberries to my garden.

Spring is here and needless to say it’s time to plant just about anything if it ever stops raining long enough. Here in zone 6 it’s time to get a move on before it goes from too wet to too dry.

If you are new to vegetable gardening or are planning to expand your garden in the future consider using one of the permanent bed systems like square foot, Ruth Stout, or French intensive and you won’t have to worry about wading through mud to work.

If the weather is still a bit unsettled where you live you can give your warm season crops a real head start by planting them under a cold frame or plastic tunnel.  Squash and cucumbers that I planted under a moveable cold frame last Saturday were up by Monday.

The grass is growing like gangbusters right now, and grass clippings make great mulch for weed suppression, and also are a key component to organic yard compost – I never have too much compost or grass clippings.  Grass catchers are expensive when you buy them new, but cheap or free at yard sales and online classifieds – organic gardeners really need a grass catcher.

Honey bees are having a hard time these days what with varroa mites and colony collapse disorder.  Really think twice before you use chemical insecticides – the pollinator you kill might be the one you need in your garden.

Ive been busy over the winter building this bee hive for my new honey bees.

I've been busy over the winter building this bee hive for my new honey bees.

Speaking of honey bees – I’m an expectant beekeeper – last January I placed an order for a 3 pound box of bees which are due to be delivered by mail any day now.  I’ll fill you in on the new beekeeper experience in a few days.

This healthy New Zealand rabbit is only 2 days old.

This healthy New Zealand rabbit is only 2 days old.

If by any chance you are considering becoming a backyard rabbit raiser spring is a good time to start – breeders are flush with spring bunnies and the weather is kind right now.

In our zone you can probably get in one more planting of cool weather spring salad greens if you hurry up about it – soon it will just be too hot.

Get out there!

April in the Garden

April 3rd, 2009
The Garden in April is full of potential.

The Garden in April is full of potential - and mud.

Here in middle Tennessee (zone 6b) April is high time to plant the main season garden. Our likely last frost date is about April 15 and by the end of the month even the most conservative gardeners are planting out tomatoes and peppers.

Spring weather can be very frustrating for gardeners – often going from too cold to too wet – be prepared with seeds, bedding plants and other supplies so that you can  jump on it when the opportunity arises.   By the time the weather is reliably dry for garden work it may be well on its way to becoming too dry – seize the day.

If you haven’t already planted  peas, brassicas, lettuce or other cool season crops or you want to do a succession planting you have a window of opportunity early in the month to do so, but the longer you wait the less likely success becomes because hot weather will arrive before many of those can mature.  However you are more likely to be successful if you set out plants instead of trying to propagate from seed.  Potatoes can be planted any time, but earlier is better for this cool season crop as well.

Once the last frost date has passed most things can be planted with a few notable exceptions.

Sweet corn and beans both require warm soil (70 degrees F more or less) for reliable germination.  Too much rain can also cause poor germination rates, because seed can rot.  It’s probably best to wait until the end of April  for these crops.

Phenology For April

  • “Plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrels ear, or when apple blossoms start to fall.” Consider that a squirrels ear is about 3/4 inch more or less – This old saying is probably a great guideline for field, dent, and heirloom varieties, but you might want to wait a little longer before planting hybrid sweet corn.
  • “Set out tomatoes when dogwood winter has passed, or when wild day lilies start to bloom.” Dogwood Winter is a cold front which often passes while dogwoods are in bloom or may actually trigger them to bloom. This year – 2009 –  dogwood winter was April 6 – 7 and featured overnight lows around 30 F daytime highs around 40  and a rain/snow mix all day on the 6th.
  • “Plant peppers and eggplant outside when bearded iris is in bloom.” This one probably applies to all manor of cucurbita,  cucumbers, melons, and squash.
  • Watch out for “Blackberry Winter” – A cold front associated with the flowering of wild blackberrys – often the last wide spread frost of the year occurs during blackberry winter.

Strawberries will be flowering soon (or already) and – along with other tender plants – will need to be protected from frost once you see blooms.  When berries start to ripen later in the season they will need protection from birds and other berry eatin’ varmints.  Plan ahead to have horticultural fleece, wire mesh or floating row covers ready to deploy if you plan on getting any fruit.  Those same materials can also be used later to protect young squash plants from egg laying vine borer moths.

April is not a bad time to plant strawberries as long as you have realistic expectations.  Strawberries set out in April will yield very little if any fruit this year, but by September they will each produce many daughter plants which can be transplanted at that time for a crop next year, and a great crop the next spring.  A six pack of plants started now in rich soil will be a nice little berry patch by next year if you play your cards right.

It’s Almost Slug Season – Joyous Joy.  Warming wet weather along with tender plants = slug paradise.  Watch for the tell tale holes in vegetation and take prompt swift measures – I favor jar lids full of beer for the slimy little lushes to drink their selves to death in.   Giving the kids each a flashlight and salt shaker could also be an effective – if less politically correct – form of slug based entertainment.  Mulch, rocks, boards and other rubbish provide hiding places so consider removing those things from problem areas if possible.  Also avoid over watering.

Get a Bird House! – While you are at the garden center consider stimulating the economy by buying a bird house.  But, don’t buy one of the cutesy gingerbread looking houses that are more for decoration than for the birds – instead get one which is specifically made for a particular bird – bluebirds and wrens are particularly receptive.  Birds might nest in an ornamental birdhouse, but the poor bird ergonomics can leave them vulnerable to nest predation.   If you put up a bird house now it might have occupants in just a few days.  Getting to see babies in the nest is a great treat for children – and adults.  Educate yourself a bit by Googling for the targeted species to learn about nest box location needs.

In April the greenhouse is full to over flowing.

In April the greenhouse is full to over flowing.

In the GreenHouse

Late this month I will probably remove the plastic covering from my 50 Dollar greenhouse or at least remove the doors.  Right now it is completely full of salad greens of all kinds, container plants, tomatoes trying to get an early start, early broccoli and cauliflower that is just starting to form heads, and tons of chick weed.  However I don’t foresee a lot of use for it once the weather turns reliably warm, and the plastic will be more likely to serve another year if I don’t leave it in the hot sun all summer.  I consider the greenhouse to be a great success so far – well worth the effort and small cash outlay – and I have high hopes that as I learn more about how to manage it, that it (along with cold frames) will become a key part of sustainable year around food production for my family.

The Thing About Strawberries

April 2nd, 2009
Each of those flowers will soon be a sweet juicy strawberry.

Each flower will soon be a sweet juicy strawberry.

When you visit the nursery or garden center in the Spring you will probably see potted strawberry plants for sale – some already with berries starting to form.  The thing is, Spring is too late to grow any strawberries. However, it’s the perfect time to grow strawberry plants – then you can get lots of fresh sweet strawberries out of your garden next spring.

Go ahead and buy a few of those plants this spring, and set them out 16″-24″ apart in a more or less permanent location in your garden.  If you can bring yourself to do it pluck off those berries as soon as possible – they won’t amount to much anyway – let the plants concentrate on growing.  Keep them weeded and watered, and fertilized this summer, and by fall you will have lots and lots of these…

One strawberry Mother will spread by runners to form many daughter plants.  If not thinned in the fall, very few strawberries will form, but each of those daughter plants can be transplanted in the fall and will bear fruit the following spring.

One strawberry Mother will spread by runners to form many daughter plants. If not thinned in the fall, very few strawberries will form, but each of those daughter plants can be transplanted in September or October and will bear fruit the following spring.

In September, transplant those into your “real” strawberry patch.  You could easily get a dozen daughter plants from each of the originals that you purchased this spring.  Next spring you will be rewarded for your efforts.