Archive for the ‘Growing Food’ 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

Salad Every Day

January 12th, 2010

Lettuce growing in my cold frame.

When I built my 50 dollar greenhouse over a year ago one of my goals was to be able to have something fresh to eat out of the garden or greenhouse every day of the year.  Well, it’s been about a year now, and  it hasn’t even been very hard to do.

Here is what I’ve learned so far –

Despite what you might have read, lettuce spinach and other salad greens are not really  particularly quick crops.  Sure you can have a pretty little stand of plants in about 6 weeks or so under good conditions, but  in cool weather  they don’t really get productive until they are  almost 3 months old.  Yes you can harvest a few salads out of the thinnings, but the young plants » Read more: Salad Every Day

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

Starting Cool Season Crops in the Heat of Summer

August 8th, 2009

There are any number of ways to get your cool season crops for your fall garden started despite the intense heat of August.  In fact some of them will be just fine direct seeded into the garden as long as you keep them well watered.  However, you will still have to contend with peak populations of insects.

This simple trick will protect your tender seedlings from the intense sun, while still letting in plenty of light, and keeping out the bugs.

You probably already have some of these mesh flat trays.

You probably already have some of these mesh flat trays - If you don't you can get them for cheap at most nurseries.

Just turn one upside down over your plants.

Just turn one upside down over your plants.

Then drape a pice of screen cloth over the top - you can buy this by the foot at any home center.

Then drape a peice of screen cloth over the top - you can buy screen by the foot at any home center.

You can weight down the edges of the screen cloth with boards or you can fold it under the flats.  You can also water right through the screen cloth.  You can even use this trick if you’ve direct seeded.  By the time your plants outgrow the inverted flats they will be big enough to survive the sun without the protection.

Try to pick an overcast day to remove the screen on if possible – otherwise do it in the afternoon when the sun has passed it’s highest intensity.  Remove the mesh tray a day or two later.

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.

First One

June 22nd, 2009
My first ripe tomato of 2009 - June 21

My first ripe tomato of 2009 - June 21

This is a much more momentous occasion than you might think – I’ve never had ripe tomatoes before July 4, and usually a week or even two later.  The plant is an “Early Girl” which honestly is not all that tasty of a tomato variety – and yet compared to the trucked in tomato like objects in the grocery stores (at as much as $2 a pound!) they’re pretty excellent.  A Home grown tomato is another thing that even when it’s bad is still pretty danged good.  If I were only growing a few tomato plants “Early Girl” wouldn’t be the variety I would grow  – I would grow “Celebrity” for it’s admirable if not outstanding taste plus unsurpassed reliability and disease resistance.  Fortunately for me I can grow lots of tomatoes.

This plant was set out in my 50 dollar greenhouse on March 15 from seeds that I started using home made bottom heat in  February, and is one of my greenhouse experiments – to grow extra early tomatoes.

So, two weeks isn’t really all that much earlier – is this experiment a success or not?

I must say that many gardeners in my area are not having stellar results this year, because wet weather prevented an early start, and more wet weather has caused poor germination, water logged roots, and a general failure to thrive.  That’s because they don’t use raised beds, and therefore have poor drainage.  Also the ongoing abuse of their soil caused by the application of chemical fertilizer and pesticides is not conducive to healthy plants when the weather is less than ideal.  Healthy soil makes healthy plants.

My tomatoes are thriving on an application of compost + a scoop of rabbit manure (possibly the most excellent fertilizer there is) and a bit of lime in the planting hole and a weed suppressing mulch of grass clippings.  Other than caging them and pulling the occasional weed I haven’t had to do a thing since planting.  Soon will come the best job of all – eating home grown tomatoes.

Happy Organic 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!

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.

Starting Early in the Garden

March 25th, 2009
A simple cloche made by cutting the bottom out of a milk jug my be all that is required to protect early garden plants from cold weather.

A simple cloche made by cutting the bottom out of a milk jug may be all that's required to protect early garden plants from cold weather.

By April in zone 6 we’re experiencing some really nice Spring weather.  A few people (me) are already setting out tomatoes early in the month and covering them with milk jugs until they get going.  Some even started planting in March – potatoes, brassicas, and garden peas especially.

I’ve often heard the opinion that starting your garden “too” early is a waste – plants which are set out later will quickly catch up to those which have had to suffer through erratic spring weather.  I accept that this might be true, however I like to get an early start anyway for these reasons:

  1. I just LIKE to get an early start.
  2. The weather is fine and makes the work much more enjoyable.
  3. It’s easier to harden off the plants during cool moist weather than it is once it starts to get hot.
  4. You don’t have to be as vigilant about watering as you would later.
  5. If you wait until later to plant everything all at once the job can be over whelming – so an early start allows you to spread out the work load.
  6. If you get the opportunity to plant early in the season you might want to take it because wet weather (or life)  might prevent you from working in the garden when you need to later.
  7. In my completely anecdotal and unscientific experience – Gardeners who start early have more overall success.

Starting early is a gamble, and you must remain vigilant and prepared in case of cold weather – frosts and overnight temps below freezing are a distinct possibility in April.  As a general rule your plants will survive those late frosts without a hitch if you cover them with anything – sheets, buckets, plastic, mulch, anything – so be prepared with sufficient materials to do so and watch the weather reports.

Even so, every once in a while a really freakish late cold front will blow through and kill a few things – but not very often.

A few things really should not be planted until the soil warms up – notably corn and beans* – these seeds are likely to rot in cool wet soil before they germinate.  However, you can get an early start even with those by planting them under a simple plastic tunnel to warm the soil and protect them from cold and too much rain.

So maybe my tomatoes won’t ripen any earlier, but I’ve never regretted getting an early start in my garden, and I have regretted a late one.

Happy Gardening!

* Fava Beans are different and can be planted much earlier – you should give them a try!