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Using Cover Crops

By now, you’ve harvested all your fall vegetable and are starting to prep your garden for the winter. Another year gone and you’re waiting for spring to roll around again. Well, what if you could plant something in the fall that will help your garden’s nutrients. Ever thought of planting a cover crop in the fall?

Cover crops are great because they not only return nutrients to the soil, they can also help choke out weeds, break up soil compaction, prevent soil erosion and provide your garden with some great organic matter! Sounds like a win win to me!

Most farmers around the U.S. use cover crops, but why not the home gardener?

Here is a list of cover crops that might help out your garden:

Hairy Vetch: An annual, valuable soil-improvement crop and a vigorous legume that produces huge amounts of nitrogen-rich biomass for turning under. Vetch can be plant in spring through late summer, or if planted in late summer to early September it will over-winter and grow vigorously the following spring. Hairy Vetch is very hardy and will also sprout in spring if it is planted before the ground freezes in November. This crop demands fairly fertile soil and adequate rainfall as it is shallow rooted. Livestock caution: Seeds are poisonous.

Canola (Rape): A member of the Brassica family. Rapeseed is extremely winter hardy and drought-tolerant and thrives on all soils with little preparations. Plant in early spring or fall. This crop produces lots of humus as a plow-down and has a great biomass production which provides great nutrients for the soil. Recently, studies have shown Canola can help with pest management and can be toxic to soil borne pathogens, like nematodes, fungi and some weeds.

Crimson Clover: Plant in spring, summer or fall. This quick growing clover is the most versatile variety for weed suppressing green manure. It is an excellent source of nitrogen, a good soil builder, can help with preventing soil erosion and a good forage crop. With the clovers bright red color, the flower creates a great habitat for many types of bees. You can also use the blossoms for tea. Crimsons Clover needs well-draining soil and thrives best in cool, moist climates.

White Dutch clover:  A low growing perennial which forms a nice mat; perfect for pathways between beds. White Clover chokes out weeds and halts soil erosion. It also withstands shade and regular mowing. As a green manure/cover crop, it fixes nitrogen and since it’s a perennial, can be plowed in at any time. Plant in early spring.

Yellow Dutch clover: Biennial. Provides a tremendous amount of green manure and bee pasture. A vigorous grower with long tap roots to help break up compact soil. Yellow Dutch Clover can produce up to 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Sow in the spring or summer.

Austrian Winter Pea: Builds and increases organic matter and nitrogen content of soil. Plant in mid-August to early September to allow plants to germinate and harden off, or plant in early November or before the ground freezes. The seed will germinate in the spring and provide and early season plowdown. Plant alone or mix with Winter Rye at approximate 50% Rye to 50% Peas. Under good conditions it will provide 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre when plowed in at half flower.

Winter Rye: A very hardy perennial. Winter Rye is valued for its ability to break up hardpan soils with a profusion of roots and root hairs. It suppresses weeds and is adaptable to a wide range of soil and climate conditions. Can be planted from early spring until the ground freezes as a winter cover crop. Plant in the fall with Winter Peas for nitrogen, organic matter and weed suppression.

Alfalfa: Perennial. It establishes easily and grows very quickly. In gardens or row crop rotation, Alfalfa produces plenty of top growth and a complimentary amount of root growth to incorporate as green manure. It can produce up to 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen and three tons per acre of dry matter. If sown in early May and provided with adequate water, Alfalfa can be cut twice for a nitrogen rich mulch or protein rich hay and later plowed in as green manure. Perfect for rejuvenating worn out soils. Plants early spring; April-May.

Buckwheat: Annual. While it is especially valuable for its release of phosphorus, Buckwheat also contributes a significant amount of organic matter and break up to the soil, is very competitive with weeds and bees love it! Seed when ground is well warmed and after last spring frost; it has no frost tolerance. When June planted, in 35 days it is waist high, in bloom and ready to plow under. Good to follow with fall crops of Rye and Austrian Winter Pea. Just rake in some seed after harvesting Buckwheat it will keep out the weeds and keep your garden looking great. Beneficial Green Lacewing adults will feast on the nectar then deposit their “aphid lion” eggs on nearby garden crops.

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Storing your Summer Harvest for Winter

All summer we get to enjoy our bounty from the garden; fresh lettuce, spinach, peas, and beans. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy some of your harvest through the winter? Here is a list of 13 vegetables that you can enjoy well into the winter.

Potatoes: Once foliage has died back leave in ground for 2-3 weeks this hardens your potato skins. Dig up your potatoes. DO NOT WASH. Store potatoes in the dark 36-40 degrees with 75-95% relative humidity. Consider storing your potatoes in burlap sacks, baskets, or wood crates. Don’t store potatoes with ethylene-releasing crops such as apples, and onions.

Good storage potatoes are: Yellow Finn, All Blue, Red LaSoda, Desiree, German Butterball, and Russian Banana.

Storability: 6-8 months

Carrots:  If you don’t have trouble with rodents you can store your carrots in the ground with some mulch over top of them and harvest when you need them. To store your carrots inside dig up your carrots before the ground has frozen. Cut off the tops close to the carrots. The foliage depletes the carrot of moisture and nutrients if kept intact which will shorten your carrots shelf life. Layer carrots in a box with sand making sure not to use beach sand as the salt can dry out your roots.

Good storage carrots: Bolero, Chantenay, Danvers, and Lunar White.

Storability: 4-6 months

Beets: Just like any other root crop, you can store these in the ground over winter with mulch over top. To store inside, harvest beets after a few days of dry weather. Dig up, and cut off greens. Brush off the loose soil. Layer in moist sand, or peat moss, making sure your beets don’t touch one another. Store in plastic container or wooden box making sure sand keeps moist. Make sure the sand stays moist.

Good storage beets: Early Wonder Tall Top, Detroit Dark Red, and White Albino.

Storability: 3-5 months

Cabbage: It is best to harvest cabbage after the first frost. Pull plant from ground and trim the outer leaves on the head. When storing cabbage from your garden remember not to wash cabbage until you are ready to use it for cooking. Red cabbages tend to store better than green cabbages. Wrap cabbage heads in newspaper and place on shelves.

Good storage cabbage: Red Express and Golden Acre.

Storability: 3-4 months

Parsnips: Storing parsnips is like storing carrots. Store in the garden with a layer of mulch or store indoors, remembering to cut off tops and layer in a box with damp sand or peat moss. Make sure parsnips are not touching one another.

Good storage parsnips: Harris Model and Turga

Storability: 2 months

Rutabagas: Layer in a box with sand or peat moss. Keep moist. Store in dark cold and moist conditions. 32-40 degrees with 80-95% relative humidity.

Good storage rutabaga: American Purple Top

Storability: 2-3 months

Leeks: Keep leeks in garden until hard frost make sure you mulch prior to. After hard frost dig them up. Use a tall bucket and store leeks in the upright position in moist sand or peat moss. Remember to keep soil damp throughout the winter. Leeks like dark cold environment with 95% humidity.

Storability: 3-4 months

Celery: Harvest celery when stalks are about 8 inches tall. Storing celery is similar to storing leeks. Put in a tall bucket with moist sand in the upright position. Keeping sand moist throughout the winter.

Good storage variety: Tall Utah

Storability: 1-2 months

Turnips: Store turnips the same as storing parsnips and carrots.

Good storage turnip: Golden Globe and Purple Top White Globe

Storability: 3-4 months

Garlic: In order to get your garlic to store properly you must cure your garlic. For storage, hang your bulbs in netted sacks with good air circulation on all sides. Perfect storage conditions are 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit at 50% relative humidity. Storage below 40 degrees actually makes garlic sprout faster.

Good storage garlic: Italian Late, Nootka Rose, and Silver Rose.

Storability: 8-10 months

Onions: After harvesting your onions set them out on a screen or hang them in a covered shed out of sunlight. Keep well ventilated and let dry for 10-14 days. Your onions will be nice and cured when the skins are papery and the roots are dry and crusty. Cut onion tops off. For storage, hang your onions in netted sacks with good air circulation on all sides. Store with your garlic for best storability.

Good storage onions: Yellow Rock, White Ebenezer, and Copra.

Storability: 5-9 months

Pumpkins: Harvest pumpkins before hard frost. Light frost is okay. Leave 2-4 inches of stem intact. Without stems pumpkins are more prone to spoiling. Cure pumpkins at 80-85 degrees F for about two weeks. Best stored in room temperature conditions with plenty of air flow.  For optimum storability wipe pumpkins down with olive oil this keeps the moisture.

Good storage pumpkins: Howden, Sugar Pie, Jack-O-Lantern, and Cinderella.

Storability: Up to 6 months.

Squash: Store and cure squash the same as you would pumpkins.

Good storage squash: Sweetmeat, Delicata, Bitteroot Buttercup, Gold Nugget, Baby Blue Hubbard, and New England Blue Hubbard.

Storability: Up to 6 months.

Remember you don’t have to have a root cellar or basement to store your vegetables. You can modify spaces such as a garage or a shed. You can also learn to can and freeze your vegetables to enjoy them through the winter!

 

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Summer Seeding for a Fall Harvest

August is one of my favorite months in the summer. Tomatoes and peppers are ripening. Days are warm and daylight lasts till 8pm.  August is the perfect month to start seeds. This gives you a chance to start seeds you want to enjoy well into fall.  I had some spinach and radish go to seed before I was able to enjoy their bounty due to high heat this July.

If you’re lucky and in a warmer climate you could plant some zucchini and be enjoying zucchini bread by Halloween! Some great short season zucchini varieties to try are early summer yellow crookneck and cocozelle summer squash both only take 42 days to maturity!

With the soil warm it is a perfect time to direct sow your Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. These vegetables are in the brassica family. Which seem to taste better with a little frost on them.

You still have time to get a full crop of lettuce, mustard, spinach, and chard growing in the garden. These are all great crops that you can succession plant all through the summer.  Even with a shorter growing season you can eat these as micro greens since these crops don’t have a ripening period, like an apple or an orange.

Don’t forget your roots crops! Like the brassica family root crops don’t mind a little cold snap towards the end of the season, in fact they taste sweeter with a light frost. So find those leftover seed packets half full with beets, radish, carrots, turnips and parsnips!

It’s too early to plant your garlic and shallots but it’s not too early to get your fall garlic and shallot order in! If you’re looking for a great flavored garlic try Inchelim Red or the Spanish Roja! But hurry these varieties go fast!

More varieties below for fall harvest.

Peas

Greens

Pak Choi

Rutabaga

Kohlrabi

Leeks

Parsley

Cilantro

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Harvesting Garlic

Garlic may be one of the most anticipated crops to harvest each year. You planted them all the way back in October, it’s now July and you are ready for some fresh garlic! Garlic harvest can be a little tricky. Depending on your weather, when you planted them, and what varieties you planted, the harvest can be anywhere between late spring and late summer. That’s a big gap! So the big question is how do I know when my garlic is ready to harvest?

 

Since the bulb is in the ground, you are going to look at the leaves. Watch your plants and not the calendar.  The leaves will start to brown from the bottom up. Once about half of the plants’ leaves have browned this is a good sign you may be close to harvest time. Scrape soil away from the bulb by hand to check the bulbs maturity. If the bulb looks too small or the skin is still loose, cover the bulb back up and pat down the soil. Once you have a nice-sized bulb and the skin is tight, you can stop watering for about a week.

It’s important not to wait until all the leaves have died back before you harvest. Without the wrappers protecting the bulb, the cloves will start to separate. This will create some difficulty harvesting your bulbs and they will not store as well.

     

When harvesting, carefully loosen the soil around the bulb with a garden spade or fork. Grab the garlic bulb from the base and pull up.  Brush off the soil but don’t wash the roots since you will need to dry and cure them for long term storage. If you plan to eat some right away you can trim roots and leaves at harvest time.

 

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Radish Leaf Pesto

Growing radishes are one of the easiest and fastest growing vegetables you can grow in the garden and you can grow them all summer long! Not only do they have a flavorful root but their greens are really tasty too! I just thinned a row of diakon radishes and mind you I absolutely hate thinning! Call me crazy but I feel bad for the little roots that don’t get to grow up to be tasty little radishes.

Last week I used my radish greens to make a tasty pesto! Radish greens have a mild peppery flavor.

So do yourself a favor and try this recipe. You won’t be disappointed!

Radish Leaf Pesto

  • 2 Handfuls of radish greens
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
  • dash of salt and pepper

Remember to wash and dry greens. Remove stems and put everything in blender or food processor. Blend until creamy.

I put my pesto over grilled salmon, but this can be used in pasta, over a crostini, rubbed on a rack of lamb or stuffed in a chicken breast.

 

 

 

Happy Gardening and Bon Appetit!

 

 

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Succession Planting

Have you ever planted all of your lettuce all in one batch and now its harvest time and you have so much lettuce you don’t know what to do with it? I know this has happened to many gardeners. The trick is to succession plant.  Succession planting is to follow one crop with another. This is a really great tool to learn so you can maximize your gardens yield and enjoy crops for longer. I have come up with a simple chart that will help you know what intervals you should be planting your crops.

Succession Planting Guide

Arugula- 14 Day intervals

Bok Choi-  10 Day intervals

Beets- 14 Day intervals

Bush Beans- 10 Day intervals

Broccoli- 14 Day intervals

Carrots- 21 Day intervals

Cucumbers- 21 Day intervals

Endive- 14 Day intervals

Head Lettuce- 10 Day intervals

Kohlrabi- 10 Day intervals

Leaf Lettuce- 7 Day intervals

Melons- 21 Days

Mustard Greens- 10 Day intervals

Peas- 10 Day intervals

Radishes- 7 Day intervals

Spinach- 7 Day intervals

Summer Squash- 30 Day intervals

Sweet Corn- 7 Day intervals

Swiss Chard- 21 Day intervals

Turnips- 14 Day intervals

 

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Swiss Chard Grow Guide

Swiss Chard Growing Guide

Also know as silverbeet, Swiss chard is a member of the beet family for its edible greens, which can be used in salads or even fried. Its tender leaves taste like spinach, and can be harvested continuously throughout the season.

When to Sow: Early Spring, Fall in mild Winter areas.

Sun/ Part Shade: Sun/ Part shade in summer

Seed Spacing: 1 inch

Row Spacing: 18 inches

Planting Depth: 1/2 inch

Days to Germinate: 7-10 days

Days to Maturity: 85 days

Soil and Fertilizing

Plant after the last spring frost. The soil must be well-drained, and enriched with vegetable food. Feed every four weeks for best results.

Watering

Consistent moisture is important to Swiss chard, especially as the plants grow larger. Water every days.

Harvesting

Break or cut the outer leaves off at the base when they’re 6-8 inches wide. Pick and discard old or tough leaves and flower stalks. Avoid damaging the growing point in the center of the plant. If you plan to harvest whole plants, make succession planting through late summer, so you won’t run out.

Special Notes

  • Swiss chard is a mid-summer green that grows well in heat, but will also last through fall’s first frost.
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How to Grow Spinach

Spinach Growing Guide

 Spinach is one of the healthiest green vegetables you can grow. It’s packed with iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, various B-complex vitamins, and a variety of other nutrients, all in a leaf that tastes delicious in sandwiches, salads, and as a cooked side. Spinach loves cool weather, making it a garden favorite for early spring and late fall.

When to Sow: Early spring, or fall before ground freezes

Sun/Part Shade: Part shade

Seed Spacing: 1 inch

Row Spacing: 12-18 inches

Planting Depth: 1/4 inch

Days to Germinate: 7-21 days

Days to Maturity: 43-60 days

Soil

It’s best to have your soil tested before planting, so you know what nutrients and pH adjustments may be needed to support your crop. For a thorough soil test, consult your local county extension office.

Spinach favors loamy, fertile soil with a loose texture and a high percentage of organic matter (compost works well), with a pH of 5.5-6.8.

Planting

Air temperatures of 50-70° F, with soil temperatures between 35 and 45° F, make the best conditions for spinach. If the temperature rises above 80˚ or the days get longer than 14 hours, spinach will bolt (flower) and become bitter.

Sow spinach seeds directly in the garden, as spinach doesn’t take to transplanting. You can still get an early start in spring, however, by planting up to eight weeks before the last frost. Late September to mid-October are the best times for fall sowing, possibly even a bit later in the deep South.

A place where the plants are shaded during the hottest part of the day is ideal. If you grow spinach in containers, be sure to move them into the shade as necessary.

When you thin your spinach seedlings, keep the culled plants. The tender leaves are tasty in salads.

Watering

Give your plants about one inch of water once a week if you don’t get enough rain. Be sure not to overwater, or you may run into problems with disease. A layer of mulch around the plants will help them conserve water.

 Harvesting & Storing

Mature spinach presents a rosette of 5-6 leaves. Unlike plants like collards or turnips, however, the leaves will not grow back when you pick them, so harvest the entire plant at once.

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For soil testing or other questions specific to your growing climate, please contact your local county extension office. Visit https://nifa.usda.gov/partners-and-extension-map to find the office nearest you.

 

 

 

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Hardening off you Seedlings

How to Harden off Seedlings

You’ve started your seeds indoors and you’ve awaited their germination and now they are growing into strong independent seedlings! The weather is starting to warm up and your thinking your little babies maybe ready to flee the nest! Now lets not get to hasty, were not just going to dump our seedlings to the garden and tell them to fend for themselves!

We need to harden them off first.

Hardening your plants off sounds a little harsh but this is just the process of getting your little indoor seedlings ready to make the transition to the great outdoors.

All seedlings need to spend a week or so outside before being transplanted into the garden. Even if you didn’t plant your transplants from seed and you bought them from a garden center or nursery I would still use this hardening process. About 7-10 days before planting your seedlings into the garden begin adapting them to outside conditions.

I start slow and gradually build each day. Start by placing your seedlings outside in the afternoon for a few hours in partial shade and are protected from the wind. This should happen for two to three days. As the seedlings get more acclimated to the new climate you can keep adding hours and more direct sunlight to them. By the last two days your seedlings should be spending all day and night outdoors. Remember to look at the weather during this time.

Once your seedlings are hardened off they are ready to be transplanted into the garden!

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What you need to know about Strawberries

Strawberries (Everbearing) Growing Guide

Strawberries are a sweet treat in the garden, and it’s no surprise that they’re the most widely grown fruit in the world. Strawberries thrive from tropical to subarctic climates, are easy to grow, and tolerate a wide range of soil types.

Everbearing varieties, like our Albion, Ozark, and Seascape, typically bear fruit in summer and fall.

  •  When to Sow: As soon as soil can be worked
  • Sun/Part Shade: Full Sun
  • Root Spacing: 18 inches
  • Row Spacing: 2 feet
  • Planting Depth: 7-37 Days
  • Days to Maturity: 90-120 Days

Soil and Fertilizing

Strawberries like deep, well-drained sandy loams. They don’t tolerate extremes in pH well, with the ideal pH being slightly acidic at 5.8-6.2. Have your soil tested before planting, using a home tester or asking your local county extension to do it for you.

About 6 weeks after planting, apply two pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly over the growing area, avoiding direct contact with the foliage. Add two pounds again after renovating in July.

Planting and Growing

Everbearing strawberries can be grown in-ground, and also in containers and raised beds.

First Year

*Before transplanting, soak the roots for two hours to rehydrate them.

*Dig a hole deep enough so the roots extend vertically and are not bent.

*Cover the plants with soil just below the crown (where the plant top meets the roots). The crown should be at soil surface, not buried.

*Avoid planting strawberries in an area where they were recently grown, or where crops in the tomato family (including eggplants, potatoes, and peppers) have grown, as they may carry a root fungus.

Next Few Years

*If you carefully cover your strawberry plants with straw or mulch, they will overwinter and come back the next year in most climates.

*You can also start fresh with new, disease-free planting stock.

*If growing in containers, replace the growth medium with fresh sterile medium, and replant with new plants.

Thinning

Remove all blossoms 6-8 weeks after planting to improve yields. Clip off runners to keep the plants from getting too crowded.

Watering

Strawberries are shallow rooted. Water often, but keep the plants well-drained.

Harvesting

*To pick strawberries, cradle the fruit in your hand, pinch the stem between thumb and forefinger, and pull. Pick the caps along with the fruit.