3 Veggies You Gotta Grow at Home!

These three veggies aren’t easy to find in grocery stores.  Even if you can buy them, they are so much better fresh out of the garden AND super easy to grow.

Broccoli Raab Rapini This is a relative to big broccoli stalks. You get the same great taste and vitamins as the bigger broccoli except this is easier and faster to cook. You can buy raab in the grocery stores sometimes, but it’s often large and the leaves can be tougher. Clipped young out of the garden and sauteed with olive oil or in stir fry, it’s tender and sweet.  And it’s easy to throw a little in your juicer without it overwhelming other vegetables.

Chioggia Beets You can buy beets with greens attached, but again you don’t get the young tender sweet greens you can clip directly out of the garden that are great for stir-fry or slipped into a mixed salad.  Any beet would work, but the chioggia have those super cool stripes that look great sliced very thin in a salad.

Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas Anyone who has read this blog knows I’ve got a thing for peas. But the dwarf grey sugars reign above all the others.  First, the plant with its pretty pink flowers could pass for a sweet pea.  Second, even the leaves of this pea are tasty and you could grow these peas just for microgreens. Third, the young pod is sublime. Eaten young right off the plant it is sweet and tender. Grown a little more, it’s a great snack refrigerated or even to be used in the traditional way in stir fry.

Gardening is fun but also can take a lot of time and work. I like to grow food that I can’t just buy in the grocery store but is a delight when grown at home.

Photo Credits:http://www.karensgarden.net/ki_galleries/2009/PeaBlossom.jpg http://green-artichoke.blogspot.com/2012/07/beet-and-lentil-salad.html

 

Very Basic Seed Starting

I teach seed starting for beginners classes every year and while there are often some people who are true beginners and have never started seeds before, more people who seek out a class are gardeners who have tried starting seeds and had some failures. So I like to keep seed starting very simple.  All I want you to do is think like a seed.

All I want you to remember is:

Seeds WANT to live. The very meaning of life for a seed is to germinate and make a plant. Most of the time, we just have to get out of the way.

Seeds need 5 Things:

Water Seeds need to be well hydrated to germinate.  Think about how we soak our peas to speed germination.  But they don’t want to be sitting in water.  You need to check the soil each day and make sure the top of the soil isn’t drying up and hardening.  Sometime even misting is enough.

Temperature Each seed needs the soil (not just the air) to reach a certain temperature before it starts to grow.  I learned early that just because I liked to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day, that didn’t mean that worked in Colorado. Our soil warms up later than other places and the peas weren’t coming up until it was warmer.  Each seed has a temperature it prefers and it just sits in the soil until it gets that.

Light A few seeds like lettuce need light to germinate….so you can’t plant them beneath the soil.  Seeds also need light to keep growing, which is why they get weak and spindly growing inside away from bright light.

Air Notice that soil isn’t in this list.  Seeds don’t care much if the soil is full of amendments or a special seed starting mix. (The plant will have opinions later….but for now we’re just thinking about the seed.) Seeds by design carry their own food. They do need air.  Air in the soil they are growing in for their tender little roots to move in.  Heavy clay soil is tough for a tiny root…there’s no place for it to go.  Seeds also need air above ground. Breezes lightly flowing among young seedlings make the young plants strong and protect them from fungus.

Time Time is the most important issue for beginners.  Most often when beginners think they have failed, it isn’t because the seeds didn’t come up.  It’s because they didn’t come up YET! Don’t give up too quickly. Some seeds germinate immediately, but some need an extra week or two until conditions are just right.

All the information you need is on the back of each seed packet.  Don’t over think seed starting….just offer the seeds a little hospitality with a comfortable environment and they’ll do what seeds want to do.

Seeds WANT to  live.

Photo Credit: http://kidsgrowingstrong.org/miracle_of_a_seed Info and Photo: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2005-12-01/Seed-Starting-Basics.aspx

 

Tools of the Trade: Row Cover

Every pursuit has tools that make it easier to be successful. Ask any gardener and they’ll pull out their own favorite tool with a wry grin and and a long story about why you have to have this tool

Row Cover is one of my own top secrets of success. I use it in all seasons at all different times of the growing season.  Also known as frost cloth, it is a light-weight white fabric that looks just like interfacing. Row cover’s great attribute is that it creates a protective barrier between the seed, plant or soil against the ravages of sun, wind and cold. It’s also handy for protecting against insects like flea beetles. Here’s how I use it throughout the seasons:

Spring Right now, row cover is in the garden over areas that I’ve seeded that I want to help germinate.  The row cover protects the germinating seeds and seedling from getting too dry because the gardener forgets to water often enough.  It also is a physical barrier that protects against harsh sun, wind or hungry birds.  Temperature under the row cover is a few degrees warmer which is enough to speed up germination.

Any Season When you are transplanting, row cover can be the secret tool that enables your plants to survive transplanting.  I use it when I transplanting out seedlings I’ve grown indoors, or plants from the nursery, or even perennials I’m moving in my own yard.  Keeping leaves from desiccating from sun or wind is the keep to successful transplanting.

Mid Summer Lettuce lovers keep their greens from bolting too soon by covering them with row cover.  In Spring the row cover kept heat in…now, it keeps the hot summer sun out and lowers the temperature around the plants.  Lettuce stays sweeter longer.  Eventually, lettuce still bolts, but about the time that happens, it’s time to reseed the garden for fall greens.  Row cover then keep the seeds moist enough to grow.

Fall So often a frost comes one early fall night that kills lots of your warm season plants.  It’s a shame because there are often another two or three weeks of good growing time for tomatoes or other tender vegetables.  Five degrees of protection under row cover means your tomatoes survive a light frost.

Winter If you have a greenhouse, row cover inside the greenhouse and give you an extra zone’s warmth. I visited  an unheated greenhouse in snowy Colorado this week that had lettuce planted last Fall and now  being harvested for fresh greens.

When to take row cover off  The one time row cover isn’t helpful is when your plants need to be pollinated. Bees and moths and butterflies need to be able to fly from flower to flower gather nectar and pollinating the plants.  Lettuces and greens don’t need the pollinators, but strawberries and peas and anything else that flowers and sets fruit does. Once you start to see flowers, you need to pull the row cover aside.

Keeping the row cover on OK, if you’re in a windy area that’s the biggest challenge. Big farming operations dig a trench alongside their beds, put the row cover in and then fill in the trench with soil to hold the row cover down.  Home gardeners can place a few rocks strategically placed or even a heavy piece of lumber.

Photo Credit (and more info):

http://tinyurl.com/b28755y http://tinyurl.com/bh983my

 

Gardening for Beginners

If you are a beginner, you’ll soon learn that Gardening is both an art and science….and a bit of luck. You start by reading books and the backs of seed packets. You ask other gardeners and talk to strangers at the garden center. But mostly you observe. You watch what others are doing. You watch the plants in your garden. You pay attention to weather and birds and insects and racoons. And best of all, no matter what you know, or how long you’ve gardened, there is always something new to learn. It doesn’t matter either if you don’t have enough space outside to do gardening. You can easily just get something like these LED grow lights and do some gardening inside, or you could go see if there is a community garden centre that you could partake in. There are loads of options.

The Very Basics you Need:

Light. Gardens do better in sun. You can get by with partial shade but if you want tomatoes and beans, you need at least six hours of sun a day. More preferably.

Soil. Roots need soil and air. If you have soil that needs a pickaxe to dig a hole, you need to add “amendments” like compost or composted manure, to lighten the soil. It doesn’t need to be fluffy like potting soil…but it needs to have enough air to receive water and to drain.

Water. With drought at record levels all over the country last year, it’s easy to understand that plants need water. When you’re starting seeds, the soil needs to be moist on the surface till the seeds germinate. Later, the soil needs to be moist an inch down when you put your finger in the soil. In the beginning when plants are young, you might need to water every day. You have to keep checking. There’s a solution to this problem, if you have a look into the Powerblanket sizing chart and follow up by purchasing the recommended size, this will allow you to have a temperature controlled bucket which will preserve the water supply throughout summer.

Space. Plants need space both above and beneath the ground. Not too much space because they do like growing in groups and communities. But read your seed packet and be sure to give your plants at least a few inches of space.

Time. Gardening is a four-dimensional event. It changes dramatically over time. You need enough time for the plants to grow to full term. Lettuce is ready to eat in a few weeks. Winter squash can take 100 days. As the weather changes, what the plant needs changes, so you have to keep adapting. You also have to keep track of time and can’t let a week or two pass without checking on your garden.

Love. Gardens that children grow will often thrive even though the kids don’t do everything right. That’s the love factor. I look back at my first gardens and can’t believe I managed to get anything to eat. But I loved the process. I loved playing in the dirt and watching seeds germinate. I loved the idea of the garden even when I forgot to go out to water. I loved the red tomatoes in the sun. And the plants forgave my shortcomings and grew in that atmosphere of love.

Watch, Learn and Enjoy.

Or as we like to say at BBBSeed: Grow. Enjoy. Share.

Resources:

Organic Gardening magazine is a great resource. Years of articles are online. You can start with their basic how to garden. http://tinyurl.com/bhlqfcy

Square-foot Gardening was most helpful to me when I started learning. Gardening seemed like such a big project…but I could do 4 feet x 4 feet without feeling overwhelmed. http://www.squarefootgardening.org/

Gardening is very different in an arid climate like Colorado compared to humid places like Louisiana or Oregon. Check with your local Cooperative Extension (every state has an extension service from its ag university.) Gardening for newcomers to Colorado is here: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07220.html

Photo Credits: www.irrigationdirect.com

www.gardeninginfozone.com

 

What you Should Never do in your Garden!

A bounty of snowfall followed by a warm sunny day has this gardener itching at the bit to get outside and play in the dirt.  A nice wet Spring usually makes for excellent gardening all year, but this is the one time you can ruin your garden, harming it sometimes for years. Don’t let Spring Fever lead you to destroy your soil!!

Never dig in your garden when the soil is wet.  If clumps of clay are sticking to your boots….it’s too wet.

Don’t dig wet soil.

Don’t rototill wet soil.

Don’t walk on wet garden soil.

Just stay away.

The key to happy plants and happy roots is air in the soil. When you dig in wet soil (unless you are growing in sand) you create clods of compressed soil that stick to your shoes like glue and turn into big chunks of virtual concrete when it dries. It could be years until you get good soil texture again. You can’t easily turn the clods back into good soil.  Hitting it with a shovel when dry (the voice of experience speaks loudly here) just turns the soil into dust.

So start some seeds, prune some trees if they are still dormant, sharpen your tools, but the most important thing to do on a wet Spring day is to stay out of the garden soil!

Fact Sheet on Soil Compaction: http://tinyurl.com/crckc2z

Cartoon Credit: http://tinyurl.com/bm8qjhx

 

Succession Planting ~ Part 2

Last week I talked about Succession Planting by using varieties that have different times to maturity. There are two more easy kinds of Succession Planting you can use to you have a steady source of the best tasting food and to make the best use of your space.

Plant the same crop at intervals.

The seed packet again gives you the information you need.  It says things like “plant at two week intervals.” This is a great idea for crops like lettuces and carrots and beets or similar crops that just taste best when young.  If you plant all your carrots at once, you’ll have nice young carrots mid season but by the end of the season, you’ll be pulling big gnarly carrots out of the ground.  Sometimes these can taste great and sometimes they get too woody.   Likewise, you’re going to want to have fall carrots because they get so sweet when the weather gets cooler.  If you planted all your carrots in May, you’re either going to run out of them, or the stress they went through during the heat of summer will have made them tough.

I help myself remember to plant at intervals by picking specific calendar dates. I pick the 1st and the 15th of each month as days to plant again.

Plant two or more crops in succession.

This technique is especially good for people with limited space or who practice square-foot gardening.  You start a cool season crop such as greens or radishes in an area. When they are ready, you harvest and eat them, and then you plant a summer crop such as corn or beans in that spot.  It’s like having twice the garden space. Sometimes I’ll “interplant” crops such as green onions or carrots and tomatoes.  Tomato plants stay small until the heat of summer kicks in, so I’ll plant green onions and carrots in front of the tomato plants.  By the time the tomatoes start to get really big, I will have already harvested the onions and carrots and the tomatoes have lots of room.  The more things that are planted and growing in an area, the fewer weeds you’ll have to pull.  And that’s always a good thing. So keep an eye out…if you’re pulling up a crop that’s finished, plant something new.

Crops to plant every two weeks:

Beans Carrots Corn Green Onions  Lettuce Spinach

Crops to plant one after the other:

Peas followed by Corn Radish followed by Zucchini Green Onions followed by Peppers Cilantro followed by Beans

Photo Credits: http://tinyurl.com/bh32ju9