Guide to Pea Harvesting: When and How to Harvest Your Garden Grown Peas

by Sam DollFat garden peas in the shell.

How do you know it’s “officially” summer? Is it when the pool opens back up or your neighbors start grilling? For me, it doesn’t REALLY feel like summer until I can walk into my garden and eat a sweet snap pea off the vine!

While those pea pods are pretty tasty from the start, how do you know when the perfect time to pick them is? What if you want shelled peas, peas for stir fry, or even microgreens? We’ll help you figure out how and when to harvest your peas.

Garden Peas

Garden peas, also known as English or sweet peas, are the classic pea, great for side dishes or soups. While this pea can be eaten whole when it is young and tender, it shines brightest when shelled.

When harvesting garden peas to be shelled, check for the pod to be bright green and rounded. It should be slightly shiny and have no visible bumps. If the pods have bumps from the peas getting too large, the peas may be over-ripe and could be too starchy or mealy in texture.

We recommend our Green Arrow variety of garden peas. They have a high yield (8-11 peas per pod) and are good tender as well.

Snow Peas

Snow peas are recognizable for having flat pods with very small peas inside. They are mild and sweet and are almost exclusively eaten whole. Great eaten fresh or in stir fry, snow peas can be some of the most delightful crops in your garden.

Since snow peas are meant to be eaten whole, it is better to err on the early side when harvesting. The peas should be small and a little loose in the pod. If they go too long, the pods will become fibrous and the crop will lose most of its sweetness.

Snow peas are also great for growing microgreens due to their quick germination. The shoots are sweet, crunchy and delicious. Harvest them when they are about 2″ long and use them as a garnish, add them to sandwiches, or mix them in salads and soups.

The Oregon Sugar Pod II (long name, great plant) is the perfect sugar pod for everything from microgreens to stir-fry.

Snap Peas

Snap peas, or sugar snap peas, have a plump, edible pod that makes for a classic summer snack. A cross between garden peas and snow peas, snap peas are best as a sweet, light snack but can also be shelled or lightly cooked.

Like snow peas, they can be harvested as early as you want to and as long as the pods are rounded and shiny. If they lose their shine or the pod begins to bulge where the peas are, they have gone too long to eat whole, but can still be shelled and enjoyed!

The Sugar Ann is our favorite variety of snap pea

Some Notes

The more you pick, the more you get. It is best to keep harvesting peas as long as possible so you can get the maximum yield for your hard work.

When harvesting, use two hands to pick: one to hold the plant and the other to harvest. Peas are delicate plants and rough harvesting can do more harm than good.

Peas fix nitrogen in the soil which makes them best buds with corn. You can also plant your peas with bush beans, pole beans, carrots, celery, chicory, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips. Keep your peas away from chives, grapes, late potatoes and onions.

 

 

Oh, Sunflowers!

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)

 

 

GARDEN DESIGN 101

By Engrid WinslowPhoto of a beautiful garden path with flowers by Michael Drummond.

There are lots of professional landscape designers out there who can help you put together beautiful flower beds but most of us are on a budget that won’t accommodate such wonderful swaths of elegant beds.  So, for the rest of us, here are a few basics to consider when planning your spaces for lots of color for as long as possible.

Tall in Back, Short in Front

This is one of the three basic rules in landscape design that you should consider when deciding what to plant where.  This stems from the traditional English Cottage Garden look with Hollyhocks, tall grasses and climbing roses in the back and shorter flowers, (such as poppies) in the middles and even shorter ones (think thyme or even trailing plants like nasturtium),  closer to the front.

Color Combinations

Get out that school color wheel for some great ideas of combinations that are either across or next to each other. Some personal favorites are the unexpected ones, like orange and purple next to each other. If you prefer pastels, then pinks and pale blues and yellows are the way to go. Don’t neglect white because you don’t think that it is a real color. It highlights and adds accent next to some colors (such as red)  and adds softness to blues and pinks.

Bloom Time

If you want color in your flower beds all year long you have to think about when they bloom.  Some of the earliest flowers can be provided by Hellebores, Snowdrops, Crocus, Iris and early Daffodils (there are a huge range of choices in bulbs from Daffodils that will begin in early March and continue into late April and the same goes for some of the more “wild” or “species tulips”)  and the later ones being Sunflowers, asters and repeating roses.  There are options for all season bloomers such as pincushion flowers and the Frikartii Asters.  In the heat of July you can depend on Hummingbird Mint, Coneflowers, and Rudbeckia to provide cheerful blooms. Don’t forget to include grasses which can also range in the times when their inflorescences are at their peak depending on whether they are cool or warm season “bloomers”.  Grasses also create interest in the garden during the winter and provide food for small birds.

A Couple of Other Suggestions

  1. Consider planting in groups of odd numbers rather than just one plant which creates swaths and clumps of color.
  2. Repeat some of these groups several times in several places throughout the garden to give a sense of continuity.
  3. Use a larger perennial, some half-buried rocks or a shrub to anchor the scene.
  4. Add some annual flowers such as sunflowers, zinnias and annual poppies which bloom for a long time in bright, vibrant colors.
 

FarmHer

By Sandy SwegelFarmher

OMG I found the best show to binge watch!  No not a zillion episodes of an old sitcom from my youth. FarmHer is an internet-based show about women farming!  There are beautiful landscapes of Midwestern farms, and silly scenes of baby goats climbing all over the farmher.  Farmhers with good topsoil ground into the creases and wrinkles in their hands. Young urban farmhers in crowded cities..  This show is a delight and inspiration to anyone who has dreamed about farming or just growing a few vegetables in their yard.

Women have always been hard-working farmers.  No one female or male, old or young, lives on a farm without working…there’s just too much to be done. But women’s importance on the farm has often been hidden.  In my extended family, second cousins had a dairy farm in Wisconsin.  The family joke was that the husband spent all day sitting in the air-conditioned tractor with stereo while the wife grew all the family food, raised the chickens and the children, did all the preserving and the bookkeeping.

FarmHer is a nonprofit on-line community devoted to highlighting women in agriculture and helping them connect to each other and to their communities.  FarmHer especially does this with beautiful photos and video episodes and a blog.  You’ll love watching the dynamos who are growing your food.

New episodes come out Friday evenings at 8:30 C on RFD-TV.  https://www.farmher-episodes.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photocredits

https://farmher.com/

 

ILLITERATE GARDEN

By: Sandy Swegel

“My garden is illiterate.  It didn’t read the book about what it can’t do.”

That was the wisecracking opening remark at a gardening talk I attended recently.  We all laughed and during the break we started talking about some of the stupidest plants we know.

Looking at wild plants, we laughed about orchids native to cold, arid Colorado.  But the most illiterate plants are the ones we humans planted because we didn’t know better.

The plants that don’t know they can’t survive in Zone 5.

Pineapple sage don’t you know anything? You like living in semi-tropics.  What are you doing living another year in the colorado clay soil iris garden with 70 mph winds?

The plants that don’t know that being an annual means can’t live longer than one year.

Yep verbena bonariensis I’m talking about you.  The books say you are an annual but I’ve watched you survive for three years in a row.  Ditto snapdragons…I have trees younger than you.

Plants that don’t know they are supposed to be invasive.

I’m waiting for you bamboo. Any day now you’re supposed to fill in that entire border between my yard and my neighbor’s ugly garage.  Sure, four years ago I saw one runner into the grass…but what have you done lately?

Codependent plants.

These are the plants that not only don’t know they can’t survive but also put up with terrible abuse.  Don’t be sweet-talking me Japanese Maple.  You know who you are.  You croaked all those times I planted you in protected areas and nurtured you with extra mulch in winter and water in summer.  But the year I put you, a tree, in a pot with six other plants on a third floor deck without protection from the cold and without winter watering…that’s the year you survive?

If it were up to humans, we’d never have surprises in the garden or tulips blooming in July or scabiosa blooming in December literally under the snow.  Or the gallardia that blooms in my driveway. We won’t even mention the weed that seeded and bloomed in my truck bumper the December I was driving around Louisiana.

What a relief that our plants are so darn illiterate.

 

Photocredits:

fullycoolpix.blogspot.com/2014/08/plants-live-everywhere.html

www.boredpanda.com/plants-flowers-versus-concrete-asphalt-pavement/

 

 

February Plant of the Month – Carrots

Plant of the Month

February 2017

 

Common Name: Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Scientific Name: Dacus carota var. sativus

 

Native Range: Mediterranean Region

Hardiness Zone: 4 to 10

Days to Maturity: 65-75

 

General Description: Scarlet Nantes Carrot is a standard market carrot that has a long, cylindrical shape and a rich reddish-orange color. Flavor is sweet and delicious. Roots are fine-grained, containing almost no core. High moisture content makes this variety perfect for juicing. Carrots can reach up to 7 inches long. To prevent diseases, rotate planting location every season.

 

Site Requirements:

  • Light: Full sun. Will tolerate very light shade.
  • Water: Moderate moisture. Crusted soil can suppress germinated sprouts.
  • Soil: Well-drained soil with organic matter. Area needs to be free of stones.

Seeding:

This cool-weather crop is easily over-planted due to its fine seeds. Sow seeds directly into loose soil in early spring 2-3 weeks before last frost date. Carrots are slow to germinate, emerging in 2-4 weeks. Cover seeds with ¼ inch of soil—no more than ½ an inch. Lightly water seeds everyday for best germination. Once sprouts emerge thinning is critical to reduce competition. Thin seedlings to 1/2 – 1 inch spacing. Best time for thinning is when soil is damp. Plant seeds every 2-3 weeks throughout midsummer for continuous harvest.

Harvest Time:

Start harvesting as soon as carrots have reached desired size (up to 7 inches). Try pulling up one at a time to check size. Watering the area before harvest can make pulling by hand easier. Harvest by mid-September to avoid pest damage.

Fun Facts:

  • Carrots are a great source of fiber, potassium and vitamin A.
  • Carrot greens can be used in soup stock, pesto, curries or tea.
  • Common pest: carrot rust fly
  • British gardeners plant sage around the area to repel the carrot fly
 

February Plant of the Month – Beets

Plant of the Month

February 2017

Common Name: Detroit Dark Red Beet

Scientific Name: Beta vulgaris var. crassa

 

Native Range: Europe & Asia

Hardiness Zone: 2-7. For zones 8-11 grow as a fall crop

Days to Maturity: 55-65

 

General Description: The Detroit Dark Red Beet is the most popular all-purpose red beet. It is globe-shaped, tender with blood-red flesh that is sweet and delicious. Beets are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of climates. Beets prefer cool weather; in zones 8-11 where summers can be hot, grow them as a fall, winter or early spring crop.

 

Site Requirements:

  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Water: Consistent moisture
  • Soil: Well-drained, sandy loam soil high in organic matter. Avoid acidic soil areas.

 

Seeding:

Sow seeds directly into soil in early spring as soon as soil can be worked. Beets tend to have spotty germination. Presoaking seeds for 1-2 hours will soften seed coat and speed germination. Plant seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart. Seeds need close contact with the soil; it is best practice to press down on soil after planting. Sprouts will emerge in 10-20 days. Thin seedlings when they reach 4-5 inch to 3 inches apart.

Harvest Time:

Pull up plants when exposed root tops are 2 inches across.

 

Fun Facts:

  • Reddish green leaves make a great addition to summer salads
  • Planting garlic and mint with your beets will improve the growth and flavor
  • Beets are very sensitive to toxic substances in the soil and may not germinate if planted near walnut trees or soils containing herbicides
 

A Working Garden Club

A Working Garden ClubFancy Garden Club

by Sandy Swegel

There are lots of garden clubs around. I personally belong to three and follow another two email-only groups online. When I first started gardening as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever be a garden club-kinda girl. Growing up in a Southern Big City, garden clubs to me meant you had to wear your best dress and go to a lovely tea with people of a certain social class in a beautifully manicured rose garden. That was just my own prejudices showing through, because love of gardening knows no class lines. However, I didn’t think I’d ever get my fingernails clean enough to go to one of those parties. With age and experience comes some wisdom and now I do go to one of those formal groups with officers and Robert’s Rules of order and I admire the community of members who have known each other for decades and who are so wise about local gardening.

I belong to another scruffier group that is especially interested in “culinary gardening” – gardens with lots of edibles. We mostly meet through email because there are quite a few market farmers and community garden volunteers so people don’t have time to meet with all the work they have to do…but any questions you ever have can be answered on our email list. We also order seeds and roots and greenhouse supplies together in bulk to save a lot of money. Every once in a while I meet someone who says they belong to this group and I have to ask their email address before I recognize them. We do have a heck of a delicious holiday party once the season ends.

Olden Days Garden Club

Those were the days

A third occasional club I meet with has one primary task…to maintain a public rose garden a few times a year. So we are a kind of working group. We don’t all know each other well, but we know and love our roses.

I was at a small town garden tour yesterday and met people from a different kind of gardening club. They are a small (fewer than ten members) club who is a real WORKING group. No sitting around chatting about plants or looking at slide shows for them. Regularly they meet in one member’s garden and work for a good two hours on a garden project of the member’s choice. Naturally this is followed by cold drinks and good food. They have met for years and welcome anyone…as long as they are willing to work to their ability. I admire this group because their gardens and knowledge have steadily improved over the years but they have also become a close-knit community based on their love of the earth and growing plants. They share in each other’s lives too and tend each others’ gardens or bring supper if someone is sick. They freely welcome newcomers to their group…if they’re willing to work.

 

Kids Garden Club

I’m fond of saying that gardening is like the new church. Good people with shared values coming together and supporting one another in many ways and having a good time. Everyone clearly loves plants but there’s not a lot of doctrine. (well not counting opinions on pesticides.)

If I ever moved to a new town, the first thing I’d do is join a garden club. That’s the way to make true blue friends AND get more free plants.

Photo credits
http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160204/entlife/160209489/
http://www.shorelinetimes.com/articles/2013/04/09/opinion/doc516475b154574110166725.txt
https://vitalandwell.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/garden-club-kids-2012.jpg

 

Clover: More than a symbol of luck

Clover, more than a symbol of luck!

by Jessica of “The Bees Waggle

Clover is a symbol of luck.  You will see clovers all over the place, along with green, rainbows and pots of gold in the month of March.  Discovering a four leaf clover is truly lucky, as there is only 1 in 10,000 clovers!  However, clover is more than just a symbol of Irish luck. Clover brings many nutritional elements to the places it grows.

Bumblebee on clover blossom

Bumble bees are frequenters of red clover because their tongues are long enough to reach the nectar in these tubular flowers.  

Clover enriches the soil its roots take hold in by fixing nitrogen.  It is able to achieve this because it is host to a bacterium, Rhizobium.  The relationship between clover and Rhizobium is symbiotic, meaning they are mutual beneficiaries.  The bacteria is fed by the plant and the plant is fed by the bacteria.  Plants cannot use nitrogen the way it exists in the atmosphere.  Rhizobium converts atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form for plants and animals to utilize.  Rhizobium takes up residence in the plant’s root system and forms  nodules.  Clover and other legumes are susceptible to this type of bacterial “infection” and that is why these plants are great fertilizing plants!  Turns out not every bacterial infection is a bad thing!  As a result of nitrogen fixation, all plants surrounding clover benefit from the enriched soil conditions and thrive.  No need for artificial fertilizer with clover in the mix.

Weeds are no match for clover!  Clover grows harmoniously with many plants, but will crowd out weeds.  Wow!  A fertilizer and a weed control packed into one plant!!

Clover is also drought resistant and will remain green and beautiful through the heat of summer.

I wouldn’t want to let you down and forget to mention how attractive clover is to bees and many other beneficial insects.  As a result of this, clover works as pest control, by attracting many predators of harmful garden pests.

Clover depends on insect assisted pollination.  This is just another reason to join this movement to save our bees and all pollinators alike!  Clover is easy enough to grow from seed; give it a go this year and watch your garden thrive!

Cheers!

 

Cabbage and Clover Husbandry

Cabbage and Clover Husbandry

by Sandy Swegel03.14.16

St Patrick’s Day is this week…a traditional day for planting peas. But you know that….so get ready to plant your peas. This year I’m thinking about Ireland and two plants usually associated with Ireland: cabbage and clover (not necessarily the four-leaf variety.) A little internet browsing led to an interesting connection to these two plants. One…they both like to grow in cool humidity like Spring and Fall. Cabbage is a cool season crop. Two… old country wisdom and modern science show that cabbage and clover are excellent companion crops.

Books in England dating back to the 1700s recommend cabbage “Husbandry” the old word for farming. Cabbage was highly regarded because it lasted well as a stored food for winter and because cows and sheep that ate cabbage in the winter made sweeter milk than those that ate turnips. Standard practice in England in the olden days was to plant a clover cover crop and follow that with cabbage or potatoes. Turns out that cabbage that grows in clover or where clover had been grown and tilled under are larger and have significantly fewer pests included the cabbage looper. Cabbage moths are still the bane of cabbage growers. Modern no-till farmers have adopted this centuries old wisdom to plant cabbage right into a field of clover.

03.14.16 looper-caterpillar1-2

Besides being good for cows and sheep, cabbage is healthy for us and a staple in many cuisines. I am particularly fond of the red cabbages because they are pretty! Here are a few tips to grow cabbage:

It’s a cool season crop.
That means you have to get it in early. Or plant it in mid-summer for fall harvest.

They do well from transplants.
Start seeds indoors or in a cold frame 8 weeks before last Spring frost. Then transplant it about 2-4 weeks before last Spring frost. Cabbage is a “heavy feeder” so you need good soil or extra fertilization and regular irrigation.

Watch out for pests.
Cutworms and cabbage loopers love cabbage too…but they are pretty easy to pick off if you stay after them. Little paper collars protect transplants from the cutworms. If you don’t like to pick off the worms, it is a good organic control.

Cabbage make great microgreens.03.14.16 red-cabbage-microgreens-in-soil
Cabbage germinates in about two days in your warm kitchen. Another superfood from the brassica family.
For more on the science of intersowing clover and cabbage and other brassicas
http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/IP-27.pdf
http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/apps/blog/show/2015631-in-praise-of-cabbages
http://microgardening.newearthmicrogreens.com/red-cabbage-microgreens-vitamins/