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

 

Gardening on Top of the World

…with Penn Parmenter!

Baskets of Beauty

Food is beautiful.  I love growing hanging baskets of beautifully colored lettuces and greens. They make a wonderful winter gift and I promise you – if you show up to your next dinner party with a full-blown basket of edible beauty – you will win the night.  It won’t be ‘re-gifted’ the way that bottle of wine that travels around your circles does. Use a pretty bowlful of living greens as the centerpiece on the table and just pick and eat them with your dinner! I always find myself admiring the basketfuls of color – dangerous because if you don’t keep cutting them they can slow down and age out right before your eyes!  So cut them an inch above the crown regularly to keep vigorous growth happening. When spring comes – I simply take them outside and hang them in the trees where they are protected from hail, hot sun and wind. As for types – I often make my own mesclun (salad mixture) – starting with colorful lettuce favorites, herbs, brassicas and other greens like claytonia, nasturtium, mache, arugula and cilantro.  Use your artistic eye to pair stunning colors and textures. Or I’ll try some ready-made BBB Mesclun Mix and at this time of year they will grow so quickly I’ll be back in just a minute to write about how good it was. And take pictures of it too – because food is so beautiful.

Simple Instructions on How To Direct Sow a Container.

1. Find the container of your choice – I use the old hanging Petunia baskets from the super-market rolling around my backyard.

2.  Choose a filler like Pine needle mulch, leaf mold or potting soil and fill the container ¾ full.

3.  Moisten your soil-less seed starting mix – I use Coir, perlite and wet it with a liquid kelp solution – a wonder fertilizer – and fill the remaining ¼ of the container.

4.  Sow seeds like BBB’s Gourmet Salad Blend, Speckles Bibb, Freckles Romaine, radish, basil, cilantro, seedling pea, claytonia, mustards, etc.

5. Cover the fine seed with a fine amount of seed starting mix and the larger seed with more.

6.  Use your hand to gently press down the soil-less mix for good seed-to-soil contact.  This is crucial for good germination. 

7.  Gently sprinkle kelp solution on the surface – don’t wash away seeds.

8.  Cover with plastic, newspaper or glass to keep steady moisture – I use a produce bag, which floats on top of the plants as they germinate.  For newspaper – keep it wet, and remove as soon as germination begins, for plastic, I leave it on a little longer to keep everybody germinating.

9.  Lettuces like it cool, basil likes it warm, so place the basket accordingly. Under lights is helpful too but not necessary. Skylights work well with a direct-sown basket.

10. Remove the plastic whenever you like.

11. Enjoy – cut often.

12. Plant another container to keep it coming!

Written by Penn Parmenter Copyright © 2013 [email protected] www.pennandcordsgarden.weebly.com

 

Floriferous! Designing with Annuals

More color. More flowers. These are the most common requests I hear from clients and friends who have lovely gardens full of perennials but whose gardens at certain times of the year still look a bit too green. Annuals planted in large drifts or patches is an easy and very colorful answer. And with certain annuals, they reseed themselves so it’s almost as if they are perennials…you don’t have to do much to get them to return each year.

To get this effect of a burst of color in your garden, you’ll want to try a “specimen planting”. This is an intense patch of just one type of flower. It can be many different colors of the flower but just one kind of flower gives a vivid look.

Here are my favorite specimen plantings:

Cosmos bipinnatus in a tall mix of pink, white and crimson is a favorite in gardens.  They grow about waist high and don’t really need deadheading.  There’s something old-fashioned and timeless about cosmos that people love to have them as regulars in their yards.

Four O-clocks.  I was excited to see this new addition to the catalog this year.  Not as ubiquitous as cosmos, they are a magnificent part of a garden, especially when planted somewhere you can see them outside your kitchen window when you’re preparing dinner. They really do stay closed during the day and open around 4 pm.  They aren’t adapted to daylight savings time….so it might be more like 5 pm in your yard.

Zinnias.  These are the annuals you wish you planted, come mid-summer. Each bloom lasts a long time, is perfect for cutting, and the specimen planting provides a tall sturdy vibrant color.  Another old-time favorite for a good reason: they are great flowers.

Chinese Asters. This is another new addition to the catalog this year that inspires me.  Midsummer and fall, in particular, are times that don’t have the variety of colors people desire.  The perennials of this time tend to the yellow/orange range  Chinese asters are a great burst of purples and pinks and creamy whites that have large flower heads that make them perfect for cutting. They’ll handle full sun, but I’ve seen asters thrive in areas with dappled shade where just a little shade enhances their color in the blazingAugust sun.

These four are my current favorites for annual specimen plantings. Add in other annuals like poppies mixed throughout the garden and maybe the calendula mix in the vegetable garden, and your garden will “pop” all season long.

 

What’s Growing on my Windowsill?

It’s still too early to start seeds indoors in Colorado, but I’m yearning for fresh growing things instead of the brown stubble of winter that greets me outdoors. My growing space is an unheated solarium that dips down to 40 degrees at night but warms up to the 70s and 80s during sunny days.  Last month, I started three containers that now are steadily producing that vibrant spring green color.

Pea greens.  These give me special pleasure because I like the taste of peas and because tiny containers of pea shoots in the grocery store cost $4.99. I snip these for stir-fry or to toss into the juicer.

Microgreens. Yeah! Salad. They aren’t big enough for eating yet but it’s joyful to recognize tiny beets and lettuces growing on my sill.  Hardly any work involved….I just opened the pack of seeds and spread them on some potting soil. I’ll clip them in another two weeks or so and let them keep growing till outdoor greens are ready.

Wheatgrass. My little flat of wheatgrass is just beautiful with its promise of spring meadows. I put some into the juicer, give some to the chickens who love spring grass, and let the rest keep growing a mini field in the house.

Now if I were a hunter like my sister’s Texas family is, it would be much easier to provide my own food in winter. Yesterday, I opened my front door to find at least 100 Canada geese walking around my suburban yard.  If I had been fast, I could have caught one with my hands, they were that close.

 

Too Many Seeds, Too Little Space.

I remember when I first started gardening. As I recall, I went to the hardware store and bought three packets of seeds which I planted that afternoon.  I’m not sure how I followed my lust for seeds until today when my saved and leftover seeds now require two shoe boxes….and that’s after I gave away many many seeds.  So I look at all those seeds…and the envelopes of newly arrived seeds I’ve gotten in the mail…and wonder how I’ll ever have enough room on windowsills one plant rack to get all those exquisite young plants going.

Winter Sowing of course!  As fun as it is to germinate seeds on the heat mat that creates new plants in a few days, that’s not very practical when it could be another three months until the soil is warm enough that it isn’t freezing at night.  I learned Winter Sowing back in the early days of the internet….and it is still the most effective method for starting winter seeds.

The basic idea is you have plastic containers (I used water jugs). You cut them in half. Put some soil in. Label the name of the seed. Water the soil. Sow the seed. Tape the container closed. Move the entire container OUTSIDE to the north side of the house where it’s protected from the wind.  And that’s it.  Now as the season warms, Nature will cause them to germinate at the right time when the temperatures are best suited for the seeds.  Monthly watering is all the maintenance that this needs….and of course planting out all those seedlings when the time is ready.

The phrase Winter Sowing was coined by our hero, Trudi Davidoff. For years she has tirelessly gathered info and shared her wisdom on Garden Web, then her own website http://www.wintersown.org, then Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/groups/102675420505/  There really isn’t much more to doing winter sowing than I’ve said….but there are dozens of web pages via her website and Facebook and Google, so enjoy learning.

You know all those seed failures you’ve had in the past? Probably won’t happen with Winter Sowing.  Seeds that need to be chilled get chilled.  Seeds that need a long time to germinate can sit there till they are ready. No leggy plants because they are outside in the bright light.  You’ll need to water every month or so….but that’s all you need to get 100s of plants going.  One plant I still start indoors is tomato because I want my tomato plants big sooner in my short season.  But otherwise….there is no end to what seeds you can try.  The biggest challenge will be getting them transplanted to the garden.

 

Ask the Kids

What do you think is special about our Garden?

I recently returned from my annual trip to New Orleans. I go every Winter for a trip to my hometown so I can enjoy a minor respite from Colorado’s below-zero weather and smell fresh gardenias and camellias and remember that oranges and grapefruit grow right on the trees while the snow piles up in Colorado.

Besides walking through citrus orchards and hiking in the swamps, a highlight of New Orleans from a gardener’s perspective is The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, an amazing program that teaches 2500 kids in five different public schools to grow and cook their own food. They have a ton of fun (It is New Orleans….there’s a big emphasis on throwing a party to eat the food) and kids learn more than just how to grow a garden.  I don’t know if the kids get grades for growing food, but they’ve become pretty darn wise. Here’s some of what those kids have to say about “their” gardens:

“We grow our own food because it’s better when it’s freshly made. And because we use our food to cook with.”  –Ariel Surrency   “I think the garden is special because people from the neighborhood get to come pick things from it.” –Christian Powell

“The garden is special because there are all different varieties of flowers and vegetables and fruits. It’s peaceful and shows respect because it’s never messed up and everyone keeps it together.” – Biyon Calvin.

Go find the kids in your own family or neighborhood and ask them, “What makes this garden special?” Wait till you hear the wisdom your little garden has inspired.