Gardening tips for mid-summer.

THE BEST PART OF SUMMER

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of fresh corn on hte cob.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

“The first ear of corn, eaten like a typewriter, means summer to me—intense, but fleeting.” ― Michael Anthony

There are two flavors of summer that I will unapologetically eat until bursting with absolutely no apologies because they haunt my food memories in the dead of winter. One is tomatoes fresh from the garden and the other is corn.

Sweet corn is a vegetable that originated in the Americas and has spread worldwide. Originally referred to as maize the cultivation of corn was introduced in South America from Mexico in two waves: the first, more than 6000 years ago, spread through the Andes. Evidence of cultivation in Peru has been found dating to about 6700 years ago. The second wave, about 2000 years ago, spread corn through the lowlands of South America. Around 4,500 B.C., maize began to spread to the north; it was first cultivated in what is now the United States at several sites in New Mexico and Arizona, about 4,100 B.C.

During the first millennium AD, maize cultivation spread more widely in the areas north. In particular, the large-scale adoption of maize agriculture and consumption in eastern North America took place about A.D. 900. Native Americans cleared large forest and grassland areas for the new crop.

Corn is used in many foods including grits (in the South), polenta (in Italy), cornstarch, chowder, cornbread, cornflake cereal, hominy, popcorn, corn dogs, tamales and tortillas. But fresh corn on the cob has to be the most popular and is a sure sign of summer.

Be sure to visit a farm stand that picks their corn daily and cook and eat it on the same day it was picked. The intensity of flavor will be at its peak and you won’t want to go back to the supermarket for corn ever again. Resist the urge to open the ears as that can cause the ears to dry out. Just feel for firm kernels and fill up your bag to overflowing with fresh, delicious sweet corn.

Last year a friend shared her secret to cooking corn easily and I now use this method exclusively. Instead of boiling a pot of water, shucking the corn and trying to remove all of the silk, use your microwave. Just pop un-shucked corn into the microwave for 4 minutes per ear, up to four ears at a time (16 minutes). Let cool slightly and then see how easily the shucks and silk come off the cooked ears. From there you can do all sorts of things with it. It’s easy to scrape off the kernels with a sharp knife and stash them in the freezer to bring back a taste of summer when you need it the most.

Here is one of my favorite ways to combine my two summer favorites – corn and tomatoes. It is delicious and you will want to make it as often as possible while these two summer vegetables are at their peak.

CORN AND TOMATO SALAD

Serves 2-4

Slice one pint of cherry tomatoes and salt generously (at least 1 teaspoon)

4 ears of corn, prepared as above and scraped from the cob

6-7 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade

The key to this mixture is to set the salted tomatoes to the side for at least 30 minutes so that the tomatoes give up some of their juice and become slightly jammy.  Add cooled corn and basil and enjoy. It keeps well and is one of the best things you will ever eat.

There are many add-ons you can do for this salad. It’s great with a few squeezes of lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, or you can add chopped sweet onions, drained and rinsed black beans and cotija cheese for a great vegetarian taco or salsa fresca for fish tacos, a dip or topping on grilled fish or chicken. You can also substitute the cilantro, chopped parsley or thyme for the basil.

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine. “ Anne Bronte

Picture of a packet of Golden Bantam Corn seeds.

 

FOR THE LOVE OF LEEKS

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of sliced leeks.

Image by Susann Wagner from Pixabay

“If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V

Since you planted leeks in the spring, now is the time to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the harvest. One of the simplest ways to enjoy leeks is to sauté them in butter and olive oil with mild peppers. It is also a good idea to slice them thinly and freeze them for adding to soups and stews during the winter.

Leeks are related to onions as they are both in the Allium family) but have a much more mild flavor. The Hebrew Bible talks of leeks, and reports it as abundant in Egypt. Dried specimens have been discovered at archaeological sites in ancient Egypt along with wall carvings and drawings, which indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE. Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. The leek was a favorite vegetable of the Roman Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

Some of the most common uses of Leek are as an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup, and vichyssoise, as well as plain leek soup. But here are a couple of other ways for you to enjoy your harvest of leeks:

 

LEEKS AND CHICKEN

Serves 4

4 TBL extra-virgin olive oil                                             4 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced

1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly                      2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2-inch pieces

¼ cup flour, plus 1 TBL more, if needed                  3 cups chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only                                   2 TBL nonfat plain Greek yogurt

4 tsp Dijon mustard                                                         1/3 cup water

Salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a skillet and add leeks, sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt, then add 1/3 cup of water and cover. Let the leeks steam for up to7 minutes until very soft and melted, stirring every minute. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Empty leeks and mushrooms into a separate bowl or plate.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and toss in ¼ cup of flour. Heat remaining oil in skillet and brown chicken until golden brown, add stock and thyme and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (about 1 more minute). Transfer chicken to bowl with vegetables.

Simmer the stock over moderate heat until reduced by half, 4-5 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix  1 tablespoon flour into vegetables and chicken. If too thick, add additional stock. Return vegetables and chicken to skillet and simmer until warmed through, about one minute. Blend yogurt and mustard together and stir into the stew. Season with salt and pepper, if needed and serve over rice.Leek, Organic American Flag

Now’s the Time to Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables

by Heather Stone

Photo of a hand holding two red radishes.

Photo courtesy of pexels – skitterphoto 9301 (1)

Mid- August to Mid- September is the prime time to start planning and planting your fall vegetable garden. Even though it’s still hot outside, the nights are getting cooler and the days shorter. Now is the time to get those quick-growing, cool-season vegetables in the ground. For bountiful late-season harvests here are a few guidelines to follow.

-Know which crops to plant and when. Here’s a list of our favorite cool-season vegetables and their days to maturity.

  • Kale should be planted 85 – 90 days before the first frost. The leaves can handle a few light touches of frost and become sweeter each time.
  • Carrots can be planted 80-85 days before frost.  They can be harvested when young and tender.  Even after the cold temperatures shrivel the tops, they can be dug, sweet and juicy, from the ground throughout the fall.
  • Beets can do double duty with green tops for salads and tasty roots as well.  Plant seeds about 65-70 days before frost, depending on the type you choose.
  • Leafy greens such as spinach and leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard greens and Swiss chard all do best in the cooler temperatures of fall. Plant seeds about 50-60 days before frost depending on the type of green chosen. These can be harvested when young and immature for delicious baby greens.

    Photo of leafy green seedlings.

    Photo courtesy of pexels by kaboompics 5809

  • Radishes are always great to spice up salads. These are fast-growing and can be planted 30-35 days before the first frost. Pull them when young and tender.

 

 

 

 

 

-Keep moist. The garden will dry out more quickly in the warm days of late summer than it did in the spring. Keep a close eye on new plantings to make sure those seeds or seedlings stay well-watered. A light covering of grass clippings or straw can serve as mulch, helping to retain moisture. Using a light row cover over newly planted areas can also help retain moisture, provide shade and protect against light frosts further down the road.

Fertilize once a week with an organic fertilizer with nitrogen and enjoy delicious salads and veggies all fall long.

August Garden Chores

Photo of gloved hands working in a garden.

photo courtesy of pixabay – photoAC 2518377_1280

We are deep into August. Here are a few tips and reminders about where should we be focusing our time and efforts in the garden this month to make the most impact.

For many, August in the garden is an explosion of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Keep on top of harvesting! A daily inspection of zucchini plants ensures none escape your eye and turn into what more resembles a baseball bat than a vegetable. Check tomatoes for blossom end rot and adjust watering if needed.

 

Start gathering recipes for the crops you have in abundance. Hit up some of your favorite websites or blogs for recipe ideas. Check out our reader shared recipes here.

 

Harvest herbs for either fresh use or to save for later. Here are some tips for preserving herbs by freezing, drying or in vinegar.

 

As crops are harvested and bare space appears in the garden protect your soil by covering it with mulch or planting a cover crop.

 

Side-dress your warm-season crops with a little compost to give them a boost to finish out the growing season.

 

Now is the time to plant another sowing of cool-season vegetables like lettuces, chard, kale, radish, spinach, arugula, beets, carrots and peas. This doesn’t have to take long and you’ll thank yourself later when you have fresh salad greens throughout the fall. Plant another row of bush beans too for a fall harvest.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – couleur 3702999_1280

Keep weeds under control in both the perennial and vegetable gardens. Weeds rob moisture, nutrients and light from our desired plantings.

 

Keep perennials deadheaded and cleaned up. Tuck a pair of pruners in your pocket while walking through and enjoying your garden. I little clean up here and there helps keep pests at bay and saves on time later.

 

Continue to care for your plants in pots by deadheading, removing dead and diseased foliage and regularly fertilizing.

 

Take notes and/or pictures of what worked and what didn’t in your garden. These reminders will help next spring when it’s time to plant again.

 

Start planning your fall bulb plantings.

WHAT’S BUGGING YOUR GARDEN


By Engrid Winslow

Cartoon of a person armed with cans of pesticide spray.

Image by André Santana from Pixabay

Mysterious holes in the leaves of your favorite rose? Earwigs buried deep in the leaves of your lettuce? Flea beetles mangling your perennials and vegetables? Most people are averse to creepy crawlies in their gardens but, please, BEFORE you reach for the chemicals to blast them into the stratosphere, consider that all of the insects are essential to having a healthy garden and planet. So here are a few suggestions for less toxic remedies to try in your garden.

Slugs – small saucers of beer tucked under leaves will attract them and they will fall in and drown. Slugs aren’t picky so don’t waste a craft brew on them – Coors works just fine.

Earwigs – There are a couple of things you can try for these and one is a small saucer of soy sauce with a little bit of vegetable oil and you’ll get the same results as with the slugs, above. You can also roll up several sheets of newspaper and get them fairly wet. Slide them under your plants in the evening and throw them away in the morning.

Aphids – These are a very weak, soft-bodied insect that feed on tender new foliage and buds. You can bet that if you have aphids, you will soon have a host of ladybugs feasting on them. If you can’t wait, then use soapy water with a few drops of oil and spray or dab on the foliage. You can also use garlic spray.

Cartoon drawing of an aphid.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Flea and other beetles – Diatomaceous earth is a mineral composed of the skeletal remains of tiny sea creatures. It has edges that are sharp and will pierce the bodies of beetles and cause them to dry out. It will harm beneficial insects and earthworms, so use sparingly. Also, don’t breathe it into your lungs.

Cartoon drawing of a grasshopper.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Other insects – Use a lightweight row cover to protect young plants and the ones that are being chomped on the most.

There are other products available at most garden centers now that gardeners are more aware of the consequences of the use of most pesticides to insects, animals, fish and even people. Some of the best tools in your arsenal are: (1) creating biodiversity and selecting plants that attract pollinators and (2) nurturing the soil by using products such as compost and nettle teas. Recognize that most pests run their course if you are patient and wait for their predators to show up.

7 PLANTS TO KEEP THE MOSQUITOS AWAY

by Heather Stone

Purple lavender flowers attracting honey bees.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

The long, warm days of summer are meant to be enjoyed. Sitting poolside, bar-b-queuing with friends or just relaxing in the garden. But sometimes pesky mosquitoes have a way of taking the fun right out of our outdoor activities. Instead of dousing yourself and your loved ones in chemical bug sprays try planting some of these mosquito repellant plants around your garden and patio to help keep the bugs at bay.

 

  1. Lemongrass- Lemongrass is an ingredient in citronella oil and its strong lemon scent is a proven mosquito repellant. This tropical grass is best grown in pots as an annual or brought indoors during the winter months.
  2. Marigolds- The strongly scented flowers of marigolds repel mosquitos, flies and even rabbits. These beauties come in an array of colors that will brighten up any spot. Keep pots of marigolds near seating areas and doorways to deter mosquitos. In the vegetable garden, marigolds repel many of the insects that attack tomato plants.

    Bright orange marigold bloom.

    photo courtesy of pixabay

  3. Lavender- The aromatic, purple flower spikes of lavender not only repel mosquitoes but moths, flies and fleas too. Use the fresh or dried flowers directly on the skin or dry them and hang them indoors to repel moths and flies inside. Don’t forget, the bees love lavender!
  4. Basil- Who doesn’t enjoy the smell and taste of fresh basil? Mosquitos, it seems. Unlike many of the other mosquito repellant plants, you don’t have to crush the leaves or flowers of basil to receive the mosquito deterring properties.
  5. Catmint- Catnip and many other plants in the mint family are excellent at keeping the mosquitos at bay with their strong scent. Ticks and biting flies also avoid catmint. You can rub the leaves and flowers directly on your skin for added protection. Catmints are easy to grow plants that do well in sunny and dry spots in the garden. The lavender-blue flowers bloom all season and attract a wide array of pollinators.

    Fuzzy green catmint leaves.

    photo courtesy of pixabay.

  6. Rosemary- Cooking out? Toss a few sprigs of rosemary on the grill and let the aromatic smoke drive the mosquitos away.
  7. Peppermint– the strong scent of peppermint deters flies and mosquitos. Keep a few plants in pots on your patio to deter insects and enjoy the fresh leaves in your iced tea.

    Blue flowering rosemary plant.

    Photo courtesy of pixabay.

All these plants deserve a place in your garden or on your patio not just because they deter pesky insects, but for their beauty, fragrance and attractiveness to our pollinator friends.

 

 

Here is a simple herbal bug spray recipe you can make at home using essential oils (“eo”).

  • ½ white hazel
  • ½ cup of water
  • 20 drops Eucalyptus eo
  • 30 drops Citronella eo
  • 10 drops Rosemary eo
  • 20 drops Lavender eo
  • 20 drops Tea tree eo

If you don’t have one of these simply leave it out or substitute with another. A few other essential oils that will work include lemongrass, catnip, clove, mint and geranium.

 

 

Mid-Season Garden Report Card

Mid-Season Garden Report Card

by Sandy Swegel 

Here’s the report card for my garden. June had record high temperatures and little rainfall.  Lots of extra watering helped, but plants don’t grow as well without natural rainfall.

Lettuces and Spinach. The heat made them bolt early and they are all bitter or simply scorched and gone to seed. Time to pull them out and replant.

Chards and Kales.  The chards started to bolt but some judicious removal of seed stalks and they are still growing and yummy.  The kales look great.  I didn’t know they were so tough under stressful situations.

Peas.  Pod peas were done early…they went to seed almost instantly. Sugar peas actually were not too bad.  Not as tender as usual, but salvageable….although the season was very short. Like other crops in this heat wave, things just grew really fast and went to seed.

Cilantro. Long since gone to seed.

Dill and Leeks. Leeks have gone to seed but they are beautiful.  Dill has started to seed but still usable.

Beans. My beans are OK, but neighbors have had failures from pests.  There’s still time to replant and have beans this year.

Peppers. The superheroes in our heat.  Lots of irrigation combined with heat have made them flourish.  Tomatillos too.

Tomatoes. The verdict is still out.  They are growing and strong.  Not as many diseases as I feared in a stressful year.  But not so many tomatoes either. They quit flowering in extreme conditions.  The plants themselves are shorter than other years at this time, but I’m hoping a week of cooler temperatures will inspire them to start cranking out tomatoes.

Broccoli. Little heads early this year,  but they are still producing side shoots.

Bugs. Our warm winter enabled too many pests to survive the winter, so there is an abundance of flea beetles and slugs. The greens are ugly and holey….but perfectly good to eat.  Aphids and ladybugs balanced out.  There appear to be lots of young grasshoppers but I’m pretending not to think about them.

So how is your garden faring?  Just like in school, mid-term grades are just an indicator of how things are going…not the final grade.  So get out there and yank out the struggling plants and reseed and replant in their places.  There’s still plenty of time for producing lots of food