Organic Gardening

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8/29/2014

Summer garden

The dog days of summer see thriving warm season crops-tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes, peppers and Mediterranean herbs. To keep your harvests at their peak, there are few simple things you can do for your garden.

7 Summer Garden Tips

1. Harvest frequently! Plants are in the business of reproducing. Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best chance possible of maintaining more plants for the future. The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce. I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine. As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day! Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness.

2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering. It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot. I use mulch in both my garden beds and pots.

3. Water consistently. The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water. The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks. Over watering can also be a problem. Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy. If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a good watering. I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants! They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth. It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck). For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat. I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom.

4. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost. It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil. You can purchase minerals just for gardening. You can also use kelp or seaweed as a fertilizer that also adds other nutrients. If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will, too!

5. Pick insects off daily. Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started. I pick off bugs daily. If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth. It is organic and not a chemical. Some people even eat it! It works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death. Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too. I use it very sparingly and only if desperate. A few bugs don’t eat much. Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants.

6. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them. Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough. I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.

7. Compost. For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter. I have both. My husband built me a fencing ring outside that I throw the big stuff. I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage for all the kitchen scraps.

For more small space and container gardening tips, visit Melodie's blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com



8/29/2014

Lavender plant

Lavender has a large fan club for good reason. It has many uses-a spice for sweet and savory dishes, an ingredient in Herbes de Provence, potpourri, moth deterrent, aromatic ingredient in cleaners and candles, added to beauty and health products for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, a calming fragrance, and a beautiful addition to any garden.

Lavender is in the mint family, originated from the Old World, and has been cultivated since Biblical times. It is typically a short lived perennial. There are several different types of lavender available by seed. The most common that you find in stores is English lavender (lavandula angustifolia formally lavandula officinalis).

Lavender has become a weed in Australia as they have the perfect conditions for growing lavender, dry, well drained soil in full sun with good air circulation. Lavender is susceptible to root rot so keep mulch away from the crown of the plant and make sure they get good drainage. All lavenders need little to no fertilizer and prefer alkaline soil. They are carefree plants if planted in the right place in your garden. Most lavenders are not hardy in the colder zones (Zone 4 or below). Be sure to check out the hardiness of a variety before purchasing. You can always grow them as annuals. Lavenders do not like to be transplanted. Some report difficulty in growing from seed. I have grown several from seed with no issue. Lavenders come in various shades of white, blue and purple and heights from 6” to 6 feet. The strength of fragrance varies as well. English lavender is considered to be of the highest quality.

Lavender ice cubes

In the culinary world, lavender is fun to use as an edible and aromatic addition to many different kinds of dishes. Here are some ideas:

Lavender sugar: Just add a teaspoon to 1/2 cup of sugar and mix well. Lavender cream: Add 6 stalks of lavender to 1 cup of cream. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, strain and whip. Use some of the buds as decoration in the cream. They’re edible! Lavender syrup: Boil 6 stalks of lavender in 2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cup of sugar at a simmer for 15 minutes. Let sit in refrigerator overnight, strain into bottle and keep refrigerated. Lavender infused balsamic or white vinegar: Place lavender stalks in vinegar and allow to steep in a cool dark place. 4 weeks later you will have lavender vinegar. Yum! You can use the lavender syrup in many things. For lavender lemonade, just add one ounce of syrup with 2 ounces of lemon juice in each serving. Add syrup to your hot tea or iced coffee. Drizzle over pancakes, fresh fruit, yogurt or cake. Use it in an adult beverage. Doesn’t a lavender gin sour sound fun? Just add an ounce to the ounce of fresh lemon juice and 2 ounces of gin. Use a stalk for garnish.

The flowers themselves can be used as decoration on cakes, pies, drinks, ice cubes. Bundle them to place in drawers and closets for a beautiful fragrance throughout the house. An additional benefit is that many find lavender to be calming. I use dried lavender and chervil for my body oil. Smells wonderful and I get the added benefit of their medicinal properties.

Fall is a great time to plant perennials so you can get a much larger lavender plant and blooms for next spring!

For more ideas for small space and container gardening organically, see Melodie's blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com

 



8/29/2014

harvested chervilIt’s now that point in the year when we live up to our name on the farm and all of our efforts come to fruition. Plants are going to seed. Time to harvest. Time to get all these little embryonic plants ready to put into packets for someone else’s garden.

Seeds are different in this regard. Our process for harvesting and cleaning depends on whether the crop is dry-seeded or wet-seeded. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are examples of wet seeds; beans, lettuce, and basil are examples of dry. Chervil is an herb that successfully overwintered. Which means it's one of the very first to go to seed. Chervil is a dry-seeded crop and was allowed to dry in the field. When harvested, we hung it in the mill to dry even further. Until the leaves and stems were brown and as close to feeling like ancient, fragile paper as possible. Then we threshed the chervil. There really is quite a bit of finesse involved with threshing. It’s not just whacking dead plants with a stick (or whiffle ball bat). If you bludgeon instead of thresh, you’ll create way more chaff than necessary. Which will just make cleaning harder.  Threshing the chervil with a stick is just as much a stroking motion as hitting. And listening is incredibly important: you can hear when more chaff than seed is falling on the tarp.

When threshing was done, we gathered all of the detritus on the tarp and to screen it. This is the first step to cleaning out the chaff. We have screens with openings of all different sizes and shapes because we have seeds of all different sizes and shapes. You want to find the screen that’s just right; that lets mostly seed fall through the openings. Until you’re familiar with every seed, it’s a bit of trial and error. Once screened, the cleaning continues with the use of fans. Two boxes fans, actually, one positioned right in front of the other on a table. Two fans are used because, in combination, the airflow is less turbulent and can be fine-tuned with greater precision.

clean chervil
Immediately in front of and below the fans are two bins, side by side so that one bin closer to the fans than the other. The detritus is poured through the airflow of the fans. Because seed and chaff are different weights, they separate in the breeze; mature seed is heavier and will fall closer to the fans, while chaff and immature seeds are lighter and will drift more. This means mature seed – the stuff we want – falls into the bin closest to the fans and the chaff blows into the second bin. Or off into the mill. Like screening, there’s a bit of experimenting to find the right strength of airflow to make this happen.

We often clean the same batch of seed several times in this way, both to ensure the maximum amount of mature seed is kept and the maximum amount of chaff isn’t. And when we are done, we’re left with clean chervil seed. Or kale seed. Or radish seed. Or whatever dry-seeded crop we’re working on. The seed is then bagged in a cloth bag, labeled, and put in the cooler. To wait patiently until we’re ready to start filling packets. To wait patiently while we continue with the harvest.

You can see photos of every step in the process by visiting the original post.

Matt Kelly currently works with Fruition Seeds helping to sow, grow, harvest, pack and sell seed that is open pollinated, organically grown, and regionally adapted. He is also a writer living in the Finger Lakes, slowly turning his home into a self-sufficient, food-independent, backwoods place of his own. He writes regularly at BoonieAdjacent.com.



8/21/2014
carrots

The first half of August is our last chance to sow several vegetables and get crops from them before winter. The second half of August is when we sow most of our winter crops. Depending on your climate zone, your dates might need to be earlier or later than ours. We're in cold-hardiness zone 7, and our average first frost date is October 14.  In August 2012 I wrote in my blog www.SustainableMarketFarming.com about Last Chance Sowings. Act now or very soon to provide fresh harvests, storage crops and, in the right climates, some crops to overwinter.

Consider planting these three categories of vegetable crops during late summer and fall:

Warm weather crops that will die with frost.
Cool weather crops that grow well in spring and fall, but don’t thrive in your summer.
Cold-hardy crops to grow over the winter and get off to a fast start in early spring.

Planning and timing are critical – you may not get a second chance with that vegetable, if germination fails the first time. The flip-flop challenge with fall crops is sowing in hot weather, followed by keeping the crop happy in cold weather. 

Warm Weather Crops

Don’t give up too soon! But be realistic about your chance of success. For crops that need to be harvested before killing frosts arrive, the formula for the last sowing date of frost-tender crops is:

Number of days from planting outdoors until harvest (read the catalog or seed packet)
+ Number of days from seeding to transplant if growing your own transplants
+ Number of days you want to harvest from that planting
+ 14 days “Fall Factor” to allow for the slowing down of growth rate as the weather cools
+ 14 days from your average first fall frost date (safety margin in case you get an early frost)
= Days to count back from your average first fall frost date, to find your last sowing date

With rowcover to throw over on chilly nights, you can risk later sowings. For example, yellow squash takes 50 days from sowing to harvest, and our last planting is 8/5, a whole month later than the above calculation suggests. Towards the frost date, you are just keeping the developing fruits growing, so you don’t need to worry that rowcover prevents pollination – you don’t need to get more flowers pollinated. In many parts of the country, a frost or two will be followed by a few more weeks of warm weather, so getting past the first few frosts is worth the effort. (Unless you’ve reached the exhaustion point we call “Praying for a Killing Frost.”) It’s easy to get harvests for a whole extra month from mature plants you have still alive.

Flame Weeding. Credit Brittany Lewis

Cool Weather Spring and Fall Crops

This group includes beets, carrots, chard, spinach, lettuce, scallions, peas, potatoes, Asian greens and other leafy brassicas, turnips, rutabagas and radishes. Fall gives you a second chance to enjoy these crops. The flavor of crops produced during warm late summer days and cool nights can be a delicious combination of succulent crunch and sweetness.

The above formula for calculating last sowing dates for frost-tender crops can be modified for hardier vegetables too. Here's an example: Early White Vienna Kohlrabi needs 58 days from sowing to harvest (line 1). You can direct sow, so line 2 = 0. You can harvest it all at once and store it in your cooler, so line 3 is 1 day. Assuming you don’t want to use rowcover for this, line 4 = 14. Line 5 = 14 also. That all adds up to 87 days. Kohlrabi is hardy to maybe 15°F. The temperature at our farm is not likely to drop to 15°F before the end of November, so counting 31 days in October, 30 in September, plus 31 in August – that’s 92 days already, more than enough. We could sow kohlrabi in early August and get a crop at the end of October, or sow in late August and harvest late November.

We sow fall carrots along with some "indicator beets," and run overhead irrigation at night about every other night until they come up. When we see the indicator beets starting to germinate, we flame-weed the carrot beds. Next day there are hazy rows of green - germinated carrots!

We made ourselves a chart of sowing dates for fall harvest crops so that we don’t have to calculate each time. It helps us ensure we don’t sow too late to get a decent harvest. We made this for brassica crops, but you can use the general method to chart later into the fall or winter for other crops.

Sowing dates for crops with various days to maturity

Days to   Harvest Harvest Harvest
Harvest   mid-Sept- late Sept- from  
    mid Oct mid-Oct mid-Oct
30d   27-Jul 16-Aug 31-Aug
40d   17-Jul 6-Aug 21-Aug
50d   7-Jul 27-Jul 11-Aug
60d   27-Jun 17-Jul 1-Aug
70d   17-Jun 7-Jul 22-Jul
80d   7-Jun 27-Jun 12-Jul
90d   28-May 17-Jun 2-Jul
100d   18-May 7-Jun 22-Jun
110d   8-May 28-May 12-Jun
120d   28-Apr 18-May 2-Jun
130d   18-Apr 8-May 23-May
kale

We don't sow spinach till September, so we're not behind on that yet! Because spinach germinates poorly in warm soil, we wait for temperatures to drop. This "summer" has been extremely cool, but we're in no hurry to start spinach earlier than usual, because of all the other tasks. This year it would probably work. I saw fall dead nettle germinating on 8/4. That's a phenology sign that the soil is cool enough for spinach. I've been recording phenology data here since 2003. 8/4 is the earliest date I have for dead nettle, by a margin of 11 days! It has been as late as 9/1 (2004). I also saw chickweed on 8/18. Fall is coming early this year!

Cold-Hardy Crops To Grow Over Winter

I covered this topic in detail in Growing for Market magazine in September 2010, and in my slideshow Cold-hardy winter vegetables. The gist is “Before taking the plunge, know your climate, know your resources, know your market, know your crops, and when you don’t know, experiment on a small scale.” Useful information includes the winter-kill temperature of the crop you want to grow. Choose hardy varieties, and be clear about whether you intend to harvest outdoors all winter (kale, spinach, leeks, parsnips, collards for us), or whether you want to have small crops going into winter so you can rest during the winter and be first out the gate in early spring, with crops waiting for you.

Flame Weeding photo credit: Brittany  Lewis; row crop credit Kathryn Simmons


8/20/2014

Rack2Once your garlic has been harvested, it needs to be ‘cured’ to prepare it for storage. Since this process takes weeks to complete, you’ll be glad to know that it began while your bulbs were still in the ground! Curing is essentially a more formal term for drying. If you are consuming your garlic right away, then curing it isn’t really necessary. If you want to store it for any length of time, however, then proper curing is essential to prevent that garlic you worked so hard all year to grow, from becoming moldy, shriveled, or otherwise compromised. The goal of curing is get the outer wrapper and clove skins of the garlic completely dry, while maintaining the lovely, fleshy oiliness of the cloves themselves.

Once harvested, garlic takes approximately three to six weeks to fully cure, depending on conditions including temperature, humidity, air circulation, amount of green material left on the bulbs, and the size and type of bulbs. As you would expect, larger bulbs and those with more green material take longer to cure, so softnecks tend to require a longer curing period than hardnecks. High humidity and poor air circulation will also increase the length of time for curing, and a longer drying time increases the risk of mould and other pathogens and, subsequently, decreased storage capability. Likewise, don’t be tempted to rush the process, since this can result in dry, shriveled bulbs that also store poorly.

Garlic Bulb Curing Methods

There are different ways to cure your bulbs based on the amount of garlic to be cured and the space in which to cure it. Two commonly used methods include hanging the garlic in bunches, or stacking the bulbs in vented boxes. Whichever method you choose, remember that garlic should never be cured in the sun, in order to prevent discoloration and softening.

Curing garlic by hanging it in bunches is a method preferred by small-scale growers, and can be used for both hard and softneck varieties. The garlic is not trimmed, but rather gathered into small bundles of six to twenty-four bulbs, which are tied with twine or string and hung from wall racks or nails. Although the leaves and stalk are not trimmed, the scape usually is, since it retains a high level of moisture. The bundles should be tied securely, and balanced with the bulbs angling downward. Ensure that the bundles are hung someplace dry and cool, with moderate humidity and good air circulation.

If you are growing garlic on a scale too large to permit you to hang bundles, vented boxes or racks can be used to efficiently cure your garlic, although this method can be somewhat risky and requires proper management. Ideally, the bulbs, whether you are using vented boxes or racks, would be dried in a single layer. Rarely is this possible due to space constraints, so alternatively, the bulbs can be layered to a maximum of 3-4 deep per box or rack, with the boxes and racks then stacked upon each other. There should be a minimum of two inches of space between the top layer of bulbs and the lower layer of the box above, to guarantee adequate air circulation.

Keep Cool and Dry

Boxed or racked garlic must also be kept someplace cool and dry, with good air circulation and moderate humidity. Managing these elements is more challenging with this method, as a large number of bulbs will release a significant amount of moisture into the air, drastically increasing the humidity of the storage room and making rot and mould a constant threat. To achieve successful curing, proper air circulation is essential, including a quick way to release large amounts of moisture if necessary. In our shed, for example, we use a combination of vented floors and industrial fans to keep cool air constantly circulating in and around the garlic, and the humidity is carefully monitored by constant measurement. The shed is also equipped with a large sliding door, which we can open if the air moisture level should rise above 50%.

Your garlic is finished curing when the skins feel completely dry and papery. The cloves should still be firm and plump. If, on breaking open a sample bulb, all the outer layers of skins are dry, and the clove skins are thin, tight and dry, then your bulbs are likely ready for storage. Garlic will continue to cure as long as it is stored properly, so that even garlic that is not completely cured at the time of storage should keep for months.

Rack1



8/20/2014

Romanian Farmer Woman

This photograph, which I took in Deva, Romania, always makes me happy. Spring. Travel. The surprise of the unexpected. We entered the farmhouse courtyard of this Romanian subsistence farmer through a door in a wall. One never knows what these private spaces will reveal. In this case, the courtyard was dominated by the glowing personality of the country woman whose farm it was. I asked to be shown her kitchen garden. It was a step back in time. In addition to the plants being grown for food were the plants staked for seed saving. I recall in particular a row of staked bolting lettuce. As country people tend not to waste time, while showing me the garden my host took the opportunity to harvest an immense kohlrabi for her afternoon meal. She carried the kohlrabi out of the garden to a chopping stump where she trimmed it with a hatchet and then, in what was virtually a single movement, tossed the trimmings over the chicken coop fence. I can still recall the sense of awakening as I saw the kohlrabi leaves dropping down into the coop. Here were whole systems, simple, elegant, ancient.

From the coop we went to see the bread oven. It was located in the barn. Small, rudimentary in the extreme, it was made of crude bricks with no insulation. Like the chipped plate in the photograph on which she is offering me fruit, the oven was a sign of the material poverty in which she and her husband lived. I took photographs of the oven and was then taken back outside and sat down on a chair in the shade of a tree. My host returned a short time later, smiling, with the berries and flowers you see in the photograph. Her husband poured a round of plum alcohol and we drank to friendship.

While the grinding work of a Romanian subsistence farm isn’t anything that I would choose for myself, there are aspects of the life that are attractive. In particular, the practices that I think of as the circles of life — eating food one has grown oneself, saving seeds, feeding poultry with garden scraps, and then eating their eggs (or them), and preserving a fruit harvest to cement friendships with strangers.

Having no choice in life is awful. Having to depend entirely on the food one raises to eat because one has no other choice is not an appealing life. Young people have fled the Romanian countryside. But having virtually infinite choices has its problems, too. My own urban vegetable plot ebbs and flows in productivity depending on my life, but as a rule, there is always at least something that can be harvested. I find it fundamentally reassuring when the answer to the question of what salad there is for dinner is simply the lettuce growing in the garden. And when it bolts (selecting the plants that bolt last), stake them and either gather the seed for replanting before they blow away or let the seeds scatter in the wind to become garden volunteers.



8/19/2014

Fall garden

August is a fairly hot month throughout the United States. Don’t let that deter you from planting a fall garden. There is still time to have fresh homegrown produce for fall. Most fall crops are started from seed in May, June and July. In August, if you haven’t already started seeds for fall, it is best to buy established plant starts. Most plant nurseries sell plant starts for fall gardening.

Fall Garden Vegetables

The following plant starts can be planted now for a late fall harvest: scallions, squash, cucumber, broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, lettuce, spinach, and pumpkins.

The following greens do well when planted now from seed for fall: spinach, kale, chard and lettuce.

The following root crops can be planted now for a late fall harvest: carrots, beets and turnips.

Radishes can be planted now as well and are typically ready to harvest in 30 days. What we plant now in the Midwest for next years harvest: Garlic can be planted in late October of this year to be ready for early July Harvest. Carrots and spinach can also be planted in October for an early spring harvest next year.

lettuce

Head lettuces and other hardy greens will overwinter well. Perennial herbs can be planted now. The following annual herbs can still be planted to enjoy in late summer/early fall: parsley (actually a biennial), cilantro, basil and dill. Because of the hot weather in August, be sure to either use drip irrigation, or water regularly. Straw bales work well to mulch vegetable crops.

Sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening, is an excellent way to keep your garden bed weed-free. Sheet mulching is essentially layering compost, leaf mulch, grass clippings, newspaper, more compost, and straw or mulch around each of your garden plants to help suppress weeds, add nutrients and retain moisture. Compost is a gardener’s best friend! A simple compost bin can be made using reclaimed materials such as pallets or an old wire fence panel. Pallets make excellent garden beds.









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