Organic Gardening

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InchThe last of my series of posts discussing the different types of gourmet garlic will explore the Artichoke variety. Artichokes are a family of very large, very prolific softneck garlic. Due in large part to their size, and thus high yield, Artichoke strains such as ‘California Early’ are grown on a large scale for commercial processing into products such as garlic powders, salts, and as the garlic component in many packaged foods. Less commercial cultivars are also available, with popular names including ‘Inchelium Red’, ‘Lorz Italian’, and ‘Susanville’. Like Silverskins, Artichokes are also commonly used in garlic braids.


Artichoke garlics are attractive to commercial growers not only due to their size, but also because they are relatively easy to grow. They tend to thrive in more southerly climates due to the comparatively mild winters, but we also get good results up here in the lower half of Canada. Growers in more northerly regions can still grow Artichokes fairly easily, but may find that the overall bulb size is somewhat diminished and that the plants have a tendency to bolt.

Bolting under stress very rarely produces an actual scape, but may produce a small cluster of large bulbils within a pseudo stalk, up to a few inches above the bulb itself. Otherwise, growing Artichokes reduces some of the intense labor associated with growing garlic, since there are no scapes requiring removal.garlic

Artichoke cultivars are early-maturing, the stocky plants generally ready to harvest soon after Asiatic varieties. The regular rules of harvest apply, with the bulbs dug when there are approximately five wide yellow-green leaves left. It is worth keeping an eye on their progress close to harvest, however, as in some cases the large size of the bulbs will cause the skins to separate, exposing the cloves. Since the clove skins remain intact, this separation is fine if the bulbs are grown for your own consumption, but if you are growing them with retail in mind, you will get some rather unsightly bulbs that are best saved for processing or seed.


Cultivars of the Artichoke variety produce large, slightly flattened and lumpy bulbs. The bulb skins are thick, coarse and white, with varying degrees of purple marbling. The bulbs produce multiple layers of cloves, which range in shape from fat and blocky on the outer layer, to tall and thin in the innermost layers. It is worth mentioning that when planting Artichokes varieties, unless you are trying to increase stock levels, consider avoiding planting the small inner cloves to keep the overall size of the bulbs at harvest large. Clove numbers tend to average 12-20 per bulb and have very pale to light tan skins, often with red or purple tones.


Compared to hardneck types, many people find the taste of Artichoke garlics rather tame. The cultivars themselves vary in heat and richness, from the sweet and mild to the spicy and rich. The milder cultivars such as ‘Susanville’ tend to be enjoyed by those who prefer a more delicate garlic taste if, for example, the garlic is being consumed raw for health benefits, while hotter ones like ‘Lorz Italian’ are a popular choice for sauces. All Artichoke cultivars make excellent roasted garlic. They also tend to be quite long-storing, lasting from six to nine months when stored correctly, making them worthwhile addition to any garden.

In my next series of posts, I’ll be examining the different diseases that can affect garlic!

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Fall garden

Jack Frost is a callin’. With frost comes the end of the signature summer vegetables like basil, tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash. You don’t have to worry about your cold crops like spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli or lettuce; frost just makes them sweeter.

To prolong the season for your potted plants, move them to a sunny spot and place close to a wall. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs will also do well indoors. They are actually perennials in warmer climes. Our cayenne pepper plant thrived indoors in the winter and took off running the next spring.

For all plants, you can use plant covers to protect them overnight from frost to extend the summer veggie season a little further. These can be in the form of plant fabric covers (don’t use plastic), cloches, or a sheet.

For potted plants, place them in a sunny south facing area. Up against a wall is ideal as the wall will absorb heat during the day to keep the plant warm overnight. We gather our pots of greens together and put under a portable greenhouse so we get greens all winter long.

If you have the space, you can surround your pots with straw bales to add an extra layer of protection. You can cover with a hoop house to make a mini green house.

Basil will turn black at the first frost so harvest all the leaves before this time if you are not bringing the plant in for the winter. Now is a great time to take that last cuttings from all your herbs for drying. If you have celery in a pot, it does just fine overwintering in the garage.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can all take some frost. When a “killing” frost or freeze is forecast, it is time to strip all the remaining fruits from the vine. You don’t want to harvest tomatoes from a dead vine. Wrap your green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a dark place. Tomatoes will turn red this way. You can be eating your own red tomatoes through December. They won’t be as good as vine ripened, but they will be better than what you get in the store!

For fall, leave your beds tidy. You can bury or compost the dead plants as long as they were healthy. Adding a layer of chopped leaves and mulch will provide an extra blanket of protection and warmth, breaking down over the winter to provide organic matter for spring planting.

For more tips on organic small space and container gardening, check out Melodie's blog at

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Your Edible Landscape NaturallyAre you planning to put in an orchard next spring, or re-design your landscape with more edible plants? Robert Kouriks’ “Your Edible Landscape Naturally” will guide you through each step of the design process.

Make a Drawing

A good starting point in landscape design is to make a drawing of your landscape, including the hard-scape (buildings, paths, other structures, or the drain field) and existing plants; to scale would be the best. From this drawing you can figure out where your possible growing spaces are and how big they are. Also note where North and South are, areas shaded by structures or other plants and how long those areas receive direct sun (especially from July to September). It is also valuable to note any microclimate locations or other exceptions to what you generally find in your landscape. For example: spots that stay wet into or through the summer, or dry into or through the winter, or vice versa; spots that tend to be particularly hot in the summer or cold and windy in the winter, or vice versa; spots that are in shade year round or are always in full sun; or spots in which the soil is different from the rest of your land.

Do a pH and nutrient (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) test in various possible planting locations so you know what you are starting with. Remember to use distilled water for the test, tap or well water may affect the results.

Soil Type

Determine if you have sand, silt, or clay soil, and what kind of drainage you have. Moisten some soil and rub it between your fingers. If it feels very smooth and sticky, there is a lot of clay in your soil, if it feels gritty there is a lot of sand, in between would indicate a more silty soil. Dig a hole and fill it with water. If the water drains out right away you have fast drainage, if it takes more than a couple of hours your drainage is very slow.Keep in mind that the slope of the land does not affect drainage within the soil profile, only how well water drains off the surface. The goal is to have a good understanding of what you have.

Make a wish list of what you want to grow. Maybe you know of a specific named fruit variety, or perhaps you have a good idea of the type of fruit, harvest time, plant size, or foliage color you are interested in.

Once you have an idea of where you want them, you can prepare the ground for spring planting of fruit and berry plants now. Remove weeds, loosen soil, and mulch the surface with leaves or straw.

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Silverskin garlicOne of the most popular and appealing products at farmers markets and garlic festivals is the garlic braid. If you have ever tried to braid garlic, you are well aware that successful braids are achieved only by using softneck varieties. Although there is some argument whether Silverskin or Artichoke types are best, Silverskins seem to be the preferential choice. Some of the more common Silverskin cultivars found in braids include Nookta Rose, Rose du Var and Western Rose.


Silverskin garlic straddles the line between hardneck and softneck. As it requires only a short vernalization period, it is one of the few garlics that you can plant in the spring (rather than the usual time in the fall), and still receive good-sized bulbs at harvest. Silverskins can be grown in most climate conditions, however, if grown in southerly climates with mild winters, the cultivars will grow as softnecks. Those strains grown in colder, more northerly regions will often bolt, producing a scape and umbel or several large bulbils within the neck of the plant, just above the bulb. Any scapes produced will droop rather than curl.

The blue-green leaves of Silverskin garlic are narrow, tough and sturdy, hence their appeal for braiding. Those that do end up producing scapes won’t work nearly as well and should be substituted with plants of the Artichoke variety. Silverkskins are late-maturing, which is an added bonus if you are intending to braid, since you can get the rest of the harvest out of the way first!


All cultivars of the Silversking type will produce large, slightly flattened tear-shaped bulbs. Like Artichokes, they have multiple layers of cloves, with each layer segmented by a separate skin. Cloves, on average, number between 10 and 24, but may have more or less depending on the cultivar. The large number of cloves in each bulb subsequently influences the size and shape of the cloves, which will be small and slender in the center of the bulb, and become squatter and rounder as they radiate outwards. The clove skins are pale and range from white to tan, some with a delicate pink blush. The bulbs skins are white, and will sometimes be subtly striped with a warm bronze.Silverskin garlic


Silverskin cultivars tend to have a better flavor when they are cooked before being eaten. In their raw form they tend to have a very assertive, almost sulfuric taste. Cooking will temper this bitter flavor and the cloves will become more garlicky and nuttier in taste. Heat varies between cultivars, and can range from the mild to the very hot.

Due to the tight wrappers around the multiple layers of cloves, Silverskin garlic usually has an excellent storage life of six months to over a year, meaning you’ll still have plenty of gourmet garlic to enjoy long after your other varieties are gone!

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garden-2008-Ashland MarketI have finished the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and it has been an enjoyable experience. My transition to a local/homegrown diet began many years ago. Besides growing food for my family, in 1992 I began selling to two local restaurants. Lettuce was my biggest seller, but I also sold eggs, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables. I had a small CSA in 1997 and 1998 and in 1999 helped start the Ashland Farmers Market. It is with the farmers markets that the public has an opportunity to meet local farmers and make further connections to buy in quantity or out of season, if possible. The Ashland Farmers Market requires that what is sold there be grown within a 35 mile radius of Ashland, Virginia and the person doing the selling must also be involved in the growing. 2001 was my last year to sell produce and eggs. I stepped away from the markets to focus my energy on teaching at the community college and on researching growing and eating a homegrown diet through my work to maintain certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-farming teacher through Ecology Action. By doing that, I was able to direct more knowledgeable consumers and producers to the markets.

As you can imagine, my experience with the 10-Day Challenge would be vastly different than someone who has a very small garden, if any, and depends on the marketplace for their food. You can find out what I ate during the challenge at Homeplace Earth. I can remember a time when eating locally and organically meant that the food had to come from our own farm or I had to know someone personally to buy it from. There were some local farm stands around and one farmers market in Richmond, Virginia, but the food wasn’t organic and maybe it wasn’t even grown by the person doing the selling. Sometimes the vendors would buy boxes of produce from elsewhere to resell. This 10-Day Challenge didn’t specify organic, but that’s what I look for, whether it is certified or not.

Things certainly have changed. The Ashland Farmers Market is only four miles from my home and has expanded its offerings since its humble beginnings in 1999. Even with the strict guidelines of what is to be sold and who can sell it, the market continues to grow. This is the first place I go to purchase food to supplement what we grow in our garden. Consumers know they will find food there and the person behind the counter can answer their questions as to the origin, variety, etc. It is a much different experience than walking into a “farmers market” to find that it more resembles a craft show or a bake sale than something having to do with farmers.

Farmers markets and other venues offering locally grown food have been popping up everywhere in this new century. More restaurants have locally grown food on their menus and more grocery stores are stocking it. It took a lot over the years to make that happen. Now that is a reality, we need to fine-tune what is being offered. What is missing from your diet that you can’t find at the market, but could be locally grown? By my last year of growing for the markets I started to focus more on potatoes, winter squash, onions, and garlic. I could see that they were necessary to fill out a diet. There was plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers available.

If I was still selling I would also be sure to offer cabbage and other vegetables with the directions to ferment them, along with information about the health benefits of sauerkraut and kimchi. As a grower, you can make changes in the markets by what you offer and where you choose to sell. As a consumer, you can bring changes by what you buy and by making reasonable requests. Our food systems are evolving. We still have a way to go, but if you take a look back, we’ve come pretty far already. Embrace these changing times and take on a local food challenge of your own!

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at

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Savory in foreground, thyme on left, edible day lilies in background

You can make your own teas from common herbs growing in your garden or to spice up store bought teas. A few common herbs you may have growing in your garden for your own home grown tea-bergamot, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage, stevia for sweetening, thyme. (Left image: Savory in foreground, thyme on left, edible day lilies in background.)

Bergamot, or bee balm, has a scent reminiscent of Italian bergamot orange. You can dry or use fresh, steeped for 10 minutes by itself or add to store bought black tea to give it the same type of flavor as Earl Gray tea. Bergamot was used as a tea substitute in the colonies after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Its flowers are also a great bee attractor and come in white or numerous shades of red and purple. Native Americans used it as spice for fowl and medicinally for its antiseptic properties, headaches, fever, and upset tummies. Bergamot is of the mint family so can be aggressive in the garden. M. didyma contains the highest concentration of oil.

Chamomile is used in potpourri for its scent, in supplements, tonics and teas for its calming properties, in facial steams/hand soaks to soften and whiten skin. Use the flowers fresh or dried for tea.

Lavender leaves or flowers can lend a floral note to teas. Lavender tea is used to sooth nerves, headaches, and dizziness. Its use as a potpourri is legendary. It is also great to put in closets to not only provide great scent, but also protect clothes from moths. It is also used as an antiseptic tonic for acne or to speed facial cell renewal. Lavender is also a typical ingredient in Herbes de Provence.Lavender plant

You can also make a syrup from lavender to add to desserts, adult beverages, homemade sodas, and teas. 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.

Mint comes in many flavors-grapefruit, pear, pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange. There is even a chocolate mint! Mint will take over a garden if left to its own devices. Either put a ring around it at least 3 inches deep to keep it from spreading underground, cull runners frequently or put in a pot. Mint loses much of its flavor when dried so fresh is your best bet. Bees love mint flowers!

Other herbs that impart a citrus note are pineapple sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon grass. Pineapple sage is used for depression and anxiety, to aid digestion, and is antiseptic and anti-fungal. Lemon balm tea is commonly used for cold relief and to relieve tension and depression. Fresh leaves have the best flavor. Lemon verbena is also used for cold relief, upset stomach, and is mildly sedative. It is a wonderful addition to potpourri and is grown as an annual. Lemon grass is a tropical plant which any part of the stem can be used as a tea. It is considered revitalizing and antiseptic.

I have not found a rosemary that survives the winter here in our Zone 6, but I keep trying. ARP and Barbeque are two types that are rated down to Zone 5 that I am growing this year. I am going to add some extra straw cover in early winter to give them more protection. I just love the scent of this herb and as an addition for cooking. Rosemary is thought to aid in digestion and joint pain. Use fresh or dried.

Thyme is thought to be beneficial for hangovers, digestion, coughs and colds, along with being one of the staple culinary herbs. Teas can be made with fresh or dried leaves. English wild thyme is the strongest for medicinal qualities, but any can be used. Thyme also comes in lemon, lime, and orange as well.

Multicolor sage plant

You can also add a fruit to your tea for a new twist. A neighbor recently shared that she had some blackberry sage tea that was heavenly. You can easily make this yourself! Use dried sage (left image) and either fresh or thawed frozen berries. Simply crush the berries for a teaspoon of juice and add to your steeping sage tea. Yum!

The only limits to homemade tea from homegrown ingredients is your imagination! Herbs have so many healthful properties. It just makes great sense to take advantage of their benefits and taste in warming teas. A beautiful finishing touch would be to add edible flowers or a sprig of the herb as a garnish.

Stevia is a recent arrival to the US herb scene, but has come on strong in popularity. It is a super sweet, super antioxidant, with zero carbs, and zero calories. Stevia is native to tropical regions; it is well suited to container growing. The trick with stevia is a little goes a long way. Add too much and it goes from sweet tasting to bitter.

If you want real tea, you can grow tea plants in pots. They are easy to grow. Otherwise, there are great herbal options!

For more tips on organic small space and container gardening, see Melodie's blog at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



The ripening time of a particular fruit varies from one location to another and from year to year, though the order in which varieties ripen stays roughly the same.

In this first part of our three-part series on fruit processing, we’ll focus on figs, sea berries, shipova and cornus mas. Part two will talk about aronia, grapes, kiwi, nuts and paw paw. Part three will be about apples and pears.


Figs Aren’t Just for Cookies

Figs are ready when the fruit fully droops from its own weight and is soft. The breba crop (over-wintering crop) typically ripens in August. In September the alpha (spring initiating) crop starts expanding and ripens in areas with hot summers, in October or November.

In the Pacific Northwest, our cool fall temperatures prevent the fruit from maturing. If this is your experience, you may be able to hasten the ripening in the fall, and pick that second crop, by applying a bloom fertilizer when the fruits are about nickel size late August or early September.

Bloom fertilizers are high in phosphorous, which supports growth of the reproductive parts of the plant. A fig fruit is an ovary, and the bloom fertilizer encourages it to start and keep expanding. Use a water soluble fertilizer, so the phosphorous is immediately available. Desert King is particularly rich tasting if you wait until the skin takes on a brown gnarly look.

Sea Berries Make Great Jelly and Syrup

sea berries

Sea Berries are ready to harvest when the fruit starts to soften and you no longer taste the astringency. The ripe fruit will have a combination of sweetness and acidity.

The fruit can be harvested by cutting whole branches and then working the fruit off the branches into a bowl. Or pick the fruits from the plant if your bush is young.

Use the juice to make jellies, syrups, or to mix with other juices. The raw fruit and juice are not recommended for fresh consumption in large quantity, as the high vitamin C content can cause nausea.

Dry or Can Shipova for Best Results

Shipova, a natural cross between European pear and mountain ash, benefit from being harvested before they are fully ripe, similar to the pear. Look for color change in the portion of the fruit facing away from the sun, from green to yellow. Cut a few fruit open, and check to see that the seeds are mature, deep brown or black. Shipova have a pear flavor when fully ripe, high sugar content, and firm flesh. They dry very well, and can also be canned.


Cornus Mas: Sweet Berries Are Best for Cooking

Cornus mas are ripe when the fruits readily drop from the tree or are soft and no longer astringent. Yellow fruited cornus mas will be translucent and incredibly sweet when ready to eat.

The fruit tends to ripen unevenly, so check your bush regularly to harvest them fully ripe. Laying a ground cloth down and shaking the bush to loosen the ready fruit can work. Or harvest the berries at the firm ripe stage when they have turned from orange to red (or from white to yellow in the case of the yellow fruited), but are still firm; they will finish ripening off the bush at room temperature.

Process berries that are soft when harvested right away—they don’t store well. The red varieties vary in flavor, and are usually preferred for cooking, rather than fresh eating.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


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