Organic Gardening

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6/17/2014

In this post, I’m going to return to discussing the different types of gourmet garlic available by introducing the 'Marbled Purple Stripe' variety, the ‘everyman’ of the garlic world. There is some argument as to whether 'Marbled Purple Stripes' are a sub-type of the Purple Stripe grouping or whether they are a distinct category of their own. Genetic evidence suggests that they do in fact deserve their own separate classification, and many growers support this division. Some common examples of Marbled Purple Stripes that you may find locally include Siberian, Metechi and Bogatyr.

Cultivation 'Marbled Purple Stripe'

Siberian2

'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars are a hardneck variety and thus flourish in colder climates due to the extended period of dormancy, but they are also one of the few hardnecks known to perform well in warmer regions, making them a reliable choice for most climates. As an added bonus to coastal regions, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' are more forgiving of wetter conditions than other varieties tend to be.

The plants are tall and robust, with wide medium green leaves. Scape stalks are thick and will grow quite tall if not cut. Like other hardneck varieties, the scapes will curl and then straighten as they mature. As mentioned in my post on garlic scapes, 'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars must have their scapes removed in a timely manner or the size of the bulbs at harvest may be significantly reduced. Mature plants are typically harvested mid-season.

Atop the scape is a large umbel that contains an abundance of small to medium-sized bulbils. The size of these bulbils makes increasing your planting stock relatively inefficient, since in their diminutive size means that they will take approximately three years to produce small bulbs that are fully differentiated into individual cloves. If you are willing to put in the time, however, saving the bulbils is useful since Marbled Purple Stripes contain fewer cloves compared to bulbs of similar size, requiring you to retain a greater amount of stock for seed.

Appearance

As their name would suggest, the outer skins of 'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars are glossy white with an abundance of medium to dark purple marbling, stippling and striping. Medium-thick and easy-to-peel clove skins range in color from tan to brown, with several cultivars boasting deep purple markings. The bulbs are large and full-bodied, as are the plump, juicy cloves, which average between four and seven per bulb.

Taste

In culinary terms, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' can be somewhat average, the ‘everyman’ of garlic. This can work in the varieties favor, however, since its temperate taste appeals to a wider range of palates. Moderate to very hot when raw, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' have a solid and non-complex garlic flavor. They are usually best when eaten raw, since they can become somewhat bland in flavor and grainy in texture when cooked. Certain cultivars, including Siberian, Brown Tempest, and Bogatyr, retain their excellent garlicky taste and texture and merely become sweeter and milder after cooking. You may have to experiment a bit to find the best recipes for your particular cultivar! 'Marbled Purple Stripe' garlics have a moderate storage life, approximately six to eight months.

Next post: Glazed Purple Stripes!


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6/12/2014

Transplant Tomato Plants

Few other vegetables represent summer as a sun-ripe, homegrown tomato does. Even gardeners with limited space seem to prioritize tomatoes and we have many friends in urban areas that grow tomato plants in pots on their balcony or roof top. June here on Deer Isle has already been warmer than I would ever ask for. Our hostel – the Deer Isle Hostel – is picking up pace and most of the garden is planted. The tomatoes are all in the ground and now all we can do is to stand back with our fingers crossed that they will keep looking as good as they've done all along.

Starting Tomato Plants From SeedTransplanting Tomatoes

I start my seedlings in my neighbors house around the 3rd week of April. Her house stays warmer than ours that at that time often gets down below 50's at night. I start them in six-packs (pots with six slots) with two seeds in each slot. After about two weeks I transplant them to a 3 inch x 3 inch pot and at this time I also bring them home and have them on our kitchen table in front of a big south-facing window. It can still get pretty cold at night, but I consider that a benefit since my plants tend to be hardier and less prone to shock once planted outside compared to seedlings raised in heated spaces.

Spring can be cold and wet here in Maine and some years it's hard to find a good window of nice weather for when to transplant the tomatoes to the garden. I use the 10 day forecast and once it'll stay in the 50's day and night I usually take the chance. Upper 40's is ok, as long as it doesn't get too wet. Tomatoes are fine with some cold, but reacts poorly to being damp. Most years the plants grow very big in the small pots before I can put them outside. If I had 10 or less plants I probably would move them to bigger pots if I couldn't put them outside once they got big but I have too many for that to be practical. If I start them later that would not be an issue but then I'm running the risk of not having enough time to replant if the seed germination would be poor.

Instead I do my best to keep the plants healthy and to reduce stress. I keep them on our kitchen table at night and bring them outside in the morning. I have cold frames that I put the seedlings in so they get to be in a really warm space and even on cloudy days I bring them outside where it's still brighter than in our house. I pick all the flower buds off to reduce the amount of energy expended by the plant. I also remove all yellowing leaves and if the leaves develop brown spots (a sign of early blight) I pick them off to and try to isolate that plant from the rest to not spread the disease. Even still there's been years when I've almost lost all my plants to stress and disease caused by the cold weather and just because I couldn't bring myself to pull them out the plants were left in the ground and as by magic came around and produced a beautiful crop.

How to Plant TomatoesTransplanting Tomatoes In The Garden

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and we can maximize the yield from each plant by using one of the free, abundant and natural resources we have here on Deer Isle – the seaweed. We plant our tomato plants by digging a big hole – say 16 inches deep and about as wide across, putting a fork full of seaweed in the bottom and planting the tomato right in the seaweed. Most tomato growers probably don't have a source of seaweed to utilize but the technique works just as well with compost or animal manure or any other mean for fertilizer – as soon as the roots starts to grow they grow straight into something rich. I avoid getting the seaweed up against the stem, since it might make it rot.

Dig the hole – add fertilizer – plant the tomato – fill the hole with soil. I dig the hole deep, and bury the tomato plant to their neck (usually just below the 2nd or 3rd set of leaves) so that the whole stem will turn into roots. We also use the seaweed as mulch and put a thick ring around each plant to keep the soil moist and weed free.

Once planted, the tomatoes don't need much tending to until the grow big enough to need support for the vines. The one thing I do is to keep picking off all flower buds until summer solstice – in this way the plant have time to properly set roots before spending energy growing flowers. If I left the buds I'd probably get fruit a little bit earlier but I believe that strong roots makes for strong plants and that a plant can't both set roots and fruit and the same time.

Come August and September I will have 6-8 feet tall plants heavy with that sure sign of summer few things are as a tomato on the vine. As June goes by under the cloud free sky, my dreams of freshly sliced tomatoes warm from the sun grows with each passing day.


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.



6/10/2014

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States. There is nothing like a tomato ripe from the vine! Many people started gardening by way of the tomato. They were the very first vegetable we grew. Many gardeners have the techniques they swear by to get the biggest and best tomatoes. Here are some tales that are not necessarily true.

Tomato Growing Myths (and Some Truths)

Tomatoes love as much sun as possible! This depends on where you live. In very hot climates, 6-8 hours is plenty. Your tomatoes can actually scald in intense sun and heat. For hot climates, plant your tomatoes in a north to south row so each side gets some shade each day.

You should prune your tomatoes for the best harvests. This again depends on your climate. If you live in a hot climate with intense sun and heat, you want to keep the leaves to help protect the tomatoes from sun scald. If you live in a damp area, you want to prune the tomato plant to allow good air circulation and sunlight.

Tomatoes love fertilizer! Actually, you only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers. Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth. Some that really sock the fertilizer to the plant end up with a giant green plant with no tomatoes. To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium.

Tomatoes can’t be grown in pots. Tomatoes can be grown in pots, but not the big tomato plants or you have to grow them in a huge container like a whiskey barrel. Look for dwarf, pot, or patio types. You will need to put in a large pot and be prepared to water often.

Tomatoes need to be watered a lot. Actually, if you water your tomatoes a lot, you can end up with fungal diseases and mushy fruit. The trick with tomatoes is to keep their moisture even. Letting the ground crack and then drowning the plant will result in cracked fruit. In the hot times of the summer, you will likely need to water at least weekly. Be sure to not water the leaves, but the root.

When you see leaves dropping, something is wrong. This is a natural progression of the plant. As fruits begin to form, there is less energy for the leaves and some leaves will turn yellow and die.

A spindly tomato transplant is an unhealthy one. Actually the hairs on the stems can easily be transformed into roots. I take my transplants and remove the bottom leaves and plant on its side with only the top 4 leaves above ground. This gives the plant a good root system.

You can only transplant in early summer. Actually, if your tomato plants are starting to fade in mid summer, you can put out new transplants that will give you fruit until the first frost.

When you make sauce, the skins and seeds have to be removed. I put whole tomatoes into the food processor. Some say that the skin and seeds can impart a bitter flavor. With the many types of tomatoes I have raised, this has never been a problem for me.

Only paste tomatoes can be used for sauce. I use all my tomatoes for sauce. The best for sauce for me are the most prolific tomato plants. These have been Yellow Pear and Juliet for us. I would ask your neighbors which ones give the most fruit if you are looking to put up by freezing or canning.

The last tip: Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases. Do try to not plant your tomatoes in the same spot for four years. Fungal diseases stay in the soil and take a while to die out. The same goes for a pot. A way around it for a pot is to use new soil and disinfect the pot each year.



6/5/2014

Chicken In Organic Garden

Here in north Texas, the summers are hotter, longer and drier than ever. Growing an organic vegetable garden in this climate can be... tricky, so you have to utilize every available advantage to get your produce from garden to table. Hopefully my blog will not only provide you with gardening tips but also inspire you to grow more of your own produce, regardless of where you live. If you'll just follow Mother Nature's path, you'll find yourself engulfed in a fresh, nutritious and very tasty world of homegrown vegetables. So prepare to get your hands dirty and use the old noggin for something besides a hat rack.

But really folks, it isn't rocket surgery. After all, I'm doing it, and so can you!

Now I don't know all the tricks — many of the ones I do know, I learned from Mother Earth News and its vast array of resources, but I've tried everything in my garden from Epsom Salts (not naturally organic but a good source of magnesium), to human hair ("No ma'am, I'm not gluing it to my head, it's for keeping rabbits out of the garden."). My advice is to try all the old remedies, the newfangled discoveries and maybe even think up a few of your own. Just make sure you try them out on a small scale before you go spraying wild cow's milk on everything.

Chickens In the Garden: Natural Fertilizer and Pest Control

Here's a few solutions to common garden problems, specifically how chickens will help you battle the elements and insects.

Last year, I began raising chickens. I truly love farm-fresh eggs, but the main reasons for my new feathered friends are bug patrol and fertilizer production. Other than water, these two elements are possibly the most critical in maintaining a healthy garden.

Grasshoppers have destroyed my crops in the past, but so far this season, I'm ahead of their annual assault. The chickens have kept them to a minimum around the garden while at the same time fertilizing the immediate area for expansion next season. Their coop is inside the garden fence but cordoned off in one corner with a gate to the outside. This allows the chickens to roam the outer perimeter of the garden, keeping the leaf-hungry pests away from the plants. Once the chickens become true free-range birds, they take to bug catching and eating green grasses as in Nature, which also adds nutrition and a better taste to their eggs. I keep the grass and brush mowed short all around the perimeter as well, which cuts back on the grasshopper's food source.

As I worked the garden soil late last year, I added enough chicken manure to just cover the dirt, plus measured amounts of corn gluten, blood and bone meal, and my own compost. I use a broadfork rather than a tiller to bust up and mix the soil. I've found that the high winds early in the year scatter and blow away too much of the finely ground dirt and manure.

Choosing Heirloom SeedsHeirloom Seed Packets For Sale

By mid-March of this year, I was ready to plant having started my seedlings inside. For years I bought vegetable starts from nurseries but always had trouble with disease, virus and, of course, insects. A few years ago, I made the switch to all heirloom variety, non-GMO seeds. The plants seem to have the ability to fight off those diseases and viruses, and with a little help from Garrett Juice, orange oil, BT and Neem, diatomaceous earth, and garlic pepper spray, my plants are thriving.

Be careful to choose vegetable varieties that grow well in a hot, dry climate if you live in Texas or the Southwest. Most heirloom varieties will stand up to adverse conditions; just research what grows best in your locale. Cedar mulch and recycled ground-cover fabric add another layer of defense against insects plus keep weeds and grasses from taking over. I leave a little grass growing along the walkways for plucking and feeding to the chickens. I have two or three hens that prefer bugs to greenery, so I let them loose in the garden every couple of days for a few minutes to peck out the stray grasshoppers and a few other bugs. Jealousy and some harsh clucking comes from the hen gallery, but Ann-Margaret, Lucy and Ana Marie go on about their gourmet dining, apparently absent of guilt.

Keep a close watch that your birds don't reach for a salad to go with their main course of protein.

The symbiotic relationship between chickens and gardens proves what I've thought all along: There is no substitute for Mother Nature's wisdom and wealth. There's also no need for pesticide, herbicide and genetic modification if you'll allow Her to show you the way to a bountiful, nutritious and flavorful vegetable garden.

Green Tomatoes On The Vine



6/4/2014

beans with mulch

Organic gardening is about two things: weed control and pest control. Successful gardening is about supplying the plants with nutrients and sufficient moisture.

One of the important elements of Permaculture is to mimic the systems found in nature. As leaves fall from the trees to the ground in a forest, they form a natural mulch that builds topsoil. We can follow this example by using leaves as mulch in our garden.

Mulching With Straw

straw mulch

In the garden, if bare ground is exposed to sun, weeds will grow. Weeds compete with your plants for food and moisture. Weeds provide safe haven for insects. Covering the spaces between your plants and between your rows with mulch prevents weeds from growing, saving you hours and hours of manual labor, weeding by hand or with a hoe. Mulch also protects the soil from the sun, trapping and preserving moisture.

Many people mulch with straw and we will use wheat straw in our garden for certain plants or when we have used up our preferred leaf mulch. However, all wheat or rye straw will still have some bits of grain. Eventually these will sprout and produce some of the most  difficult to remove "weeds" you are likely to encounter.

We do our best to avoid this by leaving the straw exposed to the weather for one year before using, so that any remaining grain will rot. While this will remove the viability of most seeds, some will survive and eventually sprout, becoming a plant that must be removed. Straw is also expensive and the price goes up every year. Straw sold to farmers for barn bedding is increasingly produced as large round bales rather than the tradition small, square bales. The round bales are extremely heavy and difficult to transport. All the more reason to consider leaves as the better alternative.

How to Mulch in the Garden

chopped leaves under lettuce

Where I live in Tennessee, my home is surrounded by towering oaks, hickory, and other types of trees. To preserve the lawns around our homes and the public buildings in my community, the leaves must be removed. It’s a win-win situation.

I use a mulching lawn mower with a bagger and dump the chopped leaves into plastic garbage bags. I collected over 50 bags last fall. It is important to use heavy duty bags or cover and protect them in some way so that the bags are not exposed to the elements and break down before you are ready to use the leaves the following summer. If you live in or near a city, you can often find leaves already bagged, along sidewalks, ready for the local landfill. Just drive through a suburban neighborhood in the fall and you are quite likely to fill a pickup with bagged leaves in no time!

You can also use raked, un-chopped leaves, which will produce a tighter, flatter layer of mulch above the soil. I will place these around water spigots and on paths, areas that get a lot of traffic. 

Tree roots reach deep down into the ground pulling up trace minerals to feed the leaves. As your leaf mulch breaks down, it can be tilled directly into the soil, introducing organic matter. Leaves: free, abundant, and good for the soil! The perfect mulch!

Douglas in the garden



6/3/2014

PulaskiIf I were poetic I would write an ode to the Pulaski.  It would be an epic tale of love, pain and sentimental fondness.  For those of you who aren't familiar, a Pulaski is a wild land firefighting tool named for its inventor. One hardwood handle topped by forged power.  The head is on one side an ax, the other a sharp curved horizontal trenching surface.

Our Pulaski comes from my husband's firefighting days.  Designed to dig fire line, chop down burning trees it is a Godsend if you are blessed with previously unturned clay soil.  We tilled the 0.16 of an acre, adding compost, ten wheelbarrow loads of chicken poop and bedding, and 10 old straw bales.  After two weeks of intermittent rains and a few tractor traverses while building the deer fence our recently fluffed ground was chunky with underlying cement hard clay.

I tend to be the type to push through an unpleasant project, on the premise that it's better to finish now than have to revisit Hell later.  And so on a rainy Wednesday my four year old and an over-nighting five year old joined me for a day long chopping, trenching, laughing, cursing, sweating, chilling, burying, praying marathon.  After a 5 minute change of clothes and coffee reheat, cocoa for the kiddos, we jumped in the car and picked up 3 more kids.  After an hour of rounding up the kids of my bestie, who at 40 just gave birth to a beautiful fourth angel, I went out in a patch of sunshine to spread 50 pounds of organic fertilizer.  As the rain began again to fall I gave thanks.

strawberry plants

Thanks for a body strong enough to grow food, a mind strong enough to push through when the lure of grocery store living and naps becomes a siren's song, kids strong enough to help and laugh the grouchy away, a life lucky enough to have this opportunity, and a heart open enough to experience the mud, sun, rain, pain, laughter, tears, doubts, frustrations, birdsong and sweat as the beautiful blessing it all is.

From my hasty wet notes here's my final tally, I need to add some storage onions and a friend is bringing me a few more tomato starts:

Seedlings

12 green beans, 10 strawberries, 12 popcorn, 36 sweetcorn, 3 celery, 7 tomatoes, 12 sweet onion, 6 leeks, mini bell and jalapeño peppers, 6 cucumber, 12 pickling cuc's, 2 giant pumpkins, 6 cantaloupe, 6 watermelon, 12 peas, 2 chard, 4 kale, 24 broccoli, 18 cabbage, 6 Brussels sprouts, 10# seed potatoes, asparagus bed and garlic from last Fall.

corn

Seeds

2 kinds of carrot, beets, radishes, 3 types lettuce, 2 spinach varieties, pumpkins, Jacob's cattle beans, 3 types winter squash, zucchini.

Herbs planted in all pots and flower beds. I planted all organic, multiple varieties, and heirloom whenever available.

Big thanks to preschoolers, Azure Standard out of Dufur, Oregon, High Mowing Seeds, Sarah's Starts, and The Seed Saver's Exchange.

Am I missing anything besides Ibuprofen and a nap?



6/3/2014

Scapes1In this post, I will be taking a break from describing different types of gourmet garlic to discuss garlic scapes, also called garlic shoots, stems or greens. Scapes are the flowering central stalk of hardneck garlic varieties, and the time for their removal is fast approaching. Whether you grow gourmet garlic for market or merely for your own consumption, scape removal can be crucial to the size of your bulbs at harvest, and can also provide you with additional income and edibles.

Growth

The season for scapes is very short, only a few weeks. After the last of the leaves have emerged from the center of the garlic plant, the spathe, the beaked leaf containing the umbel, will begin to appear. Within the bulbous umbel are the bulbils, the tiny, clove-like structures which can be planted or eaten. Supporting the umbel and spathe is a long solid stalk, the scape.

The scape will grow straight upwards for a number of inches, before beginning to curl. This characteristic curling is due to the cells on one side of the stalk lengthening before those on the other side. The number of curls that the scape will achieve depends on the type of garlic, but most will curl at least once, often twice, and occasionally a third time, before straightening and continuing to grow upwards to heights of four to seven feet. Before and during curling, the scapes have a crisp but tender texture, but once they have straightened and continue to grow, they become hard and wooden.

Removing Garlic Scapes

Although scapes can be left on the garlic plant to mature, many growers find that this negatively affects the size achieved by the bulb at the time of harvest. Subsequently, the scapes are removed in order to encourage the plant to put all of its available energy into producing as large a bulb as possible, rather than split its resources between bulbing and flower production. This does not mean that you should remove the scapes as soon as you see them, however, since removing them too early has been found to compromise the longevity of bulb storage.

Scape removal is more essential to bulb size in certain types of garlic than in others. Purple Stripes, Glazed Purple Stripes, Marbled Purple Stripes, Porcelains, and Creole varieties all tend to produce significantly smaller bulbs if the scapes are not removed. Rocamboles tend to be moderately affected, and in Asiatic and Turban types, scape removal seems to make very little difference in the overall size of mature bulbs. Keep in mind that if you are intending to plant bulbils from your cultivars, the scapes must be left on the plants until the flowering stalk is mature.

Although you can experiment to determine when the best time to remove the scapes of your particular cultivars may be, a good general time to remove them is after they have curled and just before or as they begin to straighten. We find that this timing gives us a good balance between bulb size and storage capability. If you grow a sizable amount of garlic, like we do, you can’t afford to be too picky about when you can get it done!

It is best to take off the scapes on a day when it is warm and dry, as their removal will leave an open wound on the plant. A sunny day will allow the newly raw portion to dry and scab over quickly, which will help prevent any harmful bacteria from entering the garlic. When the scapes are still tender-crisp they can usually be snapped off cleanly by hand, but once they begin to harden, and sometimes in more robust plants, they need to be removed with clippers or shears. If you are breaking the scapes off by hand, wear gloves, as the stems will produce a ‘sap’ that can feel somewhat corrosive and can make your skin red, sore and itchy. Likewise, if you are cutting your scapes, use a sharp, clean implement and be sure to wash it at the end of every day, as the exudate will cause the blades to rust. Remove the scapes lower down, about half an inch above the top leaf.

Cooking With Garlic Scapes

Scapes continue to grow in popularity in Western cuisine as greater numbers of people become more familiar with them, increasing demand and making them more readily available. You can often find them at Farmers Markets and some grocery stores when they are in season, but many Asian grocery stores will carry them year round. The local season for scapes is very short, usually two, sometimes three weeks, so keep an eye out for them or you may find the season over before you even knew it had begun! In our area, scape season tends to begin in mid to late June, but this window may vary in other regions, so ask your local grower about availability.

When buying scapes, make sure they are still young, as they are curling or just before, otherwise the texture can be unpalatable. The ideal texture should be similar to asparagus or broccoli raab stems – tender-crisp and easily snapped. Scapes have a mild to medium strong garlic flavor and are very versatile. They can be grilled, steamed, enjoyed fresh, pickled, and added to a variety of dishes, from pizzas to stir-fries. You can actually substitute scapes in most recipes calling for garlic, although the taste will usually be milder.

You can find a number of delicious scape recipes at our recipe box on Tumblr. Enjoy!









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