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Archive for February 2010

Vegetables for Raised Beds

February 27th, 2010

raised garden bedWe are planning on growing vegetables in raised garden beds for folks in assisted living communities and would appreciate some advice on why type of vegetable plants we can grow. Our beds will be 12-18″ deep.

Answer: The depth of the boxes sounds just fine for most veggies, as long as they are well-draining containers. If these are self-contained (like large pots), not just frames on the ground, don’t over-plant them, and be sure to fertilize and water on a regular basis. If these are on the ground then the plants will extend their root systems into the ground if they need to, and therefore you might want to just loosen the soil in that area prior to building up the planters.

The biggest thing to look for when planning a contained garden is the mature size of the plants. With tomatoes, check for ones that are considered “determinate,” meaning they will reach a mature height and stop growing taller, thus keeping a more compact form. Some of the cherry and paste-style tomatoes will fall into the determinate category. An “indeterminate” plant will keep growing and growing.

The mature height for plants like peppers, eggplant, okra, and broccoli will be three to four feet, depending on the variety. For sweet peppers check out, Bell Boy (An All-American Selection Winner) or maybe something a little different like our Pimento L Sweet pepper. Under the hot pepper category, try Garden Salsa, or Hungarian Yellow Wax Heirloom, or the customer favorite, Anaheim Chili Red Hot.

Onions, parsnips, and turnips don’t get tall but do require some room for the bulb to grow.  To get “bunch” onions it is just a matter of maturity. Once the onions start to grow and at the point they require thinning, growers typically pull these, bundle in bunches and take to markets. Commercial growers use a white Lisbon onion but you could try our Walla-Walla or White Sweet Spanish varieties or even Red Mars. For cabbages you might try the Fast Vantage, as it matures early, which is great for more northern gardens.

Strawberries have very particular needs and like to have room to send out runners to create new plants. They would need to have a space that is just for them. Read our information on the strawberry page before incorporating them into your garden.

You could incorporate a vertical element in the center of the beds by adding a bamboo and grips climbing frame or the ring, or use our garden netting to grow beans and peas and surround the outside with low-growing plants like lettucespinach or herbs.

Good luck with the gardens. I am sure the residents will enjoy them, especially when harvest time rolls around. Karen

National Sweet Potato Month Newsletter

February 26th, 2010

 Sweet potatoes are a superfoodAs the growing season approaches, sweet potato plants are one of our tops sellers. It’s easy to understand why: they’re a highly prized crop, especially in the South, but they’re not so easy to grow from “from scratch,” which, in this case, means sprouting some sweet potatoes and then growing the sprouts into “slips” until they become plants. Once the plant stage is reached, the growing process is straightforward, but articles on growing sweet potatoes deal mainly with what comes before, because that’s the trickiest part.

You Can Cook Sweet Potato Leaves

That’s right, sweet potato leaves are edible greens that are used in certain Asian dishes but perhaps it’s time we started to cook them up here. According to NutritionData, they are “a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.” This stellar vitamin profile puts them in the same league nutritionally as spinach and collards.

Harvest sweet potato greens the same as you would turnip greens, and prepare them as you would spinach or collards. Before cooking, cut off the tough stems, keeping only those that are tender. Rinse the greens in cold water, and then steam, boil, or sauté. They can also be substituted for spinach in casseroles or other baked dishes. In fact, in addition to Sweet Potato Lasagna it might even be possible to make Sweet Potato Leaf Lasagna.  We haven’t tried, but if you do, let us know how it turns out, and send us the recipe if it turns out great.

Sweet Potatoes Contain More Beta-Carotene than Carrots

A medium carrot contains 10,000 IU of beta-carotene, while the average sweet potato contains 16,000 IU! That’s right: sweet potatoes top the list of foods with the most beta carotene. The varieties of sweet potato that contain the highest beta carotene content are those with orange flesh such Georgia Jet, Beauregard, Centennial, and Vardaman.

But hasn’t beta-carotene’s reputation been tarnished a bit lately as a result of new scientific research? Actually, no, it’s beta-carotene supplements that have been called into question. Scientists have found that beta-carotene as it appears naturally in sweet potatoes and carrots is accompanied by many other carotenoids that work together to produce a powerful antioxidant effect.  When isolated in the laboratory and manufactured synthetically, it just doesn’t deliver the same results. Much better to eat sweet potatoes, and a lot cheaper too!

Sweet Potato Casserole and Other Great Sweet Potato Recipes

Last Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported that the recipe the greatest number of people searched for the day before was “Sweet Potato Casserole.” As the frontrunner in thirty-six of the fifty states, this search left Pumpkin Pie and other Thanksgiving favorites “in the dust.” Apparently, people love to eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving more than is commonly realized.

But why wait for Thanksgiving? The Pilgrims didn’t, in fact, sweet potatoes were the main source of nourishment for early homesteaders as well as for soldiers during the Revolutionary War. George Washington himself used to grow them on his farm in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Considering that their nutritional profile outshines that of potatoes, it’s less than ideal that Americans these days eat on average less than five pounds of sweet potatoes per year while consuming more than 125 pounds of potatoes annually.

sweet potato casseroleTo help return sweet potatoes to being the staple they once were when our foremothers cooked them up over their open fireplaces, here are five great sweet potato recipes that demonstrate just how versatile and delicious this wonderful vegetable can be:

George Washington Carver and the Sweet Potato

Before he died in 1943, George Washington Carver had created more than one hundred products from the sweet potato including seventy-three dyes, fourteen wood fillers, seventeen types of candy, five pastes that were safe enough to use on the back of postage stamps, five breakfast foods, four flours, and three types of molasses! His love for the sweet potato was eclipsed only by his love affair with peanuts, the one that gave us peanut butter among hundreds of other peanut products.

In light of his remarkable achievements, it’s worth thinking a bit about his life philosophy, which he summarized in the following saying:

“It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”

The theme of our next newsletter will be tomatoes: a topic that will be of interest to most of you, and one about which there is much to say. Until then, from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply, happy growing and happy eating!

White Butterflies Destroying My Cabbage Plants

February 22nd, 2010

cabbage plantHave trouble every year with white butterflies laying eggs on my cabbage plants and destroying a lot of the heads. Do you think cheesecloth staked over the plants would not hinder sunlight, and keep those pesky bugs from laying eggs?  Bill S., ND

Answer: Row covers will work to keep out any flying pests but I would use the commercially available fabric – a translucent, spun fabric, and not just cheesecloth, as the holes could be large enough for some pests to get through. However, you would need to make sure the plants are covered when the moths are active in your area. You will still need to check for other forms of crawling pests.

Another method of control is to hand pick and destroy the caterpillars. Cabbage loopers and cabbageworms in the larval stage look similar; both are green caterpillars. They both feed on the underneath side of the leaves and this is also where you would find the eggs. You may also find cutworms, a grayish or brownish grub that feeds not only on stems and leaves but near the ground, feeding on developing cabbage heads; flea beetles leave small round holes; and cabbage aphids will infest the undersides of the plants, causing wrinkled and curled leaves, stunting plants and killing the heads.

Next season plant some Sage herbs next to your cabbage plants. The White Cabbage Butterfly hates the smell of Sage and will stay away from your cabbage!

If you’re not concerned about a strictly organic process, you can spray the plants with pesticides, making sure each pest is listed on the label. Start with something containing malathion. You can also use BT (bacillus thuringiensis). Spray plants with a forceful stream of water to dislodge the insects and then treat with insecticidal soap; or to control aphids, release ladybugs into your garden. To help control the loopers and similar worms, you can apply neem oil or hot pepper wax or a naturally occurring chemical called rotenone. It’s also possible to create a barrier around each plant with Diatomaceous Earth. Oregano or tansy can be used to discourage flea beetles, and adding tinfoil under plants to reflect sunlight upwards is said to deter aphids.

It’s best to always determine exactly what is “bugging” your crop, then treat…and treat at the appropriate time.

Best of luck, Karen

Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Grow Bag

February 19th, 2010

potato grow bagCan Sweet Potatoes be grown in “potato grow bags” and if so, how many per bag? Thanks, Arlene

Answer: Well, there isn’t a short answer to this question. Here’s why:

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are not related and therefore grow differently. The regular potato is related to the tomato family and the sweet potato is related to the morning glory vine. Sweet potatoes grow as a tuberous root usually more along the surface of the soil, whereas a regular potato is a true tuber and tends to grow up the stem of the plant, which is why you hill the regular potato as it grows up, adding soil to the bags as the plant part grows upward. The sweet potato slips are planted about 12-18 inches apart and about 8 inches deep. There is no reason the bags could not be used just like growing them in a container; the secret here is to make sure you are using a good quality growing medium that is well-drained, making sure all excess water is directed away from the bag.

Another big difference between growing sweet potatoes and regular potatoes is heat.  Sweet potatoes like it hot, just like their cousins the annual morning glories and sweet potato vines. If you get evenings where the nights are going to get down into the low 40s, you might want to find a way to protect the plant and pot from the cool temps by constructing some sort of wind barrier around them.

Potato bags were designed to facilitate the “hilling” process required to grow potatoes, but that doesn’t mean you could not use them to grow sweet potatoes. Keep the well-draining soil deep enough to plant your slips with adequate room for development, and allow for the same spacing as you would in the ground: 12-18″ apart and 3 to 4 feet between rows.

Good luck with sweet potatoes. They are a wonderful addition to the vegetable garden and a nutritious addition to your meals. Karen

Plant Advice For Hot Weather

February 15th, 2010

fairy tale eggplantI am interested in tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, also Japanese eggplant, and lettuce, for a start.  Must be sure that the plants can tolerate our weather because while we have had an exceptionally cold and miserable winter, it will soon be over and then the hot weather will start. Last summer we had a lot of days of over 100 and I lost most of my plants.  Is there a best way to handle them when this occurs? Thanks for your help. Jean

Answer: For starters your USDA Hardiness Zones are 8a & 8b.  Spring: Jan. 15 – March 1; Fall: Oct. 1 – Dec. 1. This has been an unseasonable winter most everywhere so we all have to adjust slightly. Usually most “cool season” plants in your area can go in the ground late January thru March; your tomatoes, peppers and eggplant transplants should go out around mid-March. If the weather is still cold you might consider a cold-frame to begin the transition out. By then the days should be warming but there is still the chance for cooler nights when the transplants would need protection. You might also consider some of the Season Starter (Wall o’ Water protectors). I’ve used them here in the cold Midwest and they do help protect on those unexpected cold nights. Make sure your soil is enriched by adding lots of compost and some well-balanced garden fertilizer before you plant. If your soil is very compact, consider creating raised beds with well-amended soil. A proper growing medium and good watering practices are the best protection against most environmental changes.

Your cool season plants can be grown in temperatures that are 10-15 degrees cooler and can be grown spring and replanted in the fall. These would include: asparagus, artichoke, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip. These are the ones that would go out between Jan.15 and March 1 and then in October thru December. Many of the leaf crops can actually be seeded out when snow is still on the ground.

Beans, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers should be ready to go out by mid-March and most of these should be about ready for harvest by the time your really hot season begins. If you check each variety you will see that they are labeled with a “days to harvest” number.  The shorter this time is the less likely you are to have to deal with the extreme heat. There are also a few varieties of tomatoes that are labeled “heat tolerant,” such as our Arkansas Traveler, so you might consider that, as well. If it would turn hot, then the best thing to do is to make sure the plants stay well watered, often twice a day. You might want to consider a soaker hose and a drip irrigation system that is set up on a timer. That way if you have to be away, the plants don’t wilt and die. Another thing you might want to consider is creating a shade system. Shade cloth is generally used to protect greenhouses from extreme heat build-up but you could create a frame with bamboo or wooden stakes that could be used to shade the plants, something like an arbor with the shade cloth that would block out the hottest midday sun. You could also look at a row cover system that has hoops, but instead of the row cover cloth use the shade cloth that will allow air to escape.

By far the best protection is a good environment, which means well-composted soil and consistent and even watering.

Best of luck with your garden this year. I wish you a bountiful harvest. Karen

Beneficial Botanical Bling

February 10th, 2010

terra sorbOkay, so this “bling” doesn’t adorn your plants with sparkle and shine, but it does enable them to glow with vitality from minimal effort on your part. The kind of crystals we’re talking about work deep in the soil at the plant’s root level. They are actually made of a high-quality, long-lasting acrylamide copolymer gel that absorbs up to 200 times its weight in water. The beauty of it, is that the water crystals slowly release the water into the soil surrounding the plant roots, providing life-giving moisture during dry weather.

So often our weather is a famine or a feast when it comes to rainfall. Sometimes the ground becomes over-saturated only to dry out during extended rainless spells. Of course, you can spend hours watering your plants and trees but how do you know when you’ve watered enough…or too much? Most plants benefit from consistent moisture and that’s where Terra-Sorb water saving granules come to the rescue. These crystals are not a top dressing for established garden beds or trees but are best used when preparing the soil for planting. They are useful for both in-ground plantings and container planting. Simply add 1 Tbsp per gallon of soil for containers and 1 lb per 100 square feet in gardens. A little goes a long way so don’t add more than recommended or the soil will become quite spongy. Adding the crystals at a depth of 8 inches is best so they will not work their way to the surface, providing little benefit to the roots.

Don’t worry about having to replenish the crystals every year since they continue to work for three to four years. And when their work is done don’t worry about unhealthy agents lingering in the earth either. Terra-Sorb water saving granules/crystals are completely non-toxic. Unlike some sodium-based polymers that leave damaging salts behind, these crystals are potassium-based and break down into a healthy fertilizer.

Make the most of Mother Nature’s watering or your own watering efforts. Buy your new plants some botanical bling and even the divas of your garden will be less “high maintenance!”

How to Care for Euphorbia Plants

February 8th, 2010

Tiny TimLooking for info on how to manage and care for the Tasmanian Tiger Spurge. We discovered them last year and love them but want to know how to winterize, cut back, and prepare for the next growing season.  Any and all information would be greatly appreciated.  We have several in our perennial beds, so now would be the time to contact us.  We just cut some of them back, as they were looking a little not-too-Tasmanian, if you know what I mean.  Help would be appreciated. Thanks, Dave

Answer: This is a great plant. In general most of the Euphorbia Plants are pretty carefree, not needing any special treatment. Tasmanian Tiger was discovered in Tasmania and brought to the States in 1998. This Euphorbia is a Zone 6-9 plant that will prefer a hot and dry site and will tolerate a more sandy soil. It is deer resistant and can spread, creating a striking ground cover. It only needs to be cut back by about a third to prevent seeding out and it really prefers to not be transplanted. Take caution when cut, as it emits a milky sap that can be an irritant to some people. It’s a great plant when paired with other perennials, like salvias or dark-leaved Heucheras, which better tolerate sun.

Hope that helps you enjoy them even more. Karen

Starter Plant Question

February 2nd, 2010

starter plantIf all goes well, I would like to buy all my plants from you. Here is what I am looking for: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sun Master Tomato, and Red, Green, and Yellow Bell Peppers. If you can provide these for me, it would be great. I hate buying my starters from big box home stores. Their plants are the worst– they just don’t perform well. I have three 8 x 4 raised beds, as well as 50 x 50 yards of open garden. Last year was my first try at this, and it did not go well due to the starter plants. I mixed my own soil, so I know that I had the correct amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Iron. If you give also give me some tips on gardening that would be of great help. Thanks, Chris

Answer: We carry many varieties of broccolicauliflowersweet peppers, and tomatoes and while we don’t carry Sunmaster, there are several heat-tolerant tomato varieties included in our options.

Here are a few general garden tips to help:

Soil

  • Fertile, well drained soil is the best asset for your garden, so each planting season before you begin to add your plants supplement your soil with additional organic matter. This could be from your own compost pile or other well-composted manure or leaf mold.  Just work it into the soil. In addition, it helps to add a balanced fertilizer at the recommended rate.
  • Knowing the pH of your soil is important but also knowing what pH each plant prefers is even more important. Except for tomatoes, the plants you have listed prefer a pH rate around 6.0 – 7.0. Tomatoes prefer more on the acidic side between 5.0 -7.0 so you might want to add a soil acidifier if your soil is testing more alkaline.  Always check the recommended rate before applying. You will not be able to make a dramatic change in your soil’s pH in one season, but with your raised bed and mixed soil you should be about where you need to be.
  • Keep your garden area weed-free, as the weeds compete with your plants for nutrients from the soil and can reduce the plant growth and overall health. A great mulch option is to lay newspaper (not the coated color pages) down around the plants and in between the rows, and then put straw or mulch on top to keep it in place. This not only suppresses the weeds; it also keeps the roots cool and helps to hold in the moisture.

Water

  • Water can be tricky, depending on your location. Mulching will help, as will adding a drip irrigation system. They do not need to be fancy but getting the water right to the root system of the plants is the most efficient and effective method of watering. You can add timers to make it a little more automated.
  • In dry spells make sure plants receive at least an inch or more of water a week. Over-watering is as detrimental as under-watering, and each plant has specific needs. Do some research on what each one prefers. Plant those with similar requirements close together to help with watering chores.
  • Do not water in the late evening, as this can encourage mildews and other diseases. Early morning is always the best.
  • Plants get their oxygen from the soil and if it is constantly soggy they cannot take it in.

Plants and Pests

  • If you order plants from us we do everything we can to protect them and ensure they arrive safely.  You should unpack them as soon as possible and set them out in a sheltered location for a few days to acclimate to your environment and conditions, making sure they stay evenly moist.
  • All plants have different maturity dates (the time from blossom to harvest). Make sure you keep a list of these so you will know when you can begin harvesting. Also some shorter-seasoned plants can have a second planting, so you’ll want to leave some space to add these in.
  • About spacing, don’t over-crowd. This can lead to pest and disease problems. It’s really very easy to think those tiny seedlings look lost in the big garden but remember, they do get bigger, and some very big. Check the labeling for plant spacing suggestions so you’ll get the fruits of your labor.
  • If your tomatoes are indeterminate varieties, be sure to have a plan for support of them. These are the ones that keep on growing and growing…
  • Buy disease- and pest-resistant varieties. All garden plants are susceptible to various pests and problems. Read up on what to watch for with each variety.
  • Get a reference book on “good bugs / bad bugs” and don’t kill the ones working for you. You might want to also do some research on companion planting as an organic method of pest control.
  • Plants are like people. They have distinct likes and dislikes, so getting to know what each one likes will ensure the best harvest.
  • At the end of the season, add disease-free plant material to your compost bin so you recycle it next spring right back into your garden. If you used newspaper and mulch, these can be turned into the beds along with chopped-up leaves for added organic matter.

These should get you started.  Remember your local food pantry for any extra harvest you cannot use!  Most are very excited to receive such gifts.

Happy Gardening! Karen

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