Archive for February, 2010

Vegetables for Raised Beds

Saturday, 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

White Butterflies Destroying My Cabbage Plants

Monday, 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

Plant Advice For Hot Weather

Monday, 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

How to Care for Euphorbia Plants

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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:


  • 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 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