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Archive for December 2010

Cukes

December 28th, 2010

young cucumber growing in the gardenBesides being a crunchy, flavorful salad ingredient, cucumbers are pickles-to-be. So what garden is complete without them?

Cukes grow on vining or bush-type plants; your garden space will determine which varieties have a growth habit that is best suited for your needs. The other factors to consider when choosing the types of cucumbers to grow are how you plan to consume the fruit, and what qualities you seek in the flavor. If you want crisp, fresh cucumbers all summer long, choose a variety with a slower time to harvest. If you plan to make pickles, choose a variety like the Homemade Pickles Cucumber Plant that is mature and ready to harvest in 45 days, and between 2 to 5 inches in length.

Cucumbers like the Dasher II produce copious fruits that are ripe for harvest at 10-12 inches in length, and starting at around 2 months of growth. Some varieties are less acidic and easier to digest.

While you are at it, radishes make great companions for cucumbers. Companion planting means putting compatible plants together to provide benefits to one or both. In the case of cukes, if radishes are planted nearby or interplanted throughout the cucumber bed, they will deter the pesky striped cucumber beetle. There is an entire book, called Carrots Love Tomatoes, that is dedicated to companion planting, to help you get the most out of your garden plants.

Cukes need a lot of moisture to grow and produce bountiful crops. The vining varieties require a trellis or stake support to allow the fruits to have space to grow. They mature best when allowed some shade underneath the plant’s leaves or from neighboring plants.

Harvest cucumbers when they reach their desired length and before they get too plump, which ensures sweeter fruit and it also keeps the plant producing more throughout the season. Also, never let cucumbers turn yellow, or they’ll develop a bitter or sour flavor and hard seeds and skin texture. The varieties you choose will have a recommended “days to maturity” rating that will tell you when to expect your first ripe fruits.

Wear gloves when harvesting cucumbers. They are covered with tiny prickly spines that can easily be removed with a gloved hand. To remove the fruits from the vine, simply hold the cucumber in one hand, and the stem in the other and snap off at the stem. If the fruit resists, pull the stem from the vine and keep it intact with the fruit.

The more you harvest, the more you encourage the plant to continue its production until the frost hits. Cukes like heat and generally aren’t very frost resistant.

plate full of garden grown cumumbersIf your cukes are ripening faster than you can eat them, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or, you can make cucumber salad by preserving them in a vinegar-based brine, and they’ll keep like that for a week or so, refrigerated. The main thing is to keep picking them as they ripen to encourage the vines to continue providing new fruits.

An easy, refreshing and nutritious cucumber salad can be made combining white vinegar, salt and sugar to taste, added to diced red bell peppers, onions and cukes. Allow flavors to marry overnight. Also, the skin contains many nutrients, so if your garden is organic, don’t peel and discard the best part of the cuke!

A Wintry Mix…of Year-End Thoughts

December 27th, 2010

Did you know snow is a great insulator that contains “thousands of tiny air pockets that hold the soil warmth around the plants it covers”? Our friends at the Virginia Cooperative Extension explain that the insulation provided by snow provides “warmth and wind protection to the overwintering spinach, pansies, and multitude of perennials that we had not yet mulched around this time that we don’t even have to apply.”

birdhouse in winterWhen you add on the striking beauty of snow, especially when combined with a birdhouse or two to attract cardinals and other birds that look great against a white background, you might just feel a flurry of gratitude when contemplating the white stuff that can be so much fun, and an extra gift when its abundance results in a day off from work or school.

Meanwhile, inside your home your houseplants will thrive if you give them the right winter care. Most important is to water them only when their soil is dry to the touch. It’s also a good idea to dust or wipe off your plants to maximize their light absorption. Besides, they’ll look nicer when you have your New Year’s guests over.

Talking about New Year’s guests, remember that some of the plants you might now have inside need to be kept away from small children and pets. These include Amaryllis, Jerusalem cherry, and Poinsettia. Hang that Mistletoe up high also; it might be fun to smooch under, but you definitely don’t want anyone nibbling on it. For a complete list of toxic house plants, check out Common House Plants Poisonous to People and Pets.

The quiet period between Christmas and New Year is a good time to take stock of your garden as well as your life.  As you make your New Year’s resolutions and think about the year to come, don’t forget your garden. As we’ve said before, nothing dispels the winter doldrums faster than planning one’s spring garden. And you don’t even have to wait to order vegetable plants, as well as strawberry and watermelon plants: we’re already taking preorders and when the plants become available in the spring, yours will be among the first orders to go out.

asparagus plantThis month we’re featuring two of the most popular varieties of asparagus: Jersey Supreme and Jersey Knight. These male hybrids each produce green spears with purple bracts. The Supreme emerges a week later than the Knight but offers a greater yield. Both varieties will do well in any hardiness zone, but the Knight might do a bit better in warmer climates.

We ship our asparagus plants in groups of twenty, enough for a good-sized patch. Because the plants are already a year old, the time you have to wait before your first harvest will be that much shorter. Asparagus is one of the most long-lived perennial vegetables, so you can expect quite a return on your investment: once your patch starts producing, you’ll be able to enjoy home grown asparagus for the next fifteen years! And nothing can beat the taste of home grown asparagus, especially when it’s cut and cooked the same day.

Acclaimed novelist Barbara Kingsolver talks about the superiority of fresh asparagus in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver, who started out as a science writer, explains, “The moment the asparagus neck goes under the knife, an internal starting gun fires “Go!” and it begins to decompose, metabolizing its own sugars and trying—because it knows no other plan—to keep growing. It’s best eaten the day it is cut, period…. When transported, even as refrigerated cargo…the sweetness goes starchy.”

Kingsolver includes an intriguing recipe in her book: Asparagus Morel Bread Pudding. No, I’d never heard of this dish before either—I’d even forgotten that a morel is a kind of mushroom. But Kingsolver assures us that “two things that are impossible to get tired of are asparagus and morels,” apparently even when combined in a pudding. We invite you to try the recipe yourself once the weather warms up and you have fresh asparagus to harvest. Let us know how it turns out.

new year clockAs we bid farewell to 2010, we’d like to wish you a very Happy New Year. We hope 2011 will be your best year ever, and we look forward to serving you in the months to come.

Broccoli, This Bud’s For You

December 20th, 2010

How to grow tasty broccoliDid you know that when you eat broccoli you are actually eating flowers? As children, many of us had broccoli introduced to us as “little trees,” but actually they are little flower buds bursting with flavor and nutrition. Broccoli has been cultivated for hundreds of years, originally in Turkey, making its way across Europe and finally showing up in Thomas Jefferson’s garden in 18th century America. It wasn’t until the 1930′s, however, that Americans learned to really enjoy broccoli, thanks to a pair of Italian brothers, Stephano and Andrea D’Arrigo, who brought their broccoli seeds and love of the vegetable to California in the 1920′s.

Broccoli is delicious served raw in salads and, of course, its edible stems come in handy when dipping them in veggie dips and dressings. It is equally at home, cooked and served with a rich hollandaise or cheese sauce, stir-fried with other vegetables or meats, baked in casseroles, simmered in soups, or simply steamed in all its bare green beauty.

Isn’t it great when such a delicious and versatile food is also so good for our health, as well? The National Cancer Institute suggests that broccoli may be very helpful in the prevention of some forms of cancer. Its beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber, calcium and phytochemicals are thought to enhance enzymes that help detoxify the body, helping to not only prevent cancer, but heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

All vegetables are at their best when harvested straight from the garden and when it’s your own home garden, well, you just can’t get any fresher than that. Broccoli is a cool weather crop and grows best in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. Typically, you can have a spring and fall harvest. (Although in regions where the temperature doesn’t dip below the 40′s, you can harvest broccoli all winter long.)

For the spring harvest, plant seedlings in well-drained soil, with plenty of calcium and boron, about a month before the last expected frost. They should be planted in full sun although they can handle a little shade part of the day. Plant the seedlings just a bit deeper in the soil than they were in their containers and about 18 inches apart to garner the largest heads. Rows should be about 12 inches apart. In 40 to 90 days, harvest the center buds including about 5 inches of the center stalk. Always harvest while the buds are tight and have not opened revealing their bright yellow flowers. (Those may be pretty, but they aren’t tasty!) Side sprouts can be harvested for several more weeks. For a fall/winter harvest, plant the seedlings 90 days before the first expected frost of the season. You can even grow broccoli in containers, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep, along with other plants such as pretty pink petunias and Dusty Miller to accent the colors of the vegetable.

So whether you call them little trees or edible flowers, broccoli plants fit the bill as attractive plants that provide important nutrition and delicious flavor.

Time to Plan What to Plant

December 13th, 2010

Just as winter is blanketing most of the U.S. under freezing temperatures and lots of white stuff, it’s time to start planning your spring plantings. Garden Harvest Supply sells live annual plants for gardens and landscape beds, and the popular varieties sell out quickly. All annual plants are now available for purchase and will ship according to the spring shipping schedule found on the site.

Consider the advantages to buying your annual plants now:  First, you’re assured of getting the plants you want, before they’re sold out. Second, you can take time to plan the most personal and beautiful outdoor spaces while you’ve got lots of indoor time. And third, winter will seem a lot more tolerable when you know you have fresh live plants coming within only a few months, and they’ll already be ordered and lined up for shipment to you.

There are several advantages to annuals (they only live for one season in most zones) over perennials (they come back each year). Annual flowers are generally more profuse bloomers, and the blooms can last from frost to frost, from early spring through late fall. The colors and bloom varieties of annual flowers is beyond imagination. And there is a variety for every growing condition, soil, water, and available sunlight.

Annuals can be planted in the ground or in containers, and there are countless varieties that are popular for both purposes. Flowering annuals can brighten up even the dreariest areas of your landscape, and can make the most modest home look like a showplace, with only a minimum of planning and care.

For mixed plantings in container gardens, consider tall plants in the center, like Dracaena Spikes and then all around, plant either monochrome or assorted colors of flowers. Consider mixing sizes of blooms, too, like alternating brilliant Petunias, including the Easy Wave trailing varieties, with tiny white or pastel bacopa. For even more drama, at the outside edge of the planter, suspend Dichondra or Vinca vines that will drape down the sides in beautiful cascades.

You can choose to keep your plantings all green and foliage only, or all flowers, too. But most savvy annuals fans like to combine the two for the most showy walkways, landscape beds and containers.

If you like your foliage to have some wow factor, consider some bright fuscia- or neon lime-hued Alternathera. No flower color necessary with these striking beauties.

For a huge tropical plant, Colocasia, or Elephant Ear, has leaves that will grow as big as, you guessed it, an actual elephant ear. It’s a plant that will grow surprisingly huge in a container or in the ground, and the modest bulb can be dug up and overwintered in a garage or root cellar above 40 degrees to bloom again each warm season.

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