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Archive for January 2011

Pick A Peck of Pickles

January 28th, 2011

sliced cucumbersCucumbers are one of the garden's instant foods. They can be consumed skin and all, so they need little to no prep before serving.  Ready to eat fresh-picked, they can also keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks after being harvested. Pick cucumbers in the morning before the heat of the midday sun hits them.

Cucumber plants grow best and most plentifully when the fruits are removed from the vines as soon as they reach mature length.  Never allow cucumbers to remain on the plant once they start yellowing, as they'll become bitterand the ripe cukes will also keep the plant from generating and nurturing new fruits.

Different types of cukes require different lengths of time to maturity, so consider your climate and growing conditions when choosing the varieties you'll grow.  Also, decide whether you want a bush or vining growth habit before you select your plant type.

Other factors to consider when choosing varieties for your garden:  Some cukes have sweeter, thinner and more delicate skins.  Others are known for their unique disease resistance or color or length of fruit.  The shortest variety, Homemade Pickles are exceptionally crisp and are excellent choices for pickling. They're also delicious eaten raw.

Burpless varieties have a skin and seeds that are slightly less bitter and are more easily digestible.  Sweet Slice is another full-size fruit with sweeter skin. If your cukes are grown for pickling, factor that into your choice of varieties to plant.

When cucumbers are ready to be picked, leave a little of the vine attached to the end. Cut cukes off the stem with a sharp knife or scissors.  Since the leaves, vines and the cukes themselves are covered with tiny thorns or spikes, make sure to wear garden gloves before handling.  Generally, you can sweep your gloved hand down the length of the fruit to remove the tiny thorns.  Or, use a soft vegetable scrub brush under running water. Always make sure the skins are smooth before serving.

Pickling cucumbers is a terrific way to provide crispy snacks and condiments long past harvest time. Pickles will keep for days or up to many months, depending on the method used for brining, preserving, or canning.  There are abundant easy recipes for making pickles, whether crisp, lightly dilled, sandwich sweet slices, or fermented.

For serving fresh, cucumbers can be eaten with skin on or peeled.  The seeds can be left intact or scooped out with a tablespoon run down the center of a sliced fruit. They can be sliced thin for use on salads, or left in long spears for vegetable trays. Cukes can be turned into quick pickled salads with vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and diced onion and red bell pepper.  Any way you slice them, they're crisp, crunchy, and nutritious.

Cauliflower Whys and Hows

January 25th, 2011

A cauliflower plant growing in the gardenCauliflower is in the brassica family, making it a cool-weather grower. It will bolt in the heat (meaning it will begin to produce seed and cease to be at peak flavor). The best time to grow cauliflower in most regions is in late summer for a cool fall harvest. Most varieties will tolerate some frostand will actually develop sweeter flavor if allowed some frost exposure just before harvestbut do best in long, sunny and cool growing conditions.

Cauliflower can be started from seed or planted into the garden as a transplant. Seeds should be started around 10 weeeks before our average last frost date. Transplants can be placed in the garden about 4 weeks before your frost date.

Some cauliflower requires blanching to protect the edible flower, or curd, portion of the plant from sun. For cauliflower that requires blanching, it means tying a few of the large outer leaves over the top of the flower head as soon as it reaches about 3 inches across. Don't tie the leaves too tightly, as the goal isn't to smother the inner flower but to shade it, and allow plenty of air to circulate. Cauliflower will produce best with regular watering or rainfall.

Cauliflower harvest time is critical. If left in the garden past its prime, its flavor will become sharp and bitter and it will develop a tough, mealy texture. If harvested too early, the vegetable's mild, sweet flavor won't be fully developed, and the edible portions won't be full-size. Heads should be blanched, firm and compact. Harvest before the curds separate. Use a strong, sharp knife and cut the stalk well below the green leaves, and keep the leaves over the flower until the vegetable is going to be prepared. If stored in a cellar, it prefers no light and some humidity. If stored in the refrigerator, wrap in plastic wrap to last up to one week.

Eaten cooked, raw, or pickled, cauliflower's a snap to prepare. It blends well with spicy, tart or salty pickling brines, cheese sauces, and Asian stir-fry or curry flavors. It will keep for up to one month in a cool, dark root cellar, as long as the outer leaves and a portion of the stem are left intact with the curd. It can be frozen by traditional methods, and its flavor and texture are ideal for pickling.

It's important to rotate crops of all brassica plants each few years.

Pass the Peas, Please!

January 19th, 2011

green peas on a plateIf you haven't grown peas, you're going to be very surprised when you see how easily you can have a plentiful crop of these wonderful pods.  They are a cool-weather plant, so you can get two crops if you plant in the very early spring, and again in the late summer for a fall harvest.  Provide them a rich well-draining soil, a stake, trellis or netting to vine on (depending on the growth habit of the varieties you choose), and you'll have some sweet green pearls in no time!

Standard pea pods including the Progress 9, or the All-America Winner Mr. Big Pea Plant, or an heirloom like the Green Arrow, produce 4-inch pods containing 7 to 10 peas each. Those peas should be picked when the pods are plump and rounded, meaning the mature peas growing inside can be felt by light squeezing of the pod. They should easily pluck off the stems right at their crowns.  Most varieties will mature in 60 to 70 days.  Peas should be shelled from their protective pods within several days of being picked from the vines, so they retain their moisture and sweet flavor.  They are a crunchy and satisfying raw snack (eaten like peanuts), and are also suitable for cooking immediately, as well as for canning or freezing.

Snap peas are meant to be eaten in their entirety, pods and all.  Stringless varieties like the Sugar Daddy and Sugar Sprint are the most tender and effortless to prepare.  Snap peas are delicious raw as a snack, or as an addition to cold salads. They can be cooked immediately or stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.  Their flavor lends itself well to pickling, canning or freezing, as well.  They mature at around 60 days and should easily snap right off the vines.  Remove any crown or stem before eating.

Chinese pea pods have tiny peas inside flat, edible pods. They reach maturity around 60-70 days and when they're 3 to 4 inches in length and a deep, rich emerald green color. Mammoth Melting and Oregon Sugar Pod II have their own unique traits. Most fans of snow pea pods prefer to remove the tough string that runs down the spine before consuming.

Peas can be planted from seeds or young plants. Determine your space limitations, including the plant height, the days to maturity, your climate, disease resistance needed, and how you intend to prepare the harvested vegetables.  All of those factors should be considered before you choose which varieties to grow.  You can study the unique qualities of each pea plant on Garden Harvest Supply's website so you can have the most successful harvest.  And don't forget to have some pea plants or seeds ready for a fall harvest!

Most varieties of peas require spacing of 2 inches between seeds or plants, and they'll need to be thinned to around 30 inches. Taller-growing varieties will need a support system for their vining habit.  Some grow squat and bushy, reaching only 2 feet in height; others require tall trellises or netting allowing them to soar to 5 to 7 feet tall.

Snap peas with edible pods are usually ripe at slightly shorter lengths than peas without edible pods. Chinese pea pods can be picked from 2 to 4 inches long. Either variety can be eaten raw or blanched, chilled and served on vegetable trays, or stir-fried in Asian dishes.

Echinacea for Everybody!

January 13th, 2011

Pow Wow Wild Berry echinacea plantIf you don't have Echinacea planted in your flowerbeds yet, save some room in this spring's planting space.

Echinacea, commonly called coneflower, is a perennial herb that is widely believed, although unsubstantiated, to help alleviate upper respiratory illnesses and to prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold.  Its roots, leaves and flowers are used as an immune system booster. However, this article only focuses on the beauty of the flowers, and how no garden should be without at least a few varieties.

Want some drama in your landscape?  Pow Wow Wildberry Echinacea is such an intense hot pink color that you'd swear it had its own internal lighting.  The bright petals are notched at the outside edges, and the glowing pink is contrasted against the dark orange-burgundy cones at the center. The unusual Double Decker has pink petals flowing like a tutu below the cone, and then a spray of petals coming out of the top of the cone, as well! Another stunning pink variety is the Pink Poodle, which has yellow cones that increase in size to blend right into the petals, resembling a zinnia.

Flame Thrower echinacea plantFor a splash of yellow or orange, there are several varieties with vivid colors and varied petal and cone shapes.  Flame Thrower is a stunning daisy-like flower with intense fiery yellow-orange color. Echinacea also comes in different shades of creamy white, lilac to deep purple (the most common color), and rich eye-catching reds. Can you guess what color Tomato Soup Echinacea is? 

Secret Passion has a unique two-tone flower that combines a huge red pompom cone on top of a spray of pale pink petals. Most Echinacea has blooms with two or three contrasting colors, which make their blooms so distinctive.

Garden Harvest Supply has 24 varieties of Echinacea available in its 2011 collection of plants.  And since Echinacea comes back each year, it's a great value, and a perfect plant for those seeking abundant color and low-maintenance flowerbeds.

Planting Echinacea couldn't be simpler. Garden Harvest Supply ships Echinacea plants in 3-inch pots, so they're well established and ready to plant in the ground as soon as the shipment arrives, based on your Hardiness Zone.  Choose a spot with Secret Passion echinacea plantfertile, well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Don't overwater this herb. In most regions, this plant will bloom from mid-summer through late October. 

Echinacea grows up to three feet tall, so plan accordingly when you incorporate it into a landscape feature or flower garden. Because the flowers grow on sturdy stems, this lush bloomer is a great choice for cutting and using alone in a bud vase or in flower arrangements.

How to Grow Container Grown Strawberries

January 10th, 2011

Strawberries are so well-suited to container gardening that there are pots specifically designed for growing these vining wonders.  Strawberry pots are usually tall, with an opening at the top and several pocket openings down the sides.  Some gardeners prefer to just plant strawberries in the top and let the runners fill in the extra openings.  It's more common, however, to put starts in each opening to ensure a full, luscious planting.

As vining plants, strawberries are also happy in hanging planter baskets.  The key is to keep them evenly moist throughout their productive months.  Hanging pots, because they're not protected from the elements, tend to dry out more quickly than planters on the ground.  The advantages to hanging pots are that they don't take up space on the ground, and they're also more resistant to pests such as aphids and spider mites.

There are abundant varieties of strawberries to choose from, depending on your climate and growing conditions, and what you plan to do with the fruitwhether you want an extended season for fresh-picked berries to eat right from the vine, or if you plan to can, freeze, or preserve them another way.  So, you'll first need to determine which type best suits your needs, among June-bearing, everbearing, or day neutral categories.

June-bearing varieties are just that:  they bear most of their fruit in June.  Some strawberry varieties will produce fruit earlier and some later, and everbearing varieties will provide a spring and a fall harvest.

Spring strawberry plants like the Cavendish or Earliglow varieties, are meant to be planted in the spring but should not be permitted to produce fruit the first year. They need to be pinched or cut back to force the roots and crowns to mature and provide a much heartier harvest the second year.

Fall Strawberry plants, are meant to be planted in the fall for harvesting the following spring/summeror their first season of produce.  Fall plants include Chandler and Sweet Charlie.  Almost all varieties of strawberries will be productive for three to five years, if properly nurtured.

Determine a spot for your container that will get at least 6 full hours of sun each day.  Also, strawberries require a pH between 5.3 and 6.5.  Use a good controlled release fertilizer once a month, and then a little more often during flowering and throughout the fruit-bearing season.  Strawberries will produce profuse blooms if you use a high phosphorous fertilizer.

If you don't have a spot for a strawberry pot, or you prefer to plant in the ground, the Pyramid Space Saver Garden with Built-in Sprinkler provides a tiered bed that is contained, but can be planted anywhere there is space and ample sunlight.

Garden Harvest Supply offers a wide selection of strawberry plants for sale.

Here's the Dirt:

January 6th, 2011

Composting is nature's way of turning waste into black gold.  The resulting compost is a rich and fertile soil amendment that will make a garden sing.  The best part?  It's FREE!

Composting can be sophisticated and large-scale (for farmers or commercial growers) or it can be simple and small, for home gardeners or landscape purists. If you're a first-timer, you need an area dedicated to a compost pile, or a homemade or commercially designed compost bin. Since your kitchen vegetable waste is going to be added to the compost on a regular basis, you'll want it within easy walking distance from your house.

Compost needs equal parts green and brown matter.  Green includes nitrogen-rich materials such as fruit and vegetable cores and peelings, corn husks and cobs, nuts and their shells, and grass clippings.  Brown includes dry, carbon-rich hay, fallen leaves, and small twigs. Air and water are the only other necessary ingredients. Never add animal products like milk, eggs or meat scraps, as they'll rot and smell.  Compost should not have any odor.

As you add to your compost, the organisms, bacteria, worms and insects continually break down and bio-degrade everything until it all turns to a dark and nutrient-filled natural fertilizer. The vitamins and minerals that were in the edible produce scraps now are part of this soil amender. 

Turning the compost regularly with a pitchfork or tumbling inside a container will aerate it and cause everything to break down quickly.  The sun's heat and the chemical reactions taking place will kill off many undesirable ingredients but you should never add diseased plants or weeds to your compost, to ensure that those negatives don't accidentally pass on to your next generation of produce.

Generously mix your compost into your garden's soil in the spring before you plant, for the most lush and healthy produce possible.

What’s Bugging You?

January 4th, 2011

Insects fall in two categories: the kind that ruin an otherwise great picnic, and the kind that eat those pests!

If you garden, you likely already know that beneficial insects can help tame the population of the ones that eat plant leaves and produce.  It's easy to draw good insects into your garden with the right plants, and it's less toxic than using pesticides that don't distinguish between the harmful and the beneficial creatures.

Wanna reduce the population of aphids mites in your garden?  Attract lacewings by planting the annual herb Dill-fernleaf among your other vegetation.  Dill is tall and airy and doesn't block sunlight, so it can be planted anywhere in the garden. The lovely lacewings will feast on small insects and their eggs. The bonus is you have delicious dill leaf to use in recipes all summer long!

Cilantro-Coriander is an herb that attracts ladybugs, popular for eating undesirable insects and eggs when they're young.  This short herb is best planted at the outside edge of the garden, so the aromatic leaves (cilantro) may be clipped continually throughout the growing season.  The seeds (coriander) can be dried at the end of the summer and are a popular seasoning spice.

Parsley-Triple Curled is another short herb, best planted at the edge of the garden so leaves can regularly be clipped.  Parsley attracts tachinid flies and hoverflies that feed on aphids and mealybugs, among other damaging pests.

Parasitic mini-wasps destroy a variety of nuisance insects by implanting their eggs inside the host.  The eggs feed on the host and eventually kill it.  Invite these beneficial guests to your garden by planting Dill-Fernleaf, Parsley-Triple Curled and Cilantro-Coriander throughout your plot.

Lavender-English is not only a fragrant and beautiful annual, its delicate purple flowers attract parasitic mini-wasps and hoverflies.  Lavender grows in bushy clumps and should be planted at the outside edge of the vegetable garden, where it can add aesthetic interest, as well as lure the most beneficial insects.  At the end of the season, clip stems and flower buds for drying and using in sachets and potpourris.  True Lavender fans use the leaves and flowers to make essential oils for  flavoring exotic ice cream and candy treats.

Perennial herbs Mint-Spearmint and Speedwell (Veronica) have many medicinal and dietary uses, and their tiny fragrant flowers draw big-eyed bugs, hoverflies and ladybugs.  Since perennials come back each year, you should choose their growing spot in or near the vegetable garden, but allow for their perpetual reappearance each spring.  Spearmint can be especially invasive and is best contained with plastic barriers to block the spread of the roots under the soil line.

Enjoy the beauty, fragrance and culinary uses of these herbs as you infuse them into your vegetable garden to provide the benefit of fewer pesky insects.

We've Taken the Safe Seed Pledge

January 3rd, 2011

Garden Harvest Supply Safe Seed PledgeGenetically modified (GMO) plants and crops are a concern for anyone who is conscious about what they eat, and how they hope to leave the planet for future generations. One of the biggest reasons for avoiding the use of GMO seeds and plants is their ability to spread into non-genetically modified crops by means of traveling in the wind, in flood or runoff waters, via animals eating and then depositing them in other areas, and inadvertent contamination by human handling.  Once they've cross-pollinated, it's too late to return the non-GMO plant's genes back to their original state.

Another concern is the reaction of GMO plants after consumption.  Will the altered plant DNA have any unexpected (and as yet not thoroughly studied) effects on human or animal health?

It's well-advised to continue doing research on these altered plants to ensure their safety to people, other plants, animals and the earth.  In the meantime, since GMO plants are already in widespread use, there are some concerned growers who are diligent in their use of non-GMO seeds and plants.

The Council for Responsible Genetics has created the Safe Seed Pledge (see below) for growers and sellers of plants and seeds. Garden Harvest Supply is among those who have taken the pledge and agree to sell only non-genetically modified seeds.  In addition, GHS vegetable seeds are certified organic, meaning the plant stock that produced the seeds was raised without artificial chemical fertilizers, growth hormones or synthetic pesticides.

GHS believes that growing and nurturing plants should start with the best seeds possible, for the most healthy and productive harvests.  In order to provide the best nutrition from garden produce, you have to start with seeds that contain nature's best qualities.  Therefore, Garden Harvest Supply is proud and happy to have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, and we hope all our friends and clients will enjoy the safest, healthiest and most nutritious produce possible from their gardens.

The Safe Seed Pledge:
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, We pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”

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