Archive for March, 2011

Popeye Knew a Good Thing

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Spinach plants growing in the gardenThe cartoon sailor downed a can of spinach any time he needed quick energy, but that habit wasn't just for comic relief.  Spinach has the healthy benefits of other green leafy vegetables, and it's one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods around. It's packed with vitamins K, C, B2 and E, and minerals, including calcium and iron.

Spinach plants grow best in well-draining, sandy loam and prefers a neutral to slightly alkaline soil.  Mix plenty of organic matter into the soil before planting.  Spinach loves water, so make sure not to let your plants dry out too much between watering. When the plants are a few inches tall, apply an application of nitrogen, then side dress with a fish emulsion a couple of times through the growing season.

Spinach leaves can bruise easily, so it's best to harvest by cutting leaves with a sharp knife.  For fresh spinach consumption, choose young leaves.  They're excellent served raw in tossed salads, or wilted with hot bacon-vinegar dressing.  Raw spinach can also be used as an edible garnish layer underneath a hot entrée or side dish. Spinach can be harvested as soon as the tender young leaves are a couple inches long, up to full-size at 6 to 8 inches in length. This plant can be harvested a few leaves at a time, or the entire top can be cut off about an inch above the crown, and it will keep producing new growth.

Cooking spinach is fast and easy.  It can be stir-fried, steamed in the microwave or boiled on the stovetop and served plain, with butter, with a splash of vinegar, or with a savory cream sauce. Spinach has a robust flavor that is more pronounced when cooked, and it can be enhance by garlic, cardamom, and smoky flavors. Leaves don't need to be cut before cooking as they wilt and cook down in size dramatically, so plan accordingly to ensure each diner has a full portion size.

Rinse spinach leaves thoroughly just before preparing to clean off all the sand that gets trapped in the curls of the leaves.  Spinach will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week but it's best to not wash it beforehand.  Traditional methods of canning and freezing apply for all varieties of spinach.  However, the most nutrient benefit comes from eating the leaves raw and uncooked.

The Why and How of Organic Vegetable Seeds

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

organic vegetable seeds, vegetable seeds, vegetable seed, organic seed, organic seedsMany of our customers have asked, Why buy organic vegetable seeds when I grow my vegetables organically; isn't regular seed just as good?

The answer is No, if you are growing your garden organically, it is best to start with organically produced vegetable seeds.

Here's why:

  • Pesticides and Fungicides are used on conventional seed crops. Seed production is not governed by the same controls that apply to the food supply. Most seed crops take longer to mature than food crops do as the plant must go through a complete life cycle in order to produce those seeds. What this means is this: as there is more opportunity for pests and diseases to destroy a seed crop, seed crop farmers rely heavily on the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals in order to control the pests and diseases during conventional seed production. The residue from these chemicals can then be passed along to your family and into the environment.
  • Organic seeds are more suited to being grown organically. Organic vegetable seed, produced without the synthetic pesticides and fungicides, produces plants that are more adapted to organic growing conditions, which means they will grow better than regular seeds under organic growing conditions. Doesn't that make absolutely perfect sense? Doesn't it also make sense that plants produced from commercial seeds will be more susceptible to pests and diseases as they develop a resistance to the most commonly used commercial applications? Organic plants are basically forced to develop stronger root systems in order to seek out the dispersed nutrients in the soil so that they can build their own more natural defenses, which are then passed along, through the genetics of the plant, to the seeds it produces.
  • Supply and demand govern the future availability of organic vegetable seeds. The increased demand for organic vegetable seeds will lead to an overall increase in the production of organic seed, which also means a much bigger selection, and eventually, less cost associated with the production of that seed.

When Organic food consumption first became popular, most people were buying locally from farmers or back yard gardeners that they knew were growing without commercial fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides; but the demand for organic vegetables increased, and along with it, the need for a process by which the consumer, you, could be sure that you were actually eating organically produced foods. Enter the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP), which certifies the certifiers, who work as an extension of the federal government in accordance with a strict set of guidelines that determines exactly what constitutes organic farming. These certification specialists ensure that every single regulation, guideline and rule is adhered to by anyone claiming to produce or grow organic food or produce organic seeds. There are more than 312 product standards for fruits, vegetables and specialty products, which includes organic vegetable seeds.

The consumer brochure for the USDA National Organics Program (NOP) states: Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,' a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

In short, every single process is monitored and inspected when organic vegetable seeds are coming to market. There are very hefty fines for claiming that your product is organic when it is not, so you can feel assured that when it says organic, it really is organic.

Now, the choice is yours. Yes, cheaper, regular seeds will most likely grow in your organic garden; but with the current evidence, for the best results and for the health and well-being of your family and the environment, if you choose to grow organically, you should start with organic vegetable seeds.

Plant Nutrient Chart

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Where can I find a chart that will tell me what nutrients various varieties of plants like?

Frank H.

Answer: Depending on what plants you are looking for, some of this information is possibly available through your local county extension office or their website.

Common Macronutrients most plants require are: calcium, nitrogen, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. Micronutrients would be: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. The levels required would vary with each plant and where it is planted. There are various charts that list deficiency symptoms available online, usually through an extension office.

Happy growing,


Cool Pea Plants

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

pea plant, pea plants, growing peas, garden peas, snap peas

The above title has a double reference:  pea plants are both cool to grow and they prefer cool weather. Plant peas in the early spring and again in time for a second harvest before fall frost sets in. You can increase your harvest even further by planting heat-tolerant varieties during the hottest days of summer.

If you've never grown peas, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how easily you can grow a plentiful crop of these wonderful pods. Simply provide your pea plants rich, well-draining soil, and a garden trellis netting to climb on (depending upon the growth habit of the varieties you choose), adequate moisture, and at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and must have good drainage to prevent root rot, one of the most common errors novices make when growing peas.

Standard, or bush-type garden pea plants, such as our Lincoln Pea plant, produce 4 to 5-inch pods containing 6 to 10 peas each. The pea pods should be harvested when the pods are plump, well-rounded and you can feel the mature peas inside with just a light squeeze. In many instances you'll be able to see the bump that each individual pea makes. When ripe, the pod should easily release from the vine, with just a light pull, right where the crown meets the stem.  As does the Lincoln Pea plant, most varieties of traditional English peas will mature within 60 to 70 days. The Lincoln pea plant is particularly resistant to heat and humidity and has superior resistance to wilt. Novice gardeners will even have bragging rights when growing this one!

Bush- or vine-type garden or English peas should be removed from their protective pods within just a few days of being picked so they retain their moisture and sweet flavor. They are a crunchy and satisfying raw snack, especially when chilled, and can be added to summer salads of all kinds; you can also boil, steam or microwave them as you please. Some gardeners love the flavor of the pea tops, or tips, the vine ends, leaves and tendrils and will add them raw to salads or use them in their favorite stir-fry recipes. If not using your peas immediately, they should be canned, frozen or otherwise processed.

Snap peas are similar to a Chinese pea pod, and are meant to be eaten in their entirety, the peas inside being smaller and the pods being tenderer. Stringless varieties, such as the Sugar Sprint, are the most succulent. Snap peas are delicious raw when eaten right out of the garden or when chilled for a handy finger snack or as an addition to cold salads. They can be cooked immediately or stored for up to a week in the refrigerator. They work well in stir fry dishes, though their mild, sweet flavor also lends itself well to pickling, canning or freezing, as well. They mature fully at around 60 days, though you can also harvest these when babies. Remove any crown or stem still attached to the pod before eating. Sugar Sprint will be happy on the vine for longer periods of time than many pea varieties and is resistant to powdery mildew and pea enation mosaic virus (pemv).

Peas can be planted from seed, directly into the garden, or you can transplant well-established pea seedlings. Small garden spaces or container gardens may determine whether you will grow a bush-type or vining pea plant. Also take into consideration the number of days to maturity, your climate, disease resistance and how you intend to prepare or preserve your pea harvest. Peas, since they are a cool weather vegetable, prefer to be one of the first vegetables in the ground in the spring, making them one of the first to be harvested in early summer.

Most varieties of pea seeds require a soil temperature of at least 45°F to germinate and should be sown about 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep. The mature width of the pea variety you grow will determine how far apart to thin the seedlings as you choose the strongest and discard the weakest (you can add these to your compost bin, feed your chickens, or even offer them to pet rabbits). Thin your pea plants once the second set of leaves is well grown. The tallest varieties will require a plant support system for their vining habit, which should be put in place as you thin your seedlings. For their nutrient needs, apply an application of fish emulsion when the plants reach 6 inches tall and then again after the first harvest.

Pea seedling plants ordered from us will ship at the ideal time for transplanting in your area. (Click here for our spring shipping schedule.) When you receive your pea plants, give them a good drink, if needed, and start acclimating them to your climate, making sure the pots are not sitting in water. The first day or two you'll leave them outdoors, in a semi-shaded and somewhat protected place, moving them into more direct sunlight and a less protected area every couple of days until you transplant them. This will enable them to recover a bit from the rigors of shipment. Your pea plant seedlings should be in the ground within a week; we have grown them long enough to ensure a well-developed and healthy root system prior to shipment. And we guarantee the health of your seedlings upon arrival. If there are any issues with the plants, we need to be notified within the first 10 days.

We recommend you alternate the rows in which you grow your pea plants each season, preventing the decline of any one nutrient necessary for healthy growth. We also suggest you remove the dying pea plant stems and vines, as well as all other garden refuse, at the end of the growing season. This prevents overwintering bugs from taking up residence and will help to ensure a disease free garden for next year.

Flowers for Acidic, Clay Soil

Monday, March 28th, 2011

amethyst dreamI need to get some vibrant planting in for a late May showing in the garden. The soil is clay and acidic. My preferred shades are white and dark purples/blues. Any ideas would be very welcome.

Best, Anne H.

Answer: It appears you live in the UK, so I am going to assume your weather is a little more temperate than on this side of the pond.

You do not mention if you are looking for full sun (at least six hours) or shade, so please check the sun requirements for the suggested plants.

One of my favorite plants is Bougainvillea, which is available in several vibrant colors. It is considered a tropical, so it would need cold weather protection. There are several other options in our Flowering Plants category. Check out our Annuals: Calibrachoa, Osteospermum, Lophospermum, Bacopa, and Lobelia. In the Perennial section there are lots of options like: Agastache, Baptisia, Centaurea, Delphinium, Digitalis, Eupatorium, Echinacea, Liatris, Lupine, Nepeta, Penstemon, Perovskia, Phlox, Salvia, Geranium, and Veronica all have varieties in your color options.

Happy gardening,


The Green Bean Scene

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Green Bean PlantsGreen beans are one of a garden's best bets. Try planting a few different varieties of beans, as each has a distinctive flavor and there’s a range of colors, shapes and sizes. Green beans, also referred to as string or snap or wax beans, are hearty producers, are resistant to most plant diseases and pests, and the entire edible bean pods are incredibly easy to cook or preserve for winter feasts.

Green bean plants grow in either pole or bush formation, and those descriptions aren't just about the plant shape.  Pole plants produce beans throughout the growing season on a vine that continues reaching taller, and bush beans grow on a compact plant but the beans mature all at once. For those who plan to can their green beans, bush varieties are the most convenient.

Pole varieties, like Stringless Blue Lake S-7 will produce ample deep green beans throughout the summer up until frost, on 6- to 8-foot-tall plants.  They'll need a tall teepee, stake or trellis-type support to provide the best harvest.  Pick ripe beans often to keep the plant producing throughout the season.

The Top Crop and Jade Green varieties are bush plants that grow to 24 inches tall. Both are popular for freezing and canning.

With varied size, taste and texture qualities among different varieties of green beans, you can choose your plants based on your desired preparation or storage, and the flavor you seek.  String beans are best harvested at their mature length, but just before the seeds inside can be felt through the pod.

When it's time to harvest your beans, they should break off the vine without needing to be cut off.  Holding the entire green bean in your hand, give it a gentle tug in the opposite direction of its growth.  It should easily snap right off the plant.  It's best to pick beans on dry days, to avoid mold formation on the pods. Beans can be stored unwashed in a plastic container or bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Watch our video on how to pick green beans.

Pickled green beans hold their crisp texture and they can be preserved in a variety of seasonings that meld well with their mild flavor.  String beans also are great candidates for traditional canning methods, such as those explained in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. Again, their flavor pairs well with salty, spicy, acidic or sweet canning ingredients.

For freezing fresh-picked green beans, blanch them in boiling water, then rinse in cold water, dry them and immediately package in freezer containers to preserve their bright color and to prevent freezer burn.

Fresh-cooked green beans can be eaten completely plain or with a light coating of butter, but more adventurous cooks like to add more interesting flavors and textures like almond slivers, sesame oil and black sesame seeds, garlic, vinegar, or tomato sauces.  Any way you prepare them, green beans are packed with great nutrients, making them a guilt-free pleasure.

A Rind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: The GHS Scoop on Composting

Friday, March 11th, 2011

How to turn kitchen scraps into compostComposting is a great way to turn your worthless kitchen scraps and yard debris into a valuable soil amendment, and it's also great for the environment. Consider, for example, the composting program in operation at the U.S. House of Representatives: the 495 members of the House, plus their staff, toss compostable material into receptacles that are then hauled off, turned into fertilizer, and returned to Capitol Hill to fertilize the Capitol gardens. As of last November, more than 1,000 tons of refuse had been kept out of landfills and put to good use.

Indeed, according to the EPA, 26% of municipal solid waste is stuff that could have been turned into fertilizer, had it been composted. In this newsletter, we'll give beginners some advice on getting started composting, and offer hardcore composters some hot tips. In fact, we'll start right now with this bit of folk wisdom: A good compost pile should get hot enough to poach an egg, but not so hot it would cook a lobster.

Types of Compost Systems

The simplest thing to do is to start a compost pile, and the best place to start it is on a partially sunny, well-drained, level spot. The next step up from that is to make a compost bin from some old pallets. If you're handy with lumber, you might try something more elaborate, like a fellow who posted a video on YouTube that had a compost tumbler made out of a fifty-five gallon metal drum. Or you can also buy a professionally designed composting tumbler.

What to Compost

Here's a list of things that you can compost:

Home garden compost tumbler

• Animal manure
• Cardboard rolls
• Clean paper
• Coffee grounds and filters
• Cotton and wool rags
• Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
• Eggshells
• Fireplace ashes
• Fruits and vegetables
• Grass clippings
• Hair and fur
• Hay and straw
• Houseplants
• Leaves
• Nut shells
• Shredded newspaper
• Tea bags
• Wood chips and sawdust
• Yard trimmings

What Not to Compost

There is a bit of confusion about this because certain things can be composted, but will generate bad smells and attract rodents and other critters. For these reasons, we come down on the side of those who recommend you keep dairy products out of your compost, along with fats, grease, lards, oils, and any bone and scraps from meat or fish.  Eggshells, however, are an exception: they have no negative impact and will add some much-needed calcium to the mix.

To avoid chemical contamination, don't add yard trimmings treated with pesticides, or any coal or charcoal ash. And to keep from propagating plant disease, keep any disease-ridden plants out of your compost, along with any leaves or twigs from black walnut trees. Also, don't add any baby or pet waste to your compost.

You might be surprised to learn though, that it is possible to turn your pet waste into compost via worms. Instructions to make this kind of composter may be found at, or you can buy a professionally designed unit such as the Pet Waste Composter and Worm Farm. Not for everyone, but if you want free fertilizer for your ornamental plants, a handy place to dispose of pet waste, and a ready supply of fishing worms, this kind of composting might be for you.

Compost Chores

Once you've got your compost system rolling, your compost will need air, sun, and water in order for the microorganisms to do their work of turning the compost into fertilizer.

Aeration is accomplished by some kind of mixing or turning of the compost on a regular basis. This is what's so great about tumbler compost units, but with a non-movable system you just use a pitchfork or other garden tool to stir up your compost every few days.

Compost should be moist but not wet. If your compost is dryer than a wrung-out sponge, spray some water into it and mix it around. But you don't want your compost to be soggy, because that will slow down the work of the microorganisms that are busy breaking it down into fertilizer.

Refining Your Technique: Balancing the Browns with the Greens

Once you've got the hang of basic composting, you might want to refine your technique by striking a balance between what are known as the  browns and the greens. Browns are dry and dead materials such as autumn leaves, straw, sawdust, wood chips, and cardboard. Greens are fresh and often green material such as weeds and leaves, as well as kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags.

Greens supply nitrogen while browns supply carbon. Greens provide moisture while browns provide bulk and fiber. The ideal ratio between soft greens and woody browns is two parts green to one part brown. Keep this in mind when throwing materials into your compost, and you'll get the quickest and best results.

Patience, Patience, Patience

As with other aspects of gardening, composting requires a certain amount of patience. You can't be in too much of a hurry to start using it. As someone once quipped, Compost is best aged a little like a fine wine. I mean, would you want to drink something that was made last Thursday? You'll know when your compost is ready to use when it becomes almost black and has a nice earthy smell.  This can take up to a year, but if you have a first-rate system and the right conditions, it might only take a couple of months.

Happy Composting from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

Cabbage: Not Just Another Brassica

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

head of cabbage, cabbage plant, cabbageCabbage is in the brassica family, meaning it's a relative of kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, but it's immensely popular because it's versatile in the kitchen, it's palatable, and it's attractive in the garden. Like all brassica plants, cabbage grows best in cooler temperatures.

Cabbage varieties grow loose-leaved or globe-shaped. Most cabbage fans are accustomed to the fully round globe-shaped heads, like grocery store varieties. Follow the ‘days to maturity' instructions for the varieties you grow, and you'll find cabbage to be a very dependable crop, both in ease of growing and reliable date to harvest.

Harvesting cabbage is a cinch and only requires patience and a sharp knife. Wait until the head reaches mature size, per the growing directions, and simply slice it right off the stalk, cutting straight across. In hotter climates, some varieties of spring cabbage can be planted in late fall for a spring harvest.  If you live in a climate with cool falls and non-freezing temps in the winter, you can get a full second crop after the first early fall harvest by following this simple tip: when your cabbage is ready to harvest, cut it off its stem just below the globe. Allow the stalk to remain in the ground, but use your sharp blade to cut a cross in the top of the stalk and it should regenerate four new plants!

Cabbage can be harvested for immediate consumption raw or cooked, or it can be stored in plastic in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks. It will keep well in a root cellar environment (dark and cool, buried in sawdust) for up to a couple months past harvest.

After cutting the globes off of their stalks, don't rinse if they're to be stored for later consumption. Leave the outer leaves intact. However, prior to preparing them for use raw or cooked, the tough, dark outer leaves should be removed. Never slice cabbage heads until they're ready for use in recipes.

Cabbage is a high-nutrient, high-fiber, and high-flavor vegetable and once cooked, it freezes well in stews and soups, and it preserves well in krauts. Raw, it's popular in Asian and Latin American salads.