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Archive for March 2011

Popeye Knew a Good Thing

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. Side dress with a high-nitrogen fertilizer a couple of times through the growing season.

A cool weather plant, spinach will survive light frosts, but varieties like the New Zealand Heirloom plant are more tolerant of heat and will not bolt (produce seed) or wilt or turn yellow as the summer temps rise, as some varieties will. The New Zealand heirloom is a light green tender leaf variety with a delicate flavor.

Harvest spinach as soon as the tender young leaves are a couple inches long, up to full-size at 6 to 8 inches in length.  The New Zealand Heirloom variety will continue to produce new leaves throughout the summer, if you harvest continually.

The Bloomsdale Heirloom Spinach variety produces very deep, dark green leaves that are distinctly curly and have a rich, buttery flavor.  Bloomsdale is also slow to bolt but it prefers the cooler temps of spring and fall.  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.

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.

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

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

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,

Karen

Backyard Garden Questions

March 29th, 2011

Can you provide me info for a small backyard garden?  I have selected the plants that were reccommed for my size: 60 sq. ft. total. I have included an attachment of a layout from another vegetable grower. I am open to any rearrangement of layout, and if I can, I’d like to order all plants at one time for planting.  Thank you, Lawrence J.

Answer:

Lawrence,

This is a sizable space for a first garden. It looks like you have done some research but I would also like to make you aware of a couple of great options from our book section: Carrots Love Tomatoes, a resource book describing which plants are beneficial to each other, and The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, a great reference for common sense directions, tips and ideas about vegetable gardening.

I would recommend you do research on companion planting either with the Carrots Love Tomatoes title or online. There are some very good references on companion planting and space planning. One thing you will find in companion planting is that there are Foes and Friends of many vegetable plants. For instance, foes of tomatoes are broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, corn, and kale. However, tomatoes and peppers are good companions, as are spinach and most herbs.

In your plan you show a single row of corn. Since I don’t know what your expectations of crop yield are, I would suggest substituting another vegetable that would allow a greater harvest in the limited area, as you would only get a few ears per plant. Corn does better with a larger planting.

We have many varieties of each of the vegetable plants you’ve listed, with the plant and row spacing required by each variety. When choosing tomatoes check the plant details as to whether the plant is determinate or indeterminate, which will let you know how much it spreads and when you’d harvest the tomatoes, either all at once, or throughout the growing season. We also carry many of your vegetable choices in certified seed form, if you prefer to start them yourself.

Happy gardening!

Karen

Cool Pea Plants

March 29th, 2011

pea plant, pea plants, growing peas, garden peas, snap peasThe 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 2nd harvest before fall frost sets in. You can extend your harvest by planting heat-tolerant varieties in between.

Pea plants produce a few different types of peas.  The traditional English pea is shelled from a relatively tough, strong, inedible shell.  With Asian snow peas or sugar snap peas, the peas inside are smaller and the shells are tender and meant to be consumed. Either of the edible shell variety are delicious raw, or they can be cooked by any method used for snap green beans.  Shelled English peas are commonly cooked—but raw, they’re a healthy, crispy snack, as well.

If you like the flavor of peas, you might not know that parts of the pea plants themselves are edible, too! The tops, or pea tips, including the vine ends, leaves and tendrils, are delicious and have a similar flavor to peas. They’re excellent in soups and stir-fries.  Many Asian cooks consider pea tips a delicacy.

Growing peas is simple, if you learn a few basics about the nature of pea plants. They need very little maintenance if given the proper support, like a garden trellis netting, since they’re vining plants.  Choose a variety or varieties that will make the most efficient use of your growing space, since pea plants are available in both dwarf (short) and tall-growing habits.

They grow best in a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Make sure the roots of pea plants don’t get saturated by choosing well-draining soil, as root rot is a common problem for peas. Fertilize per the instructions for your particular types of peas, which usually means work a good natural fertilizer into the soil before planting time, then broadcast as pods are maturing.

Sow peas about an inch under the soil and two inches apart in rows, and plant each week or two, to have staggered production and the longest harvest season.  Although the newly planted pea seeds can tolerate frost, the growing plants cannot, so make sure to time “days to harvest” forward or backward for your particular varieties, depending on the season when you’re planting, to provide the pea plants the most possible cool-temperature days without frost.

As with all garden produce, it’s best to rotate your pea plants each year, meaning alternate where you plant them.

When it’s time to pick your pea pods, simply snap them right off of the vine.  Then, the peas can be shelled and eaten fresh, or frozen, canned or dried for later consumption.  The edible pod varieties are best eaten fresh, to capture their crisp textures and bright flavors. And don’t forget to remove the pea plant stems and vines from your garden at the end of the season.

Flowers for Acidic, Clay Soil

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,

Karen

The Green Bean Scene

March 18th, 2011

Green Bean PlantsIf you haven’t grown green beans, you’ve missed out on one of a garden’s best bets.  If you have grown them, maybe next spring is the time to try a few new varieties. 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

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 cityfarmer.org, 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!

Not Just Another Brassica

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.

red cabbage, head of cabbage, red cabbage plant, cabbage plant, red acre, red acre cabbageRed varieties of cabbage, like Red Acre are popular for their bright purple color in the garden, as well as on the table.  Red varieties are famous for sweet and sour hot cabbage slaw, notorious in German restaurants.  Red cabbages also are attractive sliced thin and made into coleslaw or sliced thick and used in soups and stews. Whole leaves can be used to wrap ground beef and rice or vegetarian rolls.

Green varieties like the quick-growing Fast Vantage or the late-harvest Flat Dutch-Premium Heirloom variety are easy to grow and are extremely versatile for cooking.  Flat Dutch is great for making kraut, since it’s a late harvest variety and all heads should mature at the same time.  And true to its name, the heads really are flat on the top.

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.

Garden Harvest Supply offers cabbage and many other vegetable plants for sale.

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