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Creative Companions: How Companion Planting Increases Harvests through Natural Pest Control

February 20th, 2017

companion planting

We all know that certain foods taste delicious together, like basil and tomatoes. But did you know that basil and tomatoes grow well together, too?

Companion planting—combining different species of plants to benefit one another in the garden—is a long-practiced organic gardening technique. Remember U.S. history class? Native Americans grew food for a balanced diet in a single plot of land. By planting corn, beans, and squash together on a hill, they maximized their harvest in minimal space. The practice became known as a “Three Sisters Garden.” The plants proved mutually beneficial: the tall corn supported the climbing beans; the beans added nitrogen to the soil, providing nutrients for the corn; and the low-growing squash vines served as a living mulch, preventing weeds while retaining moisture.

Companion planting is a great way to pack lots of veggies into a small space, but it also serves many other purposes in an organic garden.

Companion Planting Deters Pests

beneficial insects, useful insects

Scent attracts many pests to their host plants. Insects lay eggs on the host plant, knowing that the plant will provide food for the newly hatched larvae. By interplanting strongly scented herbs and flowers among crops in the vegetable garden, pests become confused, leaving your future dinner in peace.

If you want to protect your harvest, try these companion plantings that repel pests:

However, French marigolds win the prize as companion-planting champs. They deter Mexican bean beetles, aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, and nematodes (microscopic roundworms in the soil that damage many plants). Plus, they add a beautiful burst of color to the garden. After all, an organic edible garden should be lovely to look at, too.

Companion Planting Attracts Beneficial Insects

bee, pollinator, pollination

Not all insects are bad. Along with repelling pests in the garden, it’s also important to attract beneficial insects. Beneficial insects serve many purposes. Bees, butterflies, and some beetles provide pollination, which increases harvests.

Besides pollination, many beneficial insects feast on pests, making your work easier. For instance, when you find a tomato hornworm happily snacking on your beautiful heirloom tomatoes, have you noticed small white spikes on its back? Those small spikes are actually killing the hornworm—organically. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on the hornworm, and as the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the hornworm, eliminating your garden nemesis without an ounce of pesticide.

Nature is amazing, isn’t it?

As gardeners, we can minimize pests and eliminate pesticides by encouraging beneficial insects to visit. The trick is to know which insects are the good guys, and what plants to include in the garden to attract garden helpers.

Some beneficial insects include:

  • Ladybugs: both the larvae and adults eat aphids, small caterpillars, and pest eggs.
  • Braconid wasps: a parasitic beneficial insect, it lays its eggs on host insects. When the larvae hatch, they consume the host insect, killing it.
  • Hover fly: larvae eat mealybugs, small caterpillars, and aphids.
  • Lacewings: larvae eat aphids, small caterpillars and caterpillar eggs, small beetles, and insect eggs.
  • Ground beetles: consume many pests, from asparagus beetles to squash vine borers.

How can you recruit an army of organic helpers to keep your garden pest-free? Adding flowering plants to your food crops attracts beneficial insects that will keep the pest population low, while also encouraging pollinators to boost your harvest. Plus, some of the recommended plants serve a dual purpose: attracting beneficial insects and providing flowers and food for you, too. A few recommended plants include:

  • Dill
  • Yarrow
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Asters
  • Fennel
  • Feverfew
  • Angelica
  • Cosmos
  • Sunflowers
  • Golden Marguerite
  • Butterfly weed
  • Tansy
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mint*
  • Also, allowing parsley, carrots, and celery to overwinter in the garden produces blooms the following year, which are attractive to many beneficial insects.

(*Plant mints and lemon balm (also a member of the mint family), in containers, as the plants can overtake a garden with their vigorous growth.)

Remember to include a succession of blooms so that beneficial insects visit your garden spring, summer, and fall—and winter in mild climates. Feed your flowers and crops with Espoma Flower-tone 3-4-5 to keep plants healthy and productive.

Companion Planting Increases Harvests and Improves Flavors

companion planting, marigold

While we often think of companion planting primarily as a method of pest control, companion planting also improves harvest flavors—and even yields. For instance, in a limited-space garden, combining tall, sun-loving crops, like tomatoes, with shorter plants that enjoy a bit of shade in the heat, like lettuce, allows maximum use of space in a 4′ x 4′ raised bed. Add nasturtiums to your bed, and now you have beautiful, edible flowers to brighten your meals. Place a trellis for cucumbers along the back edge of the raised bed, and you’ve added another treat for your organic salad. The nasturtiums entice pollinators to visit, increasing the yield of your tomatoes and cucumbers, plus they serve as a trap crop for aphids, protecting your harvest.

Add a few radish seeds near the lettuce. Not only do radishes and lettuce grow quickly, but the lettuce protects the flavor of radishes in summer when they can turn bitter. Add a dill plant or two in the corner, and encourage braconid wasps to hunt tomato hornworms for their nursery. You’re protecting the tomatoes while growing an ingredient to add to a homemade salad dressing.

Perhaps you want to create a pretty, edible container garden. For a cool season combination, plant kale as a “thriller”—the central, taller plant in the combination. Add aromatic herbs, like sage, to protect the kale from cabbage moths as your “filler.” Finally, plant pollinator-friendly violas along the edge of the container as the “spiller.” The violas will tumble over the edge of the container as they grow, attracting pollinators and adding aesthetic appeal—and the flowers add a lovely, edible ingredient to meals.

companion planting, marigold

Companion planting packs many benefits into a small space. It does require a bit of thought about your garden. What crops will you grow? What pests also enjoy the same food you do?  Which plants can help you fight off the bad guys while attracting the good insects? The time spent planning your companion plantings is worth it. Adding beautiful, beneficial flowering plants into your garden plan is much tastier than eating a toxic dressing of pesticide on your produce, don’t you agree?

Besides, creating an organic garden filled with blooms is a beautiful way to eat healthfully while saving money, too. Enjoy!

Vegetable Planting Guides for all 50 States

September 1st, 2016

Vegetable planting guides for all 50 statesGrowing your own vegetables isn’t hard. The first step is to determine the location; most started in areas that receive at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Next you’ll want to make sure you have a handy source for water. Then comes the fun part, determining what vegetables you want to grow. Part of this process is knowing how much space they will need, how long they will be growing, and the best time of the year to get them started.

Depending on where you live, vegetables can be grown at different times. Some areas of the country only have one season, while others have multiple seasons. Knowing the proper planting time will help maximize your growing space and ensure a rewarding experience.

We have vegetable planting guides for all 50 states. To get started, click on the state you will be gardening in.

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California (Northern) | California (Southern) | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming | District of Columbia

How To Grow Cucumbers

September 21st, 2015

Growing cucumbers from a trellis nettingCucumbers are a low-maintenance, high-yielding, low-calorie, nutrient-rich and scrumptious vegetable. Widely popular with home gardeners, cucumbers are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, with an assortment of selections adaptable to any gardeners space limitations.

Cucumbers When to Plant

Cucumbers are a warm-weather crop that, once established, should produce well into the fall. When putting out transplants, wait one to two weeks after your last frost date; seeds can be sown directly into the garden on your last spring frost date. You can find your average last frost date here.

Cucumbers Where and What Variety to Grow

To successfully grow cucumbers, you should choose a spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight daily and is easily accessible for watering. Once you’ve found the ideal location, space and personal preference will be the next factors to take into consideration. There are lots of cucumber varieties on the market:

  • Dwarf Cucumber Plants such as our Bush Crop Cucumber Plant, are the perfect cucumbers for container gardens or for very small garden areas. This is also a popular choice for schoolyard gardens. Their growth is more upright than vining, and they do not require a lot of space.
  • Semi-Dwarf Cucumber Plants such as our Fanfare Cucumber Plant, are also adaptable to container growing and will only take up a bit more space in your garden than a dwarf variety. They grow a little taller than vigorous varieties, but with vines about half the length.
  • Vigorous Cucumber Plants sometimes referred to as vining cucumber plants, will require the most room in the garden. Some vigorous varieties grow on vines reaching up to 6 feet (or sometimes longer) in length. The fruits are most often 8 to 12 inches long and will grow best upon trellises. Our most popular vigorous variety is the Garden Sweet Burpless Cucumber Plant.

Cucumbers How to Fertilize and Water

Cucumbers will grow best with adequate nutrition. Cucumber plants should be fertilized, preferably with an organic fertilizer, when first transplanted, again about a week after blooming, and then every 3 to 4 weeks afterwards. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer in order to avoid leggy, leafy, beautiful, but potentially fruitless vines.

Cucumbers also require consistent watering; inconsistent or negligent watering can result in bitter fruit. Water thoroughly two to three times a week, depending upon the climatic conditions in your area. Container plantings should be monitored closely and never allowed to completely dry out. Bear in mind that watering around the roots, as opposed to on the leaves, will provide the most efficient hydration to your vegetable plants and will help to prevent foliar diseases, mildew and leaf scorch.

Harvesting cucumbers from the gardenCucumbers When to Harvest

When choosing a variety, be sure to know the estimated number of days to maturity. Remember, this is just a guideline; Mother Nature may have her own agenda. Climatic conditions, soil health, moisture and disease can greatly affect your cucumber harvest in terms of time and yield. And, since cucumbers produce throughout the entire season, it is virtually impossible to gauge the number of days any specific cucumber has been on the vine.

Cucumbers at their peak will more easily separate from the vine when you harvest. If you really have to aggressively tug or cut the vine, you may want to wait a day or two. Its a good idea to wear gloves when picking cukes, as their skins and stems are covered with prickly spines that can usually be removed easily by simply wiping with a glove or cloth. Make sure the skins are smooth before serving!

Delaying harvest until a cucumber starts to turn yellow can result in bitter fruit. Though your cucumber variety may generally produce 8- to 10-inch fruits, there are always exceptions, so don’t go by size, but rather by appearance. Pick cukes just as soon as they ripen to encourage the plants to keep producing fruit. Store them in the fridge for one to two weeks, or prepare vinegar-based cucumber salads that will keep for up to a week when refrigerated. Canned pickles keep for weeks or months. The skin contains valuable dietary fiber and nutrients, plus it adds a lot of crunch, so leave the skin intact when eating raw or using in recipes for the most dietary benefits.

Cucumbers Companion Plants

All plants do not grow well together. For instance, cucumbers should be planted well away from tomatoes, sage and other aromatic herbs, such as lavender, mint or lemon grass.

On the other hand, vegetables such as radishes, beets and dill are good choices for planting in close proximity to your cucumber plants. Not only do they benefit your cucumbers when it comes to utilizing and providing needed nutrients, many of them will also help deter the most common cucumber pests, such as aphids, cucumber beetles, spider mites and pickle worms. Dill, for instance, will attract lacewings, which in turn will decimate an aphid population in short order. Lacewings will also eat the eggs of the cucumber beetle.

Growing cucumbers with marigold flowersMany flowers, such as nasturtiums and marigolds, are an effective form of pest control, naturally reducing the need to utilize chemical pesticides in your vegetable garden while adding an attractive border or colorful accent. Experts recommend planting the most pungent marigold varieties, such as French or Mexican marigolds.

The healthiest and most pest-free gardens will grow in a naturally beneficial environment. To learn more, you can read our article on Natural Pest Control.

Got photos? We’d love to see them!

Sunny Sunpatiens: Bursts of Color

March 17th, 2014

Sunpatiens ImpatienFor adding color and life to shaded areas, impatiens can’t be beat.  But now, they’ve been bred to withstand the sun and heat of mid-summer.  Sunpatiens come in brilliant hues and even their foliage is strikingly pretty.

Annual Sunpatiens were developed from Impatiens by Sakata to thrive in the hottest summer weather and have grown in popularity. In fact, healthy and properly watered Sunpatiens will thrive in temps into the 90s. They have a generous bloom period and flower from spring until the first frosts in fall. Their heat tolerance and their brilliant colors do much to substantiate their popularity.

Categories of Sunpatiens

Sunpatiens are available in three growth categories. Each of the three are hardy and flower generously. They will also thrive in partial shade.

Vigorous Sunpatiens: This is also referred to as the tall series. Flowers come in coral, lavender, pink, magenta, orange, red and white with deep green leaves, with the exception of the coral, which has variegated foliage. This line can grow three to four feet tall and wide. Experts suggest they be planted in the middle or back of the border and this plant is terrific for filling in larger landscape beds.

Compact Sunpatiens: Choose these for flowering combination containers. They need little/infrequent pruning and the plants are tight-branched. Planted in the ground, these grow two to three feet tall and wide, and when they're planted in containers, they grow from 18 to 24 inches tall. The flowers bloom in blush pink, deep rose, coral, white, lilac, orange and magenta, all with dark green leaves.

Spreading Sunpatiens: These are available in white and salmon and both have green with gold-centered leaves, variegated. The foliage of these is quite lovely, a buttery yellow with bright green edges. Spreading Sunpatiens are designed for containers. They grow two to three feet tall and wide. Experts recommend them as an ideal spiller plant for hanging baskets or solo in a large container.

Blooming Salmon Spreading Sunpatiens PlantSunpatiens: How To

Know your local region, but in general, it's recommended to plant the Sunpatiens in your garden in the late spring. The goal is for a well-established root system. It will increase the Sunpatiens' tolerance to the high temps of the summer sun. Choose an area with as much light as possible.

If you are planting in containers, make sure you choose quality potting soil and, if you do choose containers, it is preferable to place seeds directly in the container (as opposed to replanting later). For planting in the ground, be certain to have good, loosened soil. If the ground you're planting in is high clay soil, it must be amended with good quality compost to increase drainage. When setting the plants out (be sure the plants are set adequately spaced), take some slow-release fertilizer and sprinkle the equivalent of two tablespoons around each. For the first 10 days to 10 weeks, crop temperature should be 68 to 70 degrees. Keep humidity below 70 percent to avoid mold.

It is important to water the Sunpatiens well, and use a 20-10-20 or 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer as recommended on container.

If they are grown in partial shade, they may grow unruly, but they are easily trimmed to maintain a bushy habit. They are not without natural enemies: be wary of aphids, caterpillars, fungus, gnats and thrips. In the wrong conditions, they can also be susceptible to bacterial leaf spotting virus, botrytis rot and stem rot.

Starting Geraniums from Seed

December 13th, 2013

Planting_Geranium_Seed

The easiest and most common way to start geraniums from seed is indoors using peat pellets in seed starting trays. You can buy them already populated, or reuse trays you already have, just buying the peat pellets to refill the trays. Sowing in seed starting trays has multiple advantages:

  • The seeds/seedlings can be watered from the bottom, making damping off less likely.
  • You won't have to thin a bunch of geraniums; just plant a couple per cell and choose the strongest for transplant, plucking the weakling out.
  • The temperature can be controlled more easily, either with a heat mat or by consistent light/heat from a heat lamp. (The seeds don't need light to germinate, but the seedlings will need plenty.)
  • The moisture level can be more easily maintained and monitored.
  • Seed starting trays are more attractive and use space more economically than wax paper cups, egg cartons or re-purposed yogurt containers. And they are reusable, nesting neatly when not in use.
  • Peat pellets, as opposed to other planting mediums, will not contain the fungus that causes damping off. (If you are using containers that have been used for other plants, be sure they are clean and have drainage holes to prevent damping off. After washing in soapy water, mix one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water to disinfect them. This is especially necessary if repurposing the small pots you get in the garden section or from the nursery.) If your seedlings have been infected, the stems will thin at the soil line and the plants will just break off; not a pretty sight and disappointing, to say the least.
  • The peat pots can be transplanted whole, which means less chance for breaking the delicate stems. We recommend holding the seedlings gently by the leaves if you have to handle them at all.

Sow the seeds about 1/8 inch deep, putting two or three seeds per cell or pot, discarding the weakest after the first true leaves appear, thinning to 1 plant per pot. (The first leaves are called seed-leaves or cotyledons and will eventually wither or fall off; wait until the second set of leaves is growing well before thinning.)

Geranium seeds germinate best at consistent soil temperatures of 72°F. If not watering from the bottom, keep the soil moist by misting so as not to dislodge the seeds; use room-temperature water to maintain soil temperature. Germination can take from 5 days to 4 weeks, so be patient.

If growing under a dome, cant the dome slightly once the seeds start sprouting to provide air circulation while still maintaining moisture levels. Once your geranium seedlings are growing strongly, or touching the dome, remove it completely.

Fluorescent lights, grow-lights or adequate natural light must be utilized once the seedlings are growing well and are at least one week old. If you have insufficient light, they will become spindly and frail as they stretch to find the sun, though exposing them to strong sun too soon may result in their demise. We recommend 12 to 14 hours of light a day, ensuring the planting medium stays consistently moist, but not wet.

To promote fuller, more compact and well-branched plants, nip the new growth once or twice after the seedlings are growing strongly (usually with 4-6 true leaves).

You can also transplant at this time, either into your decorative containers, or into the garden after hardening off. Handle the seedlings very carefully, avoid disturbing the roots, and use as much of the soil they've been growing in around the roots as possible. (This is where those peat pellets really come in handy; the whole thing can be transplanted.)

When moving your geranium seedlings outdoors, you need to harden them off first, which simply means exposing them gradually to outdoor conditions. The daytime temperatures should be at least 70°F with nighttime temperatures not dropping below 55°F before you even think about moving them out. Set the pots or seedling trays in a shady, sheltered spot to begin with, leaving them out for half days at first, gradually increasing the time and slowly moving them into sunnier and less sheltered spots over a period of about two weeks. If they've been out overnight for two or three nights and they still look strong and healthy, they're ready for the garden or permanent outdoor placement. If nighttime temperatures happen to drop unexpectedly, simply cover them with a plant cover or sheet or move your potted plants into a greenhouse or cold-frame.

So now you know just about everything you could possibly want to know about starting geraniums from seed. We'd love to have you share your successes with us. Send pics!

As always, we wish you happy gardening, and in this instance, lots of gorgeous geraniums!

Ridiculously Healthy Collard Greens

September 9th, 2013

Collard_Plant_In_GardenCollard Greens are considered one of the healthiest foods you can eat. A serving size is 1 cup, chopped, and has less than 50 calories, while providing 308% of the recommended daily value (DV) for Vitamin A, a whopping 1,045% of the DV for Vitamin K and 58% for Vitamin C. Additionally, raw collard greens have 15% of the DV for folate, 8% for protein and just over 21% of the DV for dietary fiber. When compared to the caloric intake, these numbers are phenomenal!

A dark green cruciferous vegetable, collards have a large, smooth leaf decorated with lightly colored venation and a wavy edge. The thicker part of the midrib is pretty tough and is usually discarded before preparation. (Add it to your compost bin or feed to your chickens.) Most popular in the American South, its nutritional value, versatility and flavor are prompting an increase in popularity around the world.

Collard greens are interchangeable in all of your favorite greens recipes. You can use collard greens in place of spinach, beet greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, dandelion greens or turnip greens.  The flavor is closest to kale, though a bit milder, and will normally require a little more cooking time than spinach. It's especially delicious in bean-based soups or stews and those made with spicy sausage.

How to Grow Collard Greens

One of the most cold-hardy vegetables, withstanding freezing temperatures into the upper teens, you can plant collard greens in the early spring or as a fall crop. In fact, south of zone 7 it is often grown throughout the entire winter season. Its flavor is somewhat sweeter when frost has touched its leaves.

Collard transplants should be planted 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in the spring or 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost in the fall. If starting from seed, start them indoors about 8 weeks before you plan to transplant. You can also germinate in the garden; collard seeds germinate well with soil temperatures between 45 and 85°. When germinating indoors, the ideal soil temperature is between 60 and 70°. Indoors or out, the soil or planting medium should be kept consistently moist until the seeds have sprouted. A seed blanket or row cover will help maintain the ideal environment for germination.

Since collards are a leafy vegetable and are harvested often, these greens also need to be fed regularly for optimal output. We recommend you work nitrogen-rich soil amendments, such as blood meal, cottonseed meal or garden manure, into the soil prior to planting and then side dress with these same nutrients once a month or so to keep your collard crop at its healthiest.

Garden_Tunnel_CoverCollard greens will grow best with a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8 and should not be planted in the same place you planted other cole crops, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts or broccoli, in the prior year. In fact, a 2-year rotation interval is recommended to avoid soil-borne diseases common to cole-type vegetables from building up and affecting your crop.

Mulching with weed-free hay, finely ground leaves or bark will keep the weeds down, keep the soil cooler and moister and will also keep the leaves of your greens cleaner. Collard greens need about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week.  A rain gauge in your garden will help to ensure your greens are receiving the water they need.

How to Harvest Collard Greens

Collard green leaves grow from the middle of the plant. As you start harvesting, usually when the leaves are under 10 inches in length, harvest the outside, or lower leaves first. Select leaves with good color and no yellowing or browning. The smaller leaves are more tender, while the more mature leaves may be bitter. As you harvest, the lower stem will become bare, making your plants look somewhat like little trees. Leaves will continue to grow from the top-center of the plant through cool weather; they can even be harvested when frozen, though they'll be brittle and should be handled gently.

Storing and Preparing Collard Greens

Collard_Sandwich_WrapCollard greens will store well in the refrigerator when kept in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. If you've washed them, lay them out on paper towels to dry or spin them in a salad spinner. They should remain fresh for 3 to 5 days.

You can also freeze them, but do so as soon after harvesting as possible. Figure a handful or two of greens per serving and freeze them in the appropriate size freezer bag for family or individual meals. (Freezer-type bags are thicker-walled and will better prevent freezer burn during storage.) Wash the leaves well in cold water and let them drain in a colander. Cut off the woody stems and any damaged or yellowing edges.

By serving size, you will be blanching the greens prior to freezing. Collards require 3 minutes, while all other greens need to be blanched for 2 minutes. Drop each serving size into the boiling water and cover; start timing immediately. After three minutes, scoop the greens out with a large slotted ladle or screen, letting the water drain for less than a minute, and then put them into the iced water, chilling them for another 3 minutes. The ice bath will stop the cooking process. Keep adding ice during the entire process to keep the water as cold as possible. You can reuse the boiling water for about 5 blanchings, adding hot water as needed to maintain the right level.

Allow the greens to drain well and then bag and tag ‘em with the type and the date. Remove as much air from the freezer bag as you can. You can use a straw, zipping the bag closed around the straw which has been inserted at one end. Suck the excess air out of the freezer bag and remove the straw as you close the bag completely. Going one step further, packaging a number of smaller bags inside a gallon storage bag will more completely protect your produce from freezer burn and will extend the freezer storage time.

When it comes to cooking collard greens, the first and most important rule is: DO NOT OVERCOOK. Overcooking makes for a mushy dish and can even result in a not-so-pleasant sulfur smell. We suggest, if you have not cooked collard greens before, that you ask friends or family or search the Internet for recipes that sound good to you. Here are the Top 20 Collard Greens Recipes from one of our favorite recipe sites.

As always, we welcome your comments and would love for you to share growing or harvesting tips and recipes.

We wish you happy and healthy gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply.

 

How to Grow Garlic

August 19th, 2013

First Things First:  Shelf Life

In the grocery store, garlic is already at or near the end of its life and is drying out. If it is packaged in plastic, it is suffocating; garlic has to breathe. Cloves of not-so-fresh garlic will be drieror in some cases moldyand will not have the flavor necessary to make your culinary creations shine. At its peak, garlic should be planted in the months of September through December, depending upon where you live, and then not harvested until about July, though young bulbs can be harvested in early spring before the cloves have developed (these are called rounds) and sautéed or otherwise used as you would green onions.

Top-Setting vs. Underground Garlic

No, we're not talking about black market garlic here. We are talking about growing flowering garlic as opposed to growing garlic plants that don't flower. Most of the garlic you find in the plastic packages in your grocery store is underground garlic, largely because it is easier to cultivate and harvest. Simply put, underground garlic does not flower and does not yield a tall stalk that gets in the way of harvesting. It also has a thicker, more protective papery covering that withstands the rigors of shipping and storage in full light in the produce aisle.

Gralic_Plant_Going_To_Seed

Top-setting garlic is also called hardneck. It produces a stalk with tiny bulb-lets, called bulbils, that will drop off and scatter if not harvested, some of which will grow again. Harvest the bulbils when you see them start to drop in order to control crowding; overcrowding will result in smaller bulbs. You can keep them to plant for next season's crop or give them away to your friends and family.

Top-setting varieties, such as our Music garlic, are said to have a richer and more pungent flavor with easier-to-peel cloves, although the individual cloves may not be quite as large. The cloves will also have a decidedly purplish cast to them, while the entire bulb may still have a white, papery wrapping. The top-setting garlic plants will produce the useable garlic underground, just as underground plants do. Some home gardeners prefer to have a visible signal as to the progress of their plants, which is why top-setting varieties are more popular with grow-it-youselfers and, as stated above, the flavor is said to be superior.

Underground garlic, like our Common Garlic, is called softneck and rarely produces a tall flowering stalk; however, a shorter stalk with leaves will be present. Producing large bulbs, usually with larger cloves than top-setting garlic, and wrapped in light-reflecting, protective white papery skins, these are the cloves normally mass-produced for the grocery store, the spice manufacturers, and the pickle-producers. Due to the thick, dry, papery wrapping, these cloves are also more difficult to peel and may require more per recipe than top-setting garlic.

If you are unsure of which garlic to plant, plant both. You can then determine which grows best in your climate, and you will be able to do your own taste-tests. Gourmet chefs will use both kinds in their kitchens and will grow both in their gardens.

A quick note: Top-setting garlic is also known as bolting garlic, while underground garlic is considered non-bolting.

When and Where to Plant Garlic

Harvesting_Garlic_PlantsGarlic can be planted in the spring, but the best results happen when it is planted in the fall and then harvested in late June through August, depending on where you live. For example, in far northern climates you will most likely be planting in late September or early October to beat the heavy frost, and then harvesting in July or August once the summer heat has matured your garlic crop.

Garlic's natural habitat is in cool, moist soil and the longer it is there, the better it will be.

Garlic, according to the experts, needs the wintertime cold and moisture to produce the best-tasting, most filled-out bulbs. Too little moisture and too little time in the ground will result in smaller, less plump-looking, dry bulbs, which also greatly affects the flavor and the shelf life.

Your soil should be deeply tilled to provide the best growing environment. Garlic prefers sandy, silty loam with exceptional drainage. If you live in an area with heavy clay content, you will either want to amend your soil or plant in a raised bed with amended soil at least 12 inches deep. Under ideal soil conditions, garlic roots can grow up to 3 feet deep. You will want to plant your garlic where it will receive at least 8 hours of full sunlight daily.

Which End Is Up?

Just about everything you read will tell you to plant the rounded (root end) down and the pointed (sprout end) up. Regardless of how the cloves are placed in the ground, the roots will grow from the root end and the sprouts will grow upward, toward the sun. What we can't see under the ground is that through the natural process of the soil's expansion, contraction, settling, etc., the clove will eventually right itself to the proper growing position. If you are planting a large crop, plant your garlic sets in the way that is easiest for you to do it.

Rows & Spacing

Garlic should be planted between 2 and 5 inches deep. Rows should be about a foot apart, allowing you the space to walk between them for weeding. The space between the individual plants only needs to be about 6 inches and since you are planting large-sized cloves and not seeds, you will not have to go back and thin them afterwards. About the weeds: cultivate the garlic until the snow starts falling or until winter sets in. This is when the roots are first becoming established and it is most important to reduce the competition for nutrients. Mow the weeds down as short as possible before the first shoots start to appear above the ground in early spring. Weeds should always be kept under the best control you can manage.

Feeding

Garlic is a relatively heavy feeder; it will do best if the furrows are prepared with a high phosphorous fertilizer like Triple Superphosphate prior to planting. Growers have also reported exceptional results with all-natural fish emulsion plant foods, like Neptune's Harvest.  Bone Meal, which provides phosphorous and nitrogen, is then side-dressed in early and late spring, with fertilization being suspended in early June when the heat and moisture have signaled the cloves to start swelling.

Watering

Garlic needs a fair amount of water, as well. It's best to water very deeply and slowly every 10 days to 2 weeks, allowing the water to soak down at least a foot. If your area has particularly hot summers or has been experiencing severe drought, you may have to water once a week. Proper irrigation is most critical in early June as the cloves are swelling, helping them to maintain their high moisture content for better size and flavor.

Harvesting

Hanging_Garlic_To_DryThere is no above-ground indication that your bulbs are ready to harvest. You will have to dig down to take a look at the bulbs to see if they are ready. Getting them out of the ground takes a little practice, but it's fairly easy. Remember that the roots go deep, so you'll be cutting the roots off below the bulb. A sharp, hoe-type implement will work best. You can work each row by hoeing and cutting below the bulbs and then going back and pulling them from the ground, laying them all facing the same direction so the stalks don't become tangledparticularly important if you will be braiding and/or hanging your garlic plants to dry before storing. Harvesting when the ground is a bit dry is also easier and will result in less drying time. Drying should take place in a well-ventilated, shady, warm and dry area and it usually takes two to three weeks; this process further matures the bulbs, as well, and will greatly increase their shelf life. Some people set up drying racks or screens, while some braid the stalks and let them hang. Try to avoid bruising the bulbs in any way; this shortens the shelf life dramatically.

Storing

Fresh garlic should be stored in a dark, dry and well-ventilated space, protected from high humidity and freezing. Cooler temperatures combined with humidity will result in sprouting. Remember: garlic needs to breathe. Do not store in plastic. Garlic stored properly should last on the shelf until your next harvest, though this is not true of grocery store garlic, as the storage and distribution system will not accommodate garlic's ideal needs for long-term storage. It is also true that after 6 months the flavor may not be as pungent. Garlic can be dried and crushed into garlic powder. It can be stored in oil in the refrigerator for a few months, but it should be discarded if any sign of mold or yeast is seen on the container or on top of the oil. It can be pureed and then frozen by mixing one part garlic to two parts oil; it can be chopped and wrapped tightly in a freezer bag or plastic wrap and then frozenor you can freeze unpeeled garlic and remove the cloves as needed. Canning is not recommended due to the high temperatures required to kill botulism, while the airless environment created in oil is also ideal for growing this bacteria, which is why it should never be stored in oil at room temperature.

This may all sound really complicated, but the truth is that garlic is fairly easy to grow. We just wanted to give you as much information as possible. There is no comparison when it comes to homegrown fresh vs. grocery-store aged. None!

As always, we will appreciate any contributions of garlic-related stories, anecdotes or advice you may have. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news and discounts or to share your own gardening experiences.

Happy Gardening! From All of Us at Garden Harvest Supply

When to Plant Fall Vegetables

August 5th, 2013

Planning_Fall_Garden

For some, planting veggies in the fall is second nature. For others, planting veggies can be like naming the constellations: difficult to remember and easy to second guess.

Well, fear not, for we are here to lay out the basics of fall planting that will not only make things easier for you, but also a lot more fun!

The most advantageous perk of fall planting comes with the ease of working in the cooler weather. The vegetable plants you choose will of course have to be capable of roughing it in the cooler temps, but once you have picked your harvest, it’s as easy as pie from there.

As we’ve mentioned before at Garden Harvest Supply, testing your soil can be the most critical first step in preparing your garden for the fall and making sure that your investment is returned with the spoils of a beautiful and delicious fall garden.

Testing your soil can be as inexpensive as $1.50, but it can be as valuable as weeding your garden. This test will prepare you for what plants will respond the best come fall, and will allow you to manipulate your garden if you’d like to prepare it for a different veggie.

Amending your garden can be a headache if your soil is not where you’d like it to be, so as always, our expert gardener is on hand to give you quick and credible advice, allowing you to be confident and prepared when it’s time to lay out your veggies.

Once you’ve learned the pH of your garden and have prepared it for any improvements, you can begin deciding on what to plant. Also, finding the right date to plant your veggies is, well, the root of your garden.

The first fall frost date differs, depending on your region. To get the average first frost date in your area, simply go to this link and type in your ZIP Code. From there, you count backwards from the first frost date in accordance with the maturity date of your selected vegetable. It’s wise to go ahead and count back an additional week to give your plant a little breathing room to mature.

So let’s recap with an example: If your plant has a time-to-maturity of 50 days, or roughly seven weeks, you’d count back using this number, and then back an additional week (or two) to find your earliest planting date.

Just for the record, there is a 50 percent chance that these frost dates could happen before the normal averages. In most regions, mid- to late October is the average range for the first fall frost.

Frost can happen in various forms, too.

A light freeze, which is the norm, falls between 29°F and 32°F. This will destroy the most tender of plants. A moderate freeze (25°F – 28°F), on the other hand, affects most vegetation, especially fruit blossoms. And as for the dreaded severe freeze (24°F and colder), this weather shift will pretty much annihilate any variety of plants.

Finally, if you’re wondering whether you can enjoy your favorite spring veggie in the fall, the answer is usually a resounding ‘yes.’ Spring or fall, these cool season plants can flourish during either time of the year.

So, now that you have the basics of fall planting in your information arsenal, it’s time to get yourself ready to perfect your delicious fall garden!

How To Overwinter Herbs

December 1st, 2012

Herb plants growing inside for the winterPerennial herb gardens come back each spring with very little effort on the gardener’s part. Hardy perennials like tarragon and lavender die back in winter. Prune them down to last year’s growth. Put a 2-3 in. layer of mulch on top to protect roots and to prevent heaving out of the soil with freezing and thawing. Onions and garlic (considered herbs by many, even though they’re actually bulbs) do well with either straw mulch or row covers.

For a supply of fresh mint through the fall months, cut off the top of the plant, put the roots in seed trays (or deeper boxes) and cover with soil. Keep in the greenhouse or cold frame.

Extend the growing season of annual herbs by bringing them indoors before the first frost.  You can grow herbs like rosemary, chives or parsley inside your home in winter on a sunny windowsill. Herbs will also keep in the basement or garage if there is a small window for light.

Herbs do best if they have 5-6 hours of sun a day. Potted herb plants can be placed on tables or on the floor near any sunny window. Don’t put saucers under the potsthey don’t like wet feet! Generally, don’t water more often than once a week in winter. It’s best to water herbs in the morning. Use a spray bottle and mist lightly to maintain some humidity in the air, especially if your home has forced air heat. Use warm water. Check soil moisture regularly to prevent herbs from drying out completely.

Fertilizer is generally not needed for herbs over the ‘dormant’ winter months.

Use 8 to 12 in. diameter pots to allow roots plenty of growing room.  Also, only use pots or containers with good drainage holes, but make sure the holes are partially blocked with cheesecloth or gravel to prevent soil from leaking out when you water. Fill pots about 3/4 full with a mix of compost and quality potting soil. Group several pots close to each other so there is plenty of moist air from the leaves being crowded together. Placing potted herb plants in a gravel-lined tray prevents root rot.

Before bringing any plants indoors, check for bugs and pull off any dead leaves. Cut back any scraggly growth. Allow plants to sit a week or two in a covered porch or garage before moving them into the house, so they can adapt gradually to changes in light, temperature and moisture.

To enjoy your herbs in recipes or for therapeutic needs, simply snip leaves as needed, and the plants should continue to grow and replenish throughout the chilly months.

Growing Garlic in the Fall

September 27th, 2012

Planting fall garlic bulbs in the gardenWhat to Do (Or Not to Do) First

When it comes to planting fall garlic, timing can be everything.

First, when you receive your garlic bulbs, do NOT separate them until just before you put them in the ground. Put them in a dark, cool spot until planting if you cannot plant them fairly quickly, so as to prevent premature sprouting. Separating the bulbs from the clove prematurely will allow the root nodules to dry out, meaning it will take longer for the bulbs to set roots.

Garlic, a remarkably hardy root vegetable, in most cases, will perform much better when subjected to severe winter conditions. In fact, many varieties prove to be the most flavorful following a harsh winter. So, the trick is to plant early enough for the seeds (cloves/sets) to establish a good root system, but not so early that the plants have time to send up mature shoots before the onset of winter halts growth completely. A little above ground growth won’t hurt, but you definitely don’t want the formation of bulbs to start. The experts suggest planting your garlic seeds 4 to 6 weeks prior to the time the first hard freeze is expected in your area.

What Next?

The soil where you plant your garlic sets should be loosened and well-prepared, with compost or organic material worked in to provide the suitable nutrition and to give your fall-planted garlic a healthy start. The root end of each garlic clove that is attached to the bulb should be planted facing down, about 4 to 8 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep. Garlic seeds planted closer together will produce smaller bulbs in greater numbers, while those planted farther apart will produce fewer bulbs but with larger cloves. Once the ground freezes, cover the entire bed with 3 to 4 inches of leaves or hay, avoiding straw, as mites found in straw can attack the garlic. This will conserve moisture, provide insulation and control weed growth until spring arrives.

Now What?

You just wait. Sit in front of the fire, make snowmen with the kids, indulge in evenings with hot cocoa and good moviesand just when you think winter couldn’t last any longer, spring will arrive and you will already have done all the hard part when it comes to your garlic crop.

garlic plants growing in the gardenNow you just gently rake the leaves or straw off the new sprouts popping up; apply some organic fertilizer and harvest when ready! In wetter areas, you may not want to mulch at all throughout the season, but if it dries out, re-mulching will help to conserve moisture, control weed growth and moderate soil temperatures. Garlic does not appreciate competition in the form of weeds or grass, nor does it care for hot summer temperatures, so adapt these suggestions as needed for your particular area.

As for wateringgarlic requires somewhat even moisture throughout the season, though it is better to let it dry out some during the last few weeks prior to harvesting. Not enough watering will result in undersized bulbs, while too much watering affects the storage quality of the bulbs, greatly shortening garlic’s shelf life. It is better to stop watering earlier than to overwater later.How To Harvest Garlic Plants

When Can I and How Do I Harvest?

The time to harvest will vary, depending upon your zone and the growing conditions of any particular season. The only sure way to know is to regularly check the bulbs, feeling for the bumps of the cloves through the wrappers of the mature bulbs. Most gardeners will harvest starting in July, with the lion’s share being harvested in mid- to late August. This is one crop with no set times; your experience, and trial and error, are the best gauges.

Amazingly, garlic does bruise kind of easily, so be careful when harvesting. We suggest a fairly flat, narrow-bladed shovel to loosen the soil around the plants, and then lift the plants by hand. If harvesting on a sunny day, the bulbs can actually become sunburned, with some varieties changing flavor in the sun. Move your garlic bulbs to a cooler location, out of direct sunlight as you harvest.

Hanging freshly harvested garlic plants to dry

Photo courtesy of lisascenic

Enjoy!

If you’ve harvested young or new season, immature garlic, you will want to store it in the refrigerator and use it within a week or so. These cloves will normally have a more subtle flavor and can be used just as you would leeks or onions. For mature garlic, you will want to dry it well, after washing the bulbs and roots. You can hang the bulbs from their stalks if you wish. The area should be dry, shady and well-ventilated, the drying process taking in excess of a week, but enabling you to store it for an extended period.

Okay, NOW you can enjoy!

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