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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!

End Of Season Tips For Harvesting Herb Plants

March 22nd, 2014

Herbs that have been harvested in the fallWhen you think of herbs, you probably don't consider harvest time, since most gardeners clip herbs throughout the growing season for culinary use. But as the end of the summer nears, and the first frost threatens to kill less hardy herbs, consider clipping the remaining leaves for drying, freezing, or preserving in oils and infusions.

Herbs can be either annual or perennial, and some behave differently in different growing zones. Perennials should come back each spring and they require very little care during growing or dormant seasons.  Annuals can be dug out of the ground and potted in containers to extend their seasons in a sunny windowsill.

Some perennials, like parsley and chives, will continue growing well into the chilly temperatures, and they'll be among spring's first sprouters, too.  The more tender-leaf varieties like cilantro, marjoram or the mint family will wilt as the temps fall.  However, their remaining leaves shouldn't go to waste.

Most herbs can be dried for kitchen use and some are as flavorful in cooked dishes as fresh cut. Oregano, especially Greek oregano, is slightly less bitter when used dried, which is the method preferred by many chefs. Dried chives have a much more sweet, delicate, and less sharp flavor.  Many small-leaved herbs can be dried in a day or two in the sun or in a food dehydrator.  For chives, snip or cut into 1/8-inch pieces and store in a light-blocking, airtight container for use up to a year.  Most other herbs have leaves that will break into perfect shaker-size bits when pinched off of the dried stems and crumbed between fingers or in a plastic bag.

Dill usually dies out before the end of summer but the remaining ferny leaves can be used dried, as long as they're stored in airtight jars.  Again, most chefs prefer to cut dill into small 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces. Dill seeds are a pungent staple in many baking recipes and often they're dried to perfection in the sun and only need to be shaken off the dead flower tops.  Stalky herbs like rosemary and lavender are commonly left in the ground, unharvested, to add interest to winter landscapes.

If you choose to cut lavender back in the fall, cut close to the ground.  Bunches of dried lavender stalks look great in a tall vase and add a clean fragrance to any room.  Or, the flower heads can be pinched off of the stalks and used in sachet bags, potpourris or teas.

Citrus-scented herbs like lemon thyme or lemongrass dry easily and not only add a nice bright flavor to chicken, lamb, and vegetables, but they also smell fantastic as they cook.  Like most herbs, whatever spikes or leaves remain on the plant at the end of summer can be cut back, brought in and stored in the refrigerator for several days up to a couple of weeks, or dried immediately and stored for months to provide fresh-tasting recipes all winter long.

Happy gardening from GHS.

Carrots-Clamping and other Useful Info

February 28th, 2012

Carrot Plants In Storage

A carrot a day…is a healthy habit. Carrots are crunchy, satisfying, and packed with nutrientsrich in vitamins A, C, and K, and high in dietary fiber and potassium. If you grow carrots and want to enjoy your “fresh” fall harvest right through the winter, this article will appeal to you. The Garden Harvest Supply Facebook page, has turned out to provide a wealth of helpful information, as well as being a forum where we can touch bases with our customers on a more personal level and even learn something new. For example, we heard from Sue, who talked about clamping her harvested carrots, which, of course, heightened our curiosity and led to Sue providing us and other Facebook fans with her tips on growing carrots, which she is obviously very good at.

Here is what Sue told us and taught us: We sowed the carrot seed really thinly in a mix of compost and sand in a slightly raised bed. To avoid the dreaded carrot fly we keep the tops of the carrots plants covered at all times to avoid too much damage… in doing this many more of the carrots were fly free when pulled. We lifted them and spread them onto trays to dry for a few hours before clamping them down.

When Sue mentioned covering them, we immediately thought of our Haxnicks Easy Tunnel Row Coversand how easy that would make the process for large carrot plots. For smaller gardens we have our Harvest Guard Row Cover that can easily be cut to size.

When we questioned Sue on what clamping down meant, she answered, Layered and bedded in sand preserves Carrots for many months keeping the lovely flavour of freshly dug Carrots! She also added, upon further questioning, We clamp by using sharp sand (dried out) and put in a layer of sand followed by a layer of carrots until the box is full. Thanks Sue for the great pic!

Another of our Facebook fans had a question for Sue, Sue did you build your own root cellar? Wondered if you had any tidbits…I want to build one with our next house…

And Sue was kind enough to answer, We made a deep box 30″ long 14″ deep 12″ wide, we then put in a layer of sand and carrots alternately, we have done this for several years now and it works really well the Carrots stay firm and sweet, we have kept them this way until the following spring . It can be done with Swede , parsnips etc 🙂

This led us to ask the question Where do you store the box after it is layered, to which she replied, We keep it in our Garage through the winter where it is cold but frost free.

Happy Gardening!

How to Harvest Asparagus

June 1st, 2011

Second Year AsparagusIf you are growing asparagus crowns for the first time, then you probably have some questions about when to start harvesting and how to go about it. If you've forgotten everything your grandma taught you, or you were just too young to remember anything past that wonderful taste, we hope this will help.

The very first rule is patience! An asparagus bed, if established and maintained properly, can produce asparagus spears in excess of 15 years. In fact, some asparagus beds have been producing for 30 years! So, the first year you want to avoid harvesting, except maybe to get a very tiny taste of what's to come, and concentrate on growing the healthiest and strongest root system possible.

The First Year

We recommend babying your asparagus through the first year. Invading perennial grasses are young asparagus' worst enemy, so keep them under control as your young plants are becoming established. Depending upon where you are planting, you may want to install a barrier, keeping it in place through the first year, to be removed at a later time if you choose.or not. The root system of asparagus goes deep and becomes quite extensive, but the plants need that first full year to really take hold and to survive the winter, especially in the coldest regions. You should provide 1 to 2-inches of water per week during the first two years and feed well. After the second year, you can water more infrequently. You might want to use a soaker or drip hose through your asparagus bed, rather than watering from the top as this will allow the water to soak deeper, instead of settling on the tops of the plants; there will also be less evaporation, resulting in less water use. Applying mulch around your plants will also conserve water, as well as inhibiting weed and grass growth.

As the spears are left to grow past the point of harvesting, the tops will open up and become fern-like. They are actually quite pretty, but also a very important aspect to the continuing good health of your asparagus bed. Using photosynthesis, these ferny tops will send food throughout the spears and into the crowns below the surface, ensuring the perpetual harvest that this perennial vegetable provides.

When it comes to cutting back your asparagus plants, there are basically two schools of thought. Some gardeners cut them back to the ground once they turn brown, going dormant, usually after the first heavy frost. In fact, some people just mow them down as close to the soil as possible, either adding the foliage to their compost bin or discarding it. The other half of asparagus growers will leave the ferny tops to catch the snow and to protect and insulate the plants, while providing necessary moisture throughout the winter and into early spring. Cut them back in March or early to mid-April, depending upon your climatic zone. Besides helping your plants to survive the winter, the brown, feathery ferns will add a bit of winter-time interest to your stark garden landscape, especially when coated in layers of sparkling hoar frost.

Harvesting AsparagusThe Second Year

Finally, your patience has paid off!  The spears are growing and you can start harvesting, but only for a little bit and only a little at a time. At no time should you harvest spears that are not at least as big around as your little finger. For this second harvest year, we suggest that you only harvest for the first 2 to 3 weeks. Heavy and continual harvesting past this point may weaken the plants, meaning that your asparagus bed will not continue to develop well for subsequent years. Just a little more patience is required. Time flies and a little patience now will reap huge rewards in three, four, five..fifteen or twenty years!

In most areas of the country, you will be able to start harvesting in May and continue into June. Asparagus is considered a cool weather crop and will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest, even before your lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. However, in more temperate climates, like that of southern California, you may have to treat your asparagus a bit differently, keeping track of the normal growing cycle for this perennial and allowing the ferny tops to grow and develop, rather than harvesting for an extended period just because you can. And then cut the plants back in late fall or early winter to encourage dormancy that occurs naturally in other climates.

As in all things gardening, gardeners have different ideas on what is the best way to harvest. Some prefer to use their thumb and forefinger to snap the spear at ground level, while others will use a sharp knife or asparagus harvesting tool to cut the spear one or two inches below the soil. It is our belief that using the asparagus knife to cut below the soil allows the plant and crown to be protected by that layer of soil, from both the hotter summer temperatures and marauding pests. A clean, sharp tool will also ensure that the plants are not stressed from the cutting. Pulling and tugging while snapping the spear can result in damage to the crown below the spear, which is already developing new buds for next year's harvest.

Don't forget! Only harvest this second year for 2 to 3 weeks! Your patience will be well-rewarded.

The Third Year and Into the Future

Now that your asparagus bed is well-established, you can harvest spears that are emerging which are 3/8 or larger (about the size of one's little finger). Also, don't submit to the myth that the larger the diameter of the spear, the less tender they are. That is just not the case at all. What IS true, is that as the season progresses, the part of the spear below the ground and possibly 1 or 2-inches up, may become somewhat tougher. This is just a fact of life when it comes to asparagus and one easily remedied by just cutting off the tougher part. You will still have plenty of tender asparagus spear above this point. If you've missed harvesting some spears and the tips are no longer tight and closed, you will be a little disappointed in the quality, so allow those spears to open and become ferny. You won't be wasting them, just allowing them to become next year's harvest.
harvested asparagus spears in a basketAs a rule, you will harvest every other day when the spears are between 4 and 8-inches tall and usually for a period between 6 and 8 weeks, depending upon your geographical location, and also depending upon the weather for that particular year. Hotter weather will shorten your harvesting season, while cooler weather will extend it.

Again, once you notice that the emerging spears are smaller than your little finger, quit harvesting and allow the ferny tops to develop, effectively perpetuating the cycle that will have your grandchildren and great-grandchildren harvesting the asparagus bed you plant today. Early summer mornings, working by grandma's or grandpa's side, will be a perennial memory!

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. 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 Green Bean Scene

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.

Cabbage: 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.

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.

It Might Sound Corny, But It Isn't

February 14th, 2011

Sweet Corn is not only a genuine bit of Americana, but it's a near-necessity on summer picnic tables.  Ears of corn on the cob are a fresh garden produce treat. It's a staple in the diets of most Central and South American countries, and some make their best desserts out of sweet corn! The trick is knowing when to pick it.

Sweet Corn Plants are ready for picking about 20 days past when the silks emerge.  Watch for the ears to be plump and filled out, and the tassel ends should feel rounded, as opposed to pointy.  The silks should have begun to darken and wilt.  That's the sign the ears have finished developing.

It's also possible to tell if the corn is ready for harvest by pulling back gently on the husk to reveal a few kernels. Pop one with your fingernail.  If the liquid inside is clear and watery, the sugars haven't developed fully on the ear.  If the liquid is opaque and milky, it's a sure sign you've got a delicious dinner side dish about to happen.

Try not to remove the husk to expose the kernels unless you're pretty certain the corn is ready for harvest.  If it needs to remain on the stalk longer to reach maturity, the exposed end will be more vulnerable to rotting and infestation by insects and vermin.

Corn maintains its sweetness best if eaten immediately after being picked, but it can also store well in the refrigerator for a week or more.  Keep the husks on, to maintain moistness and to protect the delicate kernels.  Popcorn and corn meal store for up to a year, but the drying and preserving/preparation processes differ from sweet corn.

After determining an ear of sweet corn is ready to be picked, simply grab the ear and snap it downward off of the stalk.  If it's resistant, just give it a slight twist, watch our sweet corn video.  Store the fresh-picked ears out of sunlight and heat, to stop the maturation process, which is when the sugars inside the kernels turn to starch.

Preparing sweet corn is one of summer's greatest joys.  After removing the husks and the fine silks that run the lengths of the rows, rinse the corn in fresh cool water.  Whole ears can be boiled, steamed, roasted or grilled.  Or, corn can be cut off of the cob and steamed, stir-fried, or added into casseroles or baked goods.

Corn can be frozen on the cob or cut off of the cob.  Blanch it before freezing.  It can be canned by traditional methods, or by pickling into corn relishes.  It can also be made into creamed corn or corn chowder, and then canned or frozen.  Just remember to prepare or preserve corn immediately after picking, for the sweetest end results.

Pick A Peck of Pickles

January 28th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cauliflower Whys and Hows

January 25th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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