Growing Beets

This superb summer vegetable can be eaten cold, hot or even pickled.  Greens can be juiced, steamed or picked as baby greens and tossed into salads.  They come in some snazzy shapes and colors as well.  If you have never tried golden beets, I think you should give them a try!  We love them roasted!  Chioggia beets are beautiful and have pink and white rings.  Once cooked though, the colors bleed and become mostly one color.  We grow the Giant Yellow Eckendorf beet for our goats.  They love it and it makes a great feed for them.  There are plenty of choices to try from for variety.

We plant beets as early as March 1st and sow till the end of May, or even on cooler years through June.  Sow seeds every two weeks starting in March for longer harvest times.

Beets like rich soil that has a pH around 6.5.  Work in plenty of well-rotted compost into your garden beds and add rock phosphate natural rock dust fertilizer to help pump beets up.  If they are sluggish during the growing season, you can feed with a liquid fertilizer right on there foliage to stimulate healthy growth.

You can hasten the germination by placing your beet seeds into a sieve and running cold water over them for a few minutes.  Sow seeds 1″ apart, with 1/4″ of soil over them.  You can plant them in narrow rows or in wide patterns.  Once beets are big enough to thin, thin to about 3-4″ apart.  Many times I take the thinnings and transplant them to another spot in the garden.  I guess I just can’t let a good seedling to waste!  Otherwise, use the tender greens in tossed salads.  No waste here!

Keep weeds out by pulling carefully so you don’t disturb the roots.  Mulch through the growing season to help suppress weeds and keep soil moist and cool.  We use compost for mulch.  It feeds at the same time!

Harvesting is a matter of preference in my opinion, but it should be before they become woody.  Early harvesting of baby beets are are done at golf ball size and are the most tender.  Main crops are lifted when the beets reach the size of a tennis ball.

 

 

 

 

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Growing Organic Cauliflower

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Purple of Sicily Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be challenging to grow in our area, but can be done easily with a few essential steps.

When cauliflower does not form a head, it could have been exposed to extreme cold temperatures, to little water, old transplants, to hot of temperatures or little sunlight.

Most people will plant cauliflower at the same time as cabbage and broccoli, but it is more sensitive to chilly conditions, so planting just a little later by two to three weeks is generally enough to get past the “danger” zone.  While cauliflower can withstand freezing temperatures, anything below 25 degrees seems to cause withering and damage to the plant. 

Plant cauliflower where it will get plenty of sunshine.  At least eight hours a day and in hotter climates, afternoon sun would be best.

Planting direct sow seed is easily done and ensures you get a plant that hasn’t set in its transplant pot to long.  We generally start seeds right into the ground around February 15th (zone 8) in well-amended and fertilized soil. Once seeds have germinated, we thin to one foot to 16′ apart.  If very cold or snowy weather moves in we cover with a frost blanket to protect our babies from and damage from extreme frost.  Be sure to give the frost blanket support so it does not crush or break the new little stems.

Transplants can work well as long as they are not old and root bound.  Older plants tend to be stressed and do not perform as well as actively growing seedlings.  Look for young and tender transplants.  While you certainly will need to be more careful, it will be well worth it!  Harden plants carefully by gradually increasing cold before transplanting out, especially if the transplants were purchase right out of a greenhouse.  Plant cauliflower transplant into well-amended soil, dig a hole slightly deeper than the plants exciting soil level, add a tablespoon of organic fertilizer, cover hole and slightly firm in plant.  Water.  Keep moist.

Watering is critical!  Cauliflower does not produce well, if at all in dry soil.  Keep moist from the time it goes into the ground, until you cut the head!

Blanching.  When you start to see a small head forming through the leaves it’s time to “blanch” your cauliflower.  Gather the outer leaves and fold over the to the center.  This generally breaks the vein a bit, but it still remains viable.  This would be my lazy gardner method!  Or you can tie up with a string or rubber band.  This prevents yellowing of the curd from sunlight.  The flavor is better, it looks beuatiful and the overall quality of the cauliflower head is better.

Harvest head while they still remain tight. There are so many fun types of cauliflower to grow and come in purple, green, yellow, and of course white.  Enjoy them all!

 

 

 

 

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Getting More Vegetables into Your Diet

January!  It’s the time of year to start fresh.  Eat better, plan and make goals.  While planning your garden this year, make room for some of the veggies listed below to increase your intake of healthy ingredients easily.  This helps those who have kids that are persnickety about eating their veggies as well.

  • Make your own dips with pureed vegetable and legumes to low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt.  Add an addition kick by adding herbs and spices.
  • Making a nutty cake?  Try adding grated pumpkin, carrot or zucchini.
  • Using romaine lettuce or butterhead lettuce leaves instead of bread to make wraps and soft spring rolls.
  • Top pizza with chopped vegetables like grilled peppers, thinly sliced squash, zucchini or eggplant.
  • Add finely sliced or diced onions and tomatoes to toasted cheese sandwiches.
  • Add peas, corn (GMO free) or carrots to any soup.  Puree if kids have a resistance to veggies.  This way they don’t know it’s there!
  • Smaller slices, dices or pureeing change the flavor of many vegetables when adding to other ingredients.
  • As an alternative to nuts, roast cooked chickpeas or kidney beans until crisp and east as a fat free snack.
  • Include at least two vegetables in your lunchtime sandwich.

Include plenty of vegetables of different colors in your diet.  The phytochemical compounds that give vegetables their characteristic color provide significant health benefits.  My mother always said eat a rainbow of vegetables!

Grow some of these veggies in your garden this year and get a few more veggies in your diet plus sunshine and exercise!  Now that’s a New Years Resolution made easy!

 

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Reflecting on 2015

The year 2015 buzzed by faster than a gardener/small homesteader can imagine. Some good some not so good and some just life.  As I look over the year, there are some things that just need to be noted.  Tomatoes, goats, Casper the Perfect cat, garden successes and failures.  We can learn from life experiences better than any text book or you tube video.

Our year started out with a bang…a mild January brought early planting for us.  Peas,  radishes, lettuce and all sorts of early spring veggies went into the ground.  Un-covered no less!  This can be a gamble, but as a crazy gambling garden I am, I went for it with great success. This was our mildest winter since 2000.  February came and all our brassica crops went in the ground as well.  The down side of the warm weather was many crops we planted for our CSA shares in the fall (planned for late February), bolted quickly before our shares even began.

March rolled around and we had 5 new kids on the ground!  Baby goats that is.  Milking chores were in full swing once again.  We choose to bottle feed babies as this makes a tamer kid down the road.  But this means having to visit the little kids several times a day, pet, play and just enjoy them.  Life can be pretty hard to deal with sometimes!  Haha!  Cheese, yogurt and kefir were a weekly task to use all the milk our girls were producing an abundance of.  You begin to get creative.  Out of the five beautiful kids we got, we kept one sassy little girl and she goes by the name Briar Patch.  These girls really become pets, not dairy goats!  Our little grandson loves the farm life especially the goats!

Ahh, April!  Time to get tomatoes into the ground.  We saved seed from our favorite tomatoes two summers ago, but there are definitely some favorites that made it very exciting and some we just won’t do again.  My daughter-in-law planted a month earlier than I did, and I have to admit, she grows some really amazing tomatoes!  While hers petered out earlier than mine, she produced several enormous 2 pound plus Dr. Wyches tomatoes.   Top on my list of “must-have” tomatoes to grow this year.  Dr. Wyches; This orange tomato produced heavy all season long beginning in late June.  Heavy and dense with no cracking. Such a good, mild flavor.   Copia Tomato;  Beautifully striped yellow orange tomato, medium sized, later in production but heavy in August.  Our own tomato, Chicken Coop Green, mild flavored green tomato produced heavy later in the season as well.  Nebraska Wedding Tomato; This one was a huge surprise.  In 2014 I started this tomato from some seeds a friend gave me that was dated 2001.  As predicted, it did not produce well, only giving me one single medium sized tomato.  The plant was healthy, so I saved the seed to be planted as a trial tomato in our garden for 2015.  I planted one in the greenhouse, one in the main garden area and one in an old trough out back, where things get neglected. I can not rave enough about this tomato!  No matter where this guy was he produced!  Apricot colored tomatoes that were medium sized.  It was the earliest and the latest to produce.  It has a nice flavor as well.  Bread & Salt Tomato Seeds;  Another favorite of mine.  Best flavored tomato I think I have ever sunk my teeth into.  Few seeds.  Great for slicing or canning.  Starts off producing huge tomatoes early in the season and becomes smaller as the months pass.  Bread & Salt has a strawberry shape and is pink in color.

New chicks arrived late May.  We love a variety of large breeds, laying shades of green, blue and browns.  I’ve never been a white egg layer lover.  Just to common! A variety of breeds also insures eggs all year round.  Some lay better in hot times of the year and other in the winter months.  Our mature chickens are at a ripe ole age that they do not produce well and we add new and replace old every year.  We have found that banding them (this is not mean) with colored expanding bands we place on their legs.  Each year has a new color.  This just makes the job a little easier of picking older hens out with no mistakes.  While you can generally tell an older chicken, I have made mistakes before.

Fruit was very abundant!  Cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, persimmons, boysenberries and grapes!  I don’t think a person should each a dozen white peaches a day!  But, they don’t keep well and they are good for you…At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  Our fig trees and pomegranates took a hit from the deep freeze  December 2013 and froze right to the ground.  We missed the fruit in 2014, but new growth and a little fruit this past summer gives us great hope for a bountiful crop in 2016.  This year was our first real good crop of pistachio nuts.  They have been in the ground for 17 years.  These are the only trees that belong to my husband.  I suppose my threaten to chop those “worthless” trees down caused them to finally produce.  Funny how that works.

Fall arrives and we get a reprieve  from the heat……..Ha!  At least that was my thoughts.  Little rain fall and temps that stayed in the upper 90’s and even 100’s in October made it almost unbearable with high humidity.  I guess that’s what we get for having a mild summer.  Local predictions were to have a very cold winter.  So far, it’s been fairly mild.   However the peppers were at there best in October.  We harvested 55 lbs. in one week off a 3 x 16 foot bed.  Needless to say, our CSA share holders were probably sick of peppers as were we.

As I said, we had good and we had not so good things happen in 2015.  We lost our dearly loved Casper the perfect cat on December 5th.  While we knew the time was near,  it never makes it easier with a losing a loved pet.  I have written many times about him in my blogs and he has had people come to visit him, rather than me.  Such a proud and stately cat.  There could not have been a sweeter cat on earth.  Three years ago we adopted a 6 year old orange brat cat named Mabes.  There could not be any two cats so different!  While I have a void in my heart, she will kept me company in her own way.  Rest in peace my dear little Casper.  You will be missed.

2016 has arrived!  We have received 1.24″ of rainfall so far, with a little snow covering yesterday morning.  As always, I can’t wait to get my hands back into the garden soil.   I look forward to the new arrival of baby goats the end of February, gardening, pruning, and sunshine once again.  This will be the best year yet!  Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

 

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