Category Archives: Gardening

Planting, Growing, Care

8 Tips for A Kitchen Garden to Keep it Pleasing to the Eye and Taste

Heirloom vegetables are the staples in our kitchen garden with an array of different colors, like purple beans, red okra, white eggplant and a variety colorful tomatoes. All these add to the interest of the kitchen garden. Because our garden is front and center and used as a demo garden as well for classes we are always looking for ways to enhance its beauty without sacrificing production. Here’s 8 practical and pleasing tricks to try in your kitchen garden.

1. Growing a few vibrantly colored vegetables can punctuate expanses of green in the garden. The deep purple pods of peas and beans will stop you in your tracks. Burgundy bean for summer time and Blauwschokkers pea spring are my favorites. Listada eggplants are beautifully stripped and prolific making them a perfect summer time eye-catch!

2. When placing plants, be sure there’s a method to your mixture. Vegetables are typically grown in rows of a single variety, which makes spacing easy, simplifies cultivation, and keeps the garden looking tidy, but by mixing rows of color, texture, and form will create a tapestry pleasing to the eye. Such as planting a row of green and red leaf lettuce, green heading lettuce, the red and frilly ‘Lollo Rossa” lettuce, Ruby Red Chard and Purple Kohlrabi all work great together and look amazing.

3. Painted stakes lend an artistic touch and last longer. Since plant supports are going to be seen, why not make them attractive? 1×1 stakes can be cut all the same length, then painted a soothing blue-green or a flashy color if you like. Stake them into the ground to the same height. This visual uniformity helps keep the tomato patch looking good. The paint also prolongs the life of the stake a bit. Over time, as the bottoms rot, they can be sawn off cleanly and the stakes reassigned to shorter plants, like peppers.

4. Don’t hesitate to tuck flowers right in among the vegetables. A beautiful combination of purple violas with red cabbage are dynamite together. The purple flowers of the viola pick up the reddish-purple veins in the cabbage leaves. Plus violas are edible!

5. Nothing beats fresh produce simply prepared. Just minutes after picking, fava beans return to the garden, lightly steamed, and drizzled with olive oil, pesto, and balsamic vinegar. The pesto made in a blender while the fava beans steamed. Enjoying a meal surrounded by the beautiful garden that produced it is the best seasoning of all. A little bistro table tucked in the garden makes a great spot for this simple garden dish to be enjoyed.

6. Tiles make long-lasting plant markers. In a garden with so many unusual varieties and so many curious visitors, easy-to read plant markers are a real plus. Terra-cotta tiles, which are inexpensive, good looking, and will last indefinitely if not left out over winter.

7. Raffia, hemp and Jute is a natural for tying up plants. It’s unobtrusive, strong, flexible, inexpensive, and will last the season. And come fall, they can go right in the compost with the spent plant.

8. Bamboo makes a great natural fence or pea trellis. By crisscrossing bamboo, you can grow peas up it making a living fence or adding this crisscrossed bamboo on an edge where vegetable bushes like to fall over beds into paths, will tidy up paths, keeping plants in place.

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Lavender Lemonade Fizz

Over the last several years we have been fermenting like crazy and really loving it! Here is a simple lemonade that doesn’t require a lot of time or effort and we think is really quite refreshing on a hot summer day. I keep two going all the time on the counter and one in the frig!

Lavender Lemonade Fizz

7 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup raw honey

1 T white wine vinegar

4 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender flowers

2 lemons, sliced into 1/4” round

Combine the water, honey, vinegar, lavender, and lemon in a clean half-gallon mason jar, cover with a lid, and shake well until all the honey has dissolved. Set the mixture aside to ferment, covered, at room temperature for 2 days.

After 2 days, strain out the lavender and lemon. Transfer the liquid into glass bottles with a tight fitting lid, leaving about 1/2” of headroom in each bottle. The lids need to be tight-fitting to contain the carbonation that is going to develop. If the lids do not fit tightly, the carbonation will escape from the bottles, leaving you with a still delicious yet non-carbonated beverage.

Set the bottles aside in a cool, dark place to ferment for 3 days. Then open one the bottles to taste it. If the soda is still not carbonated, put the lid back on and let the bottles continue fermenting. Taste regularly. The length of time needed to produce carbonation will vary depending on the temperature and the activity of the natural yeast in your fizz.

Once the lemonade reaches the desired carbonation, transfer the bottles to the refrigerator. The cold temperature will slow the fermentation process and keep the carbonation level as it is.

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Choosing the Right Soil Amendment

Anything that improves the condition of the soil can be called a soil amendment. Mulches and top-dressings also improve the soil, but it’s easiest to use the word amendment or even soil conditioner to refer to anything that is turned into the soil. If something is left on the surface without being mixed into the soil, it’s either a top dressing or a mulch.

I love soil amendments! While you can grow a garden in our soils without amending it, you will find that your plants will flourish, be more productive and be less prone to pest and disease issues then without amending it. A better producing garden is much more fulfilling and less frustrating, agreed?

Soil amendments improve clay soil aggregation, increase porosity and permeability. They improve aeration, root depth and drainage.

In sandy soils, soil amendments increase the ability to hold water and nutrient holding capacity.

When should soil amendments be used? This will depend on what you are using and how broke down the matter is you are using. If most of the material has already decomposed, as with mature compost or well-aged manure, you can add it just days before planting. If you’re using unfinished compost or material that hasn’t yet broken down, such as newly fallen leaves, clean (chemical free) sawdust, or fresh manure, allow at least four weeks before planting. I prefer to add fresh material in the fall so it has all winter to break down into usable form.

There are so many choices of soil amendments. The softer finer materials are best for soil amending (compost, manure, peat moss). Hard materials take to long to break down (wood chips, sticks).

Here is a list of just a few materials that can be used as soil amendments:

Compost: Of course, top on my list would be compost! Whether you make it or buy bagged compost, it is an excellent source of organic matter. Finished compost can be used anytime. Unfinished compost should be turned under in fall or several weeks before you wish to plant. Finished compost should be dark and smell like clean earth. Work in 2-4” of compost to garden beds.

Leaf Mold: Leaf mold is an excellent source of organic matter; can be used anytime. The microorganisms in the soil love this stuff! It will help retain moisture and add healthy tilth. Generally you will have to make it yourself. But this is easily to do. Here is a link how.

Peat Moss: Peat Moss supplies organic matter and will slightly acidify soil (lower pH), so this is excellent for our soils. Be sure to mix peat moss into the soil, as it could repel water if left on the soil surface. Peat moss can hold a lot of moisture making it helpful in drought conditions. Work in 1” of peat moss to garden beds.

Coconut Coir: Coconut coir is a very nice substitution for peat moss. It comes in a compacted block that needs to hydrated before it can be used. However, it does not lower pH like peat moss does. Be sure your coconut coir you are purchasing is rinsed! If it isn’t you will be introducing salts to your garden, which we don’t need. Work in 1” of coconut coir to your garden.

Manures: Manure is an excellent source of organic matter and it supplies many nutrients, but can contribute to salt build-up, so they’re not good to use if your soil is already salty. Worms love this stuff! Work in 2” of well rotted manure into your garden soil. Fresh manure can harm plants due to the elevated ammonia levels. Avoid this by working into the soil during the fall time and letting it rest through the winter months.

Worm Castings or Worm Compost: Perfectly pH balanced! Worm castings contain minerals and highly active bacteria and enzymes. They protect soil and plants from diseases and help retain moisture. A little goes a long way. Work in up to 1/4” of worm castings or worm compost into your garden soil.

Wood Products: While wood chips and chemical free saw dust are growing in popularity, they can tie up nitrogen in the soil and cause nitrogen deficiency in plants. Microorganisms in the soil use nitrogen to break down the wood. Over several months to years, as microorganisms complete the decomposition process, the nitrogen is released and again becomes available to plants. It’s always best to compost wood products, before using them as soil amendments.

Greensand: Greensand supplies no organic matter, but help loosen clay soils and improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils. It is rich in slow-release potassium and micronutrients. Personally, I wouldn’t grow without it. Add in the fall or early spring. Work in 2-5 pounds per 100 square foot of garden area.

Gypsum: Gypsum supplies no organic matter. It corrects soil structure problems caused by too much magnesium or sodium. May help loosen clay soils. Supplies plenty of calcium without changing the pH, so don’t use where calcium levels are already high. Not good for acidic soils.

Perlite and Vermiculite: Both of these soil amendments have no nutrient value. Perlite is best for clay soils to help the porosity. Vermiculite will help sandy soils retain moisture.

Shrimp Meal and Crab Meal: Both of these meals not only amend the soil, but they offer many benefits to the plants and soil. Microorganisms in the soil feast on shrimp meal and crab meal, making a more lively soil, in turn stimulating plant growth and health, while adding a slow-release fertilizer as well. These amendments are powerhouses for controlling devastating soil nematodes.

A word on Biosolids and/or composts containing biosolids. Biosolids are byproducts of sewage treatment. They generally contain heavy metals, pathogens, and salts. Biosolids are approved for use in production of agriculture, however, it is advisable to avoid application to vegetable gardens due to the potential for heavy metals. They can be found alone or composted with other organic matter. Compost containing biosolids can be found very cheap by the truck load. But, is cheap worth it?

There are so many choices of soil amendments. You can mix and match to what your soils needs are. So know your soil! But one thing is for sure. You can never go wrong with my favorite, COMPOST!

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Growing Top Notch Carrots!

Planning early to have excellent carrots is essential! It’s almost that time of year we start to prepare our garden beds for the best, sweetest carrots. The long tap roots are traditionally orange, but adding yellow, white and tones of red and purple to the carrot color palettes can turn the transitional hohum choice to exciting.

The best shaped and flavorful carrots do best in soil free of stones, clods and compaction. When preparing the soil, till or spade to the depth of at least 12″. Work in plenty of well-rotted compost and let bed rest for 3-6 weeks before planting.  There is a link that excess  manure can cause carrots to fork, so we have always avoided it and we haven’t had forked carrots ever.  When it is time to plant, work in bone meal to keep the soil soft and feed the roots, kelp meal to sweeten the carrots and if your soil is lacking in minerals, greensand is an excellent choice. Only use 3-6 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square foot of planting area. Over-fertilizing can cause carrots to split. Hold off on high nitrogen fertilizer or you will end up with magnificent tops and small roots. If you don’t have time to wait for soil to rest, add only a small amount of compost and dig in the organic fertilizer at planting time.

Carrots can be grown in all climates. Seed can be sown from late winter to late summer. Check with your local nursery, gardener or extension office for the best times to sow seeds or just follow seed packet times. Carrots sown in the late summer make for the sweetest harvest in fall once a frost has come.

Carrots are best grown from seed as they resent transplanting. Sow seed no deeper than 1/4” deep and 1” apart. Once seeds are sown, cover with a seed guard to encourage germination. This not only helps the seeds to germinate, but it helps keep the soil damp and protects your seeds from hungry birds and other critters. Once Carrots have reached 3 inches tall, remove seed guard and thin seedlings to 2-3”. Further thinning can be carried out at the baby carrot stage to give more room in the row (and you can eat the little carrots).

Keep soil free from weeds for best growth. Keeping plants well watered throughout their growing stages helps avoid stress factors that may send into premature bolting, which makes for small or woody carrots. Cut back water when carrots mature as over-watering at this stage may cause carrots to split.

During the growing season, apply a side dress of dry organic fertilizer or liquid-feed bi-monthly.

Carrots are a long-maturing crops, so knowing when to harvest them can be tricky if your new to it. Keeping track of when the seeds were sown provides a good guide to harvest time. Most carrots mature around 12-16 weeks. Small or baby carrots may be harvested in 10-12 weeks.

To harvest carrots without breaking them, gently pull at the base of the foliage and work the carrot out of the soil avoiding breaking the root. If you carrot is proving hard to pull, use a digging fork to lift the out of the soil.

Remove the leaves after harvesting cutting close to the top of the root to improve storage. Store in a cool room or bag and place them in the refrigerator. Carrots should last for at least four weeks.

Grow an array of colored carrots with your kids this spring. Kids love to eat what they grow! Eat them fresh from the garden or cook them up for dinner. Bake them with a bit of butter and maple syrup. What a sweet treat anyway you eat them! Enjoy

Some of our favorites carrots:

Yaya Carrot

Negovia Carrot

Starburst Carrot Mix  This one tastes great and kids and adults love it!

 

 

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