Growing Brussels Sprouts at Home

As with all vegetables, Brussels sprouts taste better grown at home.  These miniature cabbage looking sprouts are a delight for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners as well as a tasty side dish during winter months.

Pick a spot with plenty of sun, minimum of 8 hours each day.

Brussels sprouts require fertilizer, hummus-rich soil, so dig in plenty of well rotted compost in prior to sowing in the spring.   If your soil is acidic, sprinkle in agriculture lime, or if your soil is alkaline, add a small amount of sulfur.  Brussels sprouts prefer a pH of 6.5 – 7.5.

You can start sowing seed in mid-March to mid-April .  Sow thinly to a depth of 1/2″.  Once your little sprouts have reached 2-3″ tall, thin them to 2 to 2 1/2′  apart to allow them plenty of growing space.  As they grow you can draw the soil in around the base to give them support in the wind.  Compost can also be used to place around the plants rather than drawing soil up.  By using compost, it helps add nutrients as well as suppress weeds through the growing season.  Extra tall plants may need additional staking.   Keep the soil evenly moist, but never soggy.

Once Brussels sprouts have reached 6″ tall add some general fertilizer around the base of each plant.  Fertilizing every six weeks through the growing season.

Brussels sprouts general take 36 weeks from sowing.  So by patient!   Pick the buttons from the bottom of the stalk upward when they are about 1″, or the size of a cherry tomato.  They are sweeter after a frost.  The top leaves of the plant can also be cooked.

If you have problems with clubroot, lime your soil if it’s acidic.  Place collars around the base of each plant, or cover with insect netting to protect from cabbage root fly.  Cabbage white caterpillars will feed happily on leaves of Brussels sprouts, so protect early with lightweight row cover or spray with Bt once butterflies are present.

DSC_0032.jpgGreat taste in the kitchen:

Brussels Sprouts with Cheese & Walnuts

Stem Brussels sprouts till just tender then place them in a grill pan.  Sprinkle cheese over the top and grill till cheese has melted.  Add chopped walnuts, and black pepper to taste.

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Herbs for Chickens

If you were to walk around our chicken and goat pins, you would find all kinds of herbs growing.  They not only help with a bit of fly control in the summer months, but we collect and dry them for not only teas and tisanes for us, but the animals as well.

Nettle, top of my list for a couple of reasons.  Our chicks love dried nettle!  It is a wonderful source for nutrients, containing essential minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium.  Be sure to grow this in the “outback” safe away from brushing up against.  Ours is right up against the coop, behind a little picket fence.  It never gets very big or out of control because I am always harvesting it.

Red Clover is an excellent laying stimulant.  While it’s great dried tossed in with the chicks daily ration of food, they love it fresh.  I pick a couple of handfuls every night and toss around their bedding in the evening.  It is also a good respiratory system helper and a nutrition powerhouse. Even the two week old babies are really enjoying this treat.

Peppermint smells great and helps repel pests and insects.  Just like for us humans, it helps our chicks have a healthy digestive tract.  However, we grow this in pots near the coop rather than let it get out of hand.  This stuff is easy to grow, but sometimes not hard to control once it is established.

Calendula flowers are an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial.  So why wouldn’t you give your feathered friends a taste of these?  Calendula can deepen the color of yolks.  My girls like this best dried.

Comfrey leaf, one of the best healing herbs I know.  It’s protein rich, and also helps with digestive issues.

Lavender Flower are aromatic and help reduce stress, improve blood circulation and it is an effective insecticide, including lice!  And what’s prettier than a bunch of lavender plants growing around the yard and coop area?

Chamomile is gentle and calming.  It’s another herb that is excellent for digestive systems, but it’s also good for growth.  This is great for chicks!

Raspberry leaf can stimulate reproductive systems while providing a good source of nutrition.  We have a raspberry patch not far away from the coop, and they love a fresh handful tossed in their mix.

Fennel is a super pest repellent.  It’s helpful to the digestive and reproductive systems.  It can increase appetite and egg laying.  I plant fennel in my garden and let it go to seed.  The bees love the blooms an then once totally dry I  chop the seed heads off and toss the whole thing in the coop.  They love picking off the seeds.  I also save some for later in the year.

Rosemary is so easy to grow, it smells terrific and helps with respiratory health as well as being an                                                                        effective insecticide.  This can be picked year round because it’s an evergreen here.

Lemonbalm!  This could get out of control if I didn’t feed it to the chickens and goats!  Lemonbalm can help repel rodents, it’s an inti-inflammatory, and an anti-microbial herb.  My chickens like it best dried, but they will eat it fresh when it’s flowering.

Thyme is an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-parasitic.  It’s another herb that helps with the digestive and respiratory systems.

All of these herbs are wonderful dried and mixed together to feed chickens every few days.  I toss a handful in their feed and even a couple of tablespoons in each nesting box. If you don’t have the time or space to grow these herbs but still want to give them a try you can still buy organic herb mixes for laying chickens.

 

 

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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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