Tag Archive | Vegetable Gardening

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.  Thank you to all who have served our country.

I honor this day in a bit of a strange way.  I always plant my tomatoes on Memorial Day. What on earth might that do with honoring the memory of veterans, you ask?

Well,  for years, I used to plant tomatoes with my Dad, who was a World War II vet. Even after we gardened in different places, I still grew tomatoes for him and, if I had to,  I shipped them to him.

He will be gone 17 years this summer,  but the tomato planting always helps me to remember him–& all veterans.

As a bonus this year, my poppies opened this weekend too.  Very fitting.

So What if I Don’t Include Flowers for My Pollinators?

What are the consequences of leaving flowers out of the edible garden? Well, it depends.

If you have neighboring gardens with lots of flowers, you may have no consequences. Bees are amazing fliers and their territories can be as wide as 4 miles.

Further, it’s been shown that they are somewhat specific. So if a colony of bees is pollinating apple blossoms, they’ll come to your apple trees too, even if you do nothing special to entice them there.

If a colony of bees is pollinating everyone else’s tomato gardens, chances are they’ll stop by yours as well–even if you don’t have anything around to entice them like bright yellow marigolds or nasturtiums.

What is going to really mess things up for you? Pesticides! Pollinators are highly sensitive to pesticides! And remember, no pollinators, no fruits or vegetables. (Well, not exactly–we’ll still have lettuce and leafy greens, radishes and root crops, herbs–but many of our favorite summertime vegetables won’t be possible without pollinators–or be woefully stunted!)

On Monday I’ll talk about a story from my retail gardening days about just how influential pesticides are on crop production–and lack of pollinators.


 

Pollinators Are Great–but What if I Grow Edibles?

Okay, think about this for a moment. Food crops are the hottest “new” thing in gardening. It seems that everyone wants to grow them and everyone is trying to grow them creatively–in containers, vertically, in raised bed, or even in with ornamental plantings (a bit more about that on Wednesday).

And that’s great. I’m all for it. I’ve been growing fresh veggies and herbs for 45 years now. And for the most part, I’ve been doing it organically. Because after all, if you want vegetables that have been sprayed with chemicals, you can just go down to your market and buy those. Why go to the effort to grow them? Growing your own can be a bit of work!

But the payback is enormous, of course. Not only do you get delicious fresh vegetables (or fruits if you are growing those. I don’t talk much about fruits because I don’t grow many of my own. But the concept is identical), but you get the satisfaction of your own harvest, and the benefits of working in your own garden, no matter how large.

Just being outside, even if you are harvesting a few patio tomatoes from a pot on a balcony, puts you in touch with nature. I used to garden on a balcony in Hartford on the 7th floor of a condo. And the first thing I did every morning and the last thing I did every evening was to go outside on that balcony every single day of the year. It told me the air temperature, whether it was damp, or humid, I got to listen to a few moments of bird song (and car horns!) and I just generally got to experience nature. I faced south so I could see both sunrises and sunsets. It was lovely.

But no matter what we are growing, or where, we need pollinators. Nothing sets fruit without something to pollinate it. That’s why I encourage you, if you are growing plants in the ground, to include flowers in your edible garden. I always include alyssum, and I have plenty of herbs that flower for my pollinators: dill, fennel, parsley (not that that flowers, but the swallowtail caterpillars feast on it) occasionally cilantro, marigolds and nasturtium.

Not only does this make the pollinators happy, but it makes the garden pretty too. You should try it!

Garden Trends–Smaller Edibles

On Friday I talked about how edible gardening was having a resurgence–and it’s having a resurgence in a huge way!

But while Friday’s post talked all about the new and unusual varieties of vegetables that we’re growing (and didn’t even touch on the great types of fruits that are now available) today I will talk about the smaller edibles that have been designed primarily for containers but can really go in most gardens (with the exception of tomatoes bred for hanging baskets, say, but examples like that are few and far between).

The trend in all of gardening is to “go smaller.” It’s happening with our trees and shrubs, it’s happening with larger perennials like Joe Pye Weed, for example, and black cohosh (two great native plants that are being bred in smaller varieties so that more folks can grow them–you now don’t need a meadow to have these plants!) and it’s happening with berrying plants like blueberries and raspberries as well.

This last category–the berries–is particularly interesting because it means that many folks can now grow fruit in containers. I’ve been growing blueberries in containers for the last 3 seasons (I store the containers in my unheated garage over the winter) and with the exception of fighting the birds for the berries, I have had great success. I probably need to net the containers but that just goes against my “lazy gardening” aesthetic.

Many of us have been growing vegetables in containers for years as well. Before I moved to this property, and in the years when I didn’t garden in a community garden, I gardened on a 12′ by 4′ condominium balcony.

I had great success growing lots of things there–green (bush) beans, tomatoes (the smaller varieties), radishes–I even had a small Japanese maple out there. Obviously it faced south. This was 25-30 years ago.

Now a few catalog companies are catering to folks like me and developing seeds for just such situations. I have noticed whole sections in the Renee’s Garden catalog devoted to collections of these seeds (and no, while Renee’s Garden is always very generous with their offers of free seeds to writers, I get nothing for this publicity!)

Another of my favorite catalogs, The Cook’s Garden, is now a part of Burpee. While they have lots of videos on their site about growing vegetables in containers, and patio tomato collections, for example, they are so huge that it can be a bit overwhelming to sort through to find the container varieties. But there are lots of varieties there, even in larger plants like squash.

Even my other two choices, Johnny’s Selected Seeds,  and my utmost favorite for selection, Baker Creek Seeds, do not make finding container varieties easy. Most of what they have for containers, when you do search, are flowers or herbs.

None of that should deter you from shopping these fine seed companies, by the way, especially if you have time to peruse their fabulous catalogs! I have been extremely happy with seeds–and plants–from both companies and I have gotten some fine tools from Johnny’s.

So it’s getting better and easier all the time to grow small varieties of edibles. And since garden trends show that that is what a lot of folks want to do, regardless of garden size, I know that the growers are on to something here!

 

Garden Trends–“Clean” Gardening

On Monday I talked about the first of the “garden trends” that the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 identified as trends for 2017.

I have to confess, I am a little bit puzzled by some of these trends. This trend, for example, that they called “clean” gardening. It encompasses “natural,” organic and even hydroponic gardening. It also encompasses free range!

First, that’s a huge range of different gardening styles and there are battles brewing at the federal level (and no, I have no intention of weighing in here, other than to say that for the moment hydroponic is NOT considered organic, and natural can mean a huge range or different things but is also not officially considered organic under USDA standards).

As long term readers know, I’ve been organic for over 20 years–since 1994, in fact–so “clean” gardening is hardly what I would call a “trend” for me. However, I am delighted to see it getting publicity and I am delighted to see everyone becoming aware of the variety of different styles of eating and gardening, whichever they ultimately choose to adopt.

One of the things I always try to tell people when I lecture is that they should try to keep their homes and yards as free from toxins as possible, particularly if they are growing food. I say that there are  a couple of reasons to grow your own food: to get varieties that you can’t find elsewhere and to know where your food is coming from (literally) and what’s on it.

I also say that if you are just going to put synthetics on it–and I mean synthetics of any sort, from fertilizers to pesticides–you might as well just go down to the supermarket and buy the food.

You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s how I feel. And as I always say, if we all “liked” the same thing, we would have a very boring world. But this trend, at least, seems to indicate, that more folks are “liking” food without synthetics (that was one of the characterizations of “clean” in the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 report).

Fall is the Best Time for Gardening

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Have you seen these yet? If not, don’t worry you will. This display appeared in my grocery store on July 31. I hope they intended for folks to buy and eat the stuff now. Or perhaps it’s the sort of thing that never gets stale.

But that’s not all that’s appearing with unsettling regularity in my vision. I am getting far too many tweets and texts and emails about “Ooh, fall is the best time for [fill in the blank] gardening!”

They’re not wrong. Fall is an excellent time to grow many sorts of things. In fact, fall is the only time that certain things can be planted, like spring flowering bulbs.

It’s also a great time to get a second crop of cool weather vegetables started.

But it’s August 8, people. Let’s actually wait until we get to “fall,” by some definition, shall we? I haven’t even picked a full size tomato yet and you want me to start plowing up the vegetable garden and planting bulbs?! I think not!

Perhaps this doesn’t happen in places where the growing season is longer. But here in Connecticut our growing season is extremely short. The last thing I need is anyone making it any shorter than it already is!

And while I will be posting about bulbs and fall planting in another month or so, I would like most of you out there to make the most of what’s left of your summer. Please enjoy it. Don’t rush it.

And when September comes, we’ll talk about fall.

I do like the approach of one bulb grower, Colorblends, however. A recent email to me said “Plan in Summer, Plant in Fall.” Like me, Colorblends is based right here in Connecticut. They know about short seasons and they know not to ruin one season by rushing the next. And they have fabulous, beautiful bulbs as well. You can see their web site here.

Feeling Seedy?

About a week or so ago, I started my vegetable seeds. For some reason, I always dread this job and I don’t know why. Even when I am starting seeds for me, my neighbor and the garden at work, it probably takes all of half an hour to complete the task from start to finish.

For this round of seeds, I was just starting peppers and tomatoes–the really warm weather vegetables that need a head start. Most other things I start outdoors–beans, lettuce, things like that.

I may need to do something special to seeds like morning glory if I am going to direct sow those–I noticed I had several different types in my “seed stash.” Usually with those, because they have a hard outer seed coat, I will soak them first before sowing. The other option is to file or nick them a little bit–anything to break open the seed coating.

I suppose at some point I need to figure out what I am going to do with my decorative amaranth as well. Do I start them early indoors or just direct sow them when it’s time?

And I should think about sowing my snap peas, although it has been so miserable and cold that I am not sure it’s quite time. There’s a fine line in my state between cool soil and soil so cold it rots early seeds.

If all this sounds like a lot of trouble, it’s really not–witness my statement at the beginning of this post about starting the seeds taking all of half an hour. Nurturing them along is a little more time consuming but certainly no more so than watering house plants (and we know I have an epic number of those!).

Even transitioning the seeds from indoors to outside need not be too much of a problem–again, I do it with my house plants (about 100 or so) every spring and then I transition the house plants back in again in the fall. What’s a couple of trays of seedlings?

The biggest worry I have is that one of my “critters”–and it’s usually the chipmunks–will decide to wreak havoc among the seedlings and I will lose half of my hard work. But in that case, there are always garden center transplants.

Still, seed starting allows me to choose what I want to grow–not what someone else has decided that I should grow.  And it lets me garden in the cold dreary days when I think the sun and warmth will never return (since, as I am fond of saying, we get 2 seasons in my state, winter and July!)

While it may be a bit late to start seeds indoors where you are, it’s almost never too late to plant something in the garden. Why not give it a try this year?