Frequently Asked Questions

Sweet Potatoes Slip Sale 2016

sweet_potatoes_3.jpg

Sweet Potato Slip Sale

June 11th and 12th, 2016

8:00 to 6:00 pm

 Red Wagon Plants greenhouses

2408 Shelburne Falls Rd  * Hinesburg, VT

Proceeds from the sale benefit the educational programs of Vermont Community Garden Network.

For more information, call 482-4060

Sweet potatoes can be grown in Vermont. Under ideal conditions they thrive and can yield up to 5 pounds per slip. During this benefit sale, we will be selling sweet potato slips in 4" pots, with three slips per pot. These get transplanted 18" apart, in loose, well drained soil. You can also grow them in containers. They like warm, southern exposure, and can be trellised to save space.

Here are some resources for more information on Sweet Potatoes:

The Vermont Community Garden Network has information on their programs and the sweet potato sale here.

This  article on the Mother Earth News website highlights growing methods for northern gardeners and best ways to store the tubers.

 Here is a photo essay on how some ingenious customers are growing their sweet potatoes in Starksboro.

Recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Herbs

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch batons

3 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper

1/3 cup finely chopped parsley, chives, and or cilantro

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 small pinch of cayenne

1 tsp lemon juice

  • Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place 2 large cookie sheets in the oven so they are pre-heated as well
  • Toss the cut sweet potatoes with the olive oil and salt and pepper in a large bowl
  • Arrange them on the hot pans in a single layer.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, and flip them over with a spatula, and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until tender and browned.
  • Meanwhile, toss the herbs, garlic, cayenne and lemon juice together in the same bowl
  • When the hot fries come out of the oven, sprinkle the herb mixture on the fries and serve immediately

Growing Instructions for Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato slips are cuttings that come from a parent vine. The slips grow best in a loose, sandy or silty soil that drains well. If sweet potatoes are grown in a rich dark soil they may discolor but are still good to eat. • Transplant the slips into garden beds during June, preferably in the late afternoon or on an overcast day. When transplanting, lay the slips on their sides with 2/3 of the slip buried a half inch under the soil. Water enough to keep the soil moist, but not saturated. • Plant the slips 10 to 18 inches apart in rows that are three to four feet apart. The rows or raised bed should be elevated 4 to 8 inches above the ground level to allow the sweet potatoes room to form. • Keep the cuttings watered while they are getting established. The leaves that were originally on the planted slips will dry up and fall off leaving just the vine stem. New leaves will emerge from the cuttings as the slips become established. • The sweet potato vines will cover the ground reaching 5 to 10 feet in length. Hoe around the vines to cultivate weeds and mulch with hay if desired. • Deer love sweet potato leaves, so be sure your planting area is fenced if deer are aproblem. A flying gold colored beetle may chew round holes in the leaves. The vines are tough and will keep growing despite insect damage. • Sweet potatoes are dug and harvested in late September through mid October, a day or two before the first predicted frost. Most of the sweet potatoes will be just below the parent plant. Each plant can produce up to six sweet potatoes. • After harvesting, dry the sweet potatoes on the ground for two or three hours. Allow them another 10 to 14 days to cure at room temperature or above, before storing the sweet potatoes at a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees F. • Unlike Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes should not be kept cold in a garage, refrigerator or outbuilding. If properly cured and stored, they will keep until April. Enjoy!

Planting the Fussy Onion

Onions are some of the first things to go in the ground each spring. You may not know this, but onions are finely tuned creatures with a rigid hormonal profile. They are completely and utterly dependent on the sun's cycle to grow into the lovely round orbs we think of as onions. Those plump layers only grow in relationship to the lengthening days of spring. If onions are planted too late, they will never bulb out and become big and round. An onion that has been planted too late, let's say after the middle of May, will never quite size up, but will create a thick stem, and a barely bulbous orb. The engorged stem will not create rounded layers at all but rather look more like a slightly ovate leek. These are still fine to eat, but won't really be onions you can store through the winter.

We recommend that people plant onions in mid-April. When it is muddy, and cold, and you think there is no way a plant wants to go into the garden, well guess what? The onions really want to go into that cold earth. The way we grow onion plants for sale is that we seed about 80 plants into a 4 pack, and your job as the gardener is simple:

  • Prepare a bed in the garden - deep, well worked, rich soil is best. I prepare my onion beds in the fall, that way they are ready for onion plants first thing in the spring.
  • Gently pull the clumps of soil and roots and plants out of the 4 pack.
  • Separate each plant and shake off the excess soil. The individual plants are like tiny blades of grass, but each one will grow into a big onion plant.
  • Make a trench about 4 inches deep the length of your planting area. Onion rows can be about 8 inches apart, so depending on the size of your bed, you can plant up to 4 rows of onions in one bed and still reach across the bed to weed comfortably.
  • Plant the individual plants in the trench, about 4 to 6 inches deep. Only a few inches of the thin green stems will be above ground. You should have about 2-3 inches between plants.
  • Tamp the earth tightly around each plant.

The onions plants won't grow much at first, but they are just hanging out in the cold soil, programming themselves to grow once the soil warms up. It is these cold, long days that help make onions nice. I know, it is hard to believe that they prefer this, but they do. Southern growers, who have shorter summer days than northern growers, have entirely different onion varieties than we do. That illustrates just how much onions are day-length sensitive. A few degrees difference in latitude necessitates a whole different set of genetics.

The other things to keep in mind with onions:

  • Keep them well watered. Water and day length is what makes onions big. Some straw mulch applied in late June is a good idea for keeping the moisture even and consistent.
  • Keep them well weeded. Onions plants are slender and upright. They do not create any shade, therefore weeds like to grow near them, in the sunny under-story of the onion patch and because onions really don't want to compete for food, water and sunlight. They are not good at sharing.
  • Keep them well fed. An application of Compost Plus in May is a good idea. It will help them get big and strong.
  • Growing onions in black plastic mulch is a good option if you want to eliminate weed pressure and heat up the soil. Once onions are big, they like it hot.
  • Harvest onions once the tops start to flop over. You can eat them fresh, as "green onions" or you can cure them by laying them out in a dry, airy place, away from direct sunlight. This usually happens in late July or early August. It depends on the varieties you grow and on the kind of weather we are having.

Onions are best stored in a dark, cool, airy place. A damp basement is not a good storage spot. A cold, dry, dark attic is better. Or an unheated closet, or a garage that does not get too cold. Ideal onion storing temperature is about 35F. That is pretty cold - colder than most basements.

Some onion relatives can be planted later in the season. This includes scallions, mini-purplette onions, pearl onions, and shallots. Leeks are also tolerant of a later planting, and can be planted multiple times throughout the gardening season if you would like to harvest baby leeks. 

The onion varieties we grow each year:

Cipollini Gold Coin - a flat, disc like onion that stores very well in the winter. It is a strong flavored onion which mellows when cooked and is delicious caramelized, glazed, or roasted. One of our favorites for flavor.

Yellow Storage Cortland - a huge, good keeper which means that it stores well all winter. Dry the onion once harvested in a cool, airy spot, and you will be eating it until March or April of next year. 

Red Storage Onion Mars - also quite big, and also a good winter keeper. Slightly milder in flavor than Cortland and can be eaten raw when sliced thinly. Red Onions develop their red interior only once they have been cured. Once harvested, coll in an airy dark spot until the tops are completely dried and can be pulled off by hand. That is the curing process for all storage onions.

Sweet Onion Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig - both are gigantic sweet onions. They do very well with lots of water and mulch. Sweet onions do not keep over the winter. They do not need to be cured, but rather get refrigerated once harvested. They are delicious roasted, grilled, or eaten raw in sandwiches. 

Scallions - These can be planted in clumps of 10 or so plants. They can be planted every few weeks for a continuous harvest. If you do not want to buy scallion plants or seeds, you can eat young onion plants as scallions.

Shallots - These store very well after being cured like onions. They add a sweet and complex flavor to winter dishes, marinades, and dressings. 

Mini-purplette - these are lovely purple pearl onions that are delicious in a spring braise with salad turnips and peas. They can be planted in clumps of 4 to 6 plants and can be planted multiple times throughout the season for more than one harvest. They also make great pickles. About 1" to 2" across.

Succession Gardening for Success

Garden Planning for the Seasonal Kitchen

Growing vegetables in your backyard, community garden or in some containers by the kitchen door is a great way to feed yourself -- whether it be just a few ripe tomatoes in August or a full-fledged homesteader's garden, you are on the right path to feeding yourself and your family.    Gardening is a great way to improve how you eat while spending some contemplative time outside. With all of these benefits in mind, it is easy to jump into gardening enthusiastically, and you will reap even more rewards with a little bit of planning. In Vermont, our gardening season seems short but can be stretched almost year round with a few simple tips.    I always recommend that people take a look at how their vegetable gardens have been in the past and find just one or two things they would like to improve so that they can grow more of it for a longer season. For example a common question I hear is "how can I keep cilantro from bolting?" Well, in short, you can't! But with a few changes in your gardening practices, you can grow it all spring, summer, and fall without ever seeing it go to seed.    The trick is to understand the life cycle of each vegetable or herb and how to best plant it to maximize it's harvest.    With certain crops, like zucchini, it is best to understand how prolific they are and to plant them conservatively so that the entire garden (and thereby your diet and your neighbors' diet) is not taken over with just one thing.    It is also helpful to plant things seasonally so that the harvest is not so overwhelming in August with little to eat before or after.    Or sometimes we just want fresh salads all summer, but don't replant and are left salad-less after July 1st.

Succession Planting for Successful Gardening

Certain crops should be planted multiple times throughout the season to ensure a continuous harvest. This is called succession planting. How often you plant is a matter of taste and space and time. The following list describes the maximum you could do with each crop, but adjust according to your needs and priorities -- this is just a guide. If you want to make sure you have a certain vegetable all summer long, then you can follow the guidelines. If you want it a little less, then create your own modified planting schedule.

  • Lettuce can be grown from seed or from transplants.    Seed grown lettuce is often grown in a row that can be cut and will re-grow a few times - think of mesclun. Transplanted lettuce can be grown to produce full heads like what you find in the store.    Both methods require regular planting every week or two for a continuous harvest.    It can be planted from seed in mid-April to mid-August for cut greens and transplanted for full heads from late April / early May through early August.    Some people will transplant a few plants and plant some seeds at the same time in a different area; this method provides two generations of lettuce and two types of salad greens. Once the cut lettuce becomes bitter in the heat of summer, it is best to pull it up, recondition the soil with compost, and plant something else.    If the goal is to always have fresh lettuce, it is very simple to do if you remember to replant it. You can even purchase a number of plants and hold some in their pots in a shady spot and only plant out a few each week. You can seed it yourself in trays or pots and follow this same method. Having several varieties, cold-tolerant ones for spring and fall plantings, and heat-tolerant ones for mid-summer, will produce the best flavor.
  • Cilantro is very similar to lettuce in its growing habits.    It will grow up to a point and then goes to seed, called bolting.    It will bolt more quickly in summer heat and, conversely, will stand ready to harvest for many weeks in the cool weather of fall--even early winter. It is good to time plantings so that cilantro is ready to harvest before June 21 (the solstice), and then plant more afterward. It can be transplanted or grown from seed. Like lettuce, it is simple to do both at the same time, thereby giving the gardener two generations.    Cilantro seed is coriander, so it does have a use if you enjoy that flavor. There is nothing you can do to prevent cilantro from bolting entirely, but you can slow the process down by placing your mid-summer plantings in a partly-shady spot.
  • Dill can be treated just like cilantro, and, like coriander seed, dill seed heads have a use in the kitchen, so it is fine to let some of the dill patch go to seed. The seed heads can be used in pickles. you can also let them self-sow or save the fully dried seeds in a paper bag for replanting.
  • Basil can be planted multiple times for best results. Plants can be pinched to slow down the flowering, but best flavor will come from newly replanted basil plants. This is a heat loving plant. Should only be planted once soil temps are in the upper 50's - usually last week in May or first week in June. Basil's flavor is at its peak right before it starts to make flowers.
  • Cucumbers, cantaloupes, and zucchini and summer squash are best in quality when well tended. Just a single plant or two of any of those is usually enough for the home gardener, but by planting it two to three different times, the quality will always be good. The dates are: June 1st (or last week in May if you are in a warm spot), July 1st and July 15th. This method will ensure a continuous harvest of prime looking vegetables. Just remember to pull out and discard the pest- and disease- prone older plants. If your compost gets very hot and is well managed, it is okay to compost these plants. Pest problems will diminish when the older, less healthy plants are removed.
  • Arugula, Cress, and other cutting greens for salads are best if sown or transplanted on a weekly or biweekly basis. Again, a small amount can be seeded next to the transplanted crops in order to give you 2 generations at once. This way you can have smaller quantities coming in at various times.
  • Broccoli gives the gardener a couple of options. It is best if transplanted and can be planted 3 dates in the spring and 3 dates in late summer for a continuous harvest.    I would choose late April, early May and mid May for the spring plantings and then Early August, mid August and early September for the fall plantings. Full heads can be harvested and the plants can stay in the ground to produce side shoots.
  • Green Beans are best when fresh and young. The seed is relatively cheap, so it is better to rip out old plants and have new ones coming along regularly. Having smaller, multiple plantings also means that no on is stuck picking beans for hours on end. Sow new seeds when the previous or first generation is about 6 inches high.
  • Boc Choi, Cabbage, Scallions, and Cauliflower can also be planted multiple times. Cabbage holds well in the heat and can be planted every couple of weeks late April through early August. Boc Choi and Cauliflower are not as heat tolerant and should be planted around the same dates as broccoli (see above). It is best to use row cover like Reemay on these young transplants so that flea beetles do not destroy the plants.
  • Spinach is another one that does not do well in the heat, but can be planted multiple times in spring and late summer. It can also overwinter with a little straw mulch for very early spring eating. Frequency of planting can happen every week mid April to early June and then early August to mid September. The last plantings in September are the ones which will be over-wintered and eaten the following spring. Apply straw mulch on overwintering spinach in December once the ground is frozen.
  • Beets, Carrots, Turnips can be planted every two or three weeks from mid-April until about the third week in July. Summer carrots are not the same as fall carrots and certain varieties do better in summer than in fall. The flavor of fall carrots is much sweeter, so I usually plant a larger patch in the fall. Fall carrots can also be stored all winter without going bad due to their lower moisture content. I don't love summer carrots, so I often skip those. Remember, it is all about what you like to eat.
  • Celery and Celeriac are slower growing and can be planted 1 to 3 times during the season, from mid May until early July. These need lots of water and benefit from straw mulch to hold the moisture evenly around the roots.
  • Bulb Fennel and radishes are similar to lettuce -- they can be planted each week if really loved, but they bolt in the heat and do best in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.    They are best if planted late April to early June and then again late August to mid September.    They are cold tolerant and hold well in late fall. Radishes are grown from seeds and fennel is best transplanted. Fennel also benefits from a straw mulch - even moisture around the roots is what helps it make larger roots.
  • Corn -- it is possible to do multiple plantings over different weeks, but an easier method is to plant all at once, but with various varieties that have different days to maturity. There can be a 40 day span between early and late varieties.
  • Peas can be planted every week, but this requires a lot of harvesting, irrigating, trellising, and variety research. It is possible though. More practically, the home gardener can sow 2 or 3 varieties in late April with various days to maturity. Fall plantings are sometimes successful but are weather-dependent. These should be done in mid August.

The following are generally planted just once a year, but the harvest can be staggered with a few tricks:

  • Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant -- try a few varieties of each in order to not have everything at once. Determinate tomatoes will provide you with a big harvest all at once which is a good thing for people who make big batches of sauce for canning or freezing. Determinate tomatoes are the ones that grow until a certain height and then mature all at once. Indeterminate tomatoes are the ones that grow indefinitely until the frost and the fruit ripens gradually August until frost or disease kills the plant.
  • Peppers and eggplant are best if transplanted in early June once the soil warms up. One planting is usually plenty, but again an assortment of varieties will keep the harvest varied, staggered and interesting.
  • Onions and Potatoes are generally planted all at once, and again a few different varieties will provide you with a longer period of fresh eating.    Both onions and potatoes can be stored for long periods of time in cool and dark conditions. Both can also be eaten fresh as young, green onions or new potatoes. Both can be harvested, cured, and stored for eating year round, though some onion varieties store much longer than others.
  • Winter Squash is another crop that is planted just once and can be stored. It is best cured for a week or two in a warm spot before eating.

Simple Food Preservation for the Home Gardener

  • Fruit Spreads and Jams:    I use a low- sugar pectin such as Ponoma's. It allows you to make a really simple fruit spread with honey or just a fraction of the sugar that would be in a regular jam.
  • Canning:    This is easiest to do with acidic foods such as tomatoes or fruit, otherwise, you will have to use a pressure canner. For a great explanation of canning, go to http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/ 4516/introduction-to-canning.

This will give you a very clear introduction to water bath canning (non-pressure canning of acidic foods). The ones that I do each year are tomatoes, peaches, and applesauce.

  • Simple Tomato Sauce: Wash and cut up tomatoes into halves or quarters.    Then pulse in food processor until they are chopped up well and the skins are pulverized. I usually do a few batches at a time until I have about a gallon of soupy tomato sauce which I then cook down for several hours over low heat until the desired thickness is reached. Salt to taste. This can then be canned or frozen. I doctor it up with herbs, garlic, etc when I use it in the winter time, which gives me more flexibility.
  • Roasted Ratatouille: I chop up onions, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes and toss them with herbs, olive oil, and sea salt. I then spread it on cookie sheets in a single layer and roast in a 400 degree oven until soft and starting to caramelize (turning once or twice helps).    It takes about 50 minutes per batch. I then freeze this in containers or freezer bags.    It is fantastic on pizza, pasta, in lasagnas or other casseroles, or on its own.
  • Sweet Peppers: Just chop up raw peppers and place in a freezer baggie. Very simple and a great addition to just about anything you are sauteing.
  • Herbs: Any herb can be turned into a puree with a little olive oil and salt in the food processor. This is a good candidate for freezing in ice cube trays and then placing the frozen blocks into labelled baggies. When making dishes in the winter, simply toss an herb cube into the pot for extra flavor ; soups, sauces, stir fries, salad dressings are all good options for this method. Pesto can be frozen this way too, allowing you to thaw out just what you need.
  • Other vegetables that freeze well are green beans and spinach:    Just steam, dry well, and place in bags.    Tomatoes can be frozen whole and raw--in the winter, when you use the tomatoes, you just have to run them under water to slip the skins off.
  • Pickling beets, carrots and cucumbers is another simple and satisfying way to store these veggies.    Beets and carrots should be boiled until just tender.    Place the veggies into a jar with garlic, onion, dill seed, salt, pepper, hot pepper (optional), and mustard seed.    Pour a boiling solution of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water over the veggies, and seal. The heat of the boiling solution is enough to create a vacuum seal.    Be sure to sterilize jars and lids first and to always use new lids.

What to plant now?

Given that our spring has been pretty mild over all, many gardeners are eager to get in the garden and plant a little earlier than normal. While the temptation is huge, it is also a good idea to remember that a hard frost can still come anytime in the next month or so and the ground is not all that warm. So what can go in the ground now? Lots of cold hardy vegetables and herbs are ready to go including onions, broccoli, cabbages, kales, mustards, boc choi, and more. It is best to harden off the plants for a few days before transplanting them - this means letting them get used to the cold, the wind, and the direct sunlight. Most of our plants will come to you already hardened off, but other nurseries may not take care to do that, so it is best to do it yourself. You can also use some row cover to create a small micro-climate for the young plants. We use hoops made out of 9-gauge wire to hold up the fabric off of the plants. This will give the plants a breathable, water permeable house to grow under during their initial weeks in the garden. The growth rate will be about double the rate of plants grown without row cover.

You can read more about hardening off  here.

Another great thing to plant now are crops you direct seed and that can germinate in cold conditions - spinach, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, scallions, peas, and fava beans.

If you have a spot in your garden that you are not going to use this year, you might want to consider spreading some cover crop seed. this will help ensure that the soil is fed during it's fallow period. The cover crop is essentially plants that are grown just for the soil's on going health. For cold weather sowing, you might want to try a cow pea and vetch mixture or oats or an annual clover .  This will smother out weeds and add lots of organic matter to your garden.

FAQ #23: How do I have fresh lettuce all summer long? How do you keep it from being bitter?

  The trick to having fresh lettuce all summer is to choose your varieties and timing well. You will need to have a succession of different varieties planted every week or so throughout the summer to ensure a constant supply. Start with cold tolerant varieties in the spring, then plant heat- and drought-tolerant ones in the summer, and plants with good holding ability and heat tolerance in late summer and early fall. Plants turn bitter when they are starting to bolt (go to seed) and are exposed to too much heat, so choosing your variety and timing well also avoids bitterness. Here’s an example planting:

  • May: 'Tango', 'Merveille des Quatres Saisons'
  • June: 'Dark Red Lollo Rosa', 'Sylvesta', 'Red Saladbowl', ‘Cherokee’
  • July: 'Reine des Glaces', 'Two Star', 'Red Sails', ‘Romaine Parris Island Cos’
  • August: 'Reine des Glaces', 'Two Star', 'Red Sails', ‘Mottistone’, ‘Nevada’
  • September: 'Tango', 'Merveille des Quatres Saisons'

FAQ #22: Which herbs are perennial and which are annual?

Perennials: Angelica, Catnip, Chives and Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Germander, Anise Hyssop, ‘Munstead’, 'Grosso', 'Provence'  Lavender, Lemon Balm,  Lovage, Mint, Oregano, Rue, Sage, Winter Savory, Sweet Woodruff, French Tarragon, Thyme, Valerian Annuals: Artemisia (self seeds), Basil, Chamomile (self seeds), Chervil (self seeds),  Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Feverfew (self seeds), Lemongrass, Marjoram, Papalo, Parsley, Red Shiso, Rosemary, Summer Savory

Some herbs can be kept as houseplants over the winter. Some that do well are rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and parsley. It is always nice to have a few pots of these in the kitchen to snip into bowls of soup, salads, scrambled eggs and roasted vegetables and meats. You can dig them up out of the garden in the fall or just grow them in pots all summer that you then bring into the house once the temperature drops.

FAQ #21: How can I keep arugula, cilantro, lettuce, and dill from bolting?

The first step to preventing bolting is to understand what causes it. Bolting, or going to seed, is a natural part of the plant's life cycle. Some plants have longer life cycles than others. Arugula, lettuce, cilantro and dill all have relatively short life cycles, so they will try to produce seed within 8 to 10 weeks of being planted. It is an inevitable part of the plant life cycle but can be postponed with good management. It can also be caused by shock during transplanting, by too much or too little water, and around the solstice when the days start getting shorter. Transplant shock can be minimized by careful hardening off and transplanting in late afternoon when the plants will not be exposed to intense midday heat. Water carefully and time your plantings so that a fresh generation is coming along before the previous generation goes to seed. Here is a helpful schedule to help you maximize the harvest:

Cilantro - plant every 3 weeks from late April to mid August. These are very cold tolerant and can be grown early and late to extend the season. If you are very eager to have cilantro for salsa, then make sure to plant some in early July so that it is ready to eat at the same time as your tomatoes are ripe. The flowers of cilantro are edible and are a lovely addition to salads and salsas.

Dill - like cilantro, is very cold tolerant and can be grown early and late in the season. This self seeds willingly, so you can always allow a patch to flower and drop its seeds giving you a perpetual patch. The flowers of dill are tasty in pickles and marinades.

Lettuce - lettuce can be grown at the baby leaf stage or the full head stage.  Please refer to our lettuce post to learn more about the timing of lettuce. It should be planted every week or two if you eat lots of salads and want fresh, non-bitter leaves on your plate. It can be planted from seeds or from plants. If you prefer the texture and flavor of full heads of lettuce, then transplant individual plants every 10" - about 4 to 8 transplants a week is plenty. If you prefer cut lettuce leaves, then use seeds, and sprinkle them in a row, about 2 or 3 seeds per inch. Cut lettuce leaves can grow back and provide you with a second harvest, but the quality goes down each time and the bitterness increases. It is best to replant a fresh row of seeds every couple of weeks.

Arugula - like lettuce, it can be grown from transplants or from seeds. It is best to plant it regularly as it does not grow back very well. Its flowers are edible, and can be a nice peppery additions to salads, sauces, and grilled fish.

FAQ #20: Which plants make good houseplants?

Red Wagon grows a number of plants that make good houseplants. The characteristics to look for are a tolerance of shade, a preference for hot conditions (such as tropical plants), and plants that are annuals (do not require cold winters). Some great choices are:

  • Colocasias (Elephant ear)
  • Banana plant
  • Sensitive plant (mimosa pudica)
  • Tuberous begonias
  • Geraniums (nice with dichondra)
  • Dracaena
  • Fuschia
  • Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks)
  • Ivy
  • Juncus
  • Boston Fern and other "annual' ferns
  • Oxalis
  • Scented Geraniums
  • Jade

FAQ #20: Do I have enough sunlight for this plant?

First you need to determine if you have full sun, partial sun, or full shade in the area you are considering. The best way to do this is to spend a day at home and note which areas come into sun and when, and when they are in shade again. Do this in spring when you have a realistic amount of sunlight, not in summer when the day is longest. Full sun means at least 6, but preferably 8 hours of direct sun each day. Sun loving plants can usually survive with less but will not bloom as much. Part sun and part shade plants prefer 3-6 hours of direct sunlight per day; however part sun plants can usually take more heat than part shade plants, which will want relief from strong afternoon sun. Full shade means zero to 3 hours of direct sunlight. These plants do NOT want total darkness but rather filtered, or indirect light, such as that provided by a deciduous forest.

FAQ #19: How can I manage powdery mildew?

From Sophia: Powdery mildew is a white powder-like fungus that particularly grows on cucurbits such as cucumbers and squash, French tarragon, bee balm, and other plants under adverse conditions. Powdery mildew does not generally kill the plants but will reduce their productivity and vigor. You can help prevent the disease by giving plants plenty of air circulation, only watering in the morning when the plants have time to dry, not planting cucurbits in the same place two years in a row, and destroying insect pests when you find them.

Once you have powdery mildew, you can manage it by removing the worst affected leaves with pruners. DO NOT put the leaves in your compost pile! Either burn them or throw them in the trash. Wash hands and tools with soapy water or dilute bleach solution after handling affected foliage and before touching other plants. Plants can be sprayed with a copper- or sulphur-based organic fungicide, or with a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda to 1 quart of water, once per week on the upper and undersides of the leaves until 2 weeks before harvest. This should eliminate the disease.

FAQ #18: How do I make compost?

Make some kind of container about 3’ in diameter, such as a length of chicken wire or 4 pallets hitched together to make a square.  Put a layer of sticks on the bottom, just thrown in to allow air to flow into the pile.  Add a variety of plant material, in layers if you can, but it’s not really necessary.  You need some brown material, such as leaves, and some green material, like freshly pulled weeds, grass clippings or kitchen scraps.  Top with a few handfuls of manure, if you have it, or half-done compost.  This isn’t necessary, but speeds up the process.  Sprinkle with water so the pile feels like a damp sponge.  Don’t soak it, it needs air.   The pile should heat up.  When it stops, turn it.  A compost aerator makes turning the pile an easy matter, so I do it more often, but you can also use a shovel or garden fork. Having two compost piles makes it easier to use the finished compost, since one can be allowed to finish while you’re adding to the other. Use the finished compost on your garden.  Even if it’s not be finely screened compost, it will finish decomposing in the soil.

FAQ #17: Should I plant annuals or perennials and what’s the difference anyway?

It depends on what you want! Annuals have to be planted each year because they are tender and don’t overwinter in VT, so you have to buy new ones each season.  However, once they start blooming, they do so all summer, if you take good care of them.  At the end of the summer just pull them out and throw them in the compost pile.

Perennials are long lived, often indefinitely, but only bloom for a part of the season.  In order to have color all season, you need to plant a wide variety of plants.  Some need to be cut down after blooming and you may have an empty spot in your garden.  Most perennials need dividing in order to be at their best and not look scraggly or take over the garden. Often a mix of annuals and perennials works well to ensure constant color in the garden. Biennials are plants that live for two years but behave somewhat like perennials because they flower and self-seed in their second year, and the seedlings will return year after year. Hollyhocks are a good example.

FAQ #16: Which perennials bloom the longest?

Virtually all plants will bloom longer if you deadhead them.  Picking lots of blossoms encourages the plant to branch and so you get more. I’ve had especially good luck with these varieties: Heliopsis (False Sunflower), which sometimes blossoms for 10-12 weeks in the fall Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan) – 6-7 weeks Monarda (Bee Balm) - 8-12 weeks Coreopsis - 8-12 weeks Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) ‘Luxuriant’ - 10-14 weeks, Feverfew – 8-12 weeks if you let new plants grow and cut back the old ones

IMGP2057
IMGP2057

FAQ #15: Should I mulch my flower beds?

How much time do you want to spend weeding?  If you love to weed as I do, you don’t need to mulch.  However, mulching will save 80% of weeding time, so most people are happier with a mulched garden.  Use a fairly thin layer (2-3 inches) and put a thinner layer on in subsequent years.  Mulching also conserves water.  Make sure the soil is moist before mulching because the mulch sometimes inhibits moisture from getting to the roots.

IMGP2865-1
IMGP2865-1
IMGP2879-1
IMGP2879-1

FAQ #14: How can I keep my garden looking good without spending all my time weeding?

First of all, gardens need some maintenance, so if you want a nice looking garden, you will need to commit some time to caring for it.  Bark or straw mulch helps to keep down weeds and makes those that do grow easier to pull up.  One good way is to edge with a shovel then use a hand cultivator to pull away the grass that is “cut off”.  Edging makes weeding easier and makes the garden look really nice when you are done.  When pressed for time, I edge, then weed in about 12 to 18 inches.  If your garden is full, the weeds in the middle won’t even show and you give an impression of a well-maintained space. Planting ground covers such as mosses, alyssum, and vinca will reduce the space that weeds can take over. You can check out a video on edging with a shovel here.

FAQ #13: What plants are easiest to take care of?

Annuals:

Geraniums

Imaptiens

Pansies

Marigolds

Salvias

Sunflowers

New Guinea Impatiens

Perennials:

Bleeding Heart

Astilbe

Echinacea

Garden Phlox

Sedums

Rudbeckia

Bee Balm

Lady's Mantle

FAQ #12: What perennial plants will do well in my shady garden?

Hostas are always a good choice and there are so many of them!  Using varieties with lots of yellow or white in the leaves gives “color” to the shade garden. They can can be divided each year to fill the area. Bleeding Heart - both white and pink heart-shaped flowers add a splash of color Astilbe - plumes of white or pink flowers add elegance in the spring

Sweet Woodruff  - a nice spring ephemeral with abundant tiny white flowers and shiny green foliage Pulmonaria has stunning dark green leaves with white splotches and delicate flowers in spring

Ferns and mosses are a great choice for filling in shady areas with nice textures

Brunnera - this plant comes in many shades of silver, green, and gold, and adds lovely heart shaped leaves and texture to the shade garden.

Laminum - a wonderful groundcover that with silver foliage and small blue flowers

FAQ #11: What soil should I use in my planters?

Vermont Compost Co.
Vermont Compost Co.

Although it’s tempting to think you’ll save money by using garden soil, you won’t have as good success because garden soil does not hold moisture as well as potting soil. Proper moisture is essential for container plants because they dry out more quickly than plants in the ground. Using a high quality potting mix will ensure that the soil holds moisture and that it has the nutrients your plants need.  At Red Wagon we grow all of our plants in a great organic potting soil called  made by Vermont Compost Company. We also sell a variety of Vermont Compost Company products in our retail greenhouse. A good, compost-based mix will ensure that your plants thrive all summer long. Long flowering annuals such as petunias, fuschias, and gernaniums can benefit from some additional fertilizer during the season.

FAQ #10: How can I keep my hanging baskets looking good?

There are a few simple keys to keeping hanging baskets looking good. The first is proper watering - not too much, and not too little. A good method is to gently lift the plant in the morning. If it lifts easily and feels light, water thoroughly (until water runs out the bottom). If the pot feels solid and heavy, water lightly. If the pot feels very heavy, do not water it! Overwatering is a very common mistake. Check the pot again at the end of the day and water if it is light.

The next key is fertilizing. Hanging baskets usually have lots of flowers and therefore require lots of fertility. Watering every other week with liquid fertilizer (such as fish emulsion) will keep them looking good.  We like Neptune's organic fertilizers, though synthetic fertilizers like MiracleGro are more rapidly available to the plants if time is of the essence.

The final key is pruning. If you’ve done proper watering and fertilizing and the plant starts looking leggy or overgrown, give your hanging basket a good haircut  to get rid of its unhappy foliage and fertilize it. Within a few weeks it will be nicely filled in with new leaves and flowers. Transplanting into a larger container is also a good method of refreshing the plants.

FAQ #8: How much/often do I need to compost?

If your garden soil is naturally rich in organic matter, an inch or so of compost at the beginning of the season and again in midsummer is probably plenty. If you have very sandy or nutrient-depleted soil, provide as much compost as possible - several inches at the beginning of the season, a few handfuls for each plant at transplanting time, and a thick re-application in midsummer. If you have very poor soil it is also a good idea to rotate the growing area and grow nitrogen-fixing cover crops to increase the organic matter and nutrient content of the soil. The best way to determine your nutrient needs is to do a soil test. Soil can be tested using  a simple test from the garden garden center, but a professional soil test will provide more detailed information and recommendations for amendments. Soil samples can be sent to UVM Extension for soil testing for about $14. Find out more about soil testing here.