garden planning

Hardening Off Those Plants

Curious about what "hardening off" means and why it's important? Here's a blog from our archives to help you prep your cold-season transplants for the great outdoors. 

Plants need to be hardened off before being transplanted. What does this mean? It is the process you take them through to get used to direct sunlight, wind, cold, heat, dryness, and any other weather conditions they will be asked to live through during their lives. When plants are started in the greenhouse, in trays or pots, their world is sheltered and comfortable; food is readily available in the compost-fortified soil, and the temperatures are carefully regulated. Once it is time to go out into the harsh world of the garden, the goods and services become a little more scarce for those baby plants and they go through a bit of withdrawal known as "transplant shock."  Hardening them off gives them a gradual adjustment to this new world.  It is best to start out by putting the plants outside for a few hours, and then bringing them back in; this gives them a small taste of direct sunlight. In any greenhouse, the plastic film filters out 10 to 25% of the sun's rays and the tender plants are literally sun-burned when they first encounter that unmediated light.  Here is how I do it at my house. When you buy plants that were grown by Red Wagon Plants, they have already been hardened off and you can put them right in the ground. The following method is important to follow if you are working with plants that you know are not hardened off yet.

Once they have gotten used to a few hours of sunlight at a time, they can stay outside overnight, but under a protective row cover.

The cover comes off in the daytime and the plants are acclimated to being where they will be planted for a few days.

If the temperatures drop down below freezing, cover them again. Cold hardy plants such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, hardy lettuces, hardy herbs, escarole, scallions, onions can take a frost without a problem, but they will do it with more grace and strength if they have been gradually introduced to those temperatures.

Once the plants have had a few cold nights, under cover, they can have a couple more nights without cover, and then are properly hardened off and ready to go in the ground.

It's also a good idea to give cold-weather transplants a little extra compost or a fish/seaweed emulsion watering at transplant time. It is hard for plant roots to uptake nutrients in cool weather and this will aid their transition as well.

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.

Cold Season Gardening

As soon as the ground thaws, and dries out, I will be ready to plant. After chomping at the bit through this long, never ending winter, I long to get my hands in cool dirt and ceremoniously plant the first seedlings. A cold frame helps to rush the job along, and I can't wait to open ours up, fluff up the tired soil, add some compost and amendments, and dig in. My cold season garden is pretty predictable each year. I crave certain things, stick to those, eat only that the entire period of time it is ready, and then usually it is out of mind the rest of the year. Asparagus for example. It is pretty much a part of every meal during asparagus season, and then I never think about it the other 47 weeks of the year.  And it is ready before many other things, so why not give it the star treatment it deserves?  It takes up a good chunk of my garden for a reason....homegrown asparagus absolutely cannot compare to what you buy in the store.  There are so many delicate flavors in asparagus that are lost after any period of refrigeration, and I greedily await that first harvest each year.

And then there is bok choi. For some reason, I don't think about this vegetable too much 11 months out of the year,  but it is so cold hardy and so quick to grow, that earliest spring is the only logical time to insert it into the garden and into our kitchen. We grow 4 kinds of boc choi to give our gardens a real array of size, color, and harvest time. Violetta is quick to grow to baby size, and has shiny, dark purple leaves with pale purple and white stems. It is gorgeous and delicate and ready in just 3 weeks from the time I stick it in the ground.  Shanghai Baby Bok Choi is another quick and tiny one, but the palest green, with the most tender flesh. Red Choi is a medium sized boc choi with a more mustard like flavor, and the regular boc choi we grow, Joi Choi, grows up to be huge, heavy, and gorgeous (see below). These are all delicious chopped up and stir fried with ginger, hot pepper flakes, and garlic;  or thinly slivered and eaten raw as a salad or slaw or dropped into a warm bowl of broth.

Scallions are another cold hardy, quick to grow vegetable that makes it into all my early gardens. They can be planted in little clumps in tight spaces and harvested over a long period of time. I harvest them three or four at a time and leave the rest to grow for a later picking or two.

Next up are the salad greens, bitter greens and mustards. All of these can take multiple frosts and are happy to go into the garden long before the others.

In this picture from last year, we have Tokyo Bekana mustard in the bottom left corner. It is a light green, tender mustard delicious steamed or eaten raw. I especially like it in soups and broths with soba noodles and tofu. In the center is my favorite bitter green, Frisée ('Tres Fine Maraîchère") which I love to eat with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette. Behind that is some arugula which really should be planted multiple times throughout the season (just rip out the old plants and sow new seeds or seedlings). In the top right corner is a little bit of bulb fennel Zefa Fino poking into the frame. This is another great option for for those of us needing cold hardy and interesting garden plants. In the kitchen, I simply slice up the bulbs into long, thick wedges and roast in a 400F oven with olive oil, herbs and seas salt. And the bottom right corner is the soldier of the spring garden: Natacha escarole. This chicory relative is huge, easy to grow, and equally perfect cooked in a braise or sautéed or eaten raw in a salad, again with that garlicky Dijon vinaigrette. Escarole withstands multiple hard frosts, grows quickly to a 3 pound head, and is frankly one of the better values in the garden. A small to medium escarole in the grocery store can cost close to $4. And from one 4 pack, you can easily have twelve times the yield for about the same amount of money.

Here we have Lily sampling a bit of Lacinato kale. also known as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, or cavolo negro. We love it for its nutty flavor and the fact that a few plants stuck in the ground in April will produce until December. Again, a pretty good value! In front of the kale is more boc choi, Red Choi. And in front of that is ruby red chard. Chard is the least cold tolerant of all these greens, but it can take a few light frosts. The others can survive a few dips even into the 20's and come out fine.

From seed, I like to start radishes and spinach and peas, because really, who can resist this sight:

Get ready, set, go. Spring is coming, and we want to help you get ready. And soon, we will be looking at this:

Herb Thoughts

Herb garden planning is not a lot of work, but here are some thoughts I have put together on the topic. Herbs are easy to grow for the most part, but they are a big category of plants (we grow 100 varieties of herbs) and it helps to break them down and organize them into categories. This will help any gardener plant the right plant in the right place and give it the preferred amount of water, sunlight, food, and water.

Why grow herbs? For flavor, fragrance, and beauty - it is the easiest way to improve the flavor of what you cook. It is also one of the easiest ways to have a container garden on your porch or deck.  Herb gardening is intimate - you get close to the plants, smell them, taste them, see them respond to regular clippings. They are a perfect way to better understand plant physiology and the best short cut to great food made with little effort.

Propagation: Plants vs. Seeds

All herbs can be planted from plants, and some can be planted directly into the ground as seeds. The herbs that you can seed directly in the ground and expect great results are: cilantro, dill,  and chamomile. Everything else will do much better if you start the seeds in containers in a sheltered environment. You can start your own herb transplants easily if you have grow lights and a heat mat. Many herbs take a long time to germinate and many herbs are propagated only from cuttings. Making your own rooted cuttings is possible too, but that takes a little more of a sophisticated set up with misters, rooting hormone of some sort, and humidity domes. For those herbs, it is generally easier to purchase the plants.

Herbs from Seed:

  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Chamomile
  • Savory (winter and summer)
  • Marjoram
  • Basil (all kinds)
  • Common Mint
  • Sage
  • Catnip
  • Chervil
  • Oregano (basic varieties)
  • Thyme (basic varieties)
  • Shiso
  • Sorrel
  • Lovage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Fennel
  • Salad Burnet

Herbs from Cuttings:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Mints that are true to type (spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, etc)
  • Tarragon
  • Specialty Thymes (lemon, variegated, silver, etc)
  • Specialty Oregano (golden, ‘Hot and Spicy’, variegated, etc)
  • Specialty Sage (purple, tricolor, golden, etc)

Containers vs. in the Ground

Some plants love to be planted in the ground and others would prefer to be in pots.  Generally speaking, the herbs that like it dry and warm will prefer to be in a clay pot that breathes like Italian terra cotta. Plants that like it wet and cool might prefer to be in the ground, but they can also be grown in pots if the right conditions are given (more watering, a glazed or plastic pot, heavier potting soil, a little shade).

Herbs that like to grow easily in the ground in Vermont:

Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Savory, and Chervil

Herbs that prefer to be in containers in Vermont: EVERYTHING ELSE!

This does not mean that you cannot grow herbs in the ground, it just means that in containers, it can be a little easier.

Some herbs do really well as tiny shoots for micro-greens: chervil, dill, cilantro, basil, fennel are our favorites.  And they are easy to grow indoors year round – just pat down some moist potting soil in a shallow container (only need 2” or so of soil) with holes in the bottom, press in the seeds, cover very lightly with a thin layer of soil, and keep moist. When the first set of true leaves begin to emerge, they are ready to eat. You can also grow pea shoots and sunflower sprouts this way. A south facing, sunny window is sufficient.

You can bring in potted herbs in the fall and keep them in a sunny window for use during the winter. The herbs that do best with this treatment: sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and savory. Basil can be brought in as well, but it won’t be terribly happy unless you have grow lights for it.  If you had some of these herbs planted in the ground, you can dig them up and slowly acclimate them to being in a pot and being indoors.

Herbs can be dried or frozen or infused in vinegar or simple syrup for year round use. Pesto or herb pastes made with oil or water can be frozen in small containers.  Drying is very simple or very elaborate – you choose! A dehydrator can be used, and the leaves can be stripped off of the stems once dried and stored in jars in a dark place. Or you can go the simple route and just harvest whole branches of the woody herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and winter savory. Place the branches in woven baskets and keep in a dark, well-ventilated space. They will dry just fine on their own, and you can keep them covered with paper bags or kitchen linens and use as needed.

Related Upcoming Events

Cooking with Herbs with Molly Stevens and Julie Rubaud – a class and dinner.

South End Kitchen, Burlington, Vermont

March 19th.,  6pm

Red Wagon Plants pre-season Open House

April 4th 10 am to 3 pm. Tour the greenhouses and see behind the scenes.

Herbal Cocktail Party with Caledonia Spirits

April 17th, Red Wagon Plants 6 pm to 9 pm

Help us kick off our season with a bang!

Potatoes

 

All of our potato seed stock is grown by the Chapelle Family Farm, and this is our fourth year providing you with this high quality, Vermont grown, potato seed. Barbara and Robert Chappelle have been growing potatoes in Vermont for over 30 years and they are one of the quiet heroes of the vegetable farming world in Vermont. You don't hear a lot about them in the media, but they are incredibly respected for all of their hard work, and the quality of their potatoes. It is from Barbara and Robert that all the best vegetable growers in this area purchase their potato seed. And at Red Wagon, you can too! This is one of the few places home gardeners can purchase Chappelle potato seed. Here are the varieties we have chosen for you this year. 

Adirondack Blue

Adirondack Red

La Ratte Fingerling

Amarosa Fingerling

Red Norland

Chieftain

Yukon Gold

Yukon Nugget

Carola

Kennebec

Green Mountain

Russet Burbank

German Butterball

 

 

 

Pollinator Habitat Restoration for the Home Gardener, Part 2: Butterflies and Hummingbirds

By Hope Johnson (Part 2 of a series. See Part 1 to learn about promoting bee habitat)

Of 339 species of hummingbirds, only two inhabit the area East of the Mississippi-the very rare Rufous and common Ruby-throated hummingbirds. There are many butterfly species in our state  (see Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Vermont Butterfly Survey and The Butterfly Site’s List of Butterflies of Vermont).

Both Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to nectar-rich flowers.  Butterflies prefer purple and yellow flowers and hummingbirds are attracted more to red and blue. Site your nectar plants in an open area of the yard, and be sure to include host plants which provide forage for caterpillars. Remember, some butterflies don’t live on nectar from flowers but instead feed on soft and over-ripe fruit. (See The Nature Conservancy’s Gardening with Vermont Native Plants.)

Wondering what to plant? Here's a list of Top Ten flowers for Hummingbirds and Butterflies:

1.  Yellow cosmos

2. Phlox: Meadow phlox, P. maculata and Garden phlox P. paniculata.

3. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis

4. Goldenrods, Solidago spp.,  attract monarchs.

5. Butterfly weed, Asclepius tuberosa.

6. Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.

7. Columbines, Aquilegia spp.

8. Scarlet sage, Salvia splendens.

9. Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, small tree.

10. Spiderflower, Cleome.

What else do butterflies and hummingbirds need? Water! Hummingbirds naturally use the smooth leaves of deciduous trees such as dogwoods, eastern redbud and sugar maple as birdbaths, but also appreciate misting sprinklers. For drinking, butterflies require a thin film of water such as around puddle edges or in slight depressions on rock surfaces.

What else can we do to provide habitat? Butterflies roost in trees and some hibernate in the winter. Leave sites for overwintering such as sheltered spots where caterpillars or pupae can survive the cold weather. Leaf and plant debris shelter chrysalises and pupae and provide a hibernation box in areas devoid of natural debris. Native shade trees provide protection from hot sun, heavy winds and driving rain. Consider a hedgerow for protection from prevailing winds. Perennials with wide leaves such as hosta provide cover for butterflies. In the East, nest sites for hummingbirds include common native trees such as oaks, hickories junipers, hemlocks and pines. Open branching shrubs such as spicebush (Lindera benzoin), hawthorns (Crataegus spp) and willow (Salix spp) are preferred for perching sites. You can provide a source of nesting materials by putting out a suet feeder filled with natural fibers such as cotton fluff and small feathers.

Lastly, avoid use entirely of insecticides in gardens intended for butterflies. These include malathion, Sevin and diazinon. Bacillus thuringiensis is lethal to caterpillars. Most butterfly caterpillars do not cause the leaf damage like that made by tent caterpillars and gypsy moths. Let those butterfly caterpillars do their thing and watch as these pollinators enjoy your garden!

References

Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, The Xerces Society Guide, Storey Publishing, 2011.

Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard, Roth, Sally.   Rodale, Inc., 2001.

Website: How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden, National Wildlife Federation, nwf.org.

 

Pollinator Habitat Restoration for the Home Gardener, Part 1: Bees

By Hope Johnson

(Part 1 of 2. See Part 2 for information about promoting butterfly and hummingbird habitat).

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation are serious threats to the survival of pollinators.  There are three basic pollinator habitat requirements:

1.  Flower-rich foraging areas and water source.

2.  Suitable host plants or nests where they can lay eggs and/or raise brood.

3. Environment free of pesticides.

This blog series will focus on the habitat needs of bees (social and native solitary), and the butterflies and hummingbirds which are the pollinators we most often encounter and recognize in our home gardens.

Bees

Of the 20,000 species of bees worldwide, 4,000 are native to the U.S. and 90% of these are solitary. These include bumble, mason, and ground-nesting bees. The domesticated honeybee is a European import.

Bees prefer purple, yellow and white flowers and see ultraviolet color patterns, such as shape and color ‘nectar guide” patterns that provide clues to the location of nectar in the flower.  Not surprisingly, sequential bloom  is important for forage all season long. So, what to plant?

Here's a list of Top Ten Perennials for bees and other pollinators from Annie White at University of Vermont:

1. Monarda fistulosa, Bee Balm.  More resistant to powdery mildew than M. didyma (red).

2. Aster Nova-angliae. late season nectar source (for Monarchs, too).

3. Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye weed.

4. Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue, native.

5. Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver’s root. Blooms late summer.

6. Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed.  Deer and rabbit repellant.

7. Lupinis premis, Sundial lupine.  Host plant for butterflies and native to Vermont.

8. Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet honeysuckle. Native and blooms June to September.

9. Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower.  native to NY and CT, composite flower.

10. Agastache foeniculum, anise hyssop.  Native to NY and NH.

Other ways to promote habitat? Seventy percent of bees live in the ground and these include the squash bees that nest in the ground near the squash and cucumbers they pollinate.  Preserve areas of bare or sparsely vegetated well-drained soil and avoid compaction of same. Also preserve dead or dying trees and hold the fall clean-up since tunnel nesting bees rest in the debris. Create your own wooden net blocks or bundles of hollow stems.

Avoid using insecticides containing systemic neurotoxin neonicotinoids especially Imidacloprid and Clothianidin that linger in the soil and can remain active for a year or more. Neonics are absorbed by the plant and dispersed in plant tissues including pollen and nectar and they are toxic to bees and beneficial insects. Although there is conflicting evidence that neonicotinoids cause colony collapse disorder for honeybees, there is increasing evidence that topical or ingested exposure in bees retards colony growth, impairs navigation and foraging behavior and may increase their susceptibility to other pathogens such as mites, bacteria and fungal infections. See Friends of the Earth Bee Safe Gardening Tips for a full list of neonics to avoid.

Bee in squash blossom

Local Resources

“The Buzz on Designing Pollinator Friendly Landscapes”

Annie White, UVM Graduate Research Assistant.  Presented at 2013 Flower and Garden Show, Burlington, VT.  At PollinatorGardens.org, see “Top ten perennial plant choices for pollinators” and  “Designing pollinator-friendly  landscapes”.

“Enhancing Pollinator Populations for Farms and Gardens”, presentation by John and Nancy Hayden of The Farm Between at NOFA Winter Conference 2014.   At thefarmbetween.com, see full powerpoint presentation and info on June 30th, 2014 Pollinator Workshop.

“Attracting and Conserving Native Pollinators”, presented by Anne Dannenberg, Pollinator Habitat Consultant, a One Night University class at Access CVU, 3/10/14. Contact:  acd@gmavt.net

Echinacea purpurea

What to Plant in Late June

Has your garden been producing lots of vegetables yet? We have been harvesting for a while thanks to some season extension and some early plantings.  Boc choi, lettuce, escarole, radishes, asparagus, chard and kale have all been making regular appearances in our meals and keeping us out of the produce aisle at the grocery store. So now, there is a little room in the garden where some of these plants have been harvested. What to plant next? There are so many options, and we like to take these "gaps" as a time to experiment, or add some diversity to the garden, or take advantage of short season crops that can be ready before planting a fall crop, or put in another generation of a warm weather crops to ensure a healthy harvest for as long as possible. Here are a few ideas......

Experiment

An empty spot or two is the perfect place for planting something new. Preferably something that does not take up too much room, and something that grows vertically so that it does not crowd its neighbors. Celery, fennel, scallions, boc choi and chard are all great candidates. Or a new variety of lettuce, or some arugula or mustard green you've been wanting to try. These are all crops that are fairly quick to harvest and will help maximize your harvest  in that precious garden real estate.

Add some diversity

Small spots are just perfect for adding flowers to the garden that will attract pollinators, provide habitat for beneficial insects, and will give you blooms to enjoy in the garden or in a bouquet. There are many great annual flowers that grow well in tight places and they break up the wide expanse of vegetable plants. By punctuating the garden with blossoms, you make it harder for predator insects to find your vegetables and you create a more diverse ecosystem, in miniature. Going for the most diversity possible in a small space is a great move in your over all pest control strategy. Some flowers we recommend for tight spaces:

Cosmos

Verbena Bonariensis

Zinnias

Sneak in a short season crop

Arugula, baby boc choi, spinach, lettuce, radishes, dill, cilantro and scallions all grow quickly and can take a bit of shade from their neighbors. This means you can plant them in close proximity to taller plants, and they won't mind one bit. They even enjoy the shade in the heat of summer. These can all be started from seed or transplants this time of year, and are a great way to add something to your table that you may not have planned on. Keep salads fresh with new lettuces, don't keep eating those bitter old ones! Same with arugula that has bolted or is too holy from flea beetle damage.....start with some fresh ones for those July salads.

Add a second generation of a warm weather crop

This is a great time to plant another round of cucumbers, cantaloupe, a short season tomato, hot pepper, summer squash or zucchini. You can try out a new variety to mix it up, and even grow a vining crop on a trellis to save space. The plants were planted a month ago are going to be producing pretty soon, and when they get tired out or have a pest or disease issue, your new plants will be just maturing and ready to provide you with a new round of goodies. You can maximize the bounty this way, and you won't be tempted to keep an old and diseased plant in the garden if there is a new one ready to report for duty.   This will also help with your disease and pest prevention over all.

Remember that the more you keep up with the garden, the tastier your meals, and the healthier your plants. There are so many reasons to garden, and keeping the plot looking and tasting good will keep you motivated to maintain your garden and to eat really well!

What can you plant now?

Lots of things can go in the garden now. Take advantage of some season extension, gentle April rains, and your spring garden eating will be taking place a little sooner. Season extension - row covers, cold frames, and mini greenhouses......

Crops that like it cold.....

Cabbage

Leeks

Onions

Artichokes

Bok Choi

Kale

Spinach

You can use row covers to extend the season and create a little spring heat in this cold year. We use a white, floating row cover (called Reemay sometimes) over hoops made out of 9 gauge wire, which can be found at farm supply stores. You can buy fancier hoops in garden centers, but the home made wire hoops work really well and cost a fraction of the price. You will need bolt cutters to cut the wire.

Happy cold time gardening, and please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions!

Planning Now for Great Eating all Year Long

Lori and Doug's Garden
Lori and Doug's Garden

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.

Planting Guide

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
  • Or it 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 best planting 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 saladsare 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. T
  • he 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, Turnipscan 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.

Cabin Fever Gardening

It's the dead of winter and the weather has been...well, let's not even talk about it. The seed catalogs have poured in, they are lying all around the house, tempting us with dreams of future sunshine, dirt under the nails, baskets of produce, and all those things we are deprived of in these short, dark days.  Here are a few things I like to do to get through winter. I would love to hear other people's coping strategies, so please share your thoughts on cabin fever gardening. For one thing, meditate. Not necessarily in a formal way, but just sit still. Imagine seeds, roots, and bulbs that are buried deep in the frozen earth.  This period of short days is necessary in the life of a plant. It is a time of dormancy and rejuvenation, for plants as well as for humans. Rather than fight the dark days, embrace this as a time of year when you get to slow down, evaluate, and regenerate. I love that, because of my work, my life can follow seasonal rhythms to a certain extent. Winter is when I plan, plot, analyze, and restore.

 

Next, look for signs of green. As the days slowly lengthen, find a special shrub or tree to study on a regular basis. We have a row of willows along the edge of our property, and I love to check out the progress of the softening that happens very slowly, and then after mid-February, it speeds up a bit. The buds begin to swell, the color of the stems changes ever so slowly and slightly. Because plants are our best teachers, we can be the best students of plants with simple observation.

Focus on your houseplants. At our house, we neglect these poor plants all summer, but try to baby them a bit in the winter. Careful watering, cleaning, fertilizing as needed, potting into bigger pots, moving them around...these are all tasks we never have time for the rest of the year. You can also try your hand at propagating your own house plants. It is a great way to learn about plant physiology, and it gives you new plants as a bonus. Think holiday gifts for next year!  There is a great series of 15 short tutorials on You Tube that will teach you everything you need to know to multiply your houseplants. Ask friends for cuttings from their plants, diversify your own collection and learn about the various ways that all types of plants root.  Again, observation is key here, and the lesson learned in plant physiology will transfer to and inform your practical gardening knowledge outdoors.

Grow some sprouts.  There are great resources locally and on line. Here are some suggestions.

 

 

 

Grow some greens and shoots. You'll need a grow light, otherwise, things will be leggy and less nutritious, even in a south facing window. You will also need some trays with drain holes, about 2 inches high, some good potting soil, and some good quality seeds. You can sprinkle seeds onto the surface of the soil, press down, and cover with a very thin layer of soil. Press down again, and water very gently and evenly. Try these crops for a quick 3 weeks to harvest: arugula, tatsoi, mustard greens, boc choi. If you are willing to wait a little longer, in 5 weeks, you can harvest baby lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, cilantro, or dill.  The trick here is to stick to varieties that grow quickly. You can only cut them once, the light will just not be strong enough for them to grow again.  Here are some instructions for growing pea shoots.

 

You can do this so easily in any kitchen and it is a great way to add some fresh, living foods to your winter diet.

Hope this helps, and don't hesitate to get with us on facebook, twitter @redwagonplants, or leave comments here. We really want to hear your winter gardening habits, tricks, trials, and successes.

Stick Season Tasks

  • Plant bulbs. Watch this video with Charlie Nardozzi if you don't know how.  Gardener's Supply in Burlington, Williston and on line, has a great selection of flowering bulbs that will wow you in the spring.

  • Mulch your perennials with leaves. No need to think of leaves as waste...they are loaded with carbon and a perfect way to add organic matter to your gardens. They will offer some winter protection too.  Here are some other leafy ideas.
  • Cut back annuals if you have not done so yet. Or leave the sturdier ones such as sunflowers and amaranths since they make lovely perches for song birds. Not everything needs to be so tidy.

 

  •  Build a raised bed for next year
  • Weed and cut back perennial beds.
  • About all that food you diligently canned and froze all summer - start eating it!

  • Let us know what varieties worked well for you. You can contact us through this website.
  • If you want to make a new garden for 2013, now is a great time to mark it, remove the sod, and amend with compost.
  • Turn the compost pile.

 

  • Clean off tools, oil them, put them away neatly, and feel good about it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  •  Store garlic and onions in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Make a pot of potato leek soup.
  • Mulch your leeks and root crops, if you have some in the ground still, with straw, so that you can harvest them after frost comes.

  • Sit by the fire if you have one, light some candles if you don't, and enter the time of contemplation and restoration.

 

Lori and Doug's Garden: Construction

Meet Lori and Doug, two of our longtime customers and friends. Last year, they visited the greenhouses repeatedly, making large purchases of vegetable plants, it seemed every day. I finally asked them if they were starting a small farm, and they admitted that they were having some problems. Apparently, everything kept turning black and dying. This does not usually happen to our plants, so I offered to visit their garden, which happens to be on the way home, and they happen to have very nice wine to offer, so it seemed like a win-win. Lo and behold, their beautiful garden site was also the low lying spot where their entire property drains. The plants were sitting in standing water (remember all the rain last year?) and were drowning. I advised them to just start over, sad as that is, because there was just no way to grow in that site.

They asked us to help them build a big beautiful raised bed garden, so we set our expert carpenter and all around handyman, Eric Denice, to the task. Here's what they created together.

In the fall, Lori and Doug planted garlic, which is now growing beautifully, and each week, they come in to let us know what they are up to and we help them pick out plants that are appropriate for the weather. It has been such a fun project and we are grateful to Lori and Doug for including us!

Please keep checking back for updates as we chronicle the progress of this great garden and its people.

Home orchard, here I come.

Last Saturday, we were lucky to have a visit from Charlie Nardozzi, garden educator, author, TV and radio personality, and garden coach. He provided us with two hours of entertaining and information packed advice on growing fruit at home - a project which can feel like a daunting commitment, but which he explained so clearly, that it felt like a task we must all embrace...right now. I have to admit, I have been living in the same house for 6 years and have yet to plant much in terms of fruit trees. I keep studying my property and imagining where the trees would go, but every year, another chance passes and my trepidation leaves me fruitless yet again. I have planted a few blueberry bushes and raspberries and currants far from the house, but no trees save for one orphaned plum tree a couple of years ago. Growing fruit trees always seemed like more work and maintenance than I have time for, but after learning some of Charlie's simple strategies, I feel armed and prepared. Here are a few of the general tips Charlie shared with us.....

  • Trees are grafted, unless you dig them up out of the woods. Which is not a good idea, since you would be getting something not bred for fruit production and possibly disease laden. Trees are grafted in order to provide strong root stock in combination with a "top" that is bred primarily for eating quality. In addition, apple trees are often grafted onto a "dwarfing" root stock which will keep the tree from towering above you, fruit out of reach.  When planting, look for what is called the "graft union" - it is a slight bulge at the base of the trunk where the root stock and the top meet. This union should be about 1" above the soil line once planted. If you plant it too deeply, you may trigger the root stock to take over the top growth and this would not provide you with the best eating fruit.
  • At planting time, use only the native soil in the planting hole. Dig the hole so that it is 2 to 3 times wider than the tree's container or root ball. Do not go deeper than the container or you risk planting the tree too deeply.  If you add compost to the planting hole, the roots will never have to reach out and search for food in the native soil and the tree's root system will never develop fully.
  • When purchasing a tree, look for even lateral branching (called "scaffolding").
  • The first two years of a fruit tree's life are the non-bearing years. It is important that the tree puts its energy into being strong and vigorous, not into making fruit. So, sadly enough, you must pick off the blossoms so that fruit does not form.  This difficult task will reward you with bigger and better fruit on a healthy tree in years to come. After Charlie's talk, I dutifully went home and stripped my plum tree of its recently formed flowers.
  • Spacing of trees is equal to their height. In other words, if a tree is going to be 15' tall, you need to plant it 15' from its closest neighbor.
  • Pitted fruits like plums, cherries, peaches, and apricots do not do as well on clay as apples and pears do.  If you are like me, and live in a clay pit, look for the best drained site and consider digging some trenches to direct the water away from the orchard.
  • Amend the soil by layering in compost and other nutrients on the soil surface (not right up against the trunk though) after planting. This should include compost, some additional nutrients based on soil test results, woodchips from hard woods (which promote beneficial fungal activity), and a little woodash (only about 1 cup per tree).  Vermont Compost Company's Perennial Blend is a perfect material for mulching around the base of the fruit trees. It includes compost, micro-nutrients, macro-nutrients (NPK), and an extra shot of bark, which is high in lignans and which promote the beneficial fungal activity trees love.
  • A north facing slope is the best spot for a home orchard - it heats up a little later in the spring and keeps the trees a dormant a little longer. This delays bud formation which lowers the risk of a frost zapping those early flowers.  A north facing slope also has good air circulation and frost tends to blow away before settling into a valley or dip.
  • Fruit trees are best planted in pairs, and their planting partner should be a different variety or cultivar. This diversity leads to better pollination which equals more fruit formation.  For example, a Liberty apple, should be planted near a Honeycrisp, or a  Parker pear should be planted with a Summercrisp pear.

I think I will try a few cherry trees and  pears  this year. I have a spot picked out, on the north facing slope outside our kitchen window. And maybe once those are in, I will start to imagine some blueberries and raspberries nearby....closer to the house than the ones I planted when we first moved here.  One thing I am glad about....my years of procrastination with the back yard means that I have a blank slate and the home orchard can be very close to the house; it will be landscape and larder, all in one.

 

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 #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 #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

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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