Garden Tips and Stories

Rainy Weather Gardening

The weather lately is really putting a damper on my gardening aspirations. I am gong to make the best of it, and focus on what can actually be done in the cool and wet spring we are having, rather than on what cannot be done.

Paths are newly mulched with cardboard and bark mulch. The row cover tunnel just yielded our first harvest of mache and arugula and was just replanted with chard and broccoli raab. The row cover with hoops is one of the best ways to keep bunnies out without a fence. This is the year of the bunny. We even have a bunny statue to beg off the bunnies and ask them to spare us, but it is not really working. Chamomile and stone edging is looking cute and a new patch of self seeding Marble Arch Mix Salvia will provide us with edible flowers, cut flowers, and dried flowers for a few years.

Paths are newly mulched with cardboard and bark mulch. The row cover tunnel just yielded our first harvest of mache and arugula and was just replanted with chard and broccoli raab. The row cover with hoops is one of the best ways to keep bunnies out without a fence. This is the year of the bunny. We even have a bunny statue to beg off the bunnies and ask them to spare us, but it is not really working. Chamomile and stone edging is looking cute and a new patch of self seeding Marble Arch Mix Salvia will provide us with edible flowers, cut flowers, and dried flowers for a few years.

Here is what I am doing in the garden this week:

Clean up and mulch the path ways.

The weeds come out easily when the ground is wet. It is ok to walk on the pathways to clean them up and mulch them, but I avoid walking on the growing beds or doing much to the soil in the growing beds when the ground is really wet. Doing so would compact the soil and adversely affect the tilth. So, the paths are getting a little extra attention this year and I am mulching with a thick layer of cardboard and some rough bark mulch from Clifford’s lumber. This is not the regular bark mulch from a garden center - it is a byproduct of a local, family owned sawmill just down the road. I would not use it in all applications where mulch is needed, but it is perfect for paths and under trees and shrubs. It is a little too coarse for perennial beds (but that is a whole other topic, because really I don’t think bark mulch belongs in most perennial beds). Once the paths are clearly defined and mulched, the rest of the season will be so much less labor intensive in the garden. Some other mulch ideas for paths are burlap coffee bags (which you can find this Saturday at our New North End Plant Sale at Bibens Ace Hardware on North Ave in Burlington). straw (I recommend the organic straw from Aurora Farms in Charlotte), or a combination of newspapper and leaves. These are all pretty heavy duty recommendations for paths. I would not use a heavy mulch like this right under smaller growing plants because the decomposing organic matter uses up the nitrogen in the soil and starves the plants of the food they need for healthy growth. Mulching paths is satisfying and really pays off in the long run. Plus, you can do it in the rain.

Plant more salad greens and try out some new varieties of cool hardy vegetables, flowers and herbs

I just added two kinds of kohlrabi to the garden, green Swiss chard, some Italian bulb fennel, broccoli raab, dandelion greens and frisée. This weather is perfect for transplanting a few plants here and there into corners of the garden. Again, you want to avoid working your soil when it is wet, but it is entirely all right to loosen up small corners of beds and tuck in a few plants here and there. I just harvested my first planting or arugula and of mache and re-planted right into those spaces. I did not disturb the wet soil too much, and I think they will all be fine.

Make containers

Picking out colorful annuals and cool foliage plants is the perfect antidote to the grey and the wet days we seem to be stuck in lately. I am covering my mom’s balcony with pots of geraniums, agastache, salvia, herbs, petunias, argyranthemum, canna, millet, banana, and heuchera. Heurchera, or coral bells, is an under-used plant in containers, and adds broad texture, interesting contrasting color (so many to choose from), and looks good all season long. We have a dwarf red banana we are growing this year that has a beautiful glossy red tinged leaf and looks really striking with the wispy orange of the Kudos mandarin Agastache and the red veined caramel heuchera. Tuck in a red oak lettuce here and there, and you will have a gorgeous container with edibles, perennial and season long interest that holds up well in rain, cold, heat, and dry. I love helping people make containers and have two more Make and Take classes coming up in June for shade loving containers. There is still room to sign up in both.

Wistfully choose heat loving crops

This weekend, I plan to select the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, cucumbers I want to grow, but I am just hardening them off for now. I am not planting them in the ground. This means that they will come inside at night if it is below 45F and they will go back out in the day time to feel the sun (wishful thinking?), wind, and rain and get used to real life outside. What I am not doing is planting them in the cold ground. That would just stress them out. They need soil that is 50F or warmer in order to grow well, and stressing them at a young age will weaken them when they are older and diseases start to settle in. Planting heat loving crops in cool weather is just asking for trouble down the road.

Move perennials

They love this weather. If you have an area that once was sun but now is shade, it is a great time of year to move those sun loving plants to a brighter spot, away from the encroaching shadow of shrub and tree. I took advantage of the dry and warm day on Wednesday to clean up a perennial bed and replant with shade loving plants under the shrubs that now cast shade. I used tiarella, pulmonaria, variegated Solomon’s Seal, Jacob’s ladder, and hostas. I love that sun to shade switch that inevitably takes place in a garden, the moving art of it all.

Hopefully, this gives you a good amount to do and scratches the gardening itch just enough. Happy gardening!




Who likes what? Inspiration for this rainy and cool spring.

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While it has been a little cool and wet, I have had some extra time to plot out some new combinations I want to try in the garden. I love to mix up edible and ornamental plants, and coming up with some new ideas is always a creative part of the garden process I enjoy

People often ask me about companion planting, with the goal of learning more about what plants keep pests off of what other plants. I usually reply by saying that a mixed garden, with flowers and herbs interspersed among the vegetables generally helps confuse insect pests and also helps attract beneficial insects who are in search of pollen. Here are some combinations that I regularly create just because they work so well. Maybe as an exercise in trying something new, you could try your hand at one or two of these combos and then come up with some of your own. It is a great way to study plants, contrast, colors, and texture in the garden.

  • Verbena bonariensis, California poppies and lacinato kale - We do this often in the demonstration garden at Red Wagon Plants because the Verbena bonariensis is self seeding, along with some California poppies, and it is just so simple to throw in a few kale plants and see the magic unfold all summer long. The poppies bloom first and are a cheery, airy note floating beneath and alongside the dark green, almost black foliage of the kale. Later on, in late summer, the kale is bigger, the poppies are finished blooming and the verbena kicks into high gear with wiry stems waving high above the kale; delicate purple blossoms nod above the mature, gnarly textured leaves of the kale.

Some other favorites include:

  • Rainbow chard, gem marigolds, and lunchbox peppers

  • Opopeo amaranth,nicotiana elata, northern sea oats and redbor kale

  • Green butter lettuce, curly parsley, and calendula

  • Tokyo Bekana mustard, chervil, green oak lettuce, pansies and alyssum

  • Bleu Solaize leeks, Hungarian bread seed poppy, and rebor kale

  • Datura, African blue basil, and dusty miller

Mid-April Garden Jobs

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It is finally time to get into the garden after a long and very cold winter. Here are some jobs that can happen right now.

Sow from Seeds

Peas, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips

Transplant

Onions - they need the cooler days and long nights of April in order to make large onions in summer. Here are a couple of videos that will give you an idea of how to do it quickly. First, make a trench and sprinkle in some Compost Plus:

Then separate the clump of onion plants into individual plants. Onions should be planted about 4” apart, so just lay them in the trench, all in a row, then gently pat the soil around them to fill in the trench and stand them upright.

Leeks are planted the same way, but require more space, so I do those 6” part with 2 feet between the rows. Onions can have 1 foot between the rows. One 4-pack of our onion or leek plants has about 80 plants in each pack, so it is great to buy a few varieties and share with a friend so you can try multiple kinds. We grow red and yellow storage onions, Italian cipolinni onions, mini purple onions, 2 kinds of sweet onions, and early New York onions. We also grow scallions, 3 kinds of leeks, and shallots. All are planted in the same way, except scallions can be planted in small clumps of 10 to 15 plants. And they don’t need to grow in rows, but can be tucked into individual spots between other plants.

You can also be planting kale, arugula, mache, mustard greens, cabbage, and collards.

Herbs that can take the cold of April: Sorrel, chervil, cilantro, dill, chives.

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In the flowering plants department, it is a good time to plant alyssum, violas, and pansies. They are a good food source for bees this time of year when very few other things are flowering.


I wrote more about onions a few years ago here.

Happy gardening! They are announcing rain later today, so I am getting out there now.






2018 Plant List Preview: Cut Flowers

Last year was the year of the cut flower program at Red Wagon. Not only did we grow and sell more cut flower varieties than ever before, but we also hosted a 3 part floral design workshop series with flower farmer / florist Nina Foster and had a chance to meet flower growers from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The fun and beauty continue into 2018 with an expanded offering of varieties that work well for cutting and arranging and crafting. Here is the list. If you are a home gardener, you can make a wish list now for summer dreaming and planning. If you are a commercial grower, feel free to contact us about purchase plants in larger quantities for your commercial operation. The photos below represent only about 1/3 of the plants we grow that are suitable for cut flower use. Most of our perennials and many more annuals and some herbs are also suitable for floral use. And please note that vegetables and berries can make unique and eye catching additions to those sprawling, romantic bouquets that are so in style right now. If you need any suggestions or want to make a special request,  please don't hesitate to let us know. 

Photo gratefully used with permission from Ball Horticultural and Johnny's Selected Seeds. 

 

 

Sweet Potatoes Slip Sale 2016

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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!

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.

How to Get Your Soil Tested

Here's one of our most popular posts from the archives. If you are a new gardener or gardening in a new spot, it's well worth it to get your soil tested to ensure happy plants and bountiful harvests. 

I've always thought that getting your soil tested was going to be somehow difficult and arcane.   But I've had some challenges growing things since moving here (namely like a non-blooming hydrangea).  So since Julie said it's a good idea, I've decided to give it a try. I visited the UVM Extension Service website.

And downloaded this form to fill out.

And scooped some dirt into a bag.

Julie adds:

It's best to take samples from multiple places, digging in the first 6" of soil, mix up the various handfuls of soilin a bucket, and select your soil test sample from this mixture. It gives the soil test people a better idea of the overall make-up of your soil. Make sure the bucket and spade are very, very clean.

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Tomorrow I'll send the dirt and $18 to UVM.  And in 10 - 14 days I'll get back a recommendation of what I should add to my soil to grow what what we're planning.

In the meantime, I'm watching as the plants blossom, and unfurl, and grow.

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Beautiful RWP pansy.

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skillet garden 012

The last day of last year's inedible sorrel.  Tomorrow I'm ripping it out to make room for the currant bushes when they come, and will throw the leaves into a Greek-flavored braise I'm making.

The wings that feed

Much like our plants at Red Wagon, us humans need nourishing food and water to stay healthy and alive.  That’s why we love selling plants to gardeners; so they can grow their own food and cultivate their own nourishment.  Too often, though, we forget about one of the most important keys to our nourishment:  pollination. Pollination is what allows us to grow fruits and vegetables. And, while it seems hyperbolic to say, it is true that a world without pollinators is a world without food.  Many of us are learning more about the issues pesticides create for pollinators, but it is less known just how precisely important pollinators are to our food system.  An article published by the Pollinator Stewardship Council titled, “Ecosystem Service of Pollinators” pointed out that one study assigned “an economic value to the ‘ecosystem services’ provided by pollinators at approximately $167 billion”.  The study also pointed out that pollinators not only affect the quantities of food produced, but they “may also have a beneficial impact on nutritional security-the availability of essential macro-and micronutrients in the human diet”. One study focusing on the nutritional benefits pollinators have on produce found that cross-pollinated almonds had a higher ratio of oleic to linoleic acids-a desirable “cardioprotective” quality for consumers.  Another study sited showed that “bee-pollinated strawberries were more red, were heavier and firmer and had reduced sugar-acid ratios,” which proved to have higher market value and were healthier for consumers". So, while these studies are new and we still need more information, it is unarguable that pollinators are the lifeblood of our food system.  And, we should take care of them as they take such good care of us.  

Garlic Ritual

Planting garlic in Vermont is a great way to extend the gardening season and gives you a crop that is perfect in so many dishes, stores well all winter long and even generates its own seed. It is a perfect way to tune into the cycles of the gardening season and feel like you are growing an important part of your diet. Garlic is expensive to purchase so there are savings to be had with your own garlic crop. Please follow this guide for easy, step-by-step instructions that will give you a garlic patch for life. I have been growing out my own garlic for 18 years and usually do not need to ever buy seed stock or garlic in the grocery store. The pleasures of garlic growing are abundant and I encourage you to get familiar with this wonderful and simple crop.

When to start the cycle?

Planting dates in Vermont are anytime between mid October and late October. It is best to wait until then, because if you plant too early, the bulbs will break out of dormancy too soon and this weakens the plant going into our harsh winters. If you plant the cloves during those last two weeks of October, it gives them just the right amount of time to take root and hunker down until spring, but not send out any top growth.

To plant garlic, you need to follow a few easy steps.

1. Bed preparation.

This is the act of making your garden soil ready for garlic planting. You want a nice patch of garden, that is worked deeply so that the soil is loose about a foot down in depth. If your garden is very compacted and hard, the garlic will not be able to grow well and you will be sure to end up with small heads of garlic that are tedious to peel and not all that satisfying. You can prepare the bed with a 3 prong fork by digging in straight down, tilting the handle of the fork back and forth, and loosening the hard pan. This is a good work out! Don’t hesitate to get dirty here by kneeling in the earth and breaking up the clods of soil with your hands so they are not chunky at all. Add a bit of well rotted manure or compost at this time. Not too much. For a 5 by 10 bed, maybe a 5 gallon bucket’s worth. You don’t want to over feed the garlic roots in the fall, but a little compost will add organic matter and that will help the structure of the soil, keeping it loose, able to retain some moisture without staying too wet.

Take your time and your garden will reward you. I always look at garlic planting as a soulful moment in the gardening cycle. It is saying goodbye to summer and embracing the dormancy of winter, when seeds deep below the surface slowly get ready for their spring emergence. Living in a climate with such long winters, I need these small, but important, rituals to remind me that spring will come and the cold barren winter is a necessary part of it all. The seed garlic is planted in the fall because it needs to send roots far into the earth in order to feed itself the following year. I take this as a metaphor for my own winter activities that feed me all year long - catching up on sleep, feeding my mind with more reading time, eating great, nourishing foods, and spending more time with friends and family.  I digress here, but these are the thoughts I have as I plant garlic, and after many years of doing it, I find that it is a necessary part of my mental preparation for winter.

2. Mark the rows with a hoe, or hand tool. I usually keep the rows about 12 inches apart and since my beds are about 4 feet wide, I keep 3 rows per bed and can easily reach the center. Just drag your tool - the sharp tip of a hoe or the narrow edge of a hard rake works well - through the soil to delineate the rows. You can use string and stakes if it is important to be straight, but I don’t bother with that at all.

3. Break up the garlic heads into individual cloves. Do not peel! And notice that one end is the root end and one end is the stem end. This will be important for planting right side up with the root end pointing straight down and the stem end pointing straight up.

4. Space out the cloves. Lay the cloves on the top of the soil, following the line you have just drawn in the soil.  Allow about 6 inches between all the cloves.

5. Planting, spacing, and yields

Now you can start to plant. I always kneel down and take my time to feel the earth under me at this point. It just feels good and is a way to say goodbye to the garden before winter! Then, take a bulb planting tool, or a sturdy,  sharp pointed stick, or your hand if your soil is soft and pliable, and poke a hole about 4 to 6 inches down. Shove the clove of garlic deep down, root end down, and cover up with the soil. Continue down the row and repeat until all is planted. Three  heads of garlic will turn into about 24 heads next spring - assuming your garlic has about 8 cloves per head. . And with 6” by 12” spacing, a 5’ x 10’ patch of garlic will yield about 60 heads of garlic. That is enough to enjoy one head of garlic per week, all year long, and still have some left over for planting. To plant a patch this big, you will need to plant the equivalent of 7 to 10 heads of garlic.

6. Compost and mulch. I usually add another 4” of compost or well rotted horse manure to the bed. I then leave it like that for about 6 weeks. Then in mid to late December, I cover the bed with a thick layer of straw. You can also use leaves here, but straw is the best insulator with hollow stems that trap air and keep everybody warm down below. Another advantage of straw is that it usually does not have weed seeds in it; mulch hay, straw’s poor cousin,  should be avoided since it is laden with all sorts of perennial grass and weed seeds. The straw moderates the winter soil temperature and prevents buckling and heaving which could push those garlic cloves up and out of the ground.

Let winter pass you by now, and next......

7. Spring time chores with garlic. Once the snow melts and the soil warms up a bit, your garlic will break dormancy and magically pop up out of the earth. It is important to pull back the straw to let the garlic see sunlight. If you wait a bit too long, and pull back the straw only to see a bunch of yellowing stems, don’t worry! The garlic shoots will green up in no time and will look fabulously sturdy after a week or so of direct sunlight. I usually pull the straw into the garden path, let it pile up there and then replace it around the growing garlic to block out weeds once the garlic plants are about 8 inches high. I often will add a little granular fertilizer at this time, before putting the mulch back in place. For a 5 by 10 garlic patch about 3 cups of Pro-Gro from North Country organics or one bag of Compost Plus from Vermont Compost Company is just about right. This will insure you get large, easy to peel cloves that taste great.

8. Garlic scapes will appear on stiff neck garlic around late May. These look like green curly cues with a pointy end that gracefully swoops down and around, waving in the breeze. This is the budding and flowering portion of the garlic plant. It should be removed to help the plant spend its energy on sizing up the goods below ground. If it is allowed to flower, the plants’ strength will go towards the flower and the garlic forming below ground will be the weaker for it. The good news here is that the “scapes” as they are called, are good to eat. I usually cut off the pointy tip - it is rubbery and inedible, and then slice up the round stem and use it in stir fries, stews, pasta dishes, or pickles. When cooked, it has the texture of a nice green bean and the flavor of mild garlic. It is absolutely delicious and a once a year treat that marks the beginning of summer - a harbinger of good things to come.

9. When to harvest? Garlic is ready to harvest when about 70% of its leaves have turned yellow. This is somewhat subjective, and should be taken as not a hard and fast rule, but rather a guide. You can dig up one head of garlic and look for signs of well formed skin, plump cloves, and individuation (cloves that are individually formed, and not one big mass). This is usually some time in late July. In very wet and rainy years, sometimes it makes more sense to take the garlic our of the ground a little early so that the skin does not rot in the damp earth.

10. How to harvest? Take out your three prong fork again and use it to loosen the soil around the outside edges of each garlic row. This will break up the soil enough to allow you to pull out each plant with a firm yank. (If the stems break off, it is likely you waited too long and the skin and stems are starting to rot. At that point, just dig up the cloves with a spade and they will be okay in taste; they just won’t store well. ) Lay the plants on the surface of the soil so that they start to dry off. Once all the garlic is pulled up, wipe it with a towel or rag, and get ready to tie it into bundles. I usually take about 8 plants, hold them together in one hand, and with the other hand, wrap twine around the whole bundle. Tie off the twine and then hang the bundle in a dark airy space. The rafters of a garage, shed or barn work well. If you don’t have that type of space, just find a place out of the rain, out of direct sunlight and with good air circulation - a covered porch? a dry basement with a fan running? a spare bedroom that can get a little dirty? (no shag rugs please!).

11. Curing the garlic Curing is the process of letting the garlic dry which makes the papery skin that allows the garlic to keep all winter. The stems will turn brown and brittle and the exterior of the bulbs will become dry and paper-like, just like garlic in the store. At this point, it is okay to cut off those dry stems, wipe off any remaining dirt, cut off the roots, and place your garlic in a crate to store it. This can be done anytime from 3 to 6 weeks after you initially hang up the garlic to dry.

12. Storing the garlic Once the garlic is cured, cleaned and trimmed, you are ready to store it for eating all winter long. Garlic is best stored in the dark. In an airy, dry, cool place. I use milk crates, covered with a piece of burlap, and keep the crate in a very cool part of the basement. Ideal garlic storing temperatures are between 35 and 45 degrees, but a refrigerator is too humid, so please don’t be tempted to use that as a storage method. Other good places to store garlic (and onions for that matter) are unheated attics, attached garages that don’t freeze, but are not heated, or 3 season porches that do not freeze. Root cellars are great, but most of us don’t have one. If well stored, garlic will last until April or May - almost right in time for the garlic scape harvest!

13. Finding seed stock.

Until you build up your own supplies, you will have to purchase seed garlic. There are many great resources for garlic and for finding garlic seed, I recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or locally, Last Resort Farm in Monkton, Hudak Farm in Saint Albans, or any farmer at your local farmers market who has nice looking seed stock. Seed stock is basically sorted out of the garlic harvest and selected for the following the following traits:

      • good size
      • evenly formed cloves
      • strong stem
      • well formed skin
      • great flavor
      • ability to store for a long time

If you have been growing out your garlic in your garden, you can pick out the best cloves at cleaning and storing time. Set these aside in a safe place where they will not be eaten and come October, experience the joy of planting your own seed garlic.

14. Plant garlic. Repeat Step 1. above and the cycle starts all over again!

Mid-August - the perfect time to start a garden.

It took four hands to trellis the tomatoes this weekend. Out of the 18 or so tomatoes planted at my house, I had only caged or trellised a lucky 12. The remaining 6 have laid on the ground without protest all summer, sending useless shoots and suckers straight to the sun, begging for light, and promising no fruit. I walked past them for weeks promising them a trellis, tomorrow, next Wednesday, tonight if I get home early. Poor things. Well, tomorrow finally came in the form of last Sunday. My first real and complete day off since June, and I gathered them up, shouted for help and strung them up. I am one of those people who loves to garden, but has so little time to do it. Maybe I should say I love to garden, but also love to swim, hike and read with the little free time in my possession. I have a feeling many of you are like this too. True confessions. But gardening is the hobby headquarters of second chances. You get a do-over every year, and within every season sits cycles of opportunity. Many crops take just a few weeks to mature, and redemption can be had that easily. Here is how I have been approaching the mid-August gardening rush....as a time to prepare the fall garden of my dreams. We have harvested garlic, cabbages, lettuces, escaroles, beans, and now there are wide swaths of blanks slate for fall crops. Or redemption, depending on how you look at it.

I am putting scallions in the nooks and crannys. Bulb Fennel too. These grow upright and vertical and do not take up too much space.

I experimented with planting arugula, cilantro, and dill in between my tomatoes this year, and the shade the caged tomatoes give has prolonged the life of these cool loving crops. I have been able to cut and cut again where normally, in the heat of summer, these quick lived herbs and greens would have gone to seed in a hurry. This is definitely something I will try again. I have added some lettuces to the understory as well, and they are doing well, although a little leggy from the lack of light.

I am planting another generation of beets this week. Right where the cabbages were - just adding a bit of compost, working the soil to loosen it, and transplanting. We grow them as clusters in 4-packs for easy planting - just water well and separate each plant gently and give it 2 to 3 inches of space. You can fill up a 2 foot x 2 foot square with one 4-pack - it is about 16 to 20 beets. And they will have plenty of time to size up before the ground freezes while taking advantage of cold temperatures that make them sweeter.

I am also adding another generation of spinach where some earlier lettuces and escarole had lived. It is important to keep summer planted spinach well watered since it hates the heat, but once well established it will grow quite nicely. This is another crop that is best to transplant in the heat of summer....it likes to germinate in cooler soil with constantly even moisture. Our 4-packs have about 16 plants per pack, and I gently separate them (like the beets) and plant each one about 4" to 5" apart. One 4 pack will give you a thickly planted 6' row that you can pick from repeatedly mid-September to mid-November.

Arugula and Broccoli Raab are going into a spot between the kale and chard in one of my raised beds. Here they will have a little shade from the taller plants, but they will also get plenty of sun since the taller plants are just on the outside edges.

There is still time to put in broccoli, cabbage, boc choi, Napa cabbage (kimchi!), cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, broccoli raab, lettuces, arugula, cilantro, dill, parsley, and other herbs that can stay in pots to come inside for the winter when the temperatures start to drop. In a really long time, right?

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:

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

 

 

 

Garden Things to do in December

  • Mulch your garlic. Need a good source of organic straw? Call up Aurora Farms in Charlotte, VT. They grow grains for the Nitty Gritty Grains Company, and their bales of straw are just beautiful - no weed seeds, nice long strands with hollow stems to insulate from the cold, and best of all it is organic. You don't want to risk introducing persistent herbicide residues into the garden.
  • Plant bulbs before the ground totally freezes (quick!)
  • Plant some paperwhite bulbs for forcing. You can find out how right here. 
  • Give your houseplants a trim, a feed, a little love. Check them for pests, wipe them off with a little neem oil if you see anything crawling around. This is a great time of year to give houseplants a little shower. The heat source in your house is likely quite dry, and most of your green friends like the feeling of rain. Recreate it for them. You can sing to them, too, while you are at it.
  • Make a few holiday gifts from the garden - herb salts, lavender sachets, cranberry apple chutney, herbal vinegars, calendula skin oil, or rosemary short bread. If you don't have any of the necessary garden ingredients, you can always purchase them and see it as inspiration for growing your own next year. Pinterest and the internet are brimming over with ideas and directions for making all kinds of beautiful  holiday treats from the garden. The links above will get you started.
  • Make a garland, wreath or swag with stems, twigs, branches, seed pods, dried flowers, and other goodies from fields, woods and gardens. I love growing a hedge of Ilex verticulata and a small row of red osier dogwood for their berries and twigs make striking additions to winter greenery like balsam or pine or cedar.
  • Poke at the compost pile. Try to introduce some air into its nether parts so that it really heats up before the cold sets in. Add some fallen leaves, and a little manure from a horse farm or friends with chickens. You get the idea.
  • Look at seed catalogs! They are coming out now and the best therapy for  December Darkness is those spring dreams of budding life and sowing seeds.

Garlic time, again. The beautiful cycle.

Planting garlic in Vermont is a great way to extend the gardening season and gives you a crop that is perfect in so many dishes, stores well all winter long and even generates its own seed. It is a perfect way to tune into the cycles of the gardening season and feel like you are growing an important part of your diet. Garlic is expensive to purchase so there are savings to be had with your own garlic crop. Please follow this guide for easy, step-by-step instructions that will give you a garlic patch for life. I have been growing out my own garlic for 18 years and usually do not need to ever buy seed stock or garlic in the grocery store. The pleasures of garlic growing are abundant and I encourage you to get familiar with this wonderful and simple crop.

When to start the cycle?

Planting dates in Vermont are anytime between mid October and late October. It is best to wait until then, because if you plant too early, the bulbs will break out of dormancy too soon and this weakens the plant going into our harsh winters. If you plant the cloves during those last two weeks of October, it gives them just the right amount of time to take root and hunker down until spring, but not send out any top growth.

To plant garlic, you need to follow a few easy steps.

1. Bed preparation.

This is the act of making your garden soil ready for garlic planting. You want a nice patch of garden, that is worked deeply so that the soil is loose about a foot down in depth. If your garden is very compacted and hard, the garlic will not be able to grow well and you will be sure to end up with small heads of garlic that are tedious to peel and not all that satisfying. You can prepare the bed with a 3 prong fork by digging in straight down, tilting the handle of the fork back and forth, and loosening the hard pan. This is a good work out! Don’t hesitate to get dirty here by kneeling in the earth and breaking up the clods of soil with your hands so they are not chunky at all. Add a bit of well rotted manure or compost at this time. Not too much. For a 5 by 10 bed, maybe a 5 gallon bucket’s worth. You don’t want to over feed the garlic roots in the fall, but a little compost will add organic matter and that will help the structure of the soil, keeping it loose, able to retain some moisture without staying too wet.

Take your time and your garden will reward you. I always look at garlic planting as a soulful moment in the gardening cycle. It is saying goodbye to summer and embracing the dormancy of winter, when seeds deep below the surface slowly get ready for their spring emergence. Living in a climate with such long winters, I need these small, but important, rituals to remind me that spring will come and the cold barren winter is a necessary part of it all. The seed garlic is planted in the fall because it needs to send roots far into the earth in order to feed itself the following year. I take this as a metaphor for my own winter activities that feed me all year long – catching up on sleep, feeding my mind with more reading time, eating great, nourishing foods, and spending more time with friends and family.  I digress here, but these are the thoughts I have as I plant garlic, and after many years of doing it, I find that it is a necessary part of my mental preparation for winter.

2. Mark the rows with a hoe, or hand tool. I usually keep the rows about 12 inches apart and since my beds are about 4 feet wide, I keep 3 rows per bed and can easily reach the center. Just drag your tool through the soil to delineate the rows. You can use string and stakes if it is important to be straight, but I don’t bother with that at all.

3. Break up the garlic heads into individual cloves. Do not peel! And notice that one end is the root end and one end is the stem end. This will be important for planting right side up with the root end pointing straight down and the stem end pointing straight up.

4. Space out the cloves. Lay the cloves on the top of the soil, following the line you have just drawn in the soil.  Allow about 6 inches between all the cloves.

5. Planting, spacing, and yields

Now you can start to plant. I always kneel down and take my time to feel the earth under me at this point. It just feels good and is a way to say goodbye to the garden before winter! Then, take a bulb planting tool, or a sturdy,  sharp pointed stick, or your hand if your soil is soft and pliable, and poke a hole about 4 to 6 inches down. Shove the clove of garlic deep down, root end down, and cover up with the soil. Continue down the row and repeat until all is planted. Three  heads of garlic will turn into about 24 heads next spring – assuming your garlic has about 8 cloves per head. . And with 6” by 12” spacing, a 5’ x 10’ patch of garlic will yield about 60 heads of garlic. That is enough to enjoy one head of garlic per week, all year long, and still have some left over for planting. To plant a patch this big, you will need to plant the equivalent of 7 to 10 heads of garlic.

6. Compost and mulch. I usually add another 4” of compost or well rotted horse manure to the bed. I then leave it like that for about 6 weeks. Then in mid to late December, I cover the bed with a thick layer of straw. You can also use leaves here, but straw is the best insulator with hollow stems that trap air and keep everybody warm down below. Another advantage of straw is that it usually does not have weed seeds in it; mulch hay, straw’s poor cousin,  should be avoided since it is laden with all sorts of perennial grass and weed seeds. The straw moderates the winter soil temperature and prevents buckling and heaving which could push those garlic cloves up and out of the ground.

Let winter pass you by now, and next……

7. Spring time chores with garlic. Once the snow melts and the soil warms up a bit, your garlic will break dormancy and magically pop up out of the earth. It is important to pull back the straw to let the garlic see sunlight. If you wait a bit too long, and pull back the straw only to see a bunch of yellowing stems, don’t worry! The garlic shoots will green up in no time and will look fabulously sturdy after a week or so of direct sunlight. I usually pull the straw into the garden path, let it pile up there and then replace it around the growing garlic to block out weeds once the garlic plants are about 8 inches high. I often will add a little granular fertilizer at this time, before putting the mulch back in place. For a 5 by 10 garlic patch about 3 cups of Pro-Gro from North Country organics or one bag of Compost Plus from Vermont Compost Company is just about right. This will insure you get large, easy to peel cloves that taste great.

8. Garlic scapes will appear on stiff neck garlic around late May. These look like green curly cues with a pointy end that gracefully swoops down and around, waving in the breeze. This is the budding and flowering portion of the garlic plant. It should be removed to help the plant spend its energy on sizing up the goods below ground. If it is allowed to flower, the plants’ strength will go towards the flower and the garlic forming below ground will be the weaker for it. The good news here is that the “scapes” as they are called, are good to eat. I usually cut off the pointy tip – it is rubbery and inedible, and then slice up the round stem and use it in stir fries, stews, pasta dishes, or pickles. When cooked, it has the texture of a nice green bean and the flavor of mild garlic. It is absolutely delicious and a once a year treat that marks the beginning of summer – a harbinger of good things to come.

9. When to harvest? Garlic is ready to harvest when about 70% of its leaves have turned yellow. This is somewhat subjective, and should be taken as not a hard and fast rule, but rather a guide. You can dig up one head of garlic and look for signs of well formed skin, plump cloves, and individuation (cloves that are individually formed, and not one big mass). This is usually some time in late July. In very wet and rainy years, sometimes it makes more sense to take the garlic our of the ground a little early so that the skin does not rot in the damp earth.

10. How to harvest? Take out your three prong fork again and use it to loosen the soil around the outside edges of each garlic row. This will break up the soil enough to allow you to pull out each plant with a firm yank. (If the stems break off, it is likely you waited too long and the skin and stems are starting to rot. At that point, just dig up the cloves with a spade and they will be okay in taste; they just won’t store well. ) Lay the plants on the surface of the soil so that they start to dry off. Once all the garlic is pulled up, wipe it with a towel or rag, and get ready to tie it into bundles. I usually take about 8 plants, hold them together in one hand, and with the other hand, wrap twine around the whole bundle. Tie off the twine and then hang the bundle in a dark airy space. The rafters of a garage, shed or barn work well. If you don’t have that type of space, just find a place out of the rain, out of direct sunlight and with good air circulation – a covered porch? a dry basement with a fan running? a spare bedroom that can get a little dirty? (no shag rugs please!).

11. Curing the garlic Curing is the process of letting the garlic dry which makes the papery skin that allows the garlic to keep all winter. The stems will turn brown and brittle and the exterior of the bulbs will become dry and paper-like, just like garlic in the store. At this point, it is okay to cut off those dry stems, wipe off any remaining dirt, cut off the roots, and place your garlic in a crate to store it. This can be done anytime from 3 to 6 weeks after you initially hang up the garlic to dry.

12. Storing the garlic Once the garlic is cured, cleaned and trimmed, you are ready to store it for eating all winter long. Garlic is best stored in the dark. In an airy, dry, cool place. I use milk crates, covered with a piece of burlap, and keep the crate in a very cool part of the basement. Ideal garlic storing temperatures are between 35 and 45 degrees, but a refrigerator is too humid, so please don’t be tempted to use that as a storage method. Other good places to store garlic (and onions for that matter) are unheated attics, attached garages that don’t freeze, but are not heated, or 3 season porches that do not freeze. Root cellars are great, but most of us don’t have one. If well stored, garlic will last until April or May – almost right in time for the garlic scape harvest!

13. Finding seed stock.

Until you build up your own supplies, you will have to purchase seed garlic. There are many great resources for garlic and for finding garlic seed, I recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or locally, Last Resort Farm in Monkton, Hudak Farm in Saint Albans, or any farmer at your local farmers market who has nice looking seed stock. Seed stock is basically sorted out of the garlic harvest and selected for the following the following traits:

      • good size
      • evenly formed cloves
      • strong stem
      • well formed skin
      • great flavor
      • ability to store for a long time

If you have been growing out your garlic in your garden, you can pick out the best cloves at cleaning and storing time. Set these aside in a safe place where they will not be eaten and come October, experience the joy of planting your own seed garlic.

14. Plant garlic. Repeat Step 1. above and the cycle starts all over again!

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.

 

Heat of Summer Garden Watering Tips

2014 has been a fabulous garden season, don't you think? Once we got over that initial cold period - a.k.a. November through April - it seems like we have had abundant sunshine and weekly rains. Moving towards August, we are seeing some drier weather in the Champlain Valley and needing to take a few precautions to make sure that plants stay healthy.  Whenever customers ask me a question about watering, I always have to stop myself from giving them a 45 minute lecture! Watering is something I do for hours a day, every day. I think about watering probably more than any other single task in our greenhouse business. It is a meditative and lovely way to spend part of each morning, and it is the best way I know to commune with plants, to get to know them, to check on them and see what else they might need in order to thrive. I will spare you the 45 minute lecture, and instead give you a few tips that will make your plants healthy and will save you time every time you water.

1. Mulch - whenever you can, lay down some old hay, straw, burlap bags, wet cardboard, newspapers or bark mulch around your plants. This will not only help keep weeds down, but it will also help keep moisture near the root zone.

2. When you water, aim the stream of water under the plant's foliage. Getting leaves wet is not the goal of watering...getting the roots drenched is what you are going for. I know this seems obvious, but so many people just water the top part of the plants and don't actually get the soil wet. It takes a lot of water right at the base of the plants to actually soak the soil. If you waste all the water on the leafy part of the plant, it sheds off, with the leaves acting like an umbrella and keeping the root zone dry. Not exactly efficient. Get the hose nozzle or tip of the watering can under all that foliage and you will be giving the plants what they want and where they want it.

3. Use a good nozzle on the end of your hose. We recommend this style:

They are made by Dramm and can be found locally at garden centers and on-line here. These nozzles are great for pots, window boxes, raised beds and small gardens. They are gentle enough so that soil doesn't wash away, but allow enough volume of water to flow out so that you don't have to wait too long for the ground to be saturated.  If you have a larger garden, consider investing in soaker hoses or even an over head sprinkler to save time. Overhead sprinklers do get the leaves wet, but they are cheap, can be moved easily, and can water a large area in a relatively small amount of time. If you have long rows and a garden that is organized in straight lines, you can invest in drip irrigation, like what professional growers use. You will need a pressure regulator and a filter with it, but most supplier are happy to help you put together a simple system. We recommend Drip Works - they do a great job at explaining drip irrigation systems and are committed to helping gardeners save water and time.

4. Ideally, keep the foliage dry and water in the mornings. This will allow the foliage to dry out before evening falls. Wet foliage on warm nights is an invitation to fungal diseases. Powdery mildew and other assorted pathogens love those conditions. It is an old wives tale that watering mid-day will burn the plants. In 20 years of farming and owning a greenhouse business, I have never seen a plant burned by water. I am not sure what that would even look like! I have seen all kinds of diseases sprout up literally over night from damp leaves in warm, dark, humid conditions.

5. If you water with a watering can, take that rosette off! The stream of water, uninterrupted by all those little holes, will make watering the base of the plant much easier. The only time you need that rosette is when you are germinating seeds and don't want a stream of water to wash away all those seeds.

6. If you have plants in containers, water them every single day in hot, dry weather. If they dry out too much, it is very hard to re-hydrate them. Also, keep them deadheaded and fertilized and they will cope much more easily with the heat. If you are going away for a few days, place each container in a pan or dish and add an inch or two of water so that they do not dry out (but only for a couple of days - they will drown if watered like that every day).  And please don't be stingy with the water - the averaage 10" to 12" hanging basket needs about 1/2 to 1 gallon of water per day during these hot dry days. That is a lot of water!

Overall, I love this time in the gardening season. The hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and corn are ready but we still have some nice spring crops like peas, scallions, and lettuces.  Watering can be relaxing, and it can provide you with some nice bonding time with your plants. Let us know if you have any questions.