Garden Tips and Stories

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!

Growing Sweet Potatoes in Vermont

Every year, we at Red Wagon Plants partner up with the Vermont Community Garden Network to grow out and sell sweet potato plants that you can then plant in your own gardens.

This year, our Sweet Potato Slip Sale is June 7th and 8th,

8 am to 6pm at our Hinesburg greenhouses

Many people are surprised that Sweet Potatoes can grow in Vermont, but they do very well when started in a greenhouse to root and then transplanted in June once the soil is warm. They prefer sandy, warm soils in full sun and are not particularly heavy feeders (no need to fertilize them if you have relatively good soil). We have some customers who grow them every year in big containers made out of chicken wire and black landscape fabric. This allows the roots of the plants to get really warm and when harvest time comes around, you can just un-peel the fencing and dig into the mound to harvest the sweet potatoes. You can read all about this method here.  They store really well - just let them dry a few days in a dark spot that is well vented. They are best stored around 50F degrees, not in a cool root cellar or refrigerator.

Some of our favorite things to do with sweet potatoes: roast them, mash them, make a pie with them, or grate them up for a vegetable hash with a fried egg. They are so easy to grow and are a wonderful addition to any garden.

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!

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.

Succession Gardening for Success

Garden Planning for the Seasonal Kitchen

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

Succession Planting for Successful Gardening

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

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

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

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

Simple Food Preservation for the Home Gardener

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

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

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

Lori and Doug's Garden, Part 3

Sophia and Lily visited Lori and Doug's garden this week to take some pictures and get an update on how all those plants are doing in their new raised beds. The garden looks beautiful, and Lori and Doug, gracious as ever, are so pleased with their abundant harvests. A few lessons have been learned along the way in this garden's history, which you can read about here and here. 

The garden is a great example of how colorful and varied a vegetable garden can be. Here an array of lettuces, marigolds, chard and kales co-mingle to create a carpet of textures, colors, and flavors. This is a perfect example of how edible gardens are also ornamental and can be featured in the center of a landscape.

Doug and Lori did a tight spacing on their potatoes at planting time, so they decided to hill with straw since there was not enough room to hill the sides of the plants with soil. This should lead to good yields, helps retain moisture and keeps disease pressure down.

They carefully stripped the plants of blossoms in the spring and are awaiting next year's harvest. By taking off the blossoms in the first year, Lori and Doug were able to help the plants concentrate their efforts on producing the lush green growth you see in the picture. A raised bed is a great way to go with strawberries - it keeps the plants under control so that they do not spread into neighboring plants, the strawberry  plants have better air circulation (therefore less disease) and it keeps the berries clean.

On a recent trip to Tuscany, Lori and Doug spied this trellising system and were able to re-create it at home. Anytime tomato plants are trellised from above, they will grow strong, tall and the fruit will be blemish free. This is the method used by greenhouse growers and in field production on small farms that really care about quality.

This small 4' x 4' bed provides plenty of space for herbs used daily in the kitchen as well as a few edible blossoms such as calendula. Lori makes a fantastic herb salt by very finely chopping sage or rosemary and mixing it with a good quality sea salt. This herb blend is great on hard boiled eggs, fish, salads, grilled meats.....pretty much anything you can think of. I felt pretty lucky when I was given a jar and have been carefully parsing it out ever since. It is also a great way to preserve herbs for winter use since the salt acts as a natural preservative.

Spaces were cleared out as crops were harvested which meant that new plantings had plenty of room to grow. The space in the back corner is being reserved for another fall planting. Lori just called today saying that she is ready to do a round of fall crops - this will include lettuces, greens, cabbage, and some cold hard herbs such as parsley, cilantro, dill. It is always a good idea to clean up gardens regularly so that old or sickly plants don't take up space that could be used for new, fresh plantings.

We just love the mixed beet plantings....the mixture of golden, cylindrical and regular beets makes for great salads.

These broccoli side shoots will keep producing into early winter. We only select varieties that produce lots of side shoots. Often one four pack is plenty to keep a small family in broccoli all summer, fall and early winter.

These peppers are great for stuffing. They have a wide, flat bottom and a large, hollow cavity. An herbed rice or a curried couscous is a lovely thing to pair with these beauties.

These are huge and lovely, and making me a bit jealous since the ones in my garden are small and not very happy.

The Benefits of Compost Tea

Before you start worrying about the fungal diseases that affect many garden crops this time of year, consider brewing up a batch of fermented compost tea. It is cheap, easy to make, and can protect your plants as well as help them out if they’re already suffering. Compost tea has been studied around the world and has been found to reduce fungal diseases by 50 to 90 percent. What do I mean by fungal diseases? These are diseases spread by spores (like microscopic seeds that germinate on leaf surfaces) and are encouraged by warm, wet conditions. This is why plants that have smooth or waxy leaves are less likely to be infected than plants that have textured or hairy leaves (which hold water). Common fungal diseases include:

  • Powdery mildew (white spots on cucumbers and winter/summer squash)
  • Early blight (brown circular spots with concentric rings on tomato and potato)
  • Late blight (irregular brown to black spots with dark outlines and fuzzy undersides on tomato and potato in late July)
  • Septoria leaf spot (small dark brown spots sprinkled over yellowing leaves of tomato and potato)

While not fully understood, compost tea is believed to be beneficial for several reasons. Fermentation creates a healthy community of fungi and bacteria, which may outcompete fungal disease and help support a plant’s natural defenses.  It also contains nutrients, which can be absorbed through foliage.

To make compost tea, mix one part mature compost that contains manure with five parts water. Allow the mixture to sit in a shady place for two weeks (it may become smelly!) Filter out large particles through cheesecloth, then spray on tops and bottoms of leaves every two weeks. The mixture will help reduce spreading of spores by infected plants, and can prevent infection of healthy plants.

- Adapted from The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases, by Barbara Pleasant

This Week in Photos 6.13.12

There's been no shortage of excitement this week! The sweet potato slip sale was a great success (and we still have some left, if you missed out). Saturday was extra amazing because of the delicious treats whipped up by Jessica Bongard of Sweet Lime Cooking Studio...seriously, this girl rocks, and if you haven't checked out her cooking classes, you should! We're also having a sale: hanging baskets are buy one, get one 50% off, and shade perennials are buy one, get one free. So come get 'em before they're gone!

Lori and Doug's Garden: Planting

Meet Lori and Doug, two of our favorite long-time customers and friends. Our skillful and talented guy, Eric Denice,  built them some beautiful raised beds and they've been busy planting.  Check out what's sprouting in their garden. These photos are from a few weeks ago, and we are updating them as we find time....so stay tuned to see more of this great progress.

I think some incredible meals will be coming out of this garden and kitchen this summer. Keep checking in to see the changes!

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.

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 #25: How do I create a beautiful and functional garden fence?

From Lily: Gardening has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. And with one constant seems to come another… Garden Critters.

We all have our stories. The deer strolled though and ate the tops off all the baby beets. The woodchucks chomped cabbage heads in half. The neighbor’s horse got loose and stampeded the entire garden. Rascally raccoons destroyed the corn crop in the night. The squirrels had family feast in the blueberry bushes. Robins pulled out every bean sprout as they emerged from the earth.  I’m all for sharing the harvest, but come on. This past spring was the last straw. I watched my own dog eat the asparagus shoots right out of the ground!

It was time to build a fence.

To install my own fence seemed like an unappealing and daunting project. I was intimidated. I like freedom, ease, and of course beauty in the veggie garden. Alas, I had to make moves. Precious asparagus was being robbed. There was no time to waste. Honestly, the dog was the main motivator. My biggest worry was that my quickie fence would be an eyesore. The final product has turned out to be nothing of the sort.

My garden comrades and I made construction choices with installation time, simplicity, and expense in mind. We decided on very basic materials that were easy to procure. Cedar posts for the corners and the entrance; installed with a borrowed posthole digger. Wooden grade stakes as the perimeter; one every 5-ish feet, pounded in with a mallet. Coated wire fencing with small holes at the bottom to keep out little critters and large holes at the top which is eye pleasing. We paid a little extra for this but I’m glad because the design is truly easy on the eyes (visually I’m not a fan of chicken wire). A staple gun came in handy to attach the fencing to the grade stakes. Lastly, a very simple wooden frame was constructed with the fencing material as the gate.

The fence has given the garden a sense of place and boundaries. It is no longer just a plot plowed out of the lawn. There is now a container to hold all the ideas, inspirations, and plans for the garden. In only a few hours we transformed the space! This year I hope to incorporate the fence more into the planting scheme of the garden by creating a narrow bed along the edge. The fence is a built in trellis. Why not plant annual climbing flowers! My favorites of course: Sweet peas, Cobaea, and Painted Lady Runner Beans.

I’ve also been dreaming up a project to build a solid gate. A gate that is structurally sound and provides an identity to the garden. Entrances hold an opportunity to set a scene, create a mood, transition from one thing to another. They are the first impressions of a space. When you pass through a gate or doorway you have the chance to leave behind what you don’t need: a chance to step into the present.

Here's some inspiration for gates and fences…

FAQ #9: What is sheet mulching and how do I do it?

Sheet mulching is a technique for creating a garden bed that does not require tilling or hand weeding. It is intended to mimic the natural mulching process that occurs on the forest floor. It is also suitable for converting a section of lawn into a garden without breaking the sod. There are a lot of different methods but here is the simplest one:

  1. Trample or cut down any large woody weeds.
  2. Put down a layer of compost to jump-start the composting process.
  3. Create a thick weed-barrier of newspaper, cardboard, or other biodegradable materials over the area you want to convert, wetting with a hose as you go.
  4. Cover the weed-barrier with weed-free compost or composted manure at least 3 inches thick.
  5. The top layer mimics the materials that fall to forest floor - nut shells, twigs, fern fronds, coffee grounds, wood chips, etc. are all good materials. Create a layer 3-5 inches thick and water in.

Plants can be transplanted directly into this bed and should be closely spaced to minimize the germination of weeds. Note: this method is not recommended for areas that are prone to flooding or waterlogging. Graphic courtesy of agroforestry.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAQ #20: Which plants make good houseplants?

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

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