Friday, September 30, 2011

Farmageddon

WOW!!!  Now I'm pissed!  Yesterday I was following up with some of my favorite blogs and one of them got me FUMING!  It wasn't the blog that pissed me off but the subject matter of the video clip they post.

The folks over at Dog Island Farm are awesome and I'm sharing with you what I watched yesterday.  Unlike some of the other videos I have emailed before, the content in the video is suitable for just about anyone.  It is the CAUSE that pisses me off, not the actual video!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's on my reading list?

I made another trip to the library this week AND my books from Amazon.com arrived. I picked up The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible, You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail, The Glamour of Grammar,  2 John Sanford books, 2 Janet Evanovich books and for the hubby, Lucifer's Hammer and The Passage.   
This should last me a few weeks.


I have 2 of my own reference books in the pile, The Encyclopedia of Country Living and Growing 101 Herbs That Heal.  Almost forgot!!! Also on my reading list is an awesome cookbook that my mom sent me If It Makes You Healthy by Sheryl Crow and Chuck White.  I'm thinking about trying the Watermelon Margarita.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Soap for October!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month! My office always puts together a handout or flier for our patients during October.  This year I'm going one step further.  I made PINK goat's milk soap ribbons for patients and friends.

Cut.
Melt.
Pour.

The first batch I made was organic Grapefruit Goat Milk.

The second batch is Organic Lavender Goat Milk.

Tomorrow I'm going to make Organic Star Anise soap which will be pink with a clear base.  Noticing a trend?  PINK!  It's been quite a while since I made soap and I almost forgot how much fun it is.  I only ever make ribbon soap for October.
It looks YUMMY!!!  

To purchase soap or for questions, please send an email to mary@marysheirloomseeds.com

California Dreamin

 


ENJOY!

Monday, September 26, 2011

WHAT is GMO?

The definition of GMO according to wikipedia is "an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species."

Want an easier explanation?  Check out The Non-GMO Project, "GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods."

Also at The Non-GMO Project,
Are GMOs safe?
In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale. Many health-conscious shoppers find the lack of rigorous, independent, scientific examination on the impact of consuming GM foods to be cause for concern.


According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, a consumer safety organization, “Genetic engineers continually encounter unintended side effects – GM plants create toxins, react to weather differently, contain too much or too little nutrients, become diseased or malfunction and die. When foreign genes are inserted, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant.  The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.”

The information provided above is only just the beggining.  Several years ago I began researching food and nutrition.  It's simple and easy with website like google, using words such as gmo, gmo food and gmo side effects.  It is AMAZING the information available and it's down right disturbing!  I've learned about rGBH and unsavory charactors within the business of GMO agriculture. Several studies that really caught my attention were about the increase of instances of cancer and the link to pesticides and gmo production and consumption.  You can find the article here.

In my garden I plant ONLY non-gmo, open-pollinated, organic seeds to ensure my families health and well-being.  I'm not taking any chances with franken-seeds!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peach Jam and Orange Marmalade!

Do I have your attention now?  My water bath canner and supplies arrived yesterday and I am itching to get started. 

I purchased my supplies for a very reasonable price. I bought a large pot with a lid and canning rack, stainless steel jar funnel, jar lifter, 12 1-quart Ball jars AND the Ball Blue Book canning guide.
I've spent quite a bit of time perusing articles and recipes on Food in Jars and I found a few that I really want to try.  I already made Refrigerator Pickles which were a HUGE success in my house.  Next on the list is  Peach Jam and Orange Marmalade.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Toads in my garden!

About 2 weeks ago I planted Little Gem Lettuce and it looks oh so cute reaching for the sun growing bigger every day.  At the same time, I transplanted huckleberry into pots also on the patio.  This morning I went out onto to check on my little greens and there are big divots in the dirt and a little toad jumped out! One of the huckleberries is laying on it's side. UGH!

Toad's horny butt

I'm not sure what I'll have to do to keep the toads out but for now I gathering dead leaves to mulch the containers.  I love Mother Nature but she can be a nuisance on occasion.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Acorn Squash...MM MM Good!

Acorn Squash for dinner...Happy birthday to me!!!

Today a received a package from my sister with a beautiful wind chime and a homegrown acorn squash.  It must be my birthday!  I was so excited about trying another recipe that I cut it in half (no, the hubby cut it in half because I don't need an ER visit on our budget) and added proper seasoning and in the oven it went.
I found a great recipe online, of course and I've included it below.

SWEET and SPICY!
Acorn on the right : Sweet.  Acorn on the left: Spicy.

Sweet recipe:
1 tablespoon butter spread over acorn half
1 tablespoon brown sugar sprinkled over acorn half

Spicy recipe:
1 tablespoon butter spread over half acorn
1 pinch of sea salt sprinkled over acorn half
1 pinch of pepper sprinkled over acorn half
Paprika sprinkled over acorn half

Preheat the over to 375 degrees.  Add 1/4 inch of water to the bottom of the pan so the skin doesn't burn.  Cook for 50 minutes or until flesh is soft.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is it Fall yet?

Well technically the official first day of Fall is September 23rd.  However, the weather in sunny south Florida is predicted to be 90 degrees (without the heat index).  I won't let a little hot weather keep my from beginning my Fall prep starting with canning.  With cucumbers starting to ripen on the vine I'm salivating for homemade pickles.

Last night I made refrigerator pickles with a recipe from  
food in jars.

Notice I didn't use Ball or Mason jars.  These pickles won't be canned.  As it is I'm having trouble staying out of them after 1 day and I still have 2 days to go.  I've been gathering canning recipes in anticipation of my water bath canner and supplies which (fingers crossed) is in the mail.  More on canning later!!

My fall greens have been planted and are already enjoying the warmth of the Florida sun.  Grow babies grow!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Farmer's Market Sunday

Another quick trip to the farmer's market and I'm still waiting to harvest from my own garden.  First veggies to harvest are bell peppers and cucumbers.  The rest of the day I'll be cleaning!  Not my favorite activity but it must be done.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Garden Update for Mid-September

While some areas of the US are starting to cool down and preparing for fall planting, South Florida is still hot and steamy.  We've had a few rainy days to cools us down (into the 80s) but for now it's 99 degrees with the heat index!!!

A few of the individual pictures were blurry so below is the side yard.  (At least what I could fit in one picture) Total plants include 2 Cucumbers, 3 Zucchinis, 4 Eggplants, 5 Tomatoes
2 Bell Peppers and 3 Pumpkins.

I have continued to stay busy in the garden, fighting aphids and worms and I'm almost ready to harvest my first cucumbers...

National Pickling Cucumber
Jalapeno seedlings complete with kitty bite marks.
Black Beauty Eggplant
Cherokee Purple Tomato. No fruit yet

Pumpkins
Pak Choi seedlings

That's all for now.  Happy Planting!  Happy Harvesting!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Growing Summer Squash

Summer squash is a vegetable gardening favorite, and it’s easy to grow.  Think of yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, or pattypan and scallop squash.
These squash grows well in containers, too. Try these squash varieties for squash container gardening: Butter Bush, Bush Table Queen, Bush Crookneck, Bush Acorn, and Black Magic Zucchini.

Preferred Growing Conditions
Vegetables tend to all like the same growing conditions: full sun, and well drained soil full of organic matter. Organic matter, organic matter, organic matter… Are you sick of hearing about it yet? Organic matter contributes to the health of the soil: gives soil nutrients, aerates soil for better root growth, helps soil retain moisture, while at the same times allows soil to drain better.

So, for the health of your plants, make sure your soil has organic matter. I wouldn’t keep saying it if it weren’t important.

The easiest way to add organic matter is to just work a little compost into your soil. Get a composter and make your own by recycling kitchen and yard waste. Or, buy compost or a soil amendment will do the same thing. But, it’s cheaper just to go ahead and buy a compost bin (or recycle a large bin) and make your own.

How to Plant Summer Squash
Rethink how many summer squash plants you need. It just takes a few plants to feed a family. Plant summer squash in a container, or a garden. Here’s how:
For planting summer squash in containers, make sure your pot is at least 12 inches wide, that’s about a 5 gallon pot. Pots will dry out fast. That will be your biggest container gardening obstacle. Consider using a fabric pot or a self watering planter, so help control the soil moisture level.

Soil temperature should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant your summer squash. Plant seeds ½ inches deep and six inches apart. Thin out after seedlings after they emerge, but will need at least two leaves to keep growing. Mature bush summer squash plants should be 20 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 feet apart. If growing a vine variety, planting in hills works well. Plant about 5 seeds per hill. After seedlings emerge and are established, thin to three plants. Stake or provide a trellis for vining varieties.

Transplanting is a good idea with summer squash, too. You can purchase starter plants or start seeds indoors about four weeks prior to the last frost date. Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings, meaning slowly adjust them to the outdoor climate and sun.

Consider staggering you plantings of summer squash too. Planting two weeks apart can keep you harvesting summer squash a little longer. And, don’t forget you get a lot of summer squash from one plant. I think that is why sometimes squash gets a bad wrap. It’s a great tasting vegetable, and easy to grow.

Companion Plants for Summer Squash
Growing these companion plants around summer squash will be helpful: Buckwheat, catnip, tansy, and radishes.

Maintaining Your Summer Squash Plants
Consistent watering is key with summer squash. Mulch helps a lot with maintaining soil moisture. So, put a good layer of mulch down around summer squash plants. Provide a trellis for support for vining summer squashes to grow.

You might need to assist with pollination. If you are growing just a few plants, you might have to help. Here’s how to do it, and no, you probably didn’t learn this in school. The first flowers that bloom are males. These appear about 40-50 days after planting. A week later the female flowers develop, which will produce the fruit after fertilized by the male flowers. So, to help: pick the first male blooms and brush them against the female bloom. This will help increase the output of summer squash.

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
Use an organic fertilizer on summer squash at the time of transplanting. Fertilize again, in about a month. Organic fertilizer is important. We need safe, healthy foods. But also, you don’t want to endanger any beneficial insect helping you with your pollination duties.

Harvesting Summer Squash
Harvest summer squash early. They will taste better when tender, and you’ll want to keep the fruit off the plant so it keeps producing. So, pick when the summer squash is about 2 inches in diameter, or 6-8 inches long. Pattypan squash is best when it reaches 3 inches in diameter, and is still a little pale. If your Pattypan squash gets a little larger, those are great to stuff.

Summer Squash Pests and Diseases
Don’t forget to check summer squash plants for pests often. Squash bugs will set in pretty quickly. They will be your biggest pest problems. Ok, cucumber beetles like summer squash plants, too. Neem oil is a great organic choice to get rid of these bugs.
Keep an eye out, too, for these pests and diseases: bacteria wilt, squash vine borers, mosaic virus, and mildew.

I'm not ready to harvest my first zucchini but I'm getting ready by putting together a few recipes I've used before and LOVE.

Tomato and Zucchini Melange

Ingredients

  • 2 plum tomatoes, halved and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons salsa
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, mix together tomatoes, zucchini, salsa, water, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Mix in bell peppers if desired. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. 
***I use Homemade Salsa***
I really enjoy this recipe as a side dish or even just for lunch.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Growing Winter Squash

All winter squash varieties are easy to grow, and butternuts, buttercups and other types with dense flesh can stand in for carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes in any recipe.

Butternut squash combine rich flavor and smooth texture with natural resistance to squash vine borers. These bottle-shaped fruits have buff-brown rinds and will store for six months or longer.

In spring, sow seeds in prepared beds or hills after your last frost has passed, or sow them indoors under bright fluorescent lights. Set out seedlings when they are about three weeks old. In Zone 6 and warmer, you can plant more winter squash in early summer, using space vacated by fall-planted garlic or early spring lettuce. Stop planting winter squash 14 weeks before your expected first fall frost.

How to Plant Winter Squash
Winter squash grows best in warm conditions, in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Choose a sunny site and prepare 3-foot-wide planting hills within wide rows, or position them along your garden’s edge. Leave 5 to 6 feet between hills. Loosen the soil in the planting sites to at least 12 inches deep. Thoroughly mix in a 2-inch layer of mature compost and a light application of balanced, organic fertilizer. Water well. Plant six seeds per hill, poking them into the soil 1 inch deep. After seeds germinate (about 10 days after sowing), thin seedlings to three per hill. Set up protective row covers as soon as you’re done planting.

Harvesting and Storage
Fruits are ripe if you cannot easily pierce the rind with your fingernail. Never rush to harvest winter squash, though, because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Expect to harvest three to five squash per plant. Use pruning shears to cut fruits from the vine, leaving 1 inch of stem attached. Clean away dirt with a soft, damp cloth, and allow fruits to cure for two weeks in a spot that’s 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Store cured squash in a cool, dry place, such as your basement, a cool closet or even under your bed. Check every two weeks for signs of spoilage.

Winter squash face challenges from squash bugs, squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. To defend your plants from all three insects, shield them with row covers held aloft with stakes or hoops until the plants begin to bloom. Big, healthy plants will produce well despite pest pressure. Among diseases, powdery mildew is a common problem best prevented by growing resistant varieties, which often have “PMR” (for “powdery mildew resistance”) after their variety names. In addition, a spray made of 1 part milk and 6 parts water can suppress powdery mildew if applied every two weeks during the second half of summer.

Winter Squash Growing Tips and Ideas
Grow open-pollinated varieties so you can save your own seeds for eating and replanting. Only choose hybrids if you need a space-saving bush habit or a special form of disease resistance.

Try growing winter squash in an old compost pile located along the edge of your garden. Small-fruited varieties do well if allowed to scramble up a fence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Birthday and a Book Review

I had an awesome birthday weekend filled with friends, cocktails, dirt and books (not necessarily in that order). I can't forget about the chocolate cake, mainly because the leftovers in the fridge are calling me and because I'll have to get my butt to the gym an extra day this week.

As for the dirt, I managed to do a bit of gardening.  Well, mainly bug detail with a bit of digging.  Next year I'm going to limit the pumpkins to a section of the yard.  Twice I have had to remove them from the tomato cages and drag them back to the pumpkin patch.

I had a chance to relax and enjoy a good book this weekend.  I am almost through the third book in the "Dragon Tattoo" series by Stieg Larsson.  I absolutely enjoy the first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and promptly checked out the next book in the series from the library The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Now that I'm almost through the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, I'm savoring each word as there is no fourth book (yet).  If you like action with a bit of mystery the Stieg Larsson books are great!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Growing Hot Peppers

When to Plant Peppers

If you live outside of Florida:  Start seeds indoors under bright fluorescent lights in early spring, eight to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date. If possible, provide bottom heat to keep the plants’ containers near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the seeds stay slightly moist. Seeds should sprout within three weeks. Transfer seedlings to larger containers when they are about six weeks old. Don’t set peppers outside until at least two weeks after your average last frost date, during a period of warm weather. Always harden off seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor weather a few hours each day for at least a week before transplanting them outdoors.

I have a screened-in patio and plant seedlings in small containers. I leave them on a shelf on the patio.  It get's plenty hot in Florida so water regularly but DO NOT over-water.  I've had success with most of my seedlings (all except the radishes because it was too hot when I attempted to grow them).  I prefer not to coddle my plants because they'll be out in the garden soon and I won't be able to protect them every minute of every day.

How to Plant Peppers
All peppers grow best under warm conditions, but gardeners in cool climates can keep peppers happy by using row covers. Choose a sunny site that has fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Loosen the planting bed to 12 inches deep, and thoroughly mix in a 1-inch layer of mature compost. Dig planting holes 12 inches deep and at least 18 inches apart, and enrich each with a spadeful of additional compost. Partially refill the holes, and situate plants so they are planted slightly deeper than they were in their containers. Water well.

Harvesting and Storing Peppers
You can eat peppers when they are mature yet still green (green peppers), although the flavor and the vitamin content of peppers improve as they ripen to red, yellow or orange. Use pruning shears to snip ripe peppers from the plant, leaving a small stub of stem attached. Bumper crops can be briefly steam-blanched or roasted and then frozen, either whole (for stuffing) or chopped. Peppers are also easy to dry. Dried peppers quickly plump if soaked in hot water, or you can grind them into powders for your spice shelf.

Pepper Pest and Disease Prevention Tips
Tobacco etch virus (TEV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and potato virus Y (PVY) can infect peppers grown in warm climates. Transmitted by thrips and aphids, these viruses cause leaves to become thick and crinkled or narrow and stringy. The best defense is to grow resistant varieties, such as ‘Tam JalapeƱo.’
Margined blister beetles may suddenly appear in large numbers in midsummer, especially in warm climates. These large beetles are black with gray stripes, and they devour pepper foliage. Handpick beetles, making sure to wear gloves to prevent skin irritation. Use a spinosad-based insecticide to control severe outbreaks.
Pepper weevils can also be a serious problem in warm climates. Clean up fallen fruit daily to interrupt the life cycle of this pest, and trap adult pepper weevils with sticky traps.

Pepper Growing Tips
Be careful with nitrogen when preparing your planting holes, as overfed peppers produce lush foliage but few fruits. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer only if you’re growing peppers in poor soil.
In cool climates, use black plastic mulch in addition to row covers to create warm conditions for peppers. In warm climates, use shade covers during summer to reduce sunscald damage to ripening peppers.

Provide stakes or other supports to keep plants upright as they become heavy with fruits. Cover surrounding soil with a mulch of clean straw or grass clippings so ripening peppers don’t come in contact with soil, which can cause them to rot.
Always wear gloves if handling hot peppers, and avoid touching your eyes or nose. If you do handle hot peppers bare-handed, immediately scrub hands with soap and warm water, rub them vigorously with vegetable oil, then wash them again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Growing Sweet Peppers

Peppers take up very little space in the garden, less than a tomato plant, in fact. You can always squeeze in a sweet pepper plant or two, no matter how small your garden space. Peppers even grow really well in containers or planters!

Green, red, orange, and yellow: these are the colors of sweet peppers! Right? No, there are tons of varieties of sweet peppers. Almost any color imaginable: purple to black, blue, white and even chocolate brown sweet peppers!

Preferred Growing Conditions
You’re probably seeing the similarities in the best growing conditions for vegetable plants: full sunlight and the soil should be well drained, fertile, and rich in organic matter. Sweet pepper plants are no different. Except, in really hot climates they could use a little late afternoon shade.

Compost is your best bet to work into the soil, whether you’re planting in a raised bed, row garden, or container gardening. Compost is rich in organic matter, and makes your soil a different ball game. No joke. Try it. Compost is an easy way to prepare your soil for successful vegetable growing. Peppers, also, like greensand added to soil to help with drainage.

How to Plant Sweet Peppers
Sweet peppers are a warm season crop, needing a lot of warmth to ripen on the plant. Make sure if you start seeds indoors, you will need to do so 8-10 weeks before they are ready for transplant.
Reality check, folks! You have to be on your gardening game to remember to get these started this early.
Usually, this is when you’re starting to think about planting the garden.

Spacing these plants will depend greatly on the variety. Generally, pepper plants need 18-24 inches between plants, and 24 inches between rows. Here’s a great tip with bell peppers: plant a little closer together for more successful plants. Reducing the spacing between plants helps prevent sunscald on the fruit and prevents weeds.

Companion Plants for Sweet Peppers
Growing these companion plants around sweet peppers will be helpful: tomatoes, geraniums, and, petunias.

Some plants actually are bad to the health of sweet pepper plants.
Avoid these plants around sweet peppers: beans, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.

Maintaining Your Sweet Pepper Plants
Water your sweet pepper plants regularly. Blossom end rot can be caused by inconsistent watering. Mulching around sweet pepper plants will help control moisture loss, too.

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
Fertilize sweet pepper plants when transplanting, and then again after the first fruit is produced. Be careful not to over fertilize. Over fertilizing sweet pepper plants can cause blossom end rot.
Focus on overall plant health and fruit production with fertilizers. Stick with something low in nitrogen. Try something with seaweed or fish emulsion: these are low in nitrogen.

Harvesting Sweet Peppers
Your best bet is to let them ripen on the vine. That’s how to get most flavor out of your pepper. But, if you wish you can pick them and let them ripen off the vine to sweeten. Who knows, maybe you like sweet peppers not so sweet? They’re still good this way, just maybe a tad bitter like the green peppers.

Sweet Pepper Pests and Diseases
Insect pests, typically, aren’t too big of a problem for sweet pepper plants. But keep an eye out for aphids, pepper maggots, and pepper weevils. Aphids will be the most common. Begin to look for them at the popular aphid hangouts: under leaves and along juicy stems.

Make sure to use organic pest control around food sources. Pepper plants are more likely to have trouble with sunscald, blossom end rot, and blossoms dropping off than garden pests. Prevent those pepper problems by adding compost to the soil, consistent watering, mulching, and planting slightly closer together to protect fruit from the sun.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Garden Update. Back to work!

I really enjoyed my weekend of no real labor!  I have so much fun in the garden that I don't really consider it work.  Today back in the office, now that is work and I enjoy every minute of it! { smile }

On Monday I managed to untangle the pumpkin from the tomato cages.  I didn't listen when the pumpkin queen told me that the pumpkin vines would take over the garden.  One plant can stretch 100 feet if you let it.  WOW!  For now my pumpkin is trying to take over 10 feet and I'm not sure what to do.  I think it's time I made another tomato cage only this time I'll give it to my pumpkins.

As for the cucumbers, I'm salivating for homemade pickles.  I almost want to plant a few more but I'm exercising self control.  I hear stories of gardeners planting too many cucumbers and really getting sick of pickles as cucumber plants are HEAVY producers.  For now I'll just wait and be patient. Grrr!

What did you do during the Labor Day weekend?

Going Organic

In case you are new to the blog or you've been lurking for a while and haven't signed up...WELCOME!  September is all about GROWING!  I've added a few posts so far with growing tips and soil information.  I practice ONLY organic growing methods.  If any of the recommendations say "fertilize" I am referring to an organic method (preferably homemade).

Store-bought fertilizers, especially organic, can be very expensive and can be harmful to the environment for many reasons.  As far as the side-yard project goes, I have used homemade aged compost, dead leaves and freshly collected seaweed.  *Disclaimer*  The seaweed is not organic but it is natural and no animals where harmed in the process.  For more information on seaweed application check out the blog archives.

While I may not specify in every post, I highly recommend using recycled material as often as possible.  I'm on a budget, but more importantly I hate to waste anything!

I don't claim to be an expert on anything.  I am constantly learning new things in the garden and the kitchen...oh, and at work too!  While some have said I have way too much time on my hands to juggle the house, garden, work, the gym and the blog I smile and go back to my research.  I may have a bit more time on my hands than most because I don't waste hours in front of the TV.  In fact, I cancelled my cable months ago and I feel great!

The moral of this story?  Thanks for stopping by...Come back soon and let me know what you think!

Happy Planting!   -Mary

Monday, September 5, 2011

Growing Tomatoes

HAPPY LABOR DAY!  I've been in the garden this morning.  The Pumpkin is truly taking over.  I had to unhook it's tentacles from a Cherokee Purple.  I'm really looking forward to cucumbers!
Today is another installment of "Growing."  ENJOY!

There are two basic kinds of tomatoes: Determinate and Indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes produce the fruit all at once. These are typically bush tomatoes, and make the best tomatoes for container gardening. Since all the tomatoes are ripe within a short period of time, these are great plant choices if you plan to can or have a short tomato growing season.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow on a vine. They will produce all season until the first frost.

Preferred Growing Conditions
Tomatoes love sun, and lots of it. Determinate or bush tomato plants work best for tomato container gardening. Soil should be rich in organic matter. Compost works best mixed in with the soil, and is a great organic fertilizer. Tomatoes tend to do well in soil that is a little acidic. Get a soil pH tester if you are unsure of your soil’s pH level.
Mulch will be important around tomato plants. Since tomato plants prefer full sun, the soil will dry out. Mulch will help retain moisture in the soil.

How to Plant Tomatoes
Space out tomato plants 13 – 17 inches apart. Really just follow the planting instructions with the variety you choose. It will all depend on the variety of tomato you grow. You just want to make sure they will have enough room to grow and the roots not compete with each other. You can plant tomato seedlings after the last frost. Seeds can be started just before the last frost.

Keep in mind tomatoes do well in raised beds. If you are not planting in a raised bed, raise your tomato rows about six inches in the garden. Rows should be 4-5 feet apart. But, don’t forget that determinate tomato varieties grow well in containers, too!

Companion Plants for Tomatoes
Growing these companion plants around tomatoes will be helpful: basil, chives, oregano, parsley, onions, carrots, asparagus, marigolds, celery, and geraniums.
Some plants actually are bad to the health of tomato plants.
Avoid these plants around tomotoes: black walnut, corn, cabbage, potatoes, kale, and rosemary.

Maintaining Your Tomato Plants
Not sure what to do in the meantime? You will most likely need to stake your tomatoes. Again, depends on the variety. Bush tomatoes may need to be staked or caged for support. But, indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, will definitely need support since they continue to grow all season. A trellis works nicely with vine tomatoes or a tomato cage.

Should you prune tomatoes? Depends on who you ask! Suckers, or side shoots, grow in the “v” of the stem and branch. You can pinch them off or leave them. Leaving the suckers on produces more tomatoes. But these will be smaller tomatoes. If you have a large tomato plant, like the indeterminates, you might want to prune the side shoots here and there. But don’t go hog wild, you want these plants to produce.

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
It’s a good idea to use organic fertilizer in your garden, and avoid the chemicals around your food. Typically, tomatoes are fertilized every 3-4 weeks, with the first fertilization at planting. The next time you’re ready to fertilize should be about the time the plant is bearing small tomatoes. Some determinate varieties will only be fertilized two times, since they produce tomatoes all at once.

You can also find products at nurseries, like Tomato Thrive, a microbial growth promoter, that help tomato plants absorb nutrients from the soil. This makes your fertilizer absorb better, too.

When to Harvest Tomatoes
Tomatoes take 50-80 days to harvest. Just pick them when they have turned their full color. You can pick them early and let them ripen in the windowsill. But, the best tomato flavor is one that has ripened on the vine.

Tomato Pests and Diseases
Keep an eye out for tomato hornworms. They are the large, beautiful green worms that blend nicely with the stems.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Growing Beets

Beets can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 50 degrees, making them ideal for the early spring and fall vegetable gardens. Beets don’t care for overly acidic soil, so gardeners should perform a soil test before planting to ensure that the pH is between 6.2 and 6.8. If the soil is too acidic, add lime until the pH is properly adjusted.
Table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable throughout the United States. Beet tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. The tops are cooked or served fresh as greens and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Beet juice is a basic ingredient of Russian borscht. The garden beet is closely related to Swiss chard, sugar beet and mangel.

When To Plant
Beets are fairly frost hardy and can be planted in the garden 30 days before the frost-free date for your area. Although beets grow well during warm weather, the seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. Start successive plantings at 3 to 4 week intervals until midsummer for a continuous supply of fresh, tender, young beets. Irrigation assures germination and establishment of the later plantings.

Spacing & Depth
The beet "seed" is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit. Several seedlings may grow from each fruit. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart.

Allow 12 to 18 inches between rows. Poor stands are often the result of planting too deeply or the soil's crusting after a heavy rain. The seedlings may emerge over a relatively long period of time, making a stand of different sizes and ages of seedlings. Some gardeners find that placing a board over the row after planting preserves the soil moisture and eliminates crusting from hard rains. The board must be removed as soon as the first seedling starts to emerge.

Hand thinning is almost always necessary. The seedlings should be thinned to 1 to 3 inches apart. If thinning is delayed until the plants are 3 inches tall, those removed may be cooked greens, similar to spinach. Some cooks leave the small root (usually about the size of a marble) attached to the greens.
Though it is seldom done, beets actually may be transplanted. Some care must be taken to get the roots oriented vertically so that the beets can develop properly.

Care
Frequent shallow cultivation is important because beets compete poorly with weeds, especially when small. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, hand weeding and early, frequent and shallow cultivation are the most effective methods of controlling weeds in the rows. Deep cultivation after the weeds are large damages the beet roots. Like most root crops, beets need a fertile soil (especially high in potassium) for vigorous growth. Keep your beet plants uniformly supplied with moisture for best performance.

Harvesting
Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly to 3 inches with adequate moisture and space. With most varieties, beets larger than 3 inches may become tough and fibrous. Beets may be stored in a polyethylene bag in a refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also may be stored in outdoor pits if the beets are dug before the ground freezes in the fall. Cut off the tops of the beets one inch above the roots. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity. Do not allow them to freeze.

Selection & Storage
Beets can be harvested at any stage of development, from the thinning to the fully mature stage at about 2 inches in diameter. The "thinnings" are beets that have been pulled from the ground prematurely to make room for others when rows are overcrowded. Thinnings can be eaten raw, tops included, in salads or roasted. Beets are high in natural sugar and roasting brings out the natural sweetness.

Beets vary in color and shape based on variety. The most common is the deep maroon globe-shaped beet. There is an Italian variety which has pink and white rings upon slicing. The golden globe is globe-shaped and orange in color then it turns golden yellow when cooked. Another variety is white and still another is pink.

When harvesting beets, separate the green tops from the roots leaving an inch of stem on the beet. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are often fibrous and woody. Beet greens are packed with nutritional value but must be prepared separately. Upon storage the greens will quickly draw the moisture from the root greatly reducing flavor and the beets will become shriveled. Leave one inch stem and the taproot intact to retain moisture and nutrients. After separating, beets store well for about a week in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. Use beets while they are still firm and fresh.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Growing Carrots

There are two main types of carrot - early and maincrop, which also come in long and short root varieties. As their name suggests, early varieties are planted earlier on in the year and take 12 weeks to mature, whilst maincrop varieties are planted a few months later.

Soil conditions for growing carrots
The ideal soil conditions to cultivate your carrots would be a light, sandy, well-drained earth with a slightly acidic pH balance of 6.5. Planting should start once the soil reaches a temperature of 65°F (18°C).

Climate conditions for growing carrots
To get the best results carrots should be cultivated in a sunny spot that receives plenty of direct sunlight. The seedlings will be able to cope with some shade and even a small amount of light frost, yet lots of sunshine is always the best for this crop.

Soil preparation
The soil should be prepared approximately 2 weeks before you are due to plant the seeds. Dig an area of about 1ft (12 inches) deep and work the soil so that its texture is even, fine and crumbly. Remove all debris, particularly any stones, which can cause deformation of the carrot's shape, and work in some fully rotted organic matter, which will keep the soil loose and moist, perfect growing conditions for the carrot.

For early varieties planting will take place in mid-February and therefore you should prepare the soil at the beginning of the month, whilst maincrop varieties can be grown from late April.

One week before planting you can add a general fertilizer, one that does not contain high levels of nitrogen, as this could cause the seeds to grow multiple roots. In most cases, plenty of compost or peat moss is enough for carrots to grow well.

Planting the carrot seeds
Thinly plant the tiny carrot seeds in drills that are about ½ inch deep. Drop a few seeds into the soil at every inch. The rows should be approximately 8 inches (20cm) apart. Cover the seeds with fine soil and apply a very thin layer of straw or shredded bark. Germination takes place within 15 - 20 days.

Thinning the seedlings
The seedlings should be carefully thinned out when they have sprouted and reached a height of approximately 1 inch (2.5cm). Space them out so that they are first 2 inches (5cm) and then 5 inches (12cm) apart. Thin the seedlings at night, as this is when the carrot fly are absent, and destroy all trimmings by either burning, burying or binning them.

Ensure that the roots of the seedlings do not suffer too much disturbance, as this can affect their growth. Pat down the soil after thinning, as carrot fly like to lay their eggs in loose soil.

Apply a layer of mulch about ¾ inch thick once the plants have been established.

Watering the carrot seedlings
The soil should be kept moist at all times but carrot seedlings do not need to be deluged in water. Water when the soil is dry and keep the soil moist and the plants will be happy!

Fertilizing the carrot seedlings
Do not over-fertilize the carrot plants. Carrots do not need high levels of nitrogen to grow well and so use fertilizers that contain nitrogen sparingly. In most cases, the use of plenty well rotted organic material is enough.

Harvesting the carrots
Early crop varieties will be ready to harvest some time in June, whilst maincrop varieties can be harvested in August.

The carrots should be removed from the ground as soon as the foliage begins to shrivel up and wilt and when the carrot has turned a deep orange.

Gently loosen the roots with a fork and then remove the vegetable by hand.

Harvesting should be carried out at night, for the same reasons that thinning of the seedlings is done at this time of day.

Store the newly dug carrots in a box that has a layer of sand on the bottom and place in a cool, dark and dry location.

Carrot pests
The carrot fly is the main insect that can cause problems when cultivating this crop. It lays its eggs in any soil surrounding the base of the plant that is loose. The eggs turn into maggots, which then attack the plant and destroy it. Ensure that trimmings are disposed of and that soil around the plants is firm.

Carrot disease
The carrot plant may be prone to a number of fungal diseases. Look out for signs of wilted or spotted leaves and any type of irregular markings. Too much water, sun or nitrogen will also affect the plants negatively.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Growing Pumpkins

Pumpkins are a warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout much of the United States. They require a fairly long period (3 - 4 months) of hot weather and can not tolerate any frost. Besides being used as Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, pumpkins are used to make pumpkin pies, soup, bread, butter, custard, and even cookies.

What do you need?
3 to 4 months of sunny weather, with day time temperatures of at least 70 F, preferably hotter.
A very sunny location.  The won't grow under trees and in the shade.
Rich soil, that doesn't sit under water.  Pumpkins like lots of organic matter: manure, grass clippings, leaves, compost should be worked into the soil ahead of planting.
Water!  They do need to be watered, a good soaking, at least once a week.

When to Plant
Pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds will germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Basically, plant seeds late April through July in the deep South; and from late May to mid June in the north.

Spacing and Depth
Pumpkins grow as a vine, which means they take up a LOT of space. Pumpkins require a minimum of 50 to 100 square feet per "hill". Plant four or five seeds per spaced an inch or two apart in one hole (called a "hill"). Leave 5 to 6 feet between each hill. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants.

There are newer "semi-bush" varieties that do not vine quite so much (of course the yield is also smaller). Plant semi-bush varieties one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill) and thin to the best two plants per hill. Allow 4 feet between hills and 8 feet between rows.
Plant miniature varieties one inch deep, with two or three seeds every 2 feet in the row. Rows should be 6 to 8 feet apart, with seedlings thinned to the best plant every 2 feet when they have their first true leaves.

Plant bush varieties one inch deep (1 or 2 seeds per foot of row) and thin to a single plant every 3 feet. Allow 4 to 6 feet between rows.

Care
Pumpkin plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Pumpkins tolerate short periods of hot, dry weather pretty well.

Bees, that are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins, may be killed by insecticides. Organic gardening and pest control methods should be employed (of course!).

Harvesting
Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard. If vines remain healthy, harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts. If vines die prematurely from disease or other causes, harvest the mature fruit and store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween. Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing "handles." Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have sharp prickles on their stems.

Avoid cutting and bruising the pumpkins when handling them. Fruits that are not fully mature or that have been injured or subjected to heavy frost do not keep. Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F.

Common Problems
Powdery mildew causes a white, powdery mold growth on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The growth can kill the leaves prematurely and interfere with proper ripening.
Cucumber beetles and squash bugs attack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles and squash bugs, as populations build in late summer, because these insects can damage the mature fruits, marring their appearance and making them less likely to keep properly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Growing Cucumbers

Today is the first post in the "Growing" series.  September is all about Growing! (It's also my birthday month so I might take a day off... or 2)

Please feel free to make comments during this series.  I love feedback!

Preferred Growing Conditions
Of course, cucumbers need lots of sun—full sun, in fact. Vegetable gardens should have 6-8 hours a full sunlight a day. Cucumbers, also, like warm weather. If you have a limited growing season, start cucumber seedlings indoors early, so you’ll be ready to plant when the warm weather arrives. But wait till soil temperatures have reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Even light frosts will kill these plants.
Cucumbers like soil rich in organic matter, well drained, and around a neutral pH (around 6.5). These all really go hand in hand, anyway. Just add some compost to your soil or your planter, and it should take care of the three soil preferences of cucumbers.
Cucumber plants are flexible with the pH level. So, they’ll do great as long as the pH level is around 6.5. Cucumbers are hearty plants and easy to grow. Just make sure they have full sunlight and soil is rich in organic matter.
Remember, mulch helps soil retain moisture. When vegetables like full sun, soil tends to dry out quickly. Mulch will also keep the cucumbers off the soil away from pests and clean.

How to Plant Cucumbers
Cucumbers can be planted in containers, rows, hills, or raised beds. Be warned: one plant produces a lot of cucumbers. And, some plants can produce all summer long. So, think about spacing out plantings to harvest all season.

Containers
Cucumbers grow as bushes or vines. Bush varieties grow well in containers. Refer to the variety list above for types of cucumbers suitable for containers and planters. Vine cucumbers will need a trellis, and there’s more space for those in a garden out in the yard.

Rows
You can plant rows of cucumbers once soil temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Space rows 6 ½ feet apart, and plants should have about 2 ½ feet between them. But check your variety, if growing a smaller cucumber plant, you may be able to add more plants in a smaller space. There are some varieties that only need 8-10 inches between the plants.
Since cucumbers are a warm season crop, seeds do pretty well sowing directly into your garden. For row gardening, plant cucumber seeds about 6 inches apart. When the seedlings become established (have their second set of leaves- not just seedling leaves), you can thin seedlings to suggested planting space. By planting seeds 6 inches apart, you can count on getting enough cucumber plants.

Hills
A hill of cucumbers. Know what this it? Because, I thought I had it down pat, and I was wrong. I thought it was about mounding the dirt for water retention around the roots. Well, sort of, but there’s more to it than just that.
Vine crops are often grown this way, like cucumbers, squash, and melons. The idea of hill planting is to start the root system in the center. From there they grow outwards, not competing with each other for water or soil nutrients.
Again, hill planting is for your vine cucumbers. Hills need to be about 3 feet apart. Plant about 5 or so seeds in the hill. Once seedlings have established, reduce to only three plants. Instead of pulling up the seedling, just cut it off. This will prevent any disruption to the root system.
Remember, vine cucumber plants are better trellised. These plants have healthier vines, and harvesting is easier since you can see the fruit.

Raised Beds
You can plant any type of cucumber in a raised bed. The benefit of using raised beds with cucumbers is soil drainage. Raised beds, in general, will provide well drained soil.
I keep saying raised beds are my preferred gardening method. There’s a reason I say this: it makes gardening easier! It’s easier to reach the vegetables, control soil health, and control pests and weeds.

Companion Plants for Cucumbers
Growing these companion plants around cucumbers will be helpful: nasturtiums, radishes, marigolds, sunflowers, peas, beets, carrots, and dill.
Some plants actually are bad to the health of cucumber plants. Avoid these plants around cucumbers: tomatoes, sage, and other aromatic herbs.

Maintaining Your Cucumber Plants
Cucumber plants are easy vegetables to grow. There’s not a whole lot of work to do while you’re waiting to harvest: trellis vine cucumbers and water. Watering is key, and you need to water deep to reach all the roots. Cucumbers absorb and need a lot of water!

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
If you are ever going to use an organic fertilizer, the vegetable garden would be the place to do so. Cucumber plants really absorb water, soil nutrients, and fertilizers around them. Chemicals are the last thing you want in your homegrown food.
Fertilize cucumber plants about a week after they produce blossoms. You can fertilize about every 3-4 weeks. Make sure you don’t over fertilize. It can lead to misshapen cucumbers.

When to Harvest Cucumbers
Cucumbers are ready to harvest about 55-70 days after planting. It’s better to pick them early than late. Don’t wait to see how big the cucumbers get! Cucumbers get bitter as they grow bigger, and the seeds can harden, too. Get them before they turn yellow.
To harvest, you can cut the vine about 3/8 inches above the cucumber. Or catch them at the right time, and they just pop off the vine. Cucumbers last longer stored in the refrigerator.

Cucumber Pests and Diseases
Keep an eye out for pests, like aphids, pickle worms, mites, and cucumbers beetles chomping on your cucumber plants. Common cucumber diseases are anthracnose, powdery mildew, downy mildew, bacterial wilt, and angular leaf spot.

I'm almost ready to harvest Cucumbers.  Before I bring the girls in I'll share my favorite Cucumber/Tomato recipe.

Cucumber Tomato Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Combine tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in a salad bowl. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Chill.
This recipe is SO easy and VERY yummy!