I was talking with a fellow gardener last spring about root crops and she told me, “I am not going to try and grow roots crops anymore, they just don’t seem to do well for me.”
This got me thinking about my adventure over the years with root crops and how I have really seen how much variety matters. Matching varieties with your soil type can make a big difference.
My friend Jean kept trying to plant long thin carrot varieties in our mostly clay soil. Even though she has been building her garden soil for many years, she wasn’t getting good carrots.
This got me thinking about root crops I have had success with and those I have not. For me, the carrot thing has been a germination or taste disappointment. There are only four varieties I grow anymore: Danvers 126; Yaya; Black Nebula and Amarillo.
After trying a good 10 orange varieties, the Danvers 126, and older open pollinated and Yaya a newer hybrid are the ones I recommend. Both are widely available. Yaya’s germination is more reliable. They are both easy to harvest and both have outstanding flavor.
With our hot summer, carrots that get to full size tend to get bitter and fibrous and skip the sweet stage, but not these two.
Purple! Who doesn’t love the idea of a purple carrot. I have tried: Cosmic Purple; Purple Sun and Dragon and frankly they tasted pretty horrid. Then I found Black Nubula from Baker Creek. This is one beautiful and yummy carrot. Even when I let a few stay in the garden into our blistering heat of mid-summer, they were still sweet, and huge.
And when it comes to color, I grew Yellowstone for years to have a yellow carrot in the mix, but never liked the flavor, so I always gave them away. Then, again, thank you Baker Creek for Amarillo – woo hoo .. a super yummy sweet yellow carrot.
I love radishes, always have since I was a kid and my two new favorites are Purple Plum and Helios.
Several companies have Purple Plum which has white flesh and pretty purple skin. I find it reliable and it doesn’t tend to split.
You may not know there is a yellow skinned radish called Helios. I found it from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds but now I see other folks starting to carry it. I have never had one split, they just get bigger and even at 3” they don’t tend to get pithy. They don’t taste as good when they get that big, but they are edible, unlike some other of the smaller class of European radishes when they get larger.
That’s it for now. Look for my next installment soon ..
Some of you might be ready to try a new variety you haven’t grown before, but are not sure what to try.
Others of you might want to try and grow a different crop, but are unsure about doing so.
I realized in the last few days it has been a while since I passed on info on varieties I have been trialing. Each year I try new varieties along with ones I have loved to grow for years.
So in this blog post series I’ll pass on some varieties that I’ve fallen in love with and some I don’t ever want to grow again.
Both perspectives are important because the descriptions you’ll get from seed companies put every variety in a good light. We can get some idea from those descriptions what we might want to try, but there is nothing like growing them yourself to see if you like them.
I like to try a variety for at least two years before I make a decision about it. Each year the weather is different and can affect their growth. To give each variety a fair shot, I grow them in different beds each time, because each has a bit different soil or light. Plus, it may have had a different type of crop preceding it in crop rotation.
Today lets go through some brassica family plants. I start here because for some of us, it will soon be time to start spring plants indoors.
Lets talk broccoli. For years I have grown the same open pollinated varieties and they did okay. I kept reading descriptions of hybrids as being more uniform and the last three years I broke down and decided to try some. Okay, as you know, I am a champion for seed sovereignty and preserving genetic diversity in seeds, so I have tended not to grow that many hybrids. It has been interesting to start growing some to make comparisons.
So at this point both Fiesta and Belstar broccolis have outperformed my standard open pollinated varieties. They are both hybrids, both organic and both available from both High Mowing Seeds and Territorial Seeds. The germination rates are higher, the plants are stronger and they head more reliably and hold up over winter better.
Cabbage: another cool season crop you can start now is cabbage.
The best new cabbage I have been growing is Caraflex, another hybrid. I admit I was pretty darn skeptical about growing a hybrid cabbage, but my rep at High Mowing Seeds convinced me to try it and I am thrilled she did! I tend to get 100% germination, the cabbage heads well, holds better in the garden through heat and cold better than any cabbage I have ever grown, and I have grown over 20 varieties.
One cabbage listed for short season is Red Express. It seems to be the only short season offering in red cabbages. I have tried to get a decent head out of it for over five years and it just doesn’t happen. It takes about 120 days to get a head the size of a gold ball for me, so I’d say, don’t bother trying this one.
A kale I have kept trying to grow for years is Scarlett, red-purple curly kale that continually has very low germination rates. I have tried seed from four companies I trust, tried starting it indoors in winter for spring and again in summer for winter and tried seeding it directly outdoors in spring and fall and in all these scenarios, I get maybe 25% germination, so I quit and can’t recommend it.
But I can highly recommend Dazzling Blue kale, which is a lacinato type. Great germination, hardly plants in both cold and heat, they taste great and color is just awesome. Bluish leaves with purple/red veins in hot weather and deep purple when overwintered. I have gotten my seed from Territorial, but many good companies carry it.
Lookout for the next post on varieties I have been testing .. until then, have an awesome day!
If you identify the pest that is munching down some plant in your garden, then you can create an Integrated Pest Management Strategy to deal with that pest.
Have you noticed that it seems each year we learn to handle one type of pest and then a new pest crops up, seemingly in its place? I call this the ‘pest of the year’. Each year I’ll notice one certain pest seems to overtake every other, one that seems to munch on more than I would expect it to.
I tend to do what many of us do at first – ignore it and hope it will go away. Occasionally this works. Occasionally it runs out of food (and maybe I’ve lost my plants), or its cycle has run out, or some other critter had found it super tasty and handled it for me, without my intervention. Yet, this is not what usually happens with an infestation of a critter that has gone crazy where it had not before.
Sometimes we’ll use something to help us ID the critter and then? Well, most folks I know, contact me, but for all those out there who don’t, they are doing what many of us do when trying to find the answer to their pest problem. They try and find, or remember, something to do from any source they come across or heard was good, and hope it will work. Granted, there is an element of ‘hope it works’ in most cases when dealing with many pests, but we can mitigate this to a higher success rate when, as I say “You seek professional gardening advise and get training, you overcome the blindspots to your gardening success”.
This year, I have gotten several emails, texts and photos from students and clients asking, “What is making these little holes in my plants?” And, this indeed is the ‘pest of the year’ in my gardens also, hence this post. So this pest is Flea Beetles.
Their favorite is eggplant. Can’t remember a year when I didn’t have at least a little flea beetle damage on my eggplants, but his year, wow! They also seem to be heading on to some folks tomatoes and peppers too, which is not what I normally see.
So here are my top three recommendations for dealing with flea beetles. All three of these are available from my favorite organic pest control company,Arbico Organics. These folks are awesome.
Beneficial Nematodes – Many of you have heard me talk about how important healthy living soil is, how we don’t want to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to keep those soil critters alive and working for us. Well, we can bring in even more little beneficial critters to our soil that will handle all kinds of critters that want to eat our food. Check out Arbico’s “Triple Threat” Beneficial Nematodes as they are a better bang for your buck than the one type that includes flea beetles.
2. Surround®, or Kaolin Clay – This product is literally a clay. The cool thing about this product is that is can be used for all kinds of critters and even to cool down plant leaves. When you add it to water and spray it, it makes the leaves white, and experience shows, that among other things the product touts, such as the coating seriously messing with various insect critter, it works on four legged critters too. Many animals won’t eat the leaves because they look white and not green. Pretty cool and it is, as I said, just a clay.
3. Monetery Garden Insect Spray – For someone wanting to use a spray, I recommend this one. This tends to be my last choice when the infestation has stripped my plants of all their leaves and I am still trying to save the plant. It will kill lots of types of critters though, which always gives me pause because I like to keep my garden diverse.
Most years, flea beetles only do a bit of damage, the plants have some holes, but it does not hinder fruit production. We’ll see how this year goes. If you found this useful, remember what I say, “If you seek professional gardening advise and get training, you overcome the blind spots to your gardening success”. – Debby
If you have garden beds, you likely have weeds, or plants that are not growing as well as you think they should. Maybe you are concerned about keeping your soil healthy.
That is understandable because a key to low amounts of easy to pull weeds, and happy plants and soil is often overlooked or taken for granted. And when we don’t examine this one thing, all these potential garden bummers can happen, and usually do.
Many folks have an understanding they should mulch their garden beds, yet what I see are big misconceptions about mulch and how and when to use it. That is understandable since most of us just do what is fast and simple, usually whatever we see someone else doing, without given it much thought or attention. And this could be leading to some less than ideal practices for the plants in your garden and make more work for you.
What I’ve often seen is mulch used incorrectly for what plants need or want, often based on a visual preference that has nothing to do with the plants themselves. Negating what your plants need leads to them not thriving in your landscape. With some information and consideration, you can solve more than one thing with proper mulching.
Instead of simply hauling in a bunch of bagged mulch for everything, or not mulching at all, understanding mulches and their proper use can give you a big leg up not only on those weeds, but help your plants thrive and protect your valuable soil.
Using the right kind and amount of mulch can provide you:
Less ways for weeds to take over
Protect your soil
Keep your plants in a better environment and
Allow you more time
You might be pulling allot of hard to get at weeds in your garden and struggling to keep up. When I have had to weed an area with landscape fabric under shredded mulch, the landscape fabric becomes more of a weed anchor, with the roots embedded into the fabric, making it hard to get them out. Conversely, with the right depth and type of mulch for each space, the weeds can come out really fast and easy, cutting your weeding time in half or more.
Many folks know I am often talking about healthy living soil. Mulch is a supper important way to protect your soil from being washed away in a heavy rain or bleached by the sun. If you are like most folks, you have either made a time and work, or financial investment to build your garden soil, and keeping it covered with mulch is an insurance policy protecting that investment.
Plants generally don’t want to be left in a desert of dirt on their own. And different types of plants prefer different types of mulch. This is one determining factor for choosing what mulch you will use where. Another is what you have locally for free. Using your resources will help you keep your garden budget down. Keeping your soil covered will not only help your soil thrive, as we have discovered, but also help your plants thrive.
Many times I have spoken with students or clients who one of these issued and mulch was their solution. Stephanie comes to mind, who has a community garden plot. She used hardwood mulch that was available at her plot location to help smother and keep at bay some pretty darn thick weeds that had taken over the plot prior to her taking it over. Then there is Andrea, who didn’t know it was good to mulch her annual vegetable beds and blueberry bushes and had lamented the high quality organic compost she had trucked in, was being washed away by heavy rains. When she added mulches, her plants did much better and she kept her valuable soil in place.
This is why I often say,” When you seek professional gardening advise, and get training, you overcome the blind spots to your garden success.”
It may be a deep dive, but it is still a pretty short course because I value your time. It includes pros, cons and information on all different types of mulches and what mulches different types of plants like to thrive. If you want more info on correctly using mulches, and types of mulches so you weed less, and your plants and soil thrive.Check it out.
Times are weird, just weird. As we adjust to the new normal, many folks are concerned about their food supply and wanting to start a garden. Along with this desire, is trepidation for many about going out to stores.
A client of mine, Deanna loves spring greens yet was daunted by lack of success with her spring garden. She realized she didn’t really know how much space different plants needed. She also wasn’t certain what spring plants grow well with each other. She had grown Bak Choi successfully, but that was about all. She wanted to add more greens and cool weather root crops like radishes, carrots, beets and turnips, yet she was not sure how to integrate them with the greens.
In previous years, the root crops ended up being small at best and the greens ended up rotting. She was tired of buying what she felt like was wasted seed. She had tried a couple times and wasn’t happy with the outcome. When she came to me, this was one of her major concerns to insure productivity in her garden. She was so happy when she learned that some simple adjustments could make a huge impact on her productivity.
Here are a few ways she improved her spring garden.
When you direct seed it is harder to get plant spacing right. Many folks only direct seed because they do not have a setup to start seeds indoors. This was Deanna’s situation. She was direct seeding all her crops. Seeds are small and can be hard to handle, so folks at the seed companies tend to expect you to scatter all the seeds in a packet in a row and then “thin” them so they have room to grow. This is one way to give your plants more space, but a wasteful one.
It is far better to seed with wider spacing. My rule is to seed at about 1/3 the spacing listed on the seed packet as the final plant spacing distance. This allows you to harvest smaller root crops or greens as they begin to crowd and leave some to get larger. You also don’t waste seed this way and can have one seed packet often last for a couple of years. Very handy to keep costs down.
Avoid scattering seed close together and then leaving them that was as they get larger. This is how Deanna had rotting plants. Not only, were so close they could not get any air circulation and rotted, but they did not have the space to grow to full size and produce the yield you would want.
If you fingers struggle with small seeds consider these options:
Buy pelleted lettuce and carrot seed which is much easier. Check Territorial Seed Company for a variety of pelleted lettuce seed.
You can also get an inexpensive hand seeder that will allow you to dispense smaller seeds a bit easier. These can be super simple up to more sophisticated. Territorial has a selection of these also. One advantage is they can be used for all kinds of seeds.
If you have the advantage of being able to start greens seedlings indoors, it is easier to give each plant the space it needs. I still tend to transplant a bit close together and harvest every other or third one as they begin to crowd each other. This extends the harvest and allows the remaining plants to get larger for harvest later and fills in the space so you are not wasting space in your garden.
Another key to spring garden success is timing. Granted this is trickier as the weather gets less predictable and computer models are unable to keep up with climatic changes, yet there are some tricks you can employ.
First is to succession plant. This is where you plant a new batch of the same crop about every two weeks. This gives you a couple advantages and can be done with either indoor or outdoor seed starting.
Outdoors, if weather turns too warm/hot/wet/dry for a crop, you can try again. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it is another way to spread out your harvest. This means you don’t harvest at once. This is especially useful for root crops where you are harvesting the entire plant.
Indoors, succession plant your spring greens and then transition to following those on with summer greens. Some lettuces will take much more heat than others. A couple of my warm weather favorites here are Valmaine and Jericho romaines. These can follow-on after cooler loving lettuces such as most of the butterheads.
Lettuces, cabbage and chard are cool loving crops and you’ll get an earlier harvest if you can start these indoors while it is still too cold to start them outdoors. After you harden them off, they can be transplanted into the ground for your first greens harvest. Spinach though, doesn’t transplant well so start that one directly in your garden.
As always there is trial and error in your specific microclimate and this is another reason for not scattering all your seed at once.
Another way to increase the use of your spring garden space is to interplant root crops with leaf crops. Gratefully this is pretty easy with cool weather crops because most greens and roots combine just fine.
Lettuces are happy with all the cool weather roots. Spinach and chard go well as they are in the same plants family. Same idea with kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas and radishes, which are all in the brassica family.
Don’t forget a star of your spring garden – peas! Peas thrive in spring so plant some of your pleasure be it snow peas, snap peas or shelling peas. We love shelling peas best, granted they hardly make it out of the garden as I tend to just pick and eat them, fresh, raw and oh so sweet!! My favorites are Green Arrow and Alderman/Telephone Pole. Check the vine height of pea varieties to be sure they match your pea fence. If you don’t have a pea fence, get one what doesn’t need support like Sugar Ann snap pea. There is a reason why you may have heard “peas and carrots” they go tougher in the garden. Plant your carrots in front of your pea fence.
Pulling this all together
May people have asked me about how to design a spring veggie garden, so lets pull some of these tips together.
Choose your varieties and see when they will mature, if they can take some heat and how big they will be full sized.
Next use the companion planting tips to choose which plants to put in which bed.
Then decide how long you want to harvest each type of plant to create a succession planting schedule. This will tell you when to start your seeds, be it indoors or out. Remember root crops are all direct seeded.
Finally, choose a block of your garden for each set of plants for example, one for brassicas, one for peas and carrots, once of lettuce and radishes, etc. Split up each block by how many rounds of succession planting you want. So if you want three rounds, split it up into three sections. Plant the first section, two weeks later the second section and three weeks later, the third session. Tada! You’ve designed your spring garden.
Sometime in January or February I really start honing in on starting seeds indoors for my spring and summer plants. It occurred to me, the steps I take to get ready to start my seeds could be useful for you, so here we go …
I start by deciding what I want to grow in the spring and follow-on for the summer. Make a list of what you want to grow, using variety names where you know them. Also make notes about what you’d like to try that would be new for you. Include any types of crops you would like to replace because they did not do well. This could be a type of crop, like broccoli, or it could be that a variety that didn’t do well, so you want to find another one to try.
At some point in this process, do an inventory of your seeds and see what gaps you might have between what seeds you have and what is on your list of plants to grow.
By Mid-January I have received most of my seed catalogs, although there are a couple stragglers in February. Once you have your list of what seeds you need, then you can go through your catalogs and see who has what you want.
When looking for a new variety, compare not only different choices in one catalog, but in more than one. If you think you have found a variety you want to try, see if any of your other seed companies carry it and read their description also. More information on the variety helps you hone in on the best variety for you to try based on your goals.
Granted, I tend to go through each catalog when I get it and then multiple times thereafter. I’ll put a tick mark by anything that looks interesting and I might want to get.
I make a photo copy of the order form so as I start to hone in on what I want to get, I can use the form while looking at the catalogs. That way I am not constantly looking in each catalog for where the order form is. I don’t send the forms in, I will call (first choice) or order online, but having the list makes the ordering processing faster, simpler and easier, plus I can calculate any tax or shipping for budgeting. I can also check my list against the packing list when the seeds come in.
I’ll fill out the forms in pencil, so when I see the total cost of them all, which is pretty much always more than I want to spend, I can go back and erase what I cut out to stay in budget. Alternatively, I’ll star the items I am not going to order, or erase the price, so it does not end up in the total. This way I have the list of everything I wanted to grow in case my budget allows for another seed order later.
Which leads to another budget tip. Spread out ordering from your preferred companies. Order from the ones who have the first seeds you need to start and order last from companies with varieties you can start later. I will sometimes adjust who I am buying what from for this purpose. If I see something I want to grow in the fall, I will often wait to order those varieties until June when I’ll be needing to get them started.
Enjoy a cup of tea and browsing those seed catalogs!
My native gardening friends tend to prefer the “low maintenance” of native perennials for their garden. They love to feed the wildlife and so do I, to a point. My neighbor three doors down has a managed native meadow for a front yard and it is always fun to walk by and see what is blooming, or what birds are munching on the fall seed heads. These are some of the delights of growing natives. They are not so picky about what soil they have, if you add compost each season or what native they are planted next to.
Yet, the low maintenance native garden approach leaves more time for other endeavors, and this is where the native gardener can grow a few things for them to eat.
One of the challenges a native gardener might have is all the wildlife they attract. This can be viewed as a problem, but it is my experience that an abundant mix in the right places gives everyone bounty. So here are my suggestions for native gardeners to add a few veggies for themselves without compromising their native gardens. Native gardeners already tend to attract pollinators and other helpful insects to their gardens, which can give them an immediate advantage.
Containers on the deck: Adding one, two or a few containers on your deck is the first place I would recommend growing some veggies, or herbs as a native gardeners. This will not take up your native bed space, and be right out the back door for easy access. This is also the place least likely to be visited by larger animal critters. You can grow anything you like to eat in a container, so choose a couple things you live to eat and start there. You might want to give your tomatoes a screen to protect from birds, but small animals that would go onto your desk don’t tend to bother cucumbers, melons or squash.
Let winter squash and pumpkins meander through your native beds. These crops are super low maintenance too. They have a long “days to maturity”, meaning it takes a long time for them to ripen. You can put in the plants, let them ramble and harvest them in autumn. Then you’ll have some yummy squash in storage to enjoy all winter.
Add in a small fenced veggie garden close to one of your flowering native beds. Adding in a small veggie garden, with protection from wildlife can bring much joy and healthful food to your table. It is satisfying to sit at your table, eating some fresh picked veggies and watching all the buzz of life in your native garden beds. If you are new to veggie gardening, and want some tips, get in touch, I’d be happy to help!
Hope you have enjoyed this three part series on growing natives and veggies. If you missed a part:
Part 1 covered three reasons to grow both natives and veggies.
In Part 2 we looked at the topic from the point of view of the veggie gardener, and
Here in Part 3, we saw three ideas for native gardeners to add some veggies.
Happy gardening, and if you have any topics you’d like me to cover, let me know.
Okay folks, lets look at gardening with natives and veggies from the veggie gardener viewpoint. If you grow primarily vegetables and “savory fruits” such as tomatoes and squash in your garden, adding natives amps up your overall diversity as we saw in Part 1.
In addition there are several natives that can have direct benefit on your veggie production. Lets look at a few of my favorites:
Blue Wild Indigo,Baptista australis: This beautiful 5’ tall native has beautiful blue-purple flowers in spring and is a member of the legume family of plants. Members of this plant family sequester carbon in the soil and the leaves can be cut down to add nitrogen to plants either around them or in your compost pile. Native bees love it, therefore attracting more pollinators to your landscape.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium: I love growing Yarrow, maybe because it is such a wonderful herb for stopping bleeding, but also because it will bloom all summer if you deadhead it and bring the flowers in for bouquets. The native common yarrow has creamy white flowers, cultivars have many others. Yarrow contains fairly high amount of calcium, which helps with the metabolic processes of plants taking up other nutrients. IT also help strengthen plant cell walls. High humidity, like we have here in Virginia, along with a cold winter can cause calcium deficiency, so plant yarrow, put the leave around your plants or in your compost to add calcium for your plants.
Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum: This beautiful tall, mid-summer flowering native is a pollinator magnet, and frankly, just darn beautiful. Its big puffy mauve flowers look wonderful at the back of a native flower garden bed, attracting so may different types of native bees and butterflies, you’ll want to stop veggie gardening and just watch the show. Perennial.
Goldenrod, Solidago spp.: Want to push the window on pollination into the fall. Then you want to add goldenrods to your landscape to attract those pollinators. This is really helpful if you love to grow fall peas like I do. Perennial.
Asters,Symphyotrichum spp.: Like Goldenrod, asters bloom later in the year, in autumn, thus they give you the benefits listed above for goldenrod, and give you more color in your garden as the weather turns cool. They also can make a nice cut flower for the vase. Some are annual, some are perennial.
Northern Maidenhair Fern,Adiantum pedatum: Got a shady area? Consider adding some of these ferns as they are a great toad habitat. Toads eat bugs, so can help keep your bug population in balance and away from your veggies.
So veggie gardeners, you can put in a flower bed of Blue Wild Indigo, Joe Pye, Yarrow, Goldenrod and Asters and have a beautiful garden area that blooms in spring, summer and fall. Add some ferns to your moist shady spots and you’ve helped that native bee and toad population and your garden!
In Part 2 of this blog series, we looked at six native plants you can add to your landscape to benefit your veggie garden. There are many more, so I encourage you to add these and get in touch if you want more inspiration and ideas.
Check back or Subscribe to this blog to get notified for Part 3, when we look at the native, veggie gardening thing from the view of the native gardener.
I’ve chatted with some gardeners who primarily grow natives and some who primarily grow veggies. Turns out, there are folks who feel they have to grow one or the other. Since diversity is one of the two top ways to help insure a healthy thriving garden (living soil being the other) I wanted to give all you gardeners out there some inspiration and ideas on how I like to grow both.
In this first part, we’ll go into the benefits.
The second part we’ll look at it from the veggie gardener point of view and,
in the third part, we’ll look at it from the native gardener point of view.
3 Benefits of growing both natives and veggies:
Diversity! Every critter that happens into or around your garden is part of the priorly connected web of garden life. Insuring you have a large diversity of plants in your garden is an insurance policy that not any one critter will wreak havoc on your entire garden. By including both a vegetable garden and some native garden beds in your landscape, you add even more diversity that if you have one or the other.
Beauty. As I am fond of saying, “Beauty is food too”. Natives can add flowers and leaf shapes to your landscape and veggies can be grown in a pleasing manner, they don’t have to be in rows.
Food for everyone. Native gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for wildlife. Veggie gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for themselves and their families. Why not have some of both – everybody wins!
In this intorduction, we took a quick look at three benefits for growing both natives and veggies.
Check back for Part 2, or subscribe at Right to be notified of the next post and to get some ideas for adding natives that benefit you and your veggie garden.