Vegetable

There’s few things more rewarding than growing vegetables in your own backyard. The fresh taste of a vine ripened tomato or snap pea harvested at its flavorful peak is second to none. Vegetable gardening is a great family activity, one that provides rewarding outdoor exercise. And knowing that your organically-grown veggies carry none of the risks of today’s commercial, factory-farm produce can be priceless.

To ensure you raise the best-tasting, most nutritious food for your family — in ways that make your garden as safe and healthy as it can be — takes planning, know-how and experience. Click the articles here for information on locating your new garden plot, improving soil health, selecting the best vegetable varieties for your growing conditions, and caring for your plants — naturally! — all the way to harvest.

Share tips or ask specific questions over at our Vegetable Gardening Forum. Planet Natural’s community of avid gardeners can help.

Broccoli

BroccoliA hardy garden vegetable that grows best in cool temperatures and rich soil.

Sunlight: Full sun
Maturity: 70-100 days from seed, 55-75 days when grown from transplants
Height: 2 to 3 feet
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart, 2 to 3 feet between rows

Chock-full of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, phosphorous and iron, growing broccoli is popular with many home gardeners. Belonging to the cabbage or cole family, this popular dinner side dish tastes best fresh and is prized for its cool weather hardiness and ample production.

Fact: Broccoli is native to the Mediterranean where it is believed to have evolved from a wild cabbage plant. (more…)

Beets

BeetsRich in flavor, chock-full of nutrition and available in a variety of colors, it’s no wonder home gardeners are growing beets like never before.

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 55-70 days
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Spacing: 3 to 6 inches apart, 1 to 2 feet between rows

A delicious addition to home gardens, beets are a great choice for fresh eating, roasting or canning. Both foliage and roots are edible and baby heirloom beets, with their earthy sweetness are a culinary treat!

Beet tops or “greens” as they are called are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of potassium, iron, vitamin C and dietary fiber. This pallet pleasing superfood is also packed with anti-oxidants which are known for their cancer fighting properties and ability to prevent or slow cell damage. (more…)

Beans

BeansPlanting and growing beans at home offers variety, flavor and versatility.

Sunlight: Full sun
Maturity: 45-75 days
Height: 1 to 4 feet
Spacing: 2 to 4 inches apart, 18 to 24 inches between rows

Gardeners generally divide beans into three categories; shell, snap and dry. All varieties are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of weather conditions. As a result, beans are a dependable plant that yield an abundance of pods in most backyard vegetable gardens.

Beans are one of the few crops that actually enrich the soil — add nitrogen back — making them perfect for organic gardens. Try planting nitrogen-loving, leafy greens like kale, spinach or cabbage in areas where beans were planted before.

Site Preparation:

Plant bean seeds directly into rich, fast draining soil in spring after the soil has warmed. The plants require full sun and regular water. In general, bush beans mature faster and are less sensitive to drought and extreme temperatures than pole beans. (more…)

Asparagus

AsparagusOne of the few perennial vegetable crops!

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 1-3 years from crowns
Height: 5 to 8 feet
Spacing: 12 to 24 inches apart, 2 to 3 feet between rows

Home gardeners are growing asparagus everywhere in the United States except where conditions are too mild — Florida and the Gulf Coast  — to satisfy its dormancy requirements. The perennial plant does well in backyard beds and thrives in raised bed gardens.

Tender shoots are picked as young spears early in the spring. Later in the season the foliage matures into a delicate fern which changes to a golden color in the fall. Plants can be productive for 15 years or more and delicious spears are packed with vitamin C, B-vitamins, iron, potassium and calcium. (more…)

Artichokes

Growing ArtichokesA cool-season vegetable prized for it’s flavorful flower buds.

Sunlight: Full sun
Maturity: 100-150 days
Height: 3 to 6 feet
Spacing: 2 to 4 feet apart, 3 to 4 feet between rows

Native to the Mediterranean, growing artichokes (Cynara scolymus) requires cool nights and warm days. Aside from providing delicious, tender thistles for the table, the plants themselves are beautiful! Artichokes grow up to 5 feet across and almost as high with beautiful silvery-green foliage.

The amazing artichoke offers a superb nutty flavor and several health benefits. Tender globes are packed with vitamins C and K, minerals and dietary fiber. Artichokes are also on the USDA’s list of top anti-oxidant foods.

Fact: Castroville, California is known as the “Artichoke Center of the World” and celebrates an annual festival for the vegetable. In 1947 Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen in 1947. (more…)

Sugar Is Sweet; Let’s Make A Pumpkin Pie!

Heirloom PumpkinsWe finally had our first hard freeze here in Northern New Mexico, two weeks late of the average. Now, I’m sure most of you, including those in my beloved former-hometown of Bozeman, MT, are well beyond that point. Anyway it got me to thinking about how closely we’d be listening to weather forecasts in the fall, watching the patterns, and waiting until just the last moment to get in the winter squash and sugar pumpkins. Usually a light frost would first do some damage to the vines, warning enough that it was time to go out with a short, sharp knife and get them in. But sometimes a hard frost would just descend from the sky — like it did here last night — and, well, if caught napping it might mean the loss of one’s valuable crop. (more…)

Turnip, Parsnip and Rutabaga

Root VegetablesOr maybe that should be Rutabaga, Turnip, Parsnip as rutabaga and turnips are closely related in many ways (in post Revolution America rutabagas were called “turnip-rooted cabbage”, according to Jere Gettle) and parsnips — bless their sweetness — are quite different. But all three are root vegetables and we love them this time of the year because 1) they’re easy to grow, especially in the late season (well, maybe not parsnips that usually need a long season to mature); 2) they’re well adapted to cool and short growing season (even parsnips); 3) they taste even better after cold weather and frosts have set in; and 4) they keep well, sometimes for months in a cool basement, root cellar or refrigerator.

Then why do I see you out there holding your nose? Is it because they have that cabbagey twang (well, not parsnips) that gets your mouth vibrating like a guitar string when you take a bite? Get over it! My sense is that if you like cabbage, you’ll like turnips and rutabagas. It’s the texture, I believe, combined with that taste, that puts most people off. (more…)

Precautions When Canning Tomatoes

Canning TomatoesFor years, we canned tomatoes and homemade tomato sauce the way grandma taught us: using the water bath method. This involved packing sterilized jars with hot (cooked) fruit or tomatoes and boiling for a designated amount of time, usually an hour or more for tomatoes. That’s not true anymore. In this age of increasing food contamination, you don’t want anything bad to come out of your kitchen. What could happen? Listen to what Renee R. Boyer, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; Julie McKinney, Project Associate, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech…

… high-acid foods prevent the growth of spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can’t be killed by boiling. Foods with a pH more than 4.6 allow the spores to grow. If spores of C. botulinum are allowed to grow, toxin will form, and consumption of C. botulinum toxin is deadly. Symptoms from the consumption of this toxin develop within six hours to 10 days and include double and blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop breathing and die unless mechanical ventilation is provided.

Didn’t mean to scare you. But this is serious business. Take precautions. (more…)

Monster Pumpkins

Giant PumpkinWe’ve never quite gotten into the notion of competitive gardening. For us, gardening has always been a community effort, a share-the-knowledge and help-your-neighbor kind of thing. Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from bragging about snap pea yields or tomato harvests (or the excellent things we do with our harvests once brought to the kitchen). But contests for monster pumpkins? We haven’t had the garden space — the University of Illinois Extension division recommends that even for regular pumpkin vines you need 100 square feet per hill — or the necessary growing season and conditions to try it. But there’s a lot of gardeners that do. There’s even communities of gardeners dedicated to the giant beasts.

Currently, the record giant pumpkin weighed in at over a ton, a quarter ton increase from just six years ago. (more…)

Tomatillo Time

Garden TomatillosThere’s a simple reason I spent all those years avoiding growing tomatillos: ignorance. Once I learned more about their culinary uses, once I learned how easy they were to grow, well, things changed. With all those peppers being harvested and home growers steaming up their kitchens while making salsa verde, now is a good time to talk about those husk-covered garden fruits that look like little Chinese lanterns as they mature on the vine.

Lover of Mexican food that I am, I’d been eating tomatillos for years without paying much attention. Sure, they’re an integral part of green salsas, both cooked and not. But they’re also great in chile stews where they can smooth out the flavor and tamp down the heat. They’re also good used in other types of food, such as chutneys. And tomatillos are a good source of nutrition. They have 7 mg of Vitamin C per fruit (nearly 20% of your daily requirement in 100 grams) and more minerals per equal weight than tomatoes. They’re also a good source of anti-oxidants and contain small amounts of vitamin A, zeaxanthin and lutein, things important to your visual health. (more…)

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