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.

Late-Season, Cold Hardy Cover Crops

Winter RyePlanting cover crops — green manure — early enough in the fall has always been something of a problem for me. We all know the advantages that cover crops give our soil. They blanket it over the long winter, protecting it from erosion, keeping it from hardening and preventing the leaching of valuable nutrients by rain and snow. Their roots keep the soil aerated. They protect against the dangers of a deep freeze, thus preserving beneficial microbes and other organisms that help keep your soil healthy. They help prevent the spread of weeds. Best, cover crops add green material to the soil, material that supplies nutrients as well as nitrogen. They’re one of the most valuable tools in the organic gardener’s playbook.

Those cover crops, no matter what kind you’re planting, need to go in ahead of the first frost so that they have a chance to become established before the long cold winter sets in. (more…)

Fall Is Garlic Planting Time

Garlic BulbsHow to grow garlic? Give it the right soil and weather conditions.

Fall is an important time for growers of garlic. Savvy garlic growers know that cloves planted in the fall yield larger bulbs than those planted in the spring. Some garlic partisan’s will tell you garlic that experiences a winter in the ground will taste better but we’ve never been able to conduct a side-by-side taste test. That’s because all the growers we know plant their garlic in the fall.

But it is true that garlic planted in warmer regions needs an exposure to cold to grow properly. Hardneck garlics need a cooling period — two or three weeks at 40 to 50 degrees — before planting to grow properly in areas where soils temperatures stay warm.

Autumn is also a crucial time for those who’ll plant in spring. This is the time to prepare your soil so that it’s at its maximum growing potential come March and April. (more…)

Picking, Cooking Sweet Corn

Fresh Sweet CornWe’ve been offered sweet corn from a road side stand that wasn’t ready only once and that was from a couple neighborhood kids who got carried away with their picking. That experience turned out to be a learning experience for all of us.

The corn obviously wasn’t ready — the young gentleman hadn’t thought to pull back the husks to check — and we pointed out the short green silk as we bought an ear (cheap) and pulled away the cover. It was obvious. The kernels hadn’t plumped up and we showed that to the boys. We told them about testing the kernels when they did look ready — otherwise known as the pinch test — and what they would see. We pointed out that it was a shame they’d pulled all these ears that weren’t ready and now never would be. (more…)

Why You’ll Always Have To Grow Tomatoes . . .

Homegrown Tomatoes. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (PDF): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.

Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition.

So you have to feel bemused if not sorry for professor Harry Klee at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation program. Sure, his goals are admirable: he’s trying to “build” a better supermarket tomato. That means more flavor. (more…)

Hot Peppers? Sweet Peppers!

Growing PeppersHere we are in the last days of August and peppers are growing everywhere. They’re hanging big and bright in our gardens, the produce sections boast an abundance, and farmer’s markets offer bushels of varied-colored, varied-sized peppers of types we’ve never seen. In places like New Mexico where chile peppers are deeply embedded in the culture. It’s no joke to say that as summer progresses, so does the heat, at least when it comes to peppers.

With all the attention given to hot and hotter peppers, we want to make sure that you don’t overlook those other pepper plants, the ones grown for flavor and sweetness rather than heat. They’re often called sweet peppers, and frequently limited to traditional bell peppers, the kind every gardener has grown at some point. But we’re talking about the wide and ever-expanding variety of mildly or even barely spicy sweet peppers that have been commonly called wax and Hungarian peppers, the type that do well in stir-fry, gazpacho, and pickled.

We’ve been on a binge of sweet peppers this year and find that they’re a great addition to pastas, casseroles of grains and veggies, and wonderful ingredient to include in salsas. Not only that, they’re among some of the most beautiful and ornamental plants in the vegetable garden, their sizable blossoms giving way to a host of colorful fruits in all sorts of shades. Even their names are attractive: piquillo, lemon drop, padron, peperoncino, guindilla verde, corne de chevre (goat’s horn), Basque. (more…)

Beautiful, Delicious Eggplant

EggplantA friend likes to tell the story of how he almost proposed marriage to a woman who made indescribably delicious eggplant parmigiana. Then he found out it was the woman’s mother who was the genius behind that wonderful eggplant dish. So he proposed to the mother instead. The woman, a widow in her 80s, refused because our friend didn’t garden. “Where am I going to get the good eggplant and tomatoes I need?” she protested.

The mother had it right. The sad truth here is that it’s tremendously difficult not only finding good tomatoes in commercial grocery stores but good eggplant, too. All of our favorite dishes are only as good as the ingredients that go into them. Growing eggplant (and tomatoes) yourself gives you a decided advantage when making parmigiana. If you’re lucky, you’ll find good, organic eggplant in your local farmers market. But growing your own is best. (more…)

Tomato Patrol

Tomato WormA friend, an avid organic tomato grower, has started her harvest and you know what that means. Tomato Festival! The festival usually runs from the first weeks of August right up to the first frost (at which point it becomes Green Tomato Festival or the Wait-Until-These-Tomatoes-In-the-Windowsill- Ripen Fest).

The event, held in kitchens around the country, is an unofficial celebration of one of our most cherished home-gardening products. Our friend grows heirlooms and so far this year has a bounty crop of golden jubilee, a juicy, subtly flavored orange tomato, as well as big, bold brandywines, and a few unusual, tremendously sweet, strangely colored chocolate stripes. (more…)

Garden Fresh Vegetable Recipes

Fresh VegetablesRead back over months of previous posts and you’d think we garden just for gardening sake. And, yes, we do. But let’s not loose sight of the first and foremost reason. We love to eat. And there’s nothing better than eating — and cooking — fresh, organic, home-grown produce. Now that we’re in the season when gardens are supplying us with a bounty of fresh vegetables and greens, we thought we’d talk about enjoying the harvest. Let’s eat.

Combining fresh garden vegetables in various recipes is a matter of taste and compatibility, sure. But it also hinges on what’s ready and when. Earlier in the season, when we harvest peas, we’re also harvesting baby or pearl onions. A little butter and voila! The simplest of dishes that everyone knows and loves: peas and pearl onions. Make a cream sauce and you’ve got a traditional comfort food: creamed peas and pearl onions (a little bacon really makes this dish shine). Cook the onions down, add some chicken or vegetable broth in which to braise the peas, add some mint, thyme or chives from the garden and you’ve got a wonderfully different yet still easy dish of braised peas.

Most likely, your peas are done for the year. But here come the beans! Make the braised pea recipe above with green beans. For a homey, Southern variation, sautee the onion (and some garlic if you know what’s good and what’s good for you) in a little bacon grease. Then braise the beans in the broth. Vegetarians: you know what to do. Have some walnuts? Add them when you’re almost done sauteeing the onion. (more…)

Lesson In Brussels Sprouts

Brussels SproutsPatience, persistence required while growing brussel sprouts.

Your healthy, vegetable loving Planet Natural Blogger loves Brussels sprouts. Those firm little heads with a mild cabbage flavor are wonderful with just a touch of butter or olive oil, smothered in a cheese sauce, or baked into a casserole. Our experience growing them provides an object lesson in how we learn the craft of organic gardening, one that involves success followed by a succession of problems that are solved one-by-one, often with same or similar solutions, followed by a return to success. Happy ending! (more…)

Grow a Straw Bale Garden

Straw Bale GardenIt’s this year’s hottest way (heh) to garden! And it’s also a social media phenomenon! It’s straw bale gardening. Ever since the publication of his book, Straw Bale Gardens (Cool Springs Press), Joel Karsten has become something of a gardening celebrity, making television and YouTube appearances, being interviewed by major papers, and gathering a Facebook following that counts over 27,000 likes.

We’ve written about using straw as mulch and bale gardening whether straw or hay, before. Karsten has really refined the technique which basically revolves around one thing: the bales are composting as the plants grow. The heat generated by the composting straw gives the vegetables planted in them a distinct advantage. Warmer “ground” temperatures stimulate root growth. Karsten capitalizes on this by pulling plastic tents hung from wires strung over his bale rows to trap that generated heat, thus giving him an early start and warm early conditions there in his Roseville, MN home.

Once you line up rows of bales for your garden, how do you get them to start composting as they stand there above ground exposed to the elements? Karsten “conditions” the bale for up to two weeks ahead of planting by sprinkling traditional chemical fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen over his bales and watering it to draw it into the bale. Now we organic gardeners wouldn’t want to do that. But we could get the same effect by using organic fertilizers high in nitrogen, say blood meal, fish meal, or cotton seed meal; or an organic fertilizer mix with good nitrogen content. Not much fertilizer is needed, but thorough watering is important. But don’t over water to the point where your nitrogen source is washed from the bale. (more…)

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