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 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.

Doin’ the Pollinate Shake!

Hand PollinateHow to hand pollinate plants in the vegetable garden.

No, it’s not the latest dance craze. It’s what certain plants in your vegetable garden need to set fruit: a good shaking. Yes, it has to do with sex, er, pollination and plants can sometimes use a little help. But what it really has to do with is better yields come harvest time. So let’s get ready to pollinate!

Not a year goes by when we don’t hear someone complain that their tomatoes, cucumbers, or squash didn’t set fruit. Oh, the plants grew like crazy and blossomed to beat the band but when it came time to produce? Little or no fruiting occurred. We’ve even had this happen ourselves, usually after relocating to a different part of the country. When we’re asked what went wrong, we realize (doh!) that we didn’t do what needed to be done, that’s when we remember hand pollination. Now that July has arrived and gardens around the country are beginning to flower, it’s time to pollinate. (For those of you in cooler climates or whose gardens might be a bit behind schedule this year, here’s hoping that your blossoms are soon to show.) (more…)

Garden Tasks for June

Gardening TipsJune is often our favorite time in the garden. Sure, the rewards of harvest can’t be beat — and June does offer some harvest, especially in warmer zones — but the orderliness of our straight planted rows and the germinating perfection gives us a thrill that’s at once reward for the hard work that’s gone before and the promise of bountiful and beautiful things to come.

There’s nothing better than pulling up a lawn chair and surveying our garden kingdom no matter its size: the neat lines of bright green seedlings planted just days before, the transplanted seedling started weeks ago indoors now flourishing in their new outdoor homes. Yes, there’s a break in the action once the garden’s in — or maybe you’re still furiously trying to get everything in the ground — but that doesn’t mean you can step back and let things go off on their own. (more…)

Garden Transplanting

Garden SeedlingsTips and techniques for planting vegetable seedlings outside.

We’ve just returned home to find a notice from our local community garden announcing a seedling planting party this weekend. Now the Farm is a big operation and it will take a party-sized crowd a couple days to get all the tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and melons out of its green house and into the ground. You may not need much help getting your seedlings outdoors and into the garden… or maybe you do. Either way there’s some principles to keep in mind.

One is hardening off. The plants that you’ve germinated in the warm indoors on heating mats and raised under lights aren’t used to the cool, windy conditions they’ll experience outdoors. Give them time to adapt by placing them in a cold frame or taking them out for a few hours each day letting them enjoy their first taste of the great outdoors in sheltered conditions. (more…)

Plant Thinning

Thinning SeedlingsTips and techniques for thinning vegetable seedlings.

What’s the hardest thing — at least for us — to do when gardening? Thinning. We’ve worked so hard to prepare our soil and get seeds in the ground. Now here they come, all crowded together and struggling against their too-close neighbor. We know that if we want our plants, be they lettuce, radishes, or green beans, to grow quickly and be healthy, we’ve got to get in there and cull the herd. But, but… they’re our little plants! They represent our hopes and dreams! Can’t we just let them go and see what happens?

No. Now is not the time for sentimentality. Crowded plants not only discourage growth, they encourage pests and disease. Crowded seedlings shade each other from the sun. As they get larger, it only gets worse. Crowded root vegetables, including turnips, beets, and radishes, won’t develop useable roots if they’re crowded.

The earlier you thin your freshly germinated garden plants, the faster they’ll grow. We’ve recommended gradual thinning in the past, as well as using thinning as a means of collecting greens for the first spring salad. But really, you don’t want to wait that long. (more…)

Early Garden Harvest

Heirloom RadishOur Farmers Market here in 7,000 foot high Santa Fe, New Mexico is now in full swing. Drawing from farms in the lower, warmer and dryer areas south of town as well as the cooler, mostly higher, and slightly damper north, the market is filled with greens and other early season vegetables despite the fact that frost can occur into June depending on the variable elevation and micro-climates. Here are some take aways from this early harvest and what they might mean for your garden and even your lifestyle.

Yes, greens, as you might expect are to be found in abundance. Lettuce, both mixed mesclun and small heads of leaf lettuce were everywhere as well as arugula, baby chard leaves and some spinach (we weren’t sure why there wasn’t more spinach around and nobody seemed able to tell us… is it because small farmer avoid the crop since it’s so voluminously represented these days in our grocery stores and organic markets?). (more…)

Sweet Corn: Hybrid and Heritage

Sweet CornYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was standing in line yesterday at the grocery store — one with a focus on healthy eating and a claim that it never uses GMO products in its store-label items — when an equally friendly checker commented on the fact that we were buying ears of sweet corn. “I have relatives in the Midwest,” she said, “and they say that they put the water on to boil before they go out and pick sweet corn for dinner.”

Well, your talkative PN Blogger, raised in the Midwest, had heard this before and, indeed, had told the story himself a number of times. And having just read up on the history of corn, we felt we had to put our two cents in (though what we said was probably worth half that).

“That’s good, old fashioned, home-grown corn,” I explained. “This commercial stuff has been bred to keep it sugars longer, so it can be shipped and held before sale. But it’s not as good, it’s not as sweet as good, home-grown sweet corn. The sugars in homegrown sweet corn aren’t as stable. But the corn is tastier.” (more…)

Fast (Fresh, Organic) Food

Fast FoodA reader and friend has pointed out that I seem to have an old-school view of the patience required to be a successful gardener. She’s suggested that your friendly, all-in-a-rush Planet Natural Blogger actually finds more timely gardening gratification with fast growing, quick-to-harvest greens that not only are ready in a short amount of time but also offer nutritional and flavor benefits that longer-grown vegetables don’t match.

That kind of growing for us anxious types is the subject of Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz’s The Speedy Vegetable Garden, a new book that shows the patience we’re always urging gardeners to display isn’t really necessary when it comes to some harvests.

We’ve mentioned Diacono and Leendertz’s book before in regard to growing microgreens and certainly used it as reference when talking about sprouts and edible flowers. But in a half-dozen chapters they also address quick cut-and-c0me-again salads as well as quick-harvest vegetables. (more…)

Growing, Enjoying Microgreens

Growing MicrogreensMicrogreens are all the rage. Professional chefs and home gourmets love them for their concentrated flavors and beautifully tangled appearance. Gardeners love them because they are quick and easy to grow … indoors! The health-conscious among us love them because they are a concentrated and delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

What are microgreens? They’re basically seedlings, planted in soil, and harvested early — very early — when their first true leaves appear. The difference between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are typically raised without soil and harvested before true leaves are formed. Sprouts are otherwise much the same, just younger. Growing microgreens in soil with sunlight, allowing them to reach the point where they are setting leaves, gives them both a nutritional and flavor edge. They’re the miniature, fledgling form of greens and other veggies you plant in your garden in tiny concentrated form. Strong-flavored greens and herbs — things like radish, basil, arugula, beets, fenugreek and Asian greens — make the best microgreens. But almost anything you sprout or any green you plant in the garden will make delicious microgreens. (more…)

Pea Trellises: Form and Function

Trellis and TendrilsYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was at his local community farm yesterday working as a volunteer and, among all the activity, noticed the major push was putting up pea trellis. These were heavy duty pea-vine supports, made with metal snow fence poles and cattle fence. The stakes were driven into the soft, tilled soil and the volunteers putting them up kept to the paths between rows so as not to disturb the soft, fine, seed-ready soil.

Anyway, the sight of it as I chased the tumbleweeds lifted from my wheel barrow by the spring breeze, brought back memories, as many things do for your nostalgic, old-fashioned PN Blogger. Peas have always been part of our gardens and putting up pea trellis is one of the gardening season’s first tasks.

I’ve never had to string trellis down several 60 foot rows as these people were doing, but I’ve made about do with many types of pea trellises in gardens big and small over the years. For a big pea patch in my quarter-acre vegetable garden, I strung three-foot-high chicken wire along cedar stakes cut from scraps gathered at the local mill. Still the peas climbed up and over the fence, making for a tangle that always seemed to hide another pod — or several — come picking time. In one tiny, short-term plot, I braced an old rose trellis in the ground for the peas to climb up either side. Needles to say, they never reached the top. (more…)

Celeriac: Looks Funny, Tastes Great

CeleriacMost years, your friendly and curious Planet Natural Blogger likes to plant something in his garden that he hasn’t tried before. How well he remembers that first sowing of kohlrabi back some (garbled) years ago! Now it’s a family favorite.

We’re expecting the same thing to happen with celeriac, sometimes known as celery root. Why we haven’t tried growing this classic cool weather crop previously is a mystery. Garden vegetable books always sing its praises and the words that usually attract us — easy to grow with few pest problems — often accompany the catalog accounts of this Medusa’s head of the vegetable world. Yes, she may be ugly but what sweetness she holds inside!

Then we were thumbing through an advance copy of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s upcoming book To Eat: A Country Life (it’s due to be published in June). Eck and Winterrowd, the authors of several gardening and country living books, are the master landscapers behind Vermont’s North Hill Garden. Winterrowd passed away in 2010 making To Eat the team’s last book. In it, they write knowingly and poetically about what they raised at North Hill, everything from apples to wild salad. (more on this book when it nears publication). (more…)

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