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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.

Summer Garden Watering, Vegetable Edition

Watering the GardenWe’ve talked a lot about xeric landscapes, water-wise gardening, drought-tolerant plants, and the like, all good things. Conserving water is always a good thing, especially when you’re paying for it. But there’s one place where skimping on garden watering can have bad consequences, where thirty plants will drink up water more quickly than anywhere else and that’s your vegetable garden. Let’s face it. Vegetables are water intensive. It takes 16 gallons to grow a single head of lettuce. It’s estimated that 40% of all water use in the United Stages goes to growing food.

So while vegetable gardens will drink up more water than your thyme and lavender-planted rock garden or you native grass lawn, it’s water well spent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t conserve water while growing vegetables. Here’s some tips, gathered from a variety of sources to help you save water when you’re giving your vegetables what they need. Most of these techniques are second nature for experienced gardeners. But they bare repeating. (more…)

July Gardening Thoughts

Garden BlossomsIt’s July and, as the song goes, the living is easy. Sure there are little chores to be done — watering, of course; and weeding — but mostly this is an expectant time with bountiful harvest of greens, peas (if you live where it’s not too hot), and fast growing root vegetables. Summer squash are in blossom and maybe setting fruit, corn is knee-high and higher, and winter squash, cucumbers and other vine crops are showing some muscle and starting to take over. There’s the first tomato blossom and is that the first tiny bean forming among all those blossoms?

It’s a good week to spend time with your garden doing nothing but taking stock. How is your garden plan looking now that things are well on their way? What pest problems are you having? How does the weather look for the rest of the month? Mostly, we just like to sit back and look at the fruits of our work. Things are still neat and orderly, everything is robust and green. And then we start thinking deeper (gardens will do that to you). Where did the craft of doing this come into our lives? How is it that with each passing year we learn more and more about raising vegetables? How well are we doing passing our knowledge to children and friends? And how important are those friends and children to what we do and learn? (more…)

Avoiding (And Treating) Melon Problems

Garden MelonsAfter our last column, a friend pointed out that she didn’t have trouble getting melons to pollinate. Her problem was with blights and mildew. It’s true that melons are a bit difficult to grow because of their susceptibility to molds and certain insects, especially when you’re trying to grow them in cooler, damp climates. Any trouble growing melons is well worth it once they reach the table. The cantaloupes, watermelons and other melons now coming into our stores from warmer climates just don’t hold a candle to a juicy, sweet, homegrown melon.

Finding the proper natural or organic cures for these melon problems can be difficult. Mulching is great for issues caused by uneven watering. But mulch can provide places for pests including squash bugs and cucumber beetles to lay eggs. These pesky critters not only consume melon plants but spread disease and wilt. Melon leaves can be burned by insecticidal soap and liquid copper sprays, two common, organic-approved solutions for bugs and mildew. They should only be used in the most diluted form possible. Other problem solvers — like using row covers to shield plants from insects — are great ideas until you need the help of pollinators. Any successful melon growing regimen begins even before you start them in your garden. (more…)

Doin’ the Pollinate Shake!

Hand PollinateNo, 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…)

Tomatoes & Basil: How Does YOUR Garden Grow?

Tomato GardenLast evening, your friendly and inquisitive Planet Natural Blogger visited a couple of distinguished food writers — they are a couple and have a couple James Beard Awards to their credit — to get their opinions on some local barbecue for a story I’m writing. We ate outdoors in their beautiful patio garden, their chickens serenading us from the nearby coop that was just out of sight.

Their garden is incorporated into the modest outdoor living space. A pair of cherry trees, their growing space circled in rock, is at the center of the stone patio (no cherries this year; a late frost took all the blossoms). Around the first cherry tree were various flowering plants. Only the bleeding hearts were in bloom. The earth around the second tree hosted a variety of herbs, partly shaded, that were just reaching picking size. One of those herbs was basil.

Elsewhere, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes were growing on terraced steps in full sun near the walls of their white-washed adobe house. By the house’s entrance, among several other plants and close to some lettuce that was already past its prime, was a yellow pear tomato plant already holding some blossoms. The space, with its various pots, growing areas, and walking spaces, not to mention the table where we sat enjoying ribs and brisket, seemed well designed. But I was puzzled by one thing. Knowing that tomatoes and basil, both full-sun lovers, did so well together, I wondered why they weren’t growing side-by-side. “We tried that,” one of my friends said, “and it just didn’t work.” (more…)

June Bustin’ Out in the Garden

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. Here we offer some June gardening tips and chores:

Protection is important, especially in places where June brings storms with hail and strong wind and rain. Have a supply of plastic milk cartons with the bottom cut out to protect transplanted seedling should inclement weather arise. Use cloches or hooped covers to protect seedlings from storms. Anchor any protection well so it doesn’t blow away. (more…)

Planting Seedlings In the Garden

Garden SeedlingsWe’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.

Another factor important to planting seedlings is timing. The days of last frost have pretty much come and gone… but not everywhere. You’ll also want your soil to begin drying if you’ve had a wet spring. We saw lots of flooded fields and gardens in northwest Iowa over Memorial Day and can only hope that the plants already in those gardens will survive. (Last year, those areas were suffering from drought.) Some places are having the opposite problem, with drought conditions persisting. (more…)

Garden Thinning and Seeding

Thinning SeedlingsWhat’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. Give each little plant its space (check seed packages for spacing suggestions). If plants such as carrots are too close and tangled to remove by plucking, use scissors. Tweezers can be handy for those particularly delicate jobs. And don’t just thin once. Go back after a week or so and make sure each of your little treasures has the space to do its best. This second thinning might be the time to collect thinning for a garden salad. (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 garden 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…)

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