November 23rd, 2015
One last vegetable garden task remains. Thanksgiving is a just a few days away and while our late Fall weather has been relatively mild, we’ve still had some nights where the thermometer has dipped slightly below freezing. Which is completely survivable….if you’re a carrot I usually wait to harvest the bulk of the carrot crop until they’ve been subjected to several nights of slightly below freezing temperatures. This cold treatment causes the carrots to concentrate their sugar content in order to try to prevent them from freezing. As a result, they gain a much sweeter flavor!
Initially, the soil will prevent the carrots from freezing outright, but as icy grip of winter progresses, the carrots will eventually freeze solid. Unless….you insulate them! One common practice is the place about 2 feet of dry fluffy leaves on top of the garden bed. This layer of “insulation” will protect the carrots from freezing. The green carrot foliage will eventually die off because of the cold but the carrot itself will be fine and continue to sweeten. It’s a good idea to mark the ends of each carrot row with a tall stake to make them easier to find after the foliage dies back. Be sure to replace the leaves (and snow) back over the remaining crop after each harvest. I usually grow carrots in a raised bed and I’m not sure that the lumber sides will provide sufficient insulation for them so for now, I harvest in late fall and use the blanch / freeze method to preserve my harvest (see my August post for more detail on this method). I keep in mind the recipes I will be using the carrots in as I dice them. For casseroles or sliced carrots with a butter/ herb glaze, I cut them into larger pieces. For soups, stews, or stuffing, I dice them into smaller pieces.
Because of the difference in size, the boiling times will be different. The larger pieces require 3 minutes of boiling and the small pieces only need 2 minutes. Remember that you don’t start the timer when you first put them in the boiling water. Wait until the water returns to a boil and then set the timer. As soon as the timer goes off, drain off the hot water and immerse the carrots into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After they are cooled, the next step is to drain them and finally into freezer bags they go. It’s a little extra work but well worth the effort! And it’s certainly a lot less work than digging a root cellar
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October 8th, 2015
Too much thyme on your hands?
As the temperatures dip into the 40’s at night, my thoughts turn to wrapping up the vegetable garden before the frost hits. Beets need to be harvested and canned, and the carrots are sized up but I’ll leave them in the garden for now because a few frosts will actually sweeten them up. The Swiss chard will also take a few light frosts but the tomatoes and peppers will need to be picked soon. The herbs are beautiful and now is the perfect time to harvest and dry them.
There are many ways to dry fresh herbs, all that you’ll need is warm, dry and circulating air for the best results. You can dry them in an oven or microwave, air dry them outside in the sun, dry them in bundles inside the house or on a rack or screen inside, on and on.
Many of these methods have their own unique set of challenges. Using the oven or microwave are the quickest methods, however, they both require constant attention. Dry the herbs out just a bit too much and they could ignite! Also, the minimum temperature settings on these appliances are just too warm. Most of the essential oils responsible for flavor volatilize at 85° to 110°F. You can try leaving the oven door open a bit to cool the temperatures down, but then you’ll have to turn and rotate the herbs frequently. And it wastes energy. Hanging them outside in the sun will also cause the oils to dissipate, lose their color and expose the herbs to dust, pollen or insects. Drying herb bundles inside the house is better if there is low humidity and good air circulation, otherwise bacteria or mold might become an issue. They will also get dust on them.
Also, herbs that contain a lot of moisture (basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm and mints) will get moldy if the conditions are not right. So, what to do?
My favorite method is to use a food dehydrator. Dehydrator drying is a fast and easy way to get high quality dried herbs because the temperature and air circulation can be controlled. You can purchase an adequate one for $30 – $40 and use it for other things like preserving slices of fruit, making beef jerky or sundried tomatoes. Here’s what I do.
I harvest the herbs in the morning after the dew has dried off of the foliage. If you harvest them during the heat of the day, you’ll encounter the same problem of losing a lot of the essential oils. Then I swish them around in a large bowl of water to dislodge any soil or insects. Next I put them into a salad spinner to get a lot of the water off and finally, I set them out on paper towels and pat them dry to finish the drying off process.
Before placing the on the dehydrator racks, I take off any damaged / yellow leaves and also remove unwanted large stems (parsley, basil etc). For herbs with smaller stems (oregano, tarragon, thyme) I leave them on the stem and then strip them off after they are dried. What a time-saver this is! The last step is to fill up the racks taking care not to overcrowd the herbs to ensure adequate air movement.
Drying times may vary from 1 to 4 hours depending on the specific herb. Put them on the lowest heat setting and check them every half hour or so. I know that they’re ready when they crumble between my fingers, and stems snap instead of bending. You can also check your dehydrator instruction booklet or go online for specific drying times. Any herbs that were left on the stems can be stripped off by running the stem through your thumb and index finger. The other herbs (just the leaves) should not be crumbled or ground up until you’re ready to cook with them. Just store the dried leaves whole and you’ll get a lot more flavor out of them.
Where you store your herbs is important. It’s best to put them into tightly sealed jars in a dark, cool spot or in the refrigerator or freezer, not in a cabinet over the stove where they will be exposed to heat. Dried herbs will retain their flavor for about one year. Remember that dried herbs are usually 3 to 4 times stronger than the fresh herbs. To substitute dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, use 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount listed in the recipe. Making your own herb blends (like Italian or seafood) can be fun!
Even if you didn’t grow herbs this year, you can still purchase some to dry at your local market and enjoy their fresh flavor all year long!
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September 14th, 2015
There is something going on with my tomatoes this year. I’ve babied them right from the start making sure they had adequate organic compost and calcium (Quoddy Lobster Compost and pulverized eggshells) in their planting holes, fertilizing them on a regular basis (Lobster & Kelp fertilizer), and making sure they were given at least an inch or two of water weekly during the awful drought we had this summer. There are plenty of them on strong vines with very little signs of any disease…not even one tomato hornworm attacked them the entire season. So why do they look like this…
There are yellow and green shoulders on the majority of them. It’s not the appearance that I was disappointed with but when I cut into them, the top portion of the tomatoes was unripe and hard. I was essentially composting a third of most of the harvest.
Cross-section of my disappointing tomato harvest! Notice the difference in appearance between the ripe and unripe portions.
Onto the computer I went. The internet is a wonderful resource when looking for an answer to a gardening question … you just have to make sure that you type key words in the search box. So when I typed in “Why do my tomatoes have yellow shoulders?”, my answer quickly popped up. As a result, I have found a new favorite website that seems to have all of the answers to any tomato growing issues I’ve ever experienced! It’s www.tomatodirt.com and here’s what they had to say:
There are a couple of reasons that tops of tomatoes stay green or yellow while the rest of the fruit ripens. The first has to do with lycopene production. Lycopene is a plant pigment which gives tomatoes their red color. The ideal temperature for lycopene development is 65-75º F. When temperatures rise above 75ºF and stay sustained, lycopene production is inhibited. The irony is that tomatoes like heat. Plants tolerate higher temperatures than 75ºF consistently throughout the summer. But it’s the fruit’s exposure to the direct sun that dictates what happens on its shoulders. The upper portions of tomatoes generally receive the most exposure to heat or sunlight. As sun strikes tops of tomatoes, temperatures in the fruit rise, inhibiting lycopene. Without precautions, those portions cannot produce lycopene. They stay green. Another reason tops of tomatoes may stay green has to do with chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants green color. Excessive heat prevents chlorophyll from breaking down. So when ripening green tomatoes are in the direct, hot sun for hours on end, chlorophyll hangs on. Put together chlorophyll’s stubbornness with lycopene’s inhibition issues, and green reigns where red is meant to break through on tomato tops (tomatodirt.com).
Seems like this summers’ weather was the perfect storm for this condition to happen. So now, what do we have to do to prevent this for next year if the same weather pattern exists?
• Plant the tomatoes closer together so that there is more foliage to protect the ripening fruit from too much direct hot sun.
• Plant less heirloom tomatoes which are prone to this condition.
• Suspend a shade fabric over the plants with ripening fruit during stretches of very hot, sunny days.
• Prune less vigorously.
Live, look into and learn …. and plan for the next years gardening season!
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August 30th, 2015
In my last blog I reviewed the method of blanching as a way of preserving the fruits of your labor from your vegetable garden. The second method of preserving is a bit more involved…alright…A LOT more involved But worth it! Let’s look at canning. The age- old tradition of “putting up jars”. We called my 80 year old mother last week and during the conversation, I said…”So, we’re boiling the jars right now” (it was 92? outside and warmer in the kitchen) and she asked “So what are you putting up?” We told her that we were getting ready to put up bread & butter pickles and she was so happy that we were using her time-tested recipe which was handed down from her mother. Certainly, canning is not as popular as it was decades ago, which I feel, makes it all that more special. A jar or “goodness from the garden” is always welcomed by family and friends. So let’s start…
Our friend Jen stopped in with peppers and tomatoes from her garden and we also had some of the same so it was time to make salsa. I’ve been canning for about 20 years and I consider myself to be very careful throughout the entire canning process. One mis-step could result in someone becoming ill (botulism), so even though I have the same canning book I bought many years ago, I’ve made the effort to stay updated and aware of any new precautions. For instance, tomato varieties of today are slightly sweeter and less acidic than they were years ago. That’s because geneticists have worked on producing vegetable crops that are sweeter tasting…which is great…but the canning recipes of old relied on tomatoes that had a higher level of acidity. Getting the correct level of acidity is key when canning so I add a little more cider vinegar to my salsa to balance it out. I will leave it up to you to choose a specific recipe for salsa, I’m just here to take you through the process and share some tricks of the trade along the way
After washing the tomatoes, I cut off the shoulders, core out the middle, and squeeze out most of the seeds. Next I put them into storage bags and freeze them for 2 days.
The next step is to thaw the tomatoes. Two things happen upon thawing. First, the tomato juice drains from the pulp, which is a wonderful thing. Before I happened upon freezing the tomatoes first, I just used chopped fresh tomatoes which had a lot of liquid in them and resulted in very runny salsa :(. Second, after thawing them, I found out that the skins slip right off! I used to skin the fresh tomatoes by immersing them in boiling water, putting them into an ice bath and then stripping the skin off. Looking back, it was needlessly time consuming. Now it’s a breeze! And the best part about the tomato juice that decants from the pulp is that I get to freeze this tomato stock to be used as a base for soup or for using it to make rice instead of using water! The lycopene content in this juice is reported to be a powerful antioxidant that may help protect cells from damage due to heart disease and cancer. An added bonus!
Now it’s time to cut up the onions, hot peppers and peppers, and shave the kernels off of the fresh corn. By refrigerating the onions prior, there will be fewer tears. Also, please wear gloves when cutting up the hot peppers because the oils in them will burn your skin. After cutting the onions and peppers into chunky pieces, pulse them in a food processor until they are a small and uniform size.
The last ingredients to go into the pot are fresh garlic, cumin, apple cider vinegar, and a touch of salt. After bringing the salsa to a boil and cooking it for 10 minutes I then fill the hot sterilized jars.
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Lastly, I wipe off the rims of the jars, adjust the two-pieced lids and boil the jars for the recommended amount of time, usually about 15 minutes. This canning session took a total of about six hours but yielded 18 jars of yummy salsa! We’ll be able to enjoy it all year long atop nachos, tacos, eggs, and in homemade chili!
August 18th, 2015
August in the Garden
At least a dozen times a week lately, the word “process” is spoken in our house. With this heat wave, the veggies are coming in fast & furious so that means processing what we can’t eat now so we that have organic produce for later in the year. Unfortunately, both methods of processing require boiling water and lots of it! So when it’s 90 and humid outside, it’s even hotter and more humid in the kitchen. Complaining aside, it is all very… worth it
The first method we use is to prep the veggies for freezing by immersing them in boiling water for a specific amount of time. This is called blanching and is necessary when you plan to freeze most vegetables. Blanching stops all of the enzyme growth which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. The second part of this process is to submerge the produce into an ice water bath which chills the vegetables so that they will no longer be cooking. Blanching also removes any remaining soil or insects from the produce, brightens the color and helps lessen the loss of vitamins. It also softens vegetables making it easier to pack them into containers or freezer bags.
So here’s a step by step:
1. Wash the vegetables, peel if needed (carrots, beets) and then cut them into same size pieces. Some won’t need to be cut (edamamme pods, lima beans, pea pods).
2. Choose a pot that will accommodate 1 gallon of water and 1 pound of vegetables. Always blanch the vegetables in small batches like this so that the correct amount of cooking heat is realized. Add about a teaspoon of salt for every gallon of water. The salt helps the vegetables maintain their color and it also keeps them from getting too mushy. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.
3. Put the vegetables in a steamer basket and lower it into the boiling water. Do not cover the pot. This will cause boil-over’s and also trap some of the acids released by the vegetables during cooking which will cause the vegetables to become limp and deteriorate in color. When the water returns to a full boil, set the timer. Most vegetables require 3 minutes of cooking but to be sure, a good chart for recommended times can be found at this site….. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html
4. While waiting for the cooking process to finish, fill a large bowl with cold water and add a good amount of ice to it. I use 1/2 ice and 1/2 water. When the timer goes off, remove the basket with vegetables from the pan and pour the vegetables into the ice water bath. Let them sit for the same amount of time they were cooked for. Remove any remaining ice cubes, drain the vegetables well and lay them out on a clean towel to absorb moisture before immediately packing them into freezer containers / bags.
On a side note, you can also steam vegetables instead of boiling them but it takes about 1½ times longer than water blanching and believe you me, the less time I have to spend in a hot kitchen the better! Also, with steaming you lose the added opportunity and benefit of adding salt to the water. Using a microwave to process vegetables can also be done but research has shown that it may not be as effective at stopping the enzymatic deterioration which causes loss of flavor, color and texture.
On a second side note, for those of you who don’t have your own garden plot…there are options Many garden centers sell produce, local farmers markets are becoming more widespread, roadside farm stands are in full swing now and CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are becoming more and more popular. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to support local and eat healthy at the same time!!
Sooo, at the beginning of this blog I said that we use 2 methods of processing to preserve the fruits of our labor. Stayed tuned to find out what the 2nd method is!
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August 10th, 2015
The Opening Act
Mid-July heralds in the most spectacular show of all pollinators, beautiful butterflies. It’s easy to attract them to your yard – just provide plants that offer nectar for the adults and foliage for their caterpillars to eat. The nectar-rich flowers in my yard that are in bloom now are below – bold indicates the plants getting the highest traffic:
Plants that attract butterflies
Angelonia, Bee Balm, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly bush (Miss Molly is a magnet!), Butterfly Weed, Calibrachoa, Catmint, Chives, Cleome, Clover, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Daylily, Garden Sage, Gayfeather, Hollyhock, Impatiens, Lantana, Lavender, Lilies, Mallow, Mandevilla, Nicotiana, Oregano, Petunia, Phlox, Portulaca, Rose Campion, Roses, Russian Sage, Salvia, Snapdragons, Spiderwort, Sunflowers, Verbena, Yarrow and Zinnias (the Profusion series is incredible!).
A few tips for attracting butterflies:
- Offering a wide diversity of flowers will attract much more than just a few types of butterflies.
- By grouping many different flowers together, you will make it easier for them to access the nectar without having to expend too much energy.
- Mixing in host plants for the adults to lay their eggs on will provide hungry caterpillars with a readily available food source.
- One final note, because insecticides are non-specific, they will kill all insects (including butterflies) and should never be used in the garden.
Butterflies are not the only creatures that benefit from flowers. Hummingbirds, bees, moths, ants, wasps, birds, clearwing hummingbird moths and others assist in pollination and seed dispersal that is important for habitat success.
Plants that attract butterflies
Act II is just around the corner!
These late summer flowering plants will start to bloom later this month and into August: Agastache, Allium, Aster, Dahlia, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Ironweed, Joe Pye weed, Obedient plant, Sedum, Sneezeweed and Verbena bonariensis. These flowering plants are high in nectar and irresistible to butterflies! So pull up a chair and enjoy the show!
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Plants that attract butterflies
July 8th, 2015
The last of the romaine and red-leaf lettuce are harvested and in the fridge awaiting the dinner table. The recent wave of hot temperatures caused the few remaining heads of lettuce in the raised bed garden to bolt (go to seed) and turn bitter tasting …. so into the compost pile they went. Every summer at this time, I resent having to buy organic lettuce when just a few weeks earlier, I couldn’t keep up with it! What about planting lettuce in the summer? Until now, I didn’t think it was an option but the thought of going lettuce-less for the summer drove me to do some research.
One of the best articles I read online was “Long Lived Lettuce” by Willi Evans Galloway found on www.rodalesorganiclife.com. According to the author, it is possible to grow a summer crop of lettuce despite the heat…no bolting or bitterness! Here are a few helpful hints from several of the articles I have researched:
- Choose a location that gets partial shade during the heat of the day. This can be shade provided by other taller vegetable plants (corn, tomatoes etc.) or a part of your garden that is shaded by a large shrub or tree. If no shade is available during the mid-day hours, just cover your lettuce with shade cloth or row cover once the seedlings are up.
- Start by applying a 1″ top-dress of an organic weed-free compost to your garden bed. Lettuce seeds are tiny and the plants have shallow root systems which do not compete well with the aggressive root systems of weeds that will sprout in garden soil. I’ll be using Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost as my top-dress.
- Utilize the cut-and-come-again method of growing loose-leaf lettuce rather than growing head lettuce. This is where the plants are clipped off an inch or so from the ground and the base of the plant regenerates leaves that will give you another harvest a couple of weeks later. Lettuce leaves harvested when they’re young will be more flavorful and tender. The older the plant is, the more tough and bitter it will be which is why growing head lettuce (a longer crop) in the summer is not a good choice.
- Lettuce seeds germinate in just a few days when the soil is around 70 degrees, but in the heat of the summer, the seed will go dormant. Your best bet for good seed germination is to purchase heat-tolerant varieties of leaf lettuce (Batavian varieties, Salad Bowl, Oakleaf, Black-seeded Simpson). Also, storing your lettuce seed in an airtight container in the refrigerator until sowing will help. Lastly, cool down the soil for a few days prior to planting by keeping it moist and covering it with wet burlap.
- You can also use spicy mesclun mix blends which will give you a lettuce garden full of colors, textures and flavors. Or just mix several lettuce types together before sowing.
- Rather than planting the lettuce in rows, scatter the seed loosely over a set area of the garden. They need light to germinate, so cover them with a very light layer of screened compost. Be sure to keep the soil surface moist at all times. When the seedlings reach 1 inch in height, thin them to about 1-2″ apart and side-dress with an organic fertilizer or alfalfa meal (a steady supply of nitrogen). This “non-row” method will mean that you won’t have to mulch because the lettuce will fill in the bed quickly to shade out weeds and keep the soil moist.
- You can also stagger your crops by dividing your bed into several sections and planting a new portion of the bed every 3 weeks.
- Keeping your lettuce beds watered is key. Bitterness and bolting not only develop in older plants but also in young plants that are water-starved and wilted.
- Once the leaves are 4-5″ tall, cut a handful at a time with scissors no less than one inch above the crown of the plant. You’ll have new leaves to harvest in 2 weeks or so! Each bed can usually be harvested in this manner 3-4 times (depending on the climate). Only harvest in the cool of the morning when the water content and flavor are at their peak!
I can’t wait to try this method and am hoping that you will be inspired to do as well. Imagine….. seed to salad in less than a month! And all summer long!!!
Happy Gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine!
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July 1st, 2015
July signals the end of planting season with all of the new plant additions safely tucked in to the garden beds. The next step is to mulch around the plants in order to cut down on time spent watering and weeding. If you’re looking for a better alternative to inferior bagged mulches offered by the mass merchants, try one of Coast of Maine’s enriching mulches. Inexpensive bagged mulches are often not aged long enough and can rob nitrogen from your soil and plants. Dark Harbor and Fundy Blend enriching mulch contain fully composted dark bark that is safe to use on your garden beds. Fundy Blend has the addition of kelp meal which adds valuable micro-nutrients and helps to retain moisture in the soil. The compost portion of these enriching mulches will condition the soil and add much needed organic nutrients while the bark portion will suppress weed seed germination, retain moisture and prevent soil erosion. Two products in one bag! Click here to find an independent garden center near you that carries Coast of Maine enriching mulches. By Sue Lavallee
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June 5th, 2015
I spent many hours this spring researching Kelp Meal, Fish Bone Meal, Lobster & Crab Meal and Alfalfa Meal. The reason? Because this summer, Coast of Maine will add these organic supplements to their product line!!!! You can’t believe how excited I am!! During my research, the topic of foliar feeding kept popping up. Foliar feeding is the practice of applying liquid fertilizers to the plants foliage. It’s a relatively new idea that is quickly catching on with, not only home gardeners, but farmer’s market gardeners, vineyard growers, golf course managers and commercial farmers. Foliar sprays are a highly efficient way to fertilize and are extremely fast acting. Now that I have learned about the practice and resulting benefits, I’m really excited to try this out for the first time! At this moment I am steeping kelp meal tea which will be ready to use in two more days. I’m calling it my witches brew and can’t wait to see it’s magical effects! I’m planning to apply it to certain crops every 3 weeks and will keep you posted.
Studies have shown that spraying the foliage vs. watering in can be up to 20 times more effective as a way to supply nutrients to your plants.
Here are some of the benefits that research has shown.
• Spraying nutrients on fruit-setting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers will not only increase yields but will also increase their storage life.
• Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale and chard will mature more quickly.
• Liquid kelp applications will help to: reduce aphid and red spider mite attacks, control botrytis on strawberries and control powdery mildew on squash, cucumber and watermelon vines.
Here’s the recipe that you can use for kelp tea:
Mix ¼ cup of kelp meal into 1gallon water, let it steep for a few days (stirring it daily to introduce oxygen). Strain the solids out using cloth or nylon so that it won’t clog your sprayer. The leftover kelp solids can then be used around plants or added to your compost pile. Apply it on cloudy days, preferably in the morning, when no rain is forecasted. Temperatures must be below 80°F and be sure to spray the ‹‹‹‹
The lowly, often despised, slimy slug. How can something that moves so slowly wreak so much havoc on my lettuce plants? Not to mention hosta, basil, Million Bells, petunias, zinnias…on and on. And it seems like the damage happens overnight. There are several options for organic slug control. One involves getting up shortly after dawn, when the dew still blankets the garden, and hand-picking the little buggers. Eewww! Not only are the slugs happily foraging at that time, but the mosquitoes are too. Not my idea of an idyllic morning spent in the garden…been there done that! Another option is to bury small containers around the slug’s all-you-can-eat-buffet crops (level with the soil line) and fill them with beer. The slugs find the beer to be irresistible (who doesn’t?) and will eventually drown (death by beer). Too tedious of a task for me and what a waste of a good IPA. The best option for me is to use an organic slug bait control that contains iron phosphate which is safe to use around people, pets, fish, birds, beneficial insects, and animals. Iron phosphate is an organic compound that is found naturally in the soil, and, if the bait is not consumed by slugs, the material breaks down into fertilizer for your plants! You can also safely use iron phosphate around food crops and berry gardens right up to the day of harvest.
While at an industry trade show this past winter, I stopped at a bulb vendor’s booth to scope out new varieties and to ask a few questions. One of my questions was “Is it really necessary to deadhead daffodils?” Each spring I’ve spent countless hours removing the spent blooms so that the production of seeds won’t take the energy away from the bulb. I was thrilled to learn that it is not necessary! Most daffodil varieties are hybrids which won’t produce any seeds. Even if they did, cutting the flower stem, which also photosynthesizes, will rob the plant of some of its energy production potential. Makes sense to me! I’ve seen large fields filled with naturalized daffodils that are never deadheaded, yet remain productive year after year. Time to make a change!
One of the best things about June is that we are harvesting some of the fruits of our labor. Luscious strawberries, buttery spinach, crisp lettuce and my personal favorite ….peas! The variety that I’m hooked on is Early Frosty which is a non-GMO heirloom shelling pea. The sturdy vines only reach 2 1/2 – 3 feet tall and produce non-stop! The sweetness of the peas is a-ma-zing and they freeze well. You really can’t say that you’ve had peas until you’ve tried them fresh from the garden. So please, give peas a chance
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May 4th, 2015
Perhaps the title above should be Mayhem in the Garden! Mother Natures’ mood swings and weather issues last month created chaos in my gardens. May will be spent mopping up all of the half finished and not-yet-started projects, but that’s OK with me. Any time I get to spend time in the gardens is a fun day in my book!
Nighttime temperatures plummeted to the upper 20’s towards the end of April and I had to scramble to protect some new transplants that were not hardened off yet from freezing. Here are some tips I’ve learned through trial and error.
• If only a frost or light freeze is forecasted, you may be able to protect tender plants by covering them with a sheet or a blanket. This acts like insulation, keeping the warm air from the ground around the plant. If the covering you’re using might cause damage to plant because of weight, then support the covering by placing stakes in the ground around the plant for support. The warmth may be enough to keep a plant from freezing during a short cold snap. You can also surround the plants with sheets of newspaper if you don’t have any spare sheets. Before covering them, tie up the plant as neatly as possible.
• If an outright freeze is predicted, place a plastic sheet or large plastic bag over the cloth or newspaper covers. This will prevent possible winds from whisking away the warmth through the cloth. Never cover plants with just plastic alone as the plastic is not enough to insulate the plant. Wherever the plastic touches the foliage, it will cause freeze damage. Make sure that a cloth or paper barrier is between the plastic and the plant.
• Another method of protection is to drive stakes that are as tall as the plant into the ground around the plant. Wrap burlap or cloth around the stakes so that the plant is surrounded. Stuff the inside of this enclosure with hay, crumpled newspapers or leaves for insulation.
- Be sure to remove the sheets and blanket and plastic in the morning after the temperature warms up.
I’ve learned (the hard way) how to figure out when it is safe to put out tender annuals and vegetables. A good rule of thumb for my northeastern 5b location is to wait until mid-May and then get the 10 day forecast. Cool, clear nights with low humidity, often following a cold front, are signs of an impending frost. I had always associated the full moon with an increased chance of frost until I read about a study done by Cornell University. They reviewed the weather records of four locations in the Northeast for the last 100 years and found that a full moon did not increase the chance of a frost. It was just as likely to occur when no moon was present as when the moon was full! I also wait until the end of the month before planting the heat-loving plants such as zinnias, salvia, geraniums, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant etc. Patience is not only a virtue, but a money-saver!
Think again if you’ve considered trying worm castings as an amendment to your garden beds but ended up not doing so. Two years ago I was contemplating ripping up my 15×25′ strawberry bed and starting from scratch with new bare root plants because the crop and berry size was not what it used to be. I followed up the harvest season of my June-bearing plants with an application of organic fertilizer and even so, the generation of new runners after fruiting was poor. I knew if I replanted the bed, I would have to forfeit the first year’s crop and the thought of going through an entire year without strawberries was not making me happy. I had read several articles about the benefits of using worm castings and decided to give it a go. I bought 4 bags and scattered the castings over the bed in early May the following year. The results were nothing short of amazing! Large-sized berries, improved crop yield and a boatload of runners bearing new plants in July.
Volumes have been written on the beneficial results from the use of worm castings as a soil amendment and in worm teas, and they continue to be studied by research universities around the world. Here are some of the benefits:
- Excellent in starting new plants from seed or transplants.
- Improves germination and reduces transplant shock.
- Improved root growth and plant rooting structure.
- Timely release of plant available nutrients (no risk of fertilizer burn).
- Improved soil structure and porosity for a better root environment.
- Improved soil water retention.
- Beneficial supply of microorganisms to the surrounding soil.
- Safe around kids and pets. Non-toxic and odorless. 100% organic.
- Great supply of water soluble nutrients to plants.
- Healthier growth, increased crop yields and increased disease resistance.
Spring is the worst time of year to take your birdfeeders down! Returning migratory birds are so exhausted and lean when they arrive, and then they have to find & defend their nesting territory, attract a mate and assist in nest building. Many birds rely on insects to make up the majority of their diet and, in early Spring, insects are not immediately plentiful. Leaving your feeders out will help them to be successful. Also, when the bird eggs hatch, the parents are in constant search of food that is high fat and protein for their babies. Baby birds also need calcium for strong bone development. I’d like to share a homemade suet recipe with you that is high in protein, calcium and essential nutrients and is perfect for adult birds and their offspring.
In a 6 quart microwaveable bowl, add 48 oz. (which is 3 lbs. or 5 cups) of peanut butter & the same amount of vegetable shortening. Microwave it for 5 minutes to melt it, then stir it with a whisk (because the peanut butter settles to the bottom). Stir in 3 cups of chick starter pellets (can be purchased at any farm & pet store). Gradually add in 12 cups of the following recipe for mixed seed……4 cups of sunflower hearts or chips, 4 cups of white proso millet and 4 cups of fine cracked corn. This mixed seed blend contains shelled sunflower seed and the corn and millet are small enough for young birds to digest. Store the suet in a cool place and only put out as much as will be consumed in a day. Once the weather warms up, the baby birds have fledged and the insects are plentiful, suspend feeding them the suet. This recipe will be too rich for them and you don’t want the suet to spoil in the hot temperatures. They’ll easily transition to the live insect protein that they need.
It has always been second nature for me to recycle and reuse. While working in the vegetable garden many springs ago, I was looking for plant stakes to mark out where I had just direct seeded some different varieties of beets, carrots and spinach. At the time, there were several cats running amuck through our household so I came up with the idea of cutting up cat litter jugs into plant stakes. Worked like a charm! You can also use discarded venetian blinds which are a lot less work to repurpose.
The lettuce plants I put in at the end of April are thriving! I used the sections of toilet tissue / paper towel tubes (see February in the Garden) to protect the stems of the young transplants and they have been protected for cutworm damage. I just side-dressed them with Lobster and Kelp Plant Food and placed leaf mulch around them to keep the moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Cylindrical beets were sown into earthworm castings in the middle of this raised bed and when they are an inch high, I will fertilize and mulch them also.
Happy Gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine!
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