harvest Aug 23 2014 1

Seven Ways To Grow More Food In Less Space

By Faye

Having a small garden is no reason not to have generous harvests of your favourite fresh vegetables, all year long.  There are many ways to boost production, and get the most out of whatever little plot of land you may have, even if it’s just a few pots on the patio!

harvest-Aug-23-2014The one question we get asked frequently is “what should I grow?” Frankly, there is only one answer to this: grow what you enjoy eating. It’s that simple.  If you don’t like kale, don’t grow it just because it’s the ‘in’ veggie!

By following a few simple guidelines, you too will have an abundance of nutritious and delicious vegetables from your own back yard.

1. Grow successfully. Firstly, the more sun the better.
Secondly, grow in soil that promotes high yield, and your harvest will be bountiful. “Feed the soil, and the soil feeds you.” Healthy, fertile soil with lots of organic matter, and well-balanced fertilizers produce the best crops. We like to use organic fertilizer blends, with the addition of liquid seaweed and fish.
Thirdly, do your best to keep your crops free of pests and disease. Pests are like the hyenas in the Serengeti, they prey on the weak and lame; so make your plants the strong ones! Insect netting will protect crops from the worst scourges such as carrot rust fly, cabbage moth, and other predators

2. Plant successively. As soon as one crop is finished, plant another in that space. Keep the ground productive, moving quickly from one crop to another. This can mean planting a later vegetable along with an early one. The later one starts off small, then by the time the early one is finished and pulled out, the later one can take over that spot.
Right now, you can sow radish, arugula, spinach and peas. (See: Peas In Particular!) The spinach will bolt by late May with lengthening daylight hours, but you will have enjoyed the baby leaves all spring. This space can be used later for your main season crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
Sowing successively is a little different, it’s just sowing as many seeds as you need for now, following up with more a couple of weeks later. By doing this you will ensure a continuous supply of young and fresh plants, rather than more than you can eat at one time.

3. Grow Vertically. Plants sprawling on the ground take a lot of space. Many plants are happy to grow up a trellis, netting, fence, or other support, saving much needed space on the land.  Yields are higher, due to less wastage (rotting on the ground), better pollination, increased air circulation so less disease, and the beneficial insects have easier access as they dine on aphids and other troublesome pests.
Vertical growing works for tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peas and pole beans. I have found that growing Pole Beans rather than Bush Beans gives me more beans over a longer period, saving space as well.

4. Grow in Containers. This is a vast subject, and there are both positive and negative points with container growing. In a container you must be very careful to give adequate food and moisture to your plants. Soil must be excellent, with lots of organic matter.  Drainage must be perfect. Having said that, any vegetable that can be grown in the ground can be grown in a container, if it’s large enough.
I grow potatoes in huge tubs, and even raspberries are in a large wooden container; they surely have rooted right through to the ground by now.  Containers can be placed anywhere you have the best sun exposure, even atop a large rock! They are easy to weed, and entail less bending and reaching to access your crops.  Raised beds are actually a form of container, and are probably the very best place to grow veggies.

5. Interplant. Smaller crops can be planted in and amongst the larger ones. Plant a few radishes beside the tomatoes or in front of the peas. Plant lettuce between the rows, they will appreciate the shade cast by their taller neighbours. Later in the summer, small starts of winter crops can be inter-planted with the main crops. A cover crop of Corn Salad, sown for winter, is happy under the spreading leaves of the squash. Let no space go unplanted!

Broccoli6. Square Foot Gardening. This is a wonderful concept that works especially well in raised beds and large containers. Who really needs to waste the space on pathways between rows? Plant in blocks, and it’s surprising how much food can be grown in a 4’ square plot of land. Check this link for more information. There are many sources for information on this topic, and the library usually carries the original Square Foot Gardening book.

7. Grow all Year. This may be the best tip of all.  Winter veggie growing is so easy: no watering, no weeding, and few pests.  The joy of harvesting fresh carrots, leeks, beets, kale, spinach and broccoli all winter long cannot be over stated.

Veggie Harvest For February Dinner

Veggie Harvest For February Dinner

The main thing to know is this: winter crops must be planted when summer is at its peak, so garden planning now should include where to put them.  Remember too that if planting for winter, it’s a longer season of eating; plant lots! My carrots and beets planted in May are still being harvested now, although with the coming of spring they will soon start to form seed so I must get them out soon.

As always, I am grateful to Linda Gilkeson for her vast knowledge, and helpfulness. Her very informative books are available at the nursery, library, and book stores everywhere.

With the longer days, increased sunshine and warmer temperatures, we are all getting the bug to start growing. So let’s make it the best harvest ever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fresh new beans in August 6 scaled

The Magical Bean

By Faye

Fortex beans in August

Fortex beans in August

For the snap and crunch of a perfect green bean, nothing comes close to the bean you grow yourself. Those hollow, stringy supermarket beans should be banned!

Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow; the perfect crop for a beginner. They even make their own fertilizer! Beans are legumes, and all legumes convert nitrogen found in the air to a usable form, evident by small white nodules on their roots.  Legumes have a relationship with Rhizobia bacteria in the soil, which enables the nitrogen-fixing process. All they ask is regular moisture, warm sunshine, and a moderate amount of organic material in the soil. Don’t add manure, and don’t over fertilize. Excessive nitrogen in the soil will produce a large plant with poor pod set and delayed maturity. A bean crop that has lots of flowers but few pods may have a zinc deficiency, which can be remedied by foliar feeding with liquid seaweed. Because beans have a relatively light nutrient demand on the soil, crop rotation for fertility needs is less important than for some other crops. They grow happily with other veggies except for onions, which they dislike.

Scarlet Runner Bean root after 1 week

Scarlet Runner Bean root after 1 week

PLANTING:  Warmth is essential for germination; cold soil will result in rot and sporadic germination, so wait until at least mid-May if direct-sowing.  For this reason, pre-sprouting in a warm room in damp vermiculite has been my habit for both peas and beans, using a well-draining tray and dense sowing of seeds. They root in less than a week, with 100% germination and no critter predation. Harden off, and plant outside when weather permits.

Talk about the magic of the bean; look at those roots!

The vision of a bean seed’s emerging root at one end, and a leaf at the other end, is surely one of gardening’s wonders, and reason enough to try the vermiculite.

BEANS FOR EVERY GARDEN

POLE BEANS:

*Indeterminate: Will need tall poles to climb around.
*Produce over a longer period, yielding more beans in a smaller area.
*Can be grown in a large container, but keeping soil adequately moist can be difficult. Smaller yield.
*If using a ‘teepee’ of poles, plant 5-6 beans at each pole base.
*Limited sun? ‘Purple Peacock’ is a variety suitable for cooler areas with less than full sun.
*Pick often, don’t let the pods get old, tough and lumpy. Eat while young and tender. Once pods get full and start to ripen off, the plant shuts down production to make seed.

BUSH BEANS:

*Determinate, usually about 2 ½ feet tall.
*Produce a large crop quickly, within a couple of weeks or so.
*Successive sowing from mid-May to late June, every 2-3 weeks, will provide a longer yield.

Runner Beans germinating in vermiculite

Runner Beans germinating in vermiculite

SCARLET RUNNER BEANS:

*Botanically distinct from Bush and Pole beans. While all beans are legumes, these belong to a different species.
*Pollinated by bees and hummingbirds, a bonus! Other beans are self-fertile.
*Prefer cool summer weather, needing more moisture and cool roots.

BROAD BEANS:

*Shelling bean.
*Plant in October for early spring eating, or in February/March for summer eating.
*Allow bean to fill out and harden in the pod, then shell when dry.

SOYA BEAN:

*Edamame, the best known soya bean, has been cultivated in China and Korea since 5000 BC, and is now a staple in Japanese cuisine.
*Not suitable for containers.
*Never soak the seed before planting.
*Must be cooked, and pod not edible.

Whether eaten raw or cooked, the green bean has earned a place of honour at our summer table. For its high nutritional kick, beauty in the garden and ease of growing, this magical bean deserves a star.

 

arugula seeds 48

Microgreens are the New Kale

By Faye

Microgreens

Microgreens

For the past couple of years, we’ve been inundated with the wonders of kale as the latest superfood.  Recently however, while putting out trays of winter veggie starts, I have heard whispered confessions, “Actually, I don’t really like kale. “

Enter a new way to grow and eat the very freshest produce possible with a huge nutritional kick — microgreens.

Microgreens are simply any edible leaf, grown to either cotyledon (seed leaf) stage, or first/second set of true leaves, up to 2” tall.  They can be grown anytime, anywhere, and can be cut at whatever stage you find most pleasing, generally within 4 weeks of sowing, sometimes as early as 5 days, depending on the crop you have chosen.

While sprouts are usually grown in dark, moist conditions and eaten just after germination, microgreens are grown in sterile seed-starting mix, brightly lit after germination, and it’s the leaf that is eaten, not the root or seed.

These tiny greens are loaded with phytonutrients, from the Greek word ‘phyto’ meaning ‘plant’. When they are exposed to light, they develop chlorophyll, which is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.  Many sources say that microgreens promote good health, fight disease and even cure illness. It is claimed that broccoli microgreens have 50 times the cancer-fighting benefits of mature broccoli!  Certainly do your own research, then enjoy the fresh taste of a variety of greens.

One of the two books we have on this subject, Microgreens; How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood, by Fionna Hill is full of intriguing recipes, and much information on each individual crop, beautifully presented.

The other one is arguably the best instructional book I’ve ever read, in a very straightforward and clear format.  Microgreen Garden by Mark Mathew Braunstein.

Arugula seeds: 48 hrs

Arugula seeds: 48 hrs

What to Grow?

Any edible leaf makes a good microgreen, with the exception of spinach, as it has a very tough and prickly casing on the seed. To get started, just use up some of your leftover (untreated) veggie seeds, but to really get into it buy the larger bags especially packaged for microgreens. West Coast Seeds offers broccoli, chard, arugula, sunflower, as well as 2- and 3-week blends mixing seeds that all mature at about the same time.  We’ve found that plants that are normally eaten for their leaves when mature, eg arugula, chard, leaf mustards, kale etc, are good at all stages, whereas sunflower and broccoli not being leaf crops, are tastier at the cotyledon stage.

How, Where and When

All that’s needed is very good light, a shallow container with drainage holes, a tray to set this in, and sterile seed starting mix. We like the Garland line of plastic containers and trays as they are food grade and sturdy.  It’s important to follow Food Safe rules, as the microgreens are cut close to the soil line. Be sure your containers and starting mix are pristine, and use clean scissors to harvest your greens.

Moisten the soil in a clean bucket before putting it into the container. Fill to the top and pat down with your hands, then sprinkle the seed over the surface, not burying it.  Seeds are spread fairly densely, but not overlapping each other, as each one needs room to germinate, sprout a stem and grow a few leaves.  To ensure even humidity, many sources suggest covering with a clear plastic dome, (which are available with the containers and trays).  A cheaper option is to just cover loosely with a plastic bag. Remove any covering the instant the seeds germinate, then put them under bright light. A regular fluorescent tube works just fine, but for longer-term growth it’s better to use full spectrum tubes, Sun Blaster being the one we use. Sun Blaster also makes full spectrum screw-in bulbs, which work really well in an old goose-neck desk lamp, aimed at the trays of greens.

Microgreens: Four days

Microgreens: Four days

Within a very few days, you’ll see two miraculous tiny shoots emerging from the seed, one a root shoot and the other a leaf unfolding. Don’t be alarmed if you notice a tuft of white; it’s not mildew, just part of the root hairs starting to grow.

This is when it gets to be fun! As you can see from the photos, it doesn’t take long to really start looking like something. Keep the lights on about 14 hours a day; you are trying to mimic sunlight, and the period of darkness is as important to your tiny plants as it is to you. We found a timer to be a wonderful help in ensuring adequate hours of light and darkness.  During the summer of course, natural sunlight outside is totally sufficient, but with our low levels of light in winter it’s just not enough to make the seedlings green and strong. Growing microgreens in winter is even more satisfying, when there isn’t the summer glut of nutritious veggies.

I use my laundry room as my seeding station; I have a 4’ Sun Blaster tube suspended from the ceiling, and also a screw-in bulb in an old desk lamp, and grow nice bright greens.

Care of your crop couldn’t be simpler. All they need is water, no fertilizing required. Water from the bottom only, reducing the chance of mildew forming on the soil. Simply pour some water into the tray under your container, and the water will soak up by osmosis. After half an hour, drain away any excess water still in the tray.

Harvesting is the best part, just tilt your container over a dish and cut off as many stems as you need right then. No need to harvest the whole crop at once; another wave of greens will grow in after the first cutting, as not all seeds germinate at the same time. Some stems will sprout new growth as well.  Often there are 2-3 waves of new growth, so don’t be in a hurry to toss your soil; just keep watering.

The latest in gourmet greens are fun to do, they will nourish both body and spirit.   Also remember that growing your kale outside is still an option!

harvest Aug 23 2014

Summer Veggies In Review 2014

By Faye
harvest-Aug-23-2014As the summer vegetable garden becomes a warm and happy memory, and the winter one settles in with hope and promise, it’s time to take a look back at how it all worked. Planning for next year has to start now, as we see what did well, what didn’t, and how can we make it even better?

General observations would have to include the fact that this was one incredible summer! The hot and dry conditions were just what summer crops love, in particular tomatoes! Have you ever seen so many?

What made you happiest in your summer veggie garden this year? Was there something that really worked for you? A new variety or technique perhaps? Did you use containers in a new way? We’d love to hear from you! Growing food is so rewarding, and sharing the knowledge as well as the produce makes it even better.

TOMATOES

Best lesson learned:  I was a little more vigilant with pruning, kept vining ones to a single stem, and found that I did get more tomatoes, and they were larger and ripened faster.  See previous paragraph, however!  I grew most in raised beds, but some were in 7 gallon pots, and 2’ square cedar planters. Brian used our Grow Bags and fertilized weekly with the Orgunique 15-3-11 and he had astounding results in a smaller space than I used.

I put a regular aspirin in each planting hole, which is supposed to give more flowers, and hence more tomatoes. I also fertilized more often this year with a variety of the Orgunique fertilizers; also seaweed, compost tea, and liquid fish. So was it the heat, the fert, or was it the aspirin? I had huge yields, as did most people this summer.  Sue did very little of the above and still had good results!

Tomato harvest in August

Tomato harvest in August

Favourite Varieties
We are fortunate to hear lots of feedback from our customers and fellow growers, who give us hints as to what to order for next year. Cherry tomatoes are always popular; they ripen well in our climate, they’re great for snacking, and there are so many good recipes for cherry tomatoes both raw and cooked.

Did you know that Sweet Million is an improved version of the old favourite Sweet One Hundred? Best orange cherry would be Sun Sugar or Sun Gold.

One red cherry that has surprised us with its popularity would be Tumbler.  This is hugely productive, on hanging stems; grow in a container well off the ground or in a hanging basket. Very delicious fruit.

We also grew Red Robin from seed, and it had good production of tasty tomatoes on a very small plant, but the leaves seemed to get ratty rather quickly.

Gold nugget would be our best determinate yellow cherry and Yellow Pear is a vining variety that many people ask for every year.

For a regular slicing tomato, there are many good ones, including Siletz, Early Girl Vining, Mortgage Lifter and several others. For a slightly smaller one, good for roasting, Juliet is often highly recommended. Best yellow slicing tomato was a new one for us this year; Lemon Boy was the first yellow tomato on the market, and it’s still one of the best. Large, round fruit with very complex flavor, they are a bit slow to ripen but well worth the wait. I will definitely order more of these for the nursery next year.

The whole concept of grafted vegetables is taking root, and there are more varieties available. This year, Indigo Rose was a star for us, and Helen Chesnut wrote glowingly about it as well. With copious quantities of dark purplish black fruit, on a determinate plant, which actually ripened in this hot summer; it’s known to be slow to ripen. The hard part is telling when they are ripe; don’t pick until the tomato bottoms turn red.

Black Krim was large and very very good tasting; an heirloom variety, with a somewhat smokey and salty flavor.

The grafted Beefsteak were underwhelming;not only were they not very big, but they became pitted all over after only one rain near the end of summer.

My greenhouse is very small, so all of my tomatoes but one were grown outside. Brian had a big crop in his larger greenhouse, grown vertically on single stems, and were very impressive indeed. We didn’t always agree on which were the best tasting, showing that each growing situation is different, and flavours will be affected by soil, warmth, water, and how nicely you talk to them.

CUCUMBERS

Best lesson learned: I’ve now figured out how to extend the cucumber season. I seed them in the house, under lights, on April 15, and when they were ready put some in the greenhouse and some outside in the raised bed, on a teepee of bamboo stakes. The greenhouse crop finished weeks ago, but it’s early October now and I’m still picking the outside crop!

Almost everyone I asked said their favourite cuke this summer was Sweet Success.  This variety is parthenocarpic, meaning it doesn’t need pollination, so every flower will produce a cucumber. This is important if you are growing in a greenhouse, as there may not be many bees inside. Long, crisp, and delicious, each cuke measured up to 10”, and never bitter.  Tasty Green is almost all female flowers, and a heavy producer too.

Sue loves the spiral stakes for supporting these vigorous plants. (pic of Sue’s cukes on spiral stakes)

Lemon Cucumber is also a favourite of mine that I never want to be without. Round like a lemon, it’s always sweet and very juicy.  While I always grow my cucumbers vertically, the Lemon ones seem to be a bit of a blowsy crop, so next year I’ll use a grow bag or pot on the bench in the greenhouse and let them just flow along horizontally.

BEANS

Pole beans give more beans for a longer period, and growing vertically, they take up less space. This year, as always, my favourite was Fortex, followed by Purple Peacock. Sue found that the Purple Peacock sneaks up on you; if you turn your back it can grow too large in about 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. I gave mine regular doses of compost tea, and would have produced a fall crop, were it not for Mr. Rabbit who chewed the stems off at 8” high, thereby killing off the entire crop. I’m feeling like Peter Rabbit’s Farmer McGregor!!

Best lesson learned with beans? Net them from the rabbit, and feed regularly.

For the first time I also grew some bush beans, from a friend’s heirloom Italian seed. I had no room left in the beds so used a very large pot, and they were surprisingly successful, although somewhat crowded.

POTATOES are my other surprising container crop, I’ve done this for 3 years now; layered compost and straw in the pots and planted Banana potatoes, a small gourmet type.  Just dump out onto a tarp at the end of summer, and enjoy. The compost and straw have by then broken down, so I have marvelous new soil to use for other things, such as planting the winter crops in raised beds.

PEAS

Again this year, I started all my peas and beans inside, in vermiculite on March 13, and will never again direct sow. Starting in vermiculite gives 100% germination, and no critters steal the show. For further info on starting in vermiculite see Peas in Particular. My default varieties for peas are Tall Telephone and Sugar Snap Pole. I had peas 7’ tall by May 29, and they were loaded with pods.

BEETS

Oh how we love beets, roasted in foil in the oven.

Direct seeded into the ground on May 2, this year I grew Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold.

I generally do well with beets in my raised beds, but the Touchstone Gold have been a disappointment; poor germination and small beets. I seeded Cylindra for winter, after hearing Brian’s glowing reports in the summer.  The EWTT variety produced excellent beets, but this year has been a terrible year for leaf miners, so the leaves are badly damaged. I should have netted them with ProTecNet, and will certainly do this next year.

ZUCCHINI

Once again, Partenon is the star zucchini, as it doesn’t require pollination and therefore each flower becomes a fruit (yes, zuke is a fruit, as the part that we eat comes from the flower). No need to hope that a male flower and a female flower appear on the same day, and a bee happens along. I grew them (2 plants only!) in large pots, and mulched the soil to keep it warm and moist.

CARROTS

I thought I could sneak past the carrot rust fly, by planting in a lower area of the garden, with the beets. Leaf miners got the beet leaves, and only a couple of carrots were damaged by the rust fly, but even those two have reminded me of the importance of prevention when it comes to pests. Favourite carrot? Purple Haze, although Brian found them prone to splitting.

Disappointment? Nantes. These are short and stubby, and perhaps if your soil isn’t deep and friable this is the only carrot you can grow, but for me I’d rather have a long tapered style.

LEEKS are the first crop to start the season and the last one harvested; we get the starts in March, and they grow all spring and summer, and those that are hardy, such as Bandit, will continue on through the following winter. These are well worth the space in your garden, always a winner. I started mine from seed on March 6, getting them going on a heat mat. I moved them to the unheated greenhouse on March 30, then into the ground in April.  Very few pests, I’ve even grown them in the front yard in Deer Country, but your own herd of deer may be hungrier than mine.  Be careful about growing them with garlic; last year garlic rust descended upon me, and infected my leeks as well. We have noticed that some of our leeks are going to seed and wonder if it might be caused by drought stress??

It seems that more and more of us are growing our own food these days; what a lovely way to while away the hours in the summer sunshine, and enjoy all that healthy food as a reward.

The Language of Seeding

It’s always easier to understand something when you know the language.   If you have been wondering about the difference between open pollinated, F1 Hybrid and what organic actually means, read on…

Open Pollinated: Plants produced by crossing two parents of the same variety. The resulting offspring will have the same characteristics as the parents. Choose OP varieties if you want to save your own seeds.

(F1) Hybrid: Plants produced by crossing two parents of different varieties. Traditionally, hybrids are the result of many years of patient hand pollination, observation and trialing. Hybrid seeds often produce plants with superior “hybrid vigour”, however, these plants will not produce seeds of reliable quality and therefore should not be used for seed saving. It’s important to note that just because a plant or seed is a hybrid does not mean that it’s been genetically engineered.

Organic: Seeds harvested from plants that were grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Heirloom: An open pollinated plant variety that’s been grown for at least fifty years.

Untreated Seed: Seed that has not been coated with fungicide or pesticide.

Days To Maturity: May be either from germination or from transplant; check packet instructions carefully.

Parthenocarpic: Plant varieties that are able to set fruit without pollination; especially valuable for greenhouse production where there are fewer insects than outdoors.

Gynoecious: Plant varieties that have all female flowers, thus producing more fruit per plant.

Vernalization: A plant flowering and setting seed as a result of a cold period. Some vegetables will “bolt” if subjected to a sudden cold spell in spring.

Winter Gardening: Plants that are grown in spring and summer for winter harvest. These crops should be more or less full-sized by Hallowe’en as growth rates decrease significantly after that.

Overwintering: Overwintered crops are started in summer and will finish growing the following spring. Some, such as purple sprouting broccoli, require this cold period to set buds. Others, such as hardy varieties of lettuce, will put on sudden growth when the weather starts to warm, resulting in an earlier harvest than if planted in spring.

Lasagna Gardening

By Sue

lg1This method of making beds requires no digging or tilling. Also known as sheet-composting, it means building up layers of organic material that will break down over time, resulting in rich, loose soil. You can build a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn, weeds and all. Start by spreading a layer of newspaper (several sheets thick) or corrugated cardboard over the selected area. From there build up layers of organic material; pretty much anything that you would put into the compost can be used. **If it’s for vegetables, it’s better to build a frame for a raised bed first and then add the layers.

Fall is the optimum time to start a lasagna garden. By spring it will have settled and the layers will have broken down. Alternate layers of ‘browns’ and ‘greens’, just like you would when building a good compost pile. Brown layers should be twice a thick as green layers. Add some soil between the layers so you have some real dirt. If you can, build up about two feet of material which will shrink down surprisingly quickly, usually in just a few weeks.

To build a lasagna bed in the spring, layer as many ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ as you can get your hands on and intersperse them with topsoil. The bed will settle over the season. Finish off with three or four inches of mulch and plant. The worms and microbes will mix it all together!

Good materials for a lasagna garden include:

Greens: Grass clippings, fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, weeds (no seeds), manure, compost, seaweed, spent blooms and trimmings from the garden.

Browns: leaves, shredded newspaper, peat moss and straw.

lasagna-gardening-by-patricia-lanzaTo maintain the garden, add mulch in the form of straw, grass clippings, bark mulch or chopped leaves. Once ‘Built’ care for your lasagna garden as you would any other. Weed and water when necessary and stand back and wait for everything to grow!

For more information and how-to details, have a look at ‘Lasagna Gardening’ by Patricia Lanza.

purple sprouting broc 3

November In The Food Garden

Getting the veggie garden ready for winter entails just a few simple tasks. The first really hard frost of the season is upon us; we need to prepare now for the winter that lurks nearby.

First of all, the soil needs to be protected from incessant rain, which leeches out nutrients and compacts the ground.  All bare soil benefits from a 2-4” mulch of fluffy leaves, and if you have seaweed available, add it now as well.

What not to put on your garden now? Compost! Winter rains wash the nutrients away, and the microorganisms are sleeping anyway, so save your compost in the bin, and cover it with a loose blanket of plastic to keep it relatively dry and warm(ish). Be watchful though, last year I found suspicious little rat-sized tunnels in my protected compost.

High-tech-measuring-for-Dol

High-tech-measuring-for-Dol

When to lime? Yesterday! The recommended amount is 1 pound of Dolomite lime per square yard; simply measure one pound, and mark it on a container.

If you got your Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts planted in time, then you will have tall, slightly top-heavy plants now.  They will need staking against the winter winds, but otherwise are quite hardy; just some leaves stuffed between the plants to protect the soil will suffice.

Purple sprouting broccoli almost 3' high

Purple sprouting broccoli almost 3′ high

Seeded in early May outside, my Lacinato Kale is tall and gorgeous now, so I loosely tied it to a stake as well.

Root crops such as carrots and beets will also want some leaf mulch to cover their shoulders, which may have pushed themselves above the soil surface.

Chard and spinach, having more delicate leaves, will also appreciate a bit of cover or protection in very cold spells. If they do freeze hard, not to worry; just let them thaw outside, and they’ll be fine. Don’t bring them in when still hard though, or they’ll look very sad when thawed in a limp pile.

Fall Gold raspberries, cut by half

Fall Gold raspberries, cut by half

In the berry patch, you should have already cut back the raspberries; this year’s fruiting stems of summer-bearing varieties (eg Tulameen, Latham) should be cut right down, and everbearing (eg Fall Gold, Heritage) ones can be cut down only half way, to allow sprouts to form from them, giving a summer crop as well, hence the name everbearing – summer and again in fall.

Strawberries also need cutting back, remove all old leaves then cover the crown with leaf mulch for protection.  Being acidic, shredded oak leaves are great for strawberries.

Early next spring when your food crops are producing bountifully, you’ll be happy that you took these few steps to keep them at their best.

purple haze carrots

The Veggie Garden In Review, Summer 2013

While the vegetable harvest is still fresh in your mind, fall is a good time to take stock of what grew and what didn’t. Thanks to a nice warm summer with lots of sunshine, most of us had a bountiful crop. Here are some of our observations:

* We did some trials of potting soil here at the nursery and in our home gardens, and we found the Organic Potting Soil amended with compost to be the most productive for crops grown in containers. We started equal plants in My Soil, and while they got off to a faster start, those grown in either Organic or Growell caught up. Brian did a taste test of his tomatoes and thought those grown in Organic Potting Soil had the best flavour.

* Veggies in the garden beds as well as those in containers did best when we stuck to a regular regime of liquid fertilizer.  Last year I neglected this, and the results were obvious. I also had very positive results with compost tea this year.

* The beds built using the Lasagna Gardening method have remained my most productive beds. This year I’ll be adding layers of manure, straw, compost, leaves and seaweed to my other beds as well, topping them off with a layer of soil, like icing on the cake.

Some specific crop observations:

Peas,-Tall-Telephone-and-SuPEAS

Started Sugar Snap Pole  (Pacific Northwest Seeds) and Tall Telephone (West Coast Seeds) in vermiculite, in seed trays in the house, March 8.  Once they were up, I moved them to an unheated greenhouse, but any bright, protected place outdoors where the rodents and birds can’t get them, would be ok. Planted densely outside when 4” tall, the 7’ tall vines were laden with peas for weeks.

LEEKS

Leeks started in March will produce all year. Unique, from Full Circle Seeds, (a local company) is a hardy variety that I’ve enjoyed them all summer. They are still in the ground for winter harvest.  Another good one is Bandit (WCS).

Purple-haze-carrotsCARROTS

Two varieties, Nantes Coreless (PNW) and Purple Haze (WCS), my new favourite carrot, were seeded outdoors in a raised bed on April 24. They grew very well and were harvested all summer.  Started more on July 4 for winter harvest.  Covered them with ProTekNet as soon as they germinated, to foil the Carrot Rust Fly.

BEETS

I direct seeded Early Wonder Tall Top (WCS) on May 16 but this was too late.  Only a few were ready for summer harvest, but they are still in the ground for winter eating. I also seeded some on July 4 specifically for winter.  Sue was served a dish made with Touchstone Gold (WCS), and her review was so fantastic, I seeded them, in a large cedar planter, in early July for winter use. I have had problems this year with leaf miners in my red beet leaves, next year will cover with ProTekNet. 

ASIAN GREENS

I bought some seeds in Japan last year; Komatsuna, Leaf Mustard, and Bekana. In March I started them indoors under lights, and moved them outside on May 8, which was a bit late. I have started more for winter, and they have grown very large very quickly, and will soon be planted into large pots.  Any of our seed companies are good sources for these greens.

KALE

Everyone can grow kale. I always grow Lacinato from seed, directly in the ground in a raised bed.  Started April 24, they grew well all summer and will continue all winter. I kept them under the netting with the carrots to avoid the Imported Cabbage Worm, so the only pest I’ve had is aphids, which seem to arrive no matter where you plant them

SWISS CHARD

Bright Lights (PNW) chard is a consistent winner whether grown from seed or starts. This year the leaf miners have been bad, so like the beets, chard will be started under ProTekNet next year.  Last winter I had spring-planted chard growing both inside the greenhouse and outside in the ground, and both thrived. I was picking leaves the following spring.

SPINACH

For me, spinach will only be a winter crop from now on. It bolts in spring with lengthening days, so by the time it can be seeded, it’s almost time to bolt. Seeding in late August ensures a crop all winter. While spinach grows well outside in our winters, my small greenhouse has produced Samish (WCS) spinach that almost gleams – green perfection.

BEANS

Beans were started May 6 in vermiculite.  To save space and have a longer harvest time, I grow only pole beans. Fortex (WCS) is the tastiest bean of all, in my opinion, and I grew this in a large, deep pot with tall cedar stakes for support.  Harvest was good, but not great. Next year I’ll use a raised bed. Purple Peacock (WCS), grown in one of the lasagna beds, produced copiously.  The purple pods grow rapidly once they start, and usually got ahead of me, becoming larger than I like. More vigilance required next year!

CUCUMBERS

Were grown in large cedar planters in the greenhouse this year, but next year I will have some outside as well, to keep the season going longer.  Favourites are Sweet Success (WCS) and Lemon Cucumber (WCS). Watered and fed well, given support to climb, these were total success crops.

ZUCCHINI

I grew one plant for my family of two.  Partenon doesn’t need pollination, so every flower produced fruit; just enough. Seeds from William Dam Seeds; don’t worry, I’ll get enough next year to start plants for sale at the nursery!.  (Sue agrees, one plant is all you need!!)

Banana-PotatoesPOTATOES

Since I have a small garden with limited sun, I grow potatoes in huge containers, layering good compost with soil and straw.  I lapsed a bit with the watering, but will do better next year (really). Banana and French Fingerling, both small gourmet types, do well for me.

TOMATOES

I started several varieties from seed indoors on March 21, then moved up to 4” pots in greenhouse on May 11. They should have gone into these larger pots sooner, but the weather was cold.  Principe Borghese (good for roasting) and Graham’s Goodkeeper (good for longer term storage, ripening over the fall) are old favourites of mine, both from Seeds of Victoria.  This year they didn’t produce as many tomatoes as I’d like, but they were grown in a bed that needs more amendments. I’ll layer some good organics such as manure, straw, compost, seaweed and leaves onto this bed to overwinter.

I trialed the mycorrhizae fungi (Myke) additive, and found no difference at all, so I won’t try that again. I also trialed the red plastic trays from WCS supposed to reflect some special light rays, but these also didn’t overwhelm me.

Sungold produced generously, as did my grafted (Mighty Mato) Black Cherry. Brian counted 225 tomatoes on his Black Cherry! I’ve been disappointed with Oregon Spring, but the Sweet 100 in the Grow Bag produced plentiful, tasty fruit. The indeterminates should have been pruned earlier to remove the suckers, I turned my back and there were 6 stems.

My best and most valuable gardening practice has been keeping good records of when and where I start various crops. There is lots of room for improvement here, but by looking back on the current year’s crop, and learning from mistakes while building on successes, next year can only get better.

Happy gardening to all!

 

Tristar strawberries

Berries Are The Best

Harvest in late September

Harvest in late September

For taste and pleasure, growing delicious ripe berries in your own backyard has to be the ultimate treat.   The Big Three of Berry Heaven would be strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. There are many others of course, and aficionados of gooseberries will likely argue with my assessment, but who can argue with a juicy, red strawberry?   Read on For Practical Advice on How to Grow Berries

STRAWBERRIES are super easy to cultivate in the home garden.

There are two main categories, ever-bearing and June-bearing:

Everbearing produce an intermittent crop of berries from late June right through to October. Tristar is the most popular of this type, and is a vigorous and disease-resistant plant with large, tasty fruit.  Totem produces its crop in June, and then it’s done for the year, but the yield is large. June-bearing plants produce more runners, so space accordingly.

Tristar-stwb-in-OctoberStrawberries prefer acid soil, so don’t lime this part of your garden. They also appreciate a mulch of straw once the soil warms up, which keeps the berries clean and relatively slug free. Growing in containers is a great plan because the berries can hang down, ready for easy picking.

Botrytis, that nasty mold that ruins crowded berries, can be avoided by spacing well, removing excess runners (leave 2 or 3 per plant and allow them to root before cutting from parent plant), and giving good air circulation. Keep the crowns above soil level, and clean up the foliage in the fall. Don’t water late in the day.   Pests? Slugs and birds will be your main competitors, foiled by Safers slug bait and netting.

RASPBERRIES take a lot of room, but are deserving of a special place. Of my three raised beds, one is devoted solely to raspberries, and I’ve never regretted this lavish use of space. They need strong supports, and a permanent structure of strong wires strung between solid posts is well worth the initial investment of time and money.

Fall-Gold-Rspb-in-SeptEverbearing, such as Fall Gold and Heritage, will have two crops a year if you are careful with pruning.  Cut the fruiting canes down only half way when dormant, and these canes will reward you with an early crop, new shoots emerging in April along the half cane remaining from last year. I already have raspberries forming on my Fall Gold on last year’s canes. Once these two-year old canes have fruited, they can be cut to the ground. Allow only 5-10 new canes to develop from each plant; they will produce berries on the top third of the cane, from September onwards. I’ve had them produce right up to December.

Summer-bearing, such as Tulameen will produce a heavy single crop that goes on for several weeks in the summer. Fruiting canes should be cut back to the ground when plants are dormant; be careful not to cut down any of the new canes, which will fruit next year. At this point, tie up the new canes before the winter winds lash them around, and when spring comes, your raspberries will be ready for the crowds of bumble bees that love to pollinate them for you.  Just like climbing roses, horizontal branches of cane fruits produce more bloom and hence more fruit, so keep them trained along the wires as close to horizontal as possible.

Raspberries need good drainage but lots of water and fertilizer. Amend the soil liberally with aged manure, compost, seaweed and fish emulsion.

Bluecrop-bb-Fall-Colour

Fall colour on ‘Bluecrop’ blueberries

BLUEBERRIES are as beautiful as they are delicious. The fall colour on a blueberry bush is rich in reds, gold and orange, and the red twigs in winter light up a dark day. As an attractive shrub, they can be grown in containers if re-potted every 2-3 years

While blueberries are actually self-fertile, they will crop better with at least 2 different varieties grown together for cross-pollination.  Some of the well-known varieties are Bluecrop, Duke, Patriot, Northsky (a half-high hybrid), and Chandler.

Blueberries need rich acid soil, so don’t lime nor add bone meal. If your soil isn’t acid, add peat moss, leaf compost or sulphur.  Top dress with more acidifying organics such as bark mulch or sawdust to control weeds and conserve moisture.

Pruning is simple; remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches when the plant is dormant, and open up the top structure to let the sun shine in. In late winter the fruiting buds are easy to spot, they are the fatter buds; consider this when wondering what to remove. When the plant is much older, start removing one or two of the oldest branches to the ground yearly to allow for new growth.

Just add sunshine and protect from hungry birds! Remember that they aren’t necessarily ripe when they first turn blue; let them darken further and enjoy the added sweetness of a fully ripe blueberry.

But why stop with the Big Three? The variety of berries is bountiful, and right now is the time to try something new. Consider the following, to expand your eating and growing pleasure:

HONEYBERRY Lonicera caerulea

Also called Haskap, this mighty little morsel has very high levels of Vit. C and anti-oxidants. Very hardy and easy to grow, it ripens early and has a complex flavour reminiscent of grapes, raspberries and black currants. Needs cross-pollination, so plant more than one variety. Allow them to fully ripen; about a week after skin turns blue the flesh will also change from green to purple. Several of ours have fruit already!

KIWI This one needs both a male and female to pollinate properly. Even the Issai, which is billed as being self-fertile, will fruit more productively if there are two plants near each other.  It’s easy to grow in a sunny warm area of the garden in moderately fertile soil rich in compost. Avoid over-feeding with nitrogen and give support to this climbing vine.

THORNLESS BLACKBERRY Ok, it’s a Canadian tradition to pick blackberries by the side of the road, but imagine having your own crop and no thorns! The Chester variety is very hardy and productive. Likes lots of sun in a rich moist soil amended with compost.

LOGANBERRY & TAYBERRY  Both are crosses between raspberry and blackberry, with the delicious taste of each. Very sturdy and disease resistant. Logans are thornless. Tays have small prickles along branches.  Prune and support as for raspberries.

CRANBERRY No bog needed, in fact THEY DO NOT LIKE SATURATED CONDITIONS. Water as you would other garden plants, dig in damp peat for high acidity.  They are rhizomatous plants, ie they send out runners to expand the plant. Give them room to spread, plant in a bed that you can designate for them.  Harvest berries when red, don’t allow them to stay on the plant if frost is forecast.  Very high in Vit C and antioxidants!

Goji berries

Goji berries

GOJI BERRY Full of nutrients, a little raisin-sized gem for good health, as it contains more carotene than carrots, all the essential amino acids, and many minerals. Gojis have a slight sweet and sour taste, and ripen from August to October. Full to half day sun, well-drained soil, drought tolerant once established.

FIG ‘Desert King’ Best variety for our climate, can grow in a container, espaliered, or as a yard tree in the fullest sun you have. Yummy green figs in late summer, be sure to let them ripen fully. They should be getting soft, looking almost over-done, before eating. Likes alkaline soil; be generous with lime.

JOSTA BERRY Cross between Black Currant and Gooseberry, these tasty, small berries are rich in Vit C; they are self-pollinating, disease resistant, and tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.

GOOSEBERRY   This deer resistant rounded deciduous shrub is self fertile, mildew resistant, and thrives in containers if kept moist. Gooseberries do well in full to half-day sun, compost-rich soil, producing lots of sweet fruit with a crisp skin and snappy tang.

SUMMER IS COMING SO BE FRUITFUL, AND GROW BERRIES!

kale mulched for winter scaled

Protecting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Most of the vegetables suitable for the winter garden are perfectly hardy, but minor protective measures will ensure a greater harvest, better quality leaves, and cleaner produce.  I’ve grown kale, leeks, chard and purple sprouting broccoli in a raised bed with no protection over the winter other than leaves covering the soil.

The soil needs more protection than the plants, ironically.  If we have a mild, wet winter, constant rain will leech nutrients away, compact the soil, and enable weeds to take hold.  If we have a cold winter with freezing and thawing, the soil needs an insulating buffer, because if it freezes, water can’t be absorbed by the plants, and the freeze/thaw cycle causes heaving of the soil with subsequent damage to the fine root hairs.

Kale mulched for winter

The best soil mulch is a 4-6” layer of autumn leaves, which insulates, protects and feeds the soil as it’s broken down first by worms, and later by microbes.  The breaking down process takes place faster if the leaves are chopped up first, but even if left whole, they will work.  In really cold weather, a further mulch of fluffy conifer branches or larger leaves may be used to cover the plants entirely. The shoulders of root veggies will benefit from a covering when the temperature plummets.

Covering with a plastic sheet is very effective in cold and rain; it raises the temperature while also protecting from drying winds. A covering such as this needn’t be attached to a frame, it can just be draped over the bed and held down with rocks.  Some people make a support with pipe hoops, or a tunnel of wire mesh which keeps the plastic from weighing down the plants if rain or snow accumulates on top.   On warmer days, you can leave the plastic sheet on to trap the warmth, or remove it for ventilation.

What about a greenhouse? This of course is the ultimate protection, and crops grown in an unheated greenhouse will have unblemished leaves, no slug damage, and the warmth of sunny days brings on spurts of growth unseen outside. Just remember to water occasionally, and in a very cold snap, a blanket or tarp will keep the plants warmer.  On sunny days you may have to open the doors to moderate the wide swings of temperature from day to night, and to provide ventilation.

What about slugs? Slugs don’t go south for winter, but continue to share our harvests, unfortunately. Safers Slug bait is safe for pets and other animals, and is worth using sparingly all season long in a mild winter.

Climbing cutworms can do serious damage in the early spring; their presence looks like slug attacks, but there will be no slime trail. They come out at night to eat, so either go out with a flashlight, or check for the characteristic C-shaped, ugly-looking caterpillar curled up in the leaf litter. Their pupae look like mahogany bullets, something to eliminate whenever you see them.

So enjoy your winter garden, and with these few precautions your harvest will be bountiful and rich.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will remind you all of Linda Gilkeson’s fine book Year Round Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast, available at the nursery.