How to Get Melons Sooner

melons

If you click on the picture above you can see where 6 melons are growing on this single potted plant.
Not bad at all for this Zone 5/6 area at the end of June.

For most gardens around here, these kinds of crops might be just starting to flower. You can see the first melon, at the bottom of the plant, is almost ready to be harvested.

So how did we manage to be so close to enjoying a home grown melon for the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and more importantly, how can you?

1. Choose a smaller variety. In this case it is a Sugar Baby watermelon, but you can choose any variety that matures to 3-5 lb. size. Golden Midget, White Wonder and Little Baby Flower all produce small fruit in about 70-80 days.

2. Start the seeds sooner. You can transplant watermelon, so it is easy enough to get the plants going sooner. We admittedly started them right in this container last winter, and thinned to one plant. We then moved the pot to the greenhouse when the time was right. If you can’t do that, just plant so that you will be able to put the container in a sunny window, and even move it outdoors when the days are warm enough.

3. Hand pollinate. The very first melon is the result of us removing a male flower and rubbing it gently on the inside of a female. You can tell the girls by the little melons that are right behind the flowers, the boys are stem only.

Now it is our intention to see if we can keep this plant going longer as well.

You can still start one in a pot now. We’re going to try a cantaloupe. Why not join us?

It sure would be interesting to have fresh homegrown melon for Thanksgiving!

When to harvest melons and other edibles.

June 28, 2015  Tags: , ,   Posted in: Container Gardening, Extending the Season  One Comment

A Front Yard Edible Garden

front yard food gardens

The drive by view.

“Excuse me,” a woman stopped me in the parking lot of the local grocery store, “I recognized your car. Aren’t you the house with the garden?”

And that’s how we are known to a lot of people in the area, because of our roadside edible garden.

From this angle as a gardener you may recognize rhubarb leaves, potatoes, some parsley bolting, and the onslaught of beans that are starting to climb the windmill.

If you were coming from the other direction, fruit trees, the heavily laden grape arbor and sunchokes would catch your eye.

Soon, everyone will see the amaranth, corn, and vining nasturtiums, to name just a few.

We don’t have a lot of foot traffic on our road, just some joggers and bicyclists, here and there a tractor and when the weather is nice, horseback riders. Still, people stop. Sometimes it is just a Thumb’s Up from their window, other times they actually pull over and ask to see the garden.

This is why it amazes me whenever I hear of someone not being allowed to grow food in their front yards. So, the reason I post is this:

If you are in a homeowner’s association (which I was once) that doesn’t allow front yard gardens (and they didn’t) there are ways to persuade them (which our next door neighbor did). Even if it is a zoning issue, people’s minds can be changed.

We’ve seen that happen a lot these last few years, in this country and in our neighbors to the North.

So if you are looking to change the rules, here’s what we suggest:

1. Put together a portfolio. Get pictures of beautiful front yard gardens. A simple search will find tons. There are some truly awesome veggie gardens out there, front and back!

2. Get support from neighbors. Talk to them about the benefits of gardening. Discuss a possible garden trade program, like was often done with the Victory Gardens in WWII, or the benefits to teaching kids or sharing with Vets and the elderly neighbors.

3. Listen. Everyone wants their opinion to matter. Listen to everyone, take notes, ask ‘what if’s’ regarding concerns they might have. Try to get them to help solve any stumbling blocks. They are going to contribute anyway, it may as well be in a positive way.

4. Do what my old neighbor finally did. Draw plans. Get a visual that actually includes your house and any neighbors who may be interested. “Here’s what our front garden will look like, and here’s what some other houses in the neighborhood could do.” Most people don’t realize how gorgeous some edibles are. Teach them.

5. If applicable, let the Powers That Be know how this could benefit the neighborhood. Are there grants available? What are the trends vs. home values? There are lots of stats out there that show people want homes that include gardens, and that edible gardening is sharply on the rise. Talk to local businesses who may benefit.

6. Listen to the naysayers, and just build on their arguments. I’ve seen some people comment “Well, when they bought the house they knew it wasn’t allowed.” Life changes. Trees grow bigger and cast shade, which is why our garden moved out front. Perhaps you weren’t an edible plant growing person when you bought the place. And then there’s food prices and quality.

7. Don’t give up. If someone can grow roses, the hips of which can be used in tea, or nasturtiums which are edible, or even Asiatic lilies which are also food, well technically; why not okra? Why not corn which is a symbol of America? Why not the gorgeous yellow flowers that squash plants produce? Why not?

Okay, off my soapbox and back to the garden.
Out front.
Where people can see it.

June 23, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: Addiction, Gardening  6 Comments

6 Most Common Tomato Problems

common tomato problems

Every person that grows food probably grows tomatoes, so we do get asked a lot about the common tomato problems they encounter. Here are the most FAQ’s:

1. What is this black rotten spot on my tomato?

Chances are you have Blossom End Rot, especially if the spot is on the opposite side of the stem end. This is a calcium uptake issue, and usually occurs on the tomatoes that ripen first. You can help prevent it by planting your tomatoes deep or in trenches, therefore creating a stronger root system; and by adding calcium to the soil. The most common way to do this is with crushed egg shells. We rinse ours off and collect them in the freezer over the winter.

2. Why did my tomatoes suddenly stop producing?

You probably have determinate type tomatoes, which produce most of their fruit in a short period of time, and then just stop.

3. My tomato plants are strong and very bushy, but aren’t producing flowers.

Lay off the fertilizer; and when you do use some choose one with less nitrogen, the first number of three listed on a bag. Tomatoes prefer phosphorus, the second number listed.

4. Why are the flowers just falling off my tomato plants?

This condition is known simply as Blossom Drop and can happen to other plants as well. There are a number of causes, very high temperatures is the most common. It can also be from lack of pollination. You can help here by using either a tuning fork or battery operated toothbrush on the stem just behind the flower to stimulate the movement of the pollen within the flower. Growing herbs and/or flowers that attract bees is a great way to help. Also, avoiding pesticides of any kind will lead to more pollinating creatures in your garden.

Another cause is lack of water. It is best to water tomatoes less often, but more thoroughly.

5. My tomato plants look limp and lifeless. I’ve been watering every day, but they don’t perk back up. Why?

Daily watering is usually a bad idea. The thing is, tomato plants can actually be harmed by excessive watering. The best way to water is to soak the soil either in the evening or very early morning. You planted your tomatoes in such a way as to give them good deep root systems, get that water down all the way to where those roots are. Again, less often and more thoroughly.

6. My tomato plants look like they are dying. What’s wrong?

This one is a little more complicated, and it helps when there are pictures. It can be Early Blight, which is not necessarily fatal to a plant but can spread. As the name implies, it usually happens early to mid season. An indication of blight is spots on the leaves, stems and on the fruit. The recommended treatment is to use a fungicide, particularly a copper spray, as the condition is caused by a fungus. Note that blight overwinters in the soil, so you will want to plant your tomatoes as far away from that area as possible. Be sure to not compost your plants, as that would just spread it through your garden next year. The best thing you can do is to prevent it in the first place by mulching, allowing good air circulation around plants, and staking.

If this is a common problem in your area, you might want to grow blight resistant hybrid varieties instead of heirlooms.

Caused by an air borne fungus, Late Blight is fatal and spreads rapidly. It can occur anytime in the season, but usually comes towards the end. There is no cure. The best thing you can do is keep track of blight in your area by checking the US Blight map. If you see blight headed your way, start using a fungicide, again a copper spray is good, to help your plants. It is also very important to have beneficial microbes in your soil, to keep it and your plants healthy. Here’s an interesting article on that subject.

Growing tomatoes reminds me of the lines in Men in Black, when Will Smith asks Tommie Lee Jones about joining the MIB team.
“Is it worth it?”

June 20, 2015  Tags: , ,   Posted in: Tomatoes, Tomatillos & Ground Cherries  4 Comments

And the Winners Are…

early tomato varieties

Banana Legs

It is fun each year to take note of which varieties of tomato produce first.

After a long winter without that homegrown tomato flavor, why not get one sooner than later?

We start our tomatoes indoors, then transplant out under protection. Still some types just produce faster than others.

First up this year is a new variety for us, Banana Legs. This heirloom type produces elongated yellow fruit that are less acidic. Perfect for a tomato salad.

early tomato varieties

Monticello Roma

Second place is a tie. Both these delightful plants produced 2 viable fruit so close together we couldn’t say which may actually have been first. Although we have grown many roma types, Monticello Roma is new to us. It is a hybrid seed that, to the best of my knowledge, is not on the market yet. We received the seeds to test trial, and they are doing well.

early tomato varieties

Mortgage Lifter

The good old Mortgage Lifter! We just love these maters as well as the story behind them. This fruit is a large, beefsteak type and a very good producer. The taste, well, is plainly delicious.

Isn’t it odd that we would get a yellow, a roma, and a pink beefsteak producing first out of over 40 tomato plants, of more than 2 dozen varieties? Just goes to show it depends more on the plant than on the gardener.

So note that what happens in any given garden in any area differs. If you are in the northeast zone 5/6, these may be varieties you might want to test for yourself next season.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated as the summer progresses.

You never know when an under dog might come up from behind and actually be the first to ripen!

Do you have tomatoes yet? What was your first to produce?
We would like to try your favorites next year!

June 14, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: How to Grow, Tomatoes, Tomatillos & Ground Cherries  4 Comments

6 Ways to Deal with High Egg Prices

fresh farm eggs

If you listen or read the news at all, you have most likely come across at least one story about rising egg prices.

It is, of course, the end result of the avian flu. The spread of this disease means many chickens kept for farmed egg laying are being slaughtered. Some grocery stores are even beginning to ration their sales.

Very few people in this country remember rationing. It was common during WWII, and those my age remember gas rationing. It is something best avoided.

It all comes down to a simple economic principle: Supply and Demand.

The demand remains the same, the supply is diminished, the price goes up.

So what can you do to prepare?

1. If possible, get your own chickens. I would suggest you choose birds that are either heritage breeds, or a cross like the ‘star’ crosses. Chickens bred specifically for egg laying often stop laying sooner, after all, females only have so many eggs to give. IMHO it is better to have a little less over a longer period of time.

2. Substitute flax seed in many recipes that call for eggs. It is a very healthy alternative that we have used successfully. These hash browns use flax instead of egg, though we served one with them. And this Butternut Squash Cakes recipe could easily use flax instead of an egg. The conversion is listed on boxes of flax seeds. Of course, you can also grow your own.

3. Stock up before rationing hits your area, or prices get even higher. If you have freezer space, you can make scrambled eggs with cheese or veggies, then freeze them for another time. This also saves time during those busy mornings. You can also freeze whole eggs out of the shell to use in baking.

4. Consider using non-GMO tofu and soy milk as egg substitutes. This works well for egg casserole dishes, like this vegan Fritata. You can even add a pinch of turmeric to give it that yellow egg color.

5. Look up some ol’ timey recipes. During WWII, most women had at least one recipe for an eggless or a 1-egg cake. We’ll go through our vintage recipe collection, and see what we can find to help you. Those will be posted on our recipe page.

6. Finally, if you cannot have a flock yourself, consider connecting with someone who does. Many people, like us, have more eggs than we know what to do with. We have enough family that we can share, but others may consider bartering for something you have instead. Again during WWII, many families traded produce, eggs, and even services like laundry and garden care.

There is certainly nothing wrong with taking a step back in time.

The truth about the eggs you buy.

And here is an interesting article on avian flu and backyard flocks.

June 13, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: Backyard Chickens, Gardening People, Places & Things, Keeping up with the Joneses  2 Comments

5 Reasons to Use Season Extenders

season extenders

“Why Use Season Extenders?”

To say the least we were surprised recently when asked that question. Before we could answer, it was followed with “Why bother? It’s not like you’re going to get any more food. A tomato plant produces until its done. That’s it.”

Well, for some plants that may be true. But not for all, and there’s so much more to it.

For example:

1. Some plants like indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans and peas, most peppers, and non-bolting greens like mache, will continue to produce until something takes them out. Usually that is either extreme cold or heat. If you can jump start them 3-6 weeks early, and keep them growing longer, you’ll get more. In the picture above, there are eggplants, peppers, beans, and tomatoes all going strong mid-May, about 2 weeks before we would otherwise plant outside.

2. Most squashes and melons may have a limited number of fruit they will bear, as our friend suggested of tomatoes, but still you can enjoy them sooner. We like sooner.

3. An earlier harvest of many veggies like cole crops and carrots leaves room open to succession plant. If you extend the season into the fall, those crops will also give you more produce.

4. Bragging rights. The first tomato on your block. Jus’ sayin’.

5. Last and most important to us, is having fresh homegrown food straight from the garden as many days of the year as possible. That is in part why we designed the Jones’ Garden System, shown above and available soon, details to come. We also do cold holding indoors, and use a small greenhouse.

Here’s more info on season extenders if you would like to try getting more from the space you have, large or small.

And that is how we answered our friend, who now understands that growing food is much more than just that time between last and first frost dates; if you want it to be.

June 9, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: Extending the Season, Gardening, Techniques & Issues  2 Comments

Planting a Memorial Garden

suggestions for a memorial garden

We all face the loss of loved ones; by planting a memorial garden we can pay tribute to them.

Probably the most common thing to plant is a tree. Keep in mind its eventual height when planting, and be sure the location is the best for that type.

Here are some other ideas to make your memorial more specific to your loved one:

- What was their favorite color? In the picture above, we chose mostly blue flowers and a blue planter for my Mom’s garden area.

- Were they animal lovers? If so, you can plant catnip, for example, and make catnip pillows or toys to donate to a local animal shelter. Catnip is also a natural flea repellent, and dried can be dusted on pet beds.

- Were they very generous? Consider planting a row for the hungry, and donate to a local food bank or homeless shelter. You can also bring bags of produce to an elderly neighbor, whom I’m sure would appreciate the company as well as the tomatoes.

- Did they have a favorite thing to collect or a specific hobby? Also pictured above is an angel, that was one of the things my Mom collected. She also liked snowmen, so I am growing some Snow in Summer to add to the garden next year, along with a weather proof snowman. You can also find gnomes to represent almost every hobby as well as many sports teams. Weather vanes and garden flags offer many more possibilities.

suggestions for a memorial garden

- Use something from them. In this picture, the red bird chasing a butterfly was a gift from my Mom. Every time I see it, I smile. As a bonus, it is amongst a homemade mason bee house. You can also use something you inherited, or a gift you had given to your loved one. It has always been my belief that things carry a trace of the person they belonged to, the more they liked them and handled them, the bigger the trace.

So go ahead and plant a tribute to the person you cared so much for, and the love will live on in your garden as well as in your heart.

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a monthly cooperative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Please click on the link above for more posts, and find our others archived here.

June 4, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: You Can Grow That!  2 Comments

FAQ: When to Harvest Vegetables?

container grown watermelon

Not yet….

For new gardeners and also for anyone growing something new, when to harvest vegetables and other common edibles is a big question.

Too soon, and it may taste like grocery store produce.
Too late, and it might be tough, woody or full of seeds.

So as not to try to reinvent the wheel, please hop on over to our main site and this post from last fall on 28 of the most often planted veggies, and when to harvest them.

Of course, it’s not all inclusive. For example, asparagus isn’t listed. Find that here.

hone grown snow peas

but now!

Most of the veggie links to the right include info about harvesting them.
Even some of the more weird ones.

If there’s anything we missed, just comment below and we’ll be sure to get it on here for you.

Garden on!

June 2, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: FAQs, Techniques & Issues  2 Comments

Picture a Garden

If ever the gardens grew the way we picture them in our heads, they would be on the cover of a magazine.

But the reality is different. Weather is unpredictable, and let’s not even talk about weeds.

So how will this year’s gardens grow?

Decorating with planters.

Will the flowers started from seeds really fill in these planters with gorgeous color and an interesting display? We bought some just to hedge our bet.

growing pole beans

Will the randomly mixed pole beans and vining nasturtiums climb and produce the eye candy, as well as edibles, we are anticipating?

a garden in spring.

If all goes as planned, the chia, amaranth and quinoa will be 4-6 ft. tall with gorgeous colors. That’s a very tall if.

an edible garden

Will beginner’s luck help the artichokes and papalo? Will the transplanted prickly pear cactus take?

Oh, and we’ll talk about the volunteer cole crop at another time.

Growing edibles for their looks.

If the assorted sunflowers, okra and flax fill in the front porch beds and the popcorn grows as expected, there will be a wonderful display.

Our first attempt at this failed to take the chickens into account. Don’t ask.

a garden in spring

So, how will this all look in another 6 weeks? We’ll have to get back to you on that. We’d cross our fingers, but we have to pull weeds first. ;-)

May 31, 2015  Tags: , ,   Posted in: Gardening, Keeping up with the Joneses  2 Comments

Micro Family Gardens to Make Your Summer Extra Sweet

Guest post by Kaitlin Krull

Creating a family garden is a time consuming but rewarding project. Many people think that gardening has to take up lots of space as well as time, but if you plan well and get creative you can create a flourishing micro garden using very little space. Some families even choose to have their gardening space indoors. The choice is yours, so it’s time to get your hands dirty!

modernize.com
Via Modernize

Starting your micro garden
Begin your micro gardening journey by setting up a space, inside or out, devoted to your craft. If you’re outside, create a raised bed out of nine boxes, each 12 inches by 12 inches (this is known as traditional square-foot gardening; see more here). If you’re inside, find a corner of the kitchen or balcony, if you have one, that can function as a hub for your gardening projects. Windowsills work well, too! Choose some child-friendly tools that help little ones feel included in the process and give you peace of mind when it comes to optimizing both safety and fun.

Now you’re ready to begin planting. Start small: choose plants that will flourish in tight spaces and get to work sowing your first seeds. Involve the children by creating some recycled planters and pots, planting the seeds together, and caring for them as a family. They will appreciate the end product much more if they feel as if they’ve shared in the journey. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for your garden, check out The Micro Gardener and her wealth of resources about micro gardening, including the best seeds to plant, gardening with children, and everything in between.

DIY micro garden projects
Family friendly micro garden projects are simple, relatively quick, and give great results. Make your own self-watering planters out of recycled plastic bottles, or use milk and/or egg cartons and toilet paper rolls to create basic seed starters.

For slightly more advanced gardeners, try making your own pallet planter. Using the vertical garden techniques central to micro gardening, these sorts of projects save space and still achieve a great result. Use lots of fragrant flowers and throw in a few commonly used herbs to help with the family kitchen.

Once you’ve perfected the basic and intermediate family micro gardening projects, you can move on to more complex tasks. Why not make your own herb garden in your kitchen, or cultivate your outdoor micro garden with more complex varieties of plants?

Taking the next step
After your micro garden is set up and thriving, your work is never done. It requires constant care and attention in order to continue bearing fruit (literally and figuratively, of course!). Thankfully, with a family full of trained gardeners and no shortage of green thumbs, your green space is likely to be a long term success.

modernize
Via Modernize

For more design ideas and inspiration, head to Modernize.com.

May 30, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: Gardening People, Places & Things, Techniques & Issues  No Comments