How to Grow
8 March 2014, by gj
So you love the taste of lemon but think you can’t get it where you live?
Actually, you can. Here’s how:
1. Lemon Grass
Well known in Thai recipes, West Indian lemon grass grows wonderfully flavored bulbs. East Indian lemon grass also has the citrus flavor, but not as strong as the bulbs are smaller. This variety is better suited to teas.
West Indian is usually grown from plants, East Indian from seed. In some areas these plants can be invasive, so we recommend planting in containers.
2. Lemon Balm
An easy to grow herb in the mint family, lemon balm has a light lemony scent and flavor. It can be harvested and dried to add just a bit of lemon flavor to your recipes. There are a few varieties, but all can be as invasive as mints can be. Play it safe and grow in a container.
Lemon balm can also be grown indoors for fresh year round flavor.
3. Lemon Basil
An interesting combination of flavors that goes well in stir fry or pasta dishes, lemon basil has a delightful lemon flavor. Use it whenever you would combine these two flavors.
4. Lemon Drop Peppers
Like your lemon with a little heat added to it? Then try lemon drop hot peppers. Here you will find the heat is more intense than the citrus flavor, which makes them a fabulous addition to salsa and hot sauce recipes. They also add pretty yellow to your garden.
5. Lemon Verbena
One more citrus herb, lemon verbena has health benefits associated with like many other herbs do. The flavor of the plants leaves are strong enough to hold up to cooking even with fish, and are also used in many others ways from teas to spuddings.
6. Meyer Lemon Tree
A Facebook equaintance of mine mentioned once that he grows Meyer Lemons in his garden in upstate New York, bringing the tree indoors when the weather cools.
Of course we found this fascinating, and through some research found this is not uncommon at all. There are patio types as they are referred to, that are easy enough to grow indoors even year round.
The trees do not produce all the lemons at once, but most of the fruit will be ripe over the winter. There can also be a few stragglers afterwards. Lemons can then easily last a month if kept refrigerated in plastic bags.
At first I thought the idea of bringing a tree inside for the winter was a little extreme. Not so much now having done the same with an avocado tree.
I must admit, that having also seen you can do this with other fruit trees too, that it is beginning to look like there will be a small orchard in our living room.
And that’s okay by us.
Categories: How to Grow, Lemon & Lemon Flavors
25 February 2014, by gj
Just one of a few harvests from a well established plant.
Often thought of as a flower, Lavender is an herb that has many things going for it.
The first is obvious; the delicate leaves and beautiful flowers are reason enough to grow this plant in your garden.
Get closer and you will find another one; the wonderful scent of the flowers is soothing and relaxing. The flowers are often dried for use in soaps and to help as a sleep aid.
Sweet dreams are made of these.
In case that wasn’t enough, those flowers are also edible. If you have never had a Lemon-Lavender cookie, you don’t know what you are missing.
There are many varieties of lavender; the most common are English and Spanish. Of these there are also numerous cultivars, many suited well for container growing.
In general they are considered to be cold hardy perennials that can handle some drought as well.
Be sure to choose the right variety for your garden, as this lavender can grow anywhere from 1.5 ft. to well over 6 ft.
You can easily find lavender plants at your local nursery, though it has been our experience that they are not always labeled as to specific variety.
If you start from seeds, Renee’s Garden recommends you start them indoors as they are finicky and tender when young.
Once planted, lavender is a very useful herb that can add striking beauty to any garden.
Botanical Name: Lavandula stoechas
Common Name: Spanish Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 7
Height: 1.5-2.5 ft.
Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Common Name: English or Common Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 5
Height: 3-6.5 ft.
Categories: herbs, How to Grow
21 February 2014, by gj
Here they come.
Growing plants from seed is not a difficult thing to do. To start seeds indoors all you need are containers of your choice, some seed starting mix, a light source, warmth and water; and of course, seeds. Many seed packets will tell you when to start your seeds indoors or if your seeds can just be planted directly into the garden.
Here are a few reasons to consider seeds over purchased plants:
You get to choose that great tasting heirloom tomato over the typical plants you might find in a nursery. Over time, you will probably even choose a favorite to grow every year. When you grow from seed, you get to make the decision of which variety for every vegetable.
Do you really need a 4 or 6 cell pack of zucchini? If you asked my husband, he would tell you 2 zucchini plants are at least 1 too many. The same may be true for other vegetables as well. Instead of 6 Butternut squash, we would rather have 3 Butternut and 3 Spaghetti squash. By planting our own seeds, we get that control.
3. Pushing the season
If you use season extenders, such as the Wall o’ Water, low tunnels, a greenhouse, or the upcoming Jones’ Gardening System, you can plant your plants sooner than they may be available at the nursery. The garden system we designed allowed you to put your tomatoes in 4 weeks sooner than normal and you can be ready with plants you started from seed. In areas where the growing season is short, like here in Zone 5/6, this can make a big difference.
4. Saving money
Seeds can last for years, though over time you lose some viability. Still, one pack of seeds will produce a lot more plants per penny compared to buying them already started.
5. Saving bees
Did you know that some companies treat the seedlings’ soil with insecticides? Those big box stores don’t want that future sale to get bugs. Those chemicals are then transferred to your garden, where they can last for years. When you buy a nice organic seed starting mix, or even make your own, you know your plants won’t be hurting the environment let alone killing the very bugs they may need to produce food.
6. Geek joy
Have you ever thought it might be fun to develop your own unique veggie? You can try this by hand pollinating two similar veggies, such as 2 squashes. Save some of the seeds from the best specimens, and see what they produce the following year. Fun.
With a good assortment of seeds on hand and the knowledge of how to grow food, you are putting yourself and those you care about in a more prepared position should something happen to your ability to obtain food.
The ability to grow your own food gives you the freedom to be less dependent on others for what you need. When you learn to grow from seed, you are taking that to the next level.
The future really does wait quietly inside a seed.
Categories: all about seeds
9 February 2014, by gj
Lots of seeds to play with.
After recently purchasing a hybrid melon thinking it was an heirloom, we proceeded to go about saving the seeds anyway. You can read more about How to Save Seeds here.
One of our Facebook equaintances knowledgeably commented:
David L. Green: “Many of the commercial hybrids have parents that are highly inbred, which means that they can be very weak. When you plant them, some will revert back to the parent line, and will be similarly weak. Cull these out from seed saving. Some may breed true (or be apparently true), so you can save and replant these for a third generation. After several generations of careful selection and saving only the truest, you will have stabilized the variety, and can be utilized as an open pollinated variety henceforth. For the average gardener, this is a lot of work, and takes a lot of knowledge, so it’s not recommended for beginners. It is a valid and useful technique for serious gardeners.”
Sounds like fun to me!
So, here’s what you need to know to develop your own open-pollinated veggie:
1. After saving your seeds, test for germination rate to see how well they will sprout. Do this by placing 10 seeds in between paper towels and keeping them moist and warm. Give them sufficient time to sprout, depending on what type of seed you have. Melons can take 3 weeks, so that’s how long we will wait.
2. If you get 8-9 from 10, that’s a great rate. Pack those seeds and you will be ready to plant when it is time. If you get only 5, plan on planting at least twice what you need. If you get 3 or less, germinate about 10 seeds for every one you wish to plant before planting time. When you do this depends on how long it took your first batch to germinate; in our case, 3 weeks.
3. When your plants grow, note which ones are the most vigorous. These are the ones you will want to save seed from. Also note any differences in plant health and taste of the fruit. Save the ones you think are the best.
4. Repeat the germination test with the second year’s seeds. Do this for a few seasons and as David said, you can then consider your seeds to be an open pollinated variety.
There’s one so far.
5. Be careful of cross pollination. Bees can carry the pollen from one veggie to another of similar type, melon to melon for example. This is how nature creates a hybrid, and your seeds are what is affected. You may want to limit what you plant. Note that a watermelon will not cross with a melon, so we’re safe there.
Is this fun or what? We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the melon to see what happens.
If you are you a gardening geek, why not give it a try?
More on the difference between hybrid and open pollinated.
Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow
8 February 2014, by gj
Just in case you are one of the many gardeners understandably confused about the difference between a hybrid seed and a GMO seed, here is the difference:
A hybrid seed is one taken from a plant that was crossed with another similar plant. Bees can cross pollinate one tomato with another as well as many other veggies naturally. You could do it yourself as well.
A GMO is a cross between a plant and something else, like a tomato and a fish or corn and e-coli. This must be done in a laboratory by genetic engineers.
That being said…
Mandolin and I were in our go-to store for organics recently, when I heard a woman there showing and giving samples of Honeymoon melon.
“Yes!” I thought, “I have heard of that heirloom melon and now is my chance to score some seeds!”
So home one came and it was wonderfully delicious and abundant with seeds.
Remove the floaters.
Happily I shared it with my Facebook group Gardenaholics Anonymous. They are wonderfully knowledgeable and always willing to help.
I learned from Pat Q. that this is not the right season for heirlooms, and upon doing a little more research discovered that the name in this case is actually a trademarked logo and not the heirloom I thought it was.
Now some gardeners will tell you that you cannot save hybrid seeds, but you will never hear that from us.
The only thing is that the veggies you get will differ somehow from the parent. They can very well differ in a way you won’t even notice.
Let the seeds dry.
It can be fun to see what they produce. So I rinsed the seeds, removed the ones that floated, let dry and packaged most but also tested a few for germination.
Produce stickers make great packet labels.
We’ll see what happens this summer. It will be fun and who knows, it could be the best melons ever.
Here’s how to save seeds using fermentation, which removes more of the fruit’s flesh from the seeds.
Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow
1 February 2014, by gj
Potatoes often seem to get overlooked when people plant their vegetable gardens.
A friend of mine commented “Why bother growing potatoes? They are pretty cheap to buy and there can’t be that much difference in taste. Really, a potato is just a potato.”
There were a few things my friend didn’t know:
1. Potatoes have been found to have the most chemical pesticide and herbicide residue on them of any grocery store vegetable or fruit. The pesticides keep the bad bugs, particularly the Colorado potato beetle, aphids and grubs, at bay.
When the spuds are ready to be harvested, they are also doused with herbicides to kill off the greens making the process easier.
Potato farmers have admitted to growing a different crop to feed their own families. That says a lot.
2. Commercially grown potatoes can easily be a year old before they get to the grocery store. That is the reason that, even with organic grocery store potatoes, they tend to last only a few weeks before sprouting. What you are eating is really a less than fresh veggie. When you grow your own and store them correctly, they can last for months and still be fresher than store bought.
3. Fresh homegrown potatoes taste remarkably better than store bought. Even though almost everyone knows how much better a homegrown tomato tastes, most gardeners are surprised at the difference in other vegetables, particularly in potatoes. There is nothing quite like ‘grabbling’ a new potato, really really new, and enjoying it soon after as part of a meal.
4. Potatoes are inexpensive to grow. In a pinch you can use your leftover ones from the previous year, and you can use store bought potatoes. It is better though to use potatoes grown for the purpose of replanting, known as seed potatoes. These are better at warding off disease than other potatoes. If you can find them at a local farm & garden store you won’t have to pay for shipping.
5. Growing taters is easy. Just plop them down on your garden soil about 8-12 inches apart. You can cut the larger ones, but you don’t need to. Cover with straw or other natural mulch. Once the stems get to be about 8 inches tall, add more straw. Keep going until you see flowers or until the plants are 3 or so feet high. When the tops die back, harvest.
6. The ROI, or Return on Investment, is pretty darn good. You can easily get 6 pounds of potatoes for every pound you plant. If they get hit with blight, your return will be less. We have heard of some much higher than 6:1 as well.
7. They are easy to store. Potatoes can be held fresh in a cool spot for months, canned, frozen whole or prepared, and dehydrated.
8. Variety. There are thousands of different kinds of potatoes. They range in color from the typical white or Irish potato, to yellow, red and even blue. They come in a range of shapes as well. Some potatoes are better for storing, while others grow faster or taste better. Check out some seed catalogs for more specifics.
9. And finally, potatoes are versatile. We read once that there are more ways to prepare a potato than any other veggie.
Think about it.
They can be baked, boiled, roasted, french fried, mashed, scalloped, stuffed and baked again, made into chips, baked au gratin, cut into curly fries, made into hash browns, pancaked, home fries…
Do you grow your own potatoes?
Categories: How to Grow, potatoes
24 January 2014, by gj
1. “The best way to plant peppers is too close together.” was a tip my father taught me. As long as they have enough air about them, planting them closer than normally recommended lets them help support each other. We plants ours 8-10″ apart for sweet bells, closer than the normally recommended 12-18″.
2. Contrary to what others may tell you, you can save the seeds from hybrid plants. What you get may be different than the parent plant, but in many cases it doesn’t matter. So go ahead and try a few tomato seeds from the one you got at the market. We got a delicious pink tomato that way one year.
3. The peak time to pick herbs is first thing in the morning. This is when they have the best flavor.
4. The best way to eat cherry tomatoes is straight from the garden while they are still warm. Yum! However, be careful eating any vegetable before washing it first, especially anything that developed on or close to the soil.
5. One of the best tips we’ve heard was about staking Tomatoes. Whereas wire can burn the stems, and twine can also cause damage, using pieces of old pantyhose is ideal. The hose ‘gives’ with the plant just enough, and heck the price is right! We have also tried it on pole beans and cucumbers and it worked well there too.
6. Ever hear of the Three Sisters of the Fields? They are corn, squash and beans growing together. The beans grow up the corn and the squash grows at the base of the corn, providing each other with necessary nutrients as well as discouraging little varmints (raccoons in particular) from nibblin’ the corn. Traditionally, dry beans, field or popcorn, and winter squash were planted together, as they are all harvested at the end of the season.
7. Basil plants do well when planted among tomatoes. They are slower to bolt because the tomatoes give them some shade, and the basil adds a nice flavor to the tomatoes.
8. Think twice before planting, or plant out of the way of the rest of your garden: Horseradish, Mints including oregano, sweet marjoram, balms; in many climates they can be very invasive. Likewise many other perennials.
9. Got Seeds? If you have them left over from last year you can still use them. Seeds do lose some of their potency over time, so the germination rate will drop a bit, but toss ‘em in anyway. You may be surprised at the results!
10. Compost: The ultimate recycling. Don’t throw any meat products into your compost, and Heaven forbid, don’t throw in any root ends of the perennials mentioned above.
11. It is nice throw a few earthworms into your compost heap every so often though. They love it and you will benefit.
12. A few flowers in the vegetable garden help attract bees which promote fertilization of your plants. Nasturtiums and sunflowers are especially good for attracting bees, plus they are edible.
13. If you wish to go the other way, and plant a few vegetables in the flower garden, we would recommend squashes and gourds. This family of vegetables gets beautiful flowers (mostly also edible) and are comparatively easy to grow. There are also some peas and beans that do well and are quite pretty when trellised, Purple Bean Hyacinth comes to mind, though I don’t think it is edible. Scarlet Runner Bean has pretty red flowers. Some gardeners plant okra as an ornamental, the flowers are just that gorgeous.
14. Don’t handle bean plants when they are wet, it can spread disease.
15. The well-rounded garden will want to sport at least a showing of herbs. Lavender and sage are easy to contain perennials and quite prolific. Dill plants are tall, with delicate looking leaves and a wonderful fragrance.
Do you have a good garden tip? We would love to hear it. Please share it in the comment section below and thanks!
Categories: gardening, How to Grow
20 January 2014, by gj
Did you know that corn is the only grain we eat like a vegetable, quinoa is a vegetable we eat like a grain, and amaranth is a vegetable we grow also as a grain and as an ornamental plant?
Confused? Don’t be.
See the red, yellow, purple, pink and blue?
Let’s start with corn, one of the foods that means Summer to a lot of people. Whether you boil it and slather it with butter, or marinate it in beer and throw it on the grill, corn is a vegetable we all enjoy.
Except it is really a grain, and if you want you can grow it that way too. Simply choose a variety that is recommended for grinding or is labeled as a ‘field’ or ‘dry’ corn. Grow as you would sweet corn, but allow the kernels to dry on the stalks.
We were very fortunate to be given some seeds for Glass Gem corn shown above from Sarah Henry, a wonderful Facebook equaintance. We intend to plant them, save many of the seeds, and try grinding our own cornmeal from others.
Mother Earth News has a great link to learn how to grind it at home.
Ready when the weather breaks.
Quinoa is a plant that is considered to be the ‘grain of choice’ these days. Vegetarians especially like it because it has the complex proteins previously thought to only be found in meat. It also makes a good substitute for rice or wheat in many recipes.
Quinoa is another tall plant, easily growing to 5-6 ft. We did purchase a new, shorter and faster to harvest variety from Bountiful Gardens called Apellwea.
Want to be a revolutionary and grow food in your front yard?
The variety Loves Lies Bleeding looked spectacular in the garden many years ago, but we had no idea you could thresh the seeds to use as a grain.
We were at Penn State University recently, and found it on the menu as a side dish. It was wonderful, and we knew at first taste it would be back in the garden again.
There are a number of colors of amaranth to choose from.
Like the other grains listed here, they also grow tall. Some varieties can get to be 8 ft. high.
Have you grown your own grains? Please share!
The story behind Glass Gem Seeds.
29 December 2013, by gj
A bit of store-bought organic ginger was planted last Feb 1st.
You can read how we did it here and follow the progress here.
This is the result:
Older roots to the left.
From this experiment we learned:
Ginger prefers to be neglected.
In the beginning, keep your ginger just moist, not wet. Other gardeners have told me their ginger pieces rotted, so watch out for that.
We found our larger piece did better, our smaller ones did rot also. So in this case, bigger is better.
We also saw the difference between what we grew and what we bought.
Fresh, young ginger roots have barely any peel on them at all. The ones from the store have a much heavier coat. Even with what we grew, you could see the difference as the larger and most likely older pieces had more of a peel on them.
Because the ginger you pick yourself is younger, it is less woody or fibrous. Just don’t let it grow too long and you are good.
We waited 11 months, which is a little more than what is recommended. Our ginger had to take moving to the outdoors in the spring, then back inside in the fall, so we cut it some slack.
Store bought vs. homegrown.
Of course the taste difference is undeniable, as is the case with almost anything you grow yourself. In order to get that nice pink color from pickled ginger, you need young roots, so unless you have access to an Asian market, growing it yourself is the only way to get that.
We’re trying another experiment, this one based on adding bone meal and blood meal to the soil, and occasionally watering with a little fish emulsion- to see if we can grow the 2014 ginger batch even better.
There will also be a comparison of store-bought to homegrown root starts, just to see if there is a difference and well honestly, because now we can.
Let the experiment begin.
Peel then thinly slice young ginger roots.
Salt and let stand for 20 minutes.
Rinse, drain, pat dry.
Dissolve 1/3 cup sugar in 1 cup rice wine vinegar by boiling.
Pour over ginger.
Better the longer it sits, at least 1 week suggested.
20 December 2013, by gj
NOTE: This was originally posted on 8/26/12. Many of you are new to the site since then, and now many are also preparing your seed packet orders for 2014; so we wanted to share this again.
Check out your packets. How many of these can you find?
A good seed packet should give you much of the info you need to know to grow that plant.
Unfortunately, they all don’t.
Here’s what to look for, and why:
1. Days to Germination: A pea can sprout in just a few days, broccoli raab can take as long as three weeks. Many a gardener, having assumed there was a problem, has replanted a row of a veggie that is slower to germinate only to find the first seeds planted start sprouting very soon after.
Been there, over-planted that.
2. Days to Maturity:This one is a little tricky. First, for plants that should be started indoors, not all seed packets will tell you that the Days to Maturity are from transplanting outside. Second, when is a plant mature? Is that when it begins to bear fruit or when it’s ready to harvest. Some seed packets specify Days to Harvest instead.
This is very important if you are timing your plants so they get some frost, if you have a short growing season, and if you are succession planting (planning on a second crop in the same place).
on the front or on the back
3. Packed For or Sell By Date: Seeds will loose their rate of germination and their viability over time. We always keep leftover seeds for the following season, and some for a few years. We also purchase ‘end of season’ seeds at a reduced rate. If you packet isn’t dated when you receive it, just make a note of it yourself. It’s easier than trying to remember.
4. How to Plant: Every seed packet we have ever seen has growing information, the only exception being the sale items mentioned above. You should find what depth to sow the seed, plant and row spacing, how much sun/shade is needed, etc. Some companies even give you little tips, such as soaking the seed prior to planting. Don’t you just love that stuff?
5. How to Harvest: Much less common, helpful hints on harvesting is wonderful info to find on a seed packet. Sure, everyone knows when a tomato is ripe, but how do you know when and how to pick an eggplant?
Well, okay, you can find out here; but it’s great when it’s right there on the seed packet.
6. How to Use: Less important but wonderful to find are suggestions for eating what you grow. Did you know you can throw lettuce thinnings in salads and eat the leaves of beets? Sometimes you’ll read that right on the seed packet.
7. Diseases and Pests to watch out for: You’ll be more likely to find this information in a seed catalog or on a website, but occasionally it will show up on a seed packet. It’s usually in the description of the vegetable, such as ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘late blight resistant’. Whatever battle you fight in your garden, it helps to be armed with the right seed.
8. Personality: Okay, so this one isn’t essential, but does serve a purpose. A description of the ‘personality’ of your veggie, such as tangy, sweet, versatile, attractive, as well as probably the most common- delicious- can help not only get you psyched to plant, but also make the experience more fun.
9. A Pic: Personally, we prefer a picture of the vegetable growing to a beautiful display of a great harvest in a lovely setting. The first time we saw a kohlrabi in its natural habitat we were quite surprised.
good to know
10. The Botanical Name: This one is becoming more rare over time. Having the botanical name of a veggie, even if you can’t use it in a conversation helps you to know which veggies you can and cannot rotate and which ones share disease and predators. It also can help you when you are trying to prevent cross-pollination for seed saving. All that in two italicized words? Really really.
11. Plant Specs: Is it a bush or a vine? How tall will it get, does it need a support? This information should be made available to you right on the packet. Did you know a watermelon vine can easily grow over 6 feet in any direction? Better to find out before the seed touches the soil.
Of course you can read all these things online and in seed catalogs. Johnny’s Seeds not only have great products and customer service, their catalog is like a how-to manual for growing.
Keep your own notes, ask questions, and even save the seed packets that have the best information.
After a while, it will all be in your head anyway.
Well, maybe not those italicized words.
Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow