How to Grow

How to Grow Bigger Onions

The leftovers.

The leftovers.

A Facebook friend in Gardenaholics Anonymous mentioned that Dixondale Farms in Texas grows great onion and leek plants, and in fact they also sell those same plants to the supplier I had been using.

Not only do they have a better selection, we saved $20 on 6 bunches; that is a big price difference.

The plants arrived healthy and the bunches were quite generous. Also in the box were some pretty interesting planting directions that can help grow bigger onions.

Two trenches.

Two trenches.

Basically, you dig a trench 4″ deep and wide, about 6″ away from where your onions will be planted. To this add 1/2 cup of a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous for every 10 ft. of row.
The middle number on a bag of soil amendment represents phosphorus, so we used this bone meal.

The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

Then you plant your onions 1″ deep and 4″ apart.
Water them in well.

Now I admit we are used to planting this close together, but never this shallow.
It actually felt a little uncomfortable, as if it would do them harm.
And we did cheat just a bit and made double rows, planting in a zig-zag fashion to give them those 4″ of growing space.

Ta da!

Ta da!

But we are basically going to go with what the experts suggest, and see if we get bigger bulbs than in previous years. They were quite adamant about the depth, as any deeper will “inhibit their ability to bulb.”
There is more information in the pamphlet as well, and we’ll look at those instructions as the season progresses.

We put in 100 Copra onions, as these are really wonderful for storing, lasting up to a year.
Fifty Red Zeppelin onions can be stored for 6-8 months, but will most likely be eaten before that.

Another 25 each of Walla Walla and Sterling, all together should keep us in onions for about a year.

In a few months we will start to see the results, and we’ll give you an update.
In the meantime, you can check out their site and even download their planting guides here.

Not only did we save quite a bit of money, there are plenty of onions leftover for my daughter and son-in-law to plant.

Apparently Sprout’s tastes lean towards garlic and onions, and we are more than happy to comply.


Categories: How to Grow, onions & leeks, saving money & time, The Experiments



The Easiest Way to Grow Potatoes

how to grow potatoes

Known as the Ruth Stout Method of growing potatoes, we tried this the last two years and it works great.

It is important to have a good loose soil. In Ruth’s case her soil had been tilled for a number of years in a row.

Simply lay the spuds on the soil, or like Ruth you can literally toss them on. Cover with hay or straw and you are done.

how to grow potatoes

As the plants get big, you can add more straw if you want, this will help keep the potatoes from being hit by the sun which is what makes them turn green.

We always choose potatoes that are a nice size with lots of eyes already sprouting.
This year we kept accurate records of how many pounds are planted, and we will let you know what our return is.

So that’s all there is to it folks.

You can watch Ruth do the same thing here. She plants at about 6-7 minutes in, but the whole video is worth watching.

Categories: potatoes, The Experiments



Curry – You Can Grow That!

Getting ready.

Getting ready.

It was about 3 years ago that I brought home a curry plant from the local nursery.
My husband giggled “You can’t grow curry.” he said, “Curry is a combination of herbs and spices.”

Of course it turned out he was right; after all, food is his field. Apparently what I had purchased was a delightfully smelling ornamental plant. Drat.

But telling me “You can’t” do anything only makes it a challenge, and I finally figured out that you really can grow curry.
Well, close enough.

It started out with me trying to grow as many of our own herbs and flavorings as possible.
Some, like mints, are simple. Others, like garlic, take a little more work. Still others, like ginger, take more know-how and time.

As the seasons came and went, there was less and less from the store on our herb shelves and more from the garden.

Still that curry thing bothered me.
Until recently that is, when I actually read the list of ingredients from the back of the bottle, given in order of amount:

Coriander- A No brainer. How often do gardeners complain their cilantro has bolted? Yep, those little seeds are coriander. We got this one!

Turmeric- Okay, it is getting a little harder. Turmeric is a root that takes almost as long to grow as ginger, specifically about 8 months. It is a perennial in zones 9-11, but like ginger it can be grown indoors in colder zones like we have. You can sometimes find it fresh at Asian or India food supply stores and in some markets. I couldn’t find it locally, but was able to order some from The price wasn’t too bad, and you can replant some of what you harvest so it is a one time purchase.

Mustard- It doesn’t say on the bottle of store bought curry, but most often it is the mustard seed that is used as a spice. All we need to do is let it bolt and harvest the seed. Now we’re talking!!

Cumin- This relative of parsley is a new herb for our garden this year. It is often confused with the biennial caraway, but cumin is actually an annual plant. It can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked, so here it will be going in the ground this weekend. What you harvest are also the seed heads. We will be posting more on all of these as the season progresses, hopefully with lots of pictures!

Fenugreek- Another new one for us. This should be a fun season! Also easy to grow, prep your seeds first by soaking (we recommend Moo Poo Tea, link above right) or scarify. Soaking is much easier. Fenugreek will be great because both the leaves and seeds are edible.

Paprika- Another easy one. Paprika is simply a dried and powdered pepper from the group Capsicum annuum. These can range from sweet to rather hot. I’ll let him decide which ones he want to use, as we are growing quite a variety of peppers this year.

Cayenne- This seemed a little redundant to me, but I guess they are looking for a cayenne specifically. Yeah, we have that covered as well.

Cardamon- This very expensive herb actually can be grown at home. I have read that you can plant the brown type found in the grocery store, but I don’t know if that is true. Instead I found seeds online; after all, I’ve gone this far I can almost taste victory! It looks like another plant that may need some special attention, but that’s okay by me.

Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves- What? No! All 3 of these, the least of the ingredients, are derived from trees; and ones that I highly doubt grow in our area. When I looked up a substitute for nutmeg, it said cinnamon. When I did a search on a substitute for cinnamon, I found cloves.
It began to look like I really couldn’t grow curry after all.

Until my husband read this post on varieties of basil.
“There’s a Cinnamon Basil?” he asked. “You should grow that!”

“Why would you want cinnamon basil? I responded, “That sounds like an odd combination to me.”

“No, they are great together. When I use curry powder, I always add some basil. I love the way they taste together.”

So there you have it my friends, never say “You can’t grow that” to a gardener.
Unless, of course, you want them to prove you wrong.

We will post updates on the plants throughout the season. When we make the curry powder, we will add that recipe to our recently revived foodie blog page here.
Of course, we will also add some recipes that feature curry.
We’re betting this will taste much better than the store bought stuff.

you can grow that

is a collaborative effort on the part of a number of gardeners around the world. Each month they write a post specifically to help and encourage everyone to grow something. Find more posts by clicking on the logo above.

Categories: herbs, preparedness, saving money & time, you can grow that



5 Things Nobody’s Telling You About Heirloom Seeds

What will their grandchildren be?

What will their grandchildren be?

There is a lot of confusion right now about seeds, and understandably so.

First, know you cannot buy a GE seed, what is commonly referred to as GMO, unless you are a farmer and sign a contract with Monsanto.

Second, a hybrid is not a genetically engineered seed. Hybrids can be crossed simply when a bee flies from one plant to another, from one type of melon to another for example.
This won’t affect your veggies, only the seeds.

So why are so many people vehemently anti-hybrid and pro-heirloom?

Well, for one thing, that sells seeds.
IMHO companies that sell primarily heirloom seeds are capitalizing on the confusion.

So let us set the record straight.

With some exceptions:

1. Heirlooms are more subject to disease.

Often a commercial hybrid seed grower (remember, not GE) will cross plants specifically to develop new ones that are more disease resistant. If your garden is particularly prone to certain diseases, a hybrid may be the better choice for you.

2. Heirlooms tend to suffer more from bug damage.

Similarly, commercial hybrid seed producers try to find varieties of veggies that are less prone to bad bugs, and develop this positive characteristic.

3. Heirloom plants tend to be less tolerant of temperature and weather extremes.

Again there are exceptions, but varieties bred for heat resistance for example, may do better in your yard than mine. As for early production, the hybrid Early Girl and the heirloom Oregon Spring both have done well in our gardens. I admit I preferred the taste of the heirloom, but I got a better production from the hybrid. Every gardener should decide for themselves.

4. Heirloom plants tend to produce less.

Because of the reasons already mentioned, and also since many hybrids are bred to be more productive, this circumstance tends to be true. We planted a hybrid Cashflow Zucchini and have never before seen such production. On the other hand, the heirloom Costata Romanesco, although producing significantly less, tasted far superior.

5. You can save Heirloom seeds, but not Hybrid seeds.

Yes and no on this one. Commercial hybrids do tend to be sterile for the most part, and if you do get a fertile seed, it will revert back to one of its ancestors. We will be looking into that more specifically this coming growing season.
As for saving heirloom seeds, you can’t just grab an eggplant or a pepper and keep the seeds with full expectation your next year’s plant will be the same heirloom.

Why? you may wonder.

Because, unless you know what you are doing, you may very well have produced a hybrid seed in your own garden. Through cross-pollination, whether by bugs or wind, your heirlooms might just have become fruit containing hybrid seeds.
In fact, in most cases they probably are.

Of course this is less likely to happen with beans and peas, and tomatoes will cross but not as easily as pretty much everything else. Corn? Forget about it! So you see, you need to know how & if they cross, and how to prevent it if you want to save heirloom seeds.

So you make the call on what is best for your garden.
They are not GE (GMO) seeds, so forget that for now.

If you want to save seeds, learn how. We will be showing that too, in great detail, this summer.
If you do not care to save seeds, then choose the veggie varieties that grow best in your area.

And most of all, don’t stress it.
Above everything else, gardening should be fun!

Categories: all about seeds



How to Grow – Catnip

Ready to harvest anytime.

Ready to harvest anytime.

An easy to grow from seed member of the mint family, catnip does well in pots and prefers sun. It is perennial in Zones 3-9, making it a wonderful plant for many areas. Plant in the spring when the ground has warmed, covering the seeds lightly. Keep moist until they germinate.

Like other mints, it can be invasive; which is why we contain it here in Zone 5/6. It produces attractive grayish green leaves, and if left to bloom, pretty little white flowers. If untrimmed, catnip can grow to 4 ft. high.

Similar to its relatives, it can be distinguished by its squarish stems.

Everyone know cats are attracted to this plant, but you may be surprised to know how much. The first year we planted it, the cat knocked the planter right off the deck.

We then put it inside the garden fence, but not far enough as the cat tended to lie just outside the fence wanting to get in. Poor kitty.
So we moved it to the middle of the garden where she was not as attracted to the plant anymore.

One thing you may not know, is catnip isn’t just for kitty toys.
It actually is quite safe to consume by humans, and is lovely in a quiet cup of tea, perhaps with a little chamomile. Catnip has a similar calming effect, so consider subbing it for your regular mint. You just may be surprised.

Botanical name: Nepeta cataria
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 3-9.
Yield: Cut the leaves and come back for more.
Height: Up to 48″.
Storage: Use fresh or dried. Hang leafy stems upside down in a brown paper bag until dry. Remove leaves and store in an airtight food grade container.
Away from the cat.

Categories: herbs, How to Grow



How to Grow – Grapes

So pretty at the garden gate.

So pretty at the garden gate.

Grapes are relatively easy to grow, though they do take up quite a bit of room. It is best to let them vine up an arbor or fence, and they do look lovely this way as well.

Two year old Reliance grape plants.

Two year old cold hardy grape plants.

Choose a variety that will do well in your area, and that you like the taste of. Reliance, pictured here, does well even in cold regions like we have here in the northeast. We also have concord grapes planted and they have been growing well for about 10 years now.

Grape cells.

Grape cells.

You’ll notice your vines have little cells on their skin, this is completely normal.

When the weather has warmed dig a hole slightly deeper than the plant’s container and wide enough to spread the roots. We fill the hole with water until it stops draining.

Spread the roots out and refill the hole with soil. Grapes aren’t terribly picky about soil type, but they do enjoy lots of sun. Pat the soil down and you’re good to go.

Bringing in some of the grapes.

The grape harvest is suffering.

You can just stop here, and harvest what you get each year. That is what we did, until we noticed the berries were getting smaller. A little research was done, and we learned that if you want to get more fruit, and larger berries, a little pruning goes a long way.

How you prune depends on how old your vine is, at least for the first few years. It also varies some depending on how much room you have to grow; you’ll have more if you are growing up an arbor, less on a fence, and even less on a stake.

Come spring, we will make a video showing what we are doing. For now, this article describes the correct way to train and prune a grape vine.

There are two things we learned the hard way:
1. Deer love tender grapevines.
2. Grape vines can be hard to get rid of, choose the spot wisely.

Categories: grapes, Uncategorized


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6 Ways to Get Your Lemon On in Cooler Regions

lemon grass in the home garden

Lemon Grass

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.

lemon balm

Lemon Balm

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



How to Grow – Lavender

lavender flowers

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.

Here’s more:

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



8 Reasons to Plant from Seed

Here they come.

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:

1. Variety
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.

2. Amount
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.

7. Security
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.

8. Self-sufficiency
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



How to Turn a Hybrid into an Open Pollinated Type

Lots of seeds to play with.

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.

Patiently waiting.

Patiently waiting.

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.

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


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