12 April 2014, by gj
The expression ‘Kill them with kindness’ isn’t meant to be taken literally, but when it comes to your veggie plants, it just may be.
Sometimes it is better to do what may seem harmful, for the sake of the plant.
Here’s what and why:
One less strawberry bud here.
1. Pinch off their faces.
Before you transplant edibles such as strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, it is better for the plant to pinch off any buds that already exist.
Hard to make yourself do? I hear ya.
It is worth it though because it helps the plants put their energy into establishing better root systems that will in the long run provide you with a healthier and more productive plant.
Similar but a little different is the technique of pinching back plants like basil. By removing the top budding leaves, it encourages the plant to produce more branches and a fuller, bushier plant grows. It also helps hold off bolting, giving you a fresh supply over a longer period.
This technique is much easier on you emotionally.
2. Drown them.
Over-watering plants really is killing them with kindness, and possibly has caused more plant fatalities than any other habit.
So why do we say ‘drown them’?
Because it is better for a plant to give them less frequent, but more intense, waterings. Not all plants of course, there are some like wasabi that like to be kept moist all the time.
But for most veggies it is better to let them get a wee bit dry than for them to have moisture all the time.
Give them a good soaking.
If they are in containers, give them another good soaking.
Then walk away, leave them alone, until they need you.
Long awaited for parsnips fresh pulled in April.
3. Freeze their butts off.
Some plants not only prefer the colder weather, they require it. If peas aren’t planted early enough, as soon as the ground thaws and can be worked, they will not have enough time to produce a good crop. Other crops don’t like the heat as well, greens in particular.
Letting some of your veggies, like parsnips, get hit with a little frost actually is said to improve their flavor.
Whether that is the case with over-wintering parsnips or not I can not prove, but I do know that pulling them out of the garden when nothing else is producing in early spring, is priceless.
4. Decide who lives and who dies.
Thinning plants stinks, but you are sacrificing one seedling to save another. If the plants don’t have enough room to grow, or are fighting over the same nutrients, they will both suffer.
Making seed tapes or buying them is one easy option. This is especially helpful for tiny seeds like carrots.
5. Pack ‘em in.
Just the opposite, if you look into square foot gardening or intensive gardening, you will find that you can plant seeds or transplants closer than is usually recommended.
With both these methods it is important to be sure the plants have sufficient nutrients and room to grow, but they will allow you to get more veggies in a smaller space.
Raising veggies sometimes requires you to make tough decisions, but we bet you’re ready for the challenge.
Categories: common misconceptions, gardening, techniques
28 March 2014, by gj
If you have been reading here a while, and certainly if you have been growing an edible garden for a few years, you know there are numerous good reasons for people to grow their own food:
1. It tastes better. All of it. Every last veggie tastes better than store bought.
2. You save money. Okay, maybe not at first, but in the long run. Not to mention less Doctor bills, because-
3. It is healthier for you. Fresh produce is higher in nutrients than even organic produce that is older.
4. You are less dependent on others for your food.
5. It is great exercise both physically and mentally.
6. Economic uncertainty.
Now you might be thinking, ‘But GJ, you said ONE reason!’
Of course you are right, and here it is:
Unless you are totally self-sufficient, you are buying something that was grown in California. Maybe it’s nuts, or produce, or an ingredient in something else; but the truth is the vast majority of the food we eat in the US is associated with California farms.
And they are having a horrible year. The extreme drought continues, and here in the northeast we are already seeing the effects.
The price of almonds has skyrocketed, for example; and that is just the beginning.
It gets worse. Even if the drought suddenly lifted, much of this season’s crops are already affected. Not just this season’s either; because so many items end up as ingredients, the prices of other food items will continue to go up even if the drought subsides.
Think about it.
What would you do if suddenly the cost of food tripled?
What if some items you normally enjoy were no longer available?
Now we’re not trying to predict what will happen nor frighten anyone.
For the cost of a few packets of seeds and either some containers or a little part of your yard, you could begin to lay the groundwork, so to speak, for a more secure future food-wise.
Isn’t that one reason alone way more than enough?
Categories: gardening, saving money & time, special posts
21 March 2014, by gj
Guest Post by George Brooks Jr.
Contrary to popular hype, we need to broaden our view of pollinators. We are putting almost all our efforts into the Imported European Honeybee demise and not enough emphasis on our native bees. There are upwards of 100 native species of bees. Anyone who has ever been on my Micro Farm comments on how many bees I have, and I do not have any hives.
There is much talk about all the things that are killing bees and how we need to eliminate them. Can’t remember seeing much on how most people in our suburbs are helping to cause the decline of pollinators as much or more than any other factor (my opinion). We have conditioned ourselves to expect our yards to look like a manicured Golf Course. Unfortunately this landscape isn’t capable of supporting much of any life form, it is sterile. Millions upon millions of acres have been turned into these neatly manicured dead zones. The loss of rural areas around population centers has helped accelerate this transition to a monoculture that doesn’t support plant diversity needed to support a healthy pollinator population.
It also causes the decline of many other life forms like birds etc. Our land is full of life, birds, snakes and thousands of pollinators including honeybees. This is with an orchard and large garden on the property. I’m about 75% organic and increasing their use whenever I can. I still use some non organic pesticides and fungicides following Integrated Pest Management & Disease Risk Management practices. These practices help me maintain a healthy environment for life.
But without wild spots in your yard there would be no place for life to exist. If everyone set aside at least one small back corner of their property and let it grow native plants, it would make a difference. I wish everyone could see how alive our land is, there is always something in bloom to support life. Think about it.
Also, will banning the most toxic pesticide group help honeybees? Probably. An even bigger issue is the lack of information and knowledge of the average person. The truth is most anything will kill a bee, synthetic, organic or otherwise can be toxic. The real problem is people do not read the labels other than how much to use. Most every product that is toxic to bees has specific instructions on how to use the product without harming them. Will it prevent all issues? Maybe not but far better than what we are doing now. Education is paramount.
For many years we have practiced the following to promote beneficial wildlife & insects. This is done by providing areas that have a combination of cultivated and native plants. Traditional sterile landscaping provides a monoculture that insect pests thrive in because of the lack of food and cover for wildlife and beneficial insect populations. This creates a higher need for chemical controls.
The practice of Wild Spots is now being promoted on garden shows and in horticulture literature. You can learn more about this practice by doing a web search on “Insectary Gardening for beneficial insects”.
Black Eyed Susan
A few examples of Insectary gardening on our property:
1. Hay Rake Wild Spot:
A combination of cultivated and wild plants.
Cultivated Bi-color Black Eyed Susan’s, Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Multi Head Black Eyed Susan, Morning Glory, Arrowhead Aster, Porcelain Berry Vine. All promote pollinators and predatory insects like wasps. The Berry Vine also provides migrating birds with one of the last fruits of the season.
2. Garden Hillside Wild Spot
Primarily Jewelweed and Multi-Flora Rose, which provides a nesting area for Catbirds. This also makes a great feeding area for House Wrens, Hummingbirds and beneficial insects including pollinators.
3. Well & Sickle Bar Mower Wild Spot
Primarily Spearmint and Goldenrod. Spearmint is by far the most popular plant for nectar and pollen eating beneficial insects.
Throughout the property we promote Arrowhead Aster, the last major supply of pollen and nectar at the end of the growing season for pollinators and beneficial insects.
Reprinted with permission from:
George Brooks Jr.
Green Hollow Orchard a Micro-Farm in North Tewksbury, MA USA.
All photos also by George Brooks Jr.
Categories: gardening, techniques
7 February 2014, by gj
Here comes the rhubarb.
Although many herbs and fruits will bear for many years, most gardeners grow vegetables as annuals. There are some exceptions that can, depending on your climate of course, be harvested for years to come.
Perennials are different than self-seeding annuals, but for the topic at hand we are grouping them together.
Here in Zone 5/6 we can count on:
1. Lovage is technically considered an herb, but we list it here because it is used as a vegetable. The leaves particularly and the stems as well can be used in place of celery. Be sure you have enough room before you plant it, as lovage can easily grow 3 ft. wide and over 6 ft. tall.
2. Good King Henry is a new plant for our garden this year. It is reputed to taste much like asparagus, but with a longer harvest period. Eat the leaves raw or steamed. Give it a space of its own, as it will reseed with abandon.
3. Horseradish can easily be grown from a root purchased at your local market. It can be quite invasive, so we recommend planting it in a pot that sits on top of a rock slate, as the tiny roots will do their best to get out. Be forewarned, fresh horseradish packs an amazing punch.
4. Jerusalem Artichokes aka Sunchokes are as delightful to see grow as they are to eat. A relative of sunflowers, their blooms are similar but smaller. Even better, they smell like chocolate. Harvest the roots after the flowers fall over. Enjoy like a water chestnut or as a potato substitute.
Mmm… smells like chocolate.
5. Radicchio aka Italian Dandelion is a relative of what many consider to be an invasive weed. “You’re planting what?” was my husband Mandolin Jones’ reaction when I mentioned ‘dandelion’ but he was okay with ‘radicchio’. According to Art, the master gardener from Baker Creek, we should get 2 years of harvest here in Zone 5/6. So we intend to replant again in year two and see what happens. Some perennials last longer than others.
6. Rhubarb is one of the first veggies to pop through the soil in spring. It will last basically forever, as long as it is cared for. When you see it is looking overcrowded, dig some of the roots up and share. We found out the hard way that the best thing to do with dug roots is to pot them up for a year before transplanting. Live, garden, and learn.
7. Asparagus is probably the best known perennial vegetable. Harvest lightly after the first year, a little more the second, then have at it afterwards. We have heard of asparagus beds still thriving after 20 years.
8. Walking Onions aka Perennial Onions have a few other common names as well. They reproduce themselves by ‘walking’, that is, bending a stem over and dropping little bulbules or topsets on the soil. Use like scallions.
9. New Zealand Spinach is not actually a spinach, but a wonderful self reseeding substitute. Be sure to plant it in a relatively weed free area and let it have fun.
10. Garlic is one plant we never thought of as a perennial. A coworker discovered this by accident, after neglecting her garden one year. Her garlic also produced little topsets and replanted itself. It has been 3 years now and she continues to get garlic without ever planting more. Not just greens, but normal sized cloves. You know we will be trying this!
Walking onion preparing to replant itself.
NOTE: Before planting any perennials, be sure they will grow in your area and not be invasive.
Specific growing information on many of these edibles can be found on the list to the right.
Categories: gardening, perennials
26 January 2014, by gj
This is the final post in this series, as we come to the present.
It was in 2010 that we made the garden smile, with a simple truckload of mushroom soil. If ever we are asked to recommend one soil amendment, that would be it.
Every single part of the garden thrived and the larder was overflowing with filled canning jars. It was only recently that the last jar was opened.
2011, from memory.
Likewise the abundance continued into the following year. We were starting to see more of a problem with critters, though; attracted by all the food I guess.
This was part of the inspiration, along with the difficulties we know more urban gardeners face, that led to a design for a garden system.
The following winter was extremely mild with an early spring, and the squirrels in particular were everywhere. Mandolin Jones started referring to the garden as the ‘Squirrel Buffet‘.
Yeah, it was that bad.
As if that was not enough the weeds were also quite prolific.
This must be what it is like to live in a warmer region.
The first year.
We were armed though. With the garden design built, we were able to protect most of what we grew.
In the roadside garden 1 of every 5 tomatoes was being bitten by squirrels, in spite of the deterrents we used.
In the new system all were safe.
In 2013 the squirrels were not as bad but the weeds were worse in the roadside garden. The entire front row was covered in a think layer of newspaper and landscaping fabric, and filled with pots of herbs.
That worked very well to keep the weeds out, and container plants are easier to take care of when they are grouped together.
More perennials were added that year, including a number of fruit trees and berry canes. We got our first serious harvest of cranberries too.
The Jones’ Garden System
Most of the experimentation took place closer to the house.
With the garden design, now being referred to as the Jones’ Garden System, we were able to extend our harvest by 3 weeks on each end of the season.
It sported the first ripe tomato in the area, and didn’t lose a single one to critters. The beans were also producing sooner, and continued to be harvested longer into the fall.
The vertical aspect also did quite well, and was so much fun having squash and melons growing up and out the top. It was so neat to see the fruit hanging down and growing completely free of pests.
There were hardly any weeds to pull either.
It was so much easier in fact that we are now in the process of turning the roadside garden over primarily to perennials. We will still need to protect them from critters of course, but it won’t be as much of an issue.
I’m thinkin’ we’re going to have extra time on our hands; time well spent canning.
Categories: Addiction, gardening, Keeping up with the Joneses
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
17 January 2014, by gj
It is wonderful every year to get things just a little more organized and free up some wasted time that is better spent gardening.
Here are a few ideas we have found to help:
The garden notebook keeps growing.
- A garden notebook can keep a lot of the information from previous years as well as what is collected throughout the year for the upcoming season. Include a flash-drive for what you find online.
- Likewise a clipboard can not only keep you planting maps handy, it is an easy way to hold seed packets that are slated to go out to the garden for planting. Just use the clip to keep them safe from spilling or blowing away.
- A potting table allows for an area to organize your supply of soils, amendments and fertilizers.
Right at our fingertips.
- We use a free seed rack from the local farm & garden store to keep seeds organized. This year the stash has been reduced from 3 racks to one, to further simplify garden planning and seed ordering.
Oh… there you are!
One thing that eludes us is keeping track of tools.
It is as if the small ones intentionally hide, and the larger ones are like chameleons blending into their surroundings.
- Here is a solution we are going to use this upcoming spring: Use duct tape, now also called ‘duck’ tape or paint to brightly color the handles on your tools, making them easier to find. We have in the past used the wonderful idea of adding an old mailbox to your garden area to hold tools.
We did learn to be careful it is mounted level or pointing towards the ground, otherwise rain water can get in.
Some lessons are always learned the hard way.
What tips do you have for staying organized?
Categories: gardening, jonesen', saving money & time, techniques
12 January 2014, by gj
In 2005 we started naming names; that is, we really concentrated on trying different varieties of the same veggie. The idea was to see if we had a preference, and in most cases we really didn’t.
We do prefer white eggplant to the traditional dark purple, but only for the uniformity of the slices.
It was also the year we first planted Amaranth, but we did not know it was edible.
That would be a few years yet.
We learned the hard way that hot peppers and sweet peppers can cross pollinate in 2006. Of course this only affects the seeds, but hot peppers seeds have heat. A few of the sweet peppers picked up some of that heat, and it made eating them real interesting.
We also added a cherry tree that year, but that would not last long.
A birdhouse gourd grew up from the compost, and as it vined it’s way up a nearby pine, it grabbed the little cherry tree and pulled it right out of the ground.
Unfortunately it was too late by the time we noticed.
Another expansion took place in 2007.
It had been 3 growing seasons since we tried to limit the garden until we finally gave in.
Actually, we did better than expected.
That year we learned you can grow strawberries underneath dwarf peach trees if you keep the fruit trees pruned to give the berries enough sun.
We also learned that year how easily corn will cross pollinate, even if they are not down wind from each other.
An experimental ‘Compost Garden’ was planted in 2008. The idea was to see how many volunteers we could get if we didn’t put a single seed in the ground, and only used our own compost.
It certainly did show how easy growing food can be.
We didn’t get nearly as much of a harvest, a few potatoes made it and late in the season we had a nice supple of green tomatoes. None of the squash produced more than 1 or 2 fruit, mainly because they came up later than what we planted elsewhere by seed.
But experimenting is fun, so it was all good.
Finally in 2009 we expanded just a wee bit more. We added some kiwi vines, which always looked wonderful but never produced. We also got smart with the potted herbs, and put them all together in a shadier area, which also made keeping them watered easier.
Our experiment that year was with dry beans. we purchased a bag of 15 assorted dry soup beans at the local market and planted them.
To play it safe, we planted them in amongst the corn. That way if any were pole types, we were covered.
It was a bit of a madhouse in that bed, but it worked well.
For the most part, that was the last time we bought dry bean seeds.
It was in the late fall of 2009 that this blog began.
Since then every year has been a combination of trying new veggies and cultivars, and more experiments.
A lot of that has been documented here, but there is one more thing that hasn’t.
Not to leave you hanging, but that will be the final post of this series.
Categories: Addiction, gardening
31 December 2013, by gj
We started out with about 8 resolutions for the upcoming garden season, and pared them down to three.
‘Be more organized’ and ‘keep better records’ have had enough time on the list already, either that will happen or it won’t.
‘Buy less seeds’- forgetaboutit.
Some other ridiculous expectations got scratched as well.
Let’s be serious.
After all, this is gardening- if it ain’t going to be fun, then it is a chore.
More of this.
So instead, and without further eloquence, we will:
1. Try not to expand, again.
They say when you are changing a behavior, you should never use the word ‘try’, it is weak and you should be more assertive.
Like we will not expand the garden.
But seriously, that is just dooming oneself to certain failure.
This year, though, we are looking at simplifying in certain ways; so rather than expand out like we have been, we are going to give in a bit and grow more vertically.
That will be a little easier physically, and involve less time as well.
More of these.
2. Garden with more perennials.
With some additional fruit trees, canes and brambles, we can assure ourselves and our family of a year’s supply of fruit; that is if we use more of the space in the roadside garden previously taken by annual edibles.
Last year we doubled our horseradish barrels, increased our rhubarb plants, and added an expanded area for walking onions.
We also added an additional sunchokes bed, somewhat by accident.
Hey, perhaps it was meant to be.
This year we want to incorporate some additional items, including Lovage, French Sorrel, Good King Henry- a plant related to spinach but eaten more like asparagus, Sea Kale and Ramps.
We are also looking into more pots of herbs.
The more the garden can grow itself, the better.
Yeah, let’s bring these back this year.
3. Add more flowers.
It was just a few years ago that most of our flower beds were lost during construction.
Now we have a wonderful front porch instead, but its time to take another look at building areas to feed the soul.
Years ago my Dad made a chart of what to plant, here in Zone 5/6, for a continual bloom spring to fall.
Surely that would work in many nearby zones as well.
That’s the kind of thing we post on the website, and we’ll get that up asap.
So that’s not too bad as far as resolutions go.
What are yours?
To all of you, here’s to a
Healthy- in both mind and body,
Wealthy- in love, happiness and a bountiful harvest,
and Wise- in mind and spirit, 2014!
~ the Jones
Categories: gardening, special posts
22 December 2013, by gj
It was four years after we moved to this house that the front, roadside garden really began.
This area is a knoll, mostly covered in weeds and gravel, that is at the center of the half-circle driveway.
Because it was already a bit higher level, it warms up faster. It also gets more sun, so was the perfect area to grow.
As big as it is, it did not take long for us to fill it with plants.
We used the fencing not only to keep the deer out, but to grow vertically as much as we could.
The back garden, compressed.
We still used the back garden, but over time the trees were growing tall and reducing the amount of sun this area received.
In 2002 we tried expanding sideways, along side the house and towards the front.
As much as I did not want to admit it, it was becoming too much garden for the amount of time we could put into it.
The back garden had one last hurrah in 2003.
The two older kids were not home as often at this point, so we didn’t need quite as much food.
We focused on variety rather than quantity that year, learning to grow more of what we prefer to eat.
The time was coming to stop expanding, and start gardening smarter.
And so it was in 2004 that we gave up the back garden.
We added a few dwarf fruit trees out front, some raspberry canes, and moved the strawberries to their new home.
The intention was to keep things simple from now on.
Guess how long that lasted.
Categories: Addiction, gardening