extending the season

How to Plan a Fall Garden

Fall peas

Peas Round #2

In the southern states a fall garden means starting tomatoes and such indoors, as the fall is the best growing time for them.

To our neighbors far north, planning for the fall would involve at least low tunnels and cold frames.

This post is for everyone in between.

Succession planting, or following one plant with another, is a great way to make the most of the space you have.

At this time of year, your peas have probably started to die off. You cold weather crops are either in or beginning to bolt. And anything over-wintered is likely going to seed.

This means some space will be available for crops that can take cooler temperatures.

Here in the zone 5/6 Jones’ garden we have already sown our second crop of peas. Early maturing garlic was followed by plantings of winter squash.

fall squash

Squash catching up.

In between the rows of onions, which are starting to show signs they are ready to harvest, we have direct sown seeds of cabbage for a fall crock of sauerkraut.

As the potatoes are harvested, turnips and rutabaga seeds will go in. Where the spinach bolted, more carrot seeds were planted.

These are all veggies that can take the cold; and that is the main piece of information you need to know about following one crop with another.

The other things are what ‘days to maturity‘ actually means, and when your first frost in the fall is expected.

That way you can better time what you are planting to mature in the fall or even into winter.

When we first started gardening we used to think we could only grow food from the end of May until the frost in the fall.

Now we know we can garden pretty much all year ’round.
Experience really is the best teacher.

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5 Plants You Can Easily Grow Indoors

Fresh salad all winter.

Fresh salad all winter.

You don’t need a hydroponic growing system to have fresh homegrown food even as the snow falls.

Some vegetables need less light than others, some do not need to be pollinated, and others don’t need the heat of summer.

1. Greens
Pretty versatile and undemanding, greens are easy to grow indoors and do not require much space or light. Since they are a ‘cut and come again’ crop, you can harvest what you need all winter long.

2. Herbs
A kitchen window sill is a common place to find a few herbs growing. Since many grow like weeds, they are tough enough to have indoors.
Basil may be a little finicky, but others herbs like parsley are easy to have fresh all winter. Note that although dill can grow indoors, it can get pretty tall. Be sure to keep it pinched back for a more compact, bushier plant.

3. Radishes

Add a few radishes.

Add a few radishes.

Talk about fast and easy and radishes come straight to mind. The more compact varieties need very little room, and can be ready to enjoy in just a few weeks.

4. Garlic

You can tuck a few garlic cloves in with your houseplants and use the tops for a fresh garlic taste throughout the off season. Keep them moist until they sprout, then just harvest the tops sparingly as they grow.

5. Peas

As another cool-weather crop, peas don’t need long warm days to grow. They pollinate themselves, so that is also not an issue.
Vining or pole type peas, as many varieties are, can be problematic indoors. Unless of course you have room for an 8 ft. tall plant.

Instead choose a bush variety, or as is the case with this cultivar from Agway, a pole type that only gets to be about 3 ft. high.

The final touch.

The final touch.

These are just a few of the plants that you can grow indoors because they do not need to be pollinated and require less light and heat.
Take a look at any seed catalog for more ideas, depending on how much room and time you have to dedicate to an indoor garden.

Now I must admit that other than the garlic greens, we have gotten away from growing indoors over the last few years.
Not for any particular reason.

After writing this post by request, our interest has been renewed.

So all we need to do is head out to the shed for a few planters and potting soil and we’ll be good to go.

After we put on our snow boots, that is.

snow 2013

Categories: extending the season, gardening, How to Grow

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Dear Journal – Fall in the Garden

It’s fall in the garden and the much anticipated growing season is coming to a close.
To be honest Dear Journal, I am somewhat glad.

We may still get a few red ones yet.

We may still get a few red ones yet.

As much as I love gardening and being outside in the warm weather, there are so many things that need to be done indoors.
It takes cold temperatures and even snow to make me slow down.

Carrots, beets and kohlrabi.

Carrots, beets and kohlrabi.

Every weekend now focuses more on canning and dehydrating, and our menu is dictated by what is still coming in fresh.

Parsnips and sweet potatoes.

Parsnips and sweet potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong Dear Journal, I’ve been looking forward to sweet roasted root veggies since this time last year. Mmmm!

And Mandolin is happy to have more choices for his stir frys. I swear he can eat them everyday.

Oriental cabbages, turnips and rutabagas.

Oriental cabbages, turnips and rutabagas.

I must admit I am a bit tired of beans, but that is my own fault for over planting.
Between what we have canned, pickled and dehydrated, we won’t need to grow many plants next summer. That’s for sure.

Pole beans still producing.

Pole beans still producing.

The cold holding closet is beginning to fill up as much as the pantry shelves, a good feeling to have when the snow arrives.

Dinner come January.

Dinner come January.

Winter storage crops.

Winter storage crops.

Even the zucchini experiment proved to be successful. These two plants are going strong long after their counterparts have slacked off.
Oh, the enthusiasm of youth.

The late planted zucchini.

The late planted zucchini.

But we have been fortunate to have a few warmer than average days, so today at least I will still be in the garden.

Time to start cleaning up.

Time to start cleaning up.

Oh and one other benefit of fall Dear Journal… we can enjoy all the squash flowers we want.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

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Planting a Fall Garden

Mid-summer planting of seeds and transplants to produce in the cooler months, also known as succession planting, is a great way to extend the harvest and get more from your garden space.

Carrots with beets and kohlrabi.

Carrots with beets and kohlrabi.

Most gardeners will tell you to not follow one crop with one from the same family.
I say Hogwash.
Partly because I like to say Hogwash but mostly because it’s true.

Where the taters were.

Where the taters were, now fall leaf cabbages and rutabagas.

If you have unlimited garden space, go ahead and rotate what you plant.
If you don’t, there’s just a few things you need to know.

The reasons gardeners recommend rotation in planting are:
1. diseases
2. pests
3. nutrient loss to the soil

If the plants you pulled out were healthy, and you did not have a problem with pests, crop rotation isn’t needed.
Likewise, if you replenish the soil with fertilizer and a good compost, it will be a perfectly healthy environment to replant in.

The Kale bed.

The Kale bed.

Three simple words sum it up:
Remove – Replenish – Replant

You do need to learn what can be planted in the garden mid-summer. Here’s a good guide to help.

Peas replace peas mid-summer.

Peas replace peas mid-summer.

So we have peas coming up where the peas were before, and kale where there were other cole crops. No harm done.
The other crops were chosen based on what can be planted this time of year, and where there was room.

If we had to depend on crop rotation, a fall garden would be much more difficult than it needs to be.

Categories: extending the season, gardening, How to Grow, techniques

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I Pollinated a Squash, and I Liked It

Two is good, for now.

The first are always the best.

Mandolin Jones jokes that two zucchini plants are “at least one too many.”
It’s true, there have been years where we have been inundated with zucchini. This year probably won’t be any different.

I tried to restrain myself, really.
So we only have three plants of Cashflow Zucchini in the garden, and three more of an heirloom type called Tatume.

What’s interesting about squash is that they usually produce male flowers for a while before they start producing females.
What’s odd is that the Cashflow did the opposite.

And since I want to save the heirloom seeds, the two types are nowhere near each other.

So when there were male blossoms on the Tatume and no females, and females on the Cashflow but no males, what needed to be done was obvious.

Now you see, we are trying to avoid GMO foods, and since much of the store zucchini is just that, we don’t buy it.
From fall until the garden produces, we don’t eat fresh summer squash.

It really makes you want it all the more…
never thought we’d be jonesin’ for zucchini.

So those male blossoms were plucked, and brought to the females.
Now we have two really good looking squash soon to be ready to harvest.
And thoroughly enjoyed.

While I have no intention of mentioning this to Mandolin, I will admit that if need be, I’d do it again.

Categories: extending the season, How to Grow, squash, techniques

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Dear Journal -Early July 2013

What a difference a few weeks can make in a garden.
The Fava beans are producing in abundance, the greens have bolted, and every seedling that has been in the ground more than a week has sprouted.

The tip of the fava iceburg.

The tip of the fava iceberg.

Some of the corn really is ‘knee-high by the fourth of July’ as the farmers say, so that is right on track.

Three sisters.

Three sisters.

The squashes are beginning to flower, and we may have our first zucchini soon.
Beans are climbing and flowering, we already have a lot of yellow dry beans. Too early to pick yet, but happy to see them there.

Pole beans doing their thing.

Pole beans doing their thing.

The tomatoes have suffered a bit with the excessive rain we have had, but they are still flowering and the fruit that is already growing seems to be doing well. That first slice of a tomato always seems to be the best. This year it looks like it will be a Pink Oxheart that’s the earliest to ripen.

Ready to ripen?

Ready to ripen?

The succession planting has begun, with beets following some early onions and beans going in where the first of the greens went to seed.
The red potatoes have finished flowering. When those beds open up there will be plenty of room for some fall crops.
Cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli seeds are germinating and should be ready to transplant right about the time the garlic comes in.

There's taters under there.

There’s taters under there.

Do you think the peas have seen their best days? Yep, looks like time to pull, replenish, and replant.

The leaning tower of peas.

The leaning tower of peas.

Not all has been good though.
The voles got all the cantaloupe seedlings. The rabbits found a hole in the fence, and they chewed off the tops of the edaname and chick peas.
Of course they picked the plants that take the longest to grow, so although they are recovering (the plants, not the rabbits) we may not get a crop.

Chick peas on the rebound.

Chick peas on the rebound.

We’ll see Dear Journal, we’ll see… where there’s a gardener, there’s a way.

Categories: Addiction, dear journal, extending the season, gardening

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13 Do’s & Do Not’s of Growing Tomatoes

Don’t
Purchase seedlings that have flowers on them. You may think you are getting a head start, but really what the plants need to do first is establish their roots, not produce babies. Let them get settled in.

Do
If you started your own plants and they are budding, pinch those flowers off. Really, you’ll get more fruit in the long run.

The tomatoes are ready, is the soil?

The tomatoes are ready, is the soil?

Don’t
Over fertilize. It’s fine to give your plants some good healthy compost, but take it easy on the fertilizer. Too much will grow wonderful bushy and green, albeit unproductive, plants. Same goes for your peppers by the way.

Do
Give them a bit of Epsom salts. They love that stuff. If they don’t need it, it won’t hurt. It is good to have it as a preventative measure to help grow healthier plants.

Do
Plant your transplants very deep. ‘Up to their necks’ is what the farmers say. This way they will grow a great root system, as mentioned above. The better the roots, the more productive the plants will then be.

Ready to rumble.

Ready to rumble.

Don’t
Water from above, if you can help it. This can cause soil to splash up on the stems, making them more prone to disease. Try to use a soaker hose whenever possible with tomatoes.

Do
Mulch, especially if you are watering from above. This helps prevent that soil splash just mentioned, as well as holds the moisture your tomatoes may need.

Do
Put in the stakes you are going to use for support at the same time you plant. You don’t want to go back later and start damaging those roots you both worked so hard for.

Do
Know what type of tomato you are growing. If it’s a ‘determinate’ type, it may suddenly stop producing. Learn more by following the link at the end of this post.

Don’t
Stress it. Are you feeling over run with tomatoes? Are you concerned about fruit flies in your kitchen? Simply wash some of those tomatoes off and toss them in the freezer. When you have time, thaw to use. A bonus: the skins will slip right off after defrosting.

Happy in their cloched bed.

Happy in their cloched bed.

Do
Enjoy a variety if you have the room. Roma and plum tomatoes are best for preserving, slicing types for fresh eating, and of course cherry tomatoes for snacking. Plant tomatoes based on how you intend to use them.

Don’t
plant them outside before the soil temperature is 50F. How warm the soil has become is a function of how close the sun is, the depth, and how much sunshine the area gets. Surface soil can feel warm but 6 inches down it can still be quite cold. Some gardeners plant their tomatoes out when the overnight lows are consistently above 50F. Not the same thing, but close.

Tomatoes under glass.

Tomatoes under glass.

Do
speed up the process by covering the area with black plastic, and turning the soil over every so often. If you plant early, keep those heat loving tomatoes warm through the use of cloches.
In a pinch, canning jars will do the trick, just don’t let the plants get fried. That’s for the green fruit.

Learn more about growing tomatoes here. Scroll down for all previous posts.

Categories: extending the season, How to Grow, tomatoes

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Improving Germination Times of Direct Sown Seed, Pt. 2

Carrots poking through much earlier.

Carrots poking through much earlier.

Pretty much any vegetable gardener will tell you that it takes forever for carrot seeds to sprout. Parsnips take even longer.

Is it coincidence that these, two of the tiniest seeds of edible plants, are the slowest to poke through the soil?
Check out this chart prepared by Heirloom Seeds:
Click here to view the chart.

If you take a look at the best temperatures for germination, you will notice part of the problem.
Carrot seeds are planted early in the spring, long before the soil temperatures reach 75F. Parsnips can germinate at a little cooler soil temperature, but 70F is still much warmer than what the normal planting conditions are.

This year we started basil seeds, which are about the same size as carrots, indoors. They pushed through the soil much faster than they did when they were direct sown. Of course, they were in warmer soil and with even amounts of moisture.

That is the key with all seeds, but especially those that are in cooler soil than what is optimum for growing. And here I always thought it was the small size of the seed that was the connecting factor.
Silly gardener.

So what can you do? Carrots really don’t like to be transplanted, so starting them indoors is not the answer.
Part of the solution we looked at before, cloching. This simple method of covering the seeded area with plastic will help warm the soil and speed up germination. It also helps hold in moisture, with is the second factor and probably the more important one.

Give your direct sown seeds this kind of attention.

Give your direct sown seeds this kind of attention.

There’s an even easier way to cloche to improve seed germination times. Since you are only covering the seed until you begin to see green leaves, you can just lay the plastic on the ground and simply use some rocks or anything heavy to keep it from blowing away. Clamps will hold it on a raised bed.
And you don’t need to buy fancy plastic. The drop cloth kind you can get wherever house paint is sold works fine.

If for some reason you can’t cloche, at the very least keep those seeds moist until they poke through.

Cloched peas sprouted faster than uncloched.

Cloched peas sprouted faster than uncloched.

Our carrots and other early veggies are about a week ahead this year, it would have been more if we thought to cover them earlier.
Now you’ve just learned what it took us 30 years to figure out.

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Improving Germination Times of Direct Sown Seeds

There are a number of veggies that don’t care to be transplanted and are best sown directly into the garden. These would include the root crops like parsnips and carrots, as well as all the beans and peas. Squash plants, cucumbers and melons are not fond of it, but it can be done.

Basil started indoors.

Basil started indoors.

When you start seeds indoors, you have control over the conditions. How much heat and water they receive is up to you.
With direct sown seeds, it’s all in Mother Nature’s hands.

Or is it?

Here they come.

Here they come.

The two things you can control, at least to some extent, are moisture and heat.
Keeping your seeds moist until they poke through the soil is very important. Sure, sometimes spring rains and snows do it for you. When they don’t, it’s up to you to give them a light watering every day until you see the green. Mulching between rows can help hold that moisture longer.

building a hoop house

A bit crooked, but it works.

Even though some seeds can take the cold, carrots, peas and parsnips for example, you will still get a faster germination if you can keep them a little warmer. For rows of seeds, a simple cover can be made by bending pvc pipes and covering with clear plastic. This is known as a ‘low tunnel’ and works great. Empty canning jars or clear soda bottles make mini cloches for smaller plantings.
Likewise, plastic can easily be clamped onto a raised bed for a temporary cloche.

ready to cloche watermelon

Jump-started watermelon from 2012.

Not only will these techniques help you speed up your germination times, they can also give you a jump start on your season, or help towards the end of the year to keep frost off your plants.

If your growing season is at all limited, extending the time you have is worth its weight in produce.

Here’s more info on extending the growing season.

Categories: all about seeds, extending the season, gardening, How to Grow

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Tomatoes, Cold Weather, and the Mini Greenhouse

monitoring temperatures

As long as there is no frost or freeze, tomatoes can take temperatures down into the 30′s. That being said, it doesn’t mean they will like it.

They prefer not to go below 50, so we were keeping this in mind as we were monitoring the mini greenhouse to watch for when we could begin using it, and when we need to vent it.
We used a high/low thermometer which records not only the current temperature (left bottom) but also what the extremes were for the previous 24 hours (right bottom).

Mini greenhouse inside.

On a partly sunny day the temperatures inside can get warm enough that even with cold nights they stay close to 50F.
So when the kitchen seedling area began to look like a jungle, and the overnight inside temperatures were staying well into the 40′s, we moved the largest of the tomatoes and peppers into their new home.

Tomatoes in the mini greenhouse.

That was two weeks ago now and the plants are thriving. We did bring them inside once just to check on them and give them a good watering.
Tomorrow the overnight low is supposed to drop into the 20′s. Hmmm.
We may bring them indoors, depending on what the inside temperature is at sunset. If it’s a sunny day, we should be okay.

indoor seed starting area

Which would be good, because soon they will have company.

Here’s how we built the mini greenhouse.

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