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Category: Grow Your Own Food

  • Best Tomatoes to Grow

    April 24, 2015

    Looking for the best tomatoes to grow? If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, consider our short list of great tomatoes to grow. We’ve included some sugary cherries, succulent slicers, all-purpose all-stars, container performers and pastes with aplomb.

    best paste tomatoes to grow

    Red, ripe & meaty paste tomatoes are ideal for cooking & preserving.

    These are what we believe to be the best tomatoes to grow in the Pacific Northwest, based on years of growing many types of tomato in the cool, short Seattle growing season. Let us help you take the guess-work out choosing which tomatoes to attempt!

    Cherries: If you don’t have much time or experience growing tomatoes, cherries may be your best bet for your first foray. (more…)

  • Cool (Season) Leafy Greens to Grow + Recipe

    April 17, 2015

    Growing leafy greens from seed is easy. In fact, you’re probably already growing many of them without knowing it. Some of our favorite leafy greens come attached to delicious root vegetables. And, all of them are simple to sow, grow and cook. In this post, we’ll focus on some of the more delicate greens like spinach and lettuce as well as leafy greens from plants you might not think of as leafy forage.

    Mixed leafy salad greens

    Mixed leafy salad greens like speckled & butter lettuces, mizuna and spinach are just a few of the many leafy greens to grow & eat in the cool season.

    The basics for growing each of our favs is:

    1. Pick a variety known to perform well in your area. (Check our shopping list below for ideas!)
    2. Pick a sunny spot (in the cool season) that has nutrient-rich, well drained, weed-free soil.
    3. Sow seeds thickly – meaning put a lot of them into your garden row to start. Plant them to the depth recommended on the seed packet.
    4. Cover the bed with a cold frame, cloche, hoop house or horticultural fleece.
    5. Water seeds gently everyday until they germinate and then continue to water those babies.
    6. Begin thinning seedlings as soon as the rows emerge, using the “thinning” leafy greens to augment salads and other dishes. (Thinning isn’t a one-time thing; you’ll be doing it very few days or every week. “Thinning” means pulling out every other – or so – plant to give remaining plants room to grow.
    7.  As the plants get bigger each week, your harvest will get larger too. Eventually, you will pick the entire, mature plant.

    Here are a few of our favorite leafy greens to try in your spring garden now. Plus a recipe & shopping!

    (more…)

  • Grow Nasturtium & Eat’m Too!

    March 27, 2015

    Grow nasturtium, and you’ll be cultivating a multipurpose beauty!

    We always had fluffy mounds of annual, orange, yellow and red nasturtiums gracing the edges of our enormous food garden on the farm. We plucked their generous blooms to decorate dinner salads, and their abundant leaves helped fill our bowls as well.

    Nasturtium flower

    Tropaeolum majus or annual garden nasturtium is edible, beautiful & more for your garden.

    We grossed out when the plants were attacked by rapidly multiplying black aphids, but we were always glad these fast-to-regenerate plants were the pest’s favored destination – rather than some of our nearby storage crops like squash, tomatoes and beans. And, we were always thrilled when tiny hummingbirds would dart from bloom to aphid to bloom.  This is one plant that served many purposes on our little homestead: pollinator forage, pest lure, eye candy, and food for us.

    The annual nasturtiums we grew then (& the perennials we grow now):

    On our farm, we grew Tropaeolum majus – the non-native, but quite common garden nasturtium. In spring, we would sow seeds deeply in the earth and throughout summer the generous plants would trail, mound and sometimes vine in the garden. It fed us, helped with pest control, and looked plain lovely. But, come the chill of  Virginia and NorCal autumns, the plants would crash to the ground, permanently. If they had shed seed, new progeny might arise in the following spring, but following a frost all T. majus plants were dead for the season. That’s an annual for you.

    This early spring, I’ve already sown a crop for the growing season ahead.  If you haven’t planted any, grab some from our store and start sowing these useful annuals soon. (And read-on to learn about another nasturtium you just gotta grow!) Purchases through the following affiliate links pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!



    Thanks to my friend Jessi Bloom (author of Free Range Chicken Gardens and Practical Permaculture), I learned about a gorgeous perennial Tropaeolum to cultivate in our Pacific NW garden. She handed me a shriveled old tuber from her fridge one winter day a few years ago and said, “Grow this.” And, I did. What came from that sad looking root was an amazing nasturtium that continues to thrive as a multipurpose perennial in our garden today: Tropaeolum tuberosum, mashua or perennial nasturtium is its name.

    Mashua flower and leaves

    Orange-red mashua nasturtium flowers offset by a background of green nasturtium leaves add eye-candy to our pre-frost fall garden beds, feeding hummingbirds & us.

    What Mashua has to offer & how to grow this nasturtium & where to buy tubers: (more…)

  • Why & How to Grow Stevia

    August 15, 2014

    One of the most common questions I get from grow-your-own foodies who want to cut back on high carb sweets is “Can you tell me how to grow stevia and use it in my kitchen?” I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten this question every time I’ve given a Gardening Against Diabetes seminar or interview.  So, here goes…

    Stevia Leaves

    Stevia’s sweet leaves add fuzzy texture and pretty scalloped leaves
    to the mixed border or container plantings.

    My response to these questions: Yes I can tell you how to grow it, and I’ve been developing a number of recipes (see links at the end) that use fresh stevia rather than the processed drops or powders that are readily available at most grocery stores today. I do use the powder and the drops on occasion, but as you’d expect, I’d rather grow my own and teach you how to do the same.

    Many of you already know that this simple plant offers a sweetness about a bazillion times sweeter than sugar or honey, and stevia’s sweetness is known to barely (if at all) affect blood sugar. (Okay, so “bazillion” isn’t perfect math, but you get the picture. Lots of sweet, from a plant leaf you can grow, and the sweetness isn’t likely to mess with your blood sugar.) And those benefits are just a few reasons you’d want this little plant in your garden.

    How to grow stevia in your garden… (more…)

  • Why Grow Borage in Your Garden

    July 09, 2014

    Why grow borage in your garden?
    Top Reasons to Grow Borage in Your Garden
    We really can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to have this fantastic seasonal plant gracing your garden. It may be a little bit prickly-fuzzy, but that’s easy to get past when you consider everything else this wonderful, easy-to-grow plant has to offer. If you aren’t already convinced to grow borage in your food or ornamental garden, consider all this generous plant has to offer:

    honeybee on borage

    Borage is a magnet for the beloved honeybee, which hits the flowers from dawn ’til dusk.

    bumblebee on borage

    Borage lures in bumblebees, wasps, hover flies, hummingbirds & many other pollinators.

    tomato and borage flowers

    Planting borage near tomatoes can help with pollination.
    If tomato flowers are nearby, the bees will pollinate those too.

    Tomatoes

    Like the tomatoes they pollinate, borage itself is edible & tastes a bit like cucumber. Plus, the flowers make beautiful decorations. In fact, Robin’s wedding cake was covered in seasonal blue borage flowers. It’s the perfect “something blue” for the bride!

    Borage flower & seeds

    Once pollinated, borage forms tiny thistle-like seeds, which feed finches & other wild birds. Some fall to the ground to reseed your garden with borage for the next year.

    black aphids on borage

    Borage makes a fantastic black aphid lure trap. Aphids seem to go after one borage plant at a time. Once they set up shop on a plant, let birds like wrens & chickadees or wasps eat the aphids or yank out infested lure plants as needed.

    So, to recap: Borage is bitchin’ because bees of all kinds can’t resist it. Borage is edible. Borage makes a great pest lure trap. Borage grows seeds that feeds wild birds.

    Other reasons to grow borage: Once you plant borage, you will always have it. This annual plant will self-seed itself and pop up in other parts of your garden. We don’t consider it invasive because it is far too beneficial to become problematic. Plus, when a plant pops up that you don’t want, it’s simple to pull and either eat or feed to your compost pile.

    If you dig up very young seedlings, it may be possible to transplant borage babies from one part of the garden to the others, but the big root on larger plants doesn’t forgive being dug up, and those plants may simply wilt to the ground if you try to move them around. If you buy a borage start of any size or that is already blooming, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last long before giving up the ghost. It’s an annual after all. Really, growing it from seed is a great way to go! And, while its chunky root system may be simple, it is also powerful, which means borage will help break up soil creating more air and water pocket space.

    And, who doesn’t want a true blue flower in their garden? Blues aren’t just popular with pollinators; human eyeballs love them too. Many blue flowers are actually tinted purple, but not borage. It’s truly blue. Sometimes, under stress, it will flush pink, but that’s more rare than common. Its pretty flowers are fun to dry and mix into your homemade herbal tea blends too.

    Rumors (or are they truths?) about borage: You may have heard that borage deters tomato hornworm, and maybe it does. We’ve grown borage by our tomato plants for many years without a hornworm showing up once — but we have no proof that the borage is what kept the hornworm away. If you have experience with borage and hornworm, let us know! Also, Robin’s mom always says, “Borage for courage!” She claims this is based on the idea that borage was fed to Roman soldiers before battle to give them the guts to fight. Whether that’s true or not, we hope it doesn’t really require a lot of courage on your part to grow borage in your own garden. Try it from seed; it germinates readily and generously!

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