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Tag: edibles

  • Blight, Mildew, Aphids & Other Garden Pests & Disease Demystified

    September 12, 2012
    Female Butternut Squash Flower Open & Ready for Pollination

    This female butternut squash opened last week. I hand pollinated it, and it is now beginning to mature the fruit despite the late date of the growing season.

    This has been one of our worst vegetable gardening years ever for garden pests and disease (and other annoying issues).

    How’s that saying go? “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.” Something like that anyway, and my apologies for not knowing who to credit. I think I read this first on a magnet on a fellow gardener’s fridge years ago.

    There are a number of reasons for our crap year:

    I’ve been traveling a lot this growing season, so my timing’s been off and my ability to monitor crops daily hasn’t been possible.

    For a number of personal reasons, last fall we didn’t give our soil the careful attendance we have in years past.

    Despite our efforts at crop rotation, pests and disease still found their way to many of our crops. It happens.

    So we’re rolling with the punches, savoring what we’re actually harvesting, disposing of disease as we see it, and planning to do better next year. We’ve sown some cover crops already and will be pulling soil soon for testing and amending properly over the dormant months.

    Here’s a brief photo rundown of the pests, damage and disease we’ve had in over-abundance this edible gardening year. (more…)

  • Growing Eggplant Successfully in Cooler Climates

    August 16, 2012
    Fairy Tale Eggplants

    Fairy Tale Eggplants

    Here in the PacNW growing eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and other nightshades successfully can be tricky. These crops thrive in hot climates, which we really don’t have. Instead, we enjoy relatively mild weather year-round, and summer doesn’t seem to really arrive until the middle of July (if it decides to really show up at all). So, with a shortened period of heat, getting these crops to cooperate isn’t always possible.

    Over the years, I’ve managed to fine-tune our tomato growing techniques to produce even in the coolest summers. Details on tomato tricks here. Potatoes seem to perform pretty darn well so long as they aren’t planted and left to rot in really wet, cold soil. We aren’t a big pepper eating household, so not having those isn’t a big bother to me. That being said, I have found a jalapeno that produces fairly well for us — but that’s a post for another day. Today, it’s about the eggplants!

    In years past, we’ve gotten some okay Globe eggplant harvests. We purchased plant starts and kept those plants going for most of the summer in pots, in the greenhouse. We got a few dwarfed “globes” that year, and until this year, we pretty much chose not to grow them. Instead, we looked forward to a few in our CSA box.

    Fairy Tale Eggplants in Container

    Fairy Tale Eggplants in Container

    This year, however, I gave it another shot, and I think I’ve found the perfect variety for our cool seasons and small garden spaces. A local nursery was offering starts of ‘Fairy Tale’. This diminutive plant is perfect for container growing. It grows copious flowers and appears to pollinate readily. The cream and purple-striped, elongated fruits only get to about 3″-4″ long. They look like colorful earrings dangling from the plant, and there are a lot of them, which makes up for how small they are.

    We have two plants growing and have harvested about six or so fruits already this summer. (Remember: our summer heat didn’t arrive until much later than when others got theirs). And, the plants are laden with several more yet to mature. And, yes, the pretty little purple flowers keep right on blooming.

    No. The plants aren’t in the greenhouse. They’re outside and have been since about mid-June. One plant is growing in a simple 1-gallon size nursery container. The other is planted in a slightly larger ceramic pot. Both work great!

    So, if you’re short on room or short on summer, consider pretty little ‘Fairy Tale’ eggplants and odds are you’ll enjoy a bountiful harvest no matter what Mother Nature may bring.

  • Edible Amaranthus – Tasty, Beautiful & Nutritious

    August 03, 2012
    Amaranthus tricolor

    Amaranthus tricolor

    Ever tried edible amaranth is your garden?

    We are a greens eatin’ household, so I’m always looking for new-to-us tasty leaves to grow for the table. This year, we seeded Heirloom edible Amaranthus tricolor from Botanical Interests. No regrets, and we’ll grow it again, but here’s what I’ll do better next time.

    This plant loves the heat, so planting it early in the year — even in our passive greenhouse — barely worked out. Many of the seedlings that actually germinated ended up crashing in the cold. The starts that I moved out into the garden in early May were either mowed down by slugs, died for other reasons or are totally stunted. Even when temperatures warmed up, they never grew beyond those first sets of leaves. (Maybe I should have heeded the vendor’s warning that it doesn’t take well to transplanting.)

    The plants that I kept in the greenhouse, potting up now and again to keep up with their growth, continue to perform beautifully. (Um, so transplanting worked in these cases.)

    The one plant that grew rapidly, quickly lost some of its beautiful reddish leaf color. Still, its huge leaves are making perfect wrappers for fresh tomato and basil snacks. The other plants, still clothed in brilliantly colored leaves, simply shine in the greenhouse. We’ve harvested from them a bit and will continue to do so. To date, we’ve only eaten the leaves raw, but that big plant with the dull leaves may be chopped down tonight and steamed like spinach…or, I may continue to stress it in hopes it throws a few flowers that will produce high-protein seed we can sprinkle over salads of the same.

    Love Lies Bleeding

    Love Lies Bleeding

    Love the look?

    Another Amaranth we love to grow in ‘Love Lies Bleeding‘. This show-stopping cousin isn’t edible (to my knowledge), but its flowers are simply unparalleled eye candy.¬† This year, I seeded quite a few, but I enjoyed watching several other volunteers show up in spots where I left it to seed itself last autumn. I’ll be doing more of the same this year.

    (Fine print: Although Garden Mentors has received free seed from Botanical Interests in the past, we purchased this edible Amaranthus seed. Also, we have received no compensation for this blog post.)

  • Cabbage Butterfly on the Fly

    May 31, 2012
    Cabbage Butterflies

    Cabbage Butterflies at Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, VA

    The pesky cabbage butterfly is invading all over gardens everywhere right now. Last week, I was 3000 miles away from my own garden, but I saw these butterflies (not moths) in action. When I got home, there they were flying through my garden too.

    Fortunately, my brassica crops (cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc…) are well protected from them. Plastic-sheeted hoop houses keep out the egg-laying adult butterflies. Though, it is time for me to exchange the plastic for floating row cover, which is more ideal in warmer temperatures. But that’s another post for another day.

    For now, take a close look at these adult butterflies I found at Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. And, if you’ve seen these flying around in your garden, be sure to read more in our earlier post that shows photos of their caterpillar phase and the damage those green, wormy creatures do so very fast in a brassica patch. And, yes, we’ve shared tips for keeping them out of your crops without a drop of ‘cide!

  • Time to Get Your Onions Growing. Here’s How:

    March 30, 2012

    If you haven’t already, now’s the time to pick up starts to grow onions at home. Do it now before they’re all sold out for the season. Nurseries sell bundles of young onions in late winter through early spring.

    Young Onion Starts Beside Lime Thyme

    Young Onion Starts Beside Lime Thyme

    Bulb onions are also available, but quite often here in Western Washington, I find these more likely to rot in our soggy, cold spring soils. Too, seed is an option, but ideally those seeds would have been sown last fall to grow over the winter for transplanting this spring. (Maybe we’ll do that this fall.)

    This year, we’ve already put in two succession plantings of Walla-Walla Sweet onion starts in the garden. They’re in a bed that will soon be planted with starts from the brassica family — cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and various forms of broccoli. These are companions in the garden — while aphids love to invade the brassicas, they abhor alliums (onion family members). Hopefully, the onions will keep these nasty little suckers away from my beloved broccoli and family.

    To plant & cultivate bundled onion starts: After you purchase your banded bundles of onions at the nursery, be sure to have time to get them into the ground shortly after. Begin by separating each onion start from the others. Plant the individual onions such that the white portion of the onion is beneath the soil, and be sure to plant into well-drained soil in full sun. Clip off an inch or more of the top green growth when you plant; this will encourage the plant to put more energy into the bulb. If you’re tight on space — like we are — you can choose to plant the onions about 3″ apart. Then, as they begin to mature, harvest them by removing every other onion at a time. This will give the remaining onions more room to get larger over the growing season. Onions begin to show their “shoulders” above the soil as the bulbs mature. Once this happens, they can be harvested at any time. Be careful not to overwater them, which can lead to rot. And, keep an eye out for any that show signs of flowering. If they begin to send up flower spikes, cut these out and harvest soon after. And, if some of the onions seem to disappear, they may just be going dormant. Last year, although I didn’t plant any onions, I found a few that had gone dormant in the prior summer only to grow stronger and larger over the winter. It was delicious!

    And, unlike last year, I hope not to be crying over our lack of onions in the garden. I cook with onions almost daily, so even if these Walla Walla’s aren’t good storage crops, we’ll have no trouble gobbling up over the summer ahead.

  • Cultivating Gardens from Seed Successfully

    March 07, 2012
    love lies bleeding grown from seed

    Gorgeous Love Lies Bleeding grown from seed in 2011 using the methods illustrated below

    If you’re starting seeds in a greenhouse planting tray & lid,¬† be sure you know when to keep the lid on and when to take it off. (I’ve provided a photographic timeline later in this post, so skip ahead if pictures are better for you than words.) Lids help keep in moisture and heat, which is a good thing for germinating seeds. Lids can also intensify light on the soil, which is also a good thing for helping warm the soil. But too much of a good thing can be bad.

    Once the seeds germinate and send shoots above the soil, its time to begin opening the lid a bit to ventilate. This helps some of the accumulating moisture evaporate, so be sure to check the soil often in case it needs watering. And, getting that bit of ventilation going will also help keep down fungal disease; even the smallest bit of airflow can make all the difference.

    Then, once the seedlings begin to get a little height, be sure to remove the lid completely. This will give the young plants room to grow upwards. Ventilation will also be increased. And, shortly, you’ll be potting the young plants into bigger containers or moving them out into the garden.

    Following is a visual guide through the various steps I find work really well: (more…)

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