Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.
Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.
Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.
Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.
Normally, mid-May into mid-June are the weeks where you grab a tall, cool glass of Kombucha and sit down in your comfy deck chair and watch things grow…normally.
This year, 2018, what I am frequently doing is sighing, drying off my dogs and hoping that the cold (low 50’s right now), wet weather doesn’t finish off all the plants I raised from seed.
This is my garden, in the mist. It looks pretty good, from a distance.
But my tomato plants are really starting to show the wear of 4 weeks of wet weather. The yellowing and spotting on the leaves is spreading and, because of the persistent wet growing conditions, I don’t think I will be able to stop the destruction.
What my tomatoes have is called Septoria Leaf Spot.
Septoria is a fungal disease. In normal weather conditions, you can usually prevent or at least slow it down by following good gardening practices like:
But I’m not experiencing normal weather conditions. And this fungal disease loves it when it’s wet out.
According to Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), my back yard is the perfect storm for Septoria, “When conditions are wet, spores are exuded from the Septoria fruiting bodies present on the infected tomato leaves. Once the spores land on a healthy leaf, spotting can appear in five days if weather conditions are ideal.”
Worse than experiencing Septoria, this year, is the fact that the spores shed by the fungus live on in the ground cover and even in the soil. So, even if I remove the infected foliage, even if I rotate my plants, the chances of recurrence in 2019 are high.
I certainly have ideal conditions for this fungal invader!
I will fight back this year by using an organic fungicide called Serenade. I don’t like resorting to this solution but it is non-toxic to birds, bees, beneficial insects, fish, and wildlife.
As an organic gardener, I hate introducing this into my eco-system but I know the long-term damage Septoria can cause and I have to take necessary measures to reduce or eliminate this “perennial” from my garden.
And I will soldier on with the rest of my plants because that’s what gardeners do and because there are other plants growing quietly, albeit slowly, in my garden that need tending to. Here are some photos of these brave, green soldiers.
Okay, so it’s a bit early to be planning the 2019 garden! I just barely finished planting this year’s garden!! But I needed a lift.
I’m a bit depressed. It has rained for 13 of the last 14 days. It will be raining for the next 3 days, at least. My rain gauge – the wheelbarrow – is full, again. All I can think of is how soggy the roots of all my beautiful, raised from seed plants are.
And I am also thinking that the 20 asparagus crowns I put in just a little over 3 weeks ago are rotting below their lovingly applied layers of compost, soil and straw.
Rain is bad enough but the temperatures are not helping, either. Our highs are in the low to mid-60’s; our lows are in the mid 50’s. Today, we will hit the low 80’s then drop to 51 degrees with…thunder storms.
So, I did what any self-respecting, home bound gardener does; I went seed shopping and here is what I got from Territorial Seed:
Autumn Harvest Beet Blend – this is a new and what Territorial calls a, ” distinctive blend of Red Ace, Boldor and White Albino. This blend will let me
grow a range of colors that will make great ferments and relishes and will be stunning to look at, served fresh with butter.
Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard Organic – blending 5 varieties of chard, Australian heirloom boasts a, “…day-glow mix of red, orange, yellow, pink and white.” Upright growth and juicy, tender stalks and succulent leaves, just what you want in Swiss chard!
Autumn Star Kalettes® – Bite-sized, loose heads of frilly kale growing on brussel sprout-like stalks, the leaves are green and purple. These are new for this year and I for one will enjoy making kale chips with them!
Palco Spinach Organic – from seed to salad in 38 days, Territorial calls this spinach, “…adaptable to planting in both cool and warm seasons, versatile for harvest as young, baby greens or full-sized, and bolt and disease resistant.” What’s not to like?
Music & Purple Glazer Garlic – both hard neck and both mid-season.
I love these garlics for their reliability in the ground and amazing flavor. And I love that they keep for months so I can enjoy homegrown, organic garlic all the way through the winter!
I complemented my order from Territorial Seed Company with some seeds from another favorite organic source, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Here is what I ordered from Baker Creek to lift my spirits:
Blauhilde Bean – my all time favorite pole bean with a great growth habit and prolific production of the tastiest green beans on the planet…which are actually deep purple pods! In any case, I have not planted any other pole bean or green bean since I met Blauhilde.
Prosperosa Eggplant – straight out of Tuscany by way of Baker Seeds, this beautiful eggplant is round to slightly teardrop shaped, and sometimes very slightly ribbed.
The deep purple exterior holds the mild, tender white flesh that’s as good as the fruit looks. The Prosperosa and the Bianca Rosa are my favorite eggplants.
German Lunchbox Tomato – The fruits of this tomato are supposedly the size of a small egg. Pink and sugar sweet, Baker Creek Heirlooms say they are begging to be eaten. Perfectly sized for salads or putting in the lunchbox and my “new” tomato for 2019.
Tendergreen Burpless Cucumber – I have developed a liking for cukes that don’t disrupt my digestion, hence the burpless variety I ordered this year. Medium-dark green, 7-12 inches long and prolific, I also bought these because, per the description, they tolerate cool soil and excessive moisture better than many. Welcome to my world!
May Queen Lettuce – I am a sucker for butterhead lettuce….
This one is called the crown jewel of the heirloom garden. “Tender, yellow hearts are gently blushed rose, and the leaves are ethereally soft with the buttery sweet flavor.” Yum. And good for planting in early in Spring or in Fall.
BTW now is the best time to get your heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds from companies like Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. Wait too long, especially for garlic, and they will all be gone!
There will be more seeds in my 2019 garden plan and probably replacement asparagus crowns (now that the trenches are already dug). But just knowing that these are on the way is making me smile on yet, another gray day!
So, my garden is now, totally in the ground.
This year I planted garlic, onions, lettuce, beets, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers (still considering zucchini), green beans, asparagus, of course and herbs like basil and Italian parsley.
I finished putting the last Bianca Rosa in the ground Saturday morning.
Saturday evening, we got 70 MPH winds, driving hail and torrential rain with a side order of thunder and lightning and the threat of a tornado!
The baby eggplant survived…and seem to be settling in to their truck bed.
But I live outside of Philadelphia…in Pennsylvania! We don’t get tornadoes. Oh, wait, we do now courtesy of the non-existent global warming and the ever increasing turbulence of our weather and of the very earth itself.
It has rained every day since last Tuesday. It is going to rain again tonight. In fact, we are under a flood watch from 4PM today to 2AM tomorrow morning. We might get a day or two of clearing, then all that rain that is currently drowning Floridians will be…here.
Even my tomatoes have toughed it out…although they are looking just a bit “wan.”
As with every year, there are, of course challenges – bugs…rabbits, deer. But this year, it seems that Mother Earth is setting about re-balancing her planet – with or without us.
But there will be vegetables and fruit in my backyard this summer. Most of these plants will survive. And so will I. I will keep on gardening, keep growing.
And I will keep praying that we, the humans who inhabit this planet, slow down a bit, become more aware of the risk and start backpedaling from taking, using, devouring and otherwise destroying this magnificent home on which live and orbit the universe.
Is it planting time yet?
Every single year, that is the question I ask myself.
Why? Partly because I want to put my hands in dirt and partly because I am surrounded…by plants. They are everywhere…
This is my office…cum plant nursery.
Yesterday the temperature was 82 degrees; this morning, it’s 42 degrees. The weather seems to be even more capricious than ever and that means planning a planting date is pretty much impossible. The upshot is that this gardener remains indoors with trays of plants crowding the top of her desk and claiming space on the floor.
Well, the plants and I are indoors except when we are both, literally going outdoors, for a few hours, every single day. I put them out in the morning but by 2:30 PM, all of them are back, inside, feeling the burn.
This is the dance I like to call the “hardening off” cha cha!
Hardening off is necessary to move the plants from a controlled environment into the world of wind, sun, rain and changing temperatures. Don’t harden off and your plants will die.
So, for the next 2 weeks or maybe even 3, I will be lovingly, carefully and constantly toting trays of plants in and out of my office door.
At some point, I will have to make a decision to put them in the ground then stand by my raised beds, saying small prayers over their little green bodies.
After all, planting time here in Eastern Pennsylvania is usually early May, the merry, malleable and every changing month of May! So here’s hoping I get my garden in the ground by May 6th and the wind and snow head North for their last blast of winter!
In my early gardening years, way back in the dark ages when I had a stick and some dirt, I never, ever considered raising onions in my garden.
I didn’t use a lot of onions in my cooking, well to be honest, I didn’t cook much, either. I was a road warrior and spent most of my life in a plane, on a train or riding in a limo. There was no dirt under my nails, no canning jars in my pantry and no garden in my back yard.
Besides, my Mom never raised onions or garlic. But then, my Mom wasn’t married to an Italian. So when I traded in all my gold credit cards and came home to life on the homestead, I decided to give onions a try.
Getting Onions In The Ground
My first experience with raising them was hilarious. I decided to start them from seed. One cold and windy day in early March, I went out, worked the soil loose with my hand rake and spread seeds. I was a little liberal with the amount of seed I put down but I’d never done it before.
Onion seed is small and dark and disappears right into the soil. I covered what I thought were the seeds with a tiny bit of soil, covered the bed with a fence section and a sheet, went back inside to thaw out and promptly forgot I’d planted onion seed.
Four weeks later, in the middle of April. I was preparing a bed for beets. There is no finesse involved in prepping and planting these babies and the seeds are so big, I didn’t need my glasses, I thought.
I knelt down by the bed and was stunned to see a ton of baby grass growing in the bed. I grabbed handfuls and began madly tearing out what I thought were seeds. About 3 minutes later I froze; I was tearing up baby onions! I tend to use sets, now.
Seed or Sets
Raising onions from seed is easy as long as you remember that you planted it and don’t rip it out, willy nilly. Once the seeds sprout and the onion babies get to be 3 inches high, all you have to do is thin and transplant them using the same technique I use for baby beets.
Raising onions from sets is even easier but your choices are limited to what your favorite, organic seed company is growing.
I prefer red onions so I usually end up with Stuttgart or Candy Red. Both are good tasting, sweet onions but only the Stuttgart is a long keeper.
FYI onions like cool weather so you can put seed or sets in the ground as soon as you can work the soil in the spring. If you’re going for sets, the best time to order your sets is early. If you don’t order early, you may not get the varieties you want. Raising onions in the backyard, especially organic onions, is getting more popular and nurseries run out of sets pretty early.
White, Red or Yellow
Onions come in quite a few colors – that would be your first choice. They also come in long day, short day and intermediate. Clearly, the names refer to how long the onions take to mature. And picking the right onion for your zone and growing season is important to how well the onions grow and how big and healthy they are.
Like many plants, onions grow roots and leaves first then begin to form bulbs but only when daylight hours reach a particular length. Onions are what’s known as “photoperiodic.” That means they regulate their growth by the duration of light and dark at the time of year they are growing.
If you try a long day onion in the deep South, you’ll get great tops but very small bulbs which will be killed when exposed to too much heat. A short day onion that’s planted in the north will try to produce bulbs before the leaves have formed. Without leaves to supply food, the bulb won’t be able to develop and size of the bulb will be limited.
So, rule of thumb, plant long day varieties if you live north of latitude 36º — roughly the Kansas/Oklahoma border. Plant short day types south of this line. Put long day varieties in the ground as early as possible in the spring. Put short day onions in the ground in the fall to give them a head start in the spring.
If you are putting onion sets in the ground, most organic companies will ship them to you in the fall and within 2 weeks of the optimum time for you to plant. When the sets arrive, they may appear wilted but they are pretty hardy and should do well if you plant them quickly. NOTE: if you cannot plant as soon as they arrive, just put them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
When you are ready to transplant, simply trim the tops to about 3 inches high and the roots to ¼ of an inch. I use a sharpened pencil to create a hole for each set that’s about 1 to 2 inches deep – deep enough to cover the white part of the baby onion. I plant the sets about 4 to 6 inches apart, in rows about 18 inches apart.
Make sure you plant the baby onions as directed above because they don’t like to compete for foods and fertilizer with each other or other plants, including weeds. In fact, there’s a saying in the onion business – you can grow onions or weeds but not both.
If planting in the fall, mulch heavily – I use 14 to 18 inches of straw to cover the whole bed. Mulching keeps the plants from sprouting during the January thaw and prevents the freezing and heaving cycle when warmer days play tag with the cold temperatures of deep winter.
In the spring, when forsythia start to bloom, pull the stacked straw off the plants but leave a light layer of mulch. The mulch suppresses weeds. Put a light cover over your baby onions if frost is predicted. I use old sheer curtains. Water onions regularly; they need about an inch of water a week. And that’s about it.
Harvesting & Storing Onions
Onions are ready for harvest when the tops turn yellow and begin falling over. For those that are not quite ready, you can finish bending the tops so they are horizontal to the ground using your hand. Bending the leaves stops sap from rising into the leaves and forces the bulb to mature.
When the outer skin on the onion dries, remove from the soil, brush the earth off each onion, clip the roots and cut the tops back to 1 inch from the bulb. Store onions in a cool, dry place and try not to let them touch each other. If handled properly, onions can last up to 1 year in storage.
Onion Pests & Diseases
Onions are pungent so they tend to repel most pests. Onions can also be inter-planted to repel pests from other plants, too. The bigger risk for onions are fungal diseases. It is also a risk that is very easily mitigated.
Smut, downy mildew and pink root are common problems encountered while raising onions. The easiest way to avoid all three of them is rotation. Do NOT plant onions or garlic in a bed where other allium crops have been planted the year before and, preferably, two years before.
In fact, the longer you can avoid planting onions in a bed that was used for raising alliums, the better.
By the way, if you want to find out everything about onions…just visit the National Onion Association read the FAQs and browse the types, colors and recipes.
FYI – Growing garlic is just about as easy as growing onions as I shared in an earlier post.
Happy Easter, everyone!
I love raw onions in salads, on the top of black bean soup and on dishes of beans and feta cheese. But my favorite way to eat onions is caramelized. A stick of butter in a cast iron pan, toss in about 8 onions and just cook until they are the color of caramel and salty/sweet. They are good plain, they are great on hamburgers.
And they are great in Onion Frittata — a recipe that owes a whole lot of its flavor and richness to caramelized onions.
RECIPE: Onion Frittata
8 large eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 basil leaves torn in pieces
3 minced sage leaves
1tsp minced rosemary
3 T olive oil
1 or 2 c sliced onions
1 ½ to 2 cups ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°
Put olive oil in large, cast iron frying pan and heat.
Put onions in frying pan and cook until just turning brown and starting to caramelize.
Reduce heat to low.
While onions cook, whisk eggs, parmesan cheese, basil, sage, rosemary salt a pepper together.
Pour egg mixture into frying pan over onions.
Spoon dollops of ricotta over the top and cook on the stove top until frittata begins to set.
Place frying pan in oven and bake for 7 to 9 minutes until it is set.
Slide frittata onto plate or serve from frying pan by cutting into slices. Serve hot or cold.
Another week and another free chapter of my organic gardening book, Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us!
This week I will share some tips and secrets for growing great eggplants! When you think of the most popular vegetables to grow in the back yard, you probably don’t come up with eggplant. In fact, when Mother Earth News did a survey of who was planting what, the most popular homegrown vegetable was the tomato., which was followed by peppers, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, radishes, and sweet corn. Eggplant didn’t even make the list!
Okay, so eggplant is not a favorite with a lot of gardeners but the reason just may be that most gardeners have never had young, sweet flavorful eggplants plucked off their own plants. Instead they’ve tried those large, purple cylinders they buy in the grocery store. I was the same way until I grew a few plants and discovered there is no comparison.
There are three tricks to getting full-flavored fruit from an eggplant; buy the right seeds, start the plants early and harvest the eggplant when they’re small.
My favorite eggplant is the round, striated one called Bianca Rosa from High Mowing Organic Seeds. This is a Sicilian eggplant with light pink fruits that are streaked with white and violet. The flavor is mild and creamy with no bitterness and a low number of seeds.
How To Grow Eggplant
Growing eggplant is a bit like growing peppers – both like warm summer days. In fact, I think eggplant is even more cold-sensitive. To get eggplant to flower and set fruit, you need warm soil and a long, warm growing season – from 100 to 140 days with temperatures consistently between 70° and 90°.
If you want to get healthy eggplant plants you need to start them from seed and very early. By early, I mean at least 10 weeks before my last frost date.
Like all my seeds, I start them in cells. I don’t soak them overnight before putting them in the cell but you can to shorten the time to sprouting.
Once the eggplant seedlings get their second set of leaves, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots, raise the tray up off the heating mat (I use two bricks – not high-tech but cheap and easy) and keep them warm.
Bianca Rosa and any eggplant for that matter need heat to thrive. When they get to between 4 and 5 inches high, I transplant them again, this time into 4 inch peat pots.
Why not go directly from cell to the 4 inch peat pot?
Remember, eggplant like warm soil. Take them from warm, moist soil and stick them in cold dirt and they get shocky – I know, I tried. All my eggplant were stunted and fruit came late in the season.
So unless I plan far enough ahead to prepare the 4 inch pots and put them over the heat map to warm the soil (that’s unlikely), I just go from cell to 2 inch then 4 inch peat pot.
Once they have settled into the new pots and are thriving, I move the trays off the heat mats and onto my lighted plant stand (which I bought used almost 20 years ago and am still using).
When To Transplant Eggplant
Eggplant have the same needs as those of bell peppers. Transplants should only be set in the garden after all danger of frost is past. Remember, warm soil, warm air and warm days, lots and lots of all three are what eggplant need to thrive.
If your eggplant are happy, they will need more space than you might anticipate. Eggplant should be spaced about 2 feet apart. I don’t plant them in rows, I zigzag them. Like pepper plants, eggplant can be pulled over by the size and weight of their own fruit so I use tomato cages for support.
Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and stagger them so you can get 6 to 8 plants in less space. Make sure you leave about 2 to 2/12 feet between rows, especially if you are planting in raised beds like this old truck bed. This way, you can get to the plants and the fruit, easily.
Once in the ground, give the transplants a good watering to settle them into the ground. I always mulch eggplant but before I do, I put a ring of composted soil around each plant to feed it. Then I mulch with straw or grass clippings or both to keep the weeds down.
You can also use a nitrogen fertilizer if you don’t have any composted soil, feeding the plants when they are half-grown and right after you harvest the first fruits. But being a lazy gardener, I prefer using composted soil.
Once the plants are established, eggplant love the heat of the summer. You only have to water if you are in a persistent dry period then wait for those lovely, sweet eggplant to start emerging from each lavender flower.
Harvest 3 or 4 of your eggplant, marry them to your own tomatoes and basil and make yourself the most delicious eggplant parmigiana you have ever tasted!