Tag Archives: Margaret Roach

Grow So Easy – Growing Garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and has much more taste if it's homegrown.

Growing garlic is easy.

I got lucky when I married Italian because garlic is, was and always will be one of my favorite foods in the kitchen. And it’s one of my favorites to plant.

Garlic is another crop that basically takes care of itself. If you get the right cloves to plant then give those cloves a good start in the right soil at the right time, you should harvest enough nice-sized bulbs of garlic to last through the year.

The Bad News
Garlic is planted in the fall. If you didn’t put your garlic seed (cloves actually) in the ground in October, it’s too late to plant it now.

If you plant in the Spring, you are doomed to fail.  Seed garlic is dormant.  It MUST be exposed to cold temperatures in order to grow and change from cloves to bulbs. 

No cold means no bulbs, spindly growth and frustrated gardeners.
Besides, planting in the fall means that Mother Nature gets to do all the work while you sit inside browsing through seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.

The Good News

Garlic growing in the spring

Garlic in the Spring

If you planted your cloves in the fall, you should already have healthy, happy garlic babies growing in the soil.

Planting when the world is getting frosty, the snow is falling and the wind is cold  seems wrong and it would be if that’s all you did.

But there’s an easy, cheap trick to keeping your garlic safe through the blustery winter months; you blanket them in straw. The straw protects the bulbs from the cold, lets them overwinter safely and ensures they will be ready to start growing as early as March.

Garlic growing through straw

Garlic poking through its blanket

Once Spring arrives, it’s important to uncover the garlic as soon as possible so the sprouts don’t rot.  If they rot, you will lose your garlic crop.  Here’s an easy tip for knowing when to uncover garlic (and onions).  When the forsythia bloom, pull back the mulch.  You may even find a few garlic bulbs already sprouted under there.

Protect cool weather crops with window frames

Sheers stapled to window frames

Depending on your zone, you will probably get a few frosts after you uncover the garlic.  Just toss something over the young plants to protect them.  I use window frames that I’ve stapled old curtains to or an old queen-sized mattress cover and drape it over the corners of the bed where the garlic is planted.

Harvesting Garlic
How do you know when to pull the garlic up?  Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. And the more I researched and read, the more confused I got.

Pull it up on this day/date.  When the leaves on one or two start to brown, push the rest of them over, wait a week and pull them up.  Wait until all the leaves on the plants are brown then pull them up.   Aaaaaaargh…as one our most famous philosophers used to say!

What finally cleared it all up for me was a simple, beautifully written article by one of my favorite garden gurus, Margaret Roach, who clearly understands the garlic harvest conundrum.

Too early, and the bulbs won’t have time to develop to their full size.  Too late and the bulbs will be over ripe, cloves will separate and the harvest won’t store as well.

Here’s the gist of Roach’s advice for harvesting garlic:  Harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Depending on the weather, this typically happens here (New York state) in late July.”

Rip & Regret
A word to the wise: healthy garlic develops a pretty serious root structure.  Do NOT try to pull garlic up by its greenery!  You will break the tops off and the garlic bulbs really need their tops to cure.

So, what’s the easiest way to pull these babies out of the ground?  With a garden fork – not the hand-held kind.  You want a flat-tined, digging fork like the kind you would use to dig out potatoes, like the one you see resting next to my garlic in my wheelbarrow.

  1. Start about 2 to 3 inches away from the garlic bulb.
  2. Push the tines down into the earth, almost as far as they will go.
  3. Rock the fork front to back and side to side to loosen the dirt around the roots of the bulb.
  4. Keep loosening until you can easily and gently pull the bulb from the ground.
  5. Equally gently, lay the cloves into a wheelbarrow.  Banging them will bruise them.

As soon as all your bulbs of garlic are out of the ground, you need to get them out of the sun and into a nice, dry, temperature controlled space with good air flow.  I use my shed.  I lay down an old sheet, then place the bulbs side by side but not touching.  I want air flow around each bulb.  And if one’s going south, I don’t want it to take the others with it.

Curing Garlic
Once you have them in your controlled drying spot, leave them alone for 6 to 8 weeks while they cure.  (I do check them to make sure none are going bad…). When they are cured, If they’re soft neck, braid away.

If they’re hard neck (what I always raise), you can cut the tops and the hairy roots off and store them inside.  I actually put mine in a big tray and shove the tray under the dresser in my sewing room.

The temperature is moderate in this room (I keep the thermostat at 62 in the winter) and the light is dim under the dresser.  My garlic seems to keep perfectly there.

NOTE:  check the cloves about every 6 weeks, especially if there is any aroma of  “garlic” wafting through the air.  If you can smell the garlic, it means one of the bulbs is probably going bad.  If you leave it in the general population, it may turn other heads bad, as well.

Save 8 to 10 bulbs of your garlic for planting in October and November and enjoy the rest, all winter and spring.

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How To Grow Potatoes

Most of you know that I have had my ups and downs trying to grow potatoes.
The outcome was not very good.  I couldn’t get a straight answer on where or how to plant. Once the potato eyes were in the ground, Wireworms and Colorado Potato Beetles joined together to make for tiny tubers and a potato growing nightmare.

So,when I read High Mowing Seeds post on growing potatoes 101 I knew I had to share.

I also think that Margaret Roach of A Way To Garden fame has a good tutorial fro growing your own spuds, too.

If you dream of growing your own spuds or want to be able to walk into your back yard and dig a few potatoes for the dinner table, High Mowing Seeds and Margaret Roach can help you get it done.

Remember, potatoes love being planted when it’s cool out so early spring is a great time to give this American favorite a try.

If you are successful, try dicing a few into this fabulous fish chowder – buttery rich and tasty. I married an Italian but my maiden name was Duffy.  If I know anything, I know some great recipes for cooking potatoes!

Fish Chowder

INGREDIENTS:
2 boneless fish fillets
2 thick cut bacon slices
2 T butter
1 leek, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
½ tsp dry mustard
1 lb potatoes, peeled & cubed
4 sprigs thyme
¼ c heavy cream
1 T minced chives

DIRECTIONS:
Place fish fillets and bacon slices in large pot and cover with 4 cups cold water.

Bring to simmer over medium high heat then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes or until fish is cooked.

Transfer fish to plate and let it cool then remove skin and flake into large pieces.

Continue to simmer bacon in broth until stock is reduced by half (2 cups).

Strain, discard bacon, add 2 to 3 cups of water and reserve poaching liquid.

Melt butter in large pot, add leeks and celery and cook 15 minutes until translucent.

 

Lee Reich Shares Seed Starting Tips & More

Lee Reich's farmden is organized and weed free.

Lee Reich’s spring garden

I love Lee Reich!

Dr. Reich (botanist, retired professor and incredible home gardener) lives on a “farmden” in New York state and is my go to guy for fruit growing, pruning and feeding blueberries, blackberries, apples and more.

In this lovely interview with Lee Reich, another of my favorite gardeners, Margaret Roach, formerly Martha Stewart’s garden guru and author of several beautiful books including the book that launched her blog A Way To Garden.

Get Lee Reich’s simple but very effective recipe for seed starting mix. Take a look at his planting tools – practical, some homemade and all well-used and well-loved.  And watch the two wonderful clips of Reich in his gardens.

Its snowing again here, today, but I am going to my basement, turning on my grow lights and playing in the dirt as I dream of April, May and June.

Happy Gardening, Gang.

 

 

How to Grow Figs, with Lee Reich from A Way To Garden

Two of my favorite gardening resources got together to discuss how to grow figs and the outcome is an information-packed  article coupled with a podcast!

Lee Reich, whose books include Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit, The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated and Weedless Gardening, shares his secrets for growing figs with Margaret Roach — a gardening expert in her own right.

FYI – in case you’re thinking it’s too cold where you live to grow figs, read on.  Both of these gardeners live in Zone 5 and still grow figs.  And the topic of growing figs is one of my favorite.

I have two fig trees in my Southeastern PA zone 6 – one is the Celeste the other was a cutting from a tree brought to America in 1910(?) by a friend’s great grandfather.

Both did beautifully for years, providing so many figs that I gave them away, diced and froze them and made fig jam!

But in the last 2 years, the very cold winters have really hurt them. I am back to just getting stems with leaves growing up from the roots in the ground that survived.   I hope to get figs again next year or the year after because this is a superb fruit.

One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the tree! But if I manage to get a few in the house, I chill them, cut them in half, place a small round of goat cheese on each half and drizzle balsamic vinegar mixed with honey on each half. Heaven!

I hope you enjoy Margaret Roach’s interview with Lee Reich and give figs a try!

Margaret Roach Holds Open House

If you live anywhere near Margaret Roach’s New York home, you should sign up for her open house in May.

Roach, who has written three books including ” A Way to Garden, I Shall Have Some Peace There and Backyard Parables, was also the leading garden writer for 25 years at Martha Stewart Living.

She hosts  a public-radio show and, on rare occasions, opens her 2.3 acre spread in the Hudson Valley to experts and visitors for a day of delightful learning and sharing of all things gardening.

But what’s really wonderful about this accomplished woman is how very human she is, how real and how willing she is to share mistakes, secrets and her special gardening friends.

Her open houses fill up fast so visit her site and sign up if you can go.  Then share what you see, learn and love about visiting with this extraordinary author, gardener and fellow human being.

Complete Guide to Seed Starting from High Mowing Seeds

Used to be seed catalogs were one of the first signs of spring for me.

Now, it’s posts by some of my favorite organic gardeners like this one!

This is from High Mowing organic seeds, one of my favorite East coast operations.  It’s a complete guide to seed starting.  And, as a bonus, it includes a link to Margaret Roach’s garden planting calculator!

High Mowing shares information freely and sells some of the best organic, heirloom seeds and what they call “future heirlooms” like their latest – Abundant Bloomsdale spinach.

Enjoy their wonderful tips and tools, buy their seeds knowing you are getting organic seed free of GMOs and get excited! Gardening season is here!

Monarch Butterfly Babies in My Garden

On her blog, this week, A Way to Garden, Margaret Roach asks where all the Monarch butterflies have gone.

I fear I must confess.  I think many of them came to my house for the dill buffet that is growing in one of my raised beds.

Monarch butterfly larvae love dill.

Dill with a side order of Monarch butterfly larvae.

I didn’t raise dill just for them.  In fact, I let my dill self seed.  This year, two big dill plants on the ends of my raised beds came and went and left a ton of seeds on their umbrels. I saved about 5o seeds so that next year, I could plant the dill where I wanted it to come up and never thought a thing about the other 500 seeds that the big plants had dropped to the ground.

Monarchs love to eat dill.

Monarch larvae side by side in my dill.

Then, about 6 weeks ago, I noticed a forest of tiny, soft dill fronds sprouting up in the ground where the old plants had been.  I thought about pulling them up but then I noticed butterflies landing on the plants and I wondered if they were laying eggs.  They were.

On this sunny, September afternoon, there are dozens and dozens of larvae, mowing down dill and contemplating when they want to pupate.   I expect to see a whole bunch of yellow-green chrysillises in the spring.

Monarch butterfly larva feasting in my dill bed.

Monarch butterfly larva in the dill.

So here, in eastern Pennsylvania, I am doing my bit to help Monarchs flourish.  I left the dill and I have planted a bed of milkweed, one of the butterfly’s favorites.  But I know that these butterflies are suffering.

So, here is Margaret Roach’s expert on Monarchs, their plight and what all of us can do to help.  precarious time for monarchs and their migration – A Way to Garden.